So you think textiles are dull? Think again! The new textiles exhibition at the heart of Durham Cathedral’s world-class exhibition experience Open Treasure showcases some of the finest examples of church needlework from the last 1,100 years, and there are some intriguing stories hidden behind the glimmering threads and exquisite embroidery.
- The oldest textiles in the exhibition are the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon Dalmatic and the 12th-century Peacock Silk from the Shrine of St Cuthbert. When St Cuthbert’s tomb was first opened in 698, 11 years after his death, the monks of Lindisfarne found his body to be incorrupt or undecayed. The silks on display were added to St Cuthbert’s coffin following subsequent openings, and were removed in 1827.
- Also on display is a rare fragment of silk from the tomb of Bishop William of St Calais, nominated by King William I of England as Bishop of Durham in 1080. Bishop William of St Calais ordered the construction of Durham Cathedral in 1093 to replace the earlier Anglo-Saxon White Church, but he died in 1096 and did not live to see the finished result.
- The Arabella Stuart Bible is an exquisite embroidered bible, once owned by Lady Arabella Stuart, great great granddaughter of King Henry VII and potential heiress to the English throne. Imprisoned in the Tower of London by her cousin King James I in 1610, Arabella eventually died in the Tower on 25 September 1615 after refusing to eat.
- The first cope on display in the Collections Gallery dates from the fifteenth century. Probably made in Italy, this cope depicts an exquisite cycle of images. The hood, showing Christ seated on a rainbow, might have been added later, perhaps in the seventeenth century when the robe was sent to London for repairs and alterations.
- The Charles I Cope is a rare example of 17th-century needlework, commissioned for the visit of King Charles I in 1633. The embroidered image of David holding the head of Goliath on the hood of the cope is an eerily prophetic image of Charles I’s ultimate fate in 1649 following the English Civil War.
- The Bishop of Durham’s Coronation Cope has been worn at the coronations of the last four British monarchs, including the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Traditionally the Bishop of Durham stands on the monarch’s right hand side to show support for the new ruler. Occasionally this has meant more than just symbolic support; Queen Anne could barely stand during her coronation as she suffered from gout so the Bishops of Durham and Exeter had to physically hold her up!
- Modern textiles are explored through the work of Durham Cathedral’s Broderers, a team of volunteer embroiderers who work tirelessly to produce textiles for everyday use in the Cathedral from altar cloths to cushion covers. Samples from the Lenten Altar Set are on display, embroidered with silks and pure gold metal thread.
- ‘Death of a Working Hero’, a tapestry by world-renowned artist Grayson Perry, is on display in the Monks’ Dormitory to complement the exhibition. Created for his recent Channel 4 documentary, Grayson Perry: All Man, the piece explores the concept of masculinity and its place in the modern world.
- As well as hosting world-class temporary and permanent exhibitions, Open Treasure is located in the most intact surviving medieval monastic buildings in the UK. Visitors can admire the breath-taking architecture of these historic spaces, including the 14th-century Monks’ Dormitory and the spectacular monastic Great Kitchen.
- Textiles: Painting with the Needle is part of a rolling programme of exhibitions in the Collections Gallery. Look out for more exciting exhibitions in 2017 including Beasts! from 20 February – 10 June, and Magna Carta and the Forest Charters from 19 June – 9 September.
Open Treasure is open Monday to Saturday from 10.00am – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm) and Sundays from 12.30pm – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm).
Tickets: £2.50 – £7.50 (under 5s free) available from www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/open-treasure and from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral.
Open Treasure annual passes are also available so you’ll never have to miss an Open Treasure exhibition!