Heritage Textiles: St Oswald Church Banner

A colleague at Bishop’s House had kindly offered to show me a church banner he bought from and antiques dealer. An exciting prospect for me you will understand, as I am such a sucker for heritage textiles! He thought I might be able to share a bit of knowledge about its provenance, condition, etc, and perhaps make some recommendations about its display and storage. I was more than happy to do just that – and took a few photographs to share with you.

I had a wonderful time exploring this object, as despite its unfortunately poor condition, some of the materials and techniques on the banner are fascinating and indeed beautiful. Have I piqued your interest? Read on…

The banner depicts St. Oswald of Northumbria, an interesting choice as old King Oswald was fairly warlike and died ‘a martyr to Christianity’ during battle. I imagine that many churches would not seek to portray him so heroically today.

Full body shot. Paper templates under staff and shield are visible

Full body shot. Paper templates under staff and shield are visible

He carries a large cross and long sword worn at the waist and a shield, which is fairly typical.He is also represented in stained glass in Carlisle Cathedral (shameless home town plug).

Although the background fabric is very badly chewed up, Oswald himself is fairly well-preserved. His rich velvet cloak and tunic remain plush and grand. I looks to me like his hands, face, crown and boots are made of painted pieces of leather, which excites me greatly – I have never seen this on a banner before! The gold detail on the belt buckle and crown are particularly endearing and show great care.

Trying to pick out the painted details of Oswald's face. His hair retains its shine!

Trying to pick out the painted details of Oswald’s face. His hair retains its shine!

The banner contains some interesting hand embroidered detail. Oswald’s little clasp and the neckline of his tunic are made up of individual French Knots, and the hems of his cloak and tunic have a multicoloured braid couched around them. The sash which holds his sword also has a couched detail, which mirrors the green satin stitch in the border.

Another interesting feature of the banner is the layered nature of its construction. Through a gap in the backing I could see layers of wool wadding and different types of fabric, including the black glazed cotton which can be seen through the damaged background fabric. Some of the shapes are paper pieced too, such as Oswald’s sword and shield. The number of hours it must have taken to construct this!

A small opening reveals many layers

A small opening reveals many layers

A row of this trim on front and back adds weight to the point of the banner

A row of this trim on front and back adds weight to the point of the banner

Two lines of stitching show a modern repair to this cord

Two lines of stitching indicate a modern repair to this area

reverse of banner. mustard fabric shows sign of moth damage and alterations

reverse of banner. mustard fabric shows sign of moth damage and alterations

The damage to the banner includes some moth-eaten bits on the backing, which feels to me like a light wool blended with cotton. The thick braiding and cord on the border have become detached due to the banner being hung, and this has been repaired within the last few years with navy (!) thread.

Green border motif in satin stitch. The weft of the bright gold background clings around the stitches

Green border motif in satin stitch. The weft of the bright gold background clings around the stitches

Background fabric, cord trim and stitched border

Background fabric, cord trim and stitched border

The owner of the banner was told by the antiques dealer that it dated from the 17th century, but I am not entirely sure if this is the case. I certainly am not expert enough to give it a date, but the design of it looks a little Victorian to me (think Pre-Raphaelites and their churchy art). However, I would assume that a Victorian banner would more likely contain greater quantities of silk, but this is all conjecture!

If anyone would care to enlighten me on this, pleases share your knowledge! Also, if you have any questions about the banner, feel free to comment or drop me an email.

Thanks to Dave for letting me loose on this treasure!

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7 comments

  1. Appliqué is quite hard to date, but stylistically it looks more Victorian than c17th to me, although it is comparable to the recently restored hangings at hardwick hall, Derbyshire, so perhaps it might be best to find the national trust blog ( I think they have a wordpress blog for their textile conservation studio) and email them a picture? I would suspect if it is Victorian that it’s been made by members of the parish rather than a professional workshop

    The way the background silk has shattered might be an indication of the date of the original textile, as changing dye technology can affect the preservation of fabrics.

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  2. Amazing detail in that. Absolutely love antique banners and tapestries. Thank you for sharing, and for doing so in such wonderful detail 🙂

    Like

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