Vestments of Recusant England: The Easter Alleluia Chasuble of Helen of Wintour (1655)

Helen of Wintour was a recusant English Catholic, living in seventeeth century England at a time when being a Catholic could result in imprisonment or even execution. In fact, Helen's own father aud Uncle were executed in the year 1605. As part of the expression of her Catholic faith, Helena was a talented  maker of vestments and today we are going to show you one of her works (we shall recount some of the others in future articles), the so-called "Alleluia Chasuble," made in approximately the year 1655. 

Helena's vestments often has Jesuit themes and symbols embedded within them as she had a close connection to the, then, relatively recently established society. In the case of the Alleluia chasuble, this can be seen in the use of the Jesuit's distinctive version of the IHS monogram.  

This vestment is today located in the collections of the Jesuit school, Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England, and they describe the vestment accordingly:
This particular chasuble is associated with Easter, as Helena has embroidered the word ‘alleluia’ in four places on the front and back. Alleluia is an ancient Hebrew form of prayer, meaning ‘God be praised’ and is repeated four times in the Easter mass, celebrating Christ’sresurrection. The lavish embroidery uses the imagery of a rich garden to celebrate the Virgin Mary’s virtues, and the spectacular piece on the back of the chasuble shows the Lamb of God as described in the Book of the Apocalypse. Helena’s images were both beautifully executed and theologically inspired.

The vestment is spectacular in its colourful and deeply textured embroidery work, and includes iwthin the cross on its back the image of two angels adoring the Lamb of God with the seven seals of the Book of Revelation.  Beneath are the three words, 'Alleliua, Alleluia, Alleluia:' from whence the informal name of the vestment is derived, and of course those familiar with the sacred liturgy of the Easter reason will recognize this trifold "alleluia" from the prayers of Paschaltide. 

In a particularly bold move, Helena includes on the chasuble design a circular design at its base which includes her own name and a petition to pray for her -- a move which not only identifies her as the maker but also as a recusant Catholic which, accordingly, could have put her in danger of martyrdom. 

While the chasuble is the main focus here, I would be remiss to not point out that this chasuble forms a part of a greater solemn Mass set which you can see here:

The following video will take you through some of the details of this impressive set and it is worth watching for it will give you not only a more detailed breakdown of the various design components found on the chasuble, but also a greater sense of the beauty of the embroidery work. 

We leave you finally with a few more details from the set for your enjoyment. 

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