Doors Open London

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September, 2019

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While visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral during “Doors Open London”: last fall I encountered a marvelous exhibit of canvas embroideries depicting the journey of St Aidan from Iona to Lindisfarne in the early 7th century. I visited the Isle of Iona over 20 years ago and Lindisfarne Island a couple of years ago and was quite surprised to see this connection in London, Ontario.

For the event there was a storyboard in the cathedral about the artist, Betty McLeod (1918-2013), her contributions to St. Paul’s through her embroidery and the 5 year project she undertook to create the 10 canvas embroideries in St. Aidan’s Chapel depicting his life. There is a lovely leaflet that explains each of the embroideries in the chapel and about Mrs. McLeod’s work.

I’m not going to detail them all but I will highlight a few.

The first embroidery depicts the beginning of Aidan’s story in 635 AD when he is a young monk being sent by the Abbot of Iona on a mission to bring Christianity to the people of Northumbria.

The fifth embroidery shows the island of Lindisfarne. Bishop Aidan was on the island for only 17 years but left a lasting impression.

The most colourful embroidery, the sixth one, is on the back wall of the chapel and shows a sunset over the North Sea as a priest, Utta, brings Princess Eanfled of Kent to King Oswy to be his wife. The brochure explains that “Bishop Aidan gives Utta holy oil saying: ‘When you set sail, you will encounter a storm and contrary winds. Remember to pour oil on the waters and you will have a calm return home’. Legend says his prediction was fulfilled”.

The eighth embroidery depicts the miracle that happened in Bamburgh. I recently visited Bamburgh Castle, the Castle of Kings, and the picture caught my attention. As the legend goes, from Lindisfarne Island Bishop Aidan saw Bamburgh Castle under attack and under threat from fire. His prayers for help were answered when the wind changed direction and the attackers, King Penda and his Mercians, found the fire turning on them. The attackers fled from the castle protected by Holy Island.

If you get the chance, the chapel is worth exploring to see the lovely work of Mrs. McLeod.

Denise Bridge

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