New Pontifical Set for Buckfast Abbey

In 2018, the RSN Embroidery Studio produced a full pontifical set for Buckfast Abbey to celebrate their millennium. A pontifical set consists of a cope, chasuble, dalmatics, stoles, maniples, chalice, veils and a burse.

The RSN Embroidery Studio Team working on the Buckfast Abbey pontifical set
The RSN Embroidery Studio Team working on the Buckfast Abbey pontifical set

Following the brief, a large number of saints were designed as well as Our Lady of Buckfast, holding the Christ child and Jesus Christ on the cross. There were two Kings; King Edmund and King Canute, featured on the stole and the crown of thrones with PAX in the centre on the chasuble.

The Abbot of Buckfast Abbey visiting the studio with fine art consultant Robin Barlow
The Abbot of Buckfast Abbey visiting the studio with fine art consultant Robin Barlow

The techniques used for the figures were a combination of appliqué for the bodies of the saints and the flooring. These were also embellished to create depth and give a three dimensional feel. The faces and hands were worked in tapestry shading which is a form of silk shading where the stitches are kept perfectly vertical yet achieve curves of shadows and moreover, the curve and drape of fabric on a garment. Each saint was researched and their background taken into account when choosing the flesh tones. Their garments and colours were denoted by whether they were a Bishop, Monk or even a hermit. Each figure was placed within an arch, designed and shaped from the Abbey. These were created in applied cloth of gold with gold pearl purl to define the curve  of the columns and shadowing was added with stitches to give the sense of depth. The combination was repeated throughout the vestments to maintain a continuity to the design of the whole set. On the bottom of the arch we featured the saint’s name.

On the chasuble orphry, at the top, the crown of thorns was worked in silk shading with PAX in cutwork over soft string padding using rough gold purl. This was one of the last areas to be done due to the fragility of the cutwork. This was something  that had to be taken into account when making up the chasuble, as  we did not want to crack any of the cutwork while handling the vestment. 

The Abbot of Buckfast abbey trying on the chasuble toile for alterations
The Abbot of Buckfast abbey trying on the chasuble toile for alterations

Research of the Abbey’s other vestments combined with a discussion with those who would be wearing them led to the decision regarding the style and size of the final pieces. Each of the vestments were drawn up as a paper pattern and a toile, then a mock up was made in cotton fabric. On one visit, the Abbot tried on the toiles and they were altered to ensure that they fitted comfortably around the neck and under arm, and were the correct length. This is very important as the vestments are heavy and cumbersome to wear during long services, so we try to make them as comfortable and light as possible. For this particular set, we sourced a lighter weight interlining to reduce some of the weight particularly on the chasuble as it had the most embroidery.

Having presented the Royal School of Needlework with something of a challenge to create a suite of vestments to mark the Millennium of Buckfast Abbey, it was an enlightening experience to be able to work with a team whose skills are of such a high order of excellence.

Robin Barlow, Fine Art Consultant for Buckfast Abbey

The orphries on all the garments were in the same fabric, a gold silk. On the chasuble the orphry was embroidered between each of the saints with a scroll pattern taken from within the Abbey. This was worked in pearl purl with shadow lines again to give a sense of depth. The orphries throughout the pontifical set have been edged with red and gold braid and on some vestments fringing was also added with the braid running along the top of the fringe.

This was a very large project and all of the team in our Embroidery Studio helped deliver these exquisite new pieces. We were delighted to work on this wonderful project and feel privileged that our work has become part of the new history of Buckfast Abbey.

Vestments from the finished pontifical set
Vestments from the finished pontifical set