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The Story of the Quilt

October 2006 - Sue Oxley

In 2003, Father Kevin Knox-Lecky spoke to me about a signature quilt. Apparently his great-grandmother's name was on one in her home town and he wanted one made for St. Mary's as an enduring record of the parish families at the turn of the new Millennium. I agreed to take it on; little did I know that this would be a story that would run and run, and that the quilt would have a life all of its own that would affect many people far away from Glastonbury. I began by thinking about a design and colour; the statue of Our Lady of Glastonbury, here at the Shrine is in gold, red and blue and the corner of the St. Joseph chapel where the quilt would hang was quite dark. Kim, our lay administrator, put information on the quilt in the Parish newsletter, but somehow it didn't get through to the parishioners. I stood up and spoke about the quilt in the weekend Masses following, and should have taken another quilt as an example, because I was still faced with rather blank looks. I cut out the right size squares for the four patch blocks and took them to the church for people to take and to bring back either sewn or with their names on. We also decided that as a nice touch we would have biblical references with the names so that people in the future could look up and see what was important to parishioners at the time. The squares disappeared, most never returned. I should, of course, have charged for them not because of the money but because people might have valued them more. Then I started a group that met on Friday evenings to embroider the squares, to try and get some help.

We met for the whole of 2004. After about a year the embroidery group died a death, as most of the squares were embroidered, and I sewed the patches together and made the top of the quilt. I folded the top away and put it into a cupboard and waited to think what to do next. A quilt has three layers - a top, which we had made, the wadding in the middle to act as an insulating layer for warmth, and a cotton backing. Once the whole 'sandwich' is put together it can be quilted to stabilise and make it beautiful with texture and extra design. I needed an artist to design the quilting - I wanted Our Lady of Glastonbury and the Infant Jesus, the Tor, the Tree and the Abbey, all sparkling and visible on the back of the quilt in gold quilting. I asked around but no-one was interested. One day in 2005 there was a knock at the door and two late middle-aged ladies from California were standing there. They were looking for a room (I run a Bed and Breakfast in Glastonbury). I noticed that one of the ladies, Wanda, had a lovely jacket on covered in Arthurian symbolic designs. I asked her where she found it, and she told me she had made it herself - they were quilters and artists!! The voice in my head that speaks to me in times of importance said 'The Quilt, The Quilt'. I got it out and told them about it, and about needing a design for the back. 'We'll design it,' they said immediately. I rushed them round to St. Mary's, they took lots of photos, already having some of the Tor, Abbey and Tree. I felt full of excitement and joy. About a fortnight later I got an email from California with a design attachment, and then a few weeks later in the post came a full-size drawing of the design. This is now in St. Mary's archive. I phoned my friend Fran who used to quilt my tops, I told her the story of the quilt so far. 'Did you know I'm a lapsed Catholic,' she asked, 'and did you know I have cancer?' I replied that I didn't know either of these things. She laughed and sighed and said, 'Send me everything and I will sort it out'. I found some backing material and sent it along with the top, and the full-size design from California, which they had drawn onto muslin. This was in June 2005 and I heard no more for a while. Then Fran told me it was finished and that it was the best thing she had done, not just because of the quilting, but for many reasons of her own. I never found out what they were, but I do hope the quilt brought her back home to the Church.

Wendy was back in England having come over again from her home in Laguna Beach to Minehead, where she has a house. It was August 2005 and we needed to get the quilt up in the church on the 15th August for the Feast of the Assumption. We had a week to get some of the beading carried out. Wendy is an expert beader, one of the top beaders in the States, and creates beautiful work. She was to do Our Lady of Glastonbury and I bought a variety of tiny, very glittery beads and she also bought some of her own from California. (I beaded the Infant Jesus subsequently, and we are waiting for the beaders to do the Tree, the Tor and the border, they will come!)

It was Saturday and we were waiting for the quilt, which Fran had sent by courier so that it would definitely get to us that day. Nothing turned up. Wendy needed to get on with her beading to be ready for the Assumption; it was two by this time and no quilt. I phoned the couriers who had been given the wrong information and the quilt was in the warehouse, not likely to get to us until Tuesday. I told the man the story of the quilt, and called it 'The Glastonbury Quilt' which made him take some notice! He very kindly went to the warehouse, found the quilt and also found someone who was on his way to Street to bring the quilt to us. The quilt and the delivery man turned up at six and Wendy began her work. The man himself was sorely in need of a chat and a cup of tea. We gave him both and a picture of Our Lady of Glastonbury, for which he was very grateful, we didn't really know why, it was something personal to him. (The quilt was doing its work! Everyone who gets involved in it is blessed.) We hung the quilt on the 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption. Fran and Wendy were there, and Wanda was in spirit, and Father Kevin held a special ceremony during the Mass and blessed the quilt very beautifully. I felt such a mixture of emotions that I couldn't name them. I heard recently that Fran died exactly a year later on the 15th August of this year, 2006. I just know that Our Lady of Glastonbury came to fetch her home in special thanks for the beautiful work she had done.

Before August 2005, I was given a wonderful present from Wanda - a hanging of Our Lady of Glastonbury which she had made specially for me and which reflected the design of Our Lady in the quilt. It so happened that at this time the statue of Our Lady had been taken down from the rear of the sanctuary at St. Mary's for renovation, and we had the pilgrimage banner in its place. Also, at this time, members of our congregation were going to Lourdes at the beginning of August, before the quilt was hung, and therefore couldn't take our banner. But this lovely present turned up (by chance? I don't think so!) by post from California the day before they were due to go and I ran up the road to my friend Maggy's house with it so they could take it to Lourdes. I was supposed to go to Lourdes too, but the dates changed and I couldn't go. Anyway, my dear friends that went bought a special stick to carry the small banner and took it in procession and had it blessed in Lourdes. They had a wonderfully holy pilgrimage and I took it to Lourdes this year and it is now our special small pilgrimage banner and kept in St. Mary's.

Finally people in the congregation began to realise what the quilt was for and lots of people are now wanting their names embroidered on it. It is quite difficult as the embroidery can only go through the top, so as not to spoil the back, but I am doing what I can. People seem to love finding their names on it and we have a Bible on a shelf by the quilt so that they can look up the references. I am waiting for the beading to be done on the rest of the quilt, the right people will turn up to do it in time and then we will be able to display the beautiful work of Fran, Wendy and Wanda in all its glory and get the right lighting so that it shows up really well. It has become clear that this quilt affects everyone who works on it and that it is not the work or property of any one or two people, but belongs to St. Mary's and to Glastonbury, where we hope it will remain to be seen and enjoyed by many generations to come. It may take a while until it is finally complete but that is fine. It is, as we all are, in the hands of God.