History of Chasubles

The history of chasubles - the beautiful liturgical robes now worn by priests - dates back to the first century.

Humble Beginnings

It all started with a practical article that was worn by the lower classes in Ancient Greece, including St. Paul.

The paenula was a robe that was usually chestnut-brown and cut like a circle with a hole in the center for the wearer’s head. The early versions of these generally had hoods and were useful for keeping warm.

As time – and centuries – went on, members of the upper class started wearing paenulas as well, but without the hoods. Also, they were made out of a white or light colored woolen material and often decorated. St. Martin, as Bishop of Tours, wore one of these around 371 A.D.

Favored by the Upper Class

Then between the fourth and sixth century, while common folk no longer wore the paenulas, the priests – and some members of the upper class - still did, although it was still considered a humble garment. Priests wore the paenulas along with the tunica which was a sort of undergarment.

These paenulas became more close fitting. They even acquired a new name, thanks to St. Augustine of Hippo. Some of his writings refer to this garment as a casula rather than a paenula. They were made either from skins or thick, warm cloth and were useful for keeping their wearers warm.

These new casulas were considered outdoor wear for clergy and monks.

Adopted by Priests

Then by the sixth century, the casula had developed into a sacred vestment. In medieval Latin, the word became casubula, and in middle English, the word was chesible. In modern times, the term became chasuble.

Earlier garments were made out of good materials, such as linen and wool, but silk was more prevalent in the sixth century. It was during this time, that chasubles worn by the higher clergy were made from silk.

Elaborate Designs Added

During the eighth century, hand-embroidered designs began to appear on the scene. Some of these designs were quite intricate and beautiful. It was around this time that people began to add the orphrey – a braid of woven gold as trim on the chasubles worn by priests.

Gothic Designs Introduced

As time went on, the chasubles became more elaborate, and eventually, naturally, a backlash of sorts occurred during the reign of King Henry III. Styles became more simplistic and gothic vestments appeared as a part of the history of chasubles. The vestments became more sober and dignified. People began using velvet for the first time in the history of chasubles.

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