Project Canterbury

St. Paul's Cloke: The Story of the Chasuble.

By Percy Dearmer.

London: The Warham Guild, 1922.

The Vestments of the Christian Church were originally every-day garments, worn by men and women about the time of Christ, which in the following centuries gradually dropped out of common use and remained as official robes. Thus the writer of the Second Epistle to Timothy (iv. 13) speaks of “The cloke (phelonen) that I left at Troas:” this is shown in Plates 4, 5, 6, and 8 below. By the end of the fourth century the phelones, phaelones or phaenoles (Latinized as paenula) had begun to have an official character, as we see in the mosaic of St. Ambrose (Plate 7). By the fifth and sixth centuries it is quite definitely one of the robes of a bishop (Plate 9 is one of the many examples of mosaics belonging to this period), though it is still worn also, in a smaller form, by layfolk: at this time it began to be called casula, or “cottage” (whence our English chasuble)—a name given to it because of its ample folds, which covered up the wearer like a little house (casa). In the ninth century it was worn by others besides the bishop, as in Plate 12. During the Middle Ages, it was cut [2/3] down from the earlier bell shape (Fig. 1) to various shapes approximating to Fig. 2 (showing half the vestment), which is perhaps about the same fullness as the brass in Plate 13. In the seventeenth century a further reduction began, so that the clergy came to wear what had once been the layman’s chasuble, but [3/4] with all the folds gone. Further progressive degradation reduced the garment to two short flaps. In the Eastern Church the chasuble retains the more ancient form of Fig. 1, except that it is now either caught up or cut away in front (Plate 3). It is still called in Greek by the name used in the New Testament, but in the diminutive form, phaelonion. The degradation of the garment, in the East as well as the West, was but part of the general deterioration of costume.

Let us begin with three examples of the paenula as an ordinary "cloke" or overcoat. The first is from the Arch of Trajan at Benevento:—

[5] The second, Plate 5, is a sepulchral stele of a sailor, which is now in the Museum at Mainz:

The third example, Plate 6, is even more interesting, for it is from a unique volume—the fourth-century [5/6] Terence at the Vatican—and shows an actor in one of Terence’s comedies wearing the paenula. This volume, which is described in Mowbrays’ English Churchman’s Kalendar (November leaf), 1916, is attributed to A.D. 340; and, from its style, must be a copy of an earlier work, probably of the second or third century:

We now come to the use of the paenula, with the pallium, as a distinctive dress of bishops and other high officials, not necessarily ecclesiastical. This mosaic, Plate 7, of Ambrose, in his church at Milan, is the earliest monument of a bishop extant:—

Here, on the other hand, is an orans, from a painting in the Catacomb Sotta la Vigna Massima, at Rome, wearing the shorter layman's paenula, still a secular garment:—

The rather obscure details of the St. Ambrose mosaic, which has suffered from time and restoration, are made clear by the later mosaics of the fifth and following centuries, of which the following is a typical example:—

[9] There are dozens of mosaics of the sixth century showing bishops habited in paenula and dalmatic, as in this instance (Plate 9), which helps one to [9/11] distinguish the folds in Plate 7. These bishops generally wear the paenula caught up on the right shoulder, as here, though occasionally it is shown hanging over both arms, as in Plate 11 . There is no doubt that the costume has now an ecclesiastical character—even to the shoes; though a smaller paenula was worn by laymen down to the eleventh century, and indeed as the poncho is still worn to-day. The earliest of all distinctive official marks of a bishop was the pallium (here reduced to a long white strip round the shoulders), which is found as an official garment, ample in size, in the earliest extant paintings (second century), and has always been the traditional garment in pictures of Christ and the Apostles, in whose time it was the recognized dress of philosophers and teachers.

The photograph in Plate 10 of a paenula, cut so as to form a semicircle when folded, instead of a bell as in Fig. 1, shows very good folds. One cannot look at any of the older examples without feeling that the original form of the garment has not gained either in dignity or in beauty by being reduced. Certainly there would have been no opposition to vestments if the clergy had introduced plain linen or silken chasubles of the Pauline shape, as indeed some are doing now. In the case, however, of a silk paenula the cost might make some modification desirable. Embroidery would be in any case confined (as in Plate 13) to stole, maniple, and apparels. Some people have the fancy that so-called “Gothic” vestments should not be used in churches of classical architecture. If there is anything [11/12] in the idea at all, the real classical form of the chasuble should be used, as in Plate 9.



Plate 11, one of the later Catacomb paintings, probably of the seventh century, shows St. Vincent wearing [12/13] his paenula (over an albe), not caught up on the right shoulder, but held up on both the arms, as in the modern example above in Plate 10. Such became in time the usual way of wearing the Paenula.


In Plate 12 the paenula is shown (in a hooded form) worn over girt albes by clerks in choir, of whom seven are shown. Above the bishop are five deacons, distinguished by their dalmatics. The bishop himself wears a paenula over his dalmatic and albe, and also a pallium (as in Plate 5). He does not wear a maniple, and what looks like a stole may perhaps be the clavi or stripes of his dalmatic. Stoles are, however, mentioned as liturgical ornaments as early as the sixth century, and this may be a stole worn outside the dalmatic.


The next illustration, Plate 13, brings us to the familiar type of the later mediaeval period. This Brass shows the phaelones or paenula (now generally called chasuble or planeta), as worn in the fourteenth century. It will be noticed that the Chasuble is plain, the embroidery being confined to the stole, maniple, and apparels: this is the case in most brasses, though ornamented borders all round the edge are common, and [13/14] Y shaped, or ψ shaped, or pillar orphreys occur in some examples. The folds on the arm show that the chasuble is about as full as in the diagram in Figure 2.


This Story of the Chasuble may well close with this comparatively late example in Plate 14. It will be noticed that every detail in the picture is Renaissance, from the tomb on the altar (which is part of the vision seen by the celebrant, St. Gregory) to the candlesticks; yet the chasuble remains of the traditional type, and is still recognizable as the casula, the phelones which St. Paul had left at Troas.

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