Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
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Textile Tuesday: Chalice Veil

Chalice Veil, France, 1700-1765, metallic foil, metallic-wrapped silk, silk on silk, 24 x 23 in.

Olivia Scumaci is a third-year student in the School of Human Ecology, majoring in Retailing and Consumer Behavior.

full image of veil

I originally chose my piece, a French chalice veil from around 1700-1765, because of its remarkable beauty. The delicate milky-white square of silk is contrasted by intense silver and gold metallic edging features a metal-embroidered insignia in the center of the cloth. A chalice veil is an example of how textiles can be used to unite a group of individuals for ritual purpose. Although I am not religious personally, I am conscious of, and intrigued by, how shared culture and common belief can unite different people from around the world. I was interested in what this textile would mean to the communities in which it circulated, so sought out the reactions and reflections of people I knew, including my best friend, who is Catholic; I knew that these conversations would add a new dimension to what I see purely as a beautiful textile by helping me understand its ritual context.

floral details on veil

One Catholic dictionary defines a chalice veil as “a piece of silk used over the chalice-pall, to cover the paten and chalice at certain times during the celebration of the mass or holy communion,” (Catholic Culture, 2018). This explanation, although thorough, fails to explore the symbolic content and ultimate importance of the cloth to Catholic people. To those who understand the representation within the chalice veil, this is far more than just a piece of silk; it covers and protects the body and blood of Christ. This makes the cloth a vital piece to particular Catholic ceremonies, and therefore is treated with dignity, respect, and caution. The chalice veil is one example of the importance and incorporation of textiles in ritual events, and may explain why this chalice veil is so intricate.

stitched details on veil

It is common for the Catholic church to contain elaborately crafted pieces, whether out of cloth or a different material, because these are not just seen as material things; they are seen as symbols and embodiments of holiness. This specific chalice veil is no exception, and it features stunning floral vining as well as delicate metal embroidery. I chose this piece because of its beautifully intricate design, and though my initial understanding was small, I have learned more about the significance of textiles in religious ritual through symbolic and metaphoric representation. The ability of a textile to embody the shared values of millions of people is what makes this chalice veil significant to me.

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#TextileTuesday is a yearlong series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

HLATC 50th anniversary logo

In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.