Every year, the Friars in Spanish Florida were allowed 26 varasof sayal wool by the King of Spain for the manufacture of their habits. This material was part of a special allowance from the crown called the “alms for habit and sandals,” which was in addition to the funds already set aside for the friars’ subsistence, supplies, and church ornaments. Beginning in 1616 this “religioso” fund was combined with the official situado for Florida, and the realization of the materials arrival in Florida each year became just as variable. The reasons for this sporadic delivery will be discussed at a later date, but it was through this system that sayal came to Florida’s shores. However, was this sayal wool the same as the mid-grey plain woven coarse woolens used for habits since the orders foundations?
Grey may have been the standard color for habits during this period, but other colors were also available and used. Just as the grey is derived from the natural colors of the sheep, brown fleeces were also used at times and periodically one will see European paintings from the period showing various Franciscans in a brown habit instead of grey. While there almost certainly were brown habits in use during the period, all evidence we have regarding the Spanish friars operating in La Florida point to the use of grey habits.
"August 30, 1596- “…1,745 varas of blue sayal, 643 varas of blue and black sayal; 276 varas of sayal pardo...assorted sayal in blue, yellow, and mixed, totaling 457 varas."
"February 11, 1599- “…1,000 varas of blue sayal"
"May 3, 1599- “…791 varas of blue sayal..."
"September 1, 1599- “…998 varas of blue sayal; 238 varas of blue and black sayal; 512 varas of brown (or dark gray) and white sayal; 309 varas of blue and white sayal...2 large pieces (42 and 44 varas) of sayal, one blue and one mixed..."
"October 25, 1599- “…3,650 varas of blue sayal; 2,168 varas of blue and black sayal; 842 varas of blue and white sayal; 839 varas of white and pardo sayal..."
"March 24, 1604- “…1,492 varas of sayal (blue and blue and white), tied with 35 varas of coarse frieze (jerga)..."
"April 10, 1604- “…895 varas of blue sayal; 408 varas of blue and white, blue and black, and blue and pardo sayal..."
"July 24, 1605- “…1,500 varas of sayal (1,000 blue and black, 500 blue)..."
As these shipments make clear, the term sayal did not limit itself to un-dyed homespun fibers during the period in question, and as such the term must have been specific to the type and quality of the cloth itself as opposed to the fibers and colors in which it was composed.
There is absolutely no substitute to having a garment or fabric swatch, with a solid provenance and clearly identified by contemporaneous persons. However, many times such a gem does not exist and we are forced to examine other resources to try and piece together as much information as possible. Such is the case when it comes to the actual type of wool that was sayal. Without known swatches, and so far no documentary records describing the fabric in any detail (the authors generally assuming their readers were familiar with the fabric), we are left to examining artwork from the period. While many times artwork must be taken with a grain of salt, it can also be a useful tool depending on the time frame of the paintings and to what extent there is further collaborating evidence. Fortunately for us, the time between 1560 and 1763 was an era in which detail and accuracy were important to artists in their attempt to capture the true, natural, elements of their subjects. In a survey of artwork during the period which showed contemporaneous Franciscan habits, we found varying levels of detail in the art. Most paintings merely focused on the myriad of colors in a patched and dirtied Franciscan tunic, but conveniently for us a number of artists were even more detail oriented and provided us an insight into the actual weave of the cloth used in the friars’ habits.
One of the most important artists during the Spanish Renaissance was Doménikos Theotokópoulos, commonly known as “El Greco,” who moved to Toledo, Spain, in 1577 and worked from there until his death in 1614. Shortly after this move, around 1580, El Greco painted the following work titled “The Ecstasy of Saint Francis.” Yet again, we noticed a few places that appeared like they might be twill lines at regular intervals, but without enough detail to be conclusive. We were especially interested in the turned back cuff, as the lines follow the same pattern as if a twilled woolen had been turned back on itself.
And the third work that shows the texture of the material and hints at a twill weave is his painting of St. Francis and brother Leo meditating on death, c1600-1602. While extremely fuzzy in execution, it is interesting that many of these parallel texture lines follow the same patterns over the folds and wrinkles of the habit just as twill woven cloth does.
A student of El Greco during his sojourn in Toledo, Diego de Astor, also included this detail in the sketch he made of the above painting by his tutor. Sketches, done in pen and ink, generally include straight lines in empty spaces to differentiate areas and textures but the ones included by de Astor show remarkable regularity and also resemble the reactions of a twilled material. The chest area of Saint Francis shows the possible twill weave most clearly.
Yet another Spanish artist from the period showed the cloth used in Franciscan habits as having a texture reminiscent of a twilled wool. Born in Aviles, Juan Carreno de Miranda began his painting career in the late 1620s. In his painting of the Franciscan martyrs from Japan, a detail of which is below, he more clearly shows a distinctive twill weave in the fabric. The diagonal lines flow seamlessly over the wrinkles and folds of the habits when worn, exactly as a twilled fabric does when worn. This phenomenon is very clearly seen on the sleeves of the martyrs.
Born in Lleida, Spain, the artist Francisco Ribalta is the first to clearly show what is unmistakably twilled wool being used in Franciscan habits of the period. Painted c1620, a detail of his painting of an angel visiting Saint Francis is shown below. The arrows are pointing to the areas where the twill weave, and how it reacts with the drape of the cloth, are most clearly seen.
Originally from Florence, Italy, the artist Vicente Carducho moved to Spain at the age of nine where he apprenticed as a painter under his brother. In 1631, he painted two works, both of which show Franciscan habits made from a twilled wool material during the period. The first is his vision of Saint Francis (detail, left) and the other his vision of Saint Anthony (detail, below).
Detail from Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata by Lodovico Cardi (aka “Cigoli”), 1596:
Another detail from Cigoli, a portrait of Saint Francis painted between 1597 and 1599.
A portrait of Saint Francis (detail), painted by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, c1606:
As an increasing number of paintings surfaced showing this twilled pattern in the fabric used on Franciscan habits during our period of interest, we began asking ourselves “was the sayal wool used by the Florida friars a twilled cloth?” We began to think that there was a definite possibility that over the three hundred years since the early habits we examined earlier, that the cloth had shifted from a plain weave to twill. That was when we discovered the following wooden statue, located in the sacristy of the Cathedral in Toledo, depicting Saint Francis and attributed to Pedro de Mena who carved it at some point during the 1650s. It clearly shows that what we were seeing as twilled wool may certainly be that, and not just a random artistic technique, as he included the texture of the material into his carving.
The Fabric of Faith
Did the term sayal refer specifically to coarse, homespun, twilled wool during the period of the La Florida missions? Until an original sample that is clearly identified as being sayal is discovered, there is no way to tell with complete certainty. What we do know, based on our examination above, is that the Franciscan friars during this period were wearing coarse twilled wool, most commonly a shade of grey derived from a grey/black weft and white warp, on both sides of the Atlantic. This is the first break made by Franciscan habits during the 300 year span between the orders foundation and our period of interest, no longer remaining plain woven sackcloth. In future posts we will be exploring other details which changed over the years, such as the evolution of sleeve shapes.
When it comes to recreating a Franciscan friar during the period (1565-1763), it is important to get the details correct as they are what made him unique from a Franciscan in any other period. A starting point is with the fabric used for the habit, as this twilled “sayal” wool was only used between the 16th and 18th centuries, with most Franciscans returning to normal plain woven cloth in the 19th century. It is a very subtle detail, but an important one, as most audiences today are visual by nature and they are more likely to remember what they saw than what you said. When sourcing fabric for your habit, you want to look for mid-grey wool in a twill weave. The weight of the fabric can be variable since, as we saw above, sayal was available in fine, common, and thick categories. Surprisingly, finding a twilled woven grey wool is not as easy today as one might think, and it took months to source the material in our prototype habit (pictures coming soon). Even then, we had to settle with “the best available.” We hope in the near future as part of the La Mision project, to actually weave some proper twilled sayal wool using handspun yarns from grey and white sheep, experimenting with various twill structures (2/1, 2/2, etc.) to replicate the drape and construction seen in the above and other pieces of artwork. In the meantime, however, our prototype habit matches the pattern and construction methods (to be discussed later) of Franciscan habits from the period, and though the fabric is woven on a modern machine it is a good approximation of “sayal fraylesco fino” and light years more suitable for public interpretation than the habits generally worn by friar interpreters.
 Amy Turner Bushnell, Situado and Sabana: Spain’s Support System for the Presidio and Mission Provinces of Florida (Athens, Ga: University of Georgia Press, 1994), 55.
 Charlotte Stern, “Sayago and Sayagués in Spanish History and Literature,” Hispanic Review Vol. 29 No. 3 (1961): 225.
 Ibid., 225-226.
 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, The History of the Renowned Don Quixote de la Manche, trans. Anonymous (London: Mr. Ozell, 1743), 291.
 Bushnell, Situado and Sabana, 55.
 Philip Wayne Powell, Soldiers, Indians & Silver: North America's First Frontier War (Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1952), 283-285.
 John Worth, The Timucuan Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida, Vol. I: Assimilation (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1998), 55.
 Ibid. 39, 51.
 Lazaro Lamadrid, “Report on the Missions by the Franciscan Commissary General of the Indies (1612),” The Americas Vol. 2 No. 4 (1946): 497.