Gold-Embroidered Ornaments – Introduction

3 November 2011

In 1974, in a publication on the gold-embroidered ornaments or vestments of the Holy Mountain, we concluded in our introduction: “There always remains the question of a systematic study of these votive offerings (of the Atho­nite monasteries), which will help us to estimate their real value, to discover the donors and embroiderers, to identify centres of production and exchange, and to determine more accurately the role of the monasteries of the Holy Mountain not only in safeguarding, but in producing them”1.

Now, the Great and Holy Monastery of Vato­paidi2 has presented to the reader a part, only, of the gold-embroidered objects which are kept in its sacristy and has enriched our knowledge of the spiritual inheritance which these priceless offerings have preserved down to the present day.

These works often have in store for us unexpected encounters, such as the epitaphios* which was the gift of the Byzantine Emperor John Cantacuzenus, and that of the Voivode Basil Lupu, the aer of Varlaam, Metropolitan of Hungro-Wallachia, the pallium of Gregory, Metropolitan of Eirinoupolis, and the epigonation of the Ecumenical Patriarch Païsios II. In addition, there are embroideries by Zefar and Evsevia.

Gold-embroidery owed its great development in the countries of the Christian East to the influence of Byzantium. Its artistic evolution moved in parallel with that of icons and wall-paintings, but retaining its own individual character and its rules and and in its own way giving the work its style. The materials which it uses permits sharper delineation, a more accurate decorative sense, greater than that of painting, and are superior in the possession of one special factor: the sense of light.

The objects described here have been selected with the purpose of showing the activities and development of a variety of workshops from the 14th to the 18th century. All of them are gifts from high-ranking notables or leaders of the Church and nation or from ordinary pilgrims. Given that we have not been able to examine these works at first hand, their review from the aesthetic point of view is necessarily incomplete.

We have chosen 25 of the gold-embroidered ornaments and vestments of the Vatopaidi Mon­astery: liturgical ornaments: two epitaphioi and one aer; vestments: one chasuble, four pallia, seven stoles, two pairs of liturgical cuffs, two epigonatia, a girdle and a buckle; decorative veils: two podeas, one pyle, and a banner.