- Museum number
Man's sheepskin coat, with fur collar, decorated with hand sewn cut leather appliqué stained deep red and pale cream, and coloured embroidery in red, green, purple, blue and pink wools. Two slits enable pockets in inner clothing to be reached, and behind them at the back are two padded leather flaps. The coat fastens with leather buttons and loops.
- Production date
Height: 125 centimetres
Width: 59 centimetres (under arms)
- Curator's comments
- Made for Saxon Germans living in Transylvania, now part of Romania, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Transylvanian Saxons settled in the Transylvanian region of Hungary (German: Siebenbürgen) in the Middle Ages. When Transylvania became part of Romania in 1918 the Saxons became part of a German-speaking minority in Romania.
This man's coat was traditionally worn specifically for going to church, hence its German name: Kirchenpelz (see Beate Wild, 'Fur within, Flowers without: a Transylvanian fur coat worn to church', in E. Tietmeyer and I. Ziehe (eds), 'Europa Entdecken ! Discover Europe !', exhibition catalogue, Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Berlin 2008, pp. 26-34). It was made in the Tarnavelor region of Transylvania, an area known for its furriers workshops in the late 19th century. Most towns had such workshops but the most famous were at Slimnic and Rusi. In the twentieth century the appliqué work began to be done by machine with thread purchased at fairs, but the appliqué on this coat is hand sewn (information kindly supplied by Nicoleta Sirbu, Museum of the Romanian Peasant, Bucharest). For further discussion, see also Rose Schmidt and Werner Förderreuther, 'Kirchen und Festtagskleidung der Siebenbürger Sachsen, Munich 2011 (ed. Hilde Hain), pp. 106-7 (women's coats) and 124-5 (men's coats). Most village churches were unheated in wintertime and so both women and men needed fur coats. The women wore calf length or short fur coats. Generally these were more densely decorated than the men's coats, which were worn in the summer as well, draped over the shoulders, and fastened with a chain or strap at the neck. The decorative motifs were chosen by the client from the furrier's pattern samples. The wearing of a Kirchenpelz to church, on Sundays and holidays or other celebrations survived in most villages until 1945. Russian soldiers passing through during the Second World War often took the coats away with them.
A closely similar coat is held by the Textile Museum of Canada, given by Kalman Czeglédy and made for the donor's grandmother, Mrs Justina Fejes Czeglédy, in 1903. The embroidered motifs and leather appliqué work are almost identical, except for areas of whiter background in place of the larger applied leather motifs on the front and back, but it is not clear whether the leather is missing or was never applied. See: https://www.textilemuseum.ca/apps/index.cfm?page=collection.detail&catId=7359&row=1
For another coat of this type dated 1873 in the Siebenbürgisches Museum, Gundelsheim, Germany, see
For a similar man's coat ('cojoc') from the Banat area of Transylvania, see G. Oprescu, 'L’Art du Paysan Roumain', Bucarest 1937, pl. XC. Oprescu notes that these coats were both bad weather and festive garments: when it rained they were worn inside out with the fur outside. See also M. Orend, 'Deutsche Volkskunst: Siebenbürgen', Hermannstadt 1942, pl. 85, for a group of men from Rode (Zagăr) wearing very similar coats, together with large fur hats. For waistcoat worn by Transylvanian Saxons, see 2012,8015.28.
The following information taken from I. Coraca, 'Vested in Identity: Ethnic dress and collective identity in Transylvania'. MA Thesis, University College London, 2016:
The Kirchenpelz was worn by both men and women to church or church-related occasions, including events held outside the physical space of worship. Some communities imposed the use of the Kirchenpelz all year round, while others would replace it with lighter garments during summer. It was normally given during the special occasion of one’s confirmation or wedding at the latest, and if there were insufficient means to acquire a new coat, a used version was usually donated by a member of the extended family. In this case, the furrier would rework the garment by whitening the skin and fixing the trimmings.
Wearing a Kirchenpelz expressed both faith in the Protestant Church and affiliation with the Transylvanian Saxon community. Strict codes of behaviour, applied to the environment of the church, also permeated other areas of communal life. For instance, as long as the coat was worn, one was forbidden, amongst other things, to drink and smoke. Unlike other forms of traditional peasant dress, the Kirchenpelz managed to retain its use until the very recent past. Even after they had exchanged their traditional garments for urban Western clothes, men still wore Kirchenpelz coats on church occasions, if not as an obligatory element of out-dated church clothing, certainly as reminders of the past. Today, these coats are worn as traditional folk costume during Heimattag processions in Dinkelsbühl, Bavaria or during the Munich Oktoberfest. Away from their original roles as customary church attire, they now symbolise the wearer's ancestry linked to a Transylvanian identity.
Label text from 'Living with Gods' (exhibition, British Museum, 2017-2018):
Sheepskin coat worn to church
Transylvania, Tarnavelor region, northern Romania, late 19th or early 20th century
This richly embroidered coat with applied cut leather appliqués was made for Germans who settled in the area of Hungary known as Transylvania, or Siebenbürgen (seven towns) in the Middle Ages. When Transylvania became part of Romania in 1918 the Saxons became part of a German-speaking minority. Many left during and after the Second World War and especially after 1989, often taking their fur coats with them.
Before 1945 a new coat cost the equivalent of a maid's annual wages. The otter fur collar alone was worth a cow. They were only made to order, to be given at confirmation or at the wedding, as an essential garment for the Sunday church service. The coat proclaimed the wearer's faith in the Protestant church and his or her affiliation with the local Transylvanian Saxon community.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2017-2018 2 Nov-8 Apr, BM Gallery 35, Living with gods
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number