Opus Anglicanum

Opus Anglicanum

Opus Anglicanum or English work is a contemporary term for fine needlework of Medieval England done for ecclesiastical or secular use on clothing, hangings or other textiles, primarily by nuns and then by laywomen in workshops. Most surviving examples were for church use. These exquisite and expensive embroidery pieces were often copes but could be other types of church furnishings and vestments. They were usually embroidered on linen or, later, velvet, in split stitch and couching with silk and gold or silver-gilt thread.

English needlework had become famous across Europe during the Anglo-Saxon period. A Papal inventory in Rome, from the 13th century, lists over 200 pieces, and a request by a Pope of the period for religious houses to send more is reported indignantly by the Benedictine chronicler Matthew Paris of St Albans.

One particularly fine example is the The Adoration of the Magi chasuble from c.1325 in red velvet embroidered in gold thread and pearls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It depicts a nativity scene with emphasis on decorative motifs, flowers, animals, birds, beasts, and angels. The Butler-Bowden Cope at the Victoria and Albert Museum is another surviving example.

Few surviving secular examples exist.


External links


  • Davenport, Cyril, English Embroidered Bookbindings ,edited by Alfred Pollard, London, 1899 ()
  • Levey, S. M. and D. King, The Victoria and Albert Museum's Textile Collection Vol. 3: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1993, ISBN 1851771263

Further reading

  • King, Donald: Opus Anglicanum: English Medieval Embroidery, London: The Curwen Press, 1963.
  • Christie, A.G.H.: English Medieval Embroidery, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938

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