Vestments in the Liber Eliensis

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The church of Ely, founded in the late seventh century, was re-established as a reformed Benedictine monastery in the mid-tenth century thanks to Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester. It acquired extensive lands in the Fens and became a wealthy and important ecclesiastical centre.

Here follows a summary of the possessions of the church at Ely, inventoried on the orders of Bishop Nigel (1133-1169) in the reign of Stephen. The translation is taken from J. Fairweather, Liber Eliensis: A history of the Isle of Ely from the seventh century to the twelfth, compiled by a monk of Ely in the twelfth century (Boydell, 2005). It has been turned from a long prose passage into a list for ease of reference.

NB: the literal translation ‘made’ (Lat. fecit) is used rather than ‘caused to be made’ although it emerges that some of the community at Ely participated in vestment-making.

Liber Eliensis book III, ch.50

How the bishop gave orders that the goods of the church contained within it should be listed in full; and the identity and number of the articles which he found there.

[The passage begins with the shrine of St Æthelthryth, gospel-books and ornaments of gold, silver and ivory.]

  • One red chasuble well-embroidered, which was Abbot Leofsige’s
  • One chasuble of purpura, well-embroidered, which bishop Æscwig presented
  • One chasuble well-embroidered all over, made of the cloak of King Edgar
  • One chasuble of purpura well-embroidered, which the brothers of the church bought from Ælfbold, a burgess of Thetford.
  • One red chasuble well decorated, which the Lady Githa, wife of Earl Godwine, mother of queen Edith, presented
  • One white chasuble, well-embroidered, which the Lady Æthelswith made
  • One good, black chasuble, which Bishop Nigel gave
  • Twenty-one chasubles with slight decoration, of which one was Bishop Osmund’s and one, Archbishop Wulfstan’s, and one Bishop Æthelstan’s
  • Twenty-six chasubles without decoration
  • Nine precious stoles with their maniples; one was Leofsige’s, one Ælfbold’s, one Provost Thurstan’s, one Theodwine’s, one Bishop Osmund’s; two pairs were Abbot Ælfsige’s
  • Fourteen stoles with their maniples, with slight decoration; one was Eadfrith’s, one Bishop Aescwig’s, one Abbot Thurstan’s, one the monk Tosti’s
  • Fifteen stoles with their maniples, of slight value
  • And five maniples without stoles; three excellent ones were St Æthelwold’s, and one Bishop Hervey’s
  • Two well-decorated belts; oen made of the girdle of King Edgar, and one Ælfbold’s
  • And four albs of silk, excellently decorated with orphrey; one was Abbot Leofsige’s, one Provost Sihtric’s, one Aelfbold’s; one Provost Thursan’s
  • Two linen albs, excellently decorated; one was Abbot Ælfsige’s, one Abbot Richard’s
  • Eleven albs slightly decorated at their lower edge with orphrey: one from the boots of King Edgar; two from the cloth in which the body of St Æthelthyrth had been wrapped; one was Abbot Wulfric’s; two Abbot Simeon’s; five St Æthelwold’s
  • Sixty-four albs decorated with pall-cloth; twenty-four were St Æthelwold’s; four the cantor Ælfric’s, four Prior Thembert’s; two those of the orphrey-embroideress Liueua; four those of Godwine, burgess of the town; and four those of Wulfwine, a baker
  • Hundred and ten albs without decoration at the lower edge
  • Five super-humerals, that is amices; one was that of Abbot Leofsige, of blessed memory; one Provost Sihtric’s and one Ælfbold’s, one the sacrist Guthmund’s, one Provost Thurstan’s.
  • Ninety-four super-humerals decorated with orphrey; twenty-four of unornamented orphrey were St Æthelwold’s; thirty with stones and ornamentation; eight being Abbot Ælfsige’s; eight Provost Thurstan’s; four Provost Sihtric’s; four the sacrist Ralph’s.
  • One cope of black purpura, well-decorated and star-spangled all over, which Wulfstan at first, and later Guthmund, worked upon, but Ralph completed
  • One cope of black purpura, decorated with orphrey all over with golden roundels and flowers, which Prior Thembert once made
  • Four copes; one of pall-cloth spangled with stars arranged in a circle, well-decorated, which Provost Thurstan made; and another of sinople-green cloth, well decorated, was Abbot Richard’s; and a third of black purpura, Provost Sihtric’s; and a forth of white purpura with flowers in a circle, well decorated, was Abbot Theodwine’s.
  • One old cope of St Æthelwold, moderately well decorated
  • Eleven copes moderately well decorated; four were Provost Thurstan’s; two Abbot Richard’s; two Wulfstan’s; one the monk Tosti’s
  • Fourteen copes with slight decoration; two were St Æthelwold’s; two Abbot Richard’s; three Provost Thurstan’s; one Archbishop Stigand’s; one Queen Matilda’s; one the Bishop of Salisbury’s; one the monk Inglemaer’s; one Abbot Leofsige’s; two Abbot Thurstan’s
  • Twenty-nine copes without decoration; twelve were St Æthelwold’s; two Abbot Thurstan’s; two Prior Thembert’s; two Abbot Ælfsige’s
  • Two precious dalmatics, one Bishop Ælfwine’s, the other the Lady Æthelswith’s
  • Eleven dalmatics of little value; one of white pall-cloth is that of St Æthelthryth, which she possessed in life, or with which her body was wrapped after her death; four are St Æthelwold’s; others were given by other people of whom we have no record
  • Fourteen tunicles of little value; seven were St Æthelwold’s; others donated by various people
  • Seven palls with orphrey; one of purpura, excellently decorated all round with orphrey and stones, which Queen Emma gave to St Æthelthryth, who also made a pall of purpura for each of our saints, and bestowed them on the separate altars for the beutification of the church
  • Six large palls
  • Sixty-two small palls; twenty-six were St Æthelwold’s; others, from outside, were given by various people
  • Thirty-four good, woollen back-hangings: sixteen were St Æthelwold’s and two large ones, those of Leofwine son of Æthulf, and two were the sacrist Ralph’s; two the Lady Ælfwaru’s; four Queen Emma’s and two those of Ingrith the orphrey-embroideress.
  • Three back-hangings of scant value, which were St Æthelwold’s
  • Three large tapestries: one Abbot Richard’s; two Bishop Hervey’s
  • Two small and worn-out tapestries of St Æthelwold
  • Two of Leofwine son of Æthelwulf
  • Fifty-four bench-covers, twenty-four being St Æthelwold’s
  • Thirty-four curtains, nine being St Æthelwold’s
  • Two cushions of silken cloth
  • Nine pillows of silken cloth, three being St Æthelwold’s
  • Six silken napkins for the making of offerings, three being St Æthelwold’s
  • Twenty-seven cloths of particularly fine-spun silk
  • Twenty-four linen napkins for altars
  • A good number of other linen cloths
  • In the outer tower are nine bells, four large and five medium-sized; six St Æthelwold’s; two Ælfbold’s
  • In the tower of the church are four medium-sized bells and six smaller ones
  • In that place are extremely precious fetters which St Æthelthryth broke, hanging before the altar

Bishop Nigel found these and many other things in the church, and also in the cupboard a number of books, which would cause great annoyance to the reader, if were to be kept in suspense by the giving of an account of them.

J. Fairweather, Liber Eliensis: A history of the Isle of Ely from the seventh century to the twelfth, compiled by a monk of Ely in the twelfth century (Boydell, 2005).