Saturday 28 November 2009

The colour for vestments in the Penitential Seasons

A couple of years ago, I researched and posted an article on the use of penitential colours for the Seasons of Advent, Lent &c. That post may be read here and here, so I don't intend to rehearse its findings.

Instead, always most interesting, an historic work of art to illustrate the practice of our forebears. This work (adjacent) was painted by an artist known as the Master of Osservanza in the year 1440 and depicts a Low Mass being offered at a side chapel in the Siena Cathedral (Italy).

Some observations. The chasuble being worn by the celebrant is violet: in other words, much the same colour as the flower "violets". It is a blue-ish colour, not purple and it is not too dark either. The chasuble is the full conical shape and is ornamented with a simple column-orphrey of dark fabric (possibly even black). Most likely, the front of the chasuble would have been decorated with the familiar "tau". The celebrant is wearing decorative apparels on his alb and amice, which match the colour of the chasuble's ornament. That is a very typical practice of the Mediaeval period. Note, too, the very full folds of the alb.

We see, also, that the boy assisting the celebrant is wearing a full-length surplice, according to the style typically found in Renaissance Italy. Those who claim that such surplices are "Church of England" practice should note this well.

Lastly, the altar itself. It is clothed in a dark antependium or altar frontal, ornamented with scarlet red. On the altar is a Crucifix and a single candle. Although it may seem peculiar that there is but a single candle instead of a pair, it might be remarked that not until the 16th century was it a usual practice to have a pair of candlesticks on an altar.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

New vestments: Rome

A seminarist from one of the Roman Colleges commissioned the Saint Bede Studio to prepare a Solemn Mass set of vestments in the style of the 16th century. The set, which is to be used for both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, comprises a chasuble, dalmatic and tunic, cope &c. Adjacent is shewn the chasuble and dalmatic.

The vestments are made from an ivory and straw-coloured brocade and ornamented with a copper and old-gold-coloured silk damask. They are fully lined in wine-red silk taffeta.

Although chasubles after the style of this period have frequently appeared on these pages, this is the first dalmatic of the period which we have made.

In the Archbasilica of S' Mary's Major, Rome is a display of historic vestments and recently, we included a photograph of a chasuble from that collection owned by S' Charles Borromeo. Adjacent to those vestments, is a dalmatic from the same period; it is shewn in the picture below.

By the 16th century, less and less was a distinction to be found between the form of the dalmatic and that of the tunic (the vestment worn by the subdeacon). Exactly why this is the case is unclear. The tunic came to be of the same size, shape and ornament as the dalmatic.

Some things are noteworthy about the dalmatic shewn in the adjacent picture. Firstly, it is very ample: a real garment, which would have extended almost to the wrist of the wearer and well below the knees. Secondly, the sleeves are sewn together, so that the wearer must pass his arm through them, according to the ancient form of the dalmatic. Notably absent from this dalmatic is the execrable degradation (originating in France and spreading throughout Europe during the Baroque), whereby the sleeves were not joined together but became large flaps of stiffened fabric moving about freely. Sad to say, brand new dalmatics for the Extraordinary Form are being made now in this debased manner, in the misguided belief that they are somehow "Traditional".

Secondly, we may observe the ornamentation, which by the 16th century had become somewhat stylised and continued to be so, typically, until well into the 20th century. The ancient practice was to decorate the dalmatic with two parallel lines called clavi (plural), running from either side of the collar of the vestment to its hem. In the mediaeval period, decorative rectangles of fabric called apparels began to be inserted in between the clavi, usually at the chest level, but also on the cuffs of the dalmatic. The dalmatic in the picture shews a later development: the clavi are very narrow and instead of a decorative apparel in between them, further parallel lines of braid are placed, at right angles to the clavi. Sometimes coats of arms and other devices were embroidered in this space.

Lastly may be observed the tassles. The origin of these had nothing to do with ornament. They were cords used to tie together the front and the back of the dalmatic at the neckline. Splitting the dalmatic in this manner at the shoulder seam made it much easier to put the garment on over the head. From something practical the tassles developed into something highly decorative - and often impractical.

Click on the pictures for an enlarged view.


Wednesday 4 November 2009

Feast of S' Charles Borromeo

In the Calendars of the Roman Rite, 4th November is set down as the Feast of S' Charles Borromeo (Cardinal-Archbishop of Milan 1560-1584). If Saint Charles, were alive today I suspect he would be regarded as hero to those who cherish the traditions of the Church. An important figure at the Council of Trent and confidant of Popes, he was anxious to preserve traditions and not allow fashion, false doctrine or laxity to push Tradition to one side. As Archbishop of Milan he wrote and legislated in minute detail about the Sacred Liturgy and everything associated with it.

Saint Charles laid down regulations about the dimensions of vestments for the Sacred Liturgy because, it would seem, he was concerned that the form of the vestments, which had been handed down for centuries, was being cast aside in favour of something convenient and “fashionable”. The chasuble, derived from the Latin word for “a little house” had been for centuries an ample garment. In the 15th and 16th centuries, there had been significant divergence from this Tradition, however, resulting in a form of chasuble that wasn’t ample, but cut right back so that it comprised a sort of narrow pendant, front and back, on the wearer. We know this form of chasuble as the “Roman” or “fiddleback” chasuble, and some claim that this is the form of the chasuble that is truly “traditional”. But Borromeo didn’t think that: he thought it represented a break with Tradition. And he specified the minimum size to which he expected chasubles to conform. They were to be at least 54 inches (138cm) wide and, at the back, they were to reach down almost to the heels of the wearer. Saint Charles wasn't attempting to determine how a chasuble should be decorated, he was simply trying to preserve a minimum standard for the dimensions of the chasuble.

As a vestment-maker, I am blessed to receive frequent enquiries from newly-ordained priests and deacons and more often than not, they are interested in obtaining that style of vestment used by S' Charles Borromeo and S' Philip Neri. Happily, these young men are not interested in partisan views of various commentators about the revival of interest in such vestments.

A greeting on the Feast of Saint Charles to all priest-customers of the Saint Bede Studio.

Monday 2 November 2009

All Souls' Day: Vestments for Masses of the Dead

Complementing a chasuble completed earlier in the year, the Saint Bede Studio was commissioned to make this black cope and matching stole, designated Absolve. It is made of black dupion silk and fully lined in olive-green cotton. The orphrey and hood is formed from an ecclesiastical brocade in black and gold.


Sunday 1 November 2009

All Saints' Day: Ohio

Some months ago, Father Martin Fox of Piqua, Ohio USA approached us to make a set of vestments for use in his Parish, based on the familiar pictures of Saint Philip Neri. The result is shewn in the picture at the left. This chasuble is of gold silk damask and is ornamented with the same damask in copper and gold. The effect is very rich.

The Saint Bede Studio developed its own interpretation of this 16th century style of chasuble, based upon extensive research, but adapted for modern use. It is not an attempt to exactly reproduce 16th century exemplars. This Philip Neri chasuble has proved a particularly popular style with young priests.

Read what Father Fox wrote about his new vestments.

Click on the picture for an enlarged view.