World War One - Altar Frontal

Today at the Cathedral View More
7:30am Morning Prayer
8:00am Eucharist
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong

World War One - Altar Frontal

The art and craft of 138 men, severely injured by the horrors of warfare, forms the centrepiece of St Paul's Cathedral's commemoration of the centenary of World War One.

A beautiful and poignant altar frontal was displayed inside the Cathedral for the 2014-18 centenary period. It has now been removed to store but will be used each November for the remberance commemorations. 

The simple beauty of the altar frontal belies the tragic but often uplifting stories of the men who created it. Showing intricate floral and bird designs with the chalice of the Eucharist and the palm branches of martyrdom, this altar frontal was commissioned especially for the national service of thanksgiving at the end of the War in July 1919, attended by King George V.
The horrors of WW1 saw countless lives lost across Europe, as well as many men returning home severely injured, physically and mentally. Hospitals around the UK took in the men from all the allied countries as they recovered and recuperated.
Of the many forms of rehabilitation, embroidery was seen as a good way of reducing the effects of shell shock, owing to its intricacy and need for concentration and a steady hand.
And so the idea for an altar frontal for St Paul's Cathedral was conceived, with men from the UK, Australia, Canada and South Africa, contributing small sections, which were then stitched together at the Royal School of Needlework.

A beautifully illuminated book contains the handwritten names of every man who worked on the frontal, together with the names of their regiments and hospitals.

When complete, the altar frontal was used on the Cathedral's high altar and would remain in use long after the War. However, the frontal's fortunes changed in the next World War, when German bombs destroyed the high altar. Luckily, the frontal survived the Blitz, but the restoration of the Cathedral saw a new high altar and the WW1 frontal was no longer used.
In 2013 that it was decided the WW1 altar frontal would be used again as the centrepiece and focal point of the Cathedral's WW1 commemorations.

The frontal made its way to the Cathedral broderers, who set about restoring it to its original glory. And so the story of the St Paul's Cathedral WW1 altar frontal lives on, and the memory of 138 brave soldiers is preserved.