Whalley Abbey Vestments
The Whalley Abbey Vestments are a set of exquisitely embroidered Medieval ecclesiastical garments with the full set comprising of a chasuble, two dalmatics and a maniple. Of these, the chasuble, maniple and one dalmatic are in the collection of Towneley Hall, while another matching dalmatic resides in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. These vestments are the only surviving full set of their kind.
Vestments form part of the traditional religious ceremonial dress used during Christian services and this set were originally used by the Abbot and Deacons during Catholic High Mass at Whalley Abbey; a Cistercian Abbey on the banks of the River Calder, founded in 1296. In 1537 when the Abbey was destroyed as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries carried out by Henry VIII, the vestments were rescued by Sir John Towneley and brought to Towneley Hall for safekeeping.
The vestments are made from Italian cloth of gold with a repeating cut velvet motif of strawberries. This incredibly luxurious base layer is then further embellished with incredibly fine and detailed embroidery arranged in bands known as ‘orphreys’. The embroidery is a fine example of the style known as opus anglicanum, latin for ‘english work’ and represents a period of time when English embroidery was highly prized throughout Europe, especially for ecclesiastical garments such as these. The embroideries depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. The figures and foreground scenery are mostly worked in split stitch using fine silk floss with some areas highlighted using metal thread. The background of the scenes features distinctive patterned couching, again worked in metal threads, which was one of the hallmarks of the opus anglicanum style.