Clothing the New World Church
Liturgical Textiles of Spanish America, 1520–1820
- Published: February 2021
- ISBN: 9780268108076
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.
1. Woven Silk
5. Painted Cotton and Cotton Lace
Glossary of Liturgical and Textile Terms
“Although there are several studies on pre-Columbian textiles, this is the first book I am aware of that deals with colonial textile arts. Clothing the New World Church allows for comparisons between different native traditions, colonial economies, and church styles.” —Andrés I. Prieto, author of Missionary Scientists
"Stanfield-Mazzi celebrates the vibrant transformation of Amerindian and European textile traditions crafted for a Spanish American Church that was 'shrouded in cloth.' Her insightful, fully documented Clothing the New World Church analyzes the fabrics’ materiality and techne, their warp and weft serving as an appropriate metaphor for a remarkable transatlantic synthesis." —Jeanette F. Peterson, author of The Paradise Garden Murals of Malinalco
"Maya Stanfield-Mazzi’s book provides the first broad survey of church textiles of Spanish America, demonstrating that, while overlooked, textiles were a vital part of visual culture in the Catholic Church." —Trebuchet
"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, the 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." —American Catholic Studies Newsletter
"In five generous chapters dealing with different types of textiles extensively used in churches across the Americas . . . the author provides not only an overview of the richness and diversity of the liturgical textiles produced and consumed during the early modern period, but also offers detailed discussions of pieces that despite their unique qualities have often been left out from larger discussions of contemporaneous artistic production." —caa.reviews
"This is a beautifully produced book of value to nonspecialist colonial historians and textile scholars, who will learn much about the social and cultural context in which church textiles were produced." —Hispanic American Historical Review
"Clothing the New World Church is a powerhouse of original fieldwork and incorporation of literature in art history, textiles history and Church history." —Bulletin of Latin American Research
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.