The Allerton Cope dates from the later fifteenth century or first part of the sixteenth century. The cope is decorated with a type of embroidery called opus anglicanum, the Latin designation for English medieval embroidery. The background material is made of satin weave silk (probably Italian). It is embroidered principally with silver gilt thread and coloured silks mostly floss, both of which would also have been imported.
The cope was found in a chest in Allerton Church in 1858 and it is thought that around this time the cope was turned into an altar frontal. It is suggested that John Gunthorpe, who was Dean of Wells from 1472-1498, gave it to Chapel Allerton Church. In the late nineteenth century and it was mounted and put on display in Taunton Castle.
The embroidered central design is a representation of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. She has a nimbus and is surrounded by a glory from which rays emanate and has an angel on either side. Three cherubim on wheels are at her feet. The embroidered motifs of the frontal were made separately on linen and then applied to the ground material. The spangles and lines of silver gilt thread have been added directly onto the silk background completing the design.
The cope is worn and faded, which makes it difficult to appreciate how colourful it would have been originally with the embroidery in brightly dyed silks and the sparkle of silver-gilt thread. It would have been very attractive when seen in candle light.
The cope represents the earliest item of textile in the collections cared for by the Somerset Heritage Service. The cope is a good example of early English ecclesiastical embroidery. As far as we are aware the Allerton Cope is the only example of such work that is held by a public institution in Somerset.
The Allerton Cope will be a key feature in the new display in the Museum of Somerset. The refurbished Museum is due to open in August 2010 so the deadline for the completion of conservation work will be October 2009.
The chosen contractor is Textile Conservation Ltd who were established in 1989 and are based in Banwell. Alison Lister will be undertaking the work. Alison is the Director/Principal Conservator and is an accredited member of the Institute of Conservation and an Associate of the International Institute for Conservation.