Ecclesiastical Garments of the 13th Century: The Dalmatic

The Dalmatic of Charlemagne backThe Dalmatic, an over-sized super tunic,takes its name from Dalmatia. Dalmatia itself is s a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast.* The dalmatic was in use by the general population, by both men and women, of the area from an early period. The dalmatic is shorter than the alb, only reaching the knees, with shorter, wider sleeves and is worn over the alb but under the chasuble. It also has slits up its sides from the hem for quite  a ways. The photos to the right and below shows the front and back of an extant example. This dalmatic is said to have belonged to Charlemagne and is kept in the sacristy of St. Peter’s. It’s not only a great example of an early piece it is a marvelous piece of early needlework. Named because it was said to have been worn by Charlemagne at his coronation it was later proved that the garment is from the fourteenth century.

Dalmatic of Charlemagne - Front

Dalmatic of Charlemagne – Front


14th Century Iranian Dalmatic (VA Museum # 8361-1863)

14th Century Iranian Dalmatic (VA Museum # 8361-1863)

There is another extant example in the V&A museum collections that also dates to the fourteenth century. The image to the left shows the great detail of the images on the silk dalmatic. What it does not show is the side slits which in this case extends up to the under arm. For a garment like this there would have to have been ties or buttons to keep it on properly.** This one is beautiful though a mixture of symbols. The pelicans depicted on the textile are more of an Italian embellishment where they were used as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. In opposition there is the flower scroll motif which is mostly associated with the Chinese influence of the time. Added to China and Italy the V&A experts have determined that the fabric from which the dalmatic is made must have been exported to Europe from Mongol-Iran from the structure of the cloth. I find it fascinating that three different cultures which were quite far apart all fell into this one piece. It’s astounding.

*Wikipedia contributors. “Dalmatia.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21
Jul. 2011. Web. 30 Jul. 2011.
**Mary G. Houston, Medieval Costume in England and France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries (New York: Dover, 1996) 28.

Categories: 13th Century, Dalmatic, Ecclesiastical | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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