Red Altar Frontal

“Red is the colour of fire and so symbolizes the presence of God. It is the liturgical colour for Pentecost.  It is considered the colour of the Church, since red can also symbolize the blood of martyrs. It is sometimes used for Maundy Thursday and during Eastertide. Traditionally it can be used for Palm Sunday in anticipation of the death of Jesus. In some traditions it is used to commemorate special days for martyrs or saints, or for the ordination of priests/ministers.”  (

Red in common usage is typically associated with passion, danger, sacrifice, blood, fire and socialism.

This altar frontal design was inspired by work I have been doing at college. In particular, a recent module looked at modern theologians, and I chose to investigate Thomas Merton further. One of the key themes that I worked with was Thomas Merton’s repeated reference and use of contemplation. This design is my way of making sense of Merton’s writings, and assimilating them into my understanding of God.

For Merton: “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive… It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words or even in clear concepts.” (Merton 1972/1961:1)

For Merton, contemplation is about a deep meeting place with God, it is about awareness and openness, about listening for God, a place of true encounter.DSC_8233

Merton also links this contemplation to our vocation. Merton is clear “each one of us has some kind of vocation… there is only one thing necessary: to fulfil our own destiny, according to God’s will, to be what God wants us to be.” (Merton 1991/1955:116) For Merton, vocation seems to be about contemplation in action, on drawing from a deep rooted, connected faith and encounter with God, and for this to then guide our actions. In reading his works, and then playing with his ideas in fabric, I have come up with the design. I interpret it in two ways (I am sure you will find many more)

Firstly with a focus on God:

The most of a circle towards the centre represents the stillness and contemplation, the glory, awe and wonder of God. I have deliberately not included the full circle within the design, as I think it is clear from Merton’s writings, and our own experience, that our understanding of God cannot establish clear, definitive boundaries on God, there is always more (way more) than we can possibly understand.

DSC_8223 The red colour surrounding this represents God’s incarnation in the world, in the love and blood of Christ, and also in the flames of the Spirit. Throughout the red areas, there are traces of the white and gold from the centre, showing God’s touch throughout, including the white dove, explicitly representing the spirit.

Secondly with a focus on ourselves:

The white / gold centre represents our space of stillness and contemplation, of the possibly for deep encounter and connection with God.DSC_8226


The red surrounding this represents the work of the Spirit in us, leading to action, action that is guided and lead by our encounter with God.

Thank You!

A huge thank you to everyone that has supported me in this project. In particular to Myrtle and Mary for sponsoring the project, and for the many people at T-Cup Cafe that have helped with measuring, adjusting, experimenting and finalising the actual design. Many hours have gone into creating this set, however, I can’t claim it has all been hard work… I was lucky enough to stitch most of the lectern fall, burse and veil whilst onboard Queen Victoria!  The set was dedicated at All Saints Church, North Baddesley, on Remembrance Sunday, 2013.

DSC_8168My amazing daughter reminds me that all along, this work in church is there to help us focus on God, and to help us to pray.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *