A group of overseas tourists on a quilting and needlework tour of the north of England have hailed the Millennium cushions in Ripon Cathedral as “hidden treasures worthy of a BBC documentary.”

The 23-strong party, mainly Americans but with two Canadians and one Australian, came to see the cushions on August Bank Holiday at the suggestion of the tour organiser, Martha Liska from Olympia, Washington State, who had briefly seen them when she and her sister called in at the cathedral five years ago.

“We just had half an hour or so in Ripon that day but we were intrigued by the cushions and the story of how they came about, “recalled Martha. In a blog afterward her sister Mary said the cushions were “amazing” and that when the sisters came out of the cathedral, they “left in awe.” Prophetically, the sisters said that if they ever arranged a quilting and needlework tour of the north of England, Ripon would be one of their destinations.

Poor health prevented Mary from making the trip this time but Martha was delighted to see the cushions again and show them to her party. One of the group, Jane Riewe , said:” The cushions are a secret that should not be kept any longer. They are hidden treasures worthy of a BBC documentary.”

Before being shown the boxed cushions, the group heard a talk by Marion Thew, who helped design many of them. She explained that they had come about because Ripon wanted to mark the Millennium in a special way. At first, there was talk of creating a large wall hanging but in the end, it was decided to create 38 cushions telling the story of the history of the city and bringing it up to date.

They decided to do it as a community project and involve as many people as possible, which was just as well as five million stitches were required. Those who contributed ranged in age from six to over 90 and included schoolchildren, Tibetan nuns and a former German prisoner of war.

After the project was finished, the cathedral asked them to do a set of kneelers for the altar and a side chapel.

Martha thanked Marion for her talk and Maureen Lowe for providing a guided tour of the cushions. She had assisted Marion in designing them. The group set then left Ripon to visit Fountains Abbey and to continue their 12-day tour including visits to Durham Cathedral, York Minster, Bowes Museum, Beamish Museum, the Quaker Tapestry Museum in Kendal, the Quilt Museum in York and the Great Northern Quilt Show in Harrogate.

The Cushions can be seen at the Cathedral during the normal opening hours.  The Cathedral is open to the public from 8.30am to 6pm every day.  Entry to the Cathedral is free although donations are very much appreciated.