Syon Cope

The Syon cope, English, early 14th century. The Syon cope, English, early 14th century. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, acc. no. 83-1864

The Syon Cope is a Christian liturgical vestment associated with Syon Abbey, Middlesex (England). It was made between 1300 and 1320. Copes are semi-circular outer garments, usually highly decorative, worn by priests on special occasions. The Syon Cope was made from a much larger chasuble.

The Syon cope has a linen ground covered with embroidery worked in coloured silk threads (mainly red, now faded to brown, and green silk), as well as silver gilt and silver thread.

The Syon cope is an example of opus anglicanum (‘English Work’). The decoration is worked with couching, underside couching, laid work, cross stitch, plait stitch and split stitch. The top edge of the cope is made from pieces of contemporary vestments. The Syon Cope has three rows (originally four) of interlaced quatrefoil shaped compartments with scenes from the Life of the Virgin, the Life of Christ and figures of the Apostles. There are also six winged seraphs, traces of winged angels, as well as two kneeling clerics, possibly representing the priests for whom the cope was made. The front border (orphrey) of the cope includes heraldic shields that belong to various families from Thetford and Norfolk (England). This suggests that these families paid for the cope to be made.

There are no surviving records indicating who designed or carried out the work. During the English Reformation of Henry VIII (1491-1547), the cope was hidden and probably taken to the continent by the Bridgettine nuns of Syon Abbey, when they went into exile during the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603). The order was re-established in Britain in about 1810 and the cope was brought back to England. In 1864 the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, bought the cope (V&A acc. no. 83-1864).

The vestment was included in the exhibition on opus anglicanum at the Victoria and Albert Museum, October 2016 - February 2017.


  • BROWNE, Clare, Glyn DAVIES, and M.A. MICHAEL (2016). English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, Catalogue no. 33, pp. 165-168.
  • OWEN-CROCKER, Gale, Elizabeth COATSWORTH and Maria HAYWARD (2012). Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles, 450-1450, Leiden: Brill 2012, 'Syon Cope'.

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Last modified on Monday, 06 March 2017 12:26
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