The Art of Filigree (Study of a Chasuble of Pius X)

Recently at a dinner party in Rome I overheard a priest remark how few examples of filigree vestments there are in North America.  Indeed, he is exactly right.  This example came to my mind, kept at the Church of St. Pius X in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Canada.

The lily motif prompts me to think of Luke 12:27: "Consider the lilies, how they grow: they labor not, neither do they spin.  But I say to you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these."

In fact, the high level of ornamental tracery of this filigree work is astounding.  The threads are made of fine gold and silver.  Hand-made.  A lot of care and attention went into this.

Although this style likely had its origin in Byzantine goldsmith shops, the tradition surely goes back much further.  This particular example is likely from the late 19th century.   

Anyone who has had any significant level of experience with embroidery knows the high level of skill and patience involved in the delicate branching patterns (known as traceries) and how rare, difficult and pricey it is today to acquire these authentic metallic threads, making it almost impossible to either reproduce new or even repair antique versions.  The finished project is an exquisite work of art, made worthy for service in the sanctum sanctorum.  

The origin of this chasuble has an interesting story.  It came from the household of Pius X, where it was likely sold after his death (the Sarto family sold a great many of his items).  Eventually it found its way to a monsignor from Mexico who worked in the Vatican.  When the monsignor was transferred to Canada he took it with him where he was appointed pastor of the newly created parish of Pius X.  Upon his retirement, the good monsignor bequeathed the chasuble to the parish where it it remains today, safe and sound.

Needless to say, workshops and studios that reproduce this level of hand-made filigree are no longer in existence, except maybe in places like India and Pakistan where ancient atelier skills like this have in some ways been preserved by cottage industry family studios, passed on from generation to generation.

We live in a time when a great many of these centuries-old traditions are returning in quiet ways, seen with fine lacework, scrollwork, lattickwork, and fretwork - all subjects of liturgical arts.  Let us also look for a return to hand-made filigree, a tremendous contribution to the subject of arts at the service of the altar.

Photos: OC-Travel

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