Saturday, August 7, 2010

Poplin and the Avignon Papacy

Since I wear skirts and dresses at home as well as in the world and at Mass, I recently purchased a couple of plain solid-colored cotton dresses to wear as "house dresses", in the 1950s sense of the word.

I read in the product description that the weave of these dresses is "poplin". The word was not at all new to me but for some reason this time it intrigued me. When I looked it up, I was pleasantly surprised to find in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (CD-ROM version) that the name was derived from "papal" and that it was "so called from being made at the papal city of Avignon".

This refers to the fact that during the 14th century from 1309 to 1378 the papacy was based at Avignon in the region of Provence. At that time, Avignon was one of the pontifical states. It remained so until the French Revolution, after which it was incorporated into France.

Seven legitimate popes and afterward two "anti-popes" were based at Avignon. The seven legitimate popes were: Pope Clement V (1305-1314), Pope John XXII (1316-1334), Pope Benedict XII (1334-1342) who is depicted above, Pope Clement VI (1342-1352), Pope Innocent VI (1352-1362), Pope Urban V (1362-1370), and Pope Gregory XI (1370-1378).

As for the fabric poplin, according to the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, it is a:
"strong fabric produced by the rib variation of the plain weave and characterized by fine, closely spaced, crosswise ribs. It is made with heavier filling yarns and a greater number of warp yarns and is similar to broadcloth, which has even finer, more closely spaced ribs.

"Though originally made with a silk warp and a heavier wool filling, poplin is now made of a variety of fibres, including silk, cotton, wool, and synthetic types, and with combinations of such fibres. It is used for shirts, pajamas, women’s wear, and sportswear and also as a decorative fabric."
Although the poplin weave can be made with various types of threads as explained above, one internet site says that poplin was originally made from silk for use in church vestments, which makes sense in view of its association with the Avignon papacy.

Whether the garments of Pope Benedict XII seen above are made of silk poplin I cannot say, but I think I will now be reminded of the Vicars of Christ when I put on one of my house dresses. Perhaps at least some of those times I will remember to say a short prayer to St. Joseph for the protection of the Church:
St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church,
watch over the Church as carefully as you
watched over Jesus,
help protect it and guide it as you did
with your adopted son.
Pope Benedict XII, one of the Avignon popes. From Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.

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