Clothing the New World Church
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The book provides the first broad survey of church textiles of Spanish America and demonstrates that, while overlooked, textiles were a vital part of visual culture in the Catholic Church.

When Catholic churches were built in the New World in the sixteenth century, they were furnished with rich textiles known in Spanish as “church clothing.” These textile ornaments covered churches’ altars, stairs, floors, and walls. Vestments clothed priests and church attendants, and garments clothed statues of saints. The value attached to these textiles, their constant use, and their stunning visual qualities suggest that they played a much greater role in the creation of the Latin American Church than has been previously recognized. In Clothing the New World Church, Maya Stanfield-Mazzi provides the first comprehensive survey of church adornment with textiles, addressing how these works helped establish Christianity in Spanish America and expand it over four centuries. Including more than 180 photos, this book examines both imported and indigenous textiles used in the church, compiling works that are now scattered around the world and reconstructing their original contexts. Stanfield-Mazzi delves into the hybrid or mestizo qualities of these cloths and argues that when local weavers or embroiderers in the Americas created church textiles they did so consciously, with the understanding that they were creating a new church through their work.

The chapters are divided by textile type, including embroidery, featherwork, tapestry, painted cotton, and cotton lace. In the first chapter, on woven silk, we see how a “silk standard” was established on the basis of priestly preferences for this imported cloth. The second chapter explains how Spanish-style embroidery was introduced in the New World and mastered by local artisans. The following chapters show that, in select times and places, spectacular local textile types were adapted for the church, reflecting ancestral aesthetic and ideological patterns. Clothing the New World Church makes a significant contribution to the fields of textile studies, art history, Church history, and Latin American studies, and to interdisciplinary scholarship on material culture and indigenous agency in the New World.

Today, as in the past, these works speak to the early history of Catholic evangelization the Americas. Their preservation to the present suggests that even when damaged or understood as less than orthodox, they were esteemed as sacred historical artifacts. In comparison, the dye-painted cloths of Chachapoyas show the relative freedom allowed in an isolated region that was largely forgotten after the initial push for evangelization. There, in the eighteenth century, an indigenous textile type came to articulate a particular set of Holy Week rituals. Townspeople continue to preserve and take pride in their cotton church cloths. Parishioners in the church of Levanto in Chachapoyas, for example, recall that in the recent past one of the dye-painted tablecloths was laid out for meetings of the town council. Thus, liturgical textiles, with their historical and geographic specificities, offer another (and until now overlooked) dimension of the history of Catholicism in the Americas.

I have also suggested that despite the continuance of many traditional aspects of Amerindian textiles, the story of liturgical cloth in the Americas is one of transformation. The richly dressed churches evoked in this book were new ritual environments that offered a multitude of aesthetic proposals. Church textiles could also be viewed outdoors as they were hung, worn, and carried through streets in processions. It is thus important to consider the impact of church textiles on the wider visual culture of colonial society. We have seen that supreme status was attached to silk. The Church, as an avid consumer of this material, may have influenced the consumption and production of silk more widely, even though the wearing of this material was officially restricted to Spaniards. One particular type of silk that must have seemed fantastic was that described as tornasolado. Now called shot silk or changeant, this iridescent cloth displays different colors when seen at different angles. In 1631 the church of Vilque in Peru (see also chapter 4) had a damask frontlet surrounding a white damask frontal. The frontlet was said to be made of Chinese yellow and crimson tornasolado damask. It would have gleamed yellow and red, approximating the iridescence that was so admired in Mexican featherwork made from hummingbird feathers. Shot silk had been produced in Europe since medieval times and consisted of silk woven with contrasting warp and weft colors. Elena Phipps argues that in the Andes, weavers saw this new, iridescent cloth and emulated it by weaving warp-faced cloths with pink silk wefts and black camelid warps. She suggests that these cloths were then worn by indigenous elites of colonial society. They followed the Hapsburg fashion of dressing in black but ultimately wore blacks that were especially sumptuous. This is one example of a way in which the sacred and esteemed status of church silks extended into colonial society, where indigenous elites used the new, locally made tornesol cloth to enhance their own personas. The silk thread would have come from Spain or China, and when joined with camelid thread from the Andes, the cloth itself stood for the union of worlds.


1. Woven Silk

2. Embroidery

3. Featherwork

4. Tapestry

5. Painted Cotton and Cotton Lace

6. Conclusion

Glossary of Liturgical and Textile Terms



Publié par
Date de parution 15 février 2021
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780268108076
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 9 Mo

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Clothing the New World Church

Liturgical Textiles of Spanish America, 1520–1820

University of Notre Dame Press
Notre Dame, Indiana
University of Notre Dame Press
Notre Dame, Indiana 46556
Copyright © 2021 by the University of Notre Dame Press
All Rights Reserved
Published in the United States of America
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020950353
ISBN: 978-0-268-10805-2 (Hardback)
ISBN: 978-0-268-10808-3 (WebPDF)
ISBN: 978-0-268-10807-6 (Epub)
This e-Book was converted from the original source file by a third-party vendor. Readers who notice any formatting, textual, or readability issues are encouraged to contact the publisher at
For my mother and father,
who encouraged my love of textiles,
and for my daughter Petra Elena,
my observant companion on this journey.
CONTENTS List of Illustrations Acknowledgments Introduction ONE Woven Silk TWO Embroidery THREE Featherwork FOUR Tapestry FIVE Painted Cotton and Cotton Lace SIX Conclusion Glossary of Liturgical and Textile Terms Notes Bibliography Index
DIAGRAMS I.1. Plain weave structure. 1.1. Satin weave structure. 1.2. Velvet structure in cross-section. 2.1. Embroidery stitches. 4.1. Interlocked threads in tapestry. 4.2. Slit tapestry. 4.3. Dovetailed threads in tapestry. 5.1. Plain weave with paired threads.
MAP 5.1 Map of Chachapoyas region.
FIGURES I.1. Mass for the Dead and Souls in Purgatory , Peru, late seventeenth century. I.2. Processional Banner with Flowers and Angels Adoring the Host, Peru, eighteenth century. I.3. The Virgin Mary with Two Donors, Cusco, Peru, eighteenth century. I.4. Workshop of José Juárez. Franciscan Procession from Tlatelolco to Tepeyac Imploring the Intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Calm the Cocolixtli Plague of 1544 , Mexico City, ca. 1653–1655. 1.1. Chest of antique vestments at the church of San Juan Bautista de Huaro, Department of Cusco, Peru. 1.2. Silk moth ( Bombyx mori ) on its cocoon. 1.3. Altar Frontal and Draping Cloth, Peru, eighteenth century. 1.4. Corpus Christi Processional Finale , Peru, 1670s. 1.5. Page Beginning Accounting for the Year 1551 , Codex Sierra, Santa Catarina Texupan, Mexico, 1550–1564. 1.6. Seamed Fragment with Pattern of Interlocked Rings, Spain, sixteenth century. 1.7. Fragment with Flowering Plants, Lions, and Birds, Spain, sixteenth century. 1.8. Part of a Cope with Pomegranate Pattern, Spain, sixteenth century. 1.9. Fragment with Arabic Inscriptions, Spain, fifteenth to early sixteenth century. 1.10. Fragment of an Orphrey Band with Seraph and IHS Sunburst, Spain, sixteenth century. 1.11. Green Chasuble with Pomegranate Pattern (back), cloth from Spain, sixteenth century. 1.12. The Virgin Mary as Patroness of Tailors, Cusco, Peru, early eighteenth century. 1.13. Page Accounting the Year 1561 , Codex Sierra, Santa Catarina Texupan, Mexico, 1550–1564. 1.14. Page Accounting the Year 1561 , Codex Sierra, Santa Catarina Texupan, Mexico, 1550–1564. 1.15. Length of Fabric with Double-Headed Crowned Eagles, Elephants, and Flowers (detail), China, second half of sixteenth century. 1.16. Processional Banner with Phoenixes and Flowers, cloth from China, late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. 1.17. Cross Cover with Sprigs of Flowers and Cross Shapes, cloth from Spain or China, mid-seventeenth century. 1.18. Chasuble with Flower Pattern and Franja-Type Ribbon (back), cloth from Europe or China, mid-eighteenth century. 1.19. Chasuble with “Bizarre” Pattern (back), cloth likely from France, ca. 1700. 1.20. Detail of Chasuble with “Bizarre” Pattern in fig. 1.19. 1.21. Chasuble with Floral Pattern (back), cloth from Europe or China, late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. 1.22. Chasuble with Asian-Inspired Pattern Including Gazebos (back), cloth likely from Europe, ca. 1700. 1.23. Detail of Chasuble with Asian-Inspired Pattern Including Gazebos in fig. 1.22. 1.24. Dalmatic with Flowers, Lace Pattern, Radiance, and Pomegranates, cloth from Europe or China, early eighteenth century. 1.25. Chasuble with Floral Pattern (back), cloth from Europe or China, 1730s. 1.26. Chasuble with Floral and Lace Pattern (back), cloth from Europe or China, 1760s. 1.27. Burse with Floral and Lace Pattern (opened), cloth from Europe or China, 1760s. 1.28. Dalmatic with Bouquets and Ribbons, cloth from Europe or China, 1770–1790. 1.29. Tadeo Escalante and others, Mural Scenes of the Dance of Death, Flanked by Murals Imitating Textile Hangings, late eighteenth century. 2.1. Mantle with Bird-Human Figures (detail), Paracas, Peru, 100–200 CE. 2.2. Miniature Mantle, Peru, 1400–1532 CE. 2.3. Man’s Processional Tunic, Cusco, Peru, seventeenth century. 2.4. Side view of bottom of Man’s Processional Tunic in Fig. 2.3. 2.5. Chasuble with Embroidered Orphrey, Spain, early sixteenth century. 2.6. Altar Frontal, Toledo, Spain, ca. 1530. 2.7. Dalmatic Collar with Five Wounds, Spain, ca. 1550–1650. 2.8. Cross Cover, Cathedral of Seville, Spain, second half of seventeenth century. 2.9. Marcos Maestre. Chasuble with Scenes from the Life of the Virgin Mary, Seville, Spain, 1627–1632. 2.10. Saint Peter on Chasuble (front, detail), Spain, ca. 1550. 2.11. Chasuble with the Virgin of the Apocalypse and Saint Peter (back), Spain, ca. 1550. 2.12. Dalmatic with Skulls and Crossbones, probably Seville, Spain, ca. 1600. 2.13. Detail of fig. 2.12, Dalmatic with Skulls and Crossbones . 2.14. Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. Holy Work of Mercy: The Rites of Christian Burial , in Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno, Peru, ca. 1615. 2.15. Gremial with Arma Christi and Five Holy Wounds, Mexico City, 1546–1548. 2.16. Detail of fig. 2.15, Gremial with Arma Christi and Five Holy Wounds. 2.17. Venus Causes a Solar Eclipse , detail, Codex Borgia, Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley, Mexico, ca. 1500 CE. 2.18. Orphrey with Figures of the Virgin and Child, Saint Peter, and Saint Andrew, Mexico City, late sixteenth century. 2.19. Apparel with Saint Lawrence, Mexico City, early seventeenth century. 2.20. Detail of fig. 2.19, Apparel with Saint Lawrence. 2.21. Miter with Artichoke Design and Birds, Cusco, Peru, seventeenth century. 2.22. Nicolás Rangel. Cope for Statue of Saint Peter, Mexico City, 1699. 2.23. Altar Frontal with Saint John of God, Lima, Peru, ca. 1750. 2.24. Mantle with Flowers and Curving Brackets, Peru, eighteenth century. 2.25. Cope with Floral Pattern and C-Scrolls, cloth likely from France or China, mid-eighteenth century. 2.26. Miter with Flowers, Birds, and Feathers, Lima, Peru, seventeenth century. 2.27. Cope with Symbols of the Virgin Mary, Mexico, mid-eighteenth century. 2.28. Cope with Flowers, Fruit, and the Virgin of Mercy, Mexico, mid-eighteenth century. 2.29. Altar Frontal with Saint Rose Strolling with Christ, Musical Angels, and a Dominican Emblem, Mexico, mid-eighteenth century. 2.30. Cornelis Galle II. Coelesti Sponso Comitata , in Vita et Historia S. Rosae , Brussels, ca. 1672. 2.31. Nun’s Badge, Guatemala or Mexico, mid-eighteenth century. 2.32. Mantle with Vases of Flowers and Inscription, Mateo N Guzman Año 1793, Peru, 1793. 3.1. Resplendent quetzal ( Pharomachrus mocinno ). 3.2. Presentation of Captives to a Ruler , Usumacinta River Valley, Mexico, ca. 785 CE. 3.3. Tribute from Petlacalco , Codex Mendoza, Mexico, 1541. 3.4. Xicalcoliuhqui Shield, Mexico, ca. 1519. 3.5. Deities (or Deity Impersonators) of the Amanteca, Florentine Codex, Mexico, compiled 1545–1590. 3.6. Tools and Techniques of the Amanteca, Florentine Codex, Mexico, compiled 1545–1590. 3.7. Artisans of the Court , in Relación de Michoacán, Mexico, 1539–1541. 3.8. Feather Fan or Flabellum with Butterfly, Mexico, ca. 1540. 3.9. Feather Shield with Human-Coyote, Mexico, early sixteenth century. 3.10. Christoph Weiditz. Indian with Feather Shield Decorated with a Cross, in Trachtenbuch, Germany, 1530–1540. 3.11. Motecuhzoma II Wearing Pointed Crown , redrawn from Codex Mendoza, Mexico, 1541. 3.12. Feather Disk with Water Symbol, Mexico, ca. 1520. 3.13. Contributions of the Huexotzinca People , Huejotzingo Codex, Mexico, 1531. 3.14. Mass of Saint Gregory, Mexico, 1539. 3.15. Tools and Techniques of the Amanteca, Florentine Codex, Mexico, compiled 1545–1590. 3.16. Miter and Infulae with Tree of Life (front) and Tree of Jesse (back), Mexico, ca. 1550. 3.17. Miter and Infulae with Tree of Jesse (front) and Tree of Life (back), Mexico, ca. 1550. 3.18. Miter and Infulae with the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary , Mexico, ca. 1550. 3.19. Miter and Infulae with the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary , Mexico, ca. 1550. 3.20. Lucifer hummingbirds ( Calothorax lucifer ). 3.21. The Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, France, ca. 1490–1500. 3.22. Detail of fig. 3.19, Miter with the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary . 3.23. Miter with Infulae in Green Set, Mexico, eighteenth century. 3.24. Burse in Green Set, Mexico, eighteenth century. 3.25. Chasuble in Yellow Set (front and back), Mexico, eighteenth century. 3.26. Embroidered Chalice Veil, first half of eighteenth century. 3.27. White Chasuble (back), cloth from Europe or China, eighteenth century. 4.1. Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. The Eleventh Inca, Huayna Capac , in Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno, Peru, ca. 1615. 4.2. Tunic with Toqapu Motifs, Peru, ca. 1500. 4.3. Checkerboard (Qolqapata) Tunic, Peru, ca. 1500. 4.4. Captive vicuña ( Vicugna vicugna ) in Peru. 4.5. Herd of alpacas ( Vicugna pacos ) in Ecuador. 4.6. Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. The Chosen Virgins, or Aqllakuna , in Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno, Peru, ca. 1615. 4.7. Bowl Painted with Weaving Scene , Peru, 300–700 CE. 4.8. Hanging with Coat of Arms and Vair Pattern, Peru, ca. 1550. 4.9. Miniature Cape with Stepped Diamond Design, Peru, ca. 1550. 4.10. Fragment of Altar Frontal Depicting the Adoration of the Kings, Flanders (possibly Brussels), ca. 1475–1500. 4.11. Hanging with Butterflies and a Cross , Peru, ca. 1560. 4.12. Detail of fig. 4.11, Hanging with Butterflies and a Cross . 4.13. Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. The Mercedarian Friar Martín de Murúa , in Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno, Peru, ca. 1615. 4.14. Altar Frontal with Skulls and the Five Wounds of Christ, Cusco region, Peru, ca. 1600. 4.15. José López de los Ríos. Purgatory (detail), Bolivia, 1684. 4.16. Fragments of Tunic Depicting Bleeding Skulls, Peru, ca. 500–800 CE. 4.17. Altar Frontal with Skulls and the Five Wounds of Christ, Arequipa region, Peru, ca. 1600. 4.18. Altar Frontal with Skeletons of an Emperor, a Pope, and Spaniards, Juli, Peru, ca. 1600. 4.19. Altar Frontal with Roses and Animals, Peru, ca. 1600. 4.20. Damask with Flower Pattern (detail), Italy, 1600–1649. 4.21. Border of Needle Lace, Italy, 1600–1620. 4.22. Detail of fig. 4.19, Altar Frontal with Roses and Animals . 4.23. Tapestry Carpet, Peru, ca. 1600. 4.24. The Creation of Eve Tapestry, Peru, ca. 1600. 4.25. The King David and Bathsheba Tapestry, Peru, ca. 1600. 4.26. Tapestry Strips with Angels Holding Arma Christi, Peru, ca. 1600. 4.27. Detail of fig. 4.26, Tapestry Strips with Angels Holding Arma Christi (right strip, panel fourth from the bottom). 4.28. The Diego Dias Tunic (front and back), Cusco, Peru, ca. 1600. 4.29. Tapestry Panel, Peru, seventeenth to eighteenth century. 5.1. Cotton boll ready for harvest. 5.2. Textile Fragment with Fanged Figure, Peru, fourth to third century BCE. 5.3. Textile Fragment with Seated Figure and Geometric Patterns, Gachancipá, Cundinamarca, Colombia, fourteenth to fifteenth century CE. 5.4. Stone Reliefs on Two Adjoining Chullpas, Kuélap, Peru, ca. 800–1500 CE. 5.5. Stone Reliefs of Splayed Figures, with Fret and Diamond Patterns Above, Gran Pajatén, Peru, ca. 800–1500 CE. 5.6. Mantle with Brown Stripe, Laguna de los Cóndores, Peru, ca. 800–1570 CE. 5.7. Detail of fig. 5.6, Mantle with Brown Stripe. 5.8. Tunic with Painted Figures, Laguna de los Cóndores, Peru, ca. 800–1570 CE. 5.9. Tunic Fragment with Painted Patterns, Laguna de los Cóndores, Peru, ca. 800–1570 CE. 5.10. Fragment of Painted Hanging, Pisuncho, Peru, ca. 800–1570 CE. 5.11. Mantle with Tie-Dyed Strips, Laguna de los Cóndores, Peru, ca. 800–1570 CE. 5.12. Hanging with Virgin Annunciate, Spain, ca. 1500. 5.13. Francois Arparel. Lenten Hanging with Crucifixion and Biblical Scenes, Freiburg, Germany, 1611–1612. 5.14. Lenten Hanging with Crucifixion and Arma Christi, Zittau, Germany, 1573. 5.15. Interior Wall with Stone Relief Work, Church of La Jalca Grande, Chachapoyas, Peru, sixteenth century. 5.16. Passion Cloth with Crucifixion and Arma Christi (#1), San Carlos de Chorobamba, Chachapoyas, Peru, eighteenth century. 5.17. Devout Prayers of the Passion of God, title page, England, ca. 1500. 5.18. Tablecloth with Quatrefoil and Angels at Four Corners, San Pedro de Levanto, Chachapoyas, Peru, eighteenth century. 5.19. Cloth with Soldiers and Musicians, San Pedro de Levanto, Chachapoyas, Peru, after 1790. 5.20. Passion Cloth with Crucifixion, Arma Christi, and the Two Thieves, Chachapoyas, Peru, eighteenth century. 5.21. Detail, eyelet and hem of 5.20, Passion Cloth with Crucifixion, Arma Christi, and the Two Thieves . 5.22. Woman’s Skirt, San Francisco de Yarinacocha, Ucayali, Peru, ca. 1960. 5.23. Woman’s Skirt, lower Ucayali River region, Peru, ca. 1925. 5.24. Passion Cloth with Crucifixion and Arma Christi, Chachapoyas, Peru, eighteenth century. 5.25. Kalamkari Cloth with Crucifixion, Angels, and Female Figures, Coromandel Coast, India, eighteenth century. 5.26. Passion Cloth with Crucifixion and Arma Christi, San Cristóbal de Olto, Chachapoyas, Peru, eighteenth or nineteenth century. 5.27. Rims of broken ceramic vessels with zigzag patterns, Chachapoyas, late fifteenth to early sixteenth century. 5.28. Devils ( supaykuna ) from four Passion cloths. 5.29. Reenactment of the descent from the cross before fig. 5.26, Passion Cloth with Crucifixion and Arma Christi, San Cristóbal de Olto, Chachapoyas, Peru, ca. 1997. 5.30. Passion Cloth with Crucifixion and Arma Christi (detail), San Francisco de Yeso, Chachapoyas, Peru, eighteenth century. 5.31. Large Passion Cloth with Crucifixion, Angels, and Arma Christi, San Carlos de Chorobamba, Chachapoyas, Peru, eighteenth century. 5.32. Detail of fig. 5.31, Large Passion Cloth with Crucifixion, Angels, and Arma Christi . 5.33. Passion Cloth with Crucifixion and Arma Christi #1 (detail) from San Gerónimo, Chachapoyas, Peru, eighteenth century. 5.34. Passion Cloth with Crucifixion and Arma Christi #1 (detail) from San Gerónimo (see also fig. 5.33). 5.35. Headcloth with Feline-Snake Motifs, Central Coast, Peru, 1000–1476 CE. 5.36. Cloth with Drawn Work on One End, Magdalena de Cao Viejo, Trujillo, Peru, before 1712. 5.37. Fragment of Filet Lace, Magdalena de Cao Viejo, Trujillo, Peru, before 1712. 5.38. Mestizas of Chachapoyas Sewing Rengos, in Trujillo del Perú, Peru, 1779–1789. 5.39. Pillow with Drawn Work and Needle Lace in Ruedas, Diosan, Alto Imaza, Chachapoyas, Peru, eighteenth to early twentieth century. 5.40. Collar in the Ñandutí Technique, Paraguay, 1880–1900. 5.41. Mestiza of Valles Weaving Trensilla, in Trujillo del Perú, Peru, 1779–1789. 5.42. Alb or Rochet with Embroidered Mesh, Needle Lace, and Drawn Work, Peru or Chile, eighteenth century. 6.1. Tapestry Frontlet on Altar of San Jacinto (one of a pair), Church of Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, twenty-first century. 6.2. Tapestry Woman’s Mantle (Lliclla), Peru, late sixteenth to early seventeenth century. 6.3. Embroiderers at work in the shop of Fredy Medina, Arte Imperial Bordados, Cusco, Peru, May 2018. 6.4. Fredy Medina and assistants. Standard for the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i, Arte Imperial Bordados, Cusco, Peru, 2018.
A project on historical textiles requires the assistance of many people, especially those who safeguard such cloths, which if left in the open would quickly perish. I have relied on a multitude of caretakers to research this book, and it is them who I must thank first. Church collections were the natural starting point for my investigation, especially cabinets of textiles guarded in church sacristies. Carlos Zegarra and Father Eduardo Adelmann of the Prelatura de Sicuani near Cusco, Peru, facilitated my first visit to a sacristy and put me on the path for this book. Staff at the Archbishopric of Cusco allowed me to view works in the cathedral sacristy and the textile treasury of Cusco’s parish of San Cristóbal. Shorter visits to churches as far afield as Santiago de Pomata on Lake Titicaca, the cathedral of Zaragoza, Spain, and the church of La Jalca Grande in Chachapoyas expanded my knowledge of Spanish and Spanish American church textiles. Father Oscar Romero in La Jalca offered important oral history drawn from his ministry. In Spain, María Barrigón Montañés, on staff at the Palacio Nacional, enabled my visit to San Lorenzo de El Escorial to view the stunning Mexican feather miter in its sacristy. The cathedral of Lima holds a splendid collection of liturgical ornaments, to which I was allowed access by Director Fernando López Sánchez. The cathedral of Ayacucho also has a significant collection of vestments on display. The collection at the church of San Juan Bautista de Huaro, also near Cusco, was an important foundation for this study and is central to chapter 1. Father Carlos Silva of the parish of San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas and Meritxell Oms, director of Asociación Sempa–La Ruta del Barroco Andino, were crucial for my access to Huaro, and church guardian Luisa Naola Espino kindly facilitated my visits. Most recently, it was a pleasure to speak to church guardian Manuel Vasquez in the town of Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, about modern tapestry altar frontlets used there.
A second vital repository for this study has been museum collections. In Lima, Peru, I am especially grateful to the Pedro de Osma Museum, which under Director Annick Benavides allowed me to survey all of the textiles in its collection. The Museo de Arte de Lima, with its director, Natalia Majluf, and curator Ricardo Kusunoki, was supportive from the start. The Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera, with curator Isabel Collazos and registrar Giannina Bardales Aranibar, granted me access to a Chachapoyas cloth. The Museo de Artes y Tradiciones Populares del Instituto Riva-Agüero, with the assistance of Luis Repetto and Claudio Mendoza, also allowed me access to its Chachapoyas works. Director Iván Ghezzi Solís and staff at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia in Lima allowed me access to a very early church tapestry. In Cusco, Director Edith Mercado and Roxana Abrill of the Museo Inka were helpful. In Chachapoyas, the staff at the Museo Leymebamba was vital to my learning about not only Chachapoyas church cloths, but also the longer tradition of the region’s textiles. Key people have been Fundación Mallqui director Sonia Guillén, museum director Emperatriz Alvarado Vargas, conservator Royber Calderón Jáuregui, and Sebastián Tejedo Chuquipiondo. The Casa de la Cultura in the town of Leymebamba also offered insights, and the museum of La Jalca Grande, with the accompaniment of Cultural Minister Norma Ofelia Huaman, was a vital resource.
In Mexico, the Museo Franz Mayer, with its staff members Fabiola Barreiro and Karina Ruiz and additional help from Mayela Flores and Marta Turok, was a great asset. The Museo Nacional del Virreinato in Tepotzotlán (in the former Jesuit college of San Javier), with Director Sara Baz Sánchez, provided me vital access to various textile examples. The Museo Bello in Puebla, under Director Patricia Dominguez, conserves important embroidered works.
Most helpful in the United States has been the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, with its staff and research associates Ann Pollard Rowe, Tessa Lummis, Jordan Cao, and Rachel Shabica. Similarly helpful has been my work with the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Curators Jill D’Alessandro and Laura Camerlengo, conservator Anne Getts, and museum volunteers Barbara Arthur and Barbara Nitzburg offered me invaluable insights from which many of my conclusions were drawn. The Denver Museum of Art, with the help of Donna Pierce, Margaret Young-Sánchez, Alice Zrebiec, Julie Wilson Frick, and Jana Gottshalk, allowed me to examine elaborate embroidered works from Mexico. I thank that museum’s Alianza de las Artes Americanas for inviting me to speak on Andean tapestries, and during that visit I benefited from seeing the DMA’s exhibition “Creative Crossroads: The Art of Tapestry.” On the suggestion of Robin Gavin, Nicolasa Chavez and Carrie Hertz at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, granted me access to the remarkable “Morley Trunk,” a Louis Vuitton chest filled with vestments reportedly collected by Sylvanus Morley in Guatemala City. The Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society in Key West, Florida, especially its director, Melissa Kendrick, and registrar Dylan Kibler, welcomed me at the very beginning of this project.

In the United Kingdom, the Victoria and Albert Museum, especially curators Zorian Clayton and Hanne Faurby, as well as archivist Nicholas Smith, provided me firsthand access to Andean tapestries as well as Spanish embroideries and velvets, and the museum’s website has been an irreplaceable resource throughout this project. In Spain, the Museo de América in Madrid, with its director María Concepción Sáiz and curator Beatriz Robledo, also allowed me access to rare Peruvian works. The textile museum of the Catedral Primada Toledo, housed in the Colegio de Infantes, was an amazing resource with the assistance of Carlos Turrillo. In Canada, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia holds liturgical pieces from the Andes and is notable for its open storage of many textiles. I thank its director Anthony Shelton for the invitation to visit.
I have also had recourse to private collections whose owners share a similar commitment to the preservation of church textiles. In Cusco, the textile gallery Josefina Olivera e Hijos allowed me to examine key works, and Pablo Olivera has become a trusted friend. In Puno, Peru, Rolando Colquehuanca allowed me to peruse his collection of festive attire. The Historical Textile Research Foundation in the United States offered access to its collections as well as research findings, including notable radiocarbon analyses. In Chachapoyas, Dolores Gutiérrez Atienza allowed me to view her stunning paño pintado. Aldo Barbosa Stern of the Barbosa-Stern Collection in Lima welcomed me to examine many paintings that represent textiles in churches.
I relied greatly on written documents for this book, since the surviving church textiles are an incomplete record of what originally existed during the colonial period. Church inventories and account books, while not completely transparent records of what was held in and purchased for churches, were valuable for reconstructing both church collections and individual pieces. The archives I consulted are listed in the bibliography, but I will note a few special ones here. The Archivo General de Indias in Seville holds a series of inventories, dated to 1560, of five Dominican churches along the western shores of Lake Titicaca. Those inventories were the initial seed for this project. Later I worked at the Archivo Arzobispal de Cusco, and I especially thank Graciela Romero Quispe for her assistance there. In Mexico City, the staff at the Archivo Histórico del Arzobispado de México were extremely helpful, especially historian Marco Antonio Pérez Iturbe and paleographer Berenice Bravo Rubio. Finally, working in the little-visited Archivo Regional de Amazonas in Chachapoyas with the help of wise archivist Marino Lozada was a delight.
This project was made possible by the generous funding I have received from the University of Florida, especially the School of Art and Art History, the College of the Arts, the Honors Program, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (Rothman Endowment). In the budget office, Victoria Masters is always helpful and patient. While on a UF Faculty Enhancement Opportunity grant, I studied Quechua in Cusco at the Centro Tinku, with the wonderful yachachej Regina. I thank the center’s director, Jean-Jacques Decoster, for inviting me to present early findings in my research and for the chance to meet Bruce Mannheim. I also benefited greatly from a research fellowship at the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK. I thank Aristóteles Barcelos Neto for making me aware of the fellowship several years ago and for welcoming me when I arrived. I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with center director Stephen Hooper, George Lau, and Fiona Savage, my spritely officemate. In Michoacán, Mexico, I thank Carlos Paredes and the group Kw’anískuyarhani de Estudiosos del Pueblo Purépecha for inviting me to present on my research in Pátzcuaro.
Many other researchers have helped me with this project along the way, and I regret that I cannot name all of them. I especially thank Emily Engel for initiating a writing exchange with me during my sabbatical year. Emily’s support kept me on track, and her insights improved my manuscript greatly. I also thank Emily Floyd, Jamie Forde, Ximena Gomez, Aaron Hyman, Santiago Muñoz, and Leslie Todd, who shared precious archival nuggets with me. Julia Montoya, whom I met in 2013 at the 6th Annual International Conference on Amerindian Textiles, organized by Sophie Desrosiers and Paz Núñez-Regueiro, shared her photograph of an important Andean tapestry fragment in Brussels. Blenda Femenias shared photographs of tapestries from her fieldwork in the Colca Canyon of Peru. Carrie Brezine offered insights on the textiles found at the archaeological site of Magdalena de Cao Viejo on Peru’s north coast. Architectural historian Violeta Paliza Flores is a trusted friend and confidante, as are Ana Pino Jordán and Sara Acevedo. Elizabeth Kuon Arce welcomed me into her home and library in Cusco, and I thank her for many wonderful conversations. My exchanges with Patricia Victorio Cánovas and Mónica Solórzano in Lima encouraged me greatly, and their recent work on embroideries and tapestries from Peru (respectively) has been foundational for my research. At the Conference on Amerindian Textiles mentioned above, I learned a great deal from Cristophe Moulherat in the workshop he led on fiber identification. In Madrid, Ana Roquero was extremely generous in sharing her research on textile dyes. Other friends and scholars whose help I am grateful for include Regan Garner, Julia McHugh, Margarita Vargas-Betancourt, Ananda Cohen Aponte, Lori Boornazian Diel, Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, Eleanor Laughlin, Angélica Afanador-Pujol, Ricardo Aguilar, Alessandra Russo, Alessia Frassani, Nancy Rosoff, Sabena Kull, Cristina Cruz Gonzalez, and Jaret Daniels. I thank my supportive colleagues in the art history department at the University of Florida, including Kaira Cabañas, Derek Burdette, Melissa Hyde, Ashley Jones, Guolong Lai, Robin Poynor, Elizabeth Ross, and Rachel Silveri, as well as School of Art and Art History directors Richard Heipp, Maria Rogal, and Lynn Tomaszewski. In Chachapoyas I relied especially on Manuel Cabañas López and Alejandro Alvarado Santillán, who opened the doors to the region for me with the assistance of the Municipalidad de Chachapoyas. Other key individuals there include Lloyser Tejada Brillado, Teodoro Tauma Caman (the mayor of the town of Pedro Ruiz), Angel Gupio, Peter Lerche, Luis Bonifaz, Hans Reina, and Francisco Leyser Rojas Muñoz.
The art creators themselves deserve mention: photographers and textile artists of today. It has been a gift to work with Raúl Montero, whose photographs of the Huaro vestments grace this book. Daniel Giannoni and Yutaka Yoshii also provided key photographs. Lucas Palomino taught me about contemporary tapestry weaving in Ayacucho and allowed me to practice on a loom he built. Master embroiderers Eulogia Mendoza, José Alejandro de Santa Cruz (“Alex”), and Fredy Medina shared information about contemporary embroidery in Cusco. I learned about Indian kalamkari (painting on cotton with natural dyes) from artist Lavanya Mani. Additional photographs came with further assistance from the Museo Pedro de Osma’s director Pedro Pablo Olayza and registrar Javier Chuquiray. Other suppliers of photographs are listed in the figure captions, and I thank all of the museum staff members who helped with those. My brother Dylan Stanfield created the wonderful illustrations of textile types. Lauren Walter, María Paula Varela, and Mark Hodge helped me with image permissions.
Finally, I am grateful to Eli Bortz at the University of Notre Dame Press for being interested in this “over the transom” project from the beginning. I also thank managing editor Matthew Dowd and copyeditor Kellie M. Hultgren for her careful attention to my manuscript and many suggestions for improvement.
It is with much humility that I thank all of the above, as well as the many helpful drivers, museum security staff, and others whose names I did not record. I hope these acknowledgments show that the preservation of Spanish America’s textile legacy is a massive humanist project that requires much dedication and continued support, but is fruitful in the lives of many.
A painting from seventeenth-century Peru expresses the Catholic belief that masses for the dead can free souls from purgatory ( figure I.1a ). It does so by illustrating on the left a contemporary mass ( fig. I.1b ), thus communicating to viewers the possibility of accessing the salvific sacrament themselves. To the right appears a group of souls in limbo, shown as nude figures nearly engulfed in flames. They clasp their hands together and weep, begging for salvation. At center-left appears the earthly scene of a priest and his attendants (deacon and subdeacon) in the process of celebrating mass at a church altar. At the far left is shown the more otherworldly, or at least anachronistic, figure of Saint Gregory, who as pope (590–604) was believed to have fixed the form of the Roman Mass. 1 While lifting the lid of a box likely meant to hold a missal, or authorized prayer guide, Gregory looks skyward to the ultimate purpose of the liturgical ceremony, which is to provide souls entrance to heaven. In the clouds an angel guides a prayerful soul, depicted as a nude, white-skinned youth, toward salvation.
Many aspects of Catholic Church doctrine and history are evident in this painting. Considering that this is a painting created for a small parish church in colonial Peru, we might see its communication of Catholic tenets and its illustration of a proper performance of the liturgy as somewhat new and necessary for the church’s indigenous parishioners. Part and parcel of the liturgical performance is the fact that Pope Gregory, the priest, and the deacons are all shown wearing multiple garments of church ceremony, and the church’s altar is also copiously “dressed.” In all, at least twenty distinct textile items are represented. These items, shown here in their ideal, most “decent” state according to Church dictates, are indices of an overlooked fact: after Spain’s establishment of Catholicism in the region now known as Latin America, churches throughout the region were shrouded in cloth. Woven mats covered their floors, fine rugs lay before their altars, and a variety of cloths of different shapes and sizes covered the altars themselves. Curtains and canopies hung behind altars, and when possible, textiles draped church walls. As churches became populated with statuary depicting Christian saints, the statues were also clothed in fabric. Church officials—priests, deacons, and acolytes—wore fine cloth vestments, especially in order to celebrate the central sacrament of Mass. Surviving account books and inventories of colonial Spanish American churches show that textiles were among the most numerous and costly features of church interiors. The modest earnings of parish churches, year after year, were spent on the necessities of wax, wine, soap, oil, and incense. Anything left over was spent on church clothing, and often priests and parishioners donated large sums to purchase cloth items seen to be lacking. It is thus not an understatement to say that cloth was the single most important material and visual feature of Catholic church interiors in Spanish America. Here I will tell the story of this cloth, in ways that illuminate its role in creating and maintaining the Spanish American church.

Figure I.1. Mass for the Dead and Souls in Purgatory , in whole (a) and detail of left side (b), Peru, late seventeenth century. Oil on canvas. Church of San Pablo de Cacha, Department of Cusco, Peru. Photograph © Rodrigo Rodrich Portugal.

The impetus for this study was not the fact that cloth was present in great quantities in colonial churches—any scholar of the colonial period will have noticed this when perusing parish records of the type found in church archives. Nor was it the fact that this cloth was highly valued and that the great majority of it was imported, made of silk spun in Europe and China or linen grown and processed in the Old World. These points are interesting in themselves, for they speak to the colonial regime of value and to the effects of early modern economic globalization in the New World. But the motivation for this book was a more elusive fact—also found in archival documents but easily overlooked—that Amerindians were closely involved in the manufacture and maintenance of these cloths. Indigenous people cut, sewed, dyed, embroidered, painted, patched, and washed imported church textiles so they could be used and worn throughout the ritual year. Pieces were constructed of new cloth, but damaged works were often refurbished and altered to be reused. Most intriguingly, native people adapted their own textile materials and techniques to the demands of church patronage. We thus discover that Mexican featherworkers used the plumes of Mesoamerican birds to create shimmering priestly vestments. We learn that Peruvian weavers used camelid (primarily vicuña and alpaca) wool to weave tapestries that fronted altars throughout the southern Andes. Dye-painting on cotton cloth was adapted to adorn churches in northwestern South America, and American cotton was used to create lace for church articles throughout the New World. In myriad ways these cloths’ contexts of creation, their materials, the techniques by which they were created, and their final visual features make them hybrid manifestations of the New World church. This “church” with a lowercase c was a spiritual community that, while directed by the institutional Church headquartered in Rome, included potentially all members of Spanish American society: men, women, and children of multiple ethnic backgrounds.
This study will delve into the hybrid or mestizo qualities of church cloths, uncovering the fascinating ways in which their makers united worlds and created objects that were spiritually meaningful on American soil. In this sense I follow a great amount of previous scholarship on “fine” art media such as painting and architecture. 2 Yet this book is also a wider analysis of the transformative power of cloth, in the Renaissance and toward the present. Scholarship has sufficiently proven the importance of the textile industry for transforming the economies of early modern Europe and by doing so has shown us what globalization first looked like. 3 Art history has more recently joined the fray, considering the worldwide trade in textiles and its broad visual impact. 4 But there has yet to be a sustained consideration of the role of cloth within the massively expansive Catholic Church, which within the span of three centuries transformed the ritual and spiritual lives of a majority of the inhabitants of Central and South America.
The real and metaphorical powers of cloth are wide reaching. When considered as an enveloping, covering object, cloth’s ability to transform is remarkable. Consider only the effect of a fine tablecloth draped over a temporary foldout table. If we link cloth to the spread of the Church, an imperialist metaphor would be a silk damask rippling across the Americas, obscuring past cultures, albeit with great sensual appeal. But the fact of the matter is that this cloth was not continuous or all encompassing. Instead, European cloth came to coexist with the diverse textile traditions already flourishing in the Americas, many with deep connections to religious belief and practice. Scholarship on dress and indigenous identity has shown how important locally significant garments are to the formulation and maintenance of native cultures, and we must keep this in mind to understand native peoples’ engagement with, and creation of, church textiles. 5
Perhaps cloth’s deep connections to being rely on its phenomenological purchase. Cloth is understood to be vital to existence and identity, for who has not felt the ways it touches the body? It weighs or chafes. It also rustles, muffles, shrouds, and warms. And that is only the finished cloth—the processes of creating cloth are also terrain for cultural metaphors that bring us back to hybridity. Woven cloth in its most simple form consists of warp and weft threads placed perpendicular to each other (diagram I.1). Although these threads are opposed to each other, when the weft threads alternately pass over and under the warp threads, a whole cloth is created, uniting the opposing forces and using their tension to its benefit. We thus have a metaphor of cultural traditions coexisting and coming together to create something new.
Many cloths have borders and fields, and these parts of cloth are given cultural significance. Which is more important: a border because it confines and frames a field, or the larger field, being only embellished by the border and given ample space to display a pattern or figures? 6 The coexistence of ranked elements within a textile would seem to suggest social relationships and relative values applied to sectors of societies such as, for example, the European and indigenous members of colonial society. 7 Similar in nature to questions about border versus field are figure and ground relationships, especially perplexing in woven textiles where both the figures and the ground make up part of an interwoven structure. How are we to “read” textiles that do not have a clear figure and ground? Is there the possibility of alternate readings, where the supposed ground becomes the figure? In the case of medieval Europe, Michel Pastoureau has shown that striped textiles came to have arresting (and generally negative) connotations because their figures and grounds were not clearly distinguished. 8 It is important to question the relative values applied to these different aspects of textiles’ compositions, being sure to “read” them in all possible ways.

DIAGRAM I.1. Plain weave structure. Drawing by Dylan Stanfield.
The contiguous nature of woven textiles makes patterning, or the regular repetition of motifs, a naturally predominant feature. Worldwide, previously unrelated textile traditions display similar sorts of patterning, yet often with divergent associations. 9 In sixteenth-century Spain, for example, a pattern of connected diamonds or ovals was known as “little almonds,” while in the Andes a similar pattern is called “eyes,” or “holes for planting.” 10 Despite these culturally specific meanings, in a Christian European way of looking at art, patterns were thought to be a relatively innocuous way of occupying space—they did not offend or suggest idolatry, especially when devoid of representational figures. 11 A space was thus opened for local textile makers to use patterns that were culturally significant to them and may have had meanings other than those expected in the church setting.
Beyond woven cloth, many church textiles were adorned by way of superstructural techniques such as embroidery, appliqué, and painting. These techniques are relatively easy to learn and afford a certain freedom of choice in comparison to preplanned loom weavings. Tailoring also became a common trade for Amerindians, even though the tailoring of cloth was not common practice in the pre-Columbian Americas. Tailoring implies the power to cut down, modify, unite, and even radically transform existing pieces of fabric. The textile creators addressed in this book were designers who fabricated their own works based on tradition and existing models, infusing them with individual creative elements.
So, as this is a study of the power of cloth, it becomes a study of the agency of clothworkers in the Americas. Women were almost completely barred from participating in the church hierarchy, and indigenous men only gained the right to ordination in the eighteenth century. 12 But these people were often involved as church textile creators. However small, this involvement may have given them a measure of power within the church that tempered priestly power, held largely in the hands of Spanish or Creole men (of European descent but born in the colony). Armed with the power of cloth, these artisans created works that would have spoken to parishioners in ways that went beyond language. The question of language is indeed key, since the majority of Catholic services were conducted in Latin and sermons were most often in Spanish, a language that most Amerindians only spoke secondarily, if at all.
We are limited by not knowing the names of our artisans, since textile works were rarely signed and the surviving documents do not tend to record the names of their makers. Indeed, we are working under a different, early modern definition of an artist that respected artists as craftspeople but did not view them as individual geniuses who should attain name recognition. 13 It was much more common for the names of patrons and donors to be recorded, and occasionally we learn the gender and ethnic identity of an artist. But most often we are presented with anonymous craftspeople (more than one of whom could have worked on a single piece), known less as “artists” or “artisans” than by craft-specific terms such as “tailor” or “silkworker.” In large part we must judge their identities based on the products they created. 14
In Europe early modern guilds protected male textile workers and further valorized their trade. Women were highly involved in the crafts, since a strict division between public and private space had not yet developed and relegated women to the home. But as guilds developed, women were restricted from participation and thus were accorded secondary status. 15 In Spanish America’s colonial labor economy, formalized guilds were relatively rare outside the viceregal capitals of Mexico City and Lima. While native artisans were quickly put to work in the colonial setting, they were often supervised by European émigrés or Creoles. 16 However, the colonial system did introduce an important distinction that encouraged and protected the work of indigenous artists, including makers of fine cloth. These workers were recognized as skilled artisans (embroiderers, featherworkers, weavers, etc.) called oficiales and were thus exempted from offering labor tribute to the Spanish government.

It does not appear that native women could attain this status, however, and the details of their participation in the creation of church textiles are somewhat obscure. On one hand, we know that native women were important agents of textile production in pre-Hispanic times, and they continued with their traditional labors (such as spinning) to some extent. On the other hand, the Spanish American church was so patriarchal that it is difficult to imagine women receiving direct commissions for church textiles. Nevertheless, in keeping with European patterns, the church celebrated female piety and reserved a place of honor for women who created church ornaments. 17 We thus find references to European and Creole women who embroidered church ornaments. 18 Spanish, Creole, and mestizo women also appear to have practiced lacemaking, while native women innovated techniques such as drawn work that could be used for church textiles.
It is thus possible to consider textile workers as important agents in colonial society, particularly as intermediaries between multiple forces: European and native textile traditions, priests and patrons, and the secular and sacred branches of colonial society. 19 For example, in 1778 the priest of the town of Huanoquite, near Cusco, Peru, received a donation of fabric for a processional banner from the local cacique , or indigenous leader. The finished banner, which was commissioned from a tailor, was to be bordered with golden ribbon and had a coat of arms embroidered on it in gold thread. 20 A banner surviving in Lima gives us a general idea of what it may have looked like, though it features Christian imagery instead of a coat of arms ( fig. I.2 ). While the cacique of Huanoquite donated the cloth and likely was allowed to carry the banner in processions (since presumably it bore his family’s coat of arms), the priest paid the tailor to confect the piece. Apart from considering the roles of the cacique and priest as they came to shared purpose, we can think of the tailor as the facilitator of a delicate and important cultural interchange, materialized in the cloth of church ritual.
For the purposes of this study I will usually sidestep the issue of whether to call our craftspeople “artisans” or “artists,” on the basis of the fact that the distinction in terms postdates the period of this study. 21 I prefer to use “tailor,” “weaver,” “embroiderer,” and other terms we know were in use at the time. We can also search for local and native ways of esteeming the crafts of textile makers that are distinct from the Western framework. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that the artisan/artist split relates to a larger development in European thought that in the eighteenth century created two categories of arts, the “mechanical” and “fine” arts. Certain visual arts, such as painting, sculpture, and architecture, were assigned to the fine arts category, but textile arts were not. The period in which this occurred corresponded to the era in which the first public museums were established, and museums of fine art thus came to hold painting and sculpture but not textiles. If and when textiles were collected, they were included in museums of “decorative” or “applied” arts, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

FIGURE I.2. Processional Banner with Flowers and Angels Adoring the Host, Peru, eighteenth century. Embroidered silk velvet, silk and silver-gilt thread, glass gems. 79.3 × 127.5 cm. Museo Pedro de Osma, Lima, #2014.0.14. Photograph courtesy of Daniel Giannoni.

There is today not a single ideal place to go to appreciate the textile arts of the Spanish American church. Museums such as the Victoria and Albert hold some pieces, as do fine arts museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Private textile museums, most notably the Textile Museum in Washington, DC (founded in 1925) are important in their dedication to the textile medium. And former ethnographic museums, now classified as museums of anthropology or natural history, are important depositories of the indigenous textiles that I address here. In Latin America museums tend to be organized chronologically and, when focused on the colonial period, are inclined to stick to the fine arts category in their collecting practices. The private Museo Amano in Lima, Peru—unusual in its focus on textiles—holds a stunning collection of pre-Columbian pieces but has nothing from the colonial period. Meanwhile the Museo Pedro de Osma in Lima, specializing in colonial art, privileges the fine arts while holding a small collection of Spanish-influenced liturgical textiles. The Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City is focused on decorative arts of the colonial period and so has a more substantial collection of Spanish-inspired pieces.
Of course, any work of liturgical art in a museum is divorced from its sacred context and dependent on its more recent history of being somehow released from a church and taken by a collector to a museum. The changing fortunes of the Catholic Church, as well as the simple desire to renovate and renew church textile suites, have led to the sale of textiles by church guardians. For example, a collecting tendency during the first half of the twentieth century (the time in which George Hewitt Myers of the Textile Museum was active) caused most Andean churches to part with their early colonial tapestries to the benefit of foreign collectors. The Church lost much of its financial support after Latin American nations gained independence, and the interests (and wallets) of these new collectors created opportunities for many parishes. 22 Postdating this trend, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) made the use of elaborate vestments and altar coverings less common. 23 Churches, especially those attached to monasteries and convents, became more willing to part with their textile treasures as monasticism began to lose its appeal. Yet there are still important holdings of textiles in church sacristies throughout Latin America. The cathedrals of Lima and Mexico City fastidiously preserve their fine liturgical vestments, and often some of them are on display. Small parish churches also have stacks of textiles piled in cedar drawers in their cool and dark sacristies.
Whether in museums, churches, or private collections, all surviving church textiles face issues of preservation and display. Textile dyes are particularly sensitive to light exposure, and fibers themselves are susceptible to humidity, insect infestation, and breakage. They should thus be stored flat and in controlled environments. But in order to display such pieces, it is ideal that they be shown in ways that approximate their original usage. Relatively few were made to be hung flat on walls. Rather, they were meant to be draped over altars, stairs, and human bodies. Museum professionals and church officials must thus develop innovative ways to both preserve and display these works for the public and, in doing the latter, foster interest in their study and preservation.
A major contribution of this book is bringing the whole range of textile types together, illustrating works that are now scattered around the world and reconstructing their original contexts. I create a field of comparison, within which readers can compare and contrast textiles of various types and see how they informed one another.
Let us now return to figure I.1b and explore the painting by way of its textiles. I will define the principal items and introduce their terminology, with the most common Spanish term(s) in parentheses when different from the English (see also the glossary). 24 Before addressing the vestments themselves, we see that the figures stand on a richly colored carpet ( alfombra ) placed before the altar table. This carpet extends over the steps that lead to the church floor and would have been preceded by another, simpler rug. Behind the altar are two separate textile elements. A wall hanging ( colgadura ) in a striped green and red damask or velvet with repeating flower forms extends behind the altar but does not reach the floor. In front of this is a red silk dossal ( dosel, palio, or cielo ) that frames the painted (or perhaps sculpted) image of Christ on the cross. 25 If the image is sculpted, it is also backed with a black textile panel.
The altar, essentially a table with a consecrated stone top, would have had a negative space below it. In order to obscure that space, an altar frontal ( frontal de altar ) was attached to the altar’s top by way of hooks or ties. To the viewer, this item serves as a background for the priest from the waist down and almost entirely backs the two kneeling deacons. Here the frontal is a black panel that is surrounded by a separate red frame on its three upper sides, known as a frontlet or superfrontal ( frontalera ). Both the frontlet and frontal are bordered with bands of metallic ribbon, and the lower edge of the horizontal section of the frontlet is trimmed with a row of fringe. The altar’s upper surface is covered with a white altar cloth ( paño de altar ) trimmed with lace.

Though not seen in this painting, another narrow cloth, known in Spanish as a palia, often crossed the main altar cloth at right angles and featured a richly worked panel that hung down at the center of the altar, to the bottom edge of the frontlet. 26 Other textile items used in mass but not depicted here are the burse ( bolsa de corporal ), a cloth folder meant to contain the corporal , a cloth upon which the chalice and paten are placed, and a small, often stiff, chalice cover ( cubrecáliz ). A white purificator ( purificador ) was also used to wipe the chalice clean, and all of these items could be covered with a chalice veil ( velo del cáliz ). Smaller cloth panels (known as paños de atril and de púlpito ) could be used to cover the lectern and hang over the front of a pulpit, and long, narrow panels could be mounted on pillars.
Moving to the vestments proper, each of the clerics wears a white alb ( alba ), a long gown with narrow sleeves, sometimes trimmed with lace. In addition to a white collar known as an amice ( amito ), for church services the alb was placed over the cassock ( sotana ), the clerical garment of daily wear. Over these items the priest wears a long curved garment known as a chasuble ( casulla ), the most essential vestment for the sacrament of Mass and the one restricted solely to it. By the sixteenth century this garment was sleeveless and had a similar curved shape on front and back. 27 In the painting the chasuble has a central red strip or orphrey ( cenefa ) bounded by ribbon, and the whole garment is edged in the same ribbon. The deacon and subdeacon wear a dalmatic ( dalmática ) and tunicle ( tunicela ) respectively, garments that nevertheless are hardly distinguishable from each other. They differ from the chasuble in that their profiles are largely rectilinear, with wide rectangular panels on front and back and wide rectangular sleeves that are open on the bottom. Each features a curving collar, which was often removable. Dalmatics had stiff decorative panels known as apparels ( tarjas ) applied to them, as in the square red panels applied at the base of the back of each garment in the painting. Very often, and as reflected in the painting, a liturgical set ( terno ) or ornament ( ornamento ) of matching items was created that included the altar frontal, a chasuble, and two dalmatics. It might also include insignia for the officiants in the form of three stoles ( estolas ) and two maniples ( manípulos ). The priest’s stole, a long, narrow, scarf-like strip with flared ends, was worn around his neck and empowered him to say mass, while the deacons wore stoles crossed on their torsos. The maniple, a shorter strip of cloth also with flared ends, was worn over the priest and deacon’s left forearms. Also part of the set might be a burse, chalice cover and/or veil, and, as seen in the painting, a frontlet and dossal. Finally, it might include a wide humeral veil ( velo humeral or almaizal ), meant to be draped over a priest’s shoulders and used to hold the Sacrament when transporting it. Very few sets included all of these items, however, and the most complete sets were reserved for pontifical (bishops’) masses. The simplest sets might just be made up of a chasuble, dalmatics, and frontal.
To the left of this scene of the mass appears Gregory, wearing other garments that are important to mention. 28 He wears an alb over his cassock, though bishops also were entitled to wear the rochet ( roquete ), like an alb but with more extensive lace decoration at the neck and on the skirt and sleeves. All clerics, including choir members, also wore the surplice ( sobrepelliz ), a white tunic with wide sleeves, for ceremonies outside of mass. Gregory’s primary vestment is the garment used by bishops for processions and ceremonies beyond mass, the cope ( capa pluvial ). The piece is depicted as made of a rich brocade, trimmed with jeweled ribbon, and lined in green silk. Copes featured ornamental hoods, left over from when they were more functional, protective garments. Choir members wore shorter, simpler choir copes ( capas de coro ). Gregory’s cope is fastened at the neck with a jeweled morse ( rana ). Since he was a pope rather than a bishop, he is shown wearing a white papal tiara. This item was never used or created in the colonial Americas because no pope visited the New World. Nor is it used today, having been symbolically abandoned by Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council. 29 However, the similar item of headwear reserved for bishops and archbishops, the miter ( mitra ) was widely used and manufactured in Spanish America. A cylindrical hat made of two pieces of cloth that extend above the head in a pyramidal shape, the miter is fitted with two lappets or infulae ( caídas or ínfulas ), strips of cloth that hang down the back. Miters are never used during mass but are worn for other church rituals, such as baptisms, blessings, and processions. As they are not part of mass vestments, they are often created independently with unique decoration. They are traditionally divided into three classes that correspond to their use and type of adornment: the mitra preciosa, used for the highest festive occasions, is decorated with jewels; the mitra aurifrigiata is used for penitential days and can be embroidered with gold thread but not jewels; and the mitra simplex, used for ordinary days (those not designated as feasts in the Catholic calendar), is plain. 30
Textiles were also used within the Church to clothe sculpted images of saints. Following Spanish baroque practices developed especially in Seville, statues (even if sculpted as if wearing clothing) were additionally dressed in clothing that was changed on a regular basis, especially for the feast days of the saints depicted. 31 A devotional painting from eighteenth-century Peru represents a statue of Mary and the Christ Child within a church, installed behind a clothed altar and adored by two donors ( fig. I.3 ). The altar features a lace-trimmed altar cloth and also shows a palia, mentioned above, hanging down in the center over a red frontal. The statue of Mary is dressed in a red brocade or embroidered mantle trimmed with gold ribbon, under which is a matching red apron (often called an escapulario ). Her neck and cuffs are trimmed in lace, and she wears a gauze veil. The Christ Child wears a matching tunic and a coat or cape-like garment often called a capisayo . Statues of other saints were also dressed in rich garments, depending on their attributes. Christ crucified was dressed in a gauze skirt known as a sudario , and saints who had been church officials in their lives, such as Saint Blaise, were dressed in their own vestments. As also seen in the painting, cloth canopies ( cielos ) and curtains known as veils ( velos ) surrounded statues and could be closed over them. 32

FIGURE I.3. The Virgin Mary with Two Donors, Cusco, Peru, eighteenth century. Oil on panel. 17.5 × 26.0 cm. Barbosa-Stern Collection, Lima. Photograph by Daniel Giannoni, courtesy of the collection.

FIGURE I.4. Workshop of José Juárez. Franciscan Procession from Tlatelolco to Tepeyac Imploring the Intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Calm the Cocolixtli Plague of 1544 , Mexico City, ca. 1653–1655. Oil on canvas. 275 × 571 cm. Museo de la Basílica de Guadalupe, Mexico City, D.R. © Archivo del Museo de la Basílica de Guadalupe.

A variety of other cloths could be used for festival occasions and penitential processions. The faithful whose homes were located along processional routes hung long pieces of fine cloth from their balconies. As we learned above with the Huanoquite commission, processants displayed a variety of banners to mark their participation. A painting from mid-seventeenth-century Mexico ( fig. I.4 ) depicts a penitential procession of the previous century in which inhabitants of Mexico City processed to the village of Tepeyac to request the Virgin of Guadalupe’s assistance in quelling the plague known as cocolixtli . The processants are dressed in cotton skirts to display their humility, accompanied by a Jesuit priest in a cope with a rich morse and a Franciscan priest in traditional woolen habit. The church’s altar is dressed as we have come to expect, with a rich rug preceding it and a somber black frontal surrounded by an embroidered red frontlet. Outside the chapel a processional cross is adorned with a black cylindrical banner known as a manga , and processants near the altar (dressed in the white gowns of neophytes) hold other flag-like banners, two black and one red.
The black textiles shown in the painting correspond to the somber occasion of the penitential procession. Church textiles, especially liturgical sets, were created in colors keyed to the liturgical year. The Church only gradually developed standard prescriptions for which colors were to be used at which times, however. In the late twelfth century, Innocent III established four main colors for use in Rome (white, red, black, and green) during specific seasons. The French liturgical writer William Durandus, in his Rationale Divinorum Officiorum written before 1286, further spelled out the use of colors through the year while acknowledging variations. 33 Just as powerful dioceses, such as Toledo and Milan, maintained variations in their liturgy, so did different religious orders vary in their use of colors. 34 In the early colonial period in Spanish America, which predated the Council of Trent, the use of liturgical colors was still largely unstandardized. It may have varied between priests, depending on where they were ordained, and it certainly varied between religious orders. But the 1570 Roman Missal of Pius V contains a short section on colors, reflecting a new spirit of liturgical standardization. 35 It prescribes white for feasts dedicated to Christ and Mary, as well as for Corpus Christi, Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), and All Saints’ Day. Red is recommended for feasts of the cross and of martyrs. Green should be used from Epiphany to Septuagesima (the ninth Sunday before Easter) and on ordinary Sundays. Violet is prescribed for Advent and the weeks from Septuagesima to Holy Saturday (except Maundy Thursday and Holy Friday). Harking back to the importance of purple in the Roman Empire, violet is also to be used for the Purification of the Virgin Mary, Palm Sunday, masses of the Passion of Christ, and masses for the dying. And finally, black is for Good Friday and masses for the dead. 36 Neither yellow, orange, nor blue appear as liturgical colors, though traditionally blue had been (and continued to be) associated with feasts of the Virgin Mary.
Church inventories from Spanish America often categorize church clothing on the basis of color, providing separate lists of “red ornaments,” “white ornaments,” and so on. Bishops’ inspections of their dioceses commonly included visits to church sacristies, during which the inspectors reviewed the “decency,” or cleanliness and good repair, of vestments. They also checked to be sure that there were sets to fit the five main colors: red, white, green, violet, and black. Items were categorized according to their base color. Naturally, the San Pablo de Cacha painting ( fig. I.1b ), which illustrates a mass for the dead, shows a liturgical set whose base color is black. It is likely, however, that such a set could have also been used as a red ornament. Pieces such as copes that were covered in multicolored embroidery were seen as appropriate for a variety of festive occasions.
Another concern for church inspectors, as for priests instituting Catholic ritual at the beginning of the colonial era, was that vestments be made of cloth that was distinct from that seen in common dress and non-elite household furnishings. This preference was understood within the rubric of “decency” but was also related to more subtle distinctions between textile fibers, including silk, fur, linen, and sheep’s wool. Distinctions were also made between fibers of these four main categories. For example, from the fourteenth century, the church hierarchy was made visible through variations not only in garment type but also the fibers used to create the garments. Thus, today only cardinals are allowed to wear the short cape known as a mozzetta in merino sheep’s wool or silk, and only the pope can wear a velvet version trimmed with ermine fur. 37 The most appropriate cloth for liturgical sets was silk, and albs and altar cloths were to be made of linen. These preferences greatly affected the types of liturgical cloth that could be made in the Americas. Silk was generally not produced in the Americas, and only Mexican feathers and camelid fibers (vicuña and alpaca, but not llama or guanaco) were seen as acceptable substitutes. Priestly preferences for silk always continued to inform church textiles, leading to the overwhelming presence of imported yardage and silk thread. Cotton was generally used only as a replacement for linen, also not a New World product.
The chapters in this book proceed based on these preferences and in an attempt to show chronologically the development of church textiles in the Americas, with an emphasis on Amerindian contributions. They will be defined by textile type, in the sense of a “type” consisting of a particular union of materials and techniques that was practiced by a distinct group of artisans to produce unique sorts of textiles. To begin, chapter 1 addresses silk and its manifestation as woven cloth in order to address the primary type of imported fabric that was so desired by the Church in the Americas. To do so I also delve further into the concept of decency. This chapter addresses the one case of silk production in the Americas, which occurred in southern and central Mexico in the sixteenth century, and the predominance of global silks in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Chapter 2 discusses embroidery, which while made of silk and metal threads, is a distinct type of nonwoven work that was practiced by embroiderers in Spain and then in the Americas. In chapter 3, on Mexican featherwork, we see the first example of a purely Amerindian type (in terms of both materials and technique) being adapted for liturgical textiles. Chapter 4 addresses tapestry-woven textiles, especially the camelid-fiber works from Peru that Spaniards likened to both woven silk and Flemish tapestries. Chapter 5 discusses the primary examples of cloth created in American cotton for church use, especially dye-painted Holy Week hangings from Chachapoyas, Peru, and openwork cloth, including lace. Each of these chapters introduces the origins, techniques, and materials of the textile type and discusses the artisans who created it and the people who commissioned it. I analyze specific pieces and their imagery in detail within a chronological framework for that particular type. The conclusion underscores the historical dimensions of New World liturgical textiles. It addresses the wider significance of the textile incarnations I examine, showing how styles and techniques developed for church textiles influenced secular textiles during the colonial period. We also see that in many areas the production of church textiles is still an important element of religious culture, as well as a source of livelihood for artisans.
This book takes a hemispheric view and shows readers several key ways in which textile makers responded and adapted to priestly dictates in order to participate in the creation of the Catholic Church in the New World. It is the first to look across the Spanish Americas and focus on the textile medium, showing that while the region worked from a Spanish baseline for many of its church textile practices, regionally specific and highly creative textile types also emerged. Liturgical textiles in the New World were diverse and historically contingent, offering a plethora of forms that diverged from what had been in Spain. I contend that when artists in the Americas created church textiles, they did so consciously, in the understanding that they were creating the church anew, with their own hands.
Woven Silk
In 2016 I asked Father Carlos Silva at the church of San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas, Peru, if the church had any colonial-period liturgical textiles I might examine. Padre Silva informed me that the diocese’s textiles had been gathered in the nearby church of San Juan Bautista de Huaro and granted me permission to view them. Upon arriving in Huaro, I found the church guardian, who opened the sacristy and pointed me to a large wooden chest full of hundreds of liturgical vestments ( fig. 1.1 ). I spent an afternoon examining this wealth of items, which evidenced a great variety of colors and designs. Nevertheless, they all had one thing in common: the primary visible cloth in every single piece was not a fabric made in Peru, but some kind of imported silk. In a region with such an important textile tradition, 1 how do we explain this exclusivity?
Multiple sources of evidence indicate that in the minds of Spaniards, especially Spanish church officials, throughout the Americas and through the entire colonial period, the liturgical textile type par excellence was woven silk of various kinds. This was despite the fact that silk fiber had never been used for textiles in the pre-contact Americas. Silk arrived in the Americas as taffeta, satin, damask, and velvet. Regardless of this variety (and frequent mixing with linen, sheep’s wool, hemp, and metal-wrapped threads), all silk cloth is made from the strands that wrap the cocoons of the larvae of the domestic silk moth, Bombyx mori ( fig. 1.2 ). A single long strand can be unwound from a cocoon, and when twisted with the strands from several other cocoons, it makes a resilient, somewhat elastic thread. A protein fiber with a prism-like structure, silk reflects light and takes dye excellently. In an era when silk substitutes such as rayon and polyester had not yet been developed, woven silk was distinctive both visually and tactilely, and the Church rarely saw it as replaceable with other types of cloth.
The cultivation of silkworms, known as sericulture, and the weaving of silk cloth were developed in China by at least 3600 BCE. 2 Silk was traded from the East into the Mediterranean beginning in the first century of the common era, but silk production was not established in that region until at least the sixth century. Thus silk is not a liturgical cloth in the Bible and is only mentioned a few times as a luxury fabric. The account of Moses’s adornment of the Israelites’ Tabernacle, as described in Exodus 36 to 38, refers to curtains made only of linen and dyed goat’s wool. Silk became a luxury cloth in the Roman Empire due to its softness, shine, and scarcity, as it was imported from the East along what has been termed the Silk Road. 3 The luxury status of silk carried forward into the Middle Ages in Europe, when it continued to be used by rulers and was finally widely adopted as a material for Christian textiles. By this time most silk was imported from the Byzantine Empire, which had established production in areas such as Syria, and silk thus became associated with regions in which Christianity had deep roots. 4 But there was also extensive silk production in the Islamic territories of Spain from the ninth to the fifteenth century, and Christian rulers and clerics in Spain wore silks made by Muslim weavers. 5 The Spanish industry, while depleted due to the Spanish Reconquista in the twelfth century and the Black Plague in the mid-fourteenth century, rebounded under the patronage of new Christian rulers in the fifteenth century. The silk industry also boomed in Renaissance Italy and offered new design inspiration to Spanish weavers. The increased availability of silk from both Spain and Italy did not remove its associations with luxury but rather further integrated it with the economic interests of the Catholic strongholds of southern Europe. Both nobles and clerics were draped in silk clothing, the garments’ sacred or secular functions often indicated only by their shape and not by differences in the woven cloth itself.

FIGURE 1.1. Chest of antique vestments at the church of San Juan Bautista de Huaro, Department of Cusco, Peru. Photograph by the author.

FIGURE 1.2. Silk moth ( Bombyx mori ) on its cocoon. P.gibellini, Wikimedia Commons.

This chapter will first examine the superiority of silk and its status as the most “decent” possible material for liturgical cloth, in relation to ideas about dress and Church authority. We will then consider the actual situation in Spanish America, such as that suggested by the surviving vestments in Huaro, where the bulk of fine textiles in churches were imported silks. While their material makeup and technical features remained roughly the same, silks came from various places and their outer appearances changed over time. Mexico offers the one case in which a silk industry was established in the Americas. The production of raw silk there, while initiated by Spaniards from the silk-producing region of Murcia, was due largely to the resourcefulness of native communities in the region known as the Mixteca Alta. However, the craft of silk weaving developed in Mexico City, Puebla, and Oaxaca, following more purely Spanish guild-based models, with Mexican silk as the raw material. Silk production dwindled in Mexico at the end of the sixteenth century as imports of Chinese silk increased due to Spain’s establishment of trade with the Philippines. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, under a renewed sense of orthodoxy, the Spanish American church consumed silks from both Asia and Europe in ways that reflected its new global character but tended to disregard the native textile traditions of the Americas.

It is possible to view the Church’s constant emphasis on silk as a costly imposition insisted upon by an elitist institution, an orientation that tended to imbricate native peoples into the colonial system of tithes and tribute. But it is also clear that many native communities actively sought this cloth to adorn their churches, seemingly finding it uniquely able to convey a sense of the sacred. While select communities, such as those in the Mixteca Alta, made the production of raw silk part of their livelihood, tailors throughout Spanish America became adept at manipulating silk yardage. The jewel-like colors and iridescence of silk cloth, as well as its woven patterns, reached deep into colonial visual culture as silk was mimicked in painting and sculpture. 6 As we will see in later chapters, silk cloth also influenced the look of other, indigenous types of liturgical textiles.
It is first necessary to consider silk within the church as a form of clothing, since it was the most high-status material to clothe nobles and elites in Europe and long the focus of sumptuary regulations. 7 All church textiles were ropa de la iglesia, or church clothing, in the sense that they clothed both church functionaries and the architectural church. The built structure of a church, commonly planned in the form of a cross, was often conceived of as the body of Christ. The altar itself, invariably highly dressed, was also understood as Christ’s body because it was the place at which Jesus’s bodily sacrifice was reenacted in the sacrament of Mass. 8 But we must take care when viewing church textiles (including those made of silk) as clothing, since they only partly obey the tendency toward fashion that began in sixteenth-century Europe and increased in importance as the early modern period progressed, both in Europe and Spanish America. Fashion, an orientation toward dress that values constant change, is only clearly evident in church vestments of the eighteenth century. 9 By that time, garments such as chasubles took on slightly different shapes and the cloths used to make them changed according to developments in silk weaving styles issuing largely from France. But as recent scholarship on clothing in Renaissance Europe shows, dress as it was understood in the sixteenth century had deeper significance. It was perceived as offering the potential to transform wearers’ essential identities, not only their outward appearances. This type of understanding can also be compared to spiritual orientations from pre-Hispanic Mexico and Peru, where objects as diverse as dough figures and stones were believed to become divine beings when dressed in appropriate textiles. 10 These perspectives on dress are more relevant for a consideration of church clothing. In sixteenth-century Europe, garments were seen as the key to investiture, having the ability to constitute subjects in their societal roles. They were vessels of memory, reminding the invested of the superiors who had presented them with the garments and reminding viewers of the institutions their wearers represented. 11 Church vestments, endowed upon their wearers by the Church in the name of Christ, allowed priests to “put on” Christ and function as legitimate representatives of the Church. 12 These garments were rarely specific to individuals, however, and they were kept in church sacristies, to be worn by successive generations of churchmen. Cloth covering the church edifice was equally seen to elevate the structure to its status as a holy place, investing the architectonic body with its status as a Christian church, as opposed to other elements of the built environment that bore the memories of non-Christian beliefs and practices. As the chosen cloth for this investiture, silk would have been distinguishable from a distance from Amerindian textiles. If we compare views of two folded cloths, a crimson silk damask frontal and a black cotton draping cloth (likely a pall), the iridescent silk is clearly different from the matte cotton ( fig. 1.3 ). Silk thus set churches and their representatives apart from the indigenous setting. For priests it evoked the memory of the Euro-Christian tradition. Initially for native people it evoked something unknown and foreign, but later it reflected communities’ commitment to Christianity and suggested their union with the Old World Church.
If the use of silk clothing was regimented in Europe, it was even more restricted in the Americas, and for longer. 13 Early sumptuary laws in Spanish America expressed the concerns of the Spanish monarchy as it sought to protect its royal prerogatives and retain its power over colonial elites, even at the price of limiting commerce. 14 While sixteenth-century laws restricted the use of silk to the highest levels of the colonial government, laws issued in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries responded to the enhanced complexity of colonial Spanish society, parsing the use of silk along perceived racial lines. From the mid-sixteenth century this society was divided into two republics, one of Indians and one of Spaniards, and featured a multitude of ethnic distinctions that only became more nuanced as forced resettlements and racial mixing occurred. 15 Thus, well before considerations of fashion, clothing in Spanish America signified ethnicity. And the Church, in its preference for silk, claimed its Spanishness. An example of this, albeit from the late colonial period, was exhibited by the Quechua-speaking Creole priest Joseph de Valverde y Valdes, who in the 1750s presided over the redecoration of the churches in his parish of Huanoquite near Cusco, Peru. Valverde proudly recorded that in 1754 he had a new processional cross cover made for the town of Huancahuanca “because the parishioners had been using an Indian cloth.” To replace the cloth that he judged to be insufficient, Valverde had one made up of black silk taffeta, a material he specifically said was from Écija, a silk-producing town near Seville. 16 The hierarchy evident in this brief reference, where indigenous cloth occupies a disdained position below that of imported silk, can be found throughout Spanish America. Similar to its use in secular society, silk was most valued and seen as the most appropriate cloth for the highest of church officials in their central duties (such as priests at mass) and for the most exalted sacred edifices (churches). Saint Francis of Assisi (1181/82–1226) famously cemented his conversion to a life of God by stripping off the fine clothing provided by his cloth merchant father, thereafter wearing only a rough woolen habit tied with a rope. 17 Franciscan missionaries in the New World were also committed to wearing humble woolens, for they and the other mendicant orders maintained their vow of poverty. 18 But they still aimed to elevate their churches to society’s highest level, and their choice of silks reflected this commitment. 19

FIGURE 1.3. Altar Frontal and Draping Cloth, Peru, eighteenth century. (a) Silk damask with cotton or linen lining and wool fringe. San Pablo, Sicuani District, Department of Cusco. (b) Cotton with cotton fringe. San Pedro de Levanto, Chachapoyas, Department of Amazonas. Photographs by the author.

Despite frequent conflicts between secular Spaniards and church officials, colonial rule and Christian evangelization went hand in hand in Spanish America. The invasion and “pacification” of native lands opened the way for mendicant missionaries and, later, secular priests to take positions as arbiters of spirituality in assigned communities. This process took decades or even centuries and involved the quelling of rebellions as well as trials led by bishops to stamp out continued “idolatry” or native religious observances. 20 In the meantime communities built large churches with their own resources and were ultimately left with priests as the main holders of sacred authority. Officials of both secular and sacred society used silk to project authority.
Wearing Spanish-style clothing was itself a privilege, and some native elites requested the right to dress in Spanish garb, thus distinguishing themselves as representatives of colonial authority. 21 Notably, silk in this clothing was at first restricted. For example, in 1552 the second viceroy of New Spain, Luis de Velasco, gave the indigenous gobernador and council members of the town of Tarímbaro in Michoacán the right to dress like Spaniards. The short document granting the license states twice that the men are not to wear silk as part of their outfits. 22 The fiber was thus officially reserved for the upper echelons of authority, the highest of which was occupied by the viceroy himself. While the men of Tarímbaro were not allowed to wear silk (at least on paper), it is clear that native elites did find ways to wear the fiber and exalt their social positions in spite of sumptuary laws.
A painting made in Cusco in the 1670s depicts the finale of the city’s annual Corpus Christi celebration and makes the association between silk clothing and authority, both secular and sacred, abundantly clear ( fig. 1.4 ). The artist employed light and shadow to represent iridescent silk in various parts of the composition. In the lower center of the painting, the bishop and members of the cathedral chapter are shown wearing white silk vestments with gold patterns, and a matching silk canopy shades them from the sun. Other dignitaries, both indigenous parish representatives and secular Spaniards, wear more somber black and brown woolen garments. The black garments are rendered with very little white so as to suggest their matte quality. To the left of the church procession stands a separate group of native dignitaries. Art historian Carolyn Dean identifies these men as ethnic Chachapoya and Cañari who, having assisted the Spaniards in conquering the Inkas, were privileged to serve as the Spanish magistrate’s elite guard. 23 These men’s garments, while taking the form of native tunics or unkus, are made in various colors of patterned silk and worn over blouses with lace-trimmed sleeves. The silk worn by these officials thus exalts their status by likening them to the church officials. It even likens them to the silk-clothed processional statues of saints and virgins held aloft by the soberly dressed parishioners. This painting is one in a series of eighteen, and in other canvases some of those parishioners appear in Inka-style tapestry tunics of the type addressed in chapter 4. Dean argues that in those episodes of the festival, ethnically Inka men were allowed and encouraged to wear Inka dress in order to represent the conquered non-Christian “other” necessary for the festival. 24 But this painting seems to offer the most church-sanctioned mode of dress for these officials, who furthermore hold aloft silk banners of the type that would have been approved by the likes of the priest Valverde, whose disdain for “Indian” cloths is cited above.

FIGURE 1.4. Corpus Christi Processional Finale , Peru, 1670s. Oil on canvas. Museo de Arte Religioso, Arzobispado del Cusco, Cusco. Photograph © Raúl Montero.

From early on, priests must have taken the lead in endowing their churches with silk cloths, setting a “silk standard” that would be maintained for centuries to come. In Spain the diocesan church obligated canons and bishops to offer new sets of vestments to their cathedrals. In Vic, Catalonia, canons were expected to give a cope made of good silk, and in León the donated cope was expected to be of silk or gold thread, the latter implying gold-wrapped silk. 25 Surely some priests arriving in the Americas brought vestments with them, at the very least the chasubles that would empower them to say mass. But most of the early missionaries belonged to mendicant orders and had thus taken vows of poverty, so they were not expected to use their own funds to furnish churches. Instead they requested donations from the colonial government and used contributions exacted from the communities they occupied. The earliest of these “contributions” were spoils of military conquest of the same areas. Later they took the form of tribute, tithes, and earnings from resources such as farm plots set aside for the church.
It is difficult to find direct records of the very first textiles (whether silk or other) that were placed in churches, let alone any surviving examples of them. All of the primary documents I have uncovered in this regard date to 1550 or later. But some secondary accounts refer to previous decades. The relación by the Jesuit priest Francisco Ramírez, written in 1585 to report on his residence in Michoacán, Mexico, refers to Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, who arrived in Michoacán in 1533 while the region was still actively resisting Spanish control. By the late 1530s Quiroga had reportedly furnished the region’s churches with the necessary ornaments, expensive items, “since they had come from Spain.” 26 These must have been items made of silk, which it seems Quiroga (a jurist, not a mendicant) obtained with his own funds.
The earliest primary documents suggest that the silk standard was already well established by the mid-sixteenth century. One, known as the Codex Sierra, comes from a town that established silk cultivation in order to support its community tribute obligations, and it illustrates how the responsibility for clothing churches was transferred to parishioners themselves. It is an account book for the community treasury of the Mixtec town of Santa Catarina Texupan (in the modern state of Oaxaca), spanning from 1550 to 1564. Following the format of a Spanish ledger, it features alphabetic text in Nahuatl and numeric notations in Arabic numerals as well as pictographs and year signs from the local Mixtec-Chocho culture. 27 The treasury, or caja de comunidad, was an institution founded in some regions with the encouragement of missionary friars in order to help communities manage their colonial obligations, tribute payments, and the construction and furnishing of churches. 28 Dominican friars likely encouraged the founding of the treasury in Texupan, and by 1550 it was supplied with earnings from the town’s production of raw silk, an industry introduced with royal support by three brothers from Murcia, Spain, in 1539. 29 While we will address silk production as evidenced by this manuscript later in this chapter, its second page provides strong evidence of the silk standard as enforced under priestly eyes.
The page begins the listings for the year 1551 and shows that several items were purchased for the church with the community funds ( fig. 1.5 ). These included eight trumpets, two of which are pictured at upper left with the label “8.” To the right of these appears a pictograph for the new priest, who had taken over as vicar from a previous Dominican friar. 30 It is the head of a bearded man wearing a biretta (a square, peaked hat worn by all members of the Catholic clergy), and a banderole below is inscribed with the new priest’s name, Alonso Maldonado. Below this appears another purchase for the church consisting of nails, keys, and a lock for the sacrarium or tabernacle, the box used to hold the Holy Sacrament. The final two entries record purchases of church textiles made of silk, presumably requested or ordered by Maldonado upon his arrival. The first entry shows a canopy and an altar frontal, both rendered with gold-toned cloth and red edging. Three coins marked with crosses and topped by flags represent groups of twenty pesos, and a single coin with the number 8 (referring to the eight reales that made up a peso) marks one peso, for a sum total of sixty-one pesos. Somewhat differently, the text explains that this was a purchase of blue velvet and yellow painted satin for a canopy to cover the Holy Sacrament, as well as two corporals (not a frontal), and notes a total of sixty-eight pesos. The next entry presents no discrepancies, documenting in all forms the purchase of one white damask chasuble and an alb. The chasuble is rendered in white with a gold cross and red edging, and the alb is white with gold cuffs and a small apparel at the base. The cost for this purchase was fifty-seven pesos. Except for the alb’s main cloth, likely made of linen, all of the other cloths would have been made of silk, either imported from Spain or (already by this time) woven in Mexico City. An entry on the following page shows that Maldonado’s annual salary was sixty-nine pesos, also paid by the community. The purchase of the church cloths for a price of more than a hundred pesos was a significant outlay indeed.
In Peru, another poignant indication of the power of the silk standard in 1551 is found in the last will and testament of Doña Francisca Pizarro, the daughter of the Andean noblewoman Inés Huaylas Yupanqui and the conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Huaylas was a daughter of the Inka ruler Huayna Capac and a noblewoman from Huaylas, in Peru’s central highlands. Her mother’s father had assisted the Spaniards in defeating the Inkas. At the age of seventeen Francisca was sent to live in Spain, so she made her will in advance of the transatlantic journey and in consideration of her substantial wealth. She ordered that upon her death, a set of vestments with embroidery on crimson velvet be made for the town church in Huaylas. 31 For the chapel housing her father’s tomb in the cathedral of Lima (the viceregal capital) she requested that every ten years a new black velvet canopy be made with crimson satin edging, bearing the insignia of Spain’s conquering patron saint, Santiago. 32 Despite Francisca’s indigenous heritage and the sumptuous Andean textiles she might have chosen from, she requested that all be made of silk, necessarily imported since this fabric was never produced in Peru.

FIGURE 1.5. Page Beginning Accounting for the Year 1551 , page 2, Codex Sierra, Santa Catarina Texupan, Mexico, 1550–1564. Ink on paper, folio size 21.8 × 30.7 cm. José María Lafragua Historical Library, Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. Photograph courtesy of the library.

The decisions listed here suggest that an underlying preference for silk textiles existed within a few decades after the conquest, if not already in the very earliest introductions of Christianity to the New World. This occurred before any official church statements on how churches were to be dressed. The examples cited above, dating to the 1550s, correspond to the middle decade of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), and by that time there may have been some consciousness in the Americas of a new spirit of doctrinal correctness that could apply to church textiles. 33 Though less likely, there may also have been some awareness that the ornament of church ceremony was being criticized by Protestants, most notably in the Vestiarian controversy in England, which raged from 1550 to 1575. 34 While Trent responded more widely to Protestant critique, it was not until its later sessions that the council mentioned vestments and other items that might take the form of textiles, and the discussion was brief. Most art historians focus on the council’s session 25 of 1563, in which the use of imagery is justified as long as it is not overly sensual, but a session of the previous year is the most important for this study. Session 22 of 1562 focused generally on the sacrifice of mass; chapter 5 justifies the ceremonial of the church and refers specifically to vestments, “by which the majesty of this great sacrifice is enhanced, and the minds of the faithful are aroused.” 35 Canon 7 is the most specific and most surely alludes to Protestant critique: “If anyone says the ceremonial, vestments, and external signs used by the catholic church in the celebration of masses are incitements to impiety rather than instruments of devotion: let him be anathema.” 36 These statements do not mention silk, but they insist on the continued use and importance of cloth ornaments. We might assume, however, that silk was implied, especially in light of the fact that the city of Trent itself was a major silk producer by the early sixteenth century. 37
The organizer of the Council of Trent’s last section, Archbishop of Milan Charles Borromeo (1538–1584), most certainly had a hand in these pronouncements. He would also in later years formulate much more extensive statements on the role of vestments in church ceremony, articulating the notion of “decency” that became even more prevalent in Spanish America during the following centuries. As archbishop from 1564 until his death, he carried out a series of reforms that, while focused on his diocese, had the effect of translating the Council of Trent’s pronouncements into policy that had a large impact in both Europe and the Americas. 38 The collected decrees, Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis, were first published in Italy in 1583 and reissued in France in the seventeenth century. Borromeo’s influence has been identified in the work of Toribio de Mogrovejo (1538–1606), who, as archbishop of Lima, convened the Third Council of Lima (1582–1583), which standardized religious instruction in the Andean region. Juan de Palafox de Mendoza (1600–1659), bishop of Puebla and later archbishop of Mexico City, also cited Borromeo’s instructions. 39
Borromeo’s impact on church architecture, as part of his larger focus on the setting and ceremony of mass, has been recognized. 40 But less has been said about his extensive instructions on church vestments, which appear alongside directions on other ornaments necessary for mass, such as chalices. In book 4 of the text, focusing on ministry in different settings (whether cathedrals, colleges, parish churches, or convents), Borromeo details the exact vestments to be used, stipulating their materials and dimensions in cubits. 41 Silk takes a central role. Stoles, for example, should be made of silk and six cubits in length. Various other items (chasubles, dalmatics) should also be made of silk, though others, such as simple miters and corporals, can be made of white linen. When noting that something should be made in the proper, decorous manner, Borromeo uses the term decéntia, or decency. 42 This word— decencia in Spanish—was widely used by clerics in the Americas to reflect the Church’s hierarchical notion of what textiles were appropriate for church use, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In all cases, silk was the predominant material. However directly or indirectly Borromeo’s work was known, it reflected a church standard for vestments that limited the choices for priests and artisans when confecting these cloths. It also reinforced the authority implied by “decent” vestments, as they were those approved by the Italian church.
The imposition of the silk standard onto the ritual life of native communities was remarkably successful, and usually the sources do not suggest that priests encountered overt resistance to this new material. The Codex Sierra registers some examples of community resistance to Spanish demands, such as when the town was asked to pay a tax on the silk it produced and, the Nahuatl text states, “the town was not in agreement.” 43 But there is no indication that there were any complaints about the lavish expenditures on silk vestments, even when in 1555 the expenses exceeded five hundred pesos. 44 This may have been because Texupan produced raw silk and thus was directly invested in the silk industry. Examples of resistance to the use of silk might be found in the discourses surrounding the anticolonial Taki Unquy movement that arose in the central highlands of Peru in the late 1560s. The movement postulated that the Andean numina known as wak’as had been angered by being replaced by Christian saints, and people were encouraged to return to native ways of life that restored the wak’as’ centrality. This reversion included the rejection of Castilian clothing and food and, though not documented, may have been directed partly at silk. 45 Furthermore, whenever we encounter cases such as those in the following chapters, in which native textile types were used for Christian liturgy, we can suggest there was an implicit rejection of imported cloths, or at least an appreciation of indigenous products in the face of these.
At the same time, there are numerous examples over time of communities and individuals embracing silk as a church cloth. Surely its elevated social status was perceived, and this may be the simplest explanation for its use, as communities felt that to truly place the Christian faith on high, they needed to honor the Christian god with colonial society’s most coveted textile material. Feeling compelled to obtain “decent”—that is, silk—ornaments for their churches, communities traded vital resources for these items. In 1569 indigenous officials in the town of Tlazazcala in Michoacán sold a piece of land to a Spaniard in the town specifically for the cost of one hundred gold pesos that would cover a set of taffeta ornaments. 46 Often confraternities, or lay brotherhoods, made these exchanges in order to equip themselves to celebrate their titular festivals. In the town of Huanoquite in Cusco, Spaniards and indigenous Inka elites founded a confraternity to the Holy Sacrament in 1628. Doña Magdalena Quispicisa Ñusta, the widow of the town’s kuraka, or hereditary lord, gave a fanega of land (the area used to plant roughly 1.5 bushels of seed) as a founding donation. In the following years, perhaps using monies earned from this land’s production, various types of black and colored silk were purchased to make banners for the confraternity’s observance of masses for the dead. 47 These masses, adorned with material associated with high social status, would have heightened the status of their participants and the deceased. But the use of silk may have had deeper spiritual significance, a meaning that was tied to Amerindian beliefs as much as to European ones.
As noted, one of silk’s primary qualities, whether velvet or damask, is its shininess or luster. Its reflectiveness likens it to other materials used in Amerindian ritual, such as gold and silver, iridescent bird feathers, and precious stones. Nicholas Saunders proposes that there existed a pan-American philosophy of light in which shininess was seen as sacredness. 48 This was tied to what he terms a “shamanic orientation,” in which religious practitioners held the power to communicate with spirits located in a mirror-image realm of the supernatural. Shiny objects seemed to provide access to that realm, one that when reached could enhance people’s well-being. The negative events of the conquest, he claims, were equated with darkness. 49 But faced with the destruction of sacred objects and the persecution of religious practitioners as idolaters, “the Catholic church, . . . perhaps unwittingly, found itself the inheritor of an impoverished and syncretic realignment of meaning concerning the indigenous symbolism of light.” 50 Catholic priests came to stress the light-giving qualities of Christian numina, especially the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the Trinity, and native people often described their experiences with the Christian divine as involving perceptions of light. 51 This orientation was also carried into the material culture of the church and its ritual items, which by being iridescent themselves could be understood to offer glimpses of the sacred. Saunders only mentions silk in passing, noting that when native people (either Narragansetts or Wampanoags) traded with the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in Narragansett Bay, in what is now Rhode Island, in 1523, they were uninterested in silk but wanted small copper bells and blue crystal glass. 52 This reference serves as an important caveat to the claim that shiny objects in whatever form fascinated all native people. Indeed, it is probable that different native groups understood shininess in different ways and knew reflected light to have various qualities, whether that light was reflected off pearls, feathers, gold, or silk. 53 Nevertheless, it seems clear that lustrous silk corresponded well to many of the sacred aesthetics operating in the Americas. We can now consider the types of silk that would have appeared in Spanish American churches in order to better understand their qualities and appeal.
The primary region that provided silk to the Americas in the sixteenth century was the Iberian Peninsula, which had a well-established industry whose products flowed easily along the imperially controlled trade routes of the Spanish crown. 54 Building on the legacy of Islamic sericulture and silk weaving, and with impetus from Italian weaving and its fifteenth-century height of innovation in patterning, Spanish silkworkers created a wide variety of cloths in centers including Granada, Toledo, Valencia, and Seville. 55 Primary among these were plain, unpatterned and unfigured cloths, whose weave types I will introduce with their Spanish terminology, moving from lightest to heaviest in weight. 56 Taffeta ( tafetán ) is a light, crisp plain-woven silk cloth, also known as tabby (see diagram I.1). Satin ( raso ) is a silk cloth characterized by warp threads that float over multiple weft threads to create a very glossy, smooth surface (diagram 1.1). Velvet ( terciopelo ) is a tufted cloth created by way of supplementary warp threads known as pile warps. Rods are inserted across the cloth in the direction of the weft to create small loops in these warp threads. The rods have a small channel at the top through which a knife is passed to cut the loops before the rods are removed, creating pile or “cut” velvet. Other rods are round and when removed leave the loops intact, to create uncut velvet (diagram 1.2). 57

DIAGRAM 1.1. Satin weave structure. Drawing by Dylan Stanfield.

DIAGRAM 1.2. Velvet structure in cross-section. Drawing by Dylan Stanfield.
All of these types of cloth could also be enhanced with figuring, whether by alternating weave types between the front and back of a cloth, adding supplementary wefts (often in gold or silver thread), or, in velvet, including different heights of pile and/or combining cut and uncut areas. This was achieved with the use of the complex drawloom, on which groups of warps were inserted into one or more “figuring harnesses” and could be lifted by an assistant called a “drawboy.” 58 A common figured silk satin was damask ( damasco), which had just one warp and one weft but opposed types of weave on the front and back. The Spanish example in figure 1.6 , in an olive green color, is likely from a vestment that would been worn for ordinary masses. The figures are visible due to having a matte texture that contrasts with the satin background, and that area of the weave is structurally different from the satin areas. The pattern on the reverse side of the cloth is the opposite, with the figures in the shiny satin texture. Another type of figured silk was lampas (lampáz ), which produced patterning by using one set of warps and wefts for the background cloth and at least one additional set for the figures. A variety of colors and metallic threads were often employed, as in figure 1.7 , with a crimson background and a repeating pattern of a flowering plant flanked by small lions and birds. A Spanish figured velvet, originally part of a cope ( fig. 1.8 ), shows figures in red by way of two different heights but also features voided areas in gold and areas with uncut, or looped, metal thread. In Italian this type of velvet with dense gold loops was called alluciollato, referring to the light effects on its surface. 59

FIGURE 1.6. Seamed Fragment with Pattern of Interlocked Rings , Spain, sixteenth century. Silk damask. Top piece 65.4 × 20.3 cm; bottom piece 30.5 × 22.2 cm. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of Harvey Smith, #1968-135-14-a,b. Photograph courtesy of the museum.

FIGURE 1.7. Fragment with Flowering Plants, Lions, and Birds, Spain, sixteenth century. Silk lampas. 44.4 × 19.0 cm. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of John Pierpont Morgan, #1902-1-322. Photograph courtesy of the museum.

FIGURE 1.8. Part of a Cope with Pomegranate Pattern, Spain, sixteenth century. Silk velvet with metal-wrapped thread. 142.8 × 302.0 cm. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, #1937-31-2-a, c/f. Photograph courtesy of the museum.

FIGURE 1.9. Fragment with Arabic Inscriptions, Spain, fifteenth to early sixteenth century. Silk lampas with metal-wrapped thread. 19.2 × 29.7 cm. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of John Pierpont Morgan, #1902-1-301-a/c. Photograph courtesy of the museum.
As seen in these examples, Spanish weavers created a variety of patterns, most of which were freely shared across types of weave. A traditional design produced by Islamic weavers in fifteenth-century Spain featured horizontal bands of pattern, some with stylized Arabic inscriptions. 60 It does not appear that these types of silks, as seen in a lampas example from the fifteenth or early sixteenth century ( fig. 1.9 ), were sent to the New World, however. Instead, imported silks probably displayed the more international designs shared across the Mediterranean, such as medallions with floral and vegetal interlacing ( fig. 1.8 ) and trees or palmettes with pairs of animals ( fig. 1.7 ). 61
Perhaps the most popular and high-status pattern was one derived from Italy, known today as the pomegranate pattern but likely called the “Gothic” pattern in Spain and thus associated with Christianity. 62 It in fact offers several motifs in place of or in addition to a pomegranate, such as a pinecone, artichoke, lotus, or palmette, as well as variants on a motif known as the tree of life. As shown by Rosalia Bonito Fanelli, these motifs could appear in one of three structures. 63 The first is an ogival framework across the fabric, with the pomegranates or other motifs appearing either at the tangential points of the framing lines or in the openings of the ogives. The second features horizontal rows of lobate palmettes on connecting, bifurcated stems. The third offers large, parallel serpentine bands running vertically with pomegranates arranged along them. Our example from the cope ( fig. 1.8 ) features the ogival framework in wide bands of red cut velvet. Within each ogive is a red velvet lotus motif, within which is an artichoke with multiple projecting flowers or fruits. This is outlined with voided, gold-toned weave and filled in with uncut loops of metal-wrapped thread. To the sides of the ogival network’s interstices are additional diagonally placed motifs in cut velvet, within which appear pomegranates (cut open to reveal their seeds) and flower forms, all in uncut metal loops. Each area of red velvet features an upper level of velvet that traces tendriled vines and leaves. All of the motifs have deep roots in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but the pomegranate developed specifically Christian connotations, with its color and seeds symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice. 64 It was also seen as a symbol of Granada, Spain’s primary silk-producing city, whose name is the same as that of the fruit. 65 The most costly and preferred versions of cloth with this pattern were elaborated in red silk dyed with kermes (and later American cochineal), and when paired with gold they were suitable for use around the altar, symbolizing life and light. 66 Yet the pattern could be woven in any color combination. Myriad variations existed, often achieved simply by alternating the textures, velvet heights, or colors used to create the figures and ground.
While the patterns discussed so far are somewhat related to Christianity, other figured silks offered more explicit Christian imagery and might have been more logical imports to the New World. For example, a fragment of a Spanish orphrey band displays what must have been repeating motifs of a six-winged seraph and a sunburst with the letters IHS, a monogram for the name of Christ ( fig. 1.10 ). A chasuble bearing such an orphrey would have associated its wearer with the heavenly hierarchy, believed in medieval Christianity to be surmounted by seraphim. The Christogram of IHS (the same that was often stamped on communion wafers) referred directly to the central focus of mass. While fine figured silks with Christian imagery like this may have been imported to the New World, it was more common to embroider this type of imagery onto plain silks. As we will see in the following chapter, embroidery using plain silks as the ground was established throughout the Americas.
It seems that the bulk of silk yardage imported to the New World in the sixteenth century was either plain silk of the types noted above (taffeta, satin, and velvet) or damask with small-scale floral patterns. Anne Wardwell, in her analysis of Italian silk designs, located European inventories that refer specifically to the figures in silk patterns, to the point of naming motifs such as “swans” in contrast to simply “birds.” 67 Such is rarely the case in Spanish America, where, although the colors, origins, and types of weave for silk church cloths are often enumerated, their patterns are usually not mentioned. Instead we can look to surviving examples, such as a green chasuble in Huaro ( fig. 1.11 ). It was made with an orphrey of plain green velvet and a damask body, the latter with a version of the pomegranate pattern. The nature of this design, similar to that in figure 1.8 , as well as the style of the border ribbon made of green and gold-wrapped thread, place the chasuble in the sixteenth century.

FIGURE 1.10. Fragment of an Orphrey Band with Seraph and IHS Sunburst, Spain, sixteenth century. Compound satin with metal-wrapped linen thread. 33 × 21.9 cm. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt, #1896-1-76. Photograph courtesy of the museum.
Scholars Peter Boyd-Bowman and Gloria Olivera analyzed sixteenth-century archival documents for evidence of silk imports from Spain to Puebla, Mexico, and into wider Peru, respectively. 68 They show that the majority of silk came from Granada, which had been granted a monopoly on silk exports to the Americas. 69 But there was also silk from Valencia, Córdoba, Seville, and (less so) Toledo. In the thirteen-year period analyzed by Boyd-Bowman (1549–1562), 1,384 varas of silk taffeta were imported into Puebla, as well as 934 varas of velvet. 70 The vara was the Spanish equivalent of the yard, measuring 84 centimeters. While we do not know the ultimate destinations for these materials, the purchases mentioned above show that the church must have been an avid consumer. Other sixteenth-century church inventories and accounts suggest a preference for damask. A series of inventories made in 1560 of the Dominican-founded churches along the western shores of Lake Titicaca, Peru (discussed further in chapter 4) mentions several damask ornaments in crimson, blue, white, brown, and black. Other silk fabrics, velvet and satin, appear sparingly. 71 In Mexico, the cathedral of Morelia, Michoacán, suffered a fire shortly after its founding in 1580 and seems to have lost many of its vestments. In 1589 the cathedral chapter agreed to ask its agent Alonso Nieto to purchase a set of ornaments made of blue damask from Castile. The frontal and frontlet were to feature silk braid, while the chasuble was to have an orphrey in plain red velvet edged in gold ribbon. 72 Considering the need for an agent, it is likely that the purchase was made in Mexico City and that Nieto commissioned a tailor to work the silk yardage and trimming.

FIGURE 1.11. Green Chasuble with Pomegranate Pattern (back), cloth from Spain, sixteenth century. Silk damask and velvet, metal-wrapped silk thread. 64 × 98 cm. San Juan Bautista de Huaro, Department of Cusco, Peru. Photograph © Raúl Montero.

The craft of tailoring was in much demand during this and later periods, since fabric was usually imported in bolts and then made up into individual items. A guild for tailors, shoemakers, and doublet makers in Mexico City published its ordinances, approved by the viceroy, in 1590. 73 No restrictions in terms of ethnicity were stated, and other documents suggest that while primarily male, 74 tailors could hail from a variety of backgrounds, especially outside of the major cities. 75 Although dating to the early eighteenth century, a painting from Cusco represents these sorts of textile workers ( fig. 1.12 ). A pair of tailors sits below a magnificently dressed statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, which would seem to represent the advocation of the Virgin of the Rosary. But instead of a rosary, Mary’s right hand holds a needle strung with red thread, suggesting she is the patroness of the workers. Her mantle and gown are made of red silk seemingly brocaded in gold (i.e., with supplementary weft threads that create the figures), with a large flowing pattern of flowers and birds. The tailor to the left sews the finishing touches on a chasuble made of the same cloth, while at his feet sits a wicker basket with scissors, a measuring tape, and extra red and blue fabric. The blue seems to represent the cloth used for the lining of both the chasuble and the larger garment sewn by his companion, its outer cloth a different silk fabric that bears a smaller-scale pattern of red and gold flowers on a brown background. The repeating forms on this latter fabric, as well as the fact that the larger-scale designs on the other cloths are interrupted at the garments’ edges, indicate that all of the cloths being worked are woven silks with their characteristic pattern repeats, and that the two men are indeed tailors, not embroiderers. Each wears a distinctive conical cloth cap, perhaps common to the profession.
While woven silk was established as the most decent church material and much was imported from Spain, in Mexico a local silk industry developed and flourished during the latter half of the sixteenth century, further satisfying church demand for this cloth. It is important to consider the way this developed, with a largely indigenous character for the sericulture but a peninsular mode for the weaving itself.

FIGURE 1.12. The Virgin Mary as Patroness of Tailors, Cusco, Peru, early eighteenth century. Oil on canvas. 102.5 × 146.6 cm. Museo Pedro de Osma, Lima, #82.0.687. Photograph courtesy of the museum.

While sericulture in Mexico was relatively modest and short-lived, the industry peaked in the third quarter of the sixteenth century, a period that corresponds to the era in which the silk standard was fortified by European church dictates such as Borromeo’s. This era was also the time in which silk became well established as an elite cloth in wider colonial society, a process that went hand in hand with the entrenchment of Spanish colonial rule. The fact that silk thread gained an indigenous character through its successful production in the Mixteca Alta, and that both Mexican silk threads and woven cloth were traded throughout New Spain and the Viceroyalty of Peru until at least 1620, adds a new dimension to our understanding of what silk meant within the New World Catholic Church. Silk ceased to be fully foreign during the later sixteenth century, and the knowledge of its production led to an understanding of it as a Christian cloth, linked to the resurrection of Christ and of all souls. This shift may have in part paved the way for the increased importation of foreign silks, from Europe as well as China, that occurred during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Historian Woodrow Borah carefully traced the development of silk production in Mexico by way of archival documents. At least four early Spaniards in Mexico, including the conquistador Hernán Cortés, have been credited with introducing sericulture there. 76 Cortés attempted cultivation on his lands at Coyoacán near Mexico City as early as 1523. Silkworms feed only on the fresh leaves of the mulberry tree, so in the 1520s worms would have had to survive on leaves from a native species of mulberry, most likely Morus celtidifolia, or the Mexican mulberry. 77 The first eggs (also known as graine) were surely brought from Spain, and after hatching the larvae would have been fed mulberry leaves through four stages of molting until they spun cocoons. Eggs could have survived a transatlantic journey; if they are kept cool, they will not incubate. In order to initiate incubation they need to be gently and consistently heated, and after hatching the larvae need tender mulberry shoots to feed on. 78 In 1530 Cortés paid a woman to bring more eggs from Spain, suggesting that his first shipments of eggs had failed to produce cocoons, or at least failed to produce enough eggs to continue the cycle. 79 By this time Spaniards such as the jurist of the first Audiencia (colonial tribunal) in Mexico City, Diego Delgadillo, had begun to plant the black mulberry established in Spain ( Morus nigra ) in hopes of better establishing sericulture. 80 The first bishop of Mexico, the Franciscan Juan de Zumárraga (in office 1530–1548), noted in 1537 that silk was already a cash crop around the capital and that it might be expanded to benefit the Indians. 81 In 1541 he commissioned Alonso de Figuerola, precentor in the cathedral of Oaxaca, to write a manual on growing and dyeing silk, though if it was written it does not survive. 82 This Franciscan impetus, as well as support from Mexico’s first viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, led to mulberry plantations and sericulture in Huejotzingo near Puebla, in Michoacán around Lake Pátzcuaro, and in Metztitlán north of Mexico City. 83 Most of these early projects were structured under the encomienda model, where native groups were assigned to Spanish encomenderos (land grantees) to whom they were required to provide labor as tribute. Silk raising was established somewhat differently in the mountainous Mixteca Alta region, especially in the adjacent valleys of Texupan and Yanhuitlán, where the climate and soils were favorable for both mulberry trees and silkworms.
Three brothers from Murcia, Hernando, Juan, and Francisco Marín were instrumental in establishing the industry in the Mixteca Alta. Hernando Cortés Marín, a resident of Puebla, was given an encomienda by Mendoza to found production at a town on the northern edge of the region. While the town was named Tepeji de la Seda in response to this project, its silk production dwindled after Cortés Marín died in 1544 and the encomienda reverted to the Crown. 84 However, the three Marín brothers had an even greater impact in establishing silk culture further south, in Texupan, whose account book we have already considered in relation to its purchase of silk items for its church. Borah found a document stating that in 1538 the brothers contracted with the town to raise silk in Texupan for five years, after which they would depart and leave eggs behind, having taught the local people to grow it themselves. 85 This project, which existed outside of the encomienda system and involved the training of and investment in Texupan’s residents, appears to have been a more successful model, and it was carried out as planned: the Marín brothers were indeed asked to leave in 1544. 86
Gonzalo de Las Casas, the son of the encomendero of Yanhuitlán, Francisco de Las Casas, published in 1581 a detailed account of the art of silk cultivation. He claimed that his mother, María de Aguilar, brought a pound of silkworm eggs given to her by Hernán Cortés and founded production on the lands granted to her husband. 87 Borah notes that this could not have occurred any earlier than 1537, and that Las Casas was at odds with Dominican missionaries in the area, who were successful in aiding silk production in later years. 88 Thus, various actors may have been responsible for introducing cultivation in the Mixteca Alta, but it became most successful as a community-based model encouraged by missionaries and managed through the cajas de comunidad.
The Codex Sierra represents a period by which Texupan was independently running its own silk industry. Various pages evidence preparations for upcoming production, expenses for the processing of cocoons, and the sale of finished silk thread. A page from 1561 shows that while 281 pesos were spent to purchase a cope for the church, 216 pesos were paid to the Spaniard Juan de Villafane for eight pounds of silkworm eggs ( fig. 1.13 ). In the center of the page (below the entry for the cope and a bishop’s insignia) we see eight tied bags with small eggs inside. The following entry shows that an additional bag of eggs was purchased in order to cover the anticipated diezmo , or 10 percent crown tax on goods sold. And since Villafane had also negotiated his food and lodging in the town, an additional cost of 42 pesos culminates the list, with pictographs for a Spaniard and foodstuffs. 89 A page from later in 1561 details the successful sale of the completed silk ( fig. 1.14 ). The pictographs in this case show that the diezmo was paid to a Spaniard in Mexico City (at top), and 690 pounds of silk arranged in hanks were sold for 3,105 pesos. 90 While the color choices in this manuscript often seem to obey internal conventions rather than observed reality, the fact that the hanks are shown gold-toned rather than red would suggest they were sold undyed.

FIGURE 1.13. Page Accounting the Year 1561 , page 37, Codex Sierra, Santa Catarina Texupan, Mexico, 1550–1564. Ink on paper. Folio size 21.8 × 30.7 cm. José María Lafragua Historical Library, Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. Photograph courtesy of the library.

In order to better understand the stages of silk production, we can consult Las Casas’s account, published in Madrid but based on his experiences in Mexico. It presents the process as a series of recommendations for those who wish to learn the arte of silk raising themselves. 91 The author explains that dedicated houses were constructed in which to cultivate the worms, of wood or (more commonly) adobe. The houses were no more than one hundred feet in length, and multiple houses were better than overly large structures. They were built around patios, which, as Las Casas saw in the Mixteca Alta, had their north sides closed off to protect from the cold. Structures were then built of pine wood within the houses to hold trays on which the worms could feed, molt, and spin their cocoons. In the Mixteca Alta the annual cultivation cycle, which took about sixty days, was begun in February. Eggs were taken in cloth ( manta ) bundles to be blessed before the Feast of the Purification. To incubate, the cloths were moistened and the eggs gently removed from them. The eggs were then heated with sun, animal dung, or even human heat. While not feasible for large-scale operations, the practice of women keeping small bundles of eggs between their breasts to incubate them is reported for Spain (where women carried the eggs in procession on St. Mark’s Day), China, and the Mixteca. 92
The incubated eggs were then spread out flat with straw or strips of paper over them and mulberry shoots on top.

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