The Cleveland Museum of Art has a particularly rich selection of liturgical textiles (textiles used during religious ceremonies) from the Middle Ages (about 500–1500). In cathedrals, monasteries, and parish churches, they were used at many different points of church life. They covered the altar table, were used during mass, or served as vestments, or garments, for the clergy. They were usually richly decorated with pictorial programs, allowing insights into the thinking and piety of each time period.
They were often produced within monastic communities. Nuns, in particular, are believed to have made textiles. In the late Middle Ages (about 1200–1500), production increased sharply, and, especially in Italy, textiles were also produced industrially on a large scale and delivered throughout Europe.
Textiles are particularly sensitive to light and accordingly they can only be exhibited for a limited period of time in order to preserve their colors and fabrics for later generations by keeping them in a dark, climate-controlled space.