ST BRIDE’S CHURCH PANELS
In the beginning.......July 2021, my neighbour Joyce White approached me (Carolyn Smart), to ask if I would be happy/able to design and sew some panels to hang in Abernethy church. I answered yes, provided the minister could meet me to give me an idea on the type of design, how large said panels were to be and what the budget was for the project. I met the minister for the first time a few weeks later, and after much discussion a layout for one panel was provisionally chosen. I was also asked if some ladies from the church could be involved in the stitching process, and as the basic design lent itself to this, it was agreed to choose people who might be able to give their time to the project.
The basic design ideas were to be linked to St Bride as this is the name of the church in Abernethy.
I decided to ask my friend Theresa Hughes if she would like to help on the project, knowing she is a very talented artist in many fields. We decided on another meeting with the minister, with some rough sketches to be discussed, after which the final designs would be confirmed, and the search for suitable fabrics would begin. At this point only one panel was being talked about, but this all changed after Rev Stan saw my rough sketches and Theresa’s not so rough sketch of St Bride, and after a lengthy chat we ended up talking about not one but three panels!!
So the process began, with the choosing of fabrics for the backgrounds of the various designs, the central panel of St Bride, and the fabric they would all eventually be mounted on, as well as backing fabric, threads, and various embellishments. Having finalised the designs and decided on the finished size of the three panels, I transferred them on to background fabrics ready for the ladies to start stitching, and put together a type of kit the ladies would need for said stitching. Various ladies in the church were then approached and asked if they would be happy to help stitch the design squares that were to go on the two outer panels.
There were four squares on each panel, each with a design relating either to St Bride or Abernethy itself. The squares were tilted to look more like diamonds and the designs were drawn on to them in a central position. Once the designs were stitched on the squares, they were applied to the main background fabric. This would then have a backing fabric applied, and finished by hemming the bottom of the panel, whilst the top was stitched, leaving openings either side to slip in the poles which they were to hang from. We decided the poles should be brass, and would hang from the picture rail in the kirk on brass chains attached to picture hooks.
The next step was to contact the ladies and organise a meeting in the session house which was now allowed after the relaxation of lockdown regulations, this was duly done and the meeting was set. The ladies asked to come were Patricia Miller, Anne Robertson, Anne Brews, Evelyn Scobie, Aileen Kennon and Wilma Whyte. The ladies chose which square they would like to stitch and were given the squares which I had transferred my designs on to, along with the threads and embellishments needed to complete it. It was arranged that if they had any problems or needed more supplies or advice, they could phone me and I would call on them and help in any way I could.
The squares were chosen in October 2021, and after Christmas and New Year were over, stitching started in earnest, and the poles were ordered.
Patricia Miller stitched the Raspberry design which was an important local crop for many years. Anne Robertson stitched the design of the Round Tower, one of the main historic buildings of the village. Anne Brews stitched the Salmon being netted, again salmon netting being an important industry in the area. Evelyn Scobie stitched the Oystercatcher design which links to St Bride. Wilma Whyte stitched the Anchor and Serpent with help from Aileen Kennon. Theresa Hughes stitched the Pictish symbol design taken from the stone at the bottom of the Tower. Carolyn Smart stitched the Celtic Cross and Harp designs. The squares once complete were returned to me and I edged them and applied them to the background fabric, and completed the two side panels. The design and stitching of the St Bride panel was done by Theresa as it was decided to machine quilt that panel before applying to the background fabric, but I will leave it to Theresa to describe her thoughts and design process to you.
Lastly but by no means least, I would like to pay tribute to my late friend Wilma Whyte who is sadly no longer with us, but was determined to do a square on the panels, the Anchor and Serpent. She chose this as a link to her family ancestry of fisherfolk. It also signifies steadfastness in the Christian faith and Wilma had faith. She was one of the kindest, funniest, people I knew, always smartly dressed, petite in stature, but with a huge personality. Hard working, with many talents she was a good friend and neighbour, and will be sadly missed by all who knew her in the village, especially those who knew her well.
Carolyn Smart, Abernethy, July 2022.
The Central Panel Theresa Hughes
The inspiration for the main banner image literally appeared as I went home after our planning meeting in the Kirk and I drew it out immediately. As I passed the bulk of Castlelaw hill fort on my way home I thought the hill must figure in the image as it would have been an important feature of the landscape then as it has now. The hill fort being well before Christ links to the pre-Christian stories which waft around “St Bride” or Brigid as she is known in Ireland.
Whether Brigid herself travelled as far as Abernethy we cannot know and I suspect perhaps not, but her Irish influence most certainly did - as the local landmark that is the round tower clearly shows. There are two round towers on the east side of Scotland; at Brechin and Abernethy, indicating that the Irish religious culture from the 9th - 10th century reached this far. Ireland has more than 60 extant today with evidence of about 120 evident intact or as ruinous ghosts under grassy mounds. So the powerful influence of St Bride and St Patrick and the other Irish saints Columba, Cormaic and Finbar made its way across the sea coming to rest sufficiently near the confluence of the rivers Earn and Tay then on to Brechin.
St Brigid The image I stitched shows a suggestion that a young Brigid did in fact travel over sea and land and was welcomed at a community she found between the Rivers Tay and Nethy. Grateful for her safe passage and inspired by the loving welcome, she kneels in prayer in a meadow in the vicinity of where the monastery/church would eventually stand. She is facing west from where she came. Her arms are in the open stance with hands raised – releasing ownership and opening to the universe. I showed my early sketch to a learned friend and they immediately said that is a more correct way to be shown “praying” as many early medieval manuscripts confirm. (This was not something that I consciously knew!).
She is barefoot. This also seemed right for a simple person of the 5th century, but I then noted in the Book of Kells that the only person who wears shoes was the person who paid for the work, even God goes barefoot, so I felt sure that Brigid would not want to place herself above God!
Holy Ghost The spirit is represented by a cloud-like dove from which inspiration showers down.
St Bride’s Cross This links many things in St Bride’s story; her simplicity, her rural background, her inspiration to others and it links her to the Christian religion. A story is recorded that Brigid went to the death-bed of a sick man who was a pagan chieftain of Kildare. She busied her hands weaving the cross and when asked, told him what it represented. So impressed was the chieftain of her, her manner and what she said, that he asked to be baptised before he died. This suggests that whatever pagan traditions were strong at the time, the Christian church was superimposing itself on them.
I experimented with making the iconic cross of St. Bride. First, I climbed the hill beyond the motorway to gather some nice big rushes. That was a nice little pilgrimage itself as I didn’t then know how to weave them but I worked it out when I got home. Carolyn and I discovered the technique by going on-line and researching the modern way!
The fire of St Bride St Bride wears a robe and cloak. I made the sleeves in a “flaming” fabric to reference the story about her ordination.
When Brigid went to Bishop Mel to receive a blessing as a nun with a group of other women she wanted to be treated no differently to the others, however a flame appeared above her head which leapt to a beam and to the church roof. It is said that she laid her hand on the burnt church timber and the wood became fresh again. Bishop Mel saw this and brought her forward. Then the Bishop found himself saying the words of consecration for a bishop, not for the initiation of a nun. Although this was complained about, Bishop Mel said that this was divine intervention and such words could not be undone. So Brigid, in effect, became the first female bishop of Ireland.
St Bride’s cloak Her cloak is meant to look like land and this represents another miraculous tale associated with her. Brigid went to the King of Leinster seeking some land on which to build her nunnery. He refused her whereupon she asked if she could have as much land as she could cover with her cloak. Laughing - he agreed. Somehow, when four nuns took the corners of her wrap, the cloak grew and stretched until it covered some acres. And there her church was established. Perhaps this references again the power of her goodness. Perhaps seeking and asking for little and then giving away what you have can impress people more than asking for a lot.
St Bride’s White Cow As a child and adult Brigid was generous with her giving. Stories exist about her milking her mother’s cows and giving the milk away and of her having and milking a white cow, with red ears, which gave much milk when Brigid milked her. Brigid gave the milk away to the hungry much to the annoyance of her family who were clearly of more ordinary earthly human stock!
Christianity Brigid’s adoption of the Christian faith is symbolised by the Lamb of Christ sitting beside her in the meadow – sharing or observing her experience of receiving the spirit.
Imbolc (1st day of February) is a cornerstone of the pre-Christian world when nature begins to move under the chilly winter mantel. At what point Brigid became associated with Imbolc is not known but she certainly covers the early year issues of needing to stave off hunger as the harvest is nearly gone and crops not yet growing. The snowdrops being our February flower are included to remind us when St Bride’s feast day is.
Fishes The silver fish in the River Tay are obviously Tay salmon but make an obvious biblical reference to the whole.
Although I have never made anything remotely like this before I have little doubt that ‘Bridey’ was helping me along now and again – even though she wouldn’t have a CLUE what the gadget machine was on which I was making her image! I had many little revelations of my own whenever I felt stuck or troubled by how to do things. It is many decades since I felt similarly connected to the distant past.
Theresa Hughes, Aberargie, July 2022