Thursday, 10 March 2016

Chasuble Styles of the Roman Rite (Revisited) : 5


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 this 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 in this series may be found at these links:

An 18th century chasuble
every bit as ugly as 
a "Novus Ordo Sack".
For this post, we are pleased to quote an excellent monograph first published in 1926 by the English Catholic scholar, Raymond James. The work is titled The Origin and Development of Roman Liturgical Vestments. Mr James writes (pp 19-20):

(From the Eighteenth) until the nineteenth century... the story of the development of sacred vestments is a sad one: "development" seems indeed hardly the word to use. It was to this period, and especially to the eighteenth century - that nadir of all the Christian centuries - that we owe the bib-like chasuble, truncated stole and maniple, shrunken surplices or cottas and other similar vestments - all mere caricatures of the traditional form.

If anything at all is certain, it is that the Church did not initiate the process which resulted in producing these, but rather that she shewed herself on more than one occasion opposed to it.

Mr James, supports his remarks with many quotations from scholars and bishops. But it is seems sensible just to include this one from the Dictionary of Sacred Objects published in Venice in 1735 by the editor Magri (p 24):

Little by little, instead of being turned back at the sides, it was cut away instead, so that it came to resemble no longer a chasuble, but rather a monastic scapular. On this point, the Greeks deserve much praise, since they have retained the ancient shape (the loss of which by the Latin Church has been a great misfortune, since) in the shape of the ancient chasuble much majesty and many mysteries were contained; it originally represented, amongst other things, the Unity of the Church and the Seamless Garment of Christ, and this in its present cut-away condition it manifestly can no longer do.

A once ample chasuble of the 15th century,
mutilated in the 18th century into the "scapular" form.
(The Victoria & Albert Museum)
The remarks quoted above pertain to the FORM of the chasuble, not its decoration. In every era there have been vestments made from very noble and others from very uninspired fabrics. In every era there have been vestments that have beautifully decorated and others that have left much to be desired. Some chasubles of this abbreviated form have been made from the most beautiful fabrics and ornamented with great tastefulness. It has not been the intention of this post to discuss ornament, but to criticise FORM.

This form, which places convenience of use above the ancient traditions of sacred vestments, did not emerge suddenly in the eighteenth century. Its appearance has been noted much earlier in northern Europe; but when this "fashion" encroached upon Italy, Saint Charles Borromeo (as we have noted in Part Three of this series of posts) felt emboldened also to condemn it and to set down rules about the dimensions of the chasubles. He particularly objected to these abbreviated chasubles being both too short and too narrow (covering only the shoulders).

Within this particular form of abbreviated chasuble, there are a number of variants, which pertain to different regions. We might immediately call to mind the Italian, French and Spanish variants. Of these, the Italian variant of abbreviated chasuble is the least degraded and - at its best - is similar to the earlier form of the 16th century which we have referred to as The Saint Philip Neri.

The last gasp before the ravages of the
18th century: A chasuble of Roman origin, 
but significantly longer and slightly wider 
than the so-called "fiddleback".
Much more on this subject need not be written, except to remark how pitiful it is that so many people regard this debased form of chasuble as "Traditional" whilst despising more ample chasubles as being "Modern", "Vatican II" or, in some places, "Anglican". Readers of this blog will understand otherwise. Although these abbreviated chasubles has been made continuously since the eighteenth century, how sad to observe that contemporary vestment-makers, with renewed vigour, have returned to the making of these caricatures. This is quite a different situation from churches where these abbreviated vestments have been used continuously and without rupture from previous centuries.

Any number of the countless photographs which saturate the internet could be included here to illustrate these remarks, but it is not our intention to hold up to ridicule the aesthetics of any particular celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.

Lastly, we might question why a form of chasuble which is referred to in common parlance (and even in churchware catalogues) by the derogatory term "fiddleback" should be accorded any particular deference in Tradition.

On a brighter note, in the next chapter of this series, we shall move beyond the degraded liturgical tastes of the eighteenth century to the glories of the nineteenth century Gothic Revival.

The logical "development" of clipping-back:
the chasuble no more than a scapular.