• 2371-1

Altar Cloth

 artist unknown 1500-1550

The story and origin of this old altar cloth is mostly unknown. It is made up of three linen sections. The middle section is covered with complex interlacing of a rather rare type of embroidery called pattern darning, stitched with multi-coloured woollen yarn and some parts are brocade. The pattern is repeated again and again. On the side sections that probably went together at some point is an embroidered inscription, a prayer or a calling to Saint Mary. The stitches used are the cross-stitch and the long-armed cross stitch but above and beneath the inscription are patterned borders that indicate which direction to read the text in so that it makes sense. The text begins in the top left line: avemari: and the natural continuation between similar patterned borders is in the bottom line on the right: a / hialp / m. The prayer goes on in the bottom left line:  ier/ þa / ave, and ends in the top right: e / maria/. It was not uncommon for letters to be missing but the prayer can be read nonetheless: Ave María, hjálp mjer þá, ave María (Ave Maria, help me now, Ave Maria).

The two side sections obviously belonged to the same cloth or hanging at some point but something went askew when they were added to the centre piece that may well have been much longer and perhaps intended to be a wall hanging or bed curtains. The cloth's shape and the inscription indicate that it belonged to a church but there are no records to confirm which one. It is not unlikely that it belonged to a church in the Westfjords since the cloth came in the possession of the National Museum from Stykkishólmur.


Þjms 2371

The National Museum of Iceland