Yesterday, I visited the Archives Départmentales. The director had set out a selection of their most precious treasures for us to look at and and I got to pore over this map dating from 1485. It's actualy a portulan: an early vellum sea chart. This is how a Portuguese navigator saw the world at that time (Ireland is massively overproportioned and the rest of Europe is somewhat stunted).
There's something wonderful about being up close to something that old. The most moving exhibit, however, was a thick nineteenth-century register listing all of the babies abandoned at one of the hospitals in Bordeaux. Each baby is described in detail and a little piece of the cloth from the clothes s/he was wearing accompanies the description. Because the register has remained closed for so many years, the colours of the clipped cloth are still bright. Among the hundreds of entries, I noticed a square of shiny green silk, some creamy wool, a coiled piece of gold thread and a length of pink ribbon. All heart rendingly singular.
I wonder what those mothers would have thought as they dressed their babies for the first / last time had they known that hundreds of years later, long after the babies themselves had grown up and died, other women would finger the remnants of those very clothes and wonder what had pushed them to leave their babies on the hospital doorstep.