Religious vestments and other textiles

Religious vestments and other textiles

The alb (Latin albus, 'white') is an ecclesiastical vestment of some of the Western Churches, including the Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics. It is used by all levels of the Catholic clergy. It is generally worn over the cassock, and under the chasuble or dalmatic and is usually girdled with a cincture. It derives from the Roman-period, long-sleeved tunica alba, which in the Roman Empire was worn by the well-to-do. 

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, houses an embroidered cloth that hang down the lectern (almemor, compare Arabic al minbar) in a synagogue. The cloth dates to the late seventeenth century and probably derives from Italy. It is made of linen and embroidered with silk and metal thread, and bordered with brocaded silk. The cloth measures 148.5 x 145 cm. Such a cloth is also known as a bimah cover.

In the Western Christian churches, notably the Catholic and (High) Anglican communities, a number of different cloths are used to dress an altar. The range and appearance of these cloths vary, but in general, white linen cloth is used. Many of these cloths are embroidered in some manner.

An altar cover is used on some Christian altars to protect it from dust and dirt and to draw attention to the most important element of the church. An altar cover is a length of cloth, usually rectangular (but square or shaped forms also occur), which is placed over the altar. It normally hangs down the front and back. Part of the altar is normally left visible.

A frontal is a decorative piece, usually of cloth, metal, stone or wood, which hangs or is placed in front of the altars of some Christian Churches. It is sometimes called an antependium, but the latter is a general term that can be used for any piece of textile, metal or stone hung or placed in front of other church items as well.

An amice (Latin: amictum) is a liturgical garment worn mainly in the Western Catholic Church and in some of the Protestant Churches. It is a separate, rectangular piece of linen worn across the shoulders and fastened around the back and waist. It is normally made of a plain fabric, but it sometimes has embroidered decoration.

An antependium is a decorative piece of cloth, metal or stone, which hangs or is placed in front of the altar, lectern or pulpit in a Christian church, and which is used by various Christian denominations. The cloth versions may be made of a decorative textile, such as brocade and damask, and it may be embroidered.

The Antependium of Middelburg, also ascribed to Grimbergen and Nassau, dates to the early sixteenth century and is a prime example of the famous or nué technique, which flourished in the Netherlands in the late medieval period. It measures 377 x 93 cm and is housed in the Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussels (inv. no. Tx 1279; obj. no. 20014717).

The National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik houses an antependium that dates to the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. It is embroidered with laidwork and couching (locally known as refilsaumur). The ground material is linen, most of the embroidery threads are of wool; some gilt thread was used to outline certain outlines. Almost all of the antependdium is covered with embroidery.

The National Museum Twenthe (The Netherlands) houses a late sixteenth century antependium that is embroidered with representations of the Throne of Mercy (or Throne of Grace) and the symbols of the four evangelists. The antependium is a good example of traditional Icelandic embroidery.

An apparel is an ornamented panel that is attached to an ecclesiastical vestment (alb, amice, dalmatic, chasuble). It is attached either to the end of the sleeves, to the hem (front or back), or to the neck line.

An embroidered apron from about 1900 is housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It has a satin ground material and is worked with silk and gold thread. It was acquired in Seoul in 1919 by a Christian missionary. The panel is attached to a white silk band (daedae) outlined in black. The apron, called a husu in Korean, was worn at the back, together with a hat and another belt (see illustration).

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art houses a cope that dates to the early eighteenth century and was made in Austria or neighbourling Bohemia. It measures 138 cm (length at the back) by 283 cm (width). It is made of a silk satin ground, decorated with silk applique, silk and metal thread embroidery, passementerie and tassels, and metal thread wrapped toggles.

A bimah (Hebrew; pl. bimot; also called an almemor, almemmer or an almemmor) is an elevated platform in the centre of a synagogue. It is used when reading from the Torah, the Jewish holy book. When not in use, the bimah is frequently covered with a decorative cloth, the bimah cover, which is often embellished with metal thread embroidery.

The Bologna cope is a late thirteenth to early fourteenth century cope that used to be in the church of San Domenico, Bologna (Italy), but is now in the Museo Civico Medievale, Bologna. The cope proper is still intact, but the orphrey and the vestigial hood are missing. It is 323 cm at its widest point and 147 cm high. It has been linked to the Dominican Pope, Benedict XI (r. 1303-1304)

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam houses a burse or bag from the mid-eighteenth century that was perhaps used by a Catholic priest to transport the wafers (corporal). The burse measures 15 x 11 x 11 cm and is made of light blue taffeta decorated with multi-coloured embroidery of floral motifs with the crowned initials MR on one side and the letters IHS (the first three Greek letters of the name of Jesus) on the other.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, houses a medieval cope, traditionally called the Butler-Bowdon cope, which dates to the first half of the fourteenth century. The cope is a prime example of opus anglicanum. It measures 165.5 by 34.5 cm.

Chapel of vestments is a medieval term for a set of liturgical garments used in the Catholic tradition.

A chasuble is a Christian liturgical vestment used in the Eastern and Western Churches. The term chasuble derives from the Latin word casula (cloak [previously called a paenula] literally a little house or cottage, casa), via the Late Latin term casubla, meaning a garment with a hood.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, houses a remarkable chasuble that dates to the fifteenth century and originates from Lower Saxony in Germany. The chasuble is made of wool with appliqué motifs in linen, with silk thread embroidered details. The figure of Christ is drawn in brown ink. A parchment strip may have been gilded.

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