History and Designs of the Chasuble

A chasuble is a liturgical vestment, it is the outermost garment worn by Roman Catholic priests and bishops at a mass. The term Chasuble comes from the Latin word Casula or Paenula, it is also said that this term comes from the ancient Gallic word Amphibalus

This garment became the most prestigious mass vestment, it covers all the rest. For those who study ecclesiology, this liturgical vestment is in some way an imitation of the secular attire that was used in the Roman Empire when it converted to Christianism. It is also been said that at the beginning, priests used to wear normal daily vestments, but considering the relevance that Christians were acquiring in time, it was necessary to introduce a different attire for those priests.

Romas, maybe influenced by Greeks, created the first chasubles, a conical or bell-shaped cloak, this was made from a semicircular piece of cloth with an opening for the head. Later, laity started using chasubles too, but gradually, this attire developed into an ecclesiastical vestment. Between the fourth and sixth centuries, while common people no longer wore chasubles as the practice was still popular, priests and some upper-class people still use them.

The chasubles became more close-fitting. By those years, the term used by clericals for this attire was still paenula, it was St. Augustine of Hippo who changed this term and he started to refer to it as casula

Originally, chasubles were made of linen and wool, but silk was preferred by clergies. By the sixth century, people made chasubles either of skins or thick cloth, and there were used outdoors too. During the eighth century, fabric artisans introduced hand-embroidered designs, so beautiful and intricate. Sometimes, depending on who was going to wear a chasuble, orphrey was added to it, braids of woven gold for example. Chasubles definitely became more elaborated, and then other styles were introduced, such as gothic designs, so this vestment was more sober and dignified. Other fabric materials such as velvet were used for chasubles.

One of the milestones in the chasubles history occurred during the reign of King Henry III. For some reason, chasubles became more simplistic, adopting the already mentioned gothic style. History also shows that people from other sides of Europe had similar vestments. In Ireland for example, on the prophetic utterance of Druidical origin written in "Life of St. Patrick", can be found some paragraphs alluding to a crook-head staff with a house head-holed. So, the Celtic word casal, particularly St. Patrick´s casal, makes this story almost certain. In other writings, St. Isidore defines a casula as a garment furnished with a hood, which is a diminutive of casa, like a small cottage or hut that covers the entire person. As we see, the design of elder chasubles in different parts of the world was similar, some people defined this design as a cope in which the front edges were sewn together, with an aperture for the head.

Time went by, and another device was adopted, a cord passing through rings so the sides of the chasuble could drown up to the shoulders, this was made because of the inconvenience of dragging the vestment upon the arms. However, the cord and some other devices were useless when some modifications were made in the chasuble's design itself.

By the 15th century, those chasubles that use to be draped in different ways were structurally altered, those heavy brocades were supplanted by lighter ones, with a reduction of material over the arms. Chasubles had a different look, more like highly decorated tabards. In the 19th and 20th centuries, some fabric artisans attempted to restore the draped effect of the early chasubles. In the Eastern churches, the equivalent vestment is the phelonion.

A chasuble is considered a sacred vestment by the Catholic church among others, so, before using it, priests requires to bless it since they have that faculty. The blessing act is accompanied by a prayer in which the chasuble is called "yoke of Christ".

In the 20th century, it was possible to find designs around the world, some typical ornaments for every country were added to the chasubles, always respecting sacred principles. Catholic church kept making awesome designs, as a sample, there is photography of Pope Pius XI wearing the more ample chasuble in Saint Peter´s Basilica. Some Lutheran and Anglican churches make use of chasubles too, German Lutherans used chasubles but later they replaced them with the Geneva Gowns.

Nowadays, the symbolism of the chasuble remains after the last centuries, this vestment is considered the connection between the priest, the Mass, and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Finally, the Church keeps using the chasubles as that ancient garment that reminds the priest and the people that the Mass is not an ordinary event, but a spiritual connection with God, through the liturgy.

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