In August 2019, Rob and Diana Baldwin asked me to be an artist in residence as part of the Pathways to the Past project, created to develop the understanding and the legacy of St Ethelburga or Æthelburh, who was Princess of Kent in the 7th century and of the varied and extraordinary history of the village of Lyminge in Kent.
The point of intense interest for me came with the understanding that it was in this area that evidence for the first human activity in Britain was found just below the church of St. Marys and Ethelburga’s. This period of history is defined as the Mesolithic era which was 8-10,000 years ago, after the retreat of the ice sheets, when there was still a land bridge across to France. The people were hunter-gatherers. We know they spent time by the spring-head or the source of a the Nail Bourne, because they produced a lot of debris from making flint tools.
I realised that the first settlers would’ve wandered across from what we now call France and walked up into what we now call the Downs to this beautiful bowl-shaped area of land and would’ve found fresh water coming out of the ground. There is a wonderful long view SE over the land, so it would’ve been a safe place to have chosen.
Water as we all know, brings forth life, and in this case it brought forth the survival of human life and the subsequent populations that now inhabit SE Kent. It seems no surprise that this area had an important Anglo-Saxon history too 1000s of years later.
It is recorded that Eadbald; the King of Kent and brother of Æthelburh, gave her an estate at Lyminge where she established a community that later came to be regarded as one of the first monasteries in Anglo-Saxon England, though it is unlikely to have followed a formal monastic rule during her lifetime.
Rob Baldwin from the ‘Pathways of the Past’ website
“The archaeological excavations carried out in 2019 [ ] attest to the likely presence of Frankish stone masons. This seems to reveal Æthelburh as an innovative patron of novel construction methods in a continental style. She appears as the forerunner of many powerful royal women who went on in the later 7th and 8th Centuries to wield significant political power within Anglo-Saxon society. Almost all abbeys at the time were run by Abbesses, including the joint houses that contained monks as well as nuns. Their role was to protect the spiritual well-being of the kingdom in the fight between the forces of Good and Evil, in just the same way as men in the temporal world did so on the battlefield.”
So in the intervening year and a half, I have been mulling over how to make a permanent artwork that is to be hung in St. Mary’s and St. Ethelburga Church, Lyminge.
I was drawn to the water and the magical source of the water and also inspired by the respect and strength of the Anglo-Saxon princesses (I am also following the discoveries of St. Eanswythe in Folkestone, who was Ethelburga’s niece I think). For me there is a connection between water and the source of water and woman as the givers of life. I did not want to represent Ethelburga visually although it was hugely tempting to continue in the traditional art of iconography.
Instead I have created a new style of iconography, using the technology of satellite vision of our Earth using LIDAR, one could even say looking down like God might do, to trace the journey of the river from source to sea. The dimensions of the piece are that of a woman (me); 5’7″ tall with shoulders 18″ wide.
by Katharine Beaugié 2021
22ct gold leaf, oil paint and gesso on an oak panel
Made from early 20th century pew oak recycled from this church and combining late Medieval/ early Renaissance panel painting techniques with imagery of cutting-edge satellite technology (LIDAR), “Eternal Source” is made to reflect our time, yet exist comfortably, for ever, within the church context.
I have tried to create a contemporary icon, to honour the existence and the journey of the Nail Bourne, from the source, to the sea.
The dark blue background is made from a mix of Ultramarine Blue to represent the heavenly and Raw Umber to represent the earth.
Gold is used to represent the water; the gold reflects the sunlight as it changes through the day, so it seems almost alive.
Water is the source of life, hence the reason humans chose to camp and spend time in this specific landscape 8-10,000 years ago. The debris from making flint tools has been found in large quantities close to the spring head which still flows out of the chalk to this day, demonstrating a startling continuity for the spring which continued as the main public source of water in Lyminge up to 1905. The dimensions are 5’ 7” by 18”; the approximate height and width of a woman, referencing St. Ethelburga (died c 650) and St Eadburg (died 751); the royal Anglo-Saxon saints of Lyminge. The resting place of both of them is believed to have been close by up to 1085 when their remains were translated to the Priory of St Gregory in Canterbury.Kate Beaugié in the church’s explanation of the artwork
Making of the work
I researched late Mediaval / early Renaissance panel painting techniques.
Oak was used in northern Europe in the C15th and then gesso (rabbit skin glue mixed whiting; a chalk like substance) is used to seal the wood and get a perfectly flat finish. Oil paint mixed with pure turpentine, followed by a size flowing the course of the water which was guided with 22ct Moon Gold.
A huge thank you to Rob and Diana Baldwin for all the support, encouragement and for their open mindedness.
Thank you also to:
Robert Styles the master carpenter who built the panel form reclaimed oak pews
Melissa Lewis: advice on mediums and literature to support the processes
Richard Walker from ‘Watergild Studios’ for his brilliant advice and sending me products to use for free
Nick Beaugié for helping me with the satellite technology and introducing me to LIDAR
Andrew and Liz Coleman for helping with the installment of the artwork
Pat Ar Fynes for great advice on knots and fillers and gesso mixtures
Joseph Black for help with grounds and oil painting advice
Jane Blain and her tutor for advice with gesso queries and knot issues
Clare Smith for introducing me to the Baldwins