St Thomas Way
This exhibition accompanies the launch of the new heritage trail on the Welsh-English borders, St Thomas Way. Artist Michelle Rumney has been visiting places along the St Thomas Way and exploring medieval beliefs since last September. She’s been working alongside Chloe MacKenzie, research fellow in Medieval English at the University of Southampton. They’ve been looking at the ways people made sense of the world around them – from contemplating the vast ‘known’ world of the Hereford Mappa Mundi to the ‘simple’ act of taking a walk.
St Thomas Way winds from Swansea to Hereford, loosely following the pilgrimage route taken in 1290 by ‘The Hanged Man’, William Cragh. Hung for his many crimes, he miraculously came back to life later that afternoon. He said he’d seen a vision of Thomas Cantalupe, the late Bishop of Hereford. There were reports of over 200 miracles at the time. The Pope later canonised him and Thomas became Hereford’s first Saint.
William walked barefoot all the way to Hereford Cathedral to give thanks to Thomas for saving his life – and his soul. Around his neck, he wore the noose he’d been hung with.
This story is inspiring on so many levels. Chloe has been walking in places that still hold echoes of those times over 700 years later, testing the new circular routes at each of the 13 points along the trail. Meanwhile, Michelle has been exploring the strange world of the Mappa Mundi and at the medieval practice of ‘Measuring to the Saint’. While he was being measured to the Saint, William started coming back to life.
In the 13th century, it was the custom to measure a person who needed spiritual or physical help from head to toe using a piece of string or thread. Send this length of string to a cathedral or abbey, and the monks would make a candle from it, then pray to the saint for the person’s eternal soul. Michelle loved this concept that a humble piece of string could perhaps still connect us spiritually. She has used the practice in her work, measuring over 250 people ‘to the saint’. Using these lengths of string to create a new ’map’, she invites us to explore and reflect upon these new landscapes.
Dr Catherine Clarke, Professor of Medieval English at the University of Southampton, originally commissioned the exhibition. Catherine first came across Michelle’s work with maps and labyrinths at the exhibition at Poole Lighthouse: “Are we There Yet? Mapping the Labyrinth”. The University of Southampton’s Public Engagement with Research unit (PERu) funded this exhibition “Re-Making Maps of the Mind: Medieval & Modern Journeys”.
Michelle created a whole series of new works inspired by these stories. You can seen them now in Hereford Cathedral’s beautiful vaulted Crypt. Hereford is the first (or last!) stop on St Thomas Way. The exhibition runs from Saturday 7th July until Tuesday 14th August. It then moves along the trail to St Mary’s Priory in Abergavenny and to St Mary’s in Swansea in September…
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