Opulent Textiles from the California Missions

This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the de Sassiet Museum at Santa Clara University for a Costume Society of America Western Region program, led by Elise Rousseau,  on the collection of liturgical vestments of the California Mission era.

The skill and craftsmanship displayed within these examples are a beautiful sight to behold – regardless of any personal religious affiliations. They included delicate metallic embroidery, stump-work, lace, and other high quality hand-work. The textiles themselves included rich brocades, chenille pile velvets, taffeta’s, and other delicate objects of finery (all VERY old, especially for California). The de Saisset Museum houses one of the most important collections of ecclesiastical garments and liturgical accessories dating from the founding of Mission Santa Clara de Asìs in 1777 through the 1920s. This collection had been hidden behind a false wall for years, unknown to the collections staff until a recent 2005 renovation revealed it.

Mission-Era Vestments from the Permanent Collection (on view to December 2) presents only a small portion of what may very well be the largest known collection of California Mission Vestments. Groups of 17th and 18th century copes, dalmatics, chasubles and accessories demonstrate a range of styles and purposes, as well as fabric and production origins.

The composition and use of these textiles offered a glimpse into the history and role of the global silk trade with far east Asia on the Spanish Galleons during the height of the Spanish Empire, Colonial Nueva España, and into the Franciscan Missions in California.

For more, check out the gallery of images below:

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  1. Hi Heather,
    Is this an ongoing exhibit? I would LOVE to check it out in person. I’m amazed with the quality and detail work that was done so long ago… Perhaps it’s a testament to the amount of extra time folks had 😉


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