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.

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