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When plans were being made last autumn to celebrate St Richard's Golden Jubilee, Rebecca Monteith came up with an idea which had immediate appeal.
Rebecca knew of the Church of St Francis in Wythenshawe, Manchester where the parish community had worked with an artist, Stephen Law, to create a painting of the prayer of St Francis. Each letter there was worked by a group or individual and then mounted to create the whole prayer. Given the dedication of the church to St Richard, a Bishop of Chichester in the 13th century, and the well-known prayer attributed to the saint, the text for a Chichester project was easily found.
But how to do it? Some thought and prayer gave us the inspiration to work in cloth – drawing on the traditions of patchwork and embroidery around the world. Much looking around the church identified the north walls each side of the stained glass window of St Richard as a very appropriate position for the finished piece – which is divided into two halves to fit into the spaces available. “The colours of the stained glass window are predominantly blue and yellow but some other colours were also chosen to fit with the paintings of the Stations of the Cross that hang below the banner” Rebecca Monteith explains.
“The words of the prayer are separated by black fabric – which was inspired by the black areas in the stained glass window”. “We decided to ask everyone to use the same size and typeface of letter so that the whole prayer would look consistent” said co-organiser Anne Bone. “Given the historical link between Eric Gill and Chichester we chose to use a typeface he had designed – they are also strong shapes that are not too complicated. The typeface Perpetua seemed to be what we were looking for – and the name is apt too as we hope this banner will be enjoyed by people coming to the church for a long time to come”.
Rectangles of printed cotton were cut to size and letters printed ready for the big day in March when parishioners were invited to join the project by taking one (or more) letters home to sew. “Over 50 people old and young, from around the world, who are part of the parish have joined in this project which is a great community effort. In some cases families have taken the letters of a word – and some of the children who attend “little church” have their names sewn on to the word “the”.
The small children who attend the parish nursery have left their mark on the banner for the future generations of the parish – through felt shapes of their hands.” comments Father Keiron O’Brien, parish priest of St Richard’s. “Some people have sown the letter in a contrasting fabric, some letters are embroidered, knitted or crocheted and there’s been a lot of beads and sequins added too”..
A stalwart team of ladies and one man have then sewn the letters together, backed the banner and created a hanging system. It was erected by Mike Beal.
On Wednesday 21st May the banner is to be blessed as part of the concelebrated Golden Jubilee Mass at St Richards. As well as current and former parish priests, the Bishop, Mgr Kieran Conry, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor and the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Munoz (the Pope’s representative in England) will join the representatives from the Chichester community , other churches and parishioners in celebrating this wonderful anniversary.