New book highlights Prague Castle’s priceless historical textiles

Prague Castle

Along with its world famous sites, Prague Castle also boasts an unparalleled collection of historical fabrics. A new book details the 270 items in the valuable collection, which include pieces of garments from the tomb of Saint Ludmila, the first historically documented duchess of Bohemia.

For hundreds of years, Prague Castle has housed a collection of rare historical textiles from all over the world. Stored in a special depository, the collection comprises 270 remnants of precious fabrics from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

Milena Bravermanová | Photo: ČT24

The most diverse ones date to the rule of John of Luxembourg and Charles IV, says archaeologist Milena Bravermanová, one of the authors of a new book based on more than three decades of research on the unique fabrics:

“They are incredibly rare textiles that were made in what were then the centres of the silk industry: China, Central Asia, the Middle East, Sicily, Spain and northern Italy.

“What was really surprising to me is that the collection was at least half Asian in origin, mostly Central Asian, which was a location where the most precious textiles were made.”

One of the oldest fabrics in the collection is a piece of lace from a stocking that belonged to King Boleslav II from the Premyslid dynasty and was woven in Constantinople during the Byzantine period. However, most of the preserved textiles are funeral garments, explains Mrs. Bravermanová:

Charles IV,  the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor | Photo: National Gallery Prague,  public domain

“They were made of the most luxurious, rare and expensive materials, but the tailoring itself was rather sloppy. We even found several pieces of fabrics sewn upside down. So it was a matter of arranging luxurious, gold-threaded fabrics together. The garment was essentially made to impress.”

The funeral garments were made for rulers or bishops, but they were also used for wrapping the remains of saints. They include, for instance, the grave clothes of Charles IV, the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor.

According to Helena Březinová from the Prague Archaeological Institute, each piece of fabric reveals a number of historical details and documents the development of the textile industry.

One of the most unique items in the collection is a fragment of a tunic dating to the Byzantine Empire, discovered in the tomb of Saint Ludmila, says Mrs. Bravermanová:

“The dalmatica was made from an incredibly rare fabric called proto-lampas, which was made using a very complex weaving technology.  There are actually two patterns on the fabric, which is incredibly unique. The textile loom allowed the pattern to be changed during the weaving process. This strip is probably the only surviving piece of fabric documenting the technique.”

Saint Ludmila | Photo: Cícero Moraes,  Naše historie

The rare collection of fabrics is administered by Prague Castle and the Metropolitan Chapter. It is kept in special conditions without access of light and only goes on display on very special occasions. Thanks to the new book, published in a Czech-English version, people can now admire the collection in its entirety.