Cathedral Blog

Search all blog posts

St Frideswide wins a Gold medal

Written by Jackie Holderness, posted on Thursday, July 30, 2020

Frideswide had been special to me, on a personal level, long before I came to take up the role of Cathedral Education Officer. Over twenty years ago, during Evensong in the Cathedral, I collapsed and was rushed to hospital, where it was discovered I had Endometriosis, a debilitating condition which can cause infertility. I believe that Frideswide, a saint who intercedes on behalf of women in that situation, may have helped me, after years of hospital intervention, to overcome the apparently hopeless medical odds, to become a mother.

Picture book Princess who hid in a treeMy main motive for writing the picture book, was to ensure that families throughout the diocese could learn about their patron saint’s story, a tale of determination, courage, and faith. Retelling and role-playing it with groups of pupils from visiting schools, helped me realise what a positive role model our somewhat neglected saint could offer any generation.

The inspiration for the title The Princess who Hid in a Tree was a small carving of Frideswide’s face on the medieval shrine, dedicated to her in the 13th century. We can see her face, peeping through a circle of leaves.carving of face in leaves

To my delight, the Bodleian Library agreed to publish the book, and allowed me to request the artist, Alan Marks, whose work I had admired for many years. Alan is a prolific and well-known illustrator, who won the Carnegie medal for his illustrations of Storm, a book written by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

Having read this story to every class I taught, and followed Alan’s career with interest, I was overjoyed when he accepted the commission. The cost of the illustrations was generously underwritten by the Friends of the Cathedral, who also contributed, with support from Bishop Steven and the Rees-Hamilton Trust, to the wider distribution of the published book to nearly all the Primary schools in the Diocese. 

From simple artwork briefs for each double spread, Alan created a body of work of exquisite draughtsmanship and gloriously intense watercolours, rich and vibrant in mood and atmosphere. All communication between us was by email, but we have since managed to meet at his studio.

Curiously, neither of us had ever heard of Illumination, an international publishing award for Christian books, which is based in the USA, and features 20 different categories or genres. Nor did we have any idea that the Bodleian had submitted the book for an award, so it was a huge surprise to hear the book had won the Gold medal in the Children’s Picture Book category.

Embarrassingly, Medalwe then discovered that Pope Francis’ picture book had also been nominated but consigned to the Bronze medal position!

Due to the pandemic, the Award ceremony in New York had to be cancelled but, during the summer, a large ‘gold’ medal duly arrived through the post.

Because the award was so unexpected, it has meant a great deal to everyone involved, including the wonderful Bodleian team. I am especially pleased because various marketing experts and bookshop owners had declared that the book would not appeal to families, or do well, because of its Christian heroine and focus on faith, prayer, and miracles.

But St Frideswide’s story is typical of many adventures written for children, where the apparently weaker character ends up outwitting the apparently invincible villain. It is a ‘right versus might’ story and offers us all inspiration and hope in times of trouble.