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Jackie Holderness, Education Officer

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Friday, April 5, 2019

Behind the scenes header image


Jackie Holderness, Education OfficerEmily: How did you come to be the Education Officer at Christ Church?

Jackie: I wasn’t actually looking for a new job but I noticed an advert which had popped up on the Diocesan website and it so intrigued me that I applied. With a background in history and art history, I have always enjoyed visiting churches, abbeys and cathedrals, but I knew very little about the world of Cathedral Education. Thankfully, there was a well-established tradition of hosting school groups, led by Jim Godfrey, our longest-serving verger, who left a helpful legacy on which I could expand, and so my remit was to try and develop the education programme still further.

Emily: What does the job involve?

Jackie: Since many schools are not aware they can bring pupils here, one of my main roles is to publicise our education programme and explain what we offer. We are now offering Family Trails and activities during Half term holidays and, when possible, I also visit schools to introduce Christ Church to pupils who may not be able to visit the Cathedral.

Emily: What is the best part of your job?

School group meeting the carp in Tom QuadJackie: I very much enjoy the chance to work with pupils of all ages and love the variety of this role. No two days or groups are the same, but almost always the pupils’ eyes widen with wonder as they step inside the Quad or enter the Cathedral. I still get a thrill from sharing this very special place with young people and enjoy the challenge of trying to explain its purpose, past and present, and the faith that helped to build, and still sustains, it.

I am also very fortunate to work with such a brilliant Education volunteer team. We have a lot of fun working together and particularly enjoy sharing the story of Saint Frideswide with the children.

Emily: And now you’ve written a book about her! What is it about St Frideswide that is so inspiring to you?

Jackie: I first encountered her story through the jewel-like colours of the stained glass window in the Latin Chapel. The pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones was only 24 when he was commissioned to tell the saint’s story. As soon as I saw the sun shafting through the brilliant coloured glass, I fell in love with the window and with its feisty protagonist, the Anglo-Saxon princess who was determined to live her life as she believed she should.

The more I learned about Frideswide, the more important she became to me on a personal level. Traditionally, Frideswide was a saint that women, especially would-be mothers, prayed to for help. In the Middle Ages, so many pilgrims came to visit the shrine and her holy well at Binsey, that additional inns and guest houses had to be built to shelter them all. Even Katherine of Aragon made the journey to Oxford to ask the saint to intercede on her behalf.

The Princess who Hid in a Tree - book coverEmily: Why is she a good subject for a children’s book?

Jackie: Frideswide’s tale is one of adventure, courage in the face of danger, friendship, faith and kindness.

Her story is typical of many children’s stories, where the good but apparently weaker protagonist ends up outwitting or transforming the wicked, and often stronger-looking character. It is a ‘right versus might’ story. Against all odds, but thanks to God’s intervention and protection, the heroine, Princess Frideswide, defeats the villain, King Algar.

When I first looked closely at the medieval shrine, in the Latin Chapel, I was struck by the image of St Frideswide hiding amongst the trees. There isn’t, of course, any historical evidence for the idea that Frideswide might have been a little girl with a penchant for tree-climbing, but we see her hiding among the trees in both Burne-Jones’s window and, more importantly, in the medieval stone carvings on the shrine. This image of her peeping out from some foliage encouraged me to share her story with children who may play hide and seek as a game.

Emily: How did it start, how did the idea come about? What made you decide to write a book about her?

Jackie: The idea to write down the story for younger readers originated directly from my realisation that local children had never heard of their patron saint, upon whose little Anglo-Saxon church Christ Church Cathedral was founded. I researched into the various versions of Frideswide’s story and began to tell it to all visiting school groups.

An icon of St Frideswide 'written' by Jackie at a Cathedral workshop in May 2018When I first started, I used to just retell the story, but I found using drama and role play really helped the story come to life. In the picture book, it is the pictures that bring the story alive. The stunning illustrations by artist Alan Marks help children imagine the characters and the drama, and his skilful use of watercolour helps create the mood and atmosphere of each scene.

Emily: What are your hopes for this book?

Jackie: I very much hope that all readers will enjoy being able to imagine a time over a thousand years ago through the illustrations. Because I have worked with struggling readers and second language learners, I have tried to keep the language accessible, without being simplistic.

Hopefully, both boys and girls will appreciate and feel empowered by the strong and feisty character of the princess. Although society is becoming increasingly secular, I hope that this book will generate within a family setting, or in a classroom, open discussion about the belief and trust in God which was reflected in Frideswide’s life of faith.


The Princess who Hid in a Tree, published by Bodleian Library Publishing, is now available from the Cathedral shop and from other local bookstores.