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The front and back of a 17th-century Italian chasuble with orphreys (bands; sense 2) bearing a floral design[n 1]

From Middle English orfrei, orefreis (elaborate (especially gold) embroidery; fabric adorned with such embroidery; embroidered ornamental band or border; decorative elements),[1] from Anglo-Norman and Middle French orfrais, orfreis, orfrois, and other forms, from Late Latin aurifrasium, aurifrisium, and other forms, from Latin aurum Phrygium (gold embroidery, literally Phrygian gold), from aurum (gold) + Phrygium (neuter singular of Phrygius (Phrygian), the Phrygians being renowned for their gold embroidery). The English word is cognate with Late Latin orfrasium, orfresium, Old Occitan aurfre, aurfres, orfres (modern Occitan aurfrés), Spanish orofrés.[2]



orphrey (plural orphreys)

  1. (obsolete) Any elaborate embroidery, especially when made of gold thread; an object (such as clothing or fabric) adorned with such embroidery. [14th–19th c.]
    • [c. 1360s, Geffray Chaucer [i.e., Geoffrey Chaucer], “The Romaunt of the Rose”, in [William Thynne], editor, The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed, [] (in Middle English), [London]: Printed by [Richard Grafton for] Iohn Reynes [], published 1542, OCLC 932884868, folio cxxxii, recto, column 2:
      Orfrayes freſhe, was her garlande / I whiche haue ſene a thouſande / Saw neuer ywys no garlande yet / So well wrought of ſylke as it
      Her garland was of fresh orphreys; / I, who have seen a thousand of them, / Have indeed never seen a garland / So well wrought of silk as it.]
    • 1877, G[eorge] A[lfred] Carthew, compiler, “The Bishop’s Fief [Bishop of Norwich]”, in The Hundred of Launditch and Deanery of Brisley, in the County of Norfolk. [] In Three Parts, Norwich, Norfolk: Printed by Miller and Leavins, [], OCLC 2132354, part II (Parochial and Ecclesiastical History), pages 537–538:
      There is the lower panelled portion of a parclose screen of a chapel in the south aisle [of Elham Church], of the Early Perpendicular style, of which four compartments are sub-divided into eight; and on each of these, under an ogee-headed and crocketted canopy, is depicted a female saint. Beginning northwards— / 1. Sca [Sancta] Barbara. Crowned and nimbed; habited in a sleeved tunic, having a swan amidst foliage embroidered in gold: her mantle red, with a collar of orphrey fastened by a band; flowing hair; in her right hand a palm branch, in her left a tower.
  2. (Christianity) An embroidered ornamental band or border on an ecclesiastical vestment, altar frontal, etc. [from 15th c.]
    • 1553 May 18, William Dugdale, “A True Copy of an Inventory Remaining in the Registry of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln, Taken the Eighteenth Day of May, in the Seventh Year of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth, of All the Plate, Jewels, Vestments, Copes, Altar Cloths, and Other Ornaments Appertaining to the Cathedral Church of Lincoln”, in Monasticon Anglicanum: Or, The History of the Ancient Abbies, Monasteries, Hospitals, Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, with Their Dependencies, in England and Wales: [], London: Printed by R. Harbin; For D. Browne and J. Smith, [], published 1718, OCLC 731570164, page 317, column 1:
      Item, another Chaſuble of blue Tiſſue Velvet, with Flowers and Branches of Gold, and in the Orphrey a Picture of the Paſſion of Chriſt, and of either ſide of him an Angel with Chalices in their Hands, two Tunicles and three Albes.
    • 1844, A[ugustus] Welby [Northmore] Pugin, “Orphrey”, in Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume, Compiled and Illustrated from Antient Authorities and Examples, [], London: Henry G[eorge] Bohn, [], OCLC 156130521, page 169:
      This word [orphrey] is used for a band or border of rich work, generally of gold or silver texture, which is sewed on to church vestments and furniture. All copes have an orphrey, or border, on the straight edge. On chasubles the Orphrey at present forms a cross behind, and falls in a straight line, in front of the vestment. Antiently the Orphreys were the same behind and before, like a Pallium, as may be seen in all monuments of the middle ages.
    • 1873 September, “Needlework”, in George Grove, editor, Macmillan’s Magazine, volume XXVIII, number 167, London: Macmillan and Co. [], OCLC 1042245262, page 431, column 2:
      In some cases these panel-decorations [of vestments] are similar both in style and material to the border or "orfrey." [] Orfrey signifies a gold fringe, or gold border. At the present time the accepted technical term for the border of the vestment is the "orfrey;" and this is used whether the border be of gold or coloured silks.
    • 1891, Oscar Wilde, chapter XI, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, London; New York, N.Y.; Melbourne, Vic.: Ward Lock & Co., OCLC 34363729, pages 207–208:
      He possessed a gorgeous cope of crimson silk and gold-thread damask, [] The orphreys were divided into panels representing scenes from the life of the Virgin, and the coronation of the Virgin was figured in coloured silks upon the hood. [] The orphreys were woven in a diaper of red and gold silk, and were starred with medallions of many saints and martyrs, among whom was St. Sebastian.
    • 1923, Compton Mackenzie, “St. Cuthbert’s, Chelsea”, in The Parson’s Progress, London; New York, N.Y.: Cassell and Company, OCLC 954281881, page 136:
      I wish your lordship would do us the honour to come and inspect one particularly magnificent specimen of devout labour—a tunicle of glaucous silk powdered with red roses and blue fleurs-de-lys, and another of the same field with orphreys of gold and sown with peacocks, griffins, and sanguine cockatrices. And I may add that with astonishing accuracy this superb example is worn over a green alb.
    • 2010, Kate Giles, “‘A Table of Alabaster with the Story of the Doom’: The Religious Objects and Spaces of the Guild of Our Blessed Virgin, Boston (Lincs)”, in Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson, editors, Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture and Its Meanings, Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing, →ISBN, page 273:
      Another Alderman, Master Thomas Robertson provided vestments of green velvet and white damask with an orphray (a rich embroidered border) of red velvet, another of white satin of Bruges powdered with flowers and an orphray of black velvet and green Bruges satin.

Alternative formsEdit




  1. ^ orfrei, n.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 2 April 2019.
  2. ^ orphrey, n.”, in OED Online  , Oxford: Oxford University Press, September 2004; “orphrey” (US) / “orphrey” (UK) in Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press.

Further readingEdit