Reading a Chasuble

You may recall my recent post about an embroidered scene of the Last Supper, which I presented there with no context.  Sorry about that.  In a consignment store recently I bought a chasuble which I consider a masterpiece of ecclesiastical embroidery.  It’s labeled “Fraefel & Co., St. Gall., Switzerland established 1888.”  An over-vestment worn by priests in celebrating Mass, the chasuble has a treasure of fine embroidered details on the frontal columnar design and on the cruciform design on the back.

Oddly, on the narrower front are framed scenes from the Old Testament, at the top an angel, in the middle Abraham  preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac, and at the bottom a ram waiting to take the boy’s place on the altar.  I personally think the ram is one of the most magnificent details on the piece.

Angel, Fraefel & Co.

Angel, Fraefel & Co.

 

Abraham Sacrificing Isaac, Fraefel & Co.

Abraham Sacrificing Isaac, Fraefel & Co.

Ram for Sacrifice, Fraefel & Co.

Ram for Sacrifice, Fraefel & Co.

I really wondered about this Old Testament thing on the front of a Catholic vestment.  Then, when I looked at the broader back again and managed to tear my eyes away from the riveting Last Supper scene, I found the two details on the lower part of the cross even more intriguing.

Melchisedech, Fraefel & Co.

Melchisedech, Fraefel & Co.

The imposing fellow is identified in his “halo” as Melchisedech.  When I checked him out, I discovered that he was basically the first priest of the Elohim back in Genesis times.  The name actually means the Righteous (or Rightful?) King, and it was the title of successive priest-kings of the Semitic peoples, including King David.  The iconic ritual of these priests of the order of Melchisedech was the sharing of bread and wine.

Incidentally, according to the Bible, it was a Melchisedech who blessed Abraham after the Battle of the Kings (which may have happened around 2000—1800 BC).  This is something I’ve long been intending to look into.  The late and oft disputed writer Sitchin offered an interpretation of Abraham’s Sumerian origins which begs serious consideration.

The depiction of this primordial priest of the Elohim just beneath the sacramental Last Supper scene I take to symbolize that Jesus (of the House of David) was a priest of the High God in direct line from the first Melchisedech appointed by the Elohim as Rightful King.  This message is an unusual twist on Christianity in that it weaves the Christ into the divine myths in the Old Testament.  Similarly, the Jesus story is another strand in the long tradition of dying gods.

Pelican Piercing Breast, Fraefel & Co.

Pelican Piercing Breast, Fraefel & Co.

The other little detail, the pelican piercing its breast to feed its young, has long been seen as a Christian emblem of self-sacrificing love.  So what if pelicans don’t really do that?  It’s the thought that counts.  However, I recently discovered that this altruistic pelican is also a powerful symbol in Masonic rites.  Only they show seven little chicks, having something to do with the planets or other mystical concordance.  Does the “hidden” symbol indicate a Masonic element in this deep historical perspective on the Christ?  Might this stunning chasuble be a secret and wondrous heresy?

Before I let this go, I’ve really got to exclaim some more about the exquisite needlework on this chasuble.  The embroidery’s delicate shadings and the almost spider-web threads used (by motivated nuns) for details like lips and the irises of eyes is in a word, phenomenal.  Can you imagine any human being sewing this amazingly 3-D floret in a two-inch square?

Embroidered Floret, Fraefel & Co.

Embroidered Floret, Fraefel & Co.

 

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