Watts & Co. recently completed a very exciting project for Virginia Theological Seminary as part of their Bicentennial celebrations. For such an impressive anniversary, we wanted to craft something truly special that would be worthy of 200 years of service and teaching.
VTS’s Bicentennial Campaign stood to honour the legacy of the seminary with a series of community projects and innovative development strategies, ‘for the Church now and for the future Church’.
VTS used the anniversary not just as a time to reflect on the past, but to guarantee a strong future for the theological education of generations to come, ensuring that their passion continues into the next century and beyond.
Given the monumental nature of the 200 year anniversary, we endeavoured to design pieces that would thoroughly do the bicentennial justice. Our first step was to design a custom silk fabric, allowing every piece we'd make to be utterly unique to VTS.
For this, we adapted one of our historic fabrics. The ‘Hilliard’ pattern is an original design from one of our founder’s: G. F. Bodley. Inspired by ‘millefleur’ medieval tapestry, and influenced by contemporary designer William Morris, the fabric is imbued with both history and modernity.
It was therefore perfect as a symbol of both VTS’s history and its future. Indeed, the utter joie de vivre celebrated in the flora and fauna of the pattern is a fitting companion to the celebration at the heart of this anniversary.
Incorporating ‘VTS 200’ into the fabric weave imbued every piece with the seminary’s rich history. The fabric was then used for a series of customisable stoles for the anniversary, allowing students, alumni, and clergy to take home a part of the celebration.
We also made a Low Mass set and matching altar pall with the custom fabric. These vestments were made with orphreys of our Blue ‘Hilliard’ silk damask and Old Gold ‘Diamond & Lay’ trims.
By far the most spectacular use of the fabric was to be a centrepiece of the celebrations: a stunning new processional banner, fully hand embroidered on both the front and back. We worked extensively with VTS to produce the designs, which were to reflect the immense history of the seminary while looking forward to the work that they will continue for years to come.
The central embroidery for the front of the banner was inspired by windows designed by Brian Clarke. The three iconic designs were hand embroidered as a single symbol of faith. Each window design flows into the next: the dove, representing the Holy Spirit, seamlessly reaches into the oak leaves, which transition into the abstract section of the red cross of Christ.
The embroidery was then completed with a mix of silk appliqué and Japanese Gold Thread, couched down to provide sumptuous gold highlights.
On the rear of the banner is another hand embroidered design, honouring the theological graduates at the heart of the seminary’s mission. Birds weave through climbing flowers, reaching towards the graduating classes of future years. In a way, this floral design reflects a core message of the Bicentennial Campaign: ‘One sows and another reaps’. Each flower represents a future that is being sown by VTS as it enters its third century – a future that becomes more firmly established with each student of the seminary.
As Watts & Co. approaches our own anniversary, we too have been taking time to reflect on our rich history and to look towards the exciting possibilities of the future after 150 years of devoted craftsmanship.
Established by three of the 19th-century’s finest architects, Watts & Co. has always been immersed in every detail of ecclesiastical design. Our vestments are still made by hand in London, using the finest materials and highest quality of workmanship.
Today, we proudly carry forward the heritage of our founders. Bodley, inspired by centuries of artistic development, used the patterns and motifs of the old masters to create his own innovative ecclesiastical patterns. These are now used in our finest silk damasks, which continue to be woven in England.
As we look forward to a future of continued excellence, we are also thrilled to have supported VTS’s Bicentennial celebration, which marks the beginning of another century of invaluable support to theologians.
To find out more about the Virginia Theological Seminary and their Bicentennial celebrations, visit their website here.