Dating from the 1460s the Waterford cloth-of-gold vestments are made from Italian silk woven in Florence. They are included in the list of 100 iconic objects which tell the story of Ireland over the last 9,000 years.
The panels were embroidered in Bruges which was the centre of the medieval embroidery industry.
Depicted on these priceless vestments are various scenes from the Bible and from the life of the Virgin Mary. They are the greatest treasures of late medieval Ireland.
The Waterford cloth-of-gold vestments are the only full set of medieval vestments to survive in northern Europe.
Buried for 123 years, the Waterford set of cloth-of-gold vestments are now regarded as one of the great treasures of late medieval Europe. These vestments are a symbol of many things but essentially they represent the magnificence of the art that adorned the churches of late medieval Ireland. To the citizens of 15th century Waterford when the cathedral altar was bathed in candle light and the sunlight penetrating the stained glass windows, they must have been breathtaking, a glimpse of heaven in an otherwise rather dull world. They were indeed the heavens’ embroidered cloths, a heaven that people yearned to go to without the pain of Purgatory.
These vestments survived the 17th century wars of religion because they were buried in 1650 before the city fell to the army of the republican general, Oliver Cromwell. They were re-discovered 123 years later when the medieval cathedral was being demolished and were then gifted by the Church of Ireland bishop to his Catholic counterpart.
These vestments are unique and are featured in the Irish Times History of Ireland in 100 Objects by Fintan O'Toole.
The full story of these remarkable vestments is told in a special audio-visual presentation in a theatre adjoining the gallery where they are displayed in the Medieval Museum in the Viking Triangle.
They are Ireland’s only link with the Renaissance that was beginning in northern Europe and the survival of such fragile material after being buried for 123 years is truly remarkable and is one of the most fascinating stories that you can experience in Ireland’s Ancient East.
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