Tag Archives: Catholic

Undressing Saint Patrick

17 Mar
Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick wearing the robes of a Catholic cleric, complete with mitre – a headdress that wasn’t invented until almost 200 years after his death.

Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain in 387 and died on March 17, 461 in County Down, Ireland. He is the man who brought Christianity to Ireland and drove out the “snakes” (likely pagan Druids). March 17 is St. Patrick’s day, celebrated world-wide by Irish and non-Irish alike. (Find more about St. Patrick here.)

We recognize St. Patrick as man with a white beard in clerical robes and a mitre, carrying a crook, sometimes with a shamrock in his other hand. What’s interesting about this common image is that no one really knows what he looked like – there are no visual records of St. Patrick before the 13th century – 800 years after he died.

“The manner in which he has come to be depicted represents the culmination of over a thousand years of art, influenced by various texts and evolving belief systems, both localized and international,” says the Irish Royal Academy. In other words, his image has been appropriated by artists who depicted the saint in familiar and contemporary terms that people could relate to.

Until the 19th century, few Irish could read, unless they were monks and clergy, so people were educated through image and symbolism through the church. People of St. Patrick’s time would have understood the Catholic symbolism associated with St. Patrick’s garb, which was rife with allegory.

Clerical costume of the fifth century

Maewyn Succat – Saint Patrick’s real name, wears liturgical garb that has long, traditional associations with the Catholic Church. 20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher, says that clothing during the early Christian era was simple, and clothing was not gender-specific. “Originally the only difference between the elements of religious costume and those of lay clothing was the use of more sumptuous materials for the former.”

Clerics adopted fine linens and silks for their liturgical costume, and there was “an ever-increasing fondness for rich-coloured materials, especially among the Angles and Saxons,” according to A History of Costume, “and beautiful trimmings, gay braid, and fringes came into fashion”.

Catholic clerical wear has not evolved much since the early Christian era, so mostly, St. Patrick’s image is correct to period, but there are inauthentic – i.e. appropriated – features in our common understanding of what St. Patrick looks like. Let’s start at the top.

mitre

An Annunciation scene worked on a mitre from about 1400; pearls and silver-gilt motifs on silk.

Mitre

The first and most obvious appropriation of St. Patrick is his headdress. The mitre, the pointed hat split in half that bishops and popes wear, is what we have come to associate with the saint, but mitres didn’t appear until the seventh century (St. Patrick died in the mid-fifth century).

In fact, Boucher says that bishops first wore a gold circlet lined with a crown, and in the 12th century, “the crown split into two lobes, one on either side… by the end of the 12th century, the points had moved around 90 degrees and were now back to front.” It hasn’t changed much since that time, though mitre heights have varied.

Were St. Patrick true to his period of the fifth century, he may have worn a hood or a soft skull cap instead of the mitre, but that St. Patrick is bestowed with this head piece that symbolized power in the church, indicates that the saint was highly regarded.

Pall (or Pallium)

The Y-shaped band of wool worn over the chasuble (below) is the pall, drenched in allegory that features six embroidered crosses to symbolize the nails used in Christ’s crucifixion.

Chasuble

The chasuble is a circular garment with an opening for the head, and adopted by the clergy in the fifth century.  The saint’s chasuble is green, as expected (more on this later), and lined with golden fabric – a visual indication of St. Patrick’s position in the Catholic church.

According to Costume in England by F.W. Fairholt, “The chasuble signifies the robe of Christ, which is the Church. It is ample and closed on all sides, to show forth the unity and fullness of the true faith. The fore-part represents the state of the Church before the Passion of Christ; the back, the Church under the Gospel.”

At the same time, Fairholt suggests that the chasuble is symbolic of the purple garment that was put on Jesus Christ before he was crucified. Either way, the chasuble was heavy with meaning to Catholics of the early Christian era.

Dalmatic (or Dalmatica if you’re Roman)

Under the saint’s chasuble is his gold embroidered dalmatic. According to Fairholt, the dalmatic was associated with an immaculate life, or “of bountifulness towards the poor, because of its large and broad sleeves.” St. Patrick’s dalmatic is blue, the colour of the sky, which, to people of fifth century Britain, indicated divine contemplation.

Stolestole

According to 20.000 Years of Fashion, the pall began life as a large, draped Roman cape and narrowed over time to become the stole. Members of the Catholic clergy still wear long, embroidered stoles, draped around the neck.

Allegorically, the stole symbolizes the cords with which Christ was bound upon his crucifixion.

Alb

Saint Patrick’s base layer looks much like the dalmatic, but the alb is a long robe that reaches the feet. According to Costume in England, the alb was “not invariably made of linen cloth…[and] not necessarily white. It was originally intended to indicate the white garment which Pilate placed upon the Saviour after he had despised and mocked him.”

The alb symbolized purity and innocence. St. Patrick’s alb in the illustration appears to be white linen, but looking closer, it appears to have golden threads woven into the fabric. To Christians of St. Patrick’s era, gold signified purity, dignity, wisdom, and glory.

Buskins

Our saint is probably wearing buskins, soft embroidered leather slippers of the fifth century.

Crook

The bishop’s crook is another ”recent” addition. Bishops carried the crook, a decorated shepherd’s hook, alluding to Christ the shepherd, in the 12th century.

Colour

St. Patrick

St. Patrick in crimson and a short mitre with lappets  – the white flaps on the head piece – worn during the 12th century) from a stained glass window in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

We expect St. Patrick to wear green because he is the patron saint of Ireland and green is synonymous with Ireland. In the top illustration, St. Patrick’s chasuble is green, the colour that symbolized cheerfulness and the goodness of God and of the Resurrection at the time he lived. But this, like the mitre, is something that has more of a modern association.

When clerics decided to dress in fine fabrics, they also dyed their clothing in colours symbolic to the early Christian faith. After an image search for St. Patrick, he can be seen dressed in green, also in blue, crimson, white, and yellow.

The Smithsonian magazine features what they believe to be the earliest depiction of St. Patrick from the thirteenth century: a man who wears not a mitre and cleric’s robes, but a simple, hooded, blue monk’s robe.

According to the Irish Journal, “Ireland’s history with the colour blue is largely related to its colonial history, but there are older associations too – Flaitheas Éireann, the embodiment of Irish sovereignty in mythological times (a sort of Irish answer to Uncle Sam), wore blue.”

When Henry VIII declared himself king of Ireland in 1541, he gave Ireland its own coat of arms:  a golden harp on a blue background, and in 1783, “George III created a new order of chivalry for the Kingdom of Ireland, the Order of St. Patrick, its official color was a sky blue, known as St. Patrick’s Blue,” according to the Smithsonian. (Read more about the blue\green of Ireland.)

The colour green seems to be a differentiating colour linked to more recent Irish politics and independence, which eventually became associated with the Catholic population of southern Ireland. Green appears to be linked to Irish nationalism of the nineteenth century, “when the colour was adopted as a more striking way of separating Ireland from the various reds or blues that were now associated with England, Scotland and Wales,” the Irish Journal says.

So the St. Patrick that we imagine is actually a mixed collection of liturgical garments from different periods, and not based in the reality of his life. However, St. Patrick’s day is about celebration, and the splendor of his green robes, his flowing beard, the tall, fancy hat, and the golden crook gives us a more appealing image to raise our glasses to, rather than toasting a barefoot, blue-robed, tonsured monk with a chin beard.

Happy St. Patrick’s day!

 

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The clerical collar

7 Nov

Last night, I attended a scotch tasting dinner with a room full of Jesuit priests. I’m not religious but I do drink, and assuming this would be an opportunity that may never present itself again,  I went. Between dinner courses, highland dancing, speeches, and four very different scotches, I noted the clothing of the Jesuit brothers and thought about their collars, why they exist, how they work, and what they’re made of.

Evolution of the clerical collar

The white collar worn by clerics of the Anglican, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, and the Roman Catholic church, speaks a visual language that everyone recognizes. Some say the white band is a symbol of a person’s holy calling, others that the clergy carry on the tradition of differentiating themselves from the laity – non-priests or clergy of a religious faith.

Thomas Chalmers, 19th century minister and leader of the Church of Scotland, displays a clerical cravat with tabs.

Thomas Chalmers, 19th century minister and leader of the Church of Scotland, displays a clerical cravat with preaching bands.

According to Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy in A Short History of the Wearing of Clerical Collars in the Presbyterian Tradition, the clergy adopted the dress of academics (i.e. black robes) during the Reformation, and after a while, added a distinctive white neck cloth (the cravat) to differentiate themselves. By the 17th and 18th centuries, clergy tied their cravats into bows or added “preaching bands”. These instantly recognizable pieces are still worn by some priests, pastors, and Canadian lawyers wear the same item with their court robes, but call them “tabs”. 

In Vestments and Clericals Reverend Kenneth W. Collins explains that “the Protestant clergy had been wearing white preaching bands for quite some time; [the clerical collar creator, Rev. Dr. Donald] McLeod combined them with the detachable collar that was in use at the time.”

McLeod was a 19th century Scottish Presbyterian who developed the stiff and narrow clerical collar we know it today. During the middle of the century, most men wore stiff, detachable linen collars, and McLeod used these as the base for the updated clerical collar. However, before the collar took its modern form, there was a Catholic influence to be mixed in.

Catholic cassocks

Catholic priests wearing cassocks.

Catholic priests wearing cassocks.

After the Reformation, councils of the Catholic church deemed that priests wear cassocks. Cassocks, or vestis talaris in Latin, are black, ankle length robes with deep skirts. Cassocks derive from early “closed clothing” of ancient Rome and into the Byzantine and early Christian periods; the tunica tolaris was an ankle length garment, tube-like and closed up the sides.

In his very interesting article, Why Priests Wear Black, Father William Saunders explains that the sash, or cincture worn around the waist of the cassock represents chastity, the colour black, poverty, and the square Roman collar, obedience.

Wikipedia says that the white square of on the clergy’s collar is there to mimic the collar of a cassock, but I’m not sure this is true. 

Reverend Collins says the Roman Catholic church adopted the clerical collars after McLeod’s creation, and themselves modified it into the tab-collar style. So there’s that.

Charles Hodge, Presbyterian theologian, in what will later become the clerical collar.

Charles Hodge, a 19th century Presbyterian theologian, wears the upturned shirt collar that will later become the modern clerical collar.

In Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church, Reverend Henry McCloud states that the collar “was nothing else than the shirt collar turned down over the cleric’s everyday common dress in compliance with a fashion that began toward the end of the sixteenth century. For when the laity began to turn down their collars, the clergy also took up the mode.”

After the Second Vatican Council in 1967, the Catholic Church adopted a plain black suit and the clerical band collar, as the cassock waned in popularity. For some reason, the clerical collar is commonly (and mistakenly) associated with the Catholic clergy, though the collar is worn by Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and clergy of other faiths.

Modern clerical collars

Slip in collar.

Slip in collar.

Father Alex sat at my table at the scotch tasting, and I asked him about his shirt and collar. The collar was shallow and sturdy with the fronts stitched down in a “tunnel” fashion to hold the strip of white collar that he pulled out of his shirt to show me. Somehow I was disappointed to see that it was a piece of plastic, but the concept was interesting. He said the old collars were made of starched linen.

There are different styles of collars available, as shown here. Below is the tonsure collar that is a full band version of the slip in, and the Vicar’s or dog collar.

For more information about clerical garb, check out sites like this one in the UK that only sells fair trade clothing, and Hammond & Harper of London, a member of a reputable group of companies that has supplied shirts and collars to clergy for over 50 years, complete with a “30 day no quibble” guarantee replacement policy!

Tonsure collar.

Tonsure collar.

Vicar's collar
Vicar’s collar