Archaeologists in Russia have discovered a rare embroidered Deisis depicting Jesus Christ in a Christian medieval burial ground containing 46 graves from the Mongol period. One of the graves contained a young woman, between the ages of 16 and 25, buried with an embroidered Deisis depicting Jesus and John the Baptist.

The discovery was made during the construction of the Moscow-Kazan high-speed highway, where an associated Christian cemetery and medieval settlement covering an area of 8.6 acres were found. In three burial sites, textile fragments with pieces of birch were traced. All these finds are the remnants of the decorative design of the costume of the Mongol period.

The discovery of the embroidery with the image of the Saints on a product from Chaadaevo is a unique and significant finding, that sheds light on the artistic and cultural heritage of the Mongol period in Russia (between the 13th and 15th centuries). It is a testament to the high level of skill and craftsmanship of the people who created it, as well as their deep religious beliefs and cultural values, as revealed in a press release from the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences .

Christianity and Golden Sewing: Mark of the Elite
In Byzantine art , and in later Eastern Orthodox art, the Deisis is a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty or Christ Pantocrator.

Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator seen in Byzantine art and in Orthdox art. (Santi Rodríguez by AdobeStock)

It features Mary (mother of Jesus) and John the Baptist shown facing towards Christ with their hands raised in supplication on behalf of humanity.

The embroidered fabric was once a headdress made from a dark silk samite, according to the archaeologists. Similar examples have been found in the Ivorovsky necropolis near Staritsa, depicting the image of Michael the Archangel with a spear or embroidered faces of saints and crosses found in the Karoshsky burial ground in the Yaroslavl region.

The fabric measures 12.1 cm long by 5.5 cm (4.76×2.16 inches) and is made up of two parts connected by a vertical seam consisting of a woven gold ribbon with a braided pattern. The lining of the fabric has not survived; however, a microscopic inspection has found remnants of birch bark and needle punctures along the lower and upper edges. This was to keep the collar stiff.

The fabric depicts a frontal image of Jesus Christ in a blessing gesture. On the right is John the Baptist in a prayerful pose facing him. On the left traces of another figure, likely Mary. ( Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences )

The central figure on the fabric depicts a frontal image of Jesus Christ in a blessing gesture, while on the right is John the Baptist in a prayerful pose facing him. The inspection revealed that on the left was once another figure, likely Mary. Unfortunately, this figure is now lost, according to a Heritage Daily report.

Such finds indicate that in the early stages of Christianity, religious subjects could well have been present in everyday life and, probably, they were assigned the role of demonstrating belonging to Orthodoxy. Undoubtedly, rich gold sewing is a status design of the costume and testifies to the great welfare of the buried, consistent with the nature of the finds and the size of the manor systems in the settlement.

A High Level of Craftsmanship
The researchers have commented that the “highest level of craftsmanship, jewelry subtlety and elegance went into making this miniature embroidery”. They suggest that the embroidery may have been created by a skilled artisan or a group of artisans in a workshop, given the quality of the workmanship.

The use of gold-fabric ribbons in the embroidery also adds to the value of the find. These ribbons were widely available in Russia during the Mongol period and were used as decoration for clothing, including collars, cuffs, and necklaces. They were often made in Byzantium and Spain and were used along with gold sewing, metal plaques, and other decorative elements. The use of these ribbons in the Chaadaevo embroidery further reinforces the high level of sophistication and artistic skill of the people who created it.

Embroidery was a popular form of decoration for clothing and other textile items during this period, and was often done with silk and gold threads. However, embroidery with the image of the Saints was extremely rare, and this makes the Chaadaevo find all the more special, coupled with the symmetry of the composition and the attention to detail in the embroidery.

This discovery provides insight into the art and craftsmanship of medieval Russia . It provides an anthropological insight into the people who lived during this time, and is a valuable addition to our understanding of their beliefs, values, and way of life. Finally, the significance of the Moscow-Kazan high-speed highway construction site as an important archaeological location has been laid out for future archaeological excavations.