TRC exhibition proposal: Faith and Attire. Vestments and embroidery within the Syriac Orthodox Church

Episcopal cross and medallion on top of embroidered liturgical vestment. Photograph by Joost Kolkman, Voorschoten.

Episcopal cross and medallion on top of embroidered liturgical vestment. Photograph by Joost Kolkman, Voorschoten.

FAITH AND ATTIRE is an exhibition that explores the range of garments and vestments made and worn by various members of one 
of the most ancient Christian Churches, namely the Syriac Orthodox Church. The vestments reflect and continue ancient traditions that are firmly rooted in the Middle East, but with both Indian and Western twists.

The exhibition is being prepared by the St. Ephrem the Syrian Monastery, Glane, together with the TRC Leiden, both in the Netherlands. It will be available for museums and suitable institutes from the summer of 2018. It builds upon an exhibition held at the TRC in 2017 called ‘From Kaftan to Kippa: Minority dress in the Middle East’, and a small display set up in late 2017 at the St Ephrem the Syrian’s monastery in Glane, the Netherlands.

The Syriac Orthodox Church

The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the Oriental Christian Churches that still use ancient Syriac in their liturgies. Ancient Syriac itself is a dialect of Aramaic, which is closely related to the Aramaic spoken in the time of Jesus Christ and by Jesus himself. This Church is regarded by many as having a direct link with Christ. Syriac Christians can be divided into two main groups, namely those following the East Syrian Rite (originally mainly in what used to be called Mesopotamia and in India), and those adhering to the West Syrian Rite (originally mainly in and around Antioch, along the Mediterranean coast, and in what is now called Turkey). The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the Churches that follow the West Syrian Rite.

 

A woman’s tattooed hands following several visits to Jerusalem (photograph by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood).

A woman’s tattooed hands following several visits to Jerusalem (photograph by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood).

It has some five million followers, who are now spread throughout the world. Syriac Churches are nowadays mainly found in the Middle East, in Kerala (southern India, the Malankara Church), and, after recent migrations, in Europe and the United States.

Like the Copts in Egypt, they are generally described as ‘miaphysites’, which means that they regard Jesus Christ as having one nature; that is, they do not separate the human and the divine in Christ, as the so-called ‘dyophysites’ do. Following the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, at which dyophysitism gained the upper hand, the Syriac Church, together with the Egyptian Copts and the Christian Armenian Church, separated from the Early Christian Church.

Father Antinios (a monk and priest), Glane Monastery, The Netherlands (photograph by Joost Kolkman, Voorschoten).

Father Antinios (a monk and priest), Glane Monastery, The Netherlands (photograph by Joost Kolkman, Voorschoten).

Syriac dress

The exhibition includes a wide range of garments and outfits worn by members of the monastic community, the congregation, deacons, priests, bishops and the patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Many of these garments on display have been donated by members of the Church especially for this exhibition and come with personal stories of who made the garments, who wore them and what the garments mean to them.

Secular

Both men and women of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the Middle East wear garments that are similar to those worn by many other groups in the Middle East. When attending church services, many women will cover their heads, like Coptic women. But outside a church context, Christian women in the Middle East often stand out because they do not wear a headscarf when in public. The secular garments included in the exhibition include:

1. Daily outfit for a traditional, Syriac woman in eastern Turkey

2. For the congregation during a service:

  1. Black and/or white lace head coverings
  2. Black winter shawl
  3. Black triangular shawl for meeting a priest

3. For baptisms

  1. Baby’s outfit
  2. White outfit for an adult baptism

4. For weddings

  1. Bride’s outfit
  2. Wedding crowns
  3. White bands

5. For funerals (text boards with information and photographs about various traditions and use of garments in funerals)

Attention is also paid to the tattoos carried by Syriac men and women following pilgrimages to various holy places, especially those in Jerusalem. 

Bishop Polycarpus with a bishop’s medallion and walking staff (photograph by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood).

Bishop Polycarpus with a bishop’s medallion and walking staff (photograph by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood).


Religious and monastic dress

The basic garment worn by Syriac clergy is the black cassock, which is an ankle-length gown with long sleeves. Both monks and priests wear the cassock and a skullcap (phiro). In addition, a monk will wear a short hood (eskimo; similar to the one worn by Coptic monks in Egypt, called a qalansuwa).  Syriac bishops wear a cassock, a black skullcap and hood, but with a red cummerbund. The outfit worn by a Syriac Patriarch includes the skullcap, cassock, cummerbund and a tallish cap, all of which are in red. The garments in the exhibition are worn by the following:

6. Novice nun

7. Nun – traditional style with veil and headband (Turkish style)

8. Nun – modern style with hood

9. Novice monk outfit a. Student’s headgear

10. Monk’s outfit with hood

11. Bishop – ‘informal’ (black cassock with black sash)

12. Bishop – ‘formal’ (red cassock with red sash)


Malankara (Kerala, India) Orthodox Syrian monastic garments

13. Malankara nun’s outfit

14. Malankara monk’s outfit

15. Malankara bishop’s ‘informal’ outfit

16. Malankara bishop’s ‘formal’ outfit

Outfit worn by a Syriac bishop during a mass (photograph by Joost Kolkman, Voorschoten).

Outfit worn by a Syriac bishop during a mass (photograph by Joost Kolkman, Voorschoten).

Liturgical dress

During a service the priest will wear a complicated set of layered garments, which consists of a white gown or alb (kutino), a stole (hamnikho), a girdle (zenoro), separate sleeves (zende), and a cope (phayno). In addition, a prelate wears a head covering (masnaphto), a pallium (batrashil) and a diamond shaped panel (sakro) attached to the girdle. Many of these items are elaborately decorated with embroidery. During the celebration of the Holy Qurbono (the Eucharist), the priest puts on msone, ceremonial shoes which must not be made of leather. Ordinary Syriac men (and more recently women) ordained as deacons can also take part in church services, wearing a white kutino and a stole (uroro) in a specific manner that indicates their rank:

17. Deaconess

18. Deacon (1: Psalter)

19. Deacon (2: Reader)

20. Deacon (3: Sub-deacon)

21. Deacon (4: Deacon)

22. Deacon (5: Arch deacon)

23. Priest’s outfit with cope and stole

  1. Embroidered slippers

24. Bishop

  1. Liturgical outfit for a ‘high’ service (Christmas, Easter)
  2. Bishop’s staff
  3. Bishop’s cross with scarf
  4. Bishop’s walking stick
  5. Bishop’s medallions and icons

25. Patriarch

The cross and scarf carried by a Syriac bishop (photograph by Joost Kolkman, Voorschoten).

The cross and scarf carried by a Syriac bishop (photograph by Joost Kolkman, Voorschoten).

 

Supporting material (recreating an altar scene)

26. Altar curtain

27. Fully dressed altar

 

Syriac embroidery

Embroidery is a prominent feature of the vestments worn during services, so attention is paid to the history of Syriac embroidery, with attention focussed on current Turkish Syriac and Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Syrian embroidery forms. Much of this embroidery was and is made by Syriac nuns. The embroidered symbols used for the vestments are based on traditional Christian forms, such as crosses, grapes, doves, and so forth. This part of the exhibition explores some of these symbols and what they mean.

Embroidered altar furnishings (made by Indian Malankara nuns; photograph by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood).

Embroidered altar furnishings (made by Indian Malankara nuns; photograph by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood).

 

Technical information

Size of exhibition: c. 100-150 sq metres

Number of objects: c. 60 items ranging in size from a pair of slippers to fully dressed figures.

Range of dates: Late 20th – early 21st centuries.

Source of objects: TRC Leiden and the St. Ephrem the Syrian Monastery, Glane, The Netherlands. Supporting and illustrative items: Photographs, maps, information texts of various lengths, postcards. The texts are digitally available in English and Dutch.

Lighting: Most of the items are 20th century and made with synthetic dyes. It is not necessary to keep to a strict 50lux lighting situation for these objects.

Display: Most of the TRC items can be displayed behind waist level barriers, strips on the floor, etc. It is not necessary to have the majority of items behind glass. There should, however, be a strict ‘do not touch’ policy.

Intended public: Anyone interested in the Syriac Orthodox Church, Christian Churches, Turkish and Arab history, embroidery (history and techniques), art and design groups, etc. The exhibition contents can be changed and adapted to the specific needs and interests of the museum’s public.

Lectures/workshops: Syriac Orthodox Church vestments and their uses (for a general audience).

Catalogue: The text and photographs for a fully illustrated catalogue in manuscript form (written in English, digitally available) can be provided if required. Publication and related costs of the catalogue are the responsibility of the venue.

Available from: Summer 2018

Length of loan period: Three to four months (longer is possible if necessary).

Loan fee: €6000 per venue (half of this fee will go to the St. Ephrem the Syrian Monastary, Glane, The Netherlands).

Courier: One person’s travel costs, plus accommodation and per diem. Transportation of objects: To be paid by the venue hiring the exhibition.

Insurance: To be paid by the venue hiring the exhibition.

Travelling exhibition: This exhibition is available to travel to venues in Europe and North America.

For further information please contact: Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood Director Textile Research Centre Hogewoerd 164 2311 HW Leiden The Netherlands   00-31-(0)71-5134144 (work); 06-28830428 (mobile) www.trc-leiden.nl   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

 

 

 

 

 

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Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment.

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Current exhibition: Sherry Cook's Americaan quilts, until 18th October

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Donations

The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden. Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
 
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