Monday, November 02, 2015

A New Requiem Set by Clare Short

A vestment-maker from England, Clare Short of DiClara vestments, has just completed a black Requiem set, and sent us the following images and description. It is often imagined that the traditional liturgy for the dead is somehow bleak or depressing because it uses black vestments, or because of some of the words of the Dies irae, etc. But in point of fact, this is a very shallow assessment. There are many aspects of it which reflect Our Lord’s own attitude to death, of which C.S. Lewis wrote, “Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus, and sweated blood in Gethsemane; the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.” (Miracles, chapter 14) But there are also a great many expressions of hope in the Resurrection within the traditional liturgy, as for example, the Psalm of the Dead par excellence, the De profundis, which begins with the words “Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, o Lord... If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it,” but concludes with “Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” This vestment strikes, I think, a nice balance between these two aspects of the Christian attitude towards death.

“I have been wanting to make a Funeral/All-Souls set for a while. Black is not usually seen nowadays in vestments; in fact, I can honestly tell you that in my 35 years on this earth I have never seen a priest wearing black vestments. This really seems a shame because actually they can be really stunning.

“Black is, of course, the color we associate with death, and it would be easy to fall into the trap of designing a set that was rather stark or even bleak. But for Christians death is not the end, but the door we pass through into eternal life. We have Jesus’ Resurrection to guide us through our grief, and bring us to hope and peace.

“I wanted to make the Resurrection the main theme of this set. Other very old black sets I’ve seen can be really quite macabre, and may even be decorated with skeletons and skulls, like this 17th-century chasuble from Kremsmünster. I suppose attitudes towards death in the 17th-century were much more matter of fact; I doubt a priest could get away with wearing it today!

“The design of my embroidery uses lilies and pomegranates. White lilies are traditionally an Easter flower and are a symbol of the Resurrection, and are also associated with the Virgin Mary as a Christian symbol of chastity, innocence and purity. In pictures of the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel is often shown holding a lily branch, or Mary herself is clasping one, or there may be a lily somewhere else in the scene. The Lily in the language of flowers means, “Majesty”.

“I never realised the pomegranate was a symbol of the Resurrection until I visited the Wintour vestment collection earlier this year at Douai abbey in Reading, UK. There I saw highly raised hand-embroidered pomegranates with their seeds bursting out, a symbol of new life which represents Christ emerging from the tomb. I also decided to use the Chi-Rho symbol with the Alpha and Omega to either side. The Chi and Rho are P and X in Latin, and also suggest the word “Pax”. These letters remind us that Christ is the beginning and the end, and reassure us that in Him we can find peace. The embroidery really stands out against the black velvet; I decided to keep the gold braid to a minimum, as I felt the intricate embriodery would benefit more from a plain background.”

Information about purchasing this set can be had by contacting Clare through her website, or writing to her at, and here is the link to DiClara’s facebook page.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: