In the late evening of August 8, an arsonist started a fire in the vesting room of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Arkansas. The fire devasted not only the vesting room but burned and smoked damaged most of the vestments held there. Personal clergy vestments were lost as well as the Cathedral’s heritage stoles and chasubles that had been worn for decades by Trinity clergy. These beautiful garments in seasonal colors of purple, red, green, blue, white, and black were worn by clergy at services and imbued with blessings of countless communions, baptisms, weddings, and memorials. The clergy were heartsick and the community was saddened and angered, but one parishioner was inspired.
Fabric artist, Lisa Thorpe, decided that she could make something beautiful rise from the ashes. Remnants of burned vestments were dragged to the Trinity garth to catalog for insurance and then were bound for the dumpster. Thorpe intervened and proposed salvaging some of the damaged material to make new vestments to mark the fire and bring beauty out of the ashes. After cutting away the burned and smoke damaged fabric, Thorpe set about the renewal process.
She washed the remnants multiple times to remove the smell of smoke, then set to work sorting the pieces into color piles. The artist said, “I wanted to use all the colors and patterns that I was able to retrieve; it was important to me that all the vestments be revived and represented if even in the smallest way. The trick was to create something beautiful and meaningful out of the mishmash of colors and textures.”
Thorpe immediately set on the theme of resurrection and the imagery of a phoenix rising from the ashes. “I wanted to represent the paradox of growth from devastation.” She chose to use the classic image of the descending dove to represent rebirth and used that same dove shape in red to represent the spirit rising from the flames. In the end, a stunning set of vestments was created: four clergy stoles, two banners, and insets on the front and back of a new red silk chasuble.
Thorpe says, “When I volunteered, I really didn’t know what I would have to work with or how I would make something from the burned pile, but I jumped in with the Holy Spirit on my side. What I made was so gratifying, and I think is a beautiful representation of the church’s past and now its future, too.”
The new vestments and banners will be blessed and dedicated on Pentecost Sunday, June 5th.