Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Bishop's Vestments

Greetings and salutations.

Today I will be talking about the character I portray in re-enactment, Thomas de Velmont, Bishop of L'Aquila, Knight of St Michael.I will be paying particular attention to how my representation of the bishop's vestments has evolved and improved over time.

I was interested in costume before I became a re-enactor. I have been an artist since I could hold a pencil and developed a liking for science fiction & fantasy books. Due to the machinations of my dear elder brother, Phil, I was also introduced to science fiction conventions and went to my first one in 1987. I borrowed a military jacket and a long orange scarf (as a sash) and entered the masquerade as Ensign Flandry.

What has this to do with the bishop? Well, this was my first masquerade and I liked it. So, when I went to my next convention  (Wincon) in 1992, I wanted to have a costume to wear. I had just read Katherine Kurtz Deryni trilogy, which has some wonderful descriptions of church ritual and vestments.and the cover of  Camber the Heretic shows a bishop being consecrated.

 I was going to Winchester; I knew about William of Wykham. Thus I would make a bishop costume.

The problem was I knew nothing about making clothes and very little about church vestments. I sought my mother's help and, together we came up with this.



As you can see the alb is not full enough and we misinterpreted the chasuble as a sort of over cape. The mitre was a round hat with the front and back sections (stiffened with card) glued to the cardboard hat band.

I met Helen McCarthy and Duchess Kate at Wincon and they were impressed that I knew some Latin and could quote some of the litergical phrases from Katherine Kurtz. They told me about the Far Isles and urged me to join. I was still a little unsure about this.

In the end I didn't join until 1993, but some people later told me that everyone thought I must already be a member because I came to my first revel with my own kit. I decided my persona would be a priest and picked the worst name I could think of for a clergyman, Tom Devilment, which I then refined to Thomas de Velmont.

In the meantime, I had been to the first British Costume Convention, Masque, and had re-made the bishop's costume, re-using a piece of artwork I had made at art school (based on a cope in the V &A) for Masque 2 in 1993. I was awarded  Best Workmanship (Novice)..

You will observe that I have remade the mitre with a gusset and have added an ormfrey and saints. I now have a tunicle, gloves and appliqued slippers.

My plan in the Far Isles was to be suffregan bishop sent by a cardinal to report on the state of the church.
Unfortunately, I soon discovered that I could not make my character a bishop ( not even a Suffregan bishop), as this was regarded as noble title and nobility could only be conferred by the head of society for service to the society. Thus, I set aside my mitre and spent many years as the Monsignieur.

After some years in the Far Isles, I attended my first battle re-enactment at Tewkesbury. This led to my joining the Medieval Siege Society and, free from any constraint in that field, re-enacting as a fighting bishop.

I started off as Bishop of Aquila,as I had seen the film Ladyhawk and knew they were short a bishop. After a while, however, I discovered that there is city in Italy called L'Aquila, which as two cathedrals and decided to translate there. I encounted the Paladins of Chivalry and joined. Thus,at one point I was a member of three medieval societies.

I still re-enact, and fight, as the Bishop of L'Aquila

I discovered that I quite liked embroidery, as long as it had a practical application. I also found a quite good book on church vestments and  in 1999, I presented this set of vestment at Masque 7. The ormphries , morse and hood  of the cope have embroideries based on the evangelists' beasts  from the Book of Kells, as well as four heraldic embroideries. The mitre is edged with pearls and includes a 'angel hair' quartz on the front ormphrey. The swan's head crosier was carved by my friend, Martin de Sutton.
I now had a full set of bishop's vestments; Alb, cincture, stole, maniple stole, tunicle, gloves, cope and mitre, as well as a chasuble for mass. I had found a mass in Latin and produced a truncated version for use at re-enactments ( always making sure everyone was aware I was not, and am not, an ordained minister in any modern religious organistion, but would always perform with appropriate solemnity) I had also done research into the wedding service according to the Sarum Rite and was asked to carry out a service for two of my friends in the MSS.

The plan was for them to be offically married in the Registry office in Ludlow, with us all in kit, and then to process to the (deconsacrated) chapel in Ludlow castle, where I would marry them in persona. It all went to plan and only one of the congregation sniggered when the bride had to promise to be 'Bonner and buxom in bedde and at board'.

 The event was televised by(I think) Central Television. I was promised a copy of the programme, but never got it.Indeed, I only saw one of the two episodes I starred in , due to another friend having recorded it.

I became a dab hand at battlefield mass and , on several occasions, was complemented by catholic members of the public, one even saying I group was lucky to have an actual priest..

After years of service, I was made noble in the Far Isles becoming Bishop of Freemark

I also made myself some day robes, consisting of a cassock and rochet.


The latest set of vestments I have made was in 2003 and was presented at Costume Con in the US. A friend of ours had managed to get hold of some ecclesiastical fabrics that had been relegated to seconds due to weaving , or dieing faults. I also wanted to try some beadwork and goldwork.. Consequently, the ormpheries of the cope and the mitre are both enhanced with beads and pearls and there is a goldworked chi-rho and badges on the tunicle.

I wore these vestments for  my second medieval wedding at Lulworth Castle. This achieved a half page spread in national newpapers.

Finally, I made a new day robe from silk brocade, a houpelande with velvet gards, as the bishop is sometimes called upon to dance at re-enactments. He dances; he's just not meant to enjoy it.

If you are wondering about he mask, it is due to the fact that this photo was taken at a masked ball at the V&A, rather than at a re-enactment, but it does show the houpelande rather well!

Anyhow, thats more than enough for now..

Adieu


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