St. Dunstan

Recreation of embroidery design of St. Dunstan (?), by Helen West, 2014. Recreation of embroidery design of St. Dunstan (?), by Helen West, 2014.

St. Dunstan was an English priest and abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester (and London), and finally from 960 until his death in 988 Archbishop of Canterbury. He played an important role in English politics, and lived in exile in Flanders (955-957). In 973 he officiated at the coronation of King Edgar (the Peaceful), at Bath. The service, devised by Dunstan, still forms the basis of British coronation rituals.

Dunstan is known for his interest in embroidery and embroidery designs. It is said that one day, while embroidering in his cell, he was visited by the devil who tried to tempt him. To no avail, and in his rage the devil grabbed a (common) St John's-wort plant (Hypericum perforatum) and stabbed the leaves with Dunstan's needle. No wonder the leaves of this plant, which coincidentally was also an important source of yellow dye for textiles, still have very small holes.

In 2014, an exhibition was set up in Glastonbury called 'Dunstan's Needle'. It featured a modern embroidery based on a line drawing reputedly made by Dunstan himself, and possibly intended as an embroidery design. The embroiderer who worked this reconstruction was Helen M. Stevens.

Digital sources:

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 22nd June 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 16:47