This article explores how male Cistercians producing an early fifteenth-century miscellaneous manuscript made devotional use of images representing women’s textile labor. An early manuscript copy of “O Vernicle,” a Middle English arma Christi poem, appears in Royal 17 A. xxvii, likely produced at Bordesley Abbey. The Royal version of “O Vernicle” features a unique marginal illumination of two women of Bethlehem and Jerusalem wearing green and red dresses. The woman in green holds a baby swaddled in a green and blue cloth with red stripes, similar to a Scottish tartan. Three other examples demonstrate the illuminator’s careful attention to fabric’s texture and encourage the user to imagine touching Christ’s clothing. These include the Veronica; the translucent white blindfold before Christ’s eyes; and his two tunics, one of which “hade sem none.” The Royal manuscript’s illuminations incorporate multiple textiles and human figures both to customize the poem to the local Cistercian, Worcestershire context and the abbey’s and region’s role in cloth production and also to create scripts for readers’ affective devotions. These female figures and their fabrics fashion a tactile-affective devotional approach to the Passion story. In the Royal manuscript’s text and images, women’s textile work functions as a hermeneutic lens and sensorial-affective prompt within both male monastic and lay devotional culture.
devotional literature, Passion devotion, tactility, affect, feeling, gender, manuscript studies, materiality, Cistercian, England
Bledsoe, Jenny C. "Women’s Work and Men’s Devotions: The Fabrics of the Passion in “O Vernicle”." Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 57, No. 1 (2021)