The Ottoman Cope of the Basilica of Gandino

On February 21, 2021, our friend and colleague Lucas Viar wrote an article on the sixteenth century Condestable cope -- a vestment in the possession of Burgos Cathedral in Spain and a very good example of the use of a Moorish, Islamic-influenced textile within vestment design. This will no doubt come as a shock to many a modern as it would seem strange to the contemporary mindset to use such a textile for the purposes of Catholic worship. Moderns, have become so accustomed to cookie-cutter catalogue offerings that we can sometimes have difficulty even comprehending the use of textiles that do not include explicit Christian imagery, let alone culturally, non-Christian influenced imagery or designs.  Historically, however, silk textiles were costly, precious and rare and so a very pragmatic approach was taken whereby anything and everything that was available might be used for these purposes; their quality and beauty was what mattered. What's more, the concept of an explicitly "Christian" or "Catholic" textile was not really a 'thing' until modern times (see our article, The Novelty of the 'Ecclesiastical Textile'). Prior to that, the textiles used would have always been whatever was available in a given century, which frequently included imported textiles from the orient (see our article, A Brief Consideration of the Historical Use of Oriental Silks in European Vestments) as well as textiles coming from the Islamic world, most particularly the Ottoman Empire. 

Today we are sharing yet another example of this type of thing, this time coming from within the Ottoman context. It is another cope dated to the early 1500's, just as is the Condestable cope is, and it is made from an Ottoman textile. The cope is part of the treasury of the Basilica of Gandino located in the north of Italy (in other words, in proximity to Venice through which was the port many of these textiles might arrive). Unfortunately we do not have extraordinarily good photos of the cope in its entirely, but since the focus is mainly on the textile itself, these shall have to suffice. 

Here you can see the body of cope (minus its orphrey band which is made form the same golden yellow material as you see on the shield/hood). It is the red textile, however, which is the Ottoman textile in question.

As you can see, the form of the repeating design is clearly Ottoman or Islamic in style and includes geometric and floral motifs within it. If you aren't familiar wth Islamic inspired design and wish to see why I say it is clearly reflective of this style, here is an example coming from Casablanca, Morocco, showing precisely this type of culturally Islamic inspired design:

Turning back to the cope, the design of these eye-shaped medallions was actually more ornate than it now appears on the body of the cope due to wear and tear from over the centuries that has seen part of the design fade. Fortunately, beneath the shield we can still find the original design intact and unfaded (and I would invite you to compare this detail with the architectural image above by way of comparison):

It goes without saying that something of this sort would not tend to fall within the tastes or preferences of many today, nor do we have the same historical necessity as our forebears, but it is good for people to at very least be aware of their existence and understand that the history of vestment design goes far, far beyond what we have become conditioned to understand as "normative" by way of the very limited offerings of the religious goods manufacturers of the twentieth century. (The seeming 'norm' is really the historical exception.) Those offerings were themselves influenced by the particular tastes and trends of that particular era, and also were shaped by a very conservative, commercialized approach with the intention of appealing to the widest possible customer base.As a result, they tended to be very (as we would tend to say today) "white bread" in design.

Do you like Liturgical Arts Journal's original content? You can help support LAJ in its mission and vision to promote beauty in Catholic worship either by: 

You choose the amount! Your support makes all the difference.

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.