Pilgrims and Fashion: The Functions of Pilgrims’ Garments

Pilgrims and Fashion: The Functions of Pilgrims’ Garments

By Anja Grebe

Art and Architecture of Late Medieval Pilgrimage in Northern Europe and the British Isles, edited by Sarah Blick and Rita Tekippe (Brill, 2004)

Introduction: A medieval pilgrimage was a dangerous undertaking. The search for salvation and spiritual as well as physical healing could end in illness, injury, even death. Therefore, the right traveling equipment was of the utmost importance to make a journey comfortable and safe and to minimize the risks of accident and illness. Medieval pilgrims’ songs refer to the importance of adequate clothing and equipment:

If you want to know misery / you should follow me on the road to Santiago / Take two pairs of shoes / a bottle and a bowl / a broadbrimmed hat / and a coat trimmed with leather / so that neither snow nor rain nor wind can do you any harm.

Such practical instructions regarding the best traveling equipment are also found in pilgrims’ guidebooks and other literary sources such as letters and reports. These instructions differ in their comprehensiveness, according to their time, their social milieu, their mode of travel, itinerary, and destination of the journey. However, nearly every text includes certain basic advice regarding comfortable and weather-proof outer clothing, warm underwear, comfortable and hard-wearing shoes—ideally two pairs—and a hat to protect the traveler from the elements. The equipment is completed by a shoulder bag and a walking stick.

Very few medieval pilgrims’ garments have been preserved. Among these are the clothes, staff and rosary of Stephen III Praun (1544–91), a Nuremberg merchant’s son and diplomat. During his short but adventurous life, Stephen Praun visited numerous European, Middle Eastern, and North African countries, serving different European rulers, going on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and to Jerusalem. His last years were spent in Rome where he died of the plague in 1591. After his death, his brothers took his belongings back to Nuremberg, among them his Spanish pilgrim’s garments. They have since become part of the famous Praunsche Kunstkammer (Praun Cabinet), the family collection in Nuremberg, put on permanent loan to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in 1876. Beyond their value in the family tradition, the artistic merit of Stephen’s Spanish pilgrim garments is suggested by their inclusion in the Praunsche Kunstkabinett alongside works of art by Albrecht Dürer and Italian Renaissance masters. Because of their more or less exotic provenance and mixture of natural and artistic elements, they represent a category of curiosities highly appreciated by art collectors in the late Renaissance and Baroque eras.

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