I first saw the Skenfrith Cope in 2006 when I was researching for my book on Gold Embroidery (published in 2007 by Sally Milner Publishing). At that time the glass cabinet that housed the cope was covered by a heavy green cloth to protect it from UV light. My husband, Philip, held the curtain up but it made photographing the work almost impossible (and I only had a manual camera at the time which meant one took very few pictures without knowing if they were going to be at all satisfactory). Before seeing the cope again on this trip, I knew that it had spent considerable time down at the London Restoration Studio, so I knew it was going to be in a better state than in 2006. What did surprise me on entering the Skenfrith Church was seeing the cope in its glass cabinet, minus the heavy curtain! Now with a digital camera I could photograph the embroidery on the cope with gay abandon!
Just a few facts about the cope. It is a pre-Reformation Catholic vestment. It would have been made sometime between 1450-1500. After the Reformation so many of these embroidered vestments were destroyed and those that survived were either taken over to the Continent or they were hidden by Catholic families and clergy in England to be used in clandestine meetings. It is not known where this cope was kept for the 300 years before it was discovered in the 1840s.
The cope is in 3 parts. The cape shape (made of red silk velvet), the orphrey (the band running across the top of the cope when laid out as a semi-circle - it is linen) and the hood (the shield-like shape in the centre at the top of the cope - it is also made of linen). The embroidered figures and flowers on the red velvet were worked off the velvet and when completed, were appliqued onto the velvet. Coloured silk threads and silver-gilt threads have been used for the embroidery. So much of the silk embroidery has disappeared making the saints on the orphrey and the Virgin with the Christ Child on the hood barely recognisable.
Do not mistake the angels on either side of the Virgin Mary for rabbits!