Chasuble (Opus Anglicanum)

Date: ca. 1330–50

Culture: British

Medium: Silver and silver-gilt thread and colored silks in underside couching, split stitch, laid-and-couched work, and raised work, with pearls on velvet

Dimensions: Overall (Chasuble): 51 x 30 in. (129.5 x 76.2 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Ecclesiastical

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1927

Accession Number: 27.162.1


"De opere Anglicano," "de l'ouvrage," or "à la façon d'Angleterre," "de obra Anglaterra," "opus anglicanum"—of English workmanship—appears again and again in descriptions of embroidered ecclesiastical vestments found in Continental inventories of the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. The thirteenth-century English chronicler Matthew of Paris tells this anecdote concerning Pope Innocent IV's admiration for such work:

About the same time [1245] my Lord Pope, having noticed that the ecclesiastical ornaments of certain English priests, such as choral copes and mitres, were embroidered in gold thread after a most desirable fashion, asked whence came this work? From England, they told him. Then exclaimed the pope, "England is for us surely a garden of delights, truly an inexhaustible well."

This splendid chasuble is a beautiful example of opus anglicanum. The principal vestment worn by a priest, bishop, or archbishop in the celebration of the Mass, a chasuble was usually made of the richest materials possible. The back view of this one shows three scenes embroidered directly on the velvet field: the Coronation of the Virgin, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Annunciation. They are placed within a framework of intertwining oak branches decorated with animal faces as well as hanging acorns completely fashioned from pearls. Underneath the shoulder seams can be seen the tails of what were originally parakeets. To the left of the Coronation, part of Saint Stephen is visible. The velvet background is still a rich red tone, and the gold embroidery is completely intact, but some of the original smaller figures were cut off or cut apart during a later remodeling.