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This research concerns the reuse of precious silk fabrics from women's dresses donated to the Catholic Church in the Northern Netherlands in the 18th century. It shows how the transition from fashion items to Catholic ecclesiastical vestments took place and what reasons the wealthy ladies had for donating their clothes to the church.

The vestments worn by the priest during mass comprise a quite uniform ceremonial dress within the Catholic Church, despite the lack of clear guidelines. Ceremonial garments are often not subjected to fashion related influences and therefore hardly change in appearance overtime. However, a certain development can be distinguished especially when a longer period of time is studied.

The outer shape of the chasuble has hardly changed in the period from the Council of Trent (1545-1563) up until the 19th century. The chasuble was traditionally made of heavy brocade or velvet fabrics, often decorated with rich embroideries. In the early 18th century however, a new type of chasuble appears lacking the embroidery and made of lighter silk fabrics. The colourful and flowery patterned silk fabrics applied at that time seem neither to be connected with Christian symbols nor with rules regarding the use of colour. Furthermore, the traditionally applied cross on the back of the chasuble is pointed out in a plain galloon. These early 18th century silk fabrics often contain woven in gold- and silver threads and are as such very valuable.

When these rich 18th century fabrics are studied more closely, many old traces of fabrication and sewing as well as folds, come to light. These traces do not correspond with the shape and function of the chasuble and therefore point out the re-use of the silk fabrics. The re-use of textiles is a significant feature of garments and clothing before the 19th century period of industrialisation. The specialist knowledge of the textile conservator is an important asset with regard to the identification and reconstruction of such traces.

This PhD research will connect the provenance of the 18th century chasuble with the development of 18th century women’s costume, re-use of fabrics in general and the custom of donating fabrics and clothing to the church. The research is founded upon the 18th century vestments present in Dutch churches and museums. These provide the basis for discovering and reconstructing the Dutch situation, which will be related to 18th century West-European developments.

An important case study within this research is the collection of a dozen 18th century garments in the former abbey of Thorn. Thorn used to be a Stift for ladies in the 18th century. A Stift is a secular establishment with religious duties, comparable to a convent but without the obligation to take vows. Only ladies descending from high nobility could enter the order and during their lifetime they lived according to their noble descent and wore rich garments. Almost all vestments in Thorn show old traces of former use and the testaments of these ladies prove the donation of clothing to the Church.

This research will shed a new light on the use of fashionable fabrics in the 18th century in the Netherlands, the re-use of garment fabrics and the dating of chasubles. All these aspects are indispensible in the process of assessing the value of this religious cultural heritage.


  • René Lugtigheid


  • Prof. dr. Frans Grijzenhout