More medieval vestment recycling!

Buckland, Gloucestershire

I hope you aren’t getting too tired of my minor obsession with late medieval English textiles. Here is another example of the post-medieval recycling of medieval vestments. Buckland in Gloucestershire has a lovely frontal made from various pieces of embroidered silk velvet. Information in the church refers to the fragments as forming part of a cope. The central panel of the frontal a large piece of blue velvet embroidered with waterflowers, is clearly part of a cope, as the motifs radiate out.

Buckland, Gloucestershire

There are two fragments of cream figure velvet, decorated with a waterflower and a figure of a sainted bishop. The may come from cope orphreys, but I’m not convinced they belong with the blue panel.

Buckland, Gloucestershire

Then there are two strips of red velvet, each of a distinctly different shade.The bottom red strip of fragments is decorated with figures of Our Lady, St John and the Crucifixion the fragments ae embroidered with St John, Our Lady and the Crucifixion as well as a waterflower. I can’t see these in a cope orphrey or on the back of a cope, so I suspect they form elements from the back of a chasuble.

Buckland, Gloucestershire, medieval cope 1

Buckland, Gloucestershire, medieval cope 2

The upper piece, decorated with figures of St Peter and St Paul, a glorious St Michael and a waterflower, are I suspect, like the cream fragments, parts of a cope orphrey. It was quite common for cope orphreys to incorporate figures of the Apostles.

Buckland, Gloucestershire

Ths strip also incorporates a fascinating embroidered device, which I suspect is a rebus. The word ‘why’ in blackletter text is followed by an object that looks like the top of an architectural canopy. This is followed by a little cruciform church. Pevsner and others suggest, quite plausibly, that this is a rebus on the name of William Whitchurch, who was abbot of Hailes from 1464-1479. Hailes was an important Cistercian abbey about five miles from Buckland, famous for its relic of the blood of Christ.

Buckland, Gloucestershire

9 thoughts on “More medieval vestment recycling!

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  1. When you describe this as a “frontal”, Allan, is it a frontal of conventional “modern” (by which I suppose I mean Gothic revival) dimensions, or is it a carpet for the “holy table”, cobbled together from old vestments at the Elizabethan Reformation? It’s a fascinating jigsaw puzzle, the Whitchurch rebus – that has to be what it is, doesn’t it? – in particular.


  2. Is it possible that the monstrance between the “Why” and the church might be a representation of the reliquary which held the Blood of Hailes? I do not think that this is an unreasonable flight of fancy.


  3. Roger, yes I suspect it the ‘decent carpet’ of the BCP rubrics. If it is an early example, I’ve always imagined that they made them on the same lines as a gothic revival/medieval antependium, rather than of the throw-over ‘Laudian’ form. A fascinating yet tragic puzzle. We have lost so much.


  4. Elizabethan and early Stuart “table carpets” [those interested may Google “table carpet” & “Elizabethan”], some imported from the Levant, more woven or embroidered domestically, usually had a central panel with a decorated border, which hung only part-way down the sides of the table. This example would fit that pattern. And bear in mind that at this time the holy table seems usually to have been brought into the body of the chancel for the communion service, or even kept there permanently, its long sides facing north and south. By coincidence, the parish church at Hailes, which you illustrated not long ago, retained this arrangement until quite recently. might have been the original function of the fragment with the rebus? Doesn’t seem quite right for a vestment or cope. A frontal or dorsal, perhaps?


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