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Archives & Library

Archives & Library

A 17th century ribbon from the Cathedral’s collection is currently on display in a major new exhibition, at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, that reveals the central place of religion in the Italian Renaissance home. The ribbon was purchased by John Bargrave, a former Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, on his travels around Western Europe and is believed to originate from Rome during the early to mid 17th century. It is actually one of three such ribbons in Bargrave’s ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’

Origins and history

This orange ribbon would have been collected from the final destination of a pilgrim’s journey as a memento of the experience and has “ALTEZA DELLA BV M CINTA DELLA B V CAPO DELLA B V M BAMBINO GIESV” printed along it in black ink.

Dr Sarah Turner, Head of Collections at Canterbury Cathedral, said “The curiosity towards the role of objects in piety, as materialisation of a debate that was occupying people’s mind, is testified by some of the objects collected by the Church of England clergyman John Bargrave. Being a supporter of the monarchy, Bargrave spent most of the civil war and the interregnum travelling through continental Europe and making observations, which later were published under his nephew’s name, as the first Italian guidebook in the English language. He also built up a collection of curiosities and antiquities which are now held at Canterbury Cathedral together with Bargrave’s original, richly commented catalogue.”

“Amongst its many treasures the collection contains three ribbons: A white ribbon in two parts of 125cm, and 89cm in length, printed respectively with the words “CINTA DELLA B V CAPO DELLA B V ALTEZA DEL BAMBINO GIESV”; and “ALTEZA DELLA B V M DI” and this orange ribbon of 124 cm in length printed with the words “ALTEZA DELLA B V M CINTA DELLA B V CAPO DELLA B V M DEL BAMBINO GIESV” [Height of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Girth of the Blessed Virgin; Head of the Blessed Virgin; Measure of the Baby Jesus*]. The ribbons are ‘embodied measurements’ of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, representing their heights and the size of selected body parts.”

Madonnas and Miracles

The Bargrave Ribbon is one of a number of items from the Cathedral’s collection that have been loaned to museums and galleries around the country. The Fitzwilliam exhibition is part of a four-year European-funded project, ‘Madonnas and Miracles’ that shows how the Renaissance’s intense engagement with material things went hand in hand with its devotional life.

The exhibition coincides with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and the Fitzwilliam Museum believes it will confound the assumption that Catholicism was a religion dominated by priests and ecclesiastical institutions, whilst Protestant families in northern Europe were urged to serve God in their homes.

Displaying almost 50 objects from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s own collection, as well as more than 100 important loan works from Europe, the United States and Israel, ‘Madonnas and Miracles’ will explore a series of interlinked themes: family life, the physical experience of prayer, the role of the saints, miracles, pilgrimage and religious reform.

The exhibition opened on 7 March and runs until 4 June 2017.

The Bargrave Ribbon on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge



*Translation courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge


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