Several members of the St. James congregation have been and are highly skilled needle pointers with an obvious eye for design. The decision to start a Needlepoint Guild was made in 1983 with the encouragement and guidance of the Rt. Rev. James M. Coleman, the then-rector of St. James. Joan McCaskill was asked to become the chair and begin work. Several members of the church, as well as members of the community, volunteered to work on this project.
The initial project of the Needlepoint Guild would consist of designing and stitching kneelers to be installed at the communion rail, as well as seat and back covers for the chairs in the sanctuary, and a banner for the church. Much thought was given to making the project artistically consistent with the design of the church building, and compatible with the teachings of the Episcopal Church. Each piece would be carefully designed to complement and enhance the elaborate architecture, woodwork and the stained glass windows. The work was to be given to the glory of God and in loving memory of those members of St. James Church who have entered into life everlasting.
Designs were rendered by artist Lauren Cunningham Tucker, a Baton Rouge native. Mrs. Tucker is nationally known for her needlepoint designs and has been commissioned to design works for the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, the National Cathedral, in Washington, DC.
After submitting samples of their work, the stitchers on the original project included Joe Benton, Bunnie Bienvenu, Madeleine Campbell, Lynda Carpenter, Lubna Culbert, Laura Everson, Paula Freeman, Barrie Griffin, Amelia Hatcher, Kathryn Hettrick, Mary Holm, Robert Holm, Peggy Hunt, Mary Jarnagin, Joan McCaskill, Mildred McVea, Suzanne Mann, Virginia Noland, Madeline Riché, Pat Saroch, Nora Say, Carole Seiferd, Mary Lou Shetterly, Mary Elizabeth Snellgrove, Laura Thompson, and Peggy Winter.
The kneelers were complete in 1986 and dedicated with a special service in which the chairperson and members of the Needlepoint Guild were recognized for their devoted efforts, dedication and the hours spent for the Glory of the Lord.
Work on the remainder of the pieces, however, was put aside until 2007 when, at the request of Joan McCaskill, Carole Wright retrieved partially completed pieces from the church safe and, as newly-appointed chair of the Needlepoint Guild, recruited members of the church to resume work. She oversaw the project and supervised the completion of the next several pieces dedicated on St. James Day, July 25, 2010.
The pieces completed in Phase II include the cushions for two bishop’s chairs and two clergy chairs in the sanctuary, and the St. James banner. The stitching was done by Sue Bowers, Rosemary Campbell, Lubna Culbert, Celene Miller, Nanette Noland, Mary Lou Shetterly and Carole Wright.
Special thanks go to Carole Wright, chairperson of the St. James Needlepoint Guild for her efforts in resurrecting the guild, and to Helen Campbell and Phillip Wright for the support they have given the project.
The detailed description of each design, including the symbolism of art and colors used are depicted on photographs by Fred Frey, III.
Phase I: Kneelers
The theme for the needlepoint cushions for the altar rail undertaken in 1983 was representation of the seven sacraments. In addition, there are cushions to commemorate Christ’s incarnation as represented by a unicorn, and Christ’s resurrection, both as the rising phoenix and as a lion
The unifying element of the kneelers is the use of the arches which frame each cushion and provide continuity. These arches are a reflection of the Gothic-revival design of our church architecture, also reflected in the interior woodwork and carving. Another unifying theme is the azure blue seen between the arches on each cushion symbolizing heavenly love. The top of each cushion features a border displaying the symbol of the cross.
The descriptions and photos below are in an order of the cushions from left to right when facing the altar. (All are interchangeable, however, except the center cushion, so do not be astonished to find them different in the church.)
The unicorn is a legendary animal representing purity. The legend of the unicorn was interpreted by Christian writers as an allegory of the annunciation and the incarnation of Christ and his sinless life. Above the head of the unicorn is the banner bearing the monogram INRI which stands for the Latin words Ieusus Nazarenus Rex Iudæorum or Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and the banner of victory are the identifying symbols for the sacrament of forgiveness: the Reconciliation of a Penitent.
The lamb is surrounded by the blue hyssop flower which symbolizes penitence and humility. These two symbols are then surrounded by lilies, standing for the pure state established in the life of the penitent by reconciliation with God.
Double wedding rings symbolize the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The circle is an ancient symbol of eternity and perfection. The rings may be taken to represent the never-ending love of the couple for each other. They also remind us of the love of Christ for his bride, the Church. This is reflected in the monogram XP — the Chi Rho, one of the earliest forms of christogram using the first two letters in the Greek spelling of the word Christ: Χριστός. The rose symbolizes the triumph of love, and the Lily of the Valley for its association with weddings and the purity of intentions of the couple to be married. The two flowers are mentioned in the second chapter of the Song of Solomon: “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valley.” The blue ribbon is a symbol of the heavenly love which holds mankind together, and Christ to the Church.
The scallop shell is the symbol of baptism generally used in Christian art to signify pilgrimage. It may be taken to represent the pilgrimage of the life in Christ about to be undertaken by the newly baptized. It is also the symbol of James the Greater, the patron saint of our parish. The shell is also associated with the sea and its waters. Water is seen dripping out of the shell, the moving water representing the washing away of sin and cleansing of baptism.
The dolphins on either side of the shell represent resurrection and salvation. Ancient Romans used the dolphin to signify the soul’s journey across the sea of death to the Blessed Isles. Christians began to use the image of the dolphin as a specific symbol of Christ as the guide of souls across the waters of death.
Bullrush is a plant often found in abundance near water and has become a symbol for the multitude of the faithful who lead a humble life and abide by the teachings of Christ, the source of the water of life.
The chalice is the identifying symbol for the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. Surrounding the chalice are grapes and wheat, representing the wine and bread of the communion meal.
The Eucharist is the principal act of Christian worship. It is the instrument designated by Christ himself at the Last Supper, and we believe that by the grace of God, Jesus is truly present to the faithful in the bread and wine. The Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is celebrated weekly as the principal service of worship in most Episcopal churches. In our tradition, communion is open to all who are baptized, regardless of age or denomination.
The cushion in front of the altar gate reflects the centrality of the resurrection in our Christian belief and features its symbols. The phoenix dominates; the legendary bird of great beauty with gold and crimson plumage lived in the Arabian wilderness. Myth credits the phoenix with a 500-year life span after which it burned upon a funeral pyre only to rise again from the ashes, restored to the freshness of youth. Flanking the phoenix are acanthus leaves entwined with pomegranates, an ancient symbol of fertility and hope of immortality. The many seeds in one fruit also represent the Church. The blue butterflies also represent the resurrection. The IHS monogram at either end denote the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, iota-eta-sigma, our sure and certain path of resurrection.
The sacrament of Confirmation is represented by the dove surrounded by flaming tongues as described in Acts 2:3, traditional symbols of the Holy Spirit which is conferred upon the confirmand by the laying on of the bishop’s hands.
Surrounding this are fruit symbolizing the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The vine reminds us of Jesus’ words in John, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”
Ordination is represented by the crossed keys, the symbol associated with St. Peter. The keys are surrounded by a purple ribbon, symbolic of the office of bishop. The oaks leaves are representative of strength, faith, and steadfastness, and the oak is bearing its fruit, the acorn.
Holy Unction is symbolized by the oil vessel, or ampulla. The grape vines surrounding the vessel remind us of the power of Christ to bring salvation, and the birds symbolize God’s protection of all creation.
Jesus healed the sick, and instructed his disciples to do likewise in Matthew 10: “Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”
The lion is emblematic of strength, majesty, courage, and fortitude. The lion was believed to sleep with his eyes open and to typify Christ sleeping on the cross and as to his manhood but waking in his divine nature. The lion also has historic representation for the resurrection in that, in the Middle Ages, the lioness was said to produce her offspring dead but they were given life on the third day after birth by the breath of the lion, their father, as Christ was raised the third day by the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Above the lion is the banner bearing the monogram INRI which stands for the Latin words Ieusus Nazarenus Rex Iudæorum or Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, also seen on the cushion at the other end of the altar rail.