Project Canterbury

Some Notes on Vestments.

By Ernest Hermitage Day.

London: The Warham Guild, 1928.

[The illustrations, drawn by Mr. C. O. Skilbeck, are reproduced from the ‘Oxford Booklet’ No. 9, published by A. R. Mowbray & Co.]

To wear fine clothes upon occasions of ceremony, and especially of religious ceremony, is an instinct common to humanity. There is scarcely any developed religion in the world which makes no provision for the use of clothes of distinction, on the part of the officiant or the people, in its religious observances. Low Churchmen used to be very particular about their Sunday clothes. Freemasons, as a glance into the windows of Great Queen Street reveals, are accustomed to array themselves in bright and expensive garments for the ceremonies of their lodge meetings, which are in part of a religious nature. It is but an inexplicable inconsistency that some Churchmen and Freemasons should still resent the obedience of High Churchmen to the tradition and the directions of the Church concerning the wearing of vestments.

In the Church of the Old Covenant the vesture for religious ceremony had been the subject of revelation. Holy garments for glory and for beauty were enjoined [3/4] for the use of those who ministered to God in the priest’s office. The colour, the form, the material of the ephod and other parts of the vesture were of precise injunction. But to the Christian Church no such minute direction was given. The general principle of vestments was accepted and firmly settled, the details of its application needed no specific regulation, for to the Church of the New Covenant was given the full guidance of the indwelling Spirit. Unconfined to one race or one region the Christian Church was left free to adapt the details of her worship to the customs and the preferences of the many peoples to whom she ministered. So in the Church to-day we find that local influences have had much to say in the determination of the ornaments of the ministers in divine worship. The vestments, as the ceremonies, of the Holy Orthodox Eastern Church differ considerably from those of the West in form and colour, though the differences are less to the eye of one who knows something of the history of both East and West than to the eye of the casual observer.

The vestments which the celebrant and his ministers wear to-day are in the direct line of succession from those which were in common use by all in the early centuries; nor have their forms been greatly modified. The first Christian priests used in their worship the garments of their daily life, the dress which, in essentials, was worn by all peoples in the lands bordering upon the Mediterranean. To this dress the clergy of the Church alone remained faithful when the world adopted Byzantine elaborations and the dress of the northern [4/5] barbarians who had overrun the Empire, and had left as the mark of their victories the fashion in dress which the Western world follows to-day, an arrangement of cylinders. It may often be observed that a small class retains a fashion which the majority has rejected. The gowns of civic functionaries and of bedesmen, the wig of the judge, the blue coat of the Christ’s Hospital boy, are all conservative retentions of things which once were generally worn but have now only a ceremonial use. The dress of the northern barbarians which the Romans adopted, as presenting certain practical advantages over that which they had inherited, was disdained by the Church; the clergy retained the older forms for use in divine worship, doubtless thinking that comeliness was to be preferred above convenience. So it happens that to this day we are linked to the earliest ages of the Church’s life,  and that those who move about the altars of the Church wear the dress which in essentials was common to the Roman citizen and to the Syrian peasant.

[6] The eucharistic vestments were not derived from the vestments of the Jewish priesthood. They were not the invention of the Christian priesthood. They are not ‘sacrificial’ in a sense other than that in which any coat would become sacrificial if by dire necessity a priest found himself obliged to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in it. But they are an inheritance from the dim past, a link with the Church of the catacombs and of the Fathers which we do well to value; they constitute a vesture which is both beautiful in itself and hallowed for us by age-long tradition.

This tradition of use was not broken in England by the Reformation, but by slovenly neglect and unintelligent prejudice during the years of Puritan ascendancy which followed the Reformation. Nor was it even then wholly broken; isolated examples of fidelity to tradition and to the prescription of the Prayer Book may still be found. It is unnecessary here to recall the controversies which followed upon the restoration of the vestments as a logical result of the Tractarian Movement. It will be sufficient to say that it is now generally admitted that the Ornaments Rubric should be read as it stands, without the interpolation of a ‘not.’ Although the use of the vestments was declared illegal by the Privy Council in the Ridsdale case of 1877, the judgement was of such a kind, and was so keenly questioned, that those opposed to vestments have ever since been reluctant to raise the question again in the Courts, and the use of vestments has since that time steadily increased. In 1908 a sub-committee of five learned [6/7] bishops presented to Convocation a Report in which they stated their conclusion that the Ornaments Rubric cannot rightly be interpreted as excluding the use of the eucharistic vestments; and there the matter may be allowed to rest.

All the vestments were at first ample, and therefore beautiful. They have suffered more from parsimony and from the shears of the tailor in the last three centuries than in the sixteen centuries which preceded them. But even in the Roman Church to-day there is a strong reaction against meanness and ugliness. There are many Roman Catholic sacristies in which no ‘fiddle-back’ chasuble is to be found, and no English ecclesiologist has written more strongly against such things than Dr. Adrian Fortescue. ‘Skimped chasubles, gold braid and lace,’ he says, ‘are not Roman, they are eighteenth-century bad taste.’

The vestments will now be considered one by [7/8] one, in the order in which they are put on by the priest.

The Amice is the descendant of the linen scarf which was often worn by the Roman gentleman. It has a twofold use—to prevent the other vestments from touching the neck, and to fill up with its folds the awkward space which must always be left round the neck when an outer garment—in this case the chasuble—has an opening large enough to go over the head. For these reasons the amice should not be reduced to the attenuated form in which the Roman Catholic priest wears it. It is properly an oblong piece of linen measuring about 36 inches by 24, having two long tapes fastened to its two upper corners for the purpose of securing it in place. Between the corners to which the tapes are attached is stitched the Apparel, a strip of ornamented material measuring about 20 inches by 3, which when adjusted over the chasuble appears as a kind of collar. The apparel of the amice began to be disused in Italy at the beginning of the sixteenth century, but since it was in universal use in England (as appears from brasses engraved up to the middle of the sixteenth century) at the date to which the Ornaments Rubric refers it should never be omitted from the amice.

The Alb represents the long tunic of linen reaching to the ankles, with sleeves, which was the one indispensable garment of classical times, the irreducible minimum of dress. In its first form it had been short and sleeveless, but by the first centuries of the Christian era the long, sleeved form, at first despised as effeminate, had [8/9] passed into general use. The alb is worn to-day by the epistoler and gospeller as well as by the celebrant, under their respective outer vestments. It is of great fullness, gathered into a band at the neck, and should be as long as the cassock. The sleeves are not full like those of the surplice, but only sufficiently large to clear the sleeves of the cassock. At the neck it is closely fitting, with a short slit in front closed by a button at the top. In the worst days of ultramontane degeneracy it became the fashion to cut the linen alb short at the waist, or a little below it, and to continue the garment to the ankles with lace. Lace is an effeminate and foppish kind of ornament which completely destroys the dignity of the alb, and indeed of any vestment to which it is appended. The ornaments proper to the alb are the apparels at the wrists and at the lower edges of the skirts at the front and the back. These apparels, which, like that of the amice, are of coloured or embroidered stuff, are survivals of the ornament of the [9/10] classical tunic. It is not so necessary that the alb should be apparelled as that the amice should be, but apparels are dignified and beautiful accessories, and they are generally shown upon the best mediaeval brasses of ecclesiastics. Even now their use has not died out in some dioceses of the Continent. The apparels of the sleeves may measure about 8 inches by 3, those of the skirt about 12 inches by 7 or 8.

The alb is confined at the waist by the Girdle, as was the classical tunic. In the Middle Ages it was not unusual that the girdle should be a band, in some cases so elaborately ornamented that it was tied with strings in order to avoid tying the girdle itself. The effect may have been good, but it was scarcely legitimate, since it is a sound general principle that nothing should be so ornamented as to hinder its primary use. The girdle may be coloured, but a coloured girdle presents one more risk of a possible clash of colour with other vestments, and it seems generally better that the girdle should be of the form generally used to-day, that of a plain white linen rope with tassels at the ends, and about 12 feet long, or a little more.

The Stole was in origin but a handkerchief or napkin, carried openly because the ancients had no pockets. Serving-men threw the orarium over the left shoulder, and the deacon at the celebration of the Holy Mysteries would naturally have carried in the same way the napkin with which he purified the holy vessels. Thus the orarium or stole became the vestment proper to the deacon. Later on other linen cloths, now called purificators, were used for the cleansing of the chalice and paten, and the stole lost its serviceableness and be came a mere ornament, doubled, made of other materials than linen, and embroidered. But the deacon continued to wear it over the left shoulder; priests and bishops, who adopted it as an ornament wore it pendent from both shoulders. Bishops wear it with the ends hanging straight; priests when celebrating wear it with its ends crossed and kept in place by the girdle; deacons wear it over the left shoulder with the ends carried round under the right arm and tied there, or secured by the girdle. The stole in the Middle Ages was always long and narrow; about two and a half inches is a good width. Stoles short and broad, with widely expanded ends, shaped at the neck in an ugly angle, for the reason that breadth prevents them from lying conveniently round the neck, and protected at the neck by strips of lace, are relics of eighteenth-century bad taste. The mediaeval stole was graceful, the modern Roman stole is often hideous. The mediaeval usage was [11/12] to decorate the entire length of the stole with heraldic or geometrical devices, the custom of putting upon the stole a cross at the neck and a cross at each end finds no precedent in the past.

The Maniple or Fanon also was originally a handkerchief or napkin, and its use in the cleansing of the holy vessels lingered longer than that of the stole, though it took at last the course which the stole had taken, and became a mere ornament. In the ninth and tenth centuries the maniple is shown in pictures as carried on the left hand, between the thumb and fingers; but this was obviously inconvenient, and it was transferred to the wrist. It should not be made so short as the Roman Catholic vestment makers prefer; if it be made about three feet and a half in length it will not encroach upon the altar when the priest’s hands are raised, in its ornament the maniple conforms to the design of the stole, and, like the stole, it should be narrow, fringed, and without crosses.

Over all the other vestments the priest or the bishop wears, when celebrating, the Chasuble. There existed a limited use of the chasuble by those in minor orders as late as the tenth century, but this has died out. Originally a most ample vestment, the paenula, or cloak of the Roman, the chasuble has suffered severely by lopping in modern times. It was usually said in the older books that the early form of the chasuble was such that if it were laid on the ground it would form a circular disc. It is now generally agreed that it was always bell-shaped, like a. cope with its front edges joined. In any material but the lightest a vestment of this shape must have proved burdensome, by reason of the weight of the material gathered up on the arms; and when heavier fabrics came into use and embroidery grew elaborate—even to the employment of plates of gold and silver—the chasuble was lightened by cutting it away at the arms. But never in England did the process go so far as on the Continent, where the chasuble in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries assumed the form of two almost flat stiffened panels of embroidery joined by shoulderstraps. Down to the middle of the sixteenth century the English chasubles were still full and graceful, and this is the form to which the Prayer Book directs us to-day. The framers of the Ornaments Rubric would, indeed, scarcely have admitted the modern debased vestments of France to be chasubles at all. The chasuble should be made from light fabrics, neither interlined nor stiffened with much embroidery. The shape is of the first importance. The Warham Guild [13] workers have more than one design which is entirely convenient in use, and as beautiful in the lines of the drapery as the best of the mediaeval examples.

At a High Mass the Gospeller and Epistoler wear the Dalmatic and the Tunicle, which are also worn by the bishop under the chasuble when he is fully vested. These vestments differ only in their degree of ornament, the tunicle being the less splendid. The dalmatic was a tunic with sleeves, which was introduced into Italy from Dalmatia, as its name implies, in the second century, and was worn by deacons at Rome early in the fourth century. It is ornamented with two perpendicular orphreys, the survivors of the clavi upon the secular garment, and, with tassels which represent, the tufts of wool and fringes which were set along the edges of the clavi.

The Cope is among the more splendid vestments of the Church. Its use is not restricted to those in Holy Orders, it may be worn by laymen who act as cantors. It was in origin a mantle or rain-cloak, closed in front by a clasp. The hood of this mantle, which could be pulled over the head, is represented in the ecclesiastical cope by the flat, shield-shaped conventional hood which is affixed to the neck of the vestment. The cope is often made of a semi-circular form; but it is far better that it should not be of this shape, which results in an uncomfortably peaked neck, and in an overlapping of the lower edges in front, as may be seen in pictures of clergymen wearing the familiar copes of Westminster Abbey. It should be shaped to the [14/15] shoulders, as were those shown on mediaeval brasses, and then the orphreys which border the front edges will hang perpendicularly, and the neck be left free. The cope, like the chasuble, should be made of a soft material which hangs well. It should always be remembered that it is really a mantle. The beauty of both vestments is in the folds of their drapery, not in the stiff embroidery which is often plastered thickly upon them, with much devotion and at great expense, but to the discomfort of the wearer. But elaborate ornament, even of the craftsman in metals and jewels, may well be expended upon the Morse, the short band by which the Cope is clasped in front.

There is much more to be said about vestments, and those ornaments of the minister at the choir offices which are not spoken of in this leaflet. Dr. Dearmer has said it with fullness of learning in The Ornaments of the Ministers (Mowbrays, 2s. 6d.; cloth, 5s.), and the reader may be referred to that book as the safest of guides.

Priest in apparelled amice, appareled alb, stole, and maniple.

Priest in apparelled amice, appareled alb, girdle, stole, maniple, and chasuble.

Priest in apparelled amice, appareled alb, stole, and shaped cope.

Deacon in apparelled amice, appareled alb, stole, and maniple.

Deacon in apparelled amice, appareled alb, stole, maniple, and dalmatic.

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