The Mary Garden, Lincoln Cathedral Cloisters

Posted by on November 6, 2015 in Blog, Recent Work | 4 comments

The Mary Garden, Lincoln Cathedral Cloisters

Tapestries, new and old – a starting point.

A tapestry hangs above the door of Lincoln Cathedral’s treasury. I must have passed it a hundred times and never noticed it until it was pointed out to me by Joan Smith, one of the Cathedral’s invaluable volunteers.






Treasury Tapestry 1

Crookshank Tapestry small

My little camera struggled with both the distance and the low light levels, but here’s a slightly better image..

The tapestry was apparently designed by Dean Mitchell and Miss Elizabeth Helen Comfort Crookshank and was presented to the Dean and Chapter in 1949. It is said to have been adapted from a set of early sixteenth century tapestries in the millefleurs style now in the Cluny Museum in Paris.

It’s impossible to know which of the many tapestries provided the original inspiration, but this is one part of La Vie Seigneuriale, showing obvious similarities.

Cluny La Vie Seigneuriale

Photo: Cluny Museum, Paris

Millefleurs, meaning a thousand flowers, was a very popular style in the late 15th and early 16th century, with tapestries being woven in many different centres and workshops in Northern France and Flanders. They often included small animals and birds among the flowers, and sometimes featured the owner’s coat-of-arms. In the Lincoln tapestry the coats of arms represent  King John and the See of Lincoln.


A sixteenth century manuscript

Miss Crookshank’s tapestry reminded me that flowers were also seen in sixteenth century manuscripts. Here’s a lovely example from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Although the border looks brown in this photograph, it was created with shell gold, giving a rich sheen as the page was turned.

Leaf from a Gradual 1524

Leaf from a Gradual 1524. Photo: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The idea of creating a twenty-first century flower filled manuscript border became irresistible when I leant about the ‘Mary Garden’.


Lincoln Cathedral’s Mary Garden

In the 1970s John Codrington planted a garden in the cloister. The plants he chose were associated by legend and tradition with the Blessed Virgin Mary, in whose name the Cathedral is dedicated. The Harebell, for example, was once known as Our Lady’s Thimble and the Marigold was ‘Mary’s Gold’. It represents the golden rays of glory often shown the Blessed Virgin’s head. The garden no longer exists, sadly, with the central area of the cloisters laid to grass.


So here is my latest illuminated page, The Mary Garden, in 24 carat gold leaf and pigments showing the cloisters as they are today and the plants from the garden in the border – a re-interpretation of a sixteenth century style illustrating part of our Cathedral’s more modern history.


The Mary Garden, 20 x 15cm, 24 carat gold and pigments, copyright Toni Watts.

The Mary Garden, 20 x 15cm, 24 carat gold and pigments, copyright Toni Watts.

Many thanks to Joan Smith for the inspiration and information on the Mary Garden, and to Joan Panton for allowing me sight of the Cathedral’s textile records.


  1. Another masterpiece Toni. Such beautiful work – you are in a league of your own.

    Hope you are well.

    • I’ve just returned from London to find your lovely comment, Vanda – thank you!

  2. Hello there

    I was sorry to have missed your demonstration on Monday afternoon 17/06/2016. I am wondering if you will be doing more demonstration in the wren library in the near future and if so could you let m have date and time details.
    I am hoping to see some of your work befor the sept workshop in the castle..



    • I’m so sorry to have missed your comment, Ann – I’ve been away on holiday. I’ll be in the Wren Library on 28th July and 4th, 11th and 18th August from 1-3pm. Hope to see you there!

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