Monday, 19 June 2006

Clerical Dress

Popped into the archives this afternoon to show around some applicants for the post of assistant archivist. Fr Mark Vickers (currently of Sacred Heart, Ruislip) was doing some research on Cardinal Bourne and found a fun article from The Tablet of 8th December 1900, which cites a recent lecture on 'Clerical Costume.'

It began by quoting Carlyle:
Of Church clothes, especially recognised as Church clothes, I remark fearlessly enough, that without such vestures and sacred tissues, society has not existed, and will not exist. All-important, all-sustaining are the Church clothes to civilised or even rational men.
However, the lecturer noted that the art of the clerical tailor could be challenging:
Among the leading peculiarities in the clerical figure, I find a great percentage have one or more of the following distinctions: (1) Head forward, (2) prominent blade bones, (3) hollow at back of waist, (4) large shoulders, (5) one shoulder larger than the other, and one consquently lower.
I don't yet recognise myself in this description, but time will tell...

In The Tablet of 9th March 1901 there is a short piece on 'the war against the cassock in France' (this was, of course, a time of great anti-clericalism):

If the anti-cassock campaign happened in England it would be more intelligible, for in England cassocks are novelties, and their appearance, connected as it is with a certain creed, may give alarm to people averse from that creed. But in France it requires a remarkable degree of what used to be called pretrophobie, an absolute indifference to the picturesque, to object to as familiar a sight as a country Don Abbondio pensively coming down the path, or a busy Paris vicaire conning his breviary in the tramway car. Imagine Rome without its motley crowd of priests, monks, and nuns, or Oxford without the gowns...

Hmmm - I rather like the word 'pretrophobie' and must use it more often. There is plenty of it about - I've even experienced it from fellow priests when they've met me wearing a simple clerical shirt while they've been in lay clothes.

In early 1901 forty corporations had decreed that 'priests shall appear in public in habit a la francaise...Of course M. le Cure only laughed at the extraordinary idea that he should appear without his soutane' and there were many transgressions of the law. However, 'one bishop appeared in Paris in a coat and knickerbockers, whereupon people branded him as a base flatterer of the worst passions. I rather think that he is a man not quite free from the vanities of this world, and who boasting, like the fourth husband of the wife of Bath, a pair of good legs was yearning to show them.'


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