Poulton church's £10k vestment conservation

Chasuble from St John's Roman Catholic Church in Poulton (picture courtesy of the church)
Image caption The chasuble should be restored in time for the church's centenary in 2012

An unusual restoration project is under way in Preston, not on a building but a garment.

The medieval chasuble, an outer vestment worn by a priest at Mass, has been described as "one of the finest pieces of pre-Reformation embroidery".

It belongs to the parish of St John's Roman Catholic Church in Poulton.

Lancashire Museums Conservation Studio in Preston is restoring it through a £10,000 Heritage Lottery grant. It will be unveiled next year.

Eleanor Palmer, conservation officer for textiles, said it was an exciting opportunity to work on the vestment which she thought dated from about 1480.

"It's a one piece garment that slips over the head, in colour it's a very dark red, of very fine quality and the embroidered panel down the front called the orphrey is embroidered in three sections each depicting a different saint," she said.

"The back is embroidered, with the Holy Ghost represented by a dove, in the central section is the crucifixion."

The chasuble is also seen by the church's parishioners as a great asset and some of them will be helping with the restoration of the historical garment.

Anne Robinson first saw the vestment in 1987 when it was put on display to mark the church's 75th anniversary. Alongside the vestment was a report from London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Centenary celebrations

"It said the chasuble was one of the finest pieces of pre-Reformation embroidery they had ever seen," Mrs Robinson said.

"After a year or two I thought about it and realised it was quite a priceless object and worth having it assessed and restored, so at that point I got in touch with the conservation studio."

Image caption The priest's vestment is thought to date from medieval times

The cost in time and money was something the Lancashire church could not fund entirely themselves, so it was a relief when the good news of the lottery grant came through.

"It will need a new lining, new silk ribbon to replace the old damaged ribbon, it will take Eleanor a lot of time to restore it," Mrs Robinson added.

"The major cost will be a specially designed cabinet to display it.

"We have a target of September 2012 to get it restored, when the church will celebrate its centenary, Father Webb wants to make it the focus of the celebrations."

The challenge of restoring the chasuble is one the whole church and conservation centre is looking forward to.

"We're just so excited to see something of this quality in Lancashire, it's taught me a lot," said Ms Palmer.

"They say textiles don't talk but actually it's telling us a lot about how it was made, we need to find out who made it and we hope there's more to come."

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