A Contemporary Approach to Early Gothic Revival Vestment Design

One of the great struggles in the area of the gothic revival vestment design has been that, since its resurrection under such 19th century masters as G.F. Bodley and Sir Ninian Comper, not long after their own triumphs the old craftsmanship would give way to an era of industrialization and commercialization; the end result was the problem of 'cookie cutter' vestments that barely differed from one another. However, at the time such works still held a certain appeal as they at least had the novelty the came with medieval revival. With time, however, this appeal would fade and the issues of design mediocrity would become more apparent. The challenge for vestment designers today then is to reclaim some of the original excellence and originality of the earlier gothic revival artists (and indeed of the medieval forms generally).  

In view of this, today I wish to share three examples of some recent gothic revival work coming from two contemporary designers, Sacra Domus Aurea and Altarworthy.  Each of these examples we will look at today utilize embroideries throughout their respective designs, with the design of Sacra Domus Aurea taking its inspiration from a more Roman and continental tradition, and that of Altarworthy coming from within the English tradition of Pugin.

To begin with, here is the offering from Sacra Domus Aurea (which is available here).  This is a red chasuble that includes a fully embroidered orphrey design, embroidered edges, and a cross-hatched pattern of alternating flowers that come from within the later Roman tradition.  It presents a very nice and striking synthesis of medieval form and other post-medieval design elements -- and it all works together very nicely indeed.

The floral designs over the body of the chasuble really add something to the chasuble and certainly bring me to mind of Bodley's Pentecost chasuble.

Next we turn to two examples coming from Altarworthy. This first, as you will see, also utilizes embroidery all over the surface of the chasuble as well as on the orphreys themselves. Whereas the SDA example above reminds me more of Bodley's work, as noted, this particular design definitely has more of a Pugin feel to it.

This Puginian feel continues with the second example coming from Altarworthy, a gold set that is somewhat reminiscent of the gold pontifical Pugin set found at Westminster Cathedral.  While this particular example does not include the all over embroidery of the previous two examples, it does include an embroidered Latin cross design that is done in a form that was frequently adopted early on in the gothic revival.

In all three instances what we see is a move away from the cliche, catalogue models of the 20th century and an attempt to recover the greater creativity and design presence of the early gothic revival masters.  These efforts are certainly most welcome and bear the promise of a much more interesting future for gothic revival work than has heretofore been the case for much of the past century.

(For more on this subject, please see: The Importance of Variety and Distinctiveness in Vestment Design: The Gothic Revival.)

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