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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
Detail of Geoffrey, from the Geoffrey Tapesty at Monmouth Priory
© Monmouth Priory
Your Story: Monmouth Priory - The Geoffrey Tapestry

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.

Of the three embroidered ‘windows’, the central panal depicts Geoffrey of Monmouth (modelled on Fr. James Coutts who instigated the refurbishment of Monmouth Priory) in the black habit of the Benedictines. Artistic licence has him writing his book, ‘The History of the Kings of Britain’ with the River Monnow in the foreground: two of the kings had strong local connections and they are shown in the panels. King Arthur with his Queen Guinevere, is being crowned at Caerleon by Dubricius (modelled on the Most Reverend Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and former Bishop of Monmouth) and here it is the Usk that echoes the river theme of Kempe’s 19th Century stained glass window. The Monnow and the Usk link up with the Wye in the third panel. In this scene King Vortigern listens to the young Merlin telling him the legend of the red and white dragons. Vortigern, initially a lord of Gwent, was eventually killed at Ganarew above the Wye Valley.

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.

Words: Monmouth Priory

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