"Tewkesbury Abbey" © Dawn Borgoyne or Musselburgh Art Club.com

Dawn Burgoyne a member of Musselburgh Art Club Explains The Symbolism behind her “Tewksbury Abbey” Calligraphy artwork



© Dawn Burgoyne or Musselburgh Art Club.com
© Dawn Burgoyne or Musselburgh Art Club.com
March 2017

I have been asked by fellow members of the Musselburgh Art Club to write down the reasons behind doing my latest piece of calligraphy and explain the thinking behind the various elements. Goodness …. I hope I don’t bore you all to death. But here goes … just remember you did ask!
Some years ago my husband Pete and I joined a re-enactment group (Historic Saltire Society to those who don’t know already). Due to cancer he’d had his vocal chords surgically removed and found it difficult to speak so he opted to take the role of a monk … he was able to indicate he was from a silent Order! Sadly Brother Pete passed away on 2 September 2015. The members of this group – who had become like a second family to us and are a wonderful motley mix – as a mark of affection and respect had his name put onto a Memorial Roll for re-enactors who had passed away during the year. These names are read out at a special Compline Service held at Tewkesbury Abbey during the town’s re-enactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471.

This Event is held over a weekend in July and the members of the group paid for me to go to Tewkesbury so that I could attend this Service. I did a full report of it for the group at the time but suffice it to say here that to watch thousands of re-enactors bringing history to life and then to go and sit in a medieval Abbey surrounded by friends (from the Saltire) and re-enactors, all in full costume …. King Edward IV and his entourage also in attendance … and to participate in a beautifully done gentle Service was spectacular, touching, uplifting, surreal and perfectly fitting all at the same time.

I obviously had time for a good look around as the Abbey has much to offer. I love to see the skill employed by medieval craftsmen (and women) whether in medieval buildings or in their beautiful books. To put my hands on their work or to just see their art gives me a deep sense of wonder and awe. I love the old stained glass windows too and as I wandered around this lovely building a group of three (the Faith Hope and Charity windows) caught my attention. Three bright jewels glowing brightly in the dark. I picked up a tourist pamphlet about the Abbey at my B & B and found out a bit more …. included were the words of a Prayer of St Benedict.
The bare bones were now in my head – it was only a matter of time before I grouped these images and put them onto paper. The finished work measures 62cm x 58 cm in its frame. Every element in it has its reason to be there.

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I have used the Abbey’s identifying letter style top and bottom – these lines are in gold leaf. They embrace and contain the 6th Century Uncial script in use when the Prayer of St Benedict was written and reflect that the site was a Benedictine Priory before becoming the Abbey we see today. I know there are several versions of this prayer but have gone with the one written in the Abbey pamphlet.

The prayer itself is done in the formal Gothic hand which is appropriate to the 12th century origins of the building of the Abbey (started 1102, subsequent consecration in 1121 and also to my own re-enactment period late 13th/early 14th century). I wanted people to be able to read the prayer so instead of continuing around the centre area in a continuous circle as might be expected I have broken it at the half-way point and inserted an arrow to indicate the reader must return to the left to continue around. The writing is in white ink …. obviously to contrast with the black background but it also links this prayer to the present-day Benedictine monks at Pluscarden Abbey who wear white habits. They entertained my husband and myself with great humour and patience when we paid them a visit. I did them a thank you piece – which featured their stained glass window of St Benedict! At the bottom, as on so many medieval pages, I added a humorous element but done on white paper you will plainly see that it lacks the drama of the Tewkesbury Abbey piece.

In the centre of the prayer are the Faith Hope and Charity windows from the Abbey the soft shape of which I had observed and which stuck in my mind long after my visit. The way the light came through them to beautifully illuminate a dark area was why I chose to do the work on a black background. I wanted to get the drama of the contrast.

Below the windows and to give a balanced mirror image of the top two lines you will see that I have dedicated it to re-enactors everywhere who share my passion for history. Re-enactors are people of all ages, shapes and sizes who come from all walks of life and who, like my group, bring to life their particular era of history and share it with great passion and enthusiasm. Actually, truth be told and given half a chance we do this at every opportunity – ask around and you will find this is common amongst all re-enactors! This passion bonds us together …. history binds all humanity together ….. we are all part of the past and play our small part in what will become the history yet to come. I have tried to too bring some of the historical strands together and link them to the present re-enactment world which not only keeps this important part of our British history alive today but reflects the part the Abbey played at the time.

I have offered it to the Abbey – whether they accept it or not it will remain a very special piece of work to me … and not just because of the technical challenges it gave me but of a wonderful experience the memory of which will stay with me always.There are other prayers, there are hymns …. there are other wonderful windows …. Hhhmmmm !

Written by Dawn Burgoyne March 2017


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