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"Last night I dreamt a dream; behold!
With arras richly dight:
And tapers burning bright."
W. S. Rose.
Over those memorials of the past which chance and mischance have left us, time hath drawn a thick curtain, obliterating all soft and gentle touches, which connected harmoniously the bolder features of the landscape, and leaving these but as landmarks to intimate what had been there. We would fain linger on those times, and call up the gentle spirits of the long departed to describe scenes of quiet but useful retirement at which we now only dimly guess. We would witness the hour of recreation in the convent, when the severer duties of the cloister gave place to the cheerful one of companionship; and the "pale votary" quitted the lonely cell and the solitary vigil, to instruct the blooming novice in the art of embroidery, or to ply her own accustomed and
accomplished fingers in its fairy creations. The younger ones would be ecstatic in their commendations, and eager in their exertions to rival the fair sempstress; whilst a gratified though sad smile would brighten her own pale cheek as the lady abbess laid aside the richly illuminated volume by which her own attention had been engrossed, and from which she had from time to time read short and instructive passages aloud, commenting on and enforcing the principles they inculcated; and holding the work towards the casement, so that the bright slanting rays of the setting sun which fell through the richly carved lattice might illumine the varied tints of the stitchery, she would utter some kind and encouraging words of admiration and praise.
Perhaps the work was a broidered scarf for some spiritual father, a testimony of gratitude and esteem from the convent at large; perhaps it was a tunic or a girdle which some high and wealthy lady had bespoken for an offering, and which the meek and pious sisterhood were happy to do for hire, bestowing the proceeds on the necessities of the convent; or, if those were provided, on charity. Perhaps it was a pair of sandals, so magnificently wrought as to be destined as a present by some lofty abbot to the pope himself, like those which Robert, Abbot of St. Alban's, sent to the Pope Adrian the Fourth; and which alone, out of a multitude of the richest offerings, the pope retained; * or if it were in England (for our domestic scene will apply to all the Christian world) it might be a magnificent covering for the high altar, with a scripture history embroidered in the centre, and the border, of regal purple, inwrought with gold and precious stones. We say, if in England, because so celebrated was the English work, the Opus Anglicum,* that other nations eagerly desired to possess it. The embroidered vestments of some English clergymen were so much admired at the Papal Court, that the Pope, asking where they had been made, and being told "in England," despatched bulls to several English abbots, commanding them to procure similar ones for him. Some of the vestments of these days were almost covered with gold and precious stones.
* When Robert, Abbot of Sf. Alban's, visited his countryman Pope Adrian the Fourth, he made him several valuable presents, and amongst other things three mitres and a pair of sandals of most admirable workmanship. His holiness refused his other presents, but
Or it might be a magnificent pall, in the days in which this garment had lost its primitive character, that taxed the skill and the patience of the fair needlewoman. It was about the year A. D. 601 that Pope Gregory sent two archbishop's palls into England; the one for London, which see was afterwards removed to Canterbury, and the other to York. Fuller gives the following account of this garment primitively :—
"The pall is a poutificall vestment, considerable for the matter, making, and mysteries thereof. For the matter, it is made of lamb's-wooll and superstition. I say, of lamb's-wooll, as it comes from the sheep's back, without any other artificial! colour, spun (say some) by a peculiar order of nunnes, first cast into the tombe of St. Peter, taken from his body (say others) ; surely most sacred if from both; and (superstitiously) adorned with little black crosses. For the form thereof, the breadth exceeded not three fingers (one of our bachelor's lamb-skin hoods in Cambridge would make three of them), having two labells hanging down before and behind, which the archbishops onely, when going to the altar, put about their necks, above their other pontificall ornaments. Three mysteries were couched therein. First, humility, which beautifies the clergy above all their costly copes; secondly, innocency, to imitate lamblike simplicities and thirdly, industry, to follow him who fetched his wandering sheep home on his shoulders. But to speak plainly, the mystery of mysteries in this pall was, that the archbishops receiving it showed therein their dependence on Rome; and a mote in this manner ceremoniously taken was a sufficient acknowledgment of their subjection. And, as it owned Rome's power, so in after ages it increased their profit. For, though now such palls were freely given to archbishops, whose places in Britain for the present were rather cumbersome than commodious, having little more than their paines for their labour; yet in after ages the archbishop of Canterburie's pall was sold for five thousand florenes :* so that the Pope might well have the
thankfully accepted of the mitres and sandals, being charmed with their exquisite beauty. These admired pieces of embroidery were the work of Christina, Abbess of Markgate.
f "Anglicae nationis feminae muitum acu et auri textura, egregie viri in omni valeant artificio. Pero fu renomato Opus Anglicum."
Golden Fleece, if he could sell all his lamb's-wooll at that rate."*
The accounts of the rich embroidered ecclesiastical vestments—robes, sandals, girdles, tunics, vests, palls, cloaks, altar-cloths, and veils or hangings of various descriptions, common in churches in the dark ages—would almost surpass belief, if the minuteness with which they are enumerated in some few ancient authors did not attest the fact. Still these in the most diffuse writers are a mere catalogue of church properties, and, as such, would, in the dry detail, be but little interesting to our readers. There is enough said of them, however, to attest their variety, their beauty, their magnificence; and to impress one with a very favourable idea of the female ingenuity and perseverance of those days. The cost of many of these garments was enormous, for pearls and precious jewels were literally interwrought, and the time and labour bestowed on them was almost incredible. It was no uncommon circumstance for three years to be spent even by these assiduous and indefatigable votaries of the needle on one garment. But it is only casually, in the pages of the antiquarian, that there is any record of them :—
"With their names
"Noi'' (says Muratori) "che ammiriamo, e con
* "The pall was a bishop's vestment, going over the shoulders, made of sheep-skin, in memory of him who sought the lost sheep, and when he had found it laid it on his shoulders; and it was embroidered with crosses, and taken off the body or coffin of St. Peter.*'