Mission San Juan Capistrano has a valuable collection of vestments dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Among them is a chasuble worn by Father Junípero Serra, the father president of the California missions.

On display in the Mission's museum, the chasuble was recently taken down so that it could undergo conservation treatment.

(click on images to see larger view)


The outer-most vestment worn by bishops and priests at Mass, the chasuble is cut in the fiddle shape typical of the eighteenth century and made from two different fabrics: a polychrome silk brocade lined with a bright greenish-yellow linen.

The chasuble before it was taken out of the display case.

The chasuble was not displayed in a proper manner, causing physical stress on the garment and resulting in a deep crease that ran the full length of the center front. In time, this deep crease could have caused the fabric to split.

There was no barrier between the wood hanger and the chasuble, thus exposing the garment to damaging acidic vapors, which could yellow the fabric and make it brittle.


Cara Varnell, a textile conservator, carried out the treatment, which included the following tasks: surface cleaning with soft brushes and a low-suction vacuum; creating a support for an area of loss; and humidifying and flattening the creases on the front of the chasuble.


Generally, historic textiles are displayed for short periods of time to minimize exposure to light, which can cause colors to fade and fibers to become brittle. Mission conservators are assessing the collection of vestments in storage to create a rotating display of historic textiles. The conservators will use a padded hanger in lieu of wood, and will pad out folds and support the garment in order to avoid permanent creasing and distortion from physical stress.