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Cloth of Saint Gereon fragment
Cloth of Saint Gereon tapestry showing its repeat pattern

The Cloth of St Gereon is a mural tapestry of a repeat pattern with a decorative motif of a bull being attacked by a griffin, a fantastic creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle.[1][2] The Cloth of St Gereon is the second oldest known European tapestry still existing, dating to the early 11th century.[3][4][5][6][7] The oldest being Överhogdal tapestries. A number of European museums hold sections of the original cloth, which was cut into fragments in the 19th century.



The seven-color tapestry shows medallions with bulls and griffins in combat. It was probably adapted from Byzantine or Syrian silk textiles. The motifs of the tapestry could also have derived from Sassanian textiles found in Cologne. The addition of oriental themes in the framing reveals a first attempt at variety.[8]

The border design and background are probably the inspiration of Europe, not oriental. They are similar to 11th-century illuminated manuscripts of Cologne and Western Europe. There are no other examples of tapestry similar to this that survive other than the oldest tapestry panel in the cathedral of Halberstadt depicting "Abraham and the Archangel Michael", which was probably woven around 1175 A.D.[2]

The size of the Cloth of Saint Gereon fragment at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Lyon is 0.74 by 0.76 metres (2.4 ft × 2.5 ft).[9] The style of design, which is strong in oriental and Byzantine character, is often also found in woven silks of the eleventh century.[1][7][10] The colors of the characters now are a faded green, brown, blue and red. The background may have been colored (probably brownish-blue), but this is now undeterminable as it is almost completely faded out.[11] Tapestry historian Hunter says the design is of Byzantine origin, however the weave indicates an oriental maker.[12]


Scholars place the area it was made in Cologne in the early part of the 11th century.[3][7][13] The name for the tapestry is taken from the place of origin, the St. Gereon's Basilica in Cologne. It was hung in the church choir area.[2]

The tapestry was cut into four fragments by the leading German art historian Dr. Franz Bock.[14] These were then acquired in or around 1875 by four European museums.[9] The fragments of the Cloth of Saint Gereon are located at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Lyon (one almost complete roundel with linking lion mask roundel), the Kunstgewerbe-Museum in Berlin, Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg (two roundels of the main field, a top segment cut) and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (bottom and right border).[7][15][16][10] A large part of the original is now in the museum at Lyon, while smaller parts are at Berlin and Nuremberg.[14] There were several exhibition tours in Paris showing the Lyon museum fragment of the Cloth of St Gereon from 1989 to 1998.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Thomson, p. 52 "There is a tendency to attribute the earliest example of Western tapestry to German manufacture. This consists of three fragments now deposited in the Museums of Lyons and Nuremberg, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Discovered by Canon Bock in the old church of Saint Gereon at Cologne, these pieces are of extraordinary interest, and have received intense scrutiny from experts in the textile arts. The pattern is a piece of simple repetition. The chief feature is a circular band enclosing animals—a bull, a griffin, and a bird. The background has a foundation pattern of triangles upon which is placed ornament of Byzantine style. A border encloses the whole, and consists of floriated bands issuing from grotesque masks. The animals show a certain Oriental influence, rather strongly marked; but otherwise the style, especially in the border, is distinctively Western."
  2. ^ a b c Tapestry: The Origins
  3. ^ a b Anzovin, p. 175 "The first European tapestry still extant is the Cloth of St. Gereon, originally created for the Church of St. Gereon in Cologne, Germany. It is a seven-color wool tapestry depicting medallions with fighting bulls and gryphons. Most scholars date the work to circa 1000, based on its decorative ornaments, which resemble those in illuminated books of the time."
  4. ^ Stanford, volume 7 "Tapestry" "The oldest of these mural tapestries in existence are fragments from the Church of Saint Gereon in Cologne."
  5. ^ Beach, "The oldest existing mural tapestries are no doubt the fragments from the Church of Saint Gereon in Cologne, which were woven in Europe."
  6. ^ Thurstan, p. 11 "What is known as the "St. Gereon" tapestry is the oldest surviving piece of Western European tapestry."
  7. ^ a b c d The History of Tapestry
  8. ^ Hamlyn, p. 11
  9. ^ a b c Museum of Decorative Arts in Lyon] "inventory information" # 22963: fragment; Fragment dit de Saint Gereon de Cologne - textile; Bock Franz
  10. ^ a b   Cole, Alan Summerly (1911). "Tapestry" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 405.
  11. ^ Guiffrey, p. 14
  12. ^ Hunter, p. 34
  13. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online - Cloth of Saint Gereon
  14. ^ a b H.M.S.O., p. 22
  15. ^ Viale, p. 15
  16. ^ Hamlyn, p. 15


  • Anzovin, Steven, Famous First Facts 2000, item # 3084, H. W. Wilson Company, ISBN 0-8242-0958-3
  • Beach, Frederick Converse, The Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts and sciences, literature, history, biography, geography, commerce, etc., of the world, Volume 15 Oldest Tapestries, Scientific American Compiling Dept., 1908
  • Guiffrey, Jules, Histoire de la tapisserie: depuis le moyen âge jusqu'à nos jours (French), A. Mame and son, 1886
  • Hamlyn, Paul, Tapestries - Mercedes Viale, Fratelli Fabbri Editori, Milan 1966
  • H.M.S.O., Victoria and Albert Museum, The tapestry collection: medieval and renaissance, by George Wingfield Digby, printed by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London 1980
  • Hunter, George Leland, Tapestries - their Origin, History and Renaissance, John Lane Company, 1912
  • Stanford, Harold Melvin, The Standard reference work: for the home, school and library, Volume 7, Standard Education Society, 1921
  • Thurstan, Violetta, A short history of decorative textiles and tapestries, Pepler & Sewell, 1934
  • Viale, Mercedes, Tapestries - Cameo Series, P. Hamlyn, 1969