The Pilgrimage Tapestry

This impressive piece of needlework was given to Old Church in 1991 where it hangs on the wall in the “slype” between the chancel and the south aisle. It was designed by Major Ynyr Probert and his wife Ruth to be a cover for a pew cushion but in the event they offered it for framing as a wall-hanging. Ynyr’s designs were converted into colour patterns by the Proberts’ artist friend Julia Killingbeck and Ruth stitched the whole tapestry from these. The subject – the route from Penallt to Compostela – recalls the pilgrimage made by the Proberts and is particularly appropriate because it echoes the fine window in the west wall of the tower showing St. James of Compostela and St Christopher, patron saint of travellers, given to the church by Major Probert. The tapestry represents four years of thought, research and painstaking work resulting in a fine example of creative collaboration.

Penallt lies on one of the routes from Wales to Bristol and the Continent and the Old Church figures on the extreme right of the tapestry. The sea passage is enlivened by whales, dolphins, seagulls and mermaids, with choughs (the Probert emblem) on the cliffs of Cornwall and Brittany. The words embroidered below are the Proberts’ Welsh motto “Duw a Digon” (God is enough). The route followed to Compostela features the great cathedrals and cities visited by pilgrims journeying south and west in the format of mediaeval travellers’ maps. It includes Rennes, Bordeaux, Roncevalle, Burgos and Leon. Crossing the mountains into Galicia, the old Celtic, corner of Spain, finally brings the pilgrim to Compostela with its colossal Romanesque cathedral built to enshrine the silver casket which contains the remains of St. James.

St. James’ association with Galicia began soon after his martyrdom in 44 A.D. when his companions brought his body by sea from Joppa to Padron Bay. His tomb survived the Moorish occupation and with the re-conquest of Spain, St. James became Spain’s patron saint. Pilgrimage to holy places as a penance had to contend with the hazards of war and banditry by land and storms and pirates by sea and Compostela offered a less arduous and costly alternative to Rome and Jerusalem. By the 13th century pilgrimage to Compostela was in full flood and of course continues to this day.

[from: Penallt Revisited]