Valentine’s Day at the Medieval Church and Culture seminar featured a enthralling talk from Dr Federica Gigante, Curator of the Collection from the Islamic World at the History of Science Museum in Oxford. Federica showed us the many places where Islamic textiles can be found in medieval Christian religious settings – places we’ve all seen, but never realised what we were looking at. Islamic silks were used to wrap saints’ bones, or were depicted as trompe l’oeuil hangings on church walls – such as here in the upper basilica in Assisi:
or even within the frescoes of the life of St Francis:
The images can be linked to surviving Islamic textiles and often feature kufic or pseudo-kufic script in a band along the top, with Islamic religious messages.
Perhaps the most fascinating set of images Federica showed was the depiction of a whole Islamic tent in the chancel of a medieval convent in Ferrara, Sant’Antonio in Polesine – still extant, though with later interpolations:
Why a tent might be painted on the walls of a convent chancel prompted lively speculation from the audience, and we all went away with our eyes opened for when we next spot textiles in churches.