Textiles and environment in the showcase containing Saint Canute the Holy († AD 1086): Radiocarbon dating and chemical interactions

Poul Grinder-Hansen, Ulla Kjær, Morten Ryhl-Svendsen, Maria Perla Colombini, Ilaria Degano, Jacopo La Nasa*, Francesca Sabatini, Johannes van der Plicht, Kaare Lund Rasmussen

*Corresponding author for this work

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The cathedral in Odense, Denmark, has for nine centuries held the relics of the Danish King St Canute the Holy and his brother Benedikt. They were both murdered in the predecessor church at the site in AD 1086, and Canute was sanctified in already in AD 1100. The history of the relics has been that of turmoil at times, varying from initial worship of the Catholic believers, to being walled up and hidden away after the protestant reformation in AD 1536, and since the 19th Century on display as important heritage objects of national importance. In the present work we have characterised some of the textiles and analysed the air inside the glass showcases exhibiting the 11th Century wooden coffins holding the remains of St King Canute the Holy and his brother together with some precious textiles. Contrary to previous belief, we now prove that all the textiles analysed have the same age, which is consistent with the time of the enshrinement of the King and his brother in AD 1100. It is also shown that some of the textiles were treated with paraffin wax, most likely during attempts at conservation at the National Museum in the nineteenth century. The results of the air chemistry analyses show the problematic side of simultaneously storing of slowly decaying wood, fine textiles, and human bones in rather airtight environments. The wood continuously releases organic acids, the soaring concentrations of which are potentially harmful to the 11th Century textiles and probably also to the bones.
Original languageEnglish
Article number95
Number of pages19
JournalHeritage Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30-Sep-2020

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