Thursday, July 15, 2010

‘Praying with Needle and Thread’ Vestment Exhibition at Tongerlo Abbey, Belgium

NLM Guest Article by Frater Anselm J. Gribbin, O.Praem.
of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Tongerlo

Recently a number of the older vestments and liturgical accessories from Tongerlo Abbey were examined by an expert from the ‘Centrum voor Religieuze Kunst en Cultuur vzw’, including fifty-four chasubles. All of them – except one - are Latin/Roman style. This year, for our annual exhibition, we have decided to display some of these liturgical vestments in our Da Vinci Museum, which houses a famous replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’. The exhibition, which runs until the end of September, is entitled ‘Praying with Needle and Thread’, and features, among other things, nine chasubles which date from the Council of Trent to the Second Vatican Council (actually to 1952). Here is a short description of the chasubles – and a burse - which we have further improved upon, with photographs.

The first and oldest chasuble dates from first half of the sixteenth century, and is in renaissance style. It originates from Lier (Belgium) and its thick red-velvet cloth is decorated with intricate symmetrical tendrils, in gold embroidery. The observant eye will see that the cross and column are later additions to the chasuble, and that it has been trimmed – especially at the front - to suit later liturgical tastes : further restorations were made to the vestment in the 1940’s. These additions – possibly taken from another vestment - appear to be from the seventeenth century and are of Italian origin. They consist of pale-rose coloured silk, woven with silver thread, with rose and flower motifs. The images of Our Lady and the Child Jesus are very fine. Our Lady’s crown and the halos of mother and child are decorated with small pearls. Notice that the Child Jesus holds a flower in his right hand, which appears to be a sunflower, which may suggest Eucharistic connotations. The chasuble is part of a pontifical Mass set, which also includes cope, dalmatic and tunicle. These are not featured in the current exhibition, but, exclusively for the benefit NLM readers, here are photographs of the cope and dalmatic, which perhaps give a clearer view of the decorative patterns on the chasuble.

Below the shield of the cope, one may notice the letters ‘A’ and ‘R’, which indicates that the velvet is of the highest quality. The Child Jesus (actually a portrayal of ‘Jezus Zaligmaker’ – ‘Jesus the Saviour’) is particularly beautiful. It is not entirely certain why one would add images of Our Lady and the Child Jesus to red vestments, unless the addition of gold and silver lamé (i.e. a fabric with gold or silver threads interwoven) suggests that this set were intended to be used for Marian feast days, and possibly Christmas. In later years these vestments were worn for Pentecost, and they were used for the abbatial blessing of Abbot Boel on the feast of the commemoration of St. Paul in 1953.

The burse, in renaissance style, is dated 1540 and features the shield of Abbot Arnold Streyters (d. 1560) in gold, bearing a blue chevron with three gold lilies. It originates from the southern part of the Low Countries and the decoration of the front side is embroidered on red silk-satin. It is possible that this burse belonged to a set of vestments commissioned for the abbey with passion motifs : a chasuble preserved in Broechem, Belgium, may have come from this same set, but it is not entirely certain if the burse actually belonged to it.

This seventeenth-century baroque chasuble (see Figure 1) also comes from the southern part of the Low Countries and is made from red velvet, metal thread and silk fibre, with relief decoration : ‘IHS’ scrollwork cartouche, with cross and three nails, symmetrical tendrils with bouquets. This is actually a recent acquisition of the abbey (2009), and the shield below (see Figure 2) appears to be that of Abbot Alexander Slootmans (d. 1756) of the Premonstratensian abbey of Park, near Leuven (Louvain) : in gold, a chevron of gules, accompanied in the head by two guardant blackbirds of sabel (they are not facing each other as in other examples of Abbot Slootman’s shield), in the foot, a rose of gules cut from the field and pointed in vert.

Figure 1

Figure 2

This rococo chasuble (see Figure 3) of German origin, comes from the first half of the eighteenth century, and is composed of linen, metal thread and silk fibre. More precisely, the chasuble is made of yellow watered silk, with silver thread edging and strips of silver lace – also used to create the IHS (which is surmounted with a cross) decorated with silk leaf motifs and brightly-coloured flowers.

Figure 3

The next chasuble originates from Lyon, dating from 1775-99 (see Figure 4), is in the classical style, and made of linen, metal thread and silk fibre. The white silk is interwoven in vertical strips, and decorated with flower branches, and shoots with nuts. The central section of the chasuble is made of white silk interwoven with silver thread, gold thread, and also flower decoration. The dove – representing the Holy Spirit – is made of silver cantilène on a halo/aureole of relief gold embroidery. On the front of the vestment (not shown) are the arms of two members of the de Merode family. The de Merode are a local princely family, and benefactors of Tongerlo Abbey. This chasuble is part of a pontifical Mass set, and among other surviving items include the dalmatic and cope, pictured here for the benefit of NLM readers. Note the beautiful Sacred Heart, in relief, on the cope.

Figure 4

This finely decorated French chasuble (see Figure 5), from the second half of the nineteenth century – during which time the abbey recovered it from the vicissitudes of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars – is made of white watered silk, decorated with flower shoots, roses and lilies, in gold embroidery. The vestment is surrounded with gold braid and gold shoots.

Figure 5

The next chasuble (see Figure 6) is a fine example of Belgian vestment-work, dating between 1875-1924, made with dark red velvet, metal thread and silk thread. The ornamental bands, cross and column are made from white satin with coloured chain stitch work, with symmetrical shoots and leaf motifs, passion flowers and sword lilies. The Sacred Heart of Jesus forms the centrepiece. This is from a high Mass set, which still includes dalmatic and tunicle.

Figure 6

This Roman chasuble, based on a French model, dating between 1900-24 (see Figure 7), is made of black silk, metal thread and silk thread, and is decorated with interwoven leaf motifs. The cross and column are made from gold braid. The IHS stands in relief gold embroidery. We have two such chasubles at Tongerlo.

Figure 7

The last chasuble dates from 1952 (see Figure 8), made from cloth of gold, metal thread and silk thread. The cross and column are also made of cloth of gold stitched onto the chasuble, with white cotton silk, bordered with gold braid and red squares. The cross and column are decorated with palmettes and volutes. In a pointed oval is an angel who holds the text ‘JESV LVX VERA’, and the circle medallion features Christ.

Figure 8

It should be noted that gothic-style vestments were also worn in the abbey before Vatican II, and we shall look at again at some of the other vestments belonging to the abbey sometime in the future.

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