The Great Tapestry of Scotland

The Battle of Carham 1018

I’ve just spent a day at Stirling Castle viewing the Great Tapestry of Scotland and it’s wonderful! Wonderful because of its aesthetic appeal, wonderful because of its succinct telling of thousands of years of Scotland’s history. Wonderful because of the way intricate, individual stitches turn into whole stories from our history. Wonderful for its sense of continuity – and that it can be added to as this country of ours continues to grow and develop and move forward.

Haakon’s Fleet at Kyleakin, Skye and the Battle of Largs 1263

I hadn’t expected it to make such an impact on me – after all it is silent, nothing moves, no CGI special effects or 3D specs – and yet it’s something far deeper and more lasting than that.  In detailed panels it tells Scotland’s ongoing story – the good and the bad, the tragic and the joyous, the heartbreaking and the courageous; all part of the rich tapestry of life that makes Scotland the country that it is.

Somerled First Lord of the Isles

Are there any particular themes that run through this magnificent Tapestry? On the one hand it celebrates the music, the literature, the scientific discovery, the exploration and political endeavour Scotland is rightly so famous for. The great high points in our history. But without doubt it clearly highlights the constant battle for survival faced everyday by ordinary people. The challenge to have enough to feed and clothe your family. To survive the ravages of war and famine. To retain dignity in the face of the harsh treatment of rulers, landowners and employers who held the power of life and death over the people they controlled. Life was seldom easy in the past!

But equally it highlights many of the brave and determined men and women who have, throughout the centuries, struggled to make life better for ordinary people – all too often at the cost of their own lives.  Ordinary decent Scots who have battled over and over again against enemies both within and without.

The Scottish Reformation, a School in every Parish, 1560s

It celebrates the poor and downtrodden who stood up to grasping landlords. It celebrates the men and women who strove to make life better for their fellows against the horrific conditions in mines, in rural poverty, in the wretched industrial cities and the factories where greedy owners cared nothing at all for the cruel suffering they inflicted, interested only in their own comfort and wealth.  How many people have struggled over the centuries against the inhuman and barbaric treatment those with wealth and power have meted out on the poor and vulnerable?  And how often have all those who should have spoken out, stood by silent in the face of such iniquity? How uncaring and how callous the rich and powerful have been and all too often still are. For even today so much of this country’s wealth, and land, is still held in the hands of the few.

The Discovery sails from Dundee, 1901

But, as The Great Tapestry so eloquently shows, life is never static and history moves constantly onwards. Everything changes, slowly but surely. As long as enough people care and are prepared to stand up for what is right then a future where the people of this country really matter – all of us – is possible. But equally, it’s all too easy for the precious gains of the past to be lost and for the rich and powerful to continue to hold sway over the rest of us.  Sadly, it’s very clear right now that it is not the goal of all in Britain today to see a country where there is social justice and all are treated with equal value and worth.

Women get the Vote

Perhaps this tapestry can be a wonderful lesson to all who view it.  A chance to reflect and think on how we, the citizens of Scotland today, can add to this history in a way that does honour to all in this wonderful country of ours.  How will we play our part in the life of Scotland now? How will the things that we do now be woven into the tapestry of our future?

We all have a wonderful opportunity in our own lifetime to work for the good of all in this Scotland of ours. To stand up against the injustices that continue to exist today. What will we chose to do?  And will our choices stand the test of time?  It is in our grasp to do so much for good.  Will we do it?  It will be interesting to see. People make history. What sort of history do we want to make right now?

For the story of the making of the Great Tapestry follow this linkThe Great Tapestry of Scotland

For the designer’s website and his other works follow this linkAndrew Crummy