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The Episcopal Ornaments: An Outline

By Francis C. Eeles.

London: The Warham Guild, 1925.


The following notes—for they are little more—have been produced in answer to requests by more than one bishop for information regarding the episcopal ornaments, especially those less commonly used among us. A desire has been expressed for something that may guide episcopal practice along the lines of the older English tradition, avoiding any appeal to Roman authority or usage. It is recognized that the amount of ceremonial must needs vary widely under present circumstances, and the writer wishes to avoid all appearance of urging bishops to adopt ornaments or ceremonies in excess of what they find to be customary or desirable. But assuming that a certain type of enrichment is required, here is an attempt to answer frequent questions as to what is the English as distinct from the Roman usage if or when there is a difference.

More research is needed and a more extended treatment of the whole subject with authorities quoted in full is much to be desired. Meanwhile it is hoped that these somewhat disconnected notes may supply some of the information so frequently asked for.

Those who wish to study the question will find more information in The Ornaments of the Church and its Ministers, Report of Sub-Committee, Upper House of Convocation, 1908 (S.P.C.K.); Pontifical Services.) vol. i, p. 105, Alcuin Club Collection No. 3, 1904.

The Episcopal Ring, W.W. Watts, in Trans. Scottish Ecclesiological Society, vol. vi, pt. iii, 1920-21, p. 143.

The Black Chimere of Anglican Prelates, N. F. Robinson, in Transactions of St. Paul’s Ecclesiological Soc., vol. iv, p. 181, 1900.

Francis C. Eeles.
August, 1925.

Space forbids any attempt to give the history of the episcopal ornaments or to describe all those in use in the Church as a whole. The present purpose is to outline the earlier and later English tradition, which in theory, and to a large extent in practice, determines action in these matters among us at the present day. The present law of the Church of England is contained in the Ornaments Rubric in the Book of Common Prayer, which refers to the end of the mediaeval period as the standard for this purpose, and although actual usage falls short (and often with strong justification) of this standard, in practice there has been little variation from it in the form of such ornaments as have actually been maintained in use.

The ordinary dress of the English bishop is that which has been worn for centuries. The cassock, rochet, chimere, hood, scarf, and cap have undergone but little change. The cassock is still almost always of the traditional double-breasted form; it is generally purple, though of old it was often scarlet. [Sometimes of blue (e.g. Abp. Scrope, 1405) or some other colour.] The rochet has maintained its length and fullness and its long sleeves for [5/6] century after century. It has never undergone the shortening process which went on abroad, and it has never had lace trimmings on skirt or sleeves. In the seventeenth century for a time the neck-band was embroidered and occasionally trimmed with a narrow band of open work. The sleeves have generally been full at the elbows and gathered at the wrist, secured of old by the cuffs of the cassock. Latterly a linen cuff developed, held in place by a band round the wrist, and in the early part of the nineteenth century the sleeves under went a great enlargement, as may be seen in pictures between about 1780 and 1870. More recently this enlargement of sleeves has again become unfashionable; it was accompanied by a strange practice of separating the sleeves from the rochet and attaching them to the chimere or even wearing them separately; probably this transient fashion will soon become entirely obsolete.

The chimere is worn in two forms: black silk or satin for ordinary use, scarlet silk or cloth for Convocation and certain state occasions. It is open in front, and gathered at the back into a yoke behind the neck. The rochet sleeves come through openings at the side. With the chimere is worn the scarf, now always of black silk, at one time often trimmed with fur; it is now exactly like the scarf worn by priests and deacons. In the middle ages the chimere was not open in front until latterly. Some mediaeval pictures appear to show the bishop wearing a hood over the chimere, [It is possible that in these cases the chimere is academic rather than episcopal; in Oxford doctors still wear one. In the later mediaeval period hood and scarf (or tippet) do not seem to have been worn together: when the custom arose of wearing the latter, the former would naturally be discarded.] but in post reformation times this fell into abeyance, until in the [6/7] nineteenth century practically all the bishops, following the example, it is said, of Dr. Samuel Wilberforce, resumed the wearing of hoods. [On the Continent in Latin countries substantially the same vestments are worn, although their form has changed for the worse in a way which we have escaped in this country, and there are certain differences in their use. The rochet has become so short as to be hardly recognizable, and it is frequently trimmed with lace both on the skirt and sleeves. The mozzetta corresponds to the hood but does not vary with the University. While English hoods have lost most of the cape, this retains the cape at the expense of-the hood. A bishop, or other prelate having the right to wear rochet and mozzetta, wears these vestments in his own diocese or where he has jurisdiction. When not in his own diocese, he wears the equivalent of the chimere, which is called the mantellettum, which is now cut short and is without fullness behind: in presence of his superior he adds the mozzetta, otherwise the mozzetta and mantellettum are not worn together except in Spain. The continental bishop does not wear the scarf, though a French bishop often wears bands at the neck.]

What we have described was the ordinary everyday dress of bishops in the middle ages and later. Their use of it in the House of Lords and in Convocation at the present day is a survival of this. There is evidence that they wore the surplice and furred almuce in addition in church, but references to the episcopal surplice often seem to indicate the rochet, and it is probable that they dropped the surplice latterly. Otherwise it is difficult to understand the prescription of a rochet as the vesture of the bishop in the Prayer Book of 1552 at the same time that the surplice was prescribed for the rest of the clergy. We may also note that the surplice is only worn abroad by bishops who are regulars, and then it is in place of the rochet. Post-reformation practice is strong and continuous for the rochet, chimere, and scarf as the choir dress of bishops. [But the literal interpretation of the Ornaments Rubric would require the cope in choir on many occasions.]

[8] To the dress described can be added the more elaborate vestments, as follows:—

1. The mitre. This is sometimes shown with the rochet and chimere on post-reformation effigies, and no doubt was so worn on more solemn occasions. [E.g. Abp. Sheldon of Canterbury, 1677, at Croydon; Abp. Sterne, 1683, York; Bp. Gunning, 1684, Ely.] There is also pre-reformation evidence for such usage. It is found in France to-day, and is provided for by the Roman rite for confirmation.

The mitre never reached the enormous size in England which it attained abroad, especially in post-reformation times. The size increased latterly before the reformation, though not to the same extent as, e.g., in Germany. While the post-reformation mitre assumed a renaissance character, the size appeared to remain fairly constant and the band round the head and the traditional central, orphrey remained. These, with the labels behind, which ought to join the band encircling the head, are an essential part of the mitre as representing the ancient vittae which tied it in position in its earliest days.

2. The cope. This was added like the mitre for extra solemnity. Generally the chimere was omitted beneath it (e.g. the contemporary picture of Bishop Elphinstone of Aberdeen, c. 1500), but occasionally it would seem as if latterly the chimere was retained (e.g. brass of Samuel Harsnett, Archbishop of York, in Chigwell Church, Essex, 1631).

3. The eucharistic vestments commonly so called. These were added over the rochet of old (as still directed by the Roman missal).

The amice was no doubt worn with the rochet at times, as directed in the Roman rite for a confirmation, [8/9] though Bishop Elphinstone’s portrait, already referred to, does not show it. Usually the amice, albe, girdle, [Bishop Robert Creyghton is represented thus in his effigy in Wells Cathedral, 1672 (without stole and maniple)] stole, and maniple were worn with cope and mitre for any episcopal blessing or the like, i.e. as for the procession before high mass on any ordinary occasion. [The maniple should be put on with the rest of the vestments, not assumed separately on reaching the altar as in the Roman rite.] For the mass itself, the chasuble of course was substituted for the cope.

4. Upon certain solemn occasions the. bishop wore buskins on his legs and sandals on his feet, and both tunicle and dalmatic over albe and stole, beneath cope or chasuble. [The effigy of Thomas Goldwell, Bishop of Norwich, 1499, in that cathedral, shows the maniple worn with the cope.] When a bishop acted as deacon or subdeacon at high mass he seems to have worn the usual vestments of these ministers with the addition of the mitre. It will be recalled that the Book of Common Prayer prescribes that bishops should take the part of these ministers at the consecration of a bishop. The same is also ordered in the Coronation service. Though not in accordance with Roman custom, this practice is very ancient.

We may therefore venture to summarize episcopal practice as follows:—

The bishop may wear ordinary dress on all occasions, viz. (over cassock) rochet, chimere, scarf, and cap. He may add the crozier at any time and (a) the mitre, (b) the cope, (c) the gloves for greater solemnity, e.g. for a procession or for solemn choir services. He should remove chimere and scarf beneath the cope. [In that case he might wear an amice with the rochet.]

[10] For blessing anything, or for procession before the eucharist on ordinary occasions, he may substitute amice, albe, girdle, stole, and maniple for chimere, hood, and scarf, adding of course cope and mitre and wearing gloves.

On more solemn occasions he may add tunicle and dalmatic and if desired buskins and sandals. [These are clumsy and ineffective and most people seem to consider their revival among us undesirable.]

At the eucharist he will of course wear chasuble instead of cope. [But for ordinations at the present day it is probably better and more in accordance with the spirit of the Prayer Book rite, for the bishop to wear the cope until after the Litany, and then to change it. for the chasuble, i.e. supposing that he desires to follow the more elaborate use.]

The pectoral cross is generally worn now by bishops, but it is not a necessary or very ancient ornament; it developed out of a reliquary late in the middle ages. If worn it should be over rochet or albe, not over the other vestments. Its use is said by some to have caused bishops to cease crossing the stole. There is good precedent for a bishop wearing the stole in either way; if worn uncrossed, he may or may not confine the ends with the girdle. [Durandus (iii; c. v: n. 3) writes as if the crossing of the stole was not general, nor a question of bishop versus priest: non ubique he says. It was not crossed at Rome according to Innocent III (lib. i: c. 54). The first order to cross the stole is at Braga, A.D. 675, for the celebrating priest. Was crossing Gallican, not crossing Roman? But there is ample evidence from Italian pictures for mediaeval bishops crossing the stole. Two statues in Elgin Cathedral (? 15th cent.) in amice, albe, stole, cope, mitre, and gloves show the stole not crossed, in the one case held by the girdle, in the other hanging free.] The stole should of course be worn so that the ends show beneath the other vestments in front.

The mitre should be worn on any occasion of [10/11] solemnity, in processions, on approaching the altar, during the decalogue and epistle, not during the gospel. [Note that during the Gospel the bishop holds the crozier, but does not wear the mitre.] It should be replaced for the offertory; it should be removed for the more solemn prayers. But it should be worn again for the Gloria and blessing, notwithstanding that the eucharist remains on the altar. The bishop should always wear the mitre when seated or when addressing the people; according to Roman use it is not worn during prayers, but we know this was not adhered to in England any more than it is in the East, although, on the other hand, the mitre should be removed for any prayers of special solemnity. [What is suggested here accords both with what is known of mediaeval English custom and also generally with that of the East. In any case it is not desirable to be frequently taking it on and off.]

It is not necessary to have three different kinds of mitre as in the Roman rite, nor is it necessary for the mitre always to be white and gold. There is good evidence for coloured mitres in England.

The gloves are an ornament that survived the Reformation and came down till shortly before the Oxford movement. They should be removed at the offertory when the bishop celebrates, after he has received the offerings, and replaced after the ablutions at the end.

The crozier or pastoral staff used not to be confined to the diocesan bishop. Any bishop may carry one. Bishops out of their own dioceses may carry the crozier and so may suffragans. The bishop carries it himself if he wears cope and mitre, using it to walk with in his left hand, turning the crook away from himself. If he be not in cope and mitre his chaplain may [11/12] carry it before him, holding it with the crook turned inwards. [If this common-sense rule be observed, the chaplain will hand the staff to the bishop in the right way for him to hold when he receives it; neither need turn it round, for it will be in the right position for either.]

The ring has usually been of gold and plain; in this country the sapphire was the most favoured stone and after that the ruby. It was (and is) generally worn on the third finger of the right hand.

For many years in the Western Church the pallium, a narrow collar of lambs’ wool with a long pendant in front and behind, has been granted by the pope to arch bishops and occasionally to other bishops. Anciently, as in the East to-day, all bishops wore it, and it had no connection with the papacy. There seems no reason therefore why archbishops should not use it if they wish for a distinctive sign on great occasions, even though no longer conferred by the pope. The archbishop has the right to have a cross carried in front of him in his own province, and the Archbishop of Canterbury throughout England, as well as the use of the crozier like other bishops.

It is not according to English use, and not desirable for the bishop to be attended by two deacons or two clerics vested as deacons; where possible canons or chaplains in their choir habit, with or without copes, should attend upon him and assist him with mitre, crozier, etc. Nor is it necessary or desirable to provide a special candle for the bishop, nor to set a book open before him in the midst of the altar as well as the ordinary service book. The row of six candles on the altar with a seventh in the centre behind the cross when the bishop sings high mass in his own diocese is due to a late Roman custom which spread from Rome in post-reformation [12/13] times and was never followed in England. The same is the case with the use of four lights by a bishop at low mass.

The proper place for the bishop’s throne in choir is where it has been for centuries in this country, namely just beyond the east end of the choir on the south side. At Exeter, Hereford, Durham, and St. Davids the mediaeval thrones still remain in their original positions.

When celebrating the bishop sometimes used a second throne near the altar. At York the archbishop sat iuxta summum altars till the offertory when solemnly celebrating. Sometimes bishops seem to have used the sedilia. In earlier days there was in some places a throne behind the high altar: remains of one still exist at Norwich, and there was one in this position at Canterbury, which the archbishops, when solemnly celebrating, occupied until the offertory.

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