Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Skenfrith Cope

Regular readers know that I have a more than passing interest in historic vestments and I was recently alerted by the newly updated Belmont Abbey website to the existence at the nearby medieval church of St Bridget at Skenfrith in Monmouthshire of a late medieval cope. This rare survival has recently been restored and the Abbot and some of the community at Belmont had been to the service of thanksgiving in the church.

Quite how it survived the reformation era and the ensuing centuries of neglect is unclear but by the 1840s it was serving as the cover for the Communion Table in the church, when it was recognised for what it is.

The Skenfrith Cope


The Skenfrith Cope is a fine example of English embroidery of the second half of the fifteenth century. The different parts of the pattern were first worked in coloured silks and silver gilt threads on canvas, and afterwards applied to the velvet.

In the centre of the cope is the Virgin Mary, borne aloft by three angels. On either side is a Seraph, and another is represented below. The rest of the cope is covered with floral devices; the fleur-de-lis, the pomegranate and the double headed eagle. On the hood is a seated figure of the Virgin holding the infant Saviour. The Orphreys (ornamental borders), are embroidered with standing figures of the Saints, under canopies. Next to the hood, on the right hand side, is the figure of St. Andrew - the other figures are too worn to be identified with certainty.

As the Abbot pointed out in his sermon, which is on the Abbey website, red is not the colour usually associated with Our Lady. Today one would expect white or blue, but in the middle ages the emphasis was on the splendour rather than the colour, so this was doubtless the most splendid fabric the parish could get with which to honour the Virgin. 

The cope is noteworthy as an example of what a small rural parish in the marches of Wales could expect to have in its possession - this is not a major urban parish church but in a village. This is, so to speak, Voices of Morebath territory.

The parish website has a piece about the cope which can be seen here

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