Tuesday 18 August 2015

Chasubles of the Roman Rite (Revisited) : 1


A chasuble in the fully-conical 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, we wish to present a series of articles describing the styles of chasuble down the centuries until our own time.  These articles were first published on this Blog in 2012.

The ancestor of the liturgical vestment called the chasuble is a garment of ancient Rome called the paenula. It was a semi-circular cloak, sewn together down the front and completely covering the arms. It was a garment for everyday wear by the lower classes, but was also worn by the upper classes and by women for travel and in bad weather.  From the Fifth century, a garment of similar shape but made in richer material was adopted by the Roman upper classes for ceremonial wear and this planeta was the immediate ancestor of our chasuble. Then, from the 9th century, a third name was given to a cloak which was still in the shape of the early paenula, and like it was a protective outer garment for the poor: casula (Latin for “little house”). For a time, the secular and liturgical use of these three similar garments continued side by side. It was the shape of these garments, rather than their use which came to be associated with the liturgical chasuble.

Well-preserved conical chasuble 
of S' Vitalis, dating from eleventh century.
Note the "TAU" orphrey, 
ornamenting the chasuble.
From the Tenth century, what we know as the chasuble consisted of a semi-circle of material with the two halves of the straight edge folded together and sewn down the front leaving an opening at the neck. The neck opening was sometimes widened slightly, leaving a short horizontal opening near the top of the centre seam. This shape is referred to as the conical or bell chasuble. It was not until the turn of the Tenth and Eleventh centuries that the chasuble was recognised everywhere as the vestment exclusively to be used for the Mass. But even until well into the Eleventh century, it continued to be worn by deacons, lectors and acolytes, not exclusively by priests.

An early mediaeval illustration of
Saint Gregory the Great
shewing him vested in pontificals
including a fully-conical chasuble.
For readers who may be unfamiliar with this style, the shape of a conical chasuble is very similar to that of a bell. Consequently, in order for the wearer to use his arms, the conical chasuble must be pulled up at the sides and the fabric allowed to rest in the small of the arms. When this happens, the vestment folds upward from the bottom in a manner quite distinctive.  Many illustrations, statues and monuments from late Antiquity to the Middle Ages regularly show vestments with precisely these folds.

A conical chasuble is not for celebrants who like to move their arms around a great deal, but it is quite manageable if the arms always remain extended or joined.

Small, but beautiful conical chasuble of
the thirteenth century preserved
in the Church of S' Yves de Louannec.
Note that this chasuble is devoid of ornament.

A rendering of the famous mosaic in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome.
This section of the mosaic depicts 
Pope Saint Clement standing at the altar during Mass.
The Pope is wearing a fully-conical chasuble.
This mosaic has frequently been misrepresented 
as depicting a modified conical chasuble,
cut-away in the front to form a V-shape. This is quite incorrect.
 A conical chasuble with the preponderance of the fabric 
thrown towards the back of the wearer, 
instead of upon his arms, will produce exactly this effect.
The Eastern chasuble developed 
from such a manner of wearing the conical chasuble.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

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