Ingrid Lunnan Nødseth is in her first year of her PhD studies in medieval art at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Working in the old centre of medieval Norway, Ingrid is looking at how textiles were valued and used in churches at the fringes of western Christianity during the Middle Ages. She will spend Summer Term as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Victoria and Albert museum exploring their wonderful collection of medieval embroideries. The provisional title of her PhD thesis is: “Why Textiles Matter: Materiality and Aesthetics of liturgical textiles from the Nidaros Province, c. 1200 – 1550”.
Stiches in time: reusing medieval ecclesiastical embroideries
Liturgical textiles were among the most precious and valued objects of a church’s ornatus. Medieval vestments were often beautiful and complex assemblages made of a wide range of materials, from metals to pearls and precious stones, from velvet and silk to wool. As material objects they call attention to themselves and their explicit materiality (to borrow Caroline Walker Bynum’s phrase). My PhD research examines the materiality and aesthetics of such textiles (chasubles, antependia, dalmatics) from medieval Norway, looking at this expressive textile materiality as a mechanism for constructing sacred space. This object-oriented approach has revealed a frequent reuse and alteration of medieval embroideries in the late- or post-Middle Ages.
In most cases, the embroideries were sewn onto newer chasubles or antependia, while the rest of the textile was discarded. This paper will specifically look at how ecclesiastical embroidery is reused/ repurposed in a number of late medieval/ post medieval chasubles preserved in Norwegian museum collections. In the case of Lyngdal, 16th century embroideries are “restored” with an additional layer of newer embroidery, and repurposed as an antependium in 1681. Many 15th and 16th century embroideries were at some point removed from the original vestments and appliqued on post-medieval chasubles, as is the case for the Bremnes chasuble. This paper asks, whether the materiality and aesthetic value of these medieval embroideries held a special position in late medieval/ post medieval culture? In other words, was this specific textile materiality the reason for repurposing and reusing medieval ecclesiastical embroideries?