The Tapestry

Monmouth Priory Tapestry hangs upstairs in the Geoffrey Room and is made up of three panels. The background is worked in wool on canvas and the panels are embroidered on linen. The central panel shows Geoffrey of Monmouth writing his "History of the Kings of Britain", and either side are two of the kings who feature in his book.

The background design is based on the west window of St Mary’s Church with its beautiful 14th Century tracery (also known as ‘The Four Rivers Window’). A Celtic knot pattern gradually rises from green (earth) through blue (sky) to purple (heaven) and reminds us that the Church in Monmouth was of Celtic foundation; these intertwining lines were also used by the Hereford School of Romanesque sculptors who were involved with the Priory at the end of the 11th Century. A beaded motif from one of the capitals (an archaeological fragment can be seen in the church) is used in the lower panels of each of the background.

Linking the embroidered panels with the background are three circular designs in the lower panels. Beneath Geoffrey is the head of the angel that can be seen outside, sculpted underneath ‘Geoffrey’s Window’. Below Arthur is his shield, ‘Pridwen’, with its image of the Virgin Mary, whilst ‘Caliburn’, his sword, can be seen in the initial ‘A’. Finally, the red and white dragons can be found in the Vortigern panel.

The Panels

The left hand panel is of King Arthur with his queen, Guinivere, being crowned at Caerleon by Dubricius. Dubircius is modelled on Archbishop Rowan Williams who was Bishop of Monmouth when the tapestry was made. The river here is the River Usk (which flows through Caerleon). King Arthur's shield 'Pridwen' with its image of the Virgin Mary is depicted in the circular design below with his sword 'Caliburn' in the initial 'A'. The River Usk flows through the panel.

The central panel depicts Geoffrey of Monmouth writing his book. He is dressed in the black habit of the Benedictines and the image of the angel, taken from Geoffrey's Window on the outside of the building, is repeated in the circular panel below. Artistic licence has him writing his book, ‘The History of the Kings of Britain’ with the River Monnow in the foreground. Geoffrey is modelled on Fr. James Coutts who instigated the refurbishment of Monmouth Priory. The River Monnow flows through this panel.

The righthand panel depicts King Vortigern listening to Merlin telling him the legend of the red and white dragons. Vortigern, initially a lord of Gwent, was eventually killed at nearby Ganarew above the Wye Valley. The red dragon is below on the right with the white dragon in the initial 'V' and below is the River Wye.


The Making of the Tapestry

monmouth priory tapestry being madeA group of stitchers offered to make a wall hanging. Two of them, Barbara Wright and Eira Steggles, were responsible for the initial research, design and organisation. They looked to the 900 years of Priory history for their inspiration.

After consulting with Father James Coutes and architect Keith Murray, the Priory Stitchers decided that the wall hanging would relate to Geoffrey of Monmouth. The 15th century oriel window was dedicated to him and a room, which had been in the Priory but was demolished in 1800, was known as Geoffrey’s Study. There is therefore this long standing connection with Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Priory, and Geoffrey himself was someone who had contributed greatly to western culture and literature.

Postcards of the Geoffrey Tapestry are available. There is a most informative booklet available entitled 'Stitches and Stories' by Eira Steggles, which tells the story of the tapestry along with some of the history of Geoffrey of Monmouth and some of the history he wrote. It costs £1 per copy and is available from the Priory Office.