News from around the Archdiocese of Liverpool

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by Father Andrew Unsworth


In January last year I was handed a large envelope.  On it was written the intriguing question: ‘15 Cent. Embroidery Burse?’  This was the handwriting of the late Father Marsh, who was parish priest of St Joseph’s Wrightington until 1979.  Father Philip Gregory, the current parish priest of St Joseph’s, had found the burse a few days earlier.  Realising immediately that he had discovered a special item, he shared his find with me.

What is a burse?  A burse is a case or purse, made from textile.  The burse holds the white corporal used in the celebration of Mass.  Although the burse is still used today by many priests, its use is considered optional.

In 1969 in ‘St Joseph’s, Wrightington: A History’, Father Marsh wrote: ‘Here at Wrightington we have a green burse ornamented with three embroidered figures of saints’.  Clearly this describes the ‘Wrightington Burse’, which has belonged to the church since its opening in 1894.  It is likely that the burse has been owned by the Catholic community in Wrightington since the opening of the Catholic chapel at Wrightington Hall.  There was a resident chaplain there from 1686.

The images are made up of a number of coloured threads embroidered onto a linen base.  The burse is 24cm wide and 24cm long.  One side of the burse depicts a single figure with a halo.  This is St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, children and Liverpool.  He holds three bags.  One of the traditions about St Nicholas is that he gave three bags of gold coins to a poor man.  The man could not provide dowries for his daughters, so Nicholas saved the day.

On the reverse side there are two figures, one with a halo and one without.  The figure with the halo is St Paul.  He is bald and holds the scriptures and a sword.  The other figure may be a saint or the medieval patron who financed the piece of embroidery.

My research suggests that the embroidery comes from a fourteenth or fifteenth century vestment originally kept at Standish Hall.  This was brought to Standish from Manchester by Father Laurence Vaux around 1559.  When the vestment perished, the embroidery was removed and stitched onto the burse which is made of seventeenth century green taffeta.  Perhaps it was made for Father Christopher Tootle when he arrived at Wrightington in 1686.

The burse is almost certainly linked to the Vaux Chasuble which was kept at Standish, then Upholland College and is now held at the Metropolitan Cathedral Archive.  This vestment was shown on the Antiques Roadshow when it visited Liverpool in 2015.

Our research continues.

The Wrightington Burse

The images are made up of a number of coloured threads