Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Steeple Aston Cope

This is my Angel Embroidery .  The design taken from the 14th century Steeple Aston Cope .
 Opus Anglicanum means English Work , English embroidery of the church .   
The Steeple Aston Cope , it is thought , was made between 1310 and 1340 .
A beautifully embroidered , long semi-circular cape that is worn by bishop or priest , maybe in procession or during a ceremony . For a Holy Mass or Feast day . 
Here is a link to a brilliant video made by the V+A Mueseum of a virtual reconstruction of  how it originally would have looked as a Cope .

Threads of linen and fine silk don't last forever . Beetles , woodworm , moths and mould .
 Seven hundred years of history . Wars , plagues , fire and floods , upheaval of the church and Cromwell's rampaging and plundering .

This precious treasure has been kept safe in the Church of St Peter and St Paul , in Steeple Aston for seven hundred years , either on the Altar or folded away in the Sacristy cupboard drawers .  
At some point in time , someone thought to make better use of it and cut it up to make an Altar Frontal and it must have been beautiful up on the Altar during mass .
  So for some time , it was left on display up on the Altar , but , it is said that the Vicar became aware that people were coming in and trying to snip off pieces from it . Shocking ! So he arranged for it to be kept safely , and sent it ,on loan , to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London .
  It was on display there quite recently in an Exhibition on medieval Opus Anglicanum  and now put away into safe storage . Good to know that it is being  kept safe for future generations to study and appreciate .

                                                    An Angel on horseback , playing a lute .

All of these pictures are of my embroidery interpretation of it and  my embroidery doesn't come anywhere near the excellence of the real thing .

 Opus Anglicanum was at it's very best during this period . Then came plague times and sadly these fine embroidery techniques were not passed down . 

           Look at the sweet expression on the horse's face !  I fell in love !
......and on a small scrap of upholstery fabric I drew it on with my pencil and embroidered him with cotton and silk threads , a few gold threads and seed beads .

 I began to stitch and as I stitched , I found myself meeting the minds and thoughts of the medieval hands that originally drew and embroidered it .

 I looked forward to any odd minute that I could grab to sit and embroider it .

I didn't think I would do so much of it , or I would have used a larger piece of material .

I enjoyed making the tiny tassels on the horse bridle and across his chest I stitched a kind of braid, weaving it as I stitched .
 The halo around the Angel's head I stitched with gold threads .
The lute has playable strings !

                In both embroidery and illumination , I love the medieval sense of humour !
 This kind of English Ecclesiastical embroidery is known as Opus Anglicanum .

  I am uncomfortable about putting it in a frame.  I don't think it would look right somehow .
 I don't think medieval textiles were ever made to be displayed the way we do today , hung in a frame covered with glass . 
 Wall hangings were hung just as they were and Church vestments , albs, copes and altar cloths were worn and then stored carefully away in oak coffers in the Sacristy of the Church or Cathedral .

 I ,m thinking of working on it some more , out onto the green fabric and maybe make a devotional piece of some kind .
I hope you have enjoyed seeing  some of my needlework  . 

 Update - here is a link to the V+A Museum's page all about the Steeple Aston Cope - enjoy !

Just in case you were wondering.......

 I embroidered this about twenty years ago and I originally posted it onto my other blog which is mostly about gardening and other more general things .You may have seen it there . I am now gradually moving all my embroidery posts over , to this , my Cornish Needlework Basket journal  .                
                                Debbie x

1 comment:

  1. Ah, what a piece of lovely embroidery. In Medieval Times, banners and tapestries were used as decorations. If I had made such a beautiful item, it would hang close to where I sleep, as a depiction of the type of angel I would like to sing me to sleep, especially when I wake up in the middle of the night. It would from time to time have to be moved so that others could enjoy it...