Clerical Vestments

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The clothes, or 'vestments', a priest wore during a church service were like a uniform, carefully described in a series of documents over the centuries. 'Off duty' a priest would wear the 'civilian' clothes appropriate to his rank, but his 'working clothes' were as follows.


The alb was a long white tunic reaching to the ankles and with long sleeves, made from white linen or wool. It was worn by all ranks. The alb was held in at the waist by an ordinary belt. In winter normal clothes would be worn under the alb to keep warm.


The amice was a simple scarf of white linen or wool, worn under the alb. Priests with long hair could put the amice on like a shawl to cover their heads, put on all their vestments, then push the amice back around the neck.


The chasuble was a conical cape of wool made from a semi circle stitched along the straight edge, with a hole for the head to go through. The seams were reinforced with decorated strips of material called 'orphreys', which were arranged to hang vertically front and back. The quarter circles had a radius of four to five feet. Common colours were green and purple, with white, red and dark brown (referred to as black) being reserved for special days. The chasuble was worn by all clerics except deacons.


Worn only by ordained clergy, the stole was a long strip of decorated silk or linen, three or four inches wide and about eight feet long, with a fringe two or three inches long at each end. It was worn around the neck to hang down at the front, reaching to the shins.


This garment was a wool or linen tunic reaching the knee, with baggy, elbow length sleeves and side slits up to the waist to allow free movement. Two stripes, about two inches wide and ten inches apart, ran up the front (and probably down the back). Colours were similar to the chasuble, but not necessarily the same. The bishop also wore a small mitre. The Saxon mitre is quite different from the towering hat of modern bishops and was little more than a cap. Apart from his mitre, a bishop also had a ring (usually set with an amethyst) and a staff. Both were marks of his office. The bishop's staff was four to five feet high, with an ornately carved head. The head was hook-shaped, in the shape of a T or Tau cross, or alternatively just a ball.

Original article by Mike Farmer 1992