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In late October, Toronto’s St. James Cathedral was filled with richly coloured and intricately embroidered tapestries and texiles for the exhibit “Sacred Stitches: Beauty and Holiness in the Needlework of Many Faiths.”
The day before it opened, Nancy Mallett, chair of both the exhibit as well as St. James Cathedral’s archives and museum committee, told the Anglican Journal that the Sacred Stitches exhibit grew out of plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Needleworkers Guild of the diocese of Toronto. Initially, the guild members had planned a one-day celebration with an exhibit of their work, worship service and lunch. Mallett asked if they would like to set up the exhibit in the cathedral’s archives and museum so it could be on display for a longer time.
St. James’ Dean Douglas Stoute suggested that they expand the idea even further to become a celebration of the important contributions of needleworkers throughout the church, with an exhibit in the cathedral itself, she said. The guild members chose to continue with the smaller exhibit of work from the diocese of Toronto in the cathedral’s museum, but by that time, the idea of a bigger, broader exhibit to be held in the cathedral itself had caught Mallett’s imagination.
She invited people from different faiths as well as various needlework and stitchery guilds to a meeting in June. To her delight, they were enthusiastic about the idea for the exhibit and agreed make it happen. “So it’s been a multi-faith committee that has put this whole thing together,” Mallett said. “It’s just a joy for me to go into the cathedral today and find people from many different churches and Muslims and Jewish people, working together to set this thing up.”
When it came to borrowing articles for the exhibit, Mallett said the responses were also enthusiastic and generous. The exhibit included pieces from Muslims, Jews, Coptic, Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians, Lutherans, United Church members, as well as many Anglicans.
“It really is exquisitely beautiful,” said Mallett. “People have lent us family treasures that are very personal…..We have a Persian wedding set-up. We’ve got a case with the eucharist set up and another case beside it with the Friday night setting from a Jewish home. We have a beautiful wedding canopy that was created by an artist from Israel for her son’s wedding.”
A Turkmen bridal headdress and papal liturgical gloves that belonged to Pope Benedict XV loaned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto were also on display. The exhibit included work from new immigrants to Canada, as well as beautiful beadwork items from aboriginal Canadians such as a deerhide cape and a Nishga’a blanket with the traditional red and black designs embroidered with buttons, which historically would have been sea shells, Mallett said.
The exhibit ended on Nov. 1, but it may have a lasting impact on those involved. “We’ve made friends and learned so much,” said Mallett.