Holy Coat (OF TRIER AND ARGENTEUIL). The possession of the seamless garment of Christ (Gr. chitonarraphos; Lat. tunica inconsutilis, John, xix, 23), for which the soldiers cast lots at the Crucifixion, is claimed by the cathedral of Trier and by the parish church of Argenteuil. The Trier tradition affirms that this relic was sent to that city by the Empress St. Helena. For some time the holders of this opinion based their claim on a document in the ancient archives of the city, the “Sylvester Diploma”, sent by Pope Sylvester to the Church of Trier, but this cannot, at least in its present form, be considered genuine.
It has, however, been conclusively proved by incontestable documents, that since about the year 1100 the people of Trier were fully convinced that they possessed the seamless garment of Christ and that it had come to them from St. Helena. The life of St. Agritius, Bishop of Trier, written in the eleventh century (before 1072), mentions the relics sent to Trier by St. Helena during the lifetime of Agritius, and relates from the “reliable tradition of the forefathers” that at one time a pious bishop of Trier wished to have opened the relic shrine kept in the treasury of the cathedral, containing among other relics a garment of the Lord, of which some said that it was the seamless coat, and others that it was the purple garment with which He was clothed at the time of His Passion (Monumenta Germ. Hist., Script., VIII, 211) . The “Gesta Trevirorum”, written in 1105, bears witness to the existence of the Tunica Domini and to the tradition regarding the manner of its being brought to Trier (Mon. Germ. Hist., Script., VIII, 152). An ancient witness to the tradition of the sending of relics to Trier by St. Helena (no special mention, however, being made of the Holy Coat) is the panegyric of St. Helena composed by Almannus of Hautvilliers about 880 (Acta Sanctorum, August, Vol. III, p. 952). A still more ancient witness is an ivory tablet preserved in the cathedral treasury of Trier, dating from as early as the fifth or sixth century according to some, and according to others from a later period. It is explained to be a representation of a translation of relics to Trier with the cooperation of St. Helena. While this testimony may not furnish actual proof of the authenticity of the relic, it goes far to confirm the probability of the same.
The arguments of the opponents of the relic are merely their own opinions; these writers furnish no substantial proof of their contention. The relic itself offers no reason to doubt its genuineness. Archaeological investigations (1890 and 1891) have proved that “the material of the plain brownish colored fabric is to all appearances linen or cotton”. It has been impossible to discover any traces of original seams on the relic, which is covered on both sides by protecting veils. The investigation therefore furnished no reason to doubt the ancient tradition at Trier. In 1196 the Holy Coat was solemnly transferred by Archbishop Johann I from the St. Nicholas chapel of the cathedral to the high altar at that time consecrated by him (Continuation of the “Gesta Trevirorum”, Mon. Germ. Hist., Script., XXIV, 396). Here the relic seems to have remained unseen and untouched until 1512. In that year, in accordance with the wish of the Emperor Maximilian I, on the occasion of the holding of a Diet at Trier, it was taken from its resting-place in the altar on April 14 by the archbishop, Richard von Greifenklau, and on May 3, and for many days after, solemnly shown to the assembled princes and people. In the years following, up to 1517, an exposition of the Holy Coat took place annually. The auxiliary bishop, Johann Enen, composed a Mass “de Tunica inconsutili,” found in the Trier Missals printed at Speyer (1516) and at Coblenz (1547). At the solicitation of the archbishop, Leo X, by a Bull of January 26, 1515, granted a plenary indulgence to all pilgrims who should visit the cathedral of Trier at the time of the exposition of the Holy Coat, which henceforth was to take place every seven years, and always in the same year as the Aachen pilgrimage. This order for an exposition of the Holy Coat every seven years was observed from 1517, in which year the next Aachen pilgrimage took place, to 1545. Then the regular succession ceased, and the next expositions occurred only in the years 1585 and 1594, and then not again until 1655 after the close of the Thirty Years War.
In the warlike times that followed, the relic was repeatedly taken to the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, and from there brought back again to the cathedral at Trier. When the French invaded the principality of Trier in 1794, the relic was carried for safety into the interior of Germany, to Bamberg and then to Augsburg, whither the last Elector of Trier, Clemens Wenceslaus, also Bishop of Augsburg, had withdrawn. It was not until 1810 that, through the repeated efforts of Bishop Mannay, it was returned to Trier, on which occasion the bishop organized a solemn exposition of the Holy Coat, from 9 to September 27 of that year, it being the first since 1655. It was very largely attended by the Catholics of the surrounding country. Of still greater importance were the two following expositions, which took place in the nineteenth century. The first was organized by Bishop Arnoldi from August 18 to October 6, 1844. Large and enthusiastic crowds of pilgrims, over a million, it is said, flocked from all quarters to Trier. Apart from the influence which the Trier pilgrimage of that year exercised on religion, a number of wonderful cures were accomplished. On the other hand, this exposition was the occasion of much fanaticism. On October 15, 1844, the suspended priest Johann Ronge published his open letter to Bishop Arnoldi, the result of which was the so-called “Deutsch-katholisch” or “German Catholic” movement. Among other hostile writings which appeared at that time, that of the Bonn professors, J. Gildemeister and H. von Sybel, purporting to stand on scientific grounds, made the most stir. An exposition rivalling that of 1844 was the last one, ordered by Bishop Korum from August 20 to October 4, 1891. On this occasion the pilgrims numbered 1,925,130. To encourage this exposition, Leo XIII gave his approval to the Office “de Tunica inconsutili”, and granted by a Brief of July 11, 1891, an indulgence to the pilgrims. An account of the miracles and manifestations of Divine favor which occurred was published in 1894 by Bishop Korum himself.
The Argenteuil tradition claims that the garment venerated in that city as the Holy Coat was brought there by Charlemagne. The oldest document relating to the existence of this relic dates from 1156. This is the “Charta Hugonis”, in which Archbishop Hugh of Rouen testifies that in the treasury of the church of the Benedictines at Argenteuil is preserved the Cappa pueri Jesu (garment of the Child Jesus) a temporibus antiquis (from ancient times); that he himself, in company with other bishops and abbots, had examined it and found it genuine, and that it was then exposed in the presence of King Louis VII, and afterwards publicly for the veneration of the faithful; he proclaimed at the same time an indulgence for pilgrims who should come to honor it (the “Charta” is printed by Jacquemot, p. 233 sqq., also in P.L., CXCII, 1136-38). The words Cappa pueri Jesu were interpreted by the later advocates of the tradition of Argenteuil to mean the Tunica inconsutilis worn by the Savior during His Passion. The medieval chronicles, from the twelfth to the fourteenth century, which speak of the relic and of its exposition in 1156, make it clear how this change in the tradition was effected; it was brought about by the intermingling of the details of the two legends, accounted for by the belief that the garment woven by the Blessed Virgin for the Child Jesus grew with Him, and was thus worn by Him during His entire life on earth. The modern advocates of the Argenteuil tradition now designate the relic honored there simply as the seamless garment of Christ; they deny to the Church of Trier the right to call their relic by this name, conceding however that the Trier relic is genuine, but that it is not the Tunica inconsutilis, but the outer garment of Christ.
Those who believe the Trier tradition claim on the contrary that the relic of Argenteuil, which is woven of fine wool and is of a reddish brown color, is not a tunic, but a mantle. By this they do not seek to dispute the authenticity of the Argenteuil relic, but to assert that it is the Cappa pueri Jesu and not the Tunica inconsutilis. The history of the veneration of the relic of Argenteuil may be traced from 1156. The Revolution menaced its safety. After the despoiling of the Benedictine convent it was first transferred, in 1791, from the convent church to that of the parish. In 1793 the parish priest of that year, who feared that it would be taken away and dishonored, cut it into pieces which he concealed in various places. In 1795 those portions that could be found were brought back to the church; of these there are four, one large piece and three smaller ones. The translation to the new church of Argenteuil took place in 1865, and the last expositions in 1894 and 1900. A Mass and a Sequence in honor of the Holy Coat of Argenteuil are to be found in Paris and Chartres Missals printed in the sixteenth century.