Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Venerable Habit – Father Sanchez’ Franciscan Clothing


I feel very honored that for many years now I’ve been granted Visiting Scholar status by the History Department of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.  They’ve opened to me their unrivaled collections of early Californian clothing artifacts and the museum staff has given generously of their time.  I’ve made lots of discoveries there, and today I’d like to describe one of them.


Many years ago, now, one of the first pieces I studied in the History Department collections of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County was the clothing of Father Francisco de Jésus Sanchez (1813 – 1884).  In the decades since I first saw these pieces, I’ve studied them again and again, learning more each time.

A Franciscan priest, Father Sanchez was a native of Guanajuato, Mexico and a member of the Colegio Aposotólico de Guadalupe, near Zacatecas.  Arriving in California in 1841, he served at various sites throughout the state until his death at Santa Barbara Mission in 1884.


Luckily for us, in 1883 Father Sanchez met Henry Sandham, a Canadian-born illustrator who was on assignment from The Century Magazine to illustrate an article about California’s Mission Indians to be written by Helen Hunt Jackson.  Sanchez gave the artist some of his clothing to serve as props for his illustrations.  Sandham later wrote,

In my studio I have the venerable Father's complete costume . . . it includes the cassock, cowl, sandals and hempen girdle with its symbolical five knots. The sandals are well worn and the cowl bleached and faded by the sun--marks of the endless round of toils and duties so faithfully described by Mrs. Jackson.  


It’s well known that Father Sanchez served as the model for the wise and gentle Father Salvierderra in Jackson’s beloved novel, Ramona which, it so happens, was also illustrated by Sandham.  To complete the story, many years later Sandham’s daughter donated what was left of these clothes to the museum, noting that unfortunately the belt and one sandal had been burned in a fire at her late father’s studio. 


One of the reasons that this habit is such a treasure, at least from my viewpoint, is that it shows just how little Franciscan dress had changed over a period of several hundred years.  A comparison of this habit with 17th century Spanish paintings and also photographs of 19th century Franciscans in California, show that Father Sanchez’ clothing is something of a time machine.  Not all branches of the Franciscans wore gray during this period, but where they did, we can be pretty certain that their clothing looked very much like those of Father Sanchez.


From studying Father Sanchez’ clothing, I’ve had a number of preconceptions upset.  To begin with, the cloth is not gray.  It's made of both dark and light wool yarn woven in a twill pattern that, from a short distance away blends optically to appear gray.  Also, the robe or habit is very full, and complex in its cut, with pockets hidden in the sleeves and elsewhere. 



The cowl is separate from the robe, made of the same fabric and has a hood, the face of which is reinforced with a second layer of cloth that has been stitched in parallel rows to stiffen it.  And though the white cord belt is not the original, Sandham tells us that it had five knots in it, and this is confirmed by a photograph taken of Father Sanchez in 1882 (see above).


I’m often told that all Franciscans have just three knots in their belt, symbolizing their three vows of poverty, obedience and chastity.  But it appears that many Franciscans of earlier times chose to have five knots on their belts to symbolize the five wounds of the crucified Christ.


In 1897, as part of the reorganization of the Franciscan Order, all members worldwide adopted dark brown clothing.  A photograph made during the summer of that year shows a group of Franciscans at Mission San Luis Rey in California dressed in their gray robes while one of them wears the new dark brown habit.

A. Father Francisco de Jésus Sanchez, from a photograph taken in 1882.
B. Father Sanchez' habit and cowl, from a catalogue of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
C. The illustrator, Henry Sandham
D. Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, by El Greco, c. 1585-1590
F. The twill-woven dark and light wool fabric, Father Sanchez' habit, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
G./H. Two views of Father Sanchez cowl, from when the clothing was on display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. 
I. Saint Bernard, by El Greco, 1603.
J. Saint James of the Marshes, by Zurburan, c. 1640.
K. Photograph of Franciscans taken by Adam Clark Vroman at Mission San Luis Rey, 1897.  

Adam Cripps, “Historical Habits,” La Mision. shttp://floridafriar.weebly.com/historical-habits.html

Brother John Summers, O.F.M., “Friar Factor,”  Saint Francis of Assisi, http://www.stfrancisparish.com/Faith_Formation.htm

Henry Sandham http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Sandham

Ramona, by Helen Hunt Jackson, , 1883 edition, available through Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=o2iostfTLTgC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

The True Story of Ramona, “Books of the Southwest,” The University of Arizona Library, http://southwest.library.arizona.edu/true/index.html

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