Reliquaries of St Stanislaus

Chasuble with a cross

Chasuble with a cross and embroidered scenes
from the life of St Stanislaus (Wawel Cathedral Treasury),
Piotr Kmita the Elder’s donation (died 1505).

Height of the chasuble: 140 cm, width: 82 cm; height of the cross: 133 cm, length of the cross beam: 8.5 cm, width of the cross beam 13.5 cm.

The chasuble was commissioned by the Cracow Voivode Piotr Kmita, as testified by the inscription on a band running around the shield with the Śreniawa coat of arms, supported by a bearded man (unfortunately, today it is not fully legible). Its is particularly impressive as it was made in the acusculptura technique – the sculpture in needle. Its characteristic feature is that embroidered decorations give an almost sculptural effect as they are made on a very high raised base (usually from cotton) with numerous appliqué elements which add to the realistic characters of the scenes.

   The Cracow chasuble is different as, elements from sculpted hard material were used as a basis. Miniature appliqué sheet-metal elements (liturgical vessels, elements of weapon, and claws of eagles guarding the body of St Stanislaus) are also unique, as, outside of Cracow, they can only be found in Wrocław embroidery. Coifs of the figures featured were rendered with high precision, from loose metal thread wrapped in silk yarn. Chronologically the following scenes from the life of St Stanislaus are shown: The purchase of a village, Bringing Piotrowin back to life, The Martyrdom of St Stanislaus, The diismemberment of the martyr’s body, Funeral and Canonization in Assisi. Piotr Kmita’s chasuble belongs the finest works of late-Gothic embroidery which have survived to our times.

The quality of decorations show the highest standard of Cracow craftsmen in the early 16th century and the patronage of Polish magnates over the arts. In the literature of the subject, scenes decorating the chasuble were long believed to have been the work of Stanisław Stwosz, the son of one of the greatest sculptors of the late Middle Ages – Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss). However, this thesis finds no justification.

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