Picture gallery: Feast for the eyes at North Walsham vestments exhibition

A sumptuous visual banquet will fill an ancient north Norfolk church this month at a major exhibition of clerical vestments.

Silks and brocades in rich jewel colours, intricate embroidery beadwork and appliqu� will feature among over 100 examples of eccesiastical garb brought together for In Raiment of Needlework, at St Nicholas Church, North Walsham, from May 28-30.

Display items have been borrowed from as far afield as Liverpool, Worcestershire, London and all over Norfolk.

They date from a hand-embroidered Victorian stole rescued from a London dustbin and early 20th-century cope hoods embroidered by nuns from Ditchingham, to the ceremonial robe worn by the present Bishop of Norwich at state openings of parliament and a multi-coloured 1970s cope, inspired by a peacock's tail, belonging to Bishop Tony Foottit, Bishop of Lynn from 1999-2003.

A cope and mitre which once belonged to Robert Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, an altar frontal using cloth which decorated Westminster Abbey for the coronation of George VI, and two black tunicles, made for a scene depicting the death of Henry V at the church pageant of 1905 in Fulham Palace, will also be among attractions, together with clerical headgear including birettas and a Spanish bonete.

Originally based on the everyday 'street wear' of the second century which saw their introduction, ecclesiastical vestments had become more stylised, ornate and symbolic over the centuries, according to church historian Dr Nicholas Groves.

A first vestments exhibition held in the church four years ago attracted visitors from all over the region, and further afield, and organisers realised that their appeal extended beyond churchgoers and historians to those fascinated by needlework and fabrics, said Elisabeth Hill, one of the organisers.

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'You have to think of all the hours of love and devotion that have gone into their making,' she added.

Penny Knee, a member of St Nicholas' congregation, has been an ecclesiastical broderer for 37 years.

Her commissions have included the enthronement robes for the Bishop of Ely in the early 1990s and two of her more recent works, an altar frontal and a legyllium fall – a cloth covering a stand – will be on display.

Mrs Knee will be demonstrating her craft during the exhibition, together with another vestment maker, the Rev Kenneth Crawford, Vicar of Pershore Abbey, in Worcestershire.

The Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, will open the exhibition at a preview on Friday May 27and it will be open for general viewing from 10am to 5pm on Saturday and Monday, and from noon to 4.30pm on Sunday, with refreshments available all day.

Short lectures on vestments and their history will be given each day at 2.30pm, with an extra talk on Monday at 3.30pm. There will also be a chance to hear the church's newly-restored organ. Admission is by �5 catalogue on the door.

Further details from 01692 404917 or elisabethhill@btinternet.com

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