Damask fabrics

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Damask fabrics from the grave of St queen Jadwiga

Silk, Egypt, (?) 14th c., Spain or Italy (?), late 14th c.

Krakow, the Wawel Cathedral treasury

Fabrics of three types: the first one with a decorative palmette motif enclosed in a rhomboid frame formed by a highly stylised plant twig. The second and third type is decorated with circular and oval rosettes in two sizes enclosed in frames formed by highly stylised leaves.

Queen Jadwiga d’Anjou died on July 17th, 1399, several weeks after she gave birth to her daughter, Elizabeth Bonifacia (June 22nd), probably due to labour-related complications (puerperal fever). She was buried on July 19th together with the child, who had died several days earlier, in the chancel of the Wawel cathedral, to the north of the base on which the main altar is situated. It is confirmed by an account from Jan Długosz, who wrote that the queen lies: in Cracoviensi ecclesia ad partem laevam altaris maioris, de prope sacrarium (in Krakow cathedral, to the left of the main altar, next to ciborium). A choice of such an exposed site probably resulted from the fame the queen enjoyed due to her piety and efforts aiming at her canonization that had been planned since Jadwiga’s death. Such a scheme is confirmed by an obituary entered into the so called Kalendarz Krakowski [Krakow Annals] on the day of queens death, which emphasised the extraordinary virtues of the deceased. In a sermon delivered during the funeral mass in the cathedral, Krakow bishop Piotr Wysz called Jadwigę ozdobą Królestwa Polskiego, ostoją ładu państwowego, klejnotem niezwykłym, ukojeniem wdów, pociechą nędzarzy, wspomożeniem uciśnionych, poszanowaniem dostojników Kościoła, ucieczką kapłanów, umocnieniem pokoju, świadectwem i ostoją prawa Bożego [a gem of the Kingdom of Poland, an anchor of state’s order, an extraordinary jewel, comfort of widows, solace of paupers, help to the oppressed, respect for Church officials, escape of priests, strength of peace, and anchor to Lord’s laws].

Jadwiga’s burial chamber was made of precisely fit limestone blocks smoothened with a chisel for a uniform surface. At the bottom, there is a foundation of four layers of brick in monk bond (stretcher-header-stretcher). The internal dimensions of the chamber are: length 234.5-239 cm, width 100-102 cm, depth 154 cm. During construction works, 10 iron bars were set in the structure 38 cm over the bottom and 116 cm under the top rim as supports for the coffin. They were supposed to ensure insulation and secure the burial against dampness. Shorter walls of the chamber were also smoothened on the inside, while the inside of the southern side was finished with a limestone panel (196 x 80 cm) with a sculpted surface. On the panel, there are two rows of small lancet arches filled with irregular rounded texture, one of which is decorated with a rosette. It probably was a part of an antependium for the cathedral’s main altar (consecrated in 1346), which, for reasons unknown (it might have broken during processing), was shortened and reused for Jadwiga’s tomb. It has been impossible so far to uncover the outer surface of the chamber’s north wall, thus we do not know how it was processed. The opening in the floor was covered with a large (234 x 115.5 cm) and very thick (23.5 cm) limestone plate. The design of the original coffin is unknown. The queen’s body was found in a large wooden box without a lid, covered with unattached wooden boards. The remains might have been transferred to that box during construction works executed within the chancel in mid 17th century.

The queen was buried in rich clothing of damask with sleeves trimmed with strips of thicker fabric with rhomboid pattern (four such strips, 28 cm long and 4.5 cm wide, were found). The queen was wrapped in a shroud of damask, while her face was covered with a white muslin veil. The grave was equipped with fake royal insignia made of gilded leather (crown) and gilded wood (sceptre and orb topped with a cross). Also two letters by pope Boniface IX were placed in the coffin. They had leaden bulla, identical with the one attached to his letter to Władysław Jagiełło, dated as of May 5th, 1399 (Krakow, Archive of Wawel Archdiocesan Chapter). The pope expressed his wish that the child of the royal couple was named after him and Wojciech Jastrzębiec, bishop elect of Poznań, was the infants godfather. Other items found in the tomb included ceramic tiles (26 x 26 cm) decorated with heraldic lilies and flowers overdone in stylisation, covered with yellow glazing. These tiles come from medieval floor of the chancel (c. 1346) and they got inside the tomb either during the burial or during a remodelling within the base of the main altar in mid-17th century. The last item found in the tomb is a small clay bowl which cannot be precisely dated due to its simple shape and lack of decorations. The use of this vessel is unknown.

On April 22nd, 1949, cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha launched proceedings on the famous holiness, heroic virtues, and miracles of Lord’s servant Jadwiga, queen of Poland. The natural consequence of such an action was exhumation of the remains, which was carried out on July 11th-14th, 1949. When the chamber was opened, all its contents were taken from the main altar area to the cathedral treasury. Detailed recognition procedure was performed on white linen in order to preserve even the smallest “dust” (Latin cinera), for which a special chest was made. Professor Jan Olbrycht, PhD, and Marian Kusiak, PhD, from the Unit of Forensic Medicine at the Jagiellonian University’s Faculty of Medicine, performed a thorough analysis of the bones and confirmed that they were well-preserved and belonged to a woman aged c. 29, who must have stand out among her contemporaries due to unusual height of c. 175-182 cm. Upon the completion of works, queen’s remains were placed in a brass coffin lined with white brocade along with a document that described the scope of works undertaken in 1949 (the previous document, issued when the grave was opened in 1887, was also placed inside the chest). The coffin was brazed and sealed by cardinal Sapieha. Next, it was placed inside a larger oak coffin with an inscription saying OSSA SERVAE DEI HEDVIGIS REGINAE 1399-1949 and then placed inside a sarcophagus carved in 1902 by Madeyski. Some elements of the burial set were preserved separately.

Burial clothing is one of the most moving mementoes of the great saint. It is difficult to determine the original colour scheme of fabric that have undergone a permanent change as a result of 500 years spent in a dark and damp grave. Undoubtedly, they were extremely expensive and luxurious fabrics, reflecting very high standards of living at the court of Władysław Jagiełło and his wife Jadwiga in late 14th century. The first of these fabrics, clearly oriental in style, was probably made in Egypt in the 15th century. Patterns visible on the other two fabrics are closest to Spanish weaving manufactures from the 13th, 14th, and 15th century. Pieces of these fabrics had been stored in the treasury and had not been found interesting by historians and art historians. Only recently, have they been restored by professor Helena Hryszko, PhD, of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The result of her research have not yet been published.

Sources: Adam Bochnak, Groby królowej Jadwigi i królewicza Kazimierza Jagiellończyka w katedrze wawelskiej, „Studia do Dziejów Wawelu”, III, 1968, pp. 149-173; M. Piwocka, K. J. Czyżewski, D. Nowacki, Wstęp, [in:] Wawel 1000-2000, vol. I: Katedra krakowska – biskupia, królewska, narodowa (Muzeum Katedralne na Wawelu, maj-wrzesień 2000), ed. M. Piwocka, D. Nowacki, Kraków 2000, fig. 20-22


Koniec XIV w.
Obiekt wieloelementowy
1949 rok
Egipt, Hiszpania, lub Italia
Skarbiec katedry na Wawelu
Parafia Rzymsko-Katolicka
Św. Stanisława Biskupa i Męczennika i Św. Wacława

We are all well aware that to enter this Cathedral can not be without emotion. More I say, you can not enter it without the internal tremor, without fear because it contains in it - as in almost no Cathedral of the world - the enormous size, which speaks to us in all our history, our entire past.

cardinal Karol Wojtyla
8 March 1964