In May it was a delight and a joy to be able to attend the vestment exhibition held at the parish church in North Walsham in Norfolk. Among the impressive exhibits was this glorious Chasuble from the collection at the Anglican shrine of our Lady of Walsingham.
No prizes for guessing the designer, Sir Ninian Comper. The Chasuble is part of a five piece low mass set and it has been suggested it dates from around 1905, though I wonder if it is 1930s. I don't know, but it seems a little too free to be early Comper. The fabrics used in the Chausble are two of those designed by Comper in the 1890s, woven by M. Perkins and Son a dyed by Wardle's of Leek. The red ground, which has faded to a glorious Rose colour, is the silk damask 'Cathedral'. Comper has decided to offset this red ground by using his Brocatelle 'Pear' in a blue and gold colourway for y-shaped orphreys.
Looking at the back of the Chasuble in the centre of the Orphrey is an embroidered panel depicting the Crucifixion of Christ. The colourway of the Brocatelle is extended into the embroidery by placing the white figure of Christ, against a goldwork cross raguly, which is in turn set against a blue silk ground with goldwork rays. The green of the mound of Golgotha gives a welcome touch of green to the composition.
Whereas the back orphrey is quite a successful bit of design, because the embroidery of Crucifixion extends into the arms of the y-orphrey, I think the front is less so. Here the embroidered element consists of a rectangular panel with figures of two saints, St Stephen and St Catherine. As an isolated unit this piece of embroidery is wonderfully accomplished piece of design.
The figures of the saints are superimposed on top of one another, St Stephen appearing behind St Catherine. No medieval English embroidery would have attempted such a configuration, including two figures in one visual unit, here Comper, as usual, is pushing the boundaries.
The Chasuble as a whole is Gothic in tone, but contemporary in design. The embroidery is of the highest quality and I'm sure the work was undertaken by the Sisters of Bethany.