Thursday, May 14, 2009

Update on Some Liturgical Details for the Installation of Archbishop Vincent Nichols

The blog for the Installation of Archbishop Vincent Nichols to Westminster has an update upon the sacred music for the ceremonies of installation:

We've received an update about the Music for the Mass of Installation. James MacMillan has been commissioned to write two pieces: one for choir, organ, brass and timps, the other for choir a cappella. Both are settings of texts from the pre-reformation rite of reception and installation of an Archbishop of Canterbury.

Other music will include 2 specially composed fanfares by Colin Mawby, a former Master of Music, and his setting of Ave verum corpus. The mass setting is Palestrina's Missa Tu es Petrus, and the offertory motet is an 8-part Venetian setting of Iubilate Deo by Giovanni Gabrieli. The Te Deum is sung to gregorian chant alternating with a fauxbourdon by Victoria.

In addition, The Catholic Herald has a story on the special vestments that are being commissioned from Watts and Co. for the occasion:
Byzantium with a twist of mulberry silk

Christina White visits the legendary clerical outfitters creating new vestments for the installation of Archbishop Vincent Nichols

15 May 2009

Tucked away in the streets behind Westminster Abbey is the celebrated ecclesiastical outfitters of Watts and Co. Descend a short flight of stone stairs and you enter a hushed jewel of a shop, laden with silks and velvets, church plate and candles. Watts can provide you with a classical soutane - piped fuchsia edges an optional extra - but it's the glorious copes and chasubles that catch the eye.

The company has provided vestments for the four royal coronations of the 20th century. Its latest commission is to make the dalmatics, stoles, chasuble, cope and altar frontal for the enthronement of Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the 11th archbishop of Westminster.

David Gazeley, director of the firm, which remains a family concern after more than 125 years, lays out the tissue paper designs, with lines and chevrons pencil-drawn with infinite care. We may be in the 21st century but Watts's roots lie firmly in the 19th. Three women, heads bent to their task, sit hand-stitching in the quiet workroom. This is the attention to detail that has marked Watts since its inception - the brainchild of three great Victorian pioneers of the new architectural gothic movement: George Bodley, Thomas Garner and George Gilbert Scott.

The first showroom was at number 30, Baker Street. Visitors in the 1870s admired the hand-blocked wallpaper, intricate art metalware and, of course, the fabrics - rolled out with a flourish, a flash of scarlet, the sheen of plum velvet. The first day-to-day director, J L Davenport, was rumoured to be the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Davenport, described on the Watts website as a "somewhat shadowy figure", had a penchant for playing the violin while wearing a long tasselled hat. And more besides. Holmes was addicted to opium.

"Oh they all took laudanum," says Gazeley.

In the 19th and early 20th century architects were artists as concerned with the interior beauty of the buildings they fashioned as the bricks and mortar that sustained them. So church architects also designed the vestments and sanctuary furnishings, the carved corbels and delicate chapel lights. The Watts trio were no exception and some of their loveliest fabric designs are still being printed today.

Yet the company only just survived the purges of the Sixties and Seventies. This was a time when many English Catholics went to Mass only to encounter "fuzzy felt" vestments: blocks of colour adorned with felt images of bread, wine and assorted grapes. Gazeley recalls the design aberrations of an age obsessed with the contemporary.

"The C of E went a bit haywire too," he says. "They all wanted vestments with pictures - varying forms from life-like images of the risen Lord to impressionist sunrises.

"Vestments should clothe the priest nobly and appropriately," he adds: "They should complement the dignity and beauty of the Mass. It's not about being a billboard for religious symbolism."

The vestments for Archbishop Nichols are the first to be commissioned by Westminster Cathedral in more than 40 years. The beautiful faded chasubles designed by Pugin and others that are kept in the Cathedral treasury are in need of some TLC. Besides, there are not enough and something suitable, simple and elegant was required. The Friends of Westminster Cathedral agreed to fund the commission.

Keen to echo J F Bentley's vision, Thomas Wilson, the Cathedral precentor, sought Byzantium with a twist. Gothic fiddleback chasubles sit uncomfortably with the Romanesque spaces of Westminster. This is a dramatic building evoking the vast basilicas of Constantinople and Rome. The design and fabrics chosen for the vestments mirror this imagery of Byzantium but also the decoration of some of the earliest Church vestments, fragments of which now remain.

Gazeley produces photographs of a sixth-century dalmatic, pointing out specific geometric details that will be replicated on the Westminster vestments. There is a timeless quality to these images - as fresh today as they were 1,400 years ago.

The cloth is "Chalcedon", a design originally commissioned by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis. The archbishop - a rising star in the Curia - wanted vestments to complement his Byzantium basilica. Gazeley, notebook in hand, headed south for Westminster Cathedral. Beneath the domes that mirror those of St Louis he found what he was looking for. Chalcedon may have been Burke's commission but it was Westminster Cathedral's inspiration. The image of the gryphon, part lion, part eagle, used to portray the fully human and fully divine nature of Christ, dominates the repeat pattern.

It's faux Byzantine, of course. Who knows what cloth of gold the early men of the Church wore? But then Bentley's Cathedral is also a Victorian replica - the new drawing on the old. Interestingly, Cardinal Francis Bourne owned a very similar "rich and noble chasuble" - the design echoing the circles of Chalcedon. The Americans chose a scarlet and gold colourway; Westminster's choice is more muted - dark cloth of gold on gold with mulberry silk...

For our vestment designers and enthusiasts, the fabric in question that is referred to is seen here:

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