In Clothing the Clergy, Maureen C. Miller describes a 1980 visit by the the renowned textile conservator Mechtild Flury-Lemberg to Assisi, where she had been hired to clean a cowl worn by St. Francis that hangs near his tomb.
“The appeareance of this garment with its thirty-one large and small patches left a deep, lasting impression on me,” Flury-Lemberg later recalled. “It is is certainly one of the shabbiest I have ever seen.” Several fabrics had been used and many of the patches were sewn on using a very crude whip stitch. Nineteen of the patches, though, came from the same rough brown cloth and were sewn on more expertly.
Sewing was considered women’s work in Francis’s time, and the manufacture and repair of garments for men in religious orders often fell to nuns. Who, then, might have repaired Francis’s garment? The conservator came upon an answer when she went across Assisi to the convent of St. Chiara. There she found a brown cape made of the same cloth from which fabric had been borrowed. The cape had been worn by St. Clare, to whose hand Flury-Lemberg attributes the most careful stitches on Francis's cowl.
Matthew Schmitz is deputy editor of First Things.