Early Medieval (mostly) Textiles #23

Welcome to the latest blog post. Here we discover the early to late medieval textiles that are associated with St Wenceslaus in Prague Castle.

Milena Bravermanová, Helena Březinová, Jana Bureš Víchová

This month I am delighted to bring you an article by Milena Bravermanová, Helena Březinová and Jana Bureš Víchová, archaeologists and textile conservators specialising in archaeological textiles and their history. Here, they tell us about the beautiful medieval textiles that were discovered in the tomb of St Wenceslaus in Prague Castle in the Czech Republic.

At Prague Castle, the more than thousand-year-old seat of Czech rulers and church dignitaries, there is a unique collection of medieval and renaissance textiles, obtained during archaeological research. Most of them mainly come from churches and were originally grave goods or secondary textile relics. Systematic research of the textiles has been carried out since 2000, with the overall evaluation taking place between 2019–2022.

Tomb of St. Wenceslaus

The collections of Prague Castle contain a valuable assemblage of textiles from the tomb of St. Wenceslaus (†935). Prince Wenceslaus was killed at the hillfort in Stará Boleslav in 935; three years later, his remains were brought to the south apse of the St Vitus Rotunda at Prague Castle. The rotunda was replaced by a basilica in 1060 and a chapel was built around the original Wenceslaus’s grave. The Gothic cathedral’s foundation stone was laid in 1344, and major modifications around the Tomb of St. Wenceslaus were made in 1346–1348. The Gothic St. Wenceslaus Chapel was added to the cathedral in 1366. The prince’s remains and grave goods, mainly textiles, were exhumed in 1911, both from the above and underground parts of the tomb. 

Reliquary textiles

The assemblage from the Tomb of St. Wenceslaus is composed of 18 different textiles preserved in multiple fragments (max. size 30 x 30 cm). Fabrics were conserved in 2002–2003 and a textile-technological study was conducted; the pieces were evaluated in 2018 and 2019. The basis of the professional processing of textiles was the implementation of research, which included technical analysis, reconstruction of the pattern and detailed documentation. This was followed by an evaluation the collection of contemporary analogies and the placement of the pieces in the overall framework of period textile production. Relevant historical reports were also incorporated into the final interpretation. An evaluation of the monitored parameters was the basis for determining the date and provenance.

The fabrics from the Tomb of St. Wenceslaus date to the broad period from between the 11th and 15th centuries. They are in the vast majority, silk and were made across the main silk production centres of the period (Central Asia, Middle East, Spain, Italy). The oldest fabric is a samite (complex weave), most other fabrics were woven using the lampas technique patterned with geometric, plant and animal motifs. Unpatterned fabrics were made in basic weaves – tabby or twill.

The fabrics from the tomb of St Wenceslaus are secondary relics, i.e., artefacts that came into contact with the relics of the saint and which will therefore be handled in the same way as the parts of the saint’s body.

Traces of tailoring are preserved on fabrics (stitches, stitch holes, signs of folding), though their original shape and function can no longer be determined. They could have been older coverings placed over the tomb, altar covers or paraments, parts of which later added to the  above-ground and underground parts of the tomb, where some of them apparently covered Wenceslas’s remains.

Fabric with knotwork, palmettes, pearl roundel and animals

The fabric is a silk samite (weft-faced compound twill), based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be identified as Middle Eastern from the 11th to 12th centuries (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 © taken from Bravermanová – Březinová – Bureš Víchová 2020a

Fabric with eight-sided stars and small stars

The fabric is a silk lampas, based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be dated to the 13th–14th century from the Near East, Egypt or the Islamic part of Spain (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 © taken from Bravermanová – Březinová – Bureš Víchová 2020a

Fabric with an ogival framework and Arabic inscription

The fabric is a silk lampas, based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be identified as Syrian or Egyptian from the 14th century (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 © taken from Bravermanová – Březinová– Bureš Víchová 2020a

Fabric with vertical stripes with palmettes, rosettes and heart-shaped motifs

The fabric is a silk lampas, based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be identified as Central Asian from the first half of the 14th century (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4 © taken from Bravermanová – Březinová – Bureš Víchová 2020a

Fabric with lanceolate leaves and medallions

The fabric is a silk lampas, based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be identified as a product of Central Asia, possibly North China, from the first half of the 14th century (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5 © taken from Bravermanová – Březinová – Bureš Víchová 2020a

Fabric with poppy heads, ducks and lions

The fabric is a silk lampas (double weave in the ground), based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be identified as Italian from the final third of the 14th century to the beginning of the 15th century (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6 © taken from Bravermanová – Březinová – Bureš Víchová 2020a

Fabric with palmettes

The fabric is a silk lampas, based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be identified as Italian or Spanish from the 15th century (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7 © taken from Bravermanová – Březinová – Bureš Víchová 2020a

Fabric with palmettes and pomegranates

The fabric is a silk lampas, based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be identified as Italian or Spanish from the 15th century (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8 © taken from Bravermanová – Březinová – Bureš Víchová 2020a

Fabric with branches

The fabric is a silk lampas (double weave in the ground), based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be interpreted as Italian from the second half of the 14th century. The reliquary pouch was sewn from one rectangular piece of this fabric and was lined with an unpatterned fabric (tabby). The upper edge was pulled tight by a flat finger looped braided cord made from five silk threads and two spherical buttons (Fig. 9). The pouch can be linked to the reliquary pouch with the relics of St Lazarus of Bethany, St Ananius, St Clement and St Blaise, which was brought to Prague by Charles IV in 1370.

Fig. 9 © taken from Bravermanová – Březinová – Bureš Víchová 2020a

Fabric with gold stripes 

The silk warp ends interlace with one silk and one metal weft in a tabby weave; the two wefts alternate to create stripes. Based on the textile technology analysis and analogies, it can be dated to the 13th to 14th centuries, originating from one of the Mediterranean silk production areas, perhaps Spain.

Patternless fabrics in a tabby 

Six silk fabrics in a tabby weave, they were produced in the Middle Ages in one of the silk-production areas in Asia or southern Europe.

Patternless fabrics in a twill weave

One wool and linen in a 2/1 S twill, it can be assumed that it was produced in the Middle Ages in one of the textile workshops in Europe, perhaps even in the Czech Lands.

The collection of reliquary fabrics from the tomb of St Wenceslaus ranks among the rarest treasures in Bohemia, not only from the perspective of the luxurious nature of the fabrics, but mainly because they were in close contact with the relics of the most prominent saint and patron of the Czech nation.  

I want to thank Milena , Helena and Jana for sharing this overview of these beautiful silk textiles. If you are interested in reading more about them their work has been published in please see the reference section below.

Contact: If you would like to contact any of the authors about the silks, please use their details below:

PhDr. Milena Bravermanová

milena.bravermanova@seznam.cz

PhDr. Helena Březinová

brezinova@arup.cas.cz

Bc. Jana Bureš Víchová

jvichova@seznam.cz

Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic

References:

Bravermanová, M. – Březinová, H. – Bureš Víchová, J. 2020:Textilie z tumby sv. Václava. Archaeologia historica 45/1, 293–327.

Bravermanová, M. – Březinová, H. – Bureš Víchová, J. in print: Textiles from the Tomb of St. Wenceslaus at Prague Castle (Czech Republic). In: S. Lipkin, K. Vajanto, E. Ruhl (eds): Interdisciplinary Approaches to Textile Research: Northern and Central European Textile Production and Use of Textiles and Clothing from the Neolithic to the Modern Period. The Proceedings of NESAT XIV.

Bravermanová, M. – Březinová, H. – Bureš Víchová, J. 2020a:Textilie z tumby sv. Václava. Archaeologia historica 45/1, 293–327. https://doi.org/10.5817/AH2020-1-14

Bravermanová, M. – Březinová, H. – Bureš Víchová, J. 2020b: High Medieval textiles of Asian and Middle Eastern provenance at Prague Castle, Czech Republic. Archaeological Textile Review 62, 126–143.

Březinová, H. – Bravermanová, M. – Bureš Víchová, J. 2019: The Structure of Archaeological Textiles from the Early and High Middle Ages in Finds from the Czech Republic (Part 1). Fibres and Textiles 26/1,  14-23. http://vat.ft.tul.cz/Archive/VaT_2019_1.html

Březinová, H. – Bravermanová, M. – Bureš Víchová, J. 2019: The Structure of Archaeological Textiles from the Early and High Middle Ages in Finds from the Czech Republic (Part 2). Fibres and Textiles 26/3, 3-9. http://vat.ft.tul.cz/News/news.html

Useful Resources:

Bravermanová, M. – Březinová, H.2017: Archaeological Textile Research in the Czech Republic. In: Bravermanová, M. – Březinová, H. – Malcolm-Davies, J. (Eds.), Archaeological Textiles – Links Between Past and Present. NESAT XIII. Liberec – Praha, 11-17.

For information about the Cathedral of St. Vitus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Vitus_Cathedral

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: