Egyptian royalty wore it. As did ancient Hebrews. As did the Phoenicians. Archaeologists still uncover it from time to time. It is said that Solomon wore it. It is mentioned on the Rosetta stone and may have been used to weave the cloth that covered the first altar. That is amazing until you consider that it is impervious to water and acid and virtually impossible to destroy. It is, in short, a cloth that can last thousands of years. And yet, when wearing it, you can hardly feel it, so light is it.
It is byssus or sea silk. The art of making this, the world’s oldest cloth, traveled from ancient Israel and Phoenicia to Greece and Italy. And now, only one woman is left to weave this cloth.
Her name is Chiara Vigo and she is the last of an ancient line of the great Jewish silk makers. It wasn’t always so. Indeed, throughout Western history Jews were renowned (and sometimes captured) for their skill in silk-weaving. Even the Crusaders valued Jewish silk makers. But that did not save any of them in the end. Or, as Chiara puts it, it is impossible to profit from making sea silk.
Perhaps that is why Chiara Vigo, the last craftswoman to make sea silk, has sworn an oath not to profit from this, the world’s most precious fabric. Perhaps it was the oath that has kept the women of her family safe. Who knows?
Whatever the case, Chiara does not plan to ever sell her precious fabrics. She gives them all away. And one day, she will pass on her craft to her daughter. So that the skill to fashion the world’s oldest fabric will not parish from the earth.