Friday, 11 September 2015

Chasuble Styles of the Roman Rite : 2 (Revised)


A semi-conical chasuble
prepared by the Saint Bede Studio
for an American priest.

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.

Semi-conical chasuble of S' Bernard 
kept at the Aachen Cathedral.

The modification of the shape of the chasuble which was handed on from the earliest centuries of the Church, and which was discussed in our previous article, seems to have been initiated solely for convenience to the wearer: the enveloping conical form greatly restricted arm movement. Although many authors specify the Thirteenth century as the period for the modification to the form, we find surviving chasubles  from the Twelfth century in the semi-conical form.

Semi-conical chasuble of S' Thomas Becket at the Sens Cathedral
Photograph reproduced under licence from Kornbluth Photography.

In the Thirteenth century, three further significant reasons brought about a desire to reduce the dimensions of the chasuble. The first was the introduction of the Elevations during the Canon of the Mass. The second was the rise of the private Mass, in other words, a Mass where the celebrant would not be assisted by a deacon and subdeacon (who were to lift and hold back the chasuble at certain points in the Mass to free the arms of the celebrant). Consequently, the celebrant had the need for a greater freedom of movement for his arms and the chasuble was redesigned in order to accommodate that. Additionally, the types of fabrics used for vestments changed from the Thirteenth century, and were heavier (often embroidered) and stiffer than the silks and wools used in previous centuries. In short, there were practical reasons to modify the dimensions of the chasuble.

How was the chasuble form modified? Modification happened in stages and not uniformly across the Church in the West. In the first instance, the semi-circular shape of the chasuble was cut back in such a way that the bulk of fabric to be supported on the arms was reduced. The chasubles depicted above, said to have been worn by Saint Bernard (1090-1153) and Saint Thomas Becket (1118-1170) are examples of this earliest modification. Notice that what had been a bell-shaped garment has become pointed. According to some scholars, the introduction of shoulder seams allowed the width of the chasuble form progressively to be reduced from the traditional conical form, but this will be discussed in the third article in this series.

Detail of a 15th century painting 
depicting Saint Augustine 
wearing a semi-conical chasuble.

The photograph of S' Thomas Becket's chasuble was made available by Dr Genevra Kornbluth.  It may not be reproduced.  Other images of the Becket vestments may be seen at the same site.

The back and front of a semi-conical chasuble 
made by the Saint Bede Studio.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.