Wednesday, June 02, 2004

On surplices and the like...

This post over at the Shrine got me thinking about one of the books I most enjoy flicking through - the 1931 Vestments and Vesture - A Manual of Liturgical Art a translation of Dom EA Roulin OSB's Linges, Insignes et Vêtements Liturgiques. Both Dom Roulin and his translator Dom Justin McCann OSB were monks of the distinguished abbey of Ampleforth and the delightfully illustrated book reflects a certain French gallic pique when the author rails against unsuitable vesture combined albeit rendered in a very refined English Benedictine register.

The 308 page work is supplemented by 6 plates and 339 illustrations and covers such diverse topics as the evolution of the mitre, church linen, modern art and an intruiging chapter entitles 'Faults of Taste and their Cure'.
Dom Roulin was unmistakably a man with a mission - he spends pages arguing against what he perceives as unsuitable and decadent ornamentation. He's no liturgical minimalist such as we might encounter today, but nor does he have any enthusaism for the excesses of some. On page 13 he provides a picture of what he describes as 'A Typically Ugly Pall - The floral decoration and the monogram are embroidered in reddish thread. Observe the wretched effect of the crumpled lace.' He is also was also an enthusiast for the so-called Gothic chasuble. Chapter 8 is entitles Full Chasubles Lawful, Traditional and Beautiful' wherein he vindicates their legitrimate use and asserts that in Italy the 'gothic' chasuble was known as the 'Roman Chasuble' and what we would call 'Roman' (or fiddleback) was usually called the 'Italian Chasuble'.
Dom Roulin also provides some practical advice. On washing church linen he warns against modern detergents and urges:
Let us endeavour to be content with hot water and when poured on the linen let it meet there nothing but a layer of soda or a layer of ash. Some linen, as for instance the purificators, cannot be cleansed of its stains unless it is boiled in the water, with a little potash added. After that the work may be completed with soap, deft hands, rain water, and as much sun as possible; for the sun not content with drying will also whiten and purify. These simple instructions will suffice for the clerical readers to whom this book is addressed. We should trust the specialists in this matter, as for instance certain communities of nuns and certain devout persons, who acquit themselves of this task with a particular attention and love.

Roulin also has strong views on surplices - basing himself on the regulations of St. Charles Borromeo he insists that the surplice be of linen, sparingly (if at all) ornamented with lace, having full sleeves and reaching to a point between knee and ankle. In short, he urges the use of what we would normally identify as an 'Anglican' surplice. To the best of my knowledge, this style of surplice is used in some diocese in the south of Italy, though it is rarely if ever seen in Rome.

Speaking of surplices, I am reminded of a certain historical incident I learned about when I had occasion to spend some time in the charming Cathedral city of Exeter. In 1844, the bishop and chapter decided the clergy of Exeter should wear the surplice whilst preaching, as was, I understand the liturgical law of the Church of England. However, to the populace this smacked of Popery, or at the very least Tractarianism and they reacted to this innovation with full-scale rioting. The decision was soon reversed, but as we read in this account trouble surfaced again in 1847.
Of interest to my readers might be this (alas undated) poster advertising a public meeting about 'Party Feeling' and this amusing .verse about the surplice riots.

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