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.
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.
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.
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.
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.