What is a Maniturgium?
I asked the same question when my dear friend told me that he wanted one to be part of his ordination ceremony as a Catholic priest.
A Maniturgium is a religious vestment, typically an embroidered linen cloth, held by the priest during the ordination ceremony. After the ordination, the priest wipes the oil from his head and hands onto the cloth. The cloth is usually presented to the priest’s mother, who is buried with it so that when she reaches Heaven, she can prove to God that she gifted Him a priest.
It’s an old tradition that is becoming popular again.
So when my friend said he wanted a Maniturgium, and I knew it had something to do with fiber, I volunteered to knit one. Never mind that it has always been embroidered linen, traditionally. But I feel my friend is extraordinary, so he should have an extraordinary Maniturgium!
He is also very humble, asking only that it be white and include the Chi Rho symbol. So the rest was left to my imagination…which was daunting because there is no pattern, chart or guideline for what I was about to undertake for one of the most significant events in his life. Honestly, that degree of importance temporarily arrested my creativity until I began to view the opportunity before me.
Choosing the Fiber
It had to be exquisite, luxurious and luminous for such a momentous occasion. Silk came to mind instantly. After extensive research and visits to local fiber arts galleries, I selected a natural, undyed 100% silk called “Luscious Silk” sold by Blue Moon Fiber Arts in Scappoose, Oregon.
I wanted to be sure I wouldn’t fall short during the creation process, so I purchased approximately 700 yards, weighing the yarn before starting and at various intervals during the knitting process to ensure there would be sufficient fiber to finish this important project.
Labeled “fingering” weight, Luscious Silk feels more like heavy fingering, or better yet, sport weight fiber in my opinion. This changed the nature of my project a little, but in the end I’m happy it was a heavier, denser fiber.
Aptly named, it really felt lusciously luxurious on my hands while knitting and I really enjoy its pearlescent luminosity.
I’m a list maker. So in coming up with the design, I made a list of criteria that included beauty, function, feel and second to beauty – symbolism.
The design needed to be beautiful first, but also compact and densely knit because after all, I was requiring a knit item to perform the duties of tightly woven fabric. It had to feel substantive while also being able to withstand the attachment of embroidery. I also wanted a subtle, elegant pattern.
I used a provisional cast on in the beginning and left live stitches at the end so that I could return later to knit the ends in garter with the insertion of three bee stitches in the center, bordered by eyelets.
I picked up and knit 5 border rows in the garter stitch at the top and the bottom of the piece, because I love the look of “pearls” and thought they offered a nice complement to “diamonds.” I chose the Russian bind off with one half size smaller needle (2) to keep a firm, but sufficiently flexible edge.
The Diamond within a Diamond pattern was my first choice because the diamond is the most prized earthly gem. It seemed fitting to be the center panel.
Because the Maniturgium is given to the priest’s mother, I wanted to honor my friend’s mother in the design as she had already passed away. Her name was “Pamela” which he told me meant “For Honey” (Pa Mela).
I knew right away that I needed to incorporate the symbolism of a bee into the design. Ironically, I’m a beekeeper, so this was a joyful discovery. I knit 3 “bees” at the beginning and end of the piece because she was there for him in the beginning, and she would be there for him in the end.
Stitching the Chi Rho
The Chi Rho (pronounced just like Cairo) is made up from the superimposition of the Greek letters Chi (X) and Rho (P). This is another symbol and name for Christ, sometimes called a Christogram.
As a child, I remember my mother embroidering at night. I had my own hoop and learned a few basic stitches, but embroidery was really my mom’s forte, so I enlisted her to embroider the Chi Rho in the center panel of the Maniturgium. I knew it would be far more challenging to embroider on knitted fabric with all its highs and lows versus on a tightly woven, flat material. But I didn’t fully anticipate how this unevenness and variation in stitch height would be emphasized by the embroidery thread. We purchased 15 different types of embroidery and sewing threads and she worked tirelessly to embroider the symbol. None of the threads produced a result my mom found acceptable. She saved the day by finding a professional embroiderer who was able to take the design I created in Illustrator and digitize it for his embroidery machine, which I then carefully razored away from the fabric to be sewn to the center of the piece.
Here I am getting started on stitching the embroidered Chi Rho symbol onto the center of the Maniturgium. See the transparent filament thread I used hanging from the needle? (Neither could I.) It was tough.
In the end, it all worked out. The Maniturgium is 4 1/2″ wide by 60″ long and consists of 18,003 stitches, divisible by 3, 6001 times. Here are some pictures of the finished piece, which will be used today, June 5, at the ordination of Timothy J. Furlow in Portland, Oregon.