Historic cope prepared for enthronement

06 November 2019
When the new Bishop of Norwich is enthroned at Norwich Cathedral on Saturday, he will be dressed in historic attire that has witnessed many great moments in time. His cope, mitre and morse were made in 1902 and worn that same year by Bishop Sheepshanks of Norwich at the coronation of King Edward VII. Fourteen years later, in 1916, they were gifted to Norwich Cathedral by William John Birkbeck of Stratton Strawless, and over the last century they have been worn by the successive Bishops of Norwich at many key ceremonial events and processions.
Bishop Graham and the Birkbeck Cope (c) Bill Smith

Meanwhile behind the scenes it is the volunteers of the Cathedral’s Broderers’ Guild that keep the textiles looking their best with their incredible needlework skills.

On Saturday 9 November, it will be the Rt Revd Graham Usher’s turn to wear the cope – known as the Birkbeck Cope – along with the mitre and morse as he is enthroned as the 72nd Bishop of Norwich.
Bishop Graham and the Birkbeck Cope (c) Bill Smith
At his final fitting with the Broderers’ Guild on Wednesday 6 November, Bishop Graham paid tribute to their work. He said: “I am enormously grateful for the sensitive way that the Broderers’ Guild, so ably led by Helen Jenkins, have altered the historic Birkbeck cope and mitre. There were some technical challenges, given that I am taller and bigger-headed than my predecessor!

“Wearing these beautiful embroidered vestments, as I will do in Norwich Cathedral, will always remind me that I am simply today’s caretaker of a rich line of inheritance. However, whatever I wear, I’m first and foremost clothed in Christ who daily leads me forward to share his Gospel of Good News.”
Bishop Graham and the Birkbeck Cope (c) Bill Smith
The cope, mitre and morse were all designed by Sir Ninian Comper, who was said to be one of the best of the great Gothic Revival architects in the 19th and 20th century and noted for his work with many churches including Westminster Abbey in London and Wymondham Abbey.

The cope and mitre were made by the Society of the Sisters of Bethany, Clerkenwell, London, and they are made from Russian cloth of gold interwoven with green and rose coloured silks. The cloth was originally designed for the Emir of Bokhara. The cope’s hood is beautifully embroidered and depicts the scene of the Annunciation. The mitre – or ceremonial headdress – and the morse, which fastens the cope, are both decorated with semi-precious stones and silver gilt metal work undertaken by Barkentin and Krall, in London.

Helen Jenkins, who leads the volunteers of the Broderers’ Guild, said: “It’s a great privilege to be responsible for the care of these precious textiles and to see them play a key part in big ceremonies like the enthronement.”

The Birkbeck Cope, mitre and morse are just some of the many precious historic and modern day works looked after by the Broderers Guild, a dedicated group of volunteers who have been looking after the Cathedral’s textiles since 1998.

So admired are their needlework skills, that they also do specialist work for other churches and organisations across the country.

Most recently, the members of the guild have been working on the extensive repair and restoration of a special dossal (a curtain that sits behind an altar) for All Saints Church St Andrews in Scotland.

Following more than a year of work, the dossal was returned this October to All Saints and is now back on display in the church’s Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

Like the Birkbeck Cope, this stunning textile was also designed by Sir Ninian Comper and it dates from the early 20th century. About 131cm by 93cm in size, it is made from a cloth of gold with appliqued shields worked in blue silk damask or silver cloth of gold with additional gold work embroidery.

For more information about the Broderers’ Guild, click here or email broderers@cathedral.org.uk

Pictures: Bill Smith