Saynte Helena, pray for us! – A reliquary bag

27.09.2020 by Rotschopf in Equipment, Material culture, Textile work

‘t was the year of our lord 2020 when all the reenactors came together in the village of Hohenwang to enjoy their life, fill their bellies with delicious food and wash their mortal bodies from all sins in the waters of the Günz, so that the horrible plague would pass them. It was there I was witness to the maiden Helena who was filled by the fire of the holy spirit fighting the devil himself in the body of a horrible beast not unlike a badger and executed the victory of light against the darkness and the heavens against the fires of hell. Awestruck, I could get hold of a piece of her bloody dress and I took it home to Vienna to create a vessel, worthy of the miracle. See here, what I contrived…

I always wanted to own a reliquary vessel, but lacking a reliquary and an occasion, I never really got into researching my possiblities for an impression like mine.

Now I finally had an occasion. Many who took a piece of the dress of Saint Helena home, immediately started to make their own reliquary vessels. If you would like to see them, some of them are already finished and can be found under the hashtags #heiligehelenazuhochwang and #saintsandbadgers on Facebook and I am sure that some are still going to follow.

Unfortunately I am not fit in many materials, but textiles, I can do relatively well, so from a wide variety of extant reliquary vessels, I chose a reliquary bag from Schnütgen museum in Cologne, which I unfortunately only had an old black and white photo of with a very scarce description. 

I have to admit, I could have researched more, sometimes the descriptions on these old archive fotos are not great, but since this was mainly a fun project, I didnt and went with this picture and freestyled it a bit.

I bought silver tube pearls and little fresh water pearls. Unfortunately they are not quite as small as in the original, but I thought, it was still fine.

The body of the bag is from light blue silk, lined with dark purple silk (both plant dyed with woad and indigo-cochenille), the side seams and the opening edges, I serged with tablet-woven edges from plant dyed purple and blue silk, that is a technique where the tablet woven ribbon is directly woven onto the fabric, by sliding the weft with a needle. The tablet woven ribbon also makes the handle on the top for which i circular-wove the ribbon. The opening ribbons I made in fingerloop-technique.  The original bag has two square gold flakes stitched to the fabric at the bottom of the bag. Unfortunately I dont know, how many of them there were originally and how they were spread on the bag, so I just made a suggestion of flakes spread along the lower edge of the bag (the flakes are brass, not gold in my version, I couldnt afford real gold). Above the tassles, the original has large rock cristal pearls which I thought was the best thing about the bag. What I didn’t do was the turcs head knots on the ribbons, since I couldnt find the right sort of silk gimpe to make them. I might add them later.

Total time to make it: ca. 17-18 hours, which was mainly owed to the fact that these f*+#!§$&*’ freshwater pearls had holes in them that were just large enough to take two of my silk threads, no needle additionally, not even a very thin pearl needle. Which is why I had to wet, twist and fumble the threads through each of the holes by hand and it took me forever! The biggest time budget was used for the tablet woven edges though, that cost me about 7 hours total.

I am aware that the pearls and tubes are bended in every direction, but that can not be helped. The original looks like the net is only lying on the surface of the fabric and is not stitched to it, but that means that the pearls can wiggle in every direction and they do. When the bag is closed, you cant really see the net-pattern any more and I think it doesnt really look as good.

Higher resolution photos when you click on them.

And here a view of the lining and the bloody piece of Saint Helena’s dress.


(PS: The saint is alright and safe, so is the badger, all is in order, nobody died ;-) )

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