“Alb of St. Clare” Returned to Basilica of St. Francis Museum
After an absence of 23 years because it had been brought to Rome to the Central Institute for Restoration (ICR) in September 1993. the so-called “Alb of St. Clare” was finally displayed on August 5 in the Museum of the Treasury Basilica of St. Francis. It is described as “so-called” because the alb has no “direct" relationship with the Saint of Assisi.
The alb made ivory linen worked with different types of pleats, dates back to 19th century while the oldest part, namely the bottom edge made of embroidered silk and gold is dated "only" to the 17th century, probably after 1624.
The edging itself is the most interesting part of this liturgical vestment. Especially the lower one that - as described in the report of those who in 2009 carried out the restoration on behalf of ICR. It is divided into three horizontal bands: the first decorated by a series of container filled with flowers with a pair of large hanging strawberries; the second with figures of saints and blessed of the First and the Franciscan Third Order in the front of the alb and the Second Order, the Poor Clares, in the back, figures that alternate with carnations flowers; the third band has an alternating series of inverted tulips and birds of different kinds resting on olive branches.
The alb is important for the rich symbolism of the strawberry, carnation and tulip and birds representing Saints and Blessed - identifiable by the still legible titles or their iconographic attributes of the alb.
It is especially the figure of Saint Clare and some of the other "Poor Ladies" that are particularly interesting, since there are five "portraits" members of Saint Clare’s family who followed her to San Damiano: her mother, Blessed Ortolana, her sisters, St. Agnes and the Blessed Beatrice, and her nieces, Blessed Balbina and Amata.
In 1994, the then Director of the Treasury Museum Fr. Pasquale Magro wrote on the occasion of the eighth centenary of the birth of Saint Clare, "Convinced that the embroidery on the alb is worthy of careful research and accomplished, we hope that specialist in this field in the near future will study it." A wish that was fulfilled by Emma Zocca in her Catalogue of Artifacts and Antiquities of Italy when in 1936 the albe was declared "interesting for its Franciscan iconography" and thus surviving the long period of oblivion.