Opus anglicanum : the visual language, liturgical rituals, and gifting of a medieval English brand

  • Valentina Susanne Grub

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


In 1246, when Pope Innocent IV saw embroidered copes and mitres which were made in England, he exclaimed; “England is for us surely a garden of delights, truly an inexhaustible well; and from there where so many things abound...” Embroidery made between 1200-1350 in England, known as opus anglicanum, was internationally recognized, traded, gifted, collected, and coveted. The technical skill combined with a distinct aesthetic resulted in an iconic textile brand. Though first described as a brand in the context of contemporary imitated textiles, I extend this understanding by close visual analyses and archival readings.

“Opus anglicanum: The Visual Language, Liturgical Rituals, and Gifting of a Medieval English Brand” argues for a quadripartite examination of the opus anglicanum brand, grounded in luxury brand theory. I articulate the technical and aesthetic hallmarks of the brand by examining archival records of embroiderers and the specific aspects of their work which differentiated opus anglicanum from other contemporary textile decorations. I then evaluate the opus anglicanum brand aesthetic by a close visual reading of its background designs and popular motifs, through which emerges the enduring relationship between manuscript illumination and embroidery design. As the majority of extant opus anglicanum textiles are ecclesiastic vestments, I then assess these textiles in the context of contemporary liturgical writings and rituals. As archival evidence indicates, opus anglicanum textiles were often presented as gifts. Therefore, I conclude by studying the effect of medieval English embroidery in the context of gift-giving rituals. This dissertation, while grounded in both medieval and modern scholarship, reevaluates these textiles and argues that the enduring legacy of opus anglicanum is due to its identity as a medieval brand.
Date of Award2 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorKathryn M. Rudy FBA FRSE (Supervisor)


  • Opus anglicanum
  • Medieval textiles
  • Vestments
  • Embroidery
  • Medieval embroidery
  • Historic textiles
  • Medieval gifts
  • Brand
  • Liturgical rituals

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  • Full text embargoed until
  • 17th July 2025

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