Friday, 3 May 2013

Chasubles of the Roman Rite : 3


A chasuble approximating the dimensions of the Borromeon Form.
Frequently, the Studio receives enquiries asking about the distinctions between the different styles of chasubles. Comments are also often seen on websites which indicate that this subject matter is still not well-known. Although this has been written about before on the blog, I wish to present a series of posts describing the styles of chasuble down the centuries until our own time. These posts ought to be regarded as brief overviews rather than scholarly treatments of the subject matter.

This post concerns the style of chasuble found in the sixteenth century and in particular that form deemed desirable by Saint Charles Borromeo. As has been written about elsewhere, Saint Charles set down regulations about any number of things pertaining to arrangements of churches and their ministers. From the earliest years of the Church until about the sixteenth century, the conical or bell-shaped chasuble had been the norm for the ministers at the altar. In the thirteenth century, as described in part two of this series, the shape of that chasuble was slightly modified for the greater convenience of the wearer.

Detail of a 17th century French painting of the Miraculous Mass of Saint Martin, shewing the Saint vested in an ample chasuble of the dimensions recommended by Saint Charles.
From the fifteenth century, however, in various parts of Europe, but particularly northern Europe, vestment makers took it upon themselves to modify the chasuble still further to free-up the celebrant's arms. Thus, even at this early date but only in some places, that ugly shape referred to unkindly as the "fiddleback" began to appear. It is noteworthy that the truncation of the chasuble in this way was never sanctioned by Ecclesiastical authority. Whilst abbreviated chasubles were appearing North of the Alps, Rome retained the Tradition of the ample chasuble, as did Spain.

Thus it was that Saint Charles, obviously disedified by what he deemed to be unseemly abbreviations of the form of the chasuble, set down regulations for the benefit of his Diocese of Milan. These were the dimensions he believed to be the minimum in order for a chasuble to conform to Tradition. He prescribed that the chasuble was to be very long, reaching at the back almost to the heels of the wearer and wide enough so that it reached half way between the elbow and the wrist.

The diagram above is a montage produced to help explain the difference between the ancient conical form and that modified form approved by Saint Charles. Note that the bell-shape has been altered by reducing fabric along the shoulder line of the vestment. The modified form leaves the arms of the wearer comparatively free, but also it sits on the wearer like a Mexican poncho, rather than wraps itself around the wearer as the ancient conical form did.

Lastly, we are pleased to include this detail from Beccafumi's painting The Miraculous Communion of Saint Catherine of Siena, circa 1515. This shews the form of chasuble that was to be found in Italy at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It closely corresponds to the dimensions prescribed by Saint Charles 80 years later. Note that, unlike the conical form, described in our first two posts, this chasuble does not fold upward from the lower edge, but instead, sits on the wearer.