Religious processions 1300–1500
Processions played an important role in the religious cycle, particularly on saints' festivals and during the Holy Week leading up to Easter. They were also held on special occasions - at funerals, during prayers for rain or a good harvest, or when relics were formally moved (or 'translated') from one site to another.
Clerics and laity walked separately, as did men and women, often singing and carrying candles and banners. Clerics wore vestments, such as the cope and chasuble, their colour relating to the occasion. Bishops bore a staff or crosier. On saints' days or at the consecration of churches, the focus of a procession was often the shrine containing the saint's relics. Many similar processions still take place today, like the Palm Sunday Procession in Thaur, Austria.
This short film focuses on a Palm Sunday procession that still takes place each year in Thaur, a small town in Austria near Innsbruck. A wooden sculpture of Christ riding an Ass (known as a Palmesel) is processed from the main church in Thaur, to the Chapel of St Romedius and then to the neighbouring village of Rum before returning to Thaur. The Thaur Palmesel figure is similar to an example in the V&A's collections but it was made much later.
This film has been supported by the Bonita Trust
Processional objects from the V&A's collections
The objects displayed below relate to various types of procession that took place in medieval and Renaissance Europe. Many similar processions still take place today, like the Palm Sunday Procession in Thaur.
Christ Riding on the Ass, about 1480
Christ Riding on the Ass
Limewood and pine, painted and gilded
Museum no. A.1030-1910
Bequeathed by Captain H B Murray
This popular type of sculpture known as 'Palmesel' or 'Palm Donkey', represented Christ during religious services around Easter. On Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, it was drawn through the streets to commemorate his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Pastoral Staff, about 1300
Ivory and bone pastoral staff
Museum no. 604-1902
Together with the mitre and the pectoral cross, the pastoral staff or crosier is part of the insignia of a bishop and some abbots. Carried as a symbol of authority during Mass and religious processions, it looks like a shepherd's crook as a reminder of the bishop's role in looking after his 'flock'.
Cope, about 1330-1350
Italy or Spain
Museum no. T.36-1955
The scenes on the back of this cope show the life of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by apostales and saints. The lavish embroidery made it fit for a high-ranking clergyman. The pearl, glass and metal details would have sparkled in the candlelight of the church or in a sunlit procession.
Lantern, about 1550
Museum no. 469-1895
Lanterns were used for processions during the night of Maundy Thursday. In the Easter week this was the evening when Jesus held the Last Supper and was later arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Lanterns were also used in Passion plays to illuminate the moment of his arrest.
Cross, about 1500
Partially guilded silver cross with enamel
Spain, probably Burgos
Museum no. M.294-1956
Bequeathed by Dr W L Hildburgh FSA
Crosses like this were often carried on poles at the head of a procession, followed by choirboys with censers. The figure of Christ usually faced forwards, unless a pope or bishop was walking behind, in which case it was reversed.
Chasuble, about 1400–30
Silk chasuble embroidered with the coat of arms of Sir Thomas Erpingham on the back
Silk patterned with metal and coloured silk threads: Italy
Linen embroidery with silver and gilded silver threads: England
Museum no. T.256-1967
An East Anglian landowner and leading knight called Sir Thomas Erpingham commissioned this chasuble. It was probably worn by his personal chaplain or by a priest from a church with which he was associated.
Chasuble, about 1600
Silk velvet chasuble
Silk velvet: Italy or Spain, about 1600
Silk, metal thread and sequin embroidery: England, probably 1533
Museum no. 697-1902
This chasuble was recycled from a pall, a rectangular cloth that covered a coffin in funeral processions. The sombre colours related to death. The pall was made for Robert Thornton, 22nd Abbot of Jervaulx in 1510–33, and on the back are his initials.
Processional banner, about 1370
Painted by Barnaba da Modena (active about 1367–89)
Tempera and gilding on canvas
Museum no. 781-1894
This banner belonged to a flagellant confraternity, a lay organisation that tended the sick and buried the dead. Members of these confraternities whipped themselves in public to express remorse for their sins. the flagellants, shown kneeling on the reverse of the banner, have holes in their robes to allow this.