1. This is a truly wonderful piece and something we will often overlook. The images of village churches show such vitality and care in humble places. I am also very interested in the idea that these patterns are probably pre-Christian. The notion that pre-Christian worlds are preserved in ornament is something I have been pondering for a long time. We see it in the strong endurance of pagan motifs in Roman clavii, but also in the ornamental parts of the great Western cathedrals, or Scandinavian church doors. I believe very much there is spiritual significance in leaving room for the old world on the edge of things, on borders and in margins — a discarded world finding refuge within the knots and fantastical beasts that hide on the limits.

    1. That’s a very interesting point. I hadn’t considered that there is something spiritually important about the presence of these whispers from ancient times. There has been some serious research into the motifs of Romanian embroidered towels. Some of the most traditional designs incorporate simple pictures of female figures, highly abstracted. Scholars have determined with some certainty that these motifs derive from pagan goddesses. I think we can see the use of these images on icon towels as a kind of submission, where the ancient goddesses now bow down to the Christian Saints, much like the pagan Greek deities which appear in the Pentecost and Theophany icons.

      1. That is quite fascinating. Your notion of the goddess bowing down as the water gods in the Theophany icon is very much what I am thinking about. I have been working on a text regarding ornament for while, its relation to periphery in general, hair, nails, rings, but also glory, veil and sacred and how these relate to the garments of skin. The idea of a dead border lingering on the edge of things has much to do with this, and pagan gods hiding in ornament is part of this. Hopefully I will have it ready soon.

  2. Alvin Alexsi Currier

    Dear Andrew: What a joy to rediscover your wonderful contributions to our Orthodox faith and life. This article about linens thrilled me because I am now 81 years old and this tradition has absorbed over forty years of my life. I am rather desperate to find someone to inherit my archives and continue the study. in your article I felt some of my research reflected and when I saw the first picture, I thought: “That isn’t a Romanian towel, It’s Ukrainian” and then I recognized that I took that photo, in the Lemko Church in Wysowa, Poland. Further down the woman being shown the towel is my wife, Anastasia. All this is just to hint that I am desperate to share my research, hundreds of photos and stories. Last year I illustrated and self published a children’s book entitled: “Grandma’s Ritual Towel”. With this post may I invite contact at, a.currier@juno.com ? Again my thanks for honoring this tradition.

    1. Dear Alexsi, I’m glad you saw my brief article here. Indeed, I owe much debt to you for having taught me much of what I’ve written here, and for having provided me with the photos from your travels. Indeed, I wish it were possible to treat the subject at much greater length, but this is not my field of expertise. Perhaps you would be willing to contribute an article to OAJ one day.

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