Wednesday 22 November 2023

South Africa’s Bayeux Tapestry

 Ancilla writes: This time something a little different for us. It is not liturgical but a great example of perseverance and taking the time to preserve history. 

Located within the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa is a famous tapestry depicting ‘Die Groot Trek’ or 'The Great Trek'. In 1836 and onwards Dutch settlers located along the coast travelled northward into the interior of South Africa. They styled themselves as “voortrekkers” which can be interpreted a number of ways: ‘pioneers’ being the most obvious chioce but also ‘pathfinders’ and 'those who trek ahead' gives more depth to what they did in settling in the interior or South Africa and the perils that came with it.

The tapestry was designed by W.H. Coetzer which began to be stitched in 1938 by nine women. It contains 3.3 million stitches highlighting these years of South African history and especially the role played by women in it. The tapestry took eight years to complete and consists of fifteen panels spanning the length of a long room.

What is admirable is unlike so much in our factory paced modern society this piece took years to complete. It must have seemed like an endless job at times. This quality is also seen in the Guild of St Clare. That is not to say that every piece we work on will take eight years! Rather that quality and prayerfulness is put into the projects. Both men and women are re-finding the path of how to make and mend liturgical items; though only the Holy Angels are counting the number of lovingly placed stitches we do. 

Friday 10 November 2023

November 2024 Sewing Retreat: report

Our November Sewing Retreat took place last weekend at St Joseph's Centre in Ashurst, near Southampton, a warm, welcoming and deeply Catholic place where we were made to feel completely at home. Our chaplain was Fr Stephen Morrison OPraem of the Norbertine community at Peckham, who very generously managed to spare the time from his very busy parish to be with us. 

Our three Low Masses, celebrated by him, were of course celebrated in the Premonstratensian rite. I love to see the small differences between this and the more commonly celebrated Roman Rite. He also led us in the Rosary, and Sung Compline each evening. Fr Stephen is a highly accomplished musician, and it was a joy to see our paraliturgical devotions celebrated so beautifully.

We had a number of repairs to execute. One red and gold chasuble has a very worn velvet orphrey, which has now been removed and replaced by a new one. 

Significant darning is needed on a semi-gothic chasuble, which the owner has asked us not to patch (we have strengthened it on the reverse, however). 

We have a clerical cloak for re-lining; and work is continuing on a beautiful white embroidered humeral veil - all the stitches holding the metal threads down have perished and every one needs to be replaced.


Fr Stephen had brought a black velvet chasuble with goldwork orphreys; it's in almost perfect condition except on the front at the seam, which was opening and needed to be secured. 

He also brought a cassock from his own sacristy, used by one of his altar servers. Some of the seams were opening, particularly down the front and round the armholes. Fr Stephen repaired this himself, displaying considerable skill with the sewing machine.

We are also undertaking a number of commissions. Under construction at the retreat were two burses, a chalice veil, a chasuble and a maniple.

Fr Stephen's talks were on the subject of evil and our struggle with it: on the love of God, and our love for him and our neighbour. He preached most movingly at our final Mass, celebrated on the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost: "If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole", and drew a parallel between the action of the woman in the story and the work of the Guild of St Clare. 

Booking is open for our next Sewing Retreat, also at St Joseph's, between 16th and 18th February 2024. Our chaplain will be Fr Edward van den Bergh, of the London Oratory. Places are strictly limited so don't delay before booking your place!