Hessian For Religious Practice
Hessian jute fabric gets its name from its inclusion on the army uniforms of German soldiers from Hesse (known, of course, as Hessians); however, in modern times hessian jute is not commonly included in clothing. This is because of its coarse texture, which is generally irritating to the skin and therefore unsuitable for most types of ordinary attire.
Many people would argue that the rough texture of this fabric scratches the skin, and comfort would not be a word commonly associated with hessian jute. However, cultures have been known to use thinner weaves to construct clothing, although this practice is not as popular in modern times.
In one specific religious context, however, it is the very discomfort that hessian jute fabric causes that has earned it a prominent place.
Hessian Jute “Hair Shirts”
The cilice, or hair shirt, is a garment worn underneath outer clothing specifically to cause pain or discomfort to the wearer. While hessian jute is a popular fabric for cilice construction, history is rife with examples of people who sported much rougher and less comfortable versions of the garment, including shirts made of metal, garments that incorporate inward-pointing spikes, and entire suits made from rough fabric or animal hair.
Just as hessian jute has been in production and use for hundreds of years, historians have found evidence of cilices that date back thousands of years. Some suspect that their incorporation into religious practice predates writing systems.
Today, hair shirts (whether made from hessian jute or some other material) are perhaps best known as part of the practice of mortification of the senses, which is included in many Catholic traditions.
The purpose of flesh mortification in Catholic tradition is to remind humans of original sin and to connect them with the pain and suffering that Jesus of Nazareth felt during his death on the cross, when he is reported to have worn a crown of thorns. In theory, the discomfort of hessian jute rubbing against the skin provides a constant reminder of greater spiritual pains.
Hessian Jute Clothing for the Poor
While non-religious garments of today are rarely crafted from hessian jute, certain populations may have worn such clothing in centuries past. In India, in the Ganges River delta, the jute plant is heavily cultivated. Historians have discovered evidence that poorer populations in that area may have worn clothing made from hessian jute fabric, though the more common use of the plant fibers at the time was to weave paper and ropes.
Hessian Jute in Religious Crafts
Because of its widespread availability in craft stores and as a castoff from shipped household goods, hessian jute has proven popular for craft projects, particularly those created in Sunday school and other religious classes.
Hessian jute is typically inexpensive, too, which puts it within reach of nonprofit religious organizations.