Sunday, 13 October 2013

Blue Gold - The Dye That Built A Chapel & Fuelled A Drapery War

If you haven't seen Amiens Cathedral in the flesh, you may have seen some photos of this sensational building. Like many of the large European Gothic cathedrals it was some years in the construction and depended heavily for finance upon the largesse of local gentry, town burghers and local guilds. One important guild in Amiens was that of the woad merchants. Woad was an important crop - so important it was called Blue Gold and featured as a decoration on the cathedral portal (see below). 

The plant was harvested and rolled up into balls called Cocagne - hence Land of Cockayne or Land of Plenty. Much of the yield was shipped to Lynn in Norfolk (now known as King's Lynn) for use in the English dyeing vats. However, in 1295 Edward I of England seized the Amiens woad then warehoused in his ports - an early act in the drapery wars that raged between the two countries until the end of the century. Amiens' loss was 4,000 livres - about $3,200,000 in today's money. Fortunately, this was after the building of the St Nicholas Chapel - a chantry chapel in the cathedral. High up on the outside wall can be seen the commemorative statues of the woad sellers - the top with their sacks bulging with round balls of cocagne and below kneeling surrounded by the inscription: The good people from the towns about Amiens, who sell woad have built this chapel with their alms.

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