The Holy Ghost

There have been a number of embroidered crowns appearing on this page but this is an actual object.  It is one of two embroidered headpieces possibly used in the yearly ceremony confirming the election of the warden of the Broderers’ Company in the 16th century.  There doesn’t seem to be any reference to it in the company records until the early 20th century but it appears to have been in their possession since it was created in the late 1500s.  

The ground fabric is silk velvet, possibly originally scarlet, and it is trimmed with a fringe of green silk and gold file.  The botanical motifs are embroidered separately on fine linen with a variety of metal threads and polychrome silks.  The examination and recreation of the garland was the subject of an article in Medieval Clothing and Textiles Journal #16.  For today, I’d like to focus on two of the badges that remain in place, but are sadly in very poor condition.  

London guilds were often affiliated with a religious brotherhood in the late medieval period. For example, the Merchant Tailors supported the Fraternity of St John the Baptist and the Goldsmiths’ religious affiliation was to St Dunstan.  The Worshipful Company of Broderers was associated with the Fellowship of the Holy Ghost in the early 1500’s.  The first recorded mention is in the company ordinances approved in 1528.  The ascending Dove represents the Holy Spirit and it appears on the crest of the Broderers’ official coat of arms granted by Mary I and Philip in 1558. 

Each badge is embroidered differently and the materials and techniques are unique.  They are both of a similar size; the circle containing the dove is just over 2 centimeters in diameter.  Note the triangular shaped pieces of metal representing rays and how they are treated differently in each badge.   On the left, a stitch of gold file is carefully placed from the bottom to the point and silk is sewn across each ray shading from yellow at the base to red at the tip.  The blue silk separating the rays has been stitched horizontally on the left and in a circle on the right.  The rays on the right are the same triangular shape but they are only stitched across with pale yellow silk.  A coiled wire has been stretched and sewn in between each ray on the stitched blue ground on both badges.  

Although both birds are quite damaged, a close inspection reveals they are embroidered differently.  Fine round wire is coiled and flattened for the halo and on the wings of the dove on the left and is also stitched upright outside the lizerine.  Wire does not appear to be used on the dove on the left, the halo is couched gold file. On both doves, the upper edge of the wing is couched silver file but the direction changes with the feathers on the right. The body of the dove on the right is stitched with rows of vertical silver plate which are over stitched horizontally with silver file. On the left, the body is too damaged to identify definitively, but the silver plate appears to be sewn horizontally across the bird’s head indicating perhaps that it would continue to the body.  The blue background stitching behind the doves reflects the same direction as in the blue behind the rays. The feathers of the wings on both birds are silver plate over sewn with white silk.

This has been a comparison of two areas of only about 3 centimeters square.  It is only a small indication of the astounding creativity and skill of the 16th century embroiderer.

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