Betty McLeod has captured the essence of Bishop Aidan’s life in a series of ten canvas embroideries that decorate the walls of Saint Aidan’s Chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Ontario (Canada). 

 In Memoriam C.F. MacKEWN, SR.  

The Saint Aidan Embroideries have been given in honour of C.F. (Fred) MacKewn Sr. by his wife and family. Fred, a successful London business man, was baptized, confirmed and married in the cathedral which he attended for many years as well as serving on its board of management. He always had a personal and special affection for St. Paul’s

Iona 635 A. D.

 1.     The visitor will want to move to the embroidery at the front right as we begin the story of Aidan the Bishop. This shows Aidan as a young monk being commissioned by the Abbott of Iona to Christianize the people of Northumbria in 635 A.D. King Oswald, himself a Christian, supported Aidan’s work and gave him money and land to build churches throughout his land. The monks are clothed in their traditional habits of linen, wools and leather. This creative use of material adds dimension and strength to the individuals portrayed, and also contrasts with the flat, cold monastery walls. 

Preaching The Gospel

2.    The second embroidery depicts Aidan, now Bishop, traveling throughout Northumbria from village to village baptizing and preaching. Here Aidan visually gives meaning to St. Paul’s dictum: “I preach the faith of Christ crucified”. Again, notice the imaginative use of fabric to bring life and energy to the scene. 

Easter Feast

 3.      The next embroidery portrays the Easter Festival. King Oswald has just sat down to eat when he is told that there are needy folk outside the castle walls. Oswald immediately sends them his food and divides up his large silver platter. Aidan is moved by this generosity and prays that the king’s hand may never wither. There is a story that after Oswald’s death in battle, the hand, indeed, remained whole. 


 4.        The last embroidery on the epistle or east wall depicts Bishop Aidan teaching twelve English boys the Christian faith. The boys and Bishop Aidan are clothed in the traditional garb of the time. Three of these boys went on to become bishops, attesting to the powerful influence of Aidan: Saint Eata who became fifth Bishop of Lindisfarne, Saint Cedd who Christianized the East Saxons and Saint Chadd who became Bishop of Mercia. 


 5.     This canvas on the rear wall depicts Lindisfarne, a small island off the east coast of Northumbria in northern England. Lindisfarne was chosen by Aidan as his See from which he taught and governed for a mere seventeen years but with remarkable success. 

Bishop Aidan Calms The Waters

 6.    On the opposite back wall of the chapel, one may see the most visually striking embroidery of the collection. Here, Utta, a priest, has been sent by King Oswy to bring back Princess Eanfled of Kent for his wife. Utta fears the storms off Lindisfarne and asks Bishop Aidan to intercede for him. Bishop Aidan gives Utta holy oil saying: “When you set sail, you will encounter a storm and contrary winds. Remember to pour oil on the waters and you will have a calm return home”. It is told that it turned out as predicted. There was a storm, the oil calmed the waters and the princess was delivered safely to the king. Note the beauty of the sunset reflected in the North Sea, the construction of the tiny vessel and especially the face of the princess. 

Gift Of A Horse

 7.      This delightful scene exemplifies the generosity of Bishop Aidan. King Oswyn had given Aidan a fine horse to ride rather that have to walk on his travels. When a poor man asked for alms, Aidan dismounted and gave him the horse. When Oswyn asked Aidan why he gave away such a valuable animal, Aidan admonished the king, pointing out the worth of the human over the animal. Oswyn accepted the rebuke and sought forgiveness. Notice the “material” Mrs. McLeod has used in the creation of the horse. 

Bishop Aidan's Prayers Save The Royal City

 8.       The eighth embroidery captures the story of the miracle at Bamburgh. King Penda and his marauding Mercians were laying siege to Bamburgh. Unable to enter the city, they laid huge rafters against the landward wall and set it on fire. Two miles away in Lindisfarne, Aidan saw the flames and prayed for deliverance. Immediately the wind changed and blew the flames onto the attackers. This so unnerved the Mercians that they withdrew from Bamburgh, a place and people so obviously under divine protection. Mrs. McLeod has once again authenticated a scene by using, in this case, carvings of skulls on battle standards and battle gear to create a vivid historic impression. 

Heiu Abbess Of Hartlepool

 9.            The ninth embroidery shows Bishop Aidan instructing two royal ladies. Heiu and Hilda along with Bishop Aidan are in the main room of a typical manor house of the seventh century. Heiu was the first woman in Northumbria to take holy vows and be clothed as a nun. She founded and was made Abbess of the Monastery of Hartlepool. Lady Hilda followed Heiu as Abbess of Hartlepool and became well known for founding a number of monasteries around England and was later canonized. 

Death Of Bishop Aidan, August 31, 651

 10.      The tenth, and final embroidery, paints the scene of Bishop Aidan’s death on the thirty-first of August 651. In a little tent attached to his church in Bamburgh Aidan died. The dark colours evoke the sadness and regret at the loss of one who in seventeen short years had accomplished so much.