Georgian vestments worn for the opening illegal Mass in the UK’s oldest living convent are to be reunited in the chapel for the first time since 1769 when they go on display at an exhibition next month.
The sequinned vestments will be on show behind the altar in the chapel where they were first worn together at the Bar Convent in York, established in 1686 when Catholicism was illegal. The secret chapel in the convent was built in 1769.
They will be on display from 3-5 August as part of York Georgian Festival.
In recent years, one vestment has been on display in the Bar Convent’s exhibition, but the remaining two have been on loan to Catholic churches in York.
Dr Hannah Thomas, special collections manager and research fellow at the Bar Convent, said, “These incredibly significant vestments were designed and made as a set specifically for the opening of this very special chapel and we are both thrilled and moved to be able to share this historic reunion with the public.
“The vestments will be displayed behind the altar in the chapel where they were first worn together more than 250 years ago, at great risk to the priests and all those who attended.
“Not only have these Georgian vestments survived a time in which Catholic material was regularly seized and destroyed, but the fact that the chapel and the convent have also survived against all the odds is an incredible story that we will be highlighting as part of the inaugural York Georgian Festival 2023.”
The vestments, typical of the 17th and 18th centuries, include a chasuble and matching stole, handmade with gold threads on a background of silk damask and featuring an early use of sequins on liturgical clothing in England.
The central chasuble is thought to have been worn by Father Joseph Robinson SJ when Mass was offered for the first time in the Bar Convent’ Chapel on 27 April 1769. On the back is a depiction of the pelican feeding its young, symbolising unselfish love, clarity and sacrifice. It parallels the pelican that the architect Thomas Atkinson had designed for the chapel. The other two have a lamb positioned on a book, representing the Lamb of God and the Word of God.