World War I Altar Frontal

The WWI altar frontal (1919, St. Paul's Cathedral, London). The WWI altar frontal (1919, St. Paul's Cathedral, London).

The World War I Altar Frontal is an appliqué made by injured soldiers during the First World War (1914-1918). It is an example of a rehabilitation embroidery. It belongs to St Paul’s Cathedral, London. It includes an altar frontal and an altar superfrontal.

The altar frontal is made of a cream silk damask, which is decorated with appliqué pieces that are themselves embellished with couching, embroidery, gold thread and gems of various kinds. It is divided into three design elements: (a) the two outer panels include emblematic floral sheaths, including tulips and passion flowers; (b) the central design includes a chalice (Holy Grail) enclosed by floral motifs, and (c) the two panels flanking the central panel are decorated with paired palm fronds (symbol of martyrdom and triumph). The altar superfrontal is made of the same damask ground material, but with small circles of couched metal thread.

The frontals were made by 138 wounded soldiers from Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Men recovering in hospital contributed to the frontals, and their individual pieces of embroidery were sent to the Royal School of Needlework (London), where the pieces were stitched onto the frontals. The name, rank and hospital or convalescent home of each soldier were recorded at the time in a book, which has also survived. The frontals were used for the first time on Sunday, 6th July 1919, at the national service of thanksgiving following the end of the war and thereafter on appropriate occasions for the next two decades.

The frontals were put into storage following the destruction of its altar during the bombing of the cathedral in the Second World War (1939-1945). The frontal and superfrontal remained in storage until they were restored in 2014 for the centenary commemorations of the start of the First World War. On Sunday, 3rd August 2014, the Altar Frontal was used for the first time after seventy years. It is now permanently housed in St Paul’s Cathedral (St Paul’s Cathedral collection, acc. no. 5392)


Digital source of illustration (retrieved 20 June 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 19 April 2017 19:29