Sunday, 11 June 2017

How Did Vestments Originate?

From "The Pilot", 1968 comes this, an interesting historical ramble. 

Some Church Customs Explained
By S.G. Thicknesse

How Did Vestments Originate?

In the stone reliefs now in the south aisle of the presbytery at Chichester Cathedral, Jesus is wearing the exquisite draperies of the Graeco-Roman world into which he was born. Under the himation, the draped overwrap of the teacher, known also in Galilee, he wears the long, full and probably white (alba) tunic, the folds of which hide the girdle at the waist.

When the English masons, probably some time before the Norman Conquest, carved these blocks of Caen stone at Chichester, the robes of the ancient civilization and of Jesus were recognizable in the Eucharistic vestments of the Church. The tunica alba had become the alb, the basic vestment of the priesthood; the himation had become formalized into the narrow and yoke-like pallium of mediaeval bishops, and its place taken by the full cloak, from the fourth century called jokingly a casula, a small house. It was not a great change from casula to the early English chesible, and the modern chasuble.

It was when people generally in the Roman Empire had begun to drop the old classical garments, about the fourth century, that the dress of Christian clergy, who continued to wear them, began to appear specialized. `Vestments' began because of a conservatism which held to a tradition of dress which had become associated with the saints and martyrs who had worn it, and was simple and excellent in itself, not from any intention of appearing different from other people.

Jewish-and even pagan-priestly vestments had probably also been gradually evolved in much the same way, and, like the Christian, became much more significant in the end because they had grown up despite the simple and strict attitude of the faithful, as well as from it.

But although the liturgical dress of Christian priests began, from the fourth century, to be distinguished from that of pagans and gradually from that of the Christian laity, it always continued to be influenced in some degree by changes of secular fashion.

Although, for example, the clergy did not adopt the short tunic which became fashionable in Rome at the end of the third century (at least until the appearance of the clerical surplice in the eleventh century, or of the Italian cotta in the eighteenth), bishops and deacons-and before the casula, priests - had early adapted to their use the sleeved garment from pagan Dalmatia, which the bizarre Emperor Commodus at the end of the second century had introduced into Rome.

When St. Cyprian was martyred in the next century he first divested himself of cloak and dalmatic. In the same way the large white linen kerchief, which once had been commonly carried by anybody, usually round the neck with the ends tucked under the tunic, by the eighth century had become the distinctive amice of the clergy. Similarly the stole, and a little later the maniple, were derived from smaller kerchiefs, carried for convenience over shoulder or forearm.

In time these were folded and, a mere memory of their former utilitarian selves, became a badge of priestly office. They also became a distinguishing mark, as a deacon wore his stole across the left shoulder, a bishop wore his hanging straight down over both shoulders, and a priest crossed the ends of his stole over his breast.

Later developments-the magnificent copes from secular cloaks, the embroidered orphrey (Pliny's `curium phrygialium', phrygian goldwork) of the chasuble, the velvets and silks and tassels of the mediaeval Church-were all a mirror to the changing tastes and growing splendour and skill of society in general, and to increased enterprise along the trade routes.

In addition there were modifications introduced for convenience (like the `fiddle-back' chasuble which made easier the elevation of the Host) which often continued from habit. The surplices, for instance, at Christ Church, Oxford, and elsewhere, which are split down the front, started in the late seventeenth century when clerical wigs were deranged getting through the traditional neckline.

It was after vestments had become customary as a distinctive liturgical dress, and their use strictly reserved by occasion and priestly degree, that they began to be invested with symbolic significance, which they still tend to keep.

So, for example, an eighth-century manuscript directed the priest to say as he put on the maniple, `Encircle me, Lord, with goodness, and ordain my life spotless'. In the tenth century, a priest as he assumed his amice prayed `Place, O Lord, the helmet of salvation on my head to the defeat of diabolic invasions'.

Later, the Eucharistic vestments were seen as symbols of Christ's passion: the alb became the robe in which Christ was mocked, the maniple his fetters, the stole the towel with which he wiped the Apostles' feet.

The first English Prayer Book, confirmed in this by Elizabeth's Prayer Book of 1559, retained with little change the old vestments and ornaments, although for centuries the letter of this law went generally disregarded.

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