Ecclesiastical Cloth: The Good and the Tacky

The epidemic of horrible taste is already displayed at the Bad Vestments blog, but I’ve decided to make some of my own comparisons between the good and the bad.

Vestments

There are normal clothes, and then there are bad clothes; there are normal furnishings, and then there are bad ones.

Exchanging the peace

These copes shown above are dignified, adding solemnity and alluding to the unction of the Holy Ghost with a discreet pattern of flames on red, the colour of Pentecost. In short, they are normal. The one below, however, is not:

Cartoon vestment

What on earth is with these cartoonish vestments? You were better off without them, because this is just disgusting. Rather than adding ceremonial solemnity – as would a cope well embroidered or brocaded – these vestments have detracted from it. A decent rochet and chimere with a preaching scarf would be far better than this mess. I’m sure you’ll agree that Bp Richard Chartres looks much more dignified, as befits his office, even without a cope:

Opening Convocation

Paraments

Bad paraments have been discussed since Percy Dearmer, but they seem to continue unchecked, facilitating impiety rather than reverence. For review, a good altar frontal looks something like this, which is used at St Margaret’s, Lothbury:

Altar, St Margaret, Lothbury, London

This is, of course, a rather ornate, even luxurious covering, standing out against the rich wood of the wall behind it: no one expects a country parish to be so furnished. Nevertheless, in the financial district of London this covering for the Lord’s Table is eminently fitting, suggesting in what honour we hold the sacrament. The rays of gold thread emanating from the IHS Christogram show richly how the blessings of the Table, brought by the Holy Spirit, come from Christ. Beauty is an aid to meditation as the mind delights in the higher beauty of the Lord.

Contrast the St Margaret’s frontal above with satin cartoon frontals like this one, which I cannot take seriously:

Martinez altar frontal

The design of this shiny piece, though it seems broadly to express something that might be worth expressing, is ill-conceived. I begrudge the frontal its tackiness, not its apparent simplicity. Simplicity’s clearly not the issue, because this Lenten array below looks perfectly at home, decent and in order:

Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire: Lent array

The frontal in focus here is indisputably simple, yet neat and decent. Nothing tacky whatsoever. The Cross is front and centre, standing boldly in red on unbleached cloth. Without any maudlin preciousness, it proclaims simply and reverently the centre of our faith with little external adornment.

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