This embroidered panel is an example of opus anglicanum (the Latin for ‘English work’). It is not, though, the finest in quality. It was made between about 1380 and 1410, when the quality of English embroidery and design was starting to decline. The best work was done from about 1250 to 1350, and had been sought after throughout Europe.
An orphrey is a decorative band applied to a church vestment (a ceremonial garment worn for services). This embroidered panel shows the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Thomas Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. A second panel shows an earlier scene, that of Thomas appearing before the pope at Sens in France, which suggests that the two once formed part of a series of panels depicting well-known episodes from Becket’s life.
The composition of the panel is rather confused. The fourth of the knights involved in Thomas's murder is difficult to make out. The altar before which the fallen figure prostrates himself, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is crudely drawn.
It is possible that the orphreys were embroidered at a time when the cult of St Thomas Becket was being revived. For example, the year 1370, the 200th anniversary of his death, was notable for the offerings made in his memory. The year 1376 was also notable, when the funeral of the Black Prince, son and heir of King Edward III (ruled 1327–77), took place in Canterbury Cathedral. Since it is not possible to pin down precisely when this embroidery was done, these suggestions are only speculative.
The embroidery is worked in underside couching, split stitch and there is a little raised work.