Today is an historic occasion - two former Popes, John Paul II and John XXIII, are declared saints. In the past the bones of saints would be shrouded in fine textiles and this new exhibition in a completely refurbished Abegg-Stiftung Museum gives an insight into how textiles were used in the cult of relics. The items on display include large cloths in which the bones of saints were wrapped, finely worked pouches made to hold smaller relics, and fragments of costly silk used to package tiny remains of a revered saint or cut from a garment worn by a canonized person. The eleventh-century vestment of Saint Bernard of Hildesheim, moreover, provides graphic proof of how garments were cut up into fragments of cloth which then served as keepsakes.
The mortal remains of saints are a church's most treasured possession. For centuries, relics have been painstakingly preserved, wrapped in the most exquisite fabrics available. Textiles protect and adorn. They also become relics in their own right by virtue of having touched venerated objects. Others count as relics because a saint once wore them: robes, head coverings, stockings or sometimes just fragments of the same become greatly sought after mementos of their former owners.
There is also a large permanent display of sumptuous textiles from Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and regions along the Silk Road. Arranged in chronological order from the 4th century BC to the 18th century A.D., the pieces illustrate the development of textile art in both East and West (see above). The museum is open daily from 2.00 to 5.30 pm. For more details of the exhibition, click here.