Saturday 16 January 2016

Chasuble Styles of the Roman Rite (Revisited) : 4


Figure 1. Simply-decorated chasuble
made by the Saint Bede Studio in
the style of Saint Philip Neri.
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 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.

Previous posts:
Part One  Part Two  Part Three

This post concerns the style of chasuble found in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and in particular that form which has been associated through art with Saint Philip Neri. 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.

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 exaggerated 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.

As has been written about in Part Three of this series, Saint Charles Borromeo prescribed 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 to at least half way between the elbow and the wrist.

Contemporaneous with Saint Charles and for a century thereafter, a less ample form of chasuble was common, which is evidenced by paintings, sculptures and engravings of the 16th and 17th centuries. This form of chasuble is best known Saint Philip Neri, one of which is included in this post. We also include other works of art from this period depicting the same form of chasuble.

Figure 2. Well-known seventeenth century painting 
of Saint Philip Neri.
This form of chasuble only reached to the elbows, or sometimes not quite that far, but on the other hand was quite long, especially at the back. These chasubles also, it would seem from the evidence, often incorporated shoulder seams. The ancient form, as has been discussed in previous posts, did not use shoulder seams to sew together the front and back of the chasuble. Instead the chasuble, being a form of semicircle, was sewn together in the middle at the front, making a bell shape. During the middle ages, the practical limitations of such a design became evident and we find makers of vestments introducing the shoulder seam to constrict less the movements of the celebrant. The shoulder seam became more common in the 16th and 17th centuries, although our evidence for this is not complete. Not all vestments of this period were constructed in this way of sewing together the front and the back at the shoulder line.

Figure 3. Carving on the door of a Roman 
basilica shewing Saint Vitalis vested 
in a chasuble of the 17th century form.
Image: Orbis Catholicus Secundus.
The decoration most commonly found on vestments from the Southern Europe during this period was in the established Roman style: a single column at the back and at the front a TAU. Sometimes we find that a single column is substituted for the tau on such vestments. In Northern Europe, we find a similar shape of vestment ornamented with the familiar " Y " shape orphreys.

Presently, there is a revived interest in the Saint Philip Neri form of chasuble. The Saint Bede Studio regularly receives enquiries about such chasubles which seem to appeal because they are very Roman in character, based in Tradition, but yet not in the exaggerated form of the eighteenth century. Another reason, of course, is that they are very convenient to wear. Priests comment that they find this form of chasuble most suitable for the celebration of the Mass according to the Ordinary and Extraordinary usages.

Figure 4. 1628 painting by Francisco Herrera the Elder of 
Saint Bonaventure receiving Holy Communion 
from an Angel: the priest vested in a chasuble of 
the Saint Philip Neri form.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.