Unique Silk Cloth Found in Emperor Henry VII's Coffin

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A unique silk cloth has been found in the tomb of German king and Holy Roman emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg (1275-1313), among bones and what remains of his boiled head, Italian researchers announced this week.

Resting in Pisa Cathedral, the remains of Henry VII were exhumed last fall with the aim of getting more insights into the emperor’s physical features and cause of death.

The research is still ongoing, but the opening of the sarcophagus has already revealed a medieval treasure trove.

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Photos: Artifacts Revealed in Tomb of King Henry VII

"Along with the emperor's mortal remains, the coffin contained a crown, a scepter and an orb, all made in gilded silver. But the most unexpected find was a large, magnificent silk cloth," Moira Brunori, at the Center for Textile Restoration in Pisa, told Discovery News. "It's extremely well preserved." Brunori said.

As the researchers opened the coffin for the third time since Henry VII's death in 1313 -- previous investigations were carried in 1727 and in 1921 -- they found the emperor's bones wrapped in the silk cloth. The crown, scepter and orb were laid on top of the cloth.

The three objects were commonly associated with the emperor. Indeed a set of contemporary miniatures often show Henry VII wearing them during his journey through Italy.

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Celebrated as the "alto Arrigo" (high Henry) in Dante's Divine Comedy, Henry is best remembered for his struggle to reestablish imperial control over the city-states of 14th-­century Italy.

He was crowned King of Germany in 1308 and two years later he descended into Italy with the aim of pacifying destructive disputes between Guelf (pro-papal) and Ghibelline (pro-imperial) factions. His goal was to be crowned emperor and restore the glory of the Holy Roman Empire.

After meeting strong opposition among anti-imperialist Guelf lords, Henry entered Rome by force, and was indeed crowned Holy Roman Emperor on June 29, 1312.

"He who came to reform Italy before she was ready for it," as Dante described Henry VII, died just a year after his coronation, having failed to defeat opposition by a secular Avignon papacy, city-states and lay kingdoms.

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Henry died prematurely at Buonconvento, near Siena, on Aug. 24, 1313. Rumors of him being poisoned began to spread.

The emperor's body was hastily buried; two years later he was reburied in the Cathedral of Pisa.

"Not having enough time to treat the corpse for transportation, the emperor's followers burned his body, detached the head and boiled it. His bones were kept in wine to better preserve them," Brunori said.

Indeed researchers found in the coffin ashes and bones showing signs of burning.

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