Euntes Ibant et Flebant: On the Maniple and Stole

(Translated from Pierre Lebrun’s Explanation and published originally on Canticum Salomonis)

Charles the Bald welcomes monks from Tours who bring the Vivian Bible which includes this miniature. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Source)

The Maniple

The maniple was originally called a mappula, which means a small cloth or handkerchief. The Churches of Germany called it a fanon,[1] which in German means something spread out, a tablecloth, napkin, or handkerchief. The Churches of England and France called it simply a handkerchief, the sudarium. Bede,[2] the old Ordo Romanus,[3] and Amalarius[4] call it by the same name, and say that its purpose is to wipe the face.

From mappula is derived manipula, the word found in the ancient Pontificals of the 9th century.[5] But it is also probable that manipula and manipulus was derived from manus, hand, because it was worn on the arm, or more commonly on the wrist or the hand itself. Thus we find in an ancient dictionary that the maniple is an article worn on the hand.[6]

The use of the maniple was introduced at the time when the stole, about which we will speak later on, became a vestment that could no longer be used to wipe the face and neck. Thus it was thought necessary to have a sort of handkerchief, a long and straight cloth worn on the left arm or hand, as represented in the miniature made for Charles the Bald in the 9th century.[7] But it would not take long for it to be ornamented. The same miniatures show that these small, long, and straight cloths already had fringes on their ends. In the 10th century these fringes were made of gold in certain churches. According to Ivo of Chartres, at the end of the 11th century it was still being used as a handkerchief;[8] and even at the beginning of the 12th century, Stephen of Autun (made a bishop in 1113) did not exclude the possibility of using it to wipe the eyes. But finally the maniple-handkerchief became so decorated that forty or fifty years later only the memory of its use as a handkerchief survived. Thus Robert Paululus in the Treatise on the Ecclesiastical Offices, which was long attributed to Hugh of St. Victor.[9]

Henceforth the maniple was used only as decoration, entirely unsuitable for wiping the face. Thus it happened that around 1195 Cardinal Lothaire, later Pope Innocent III, called the maniple a figurative handkerchief that cleans the heart and spirit rather than the body, banishes idleness, and instills the love of good works.[10] The Church has always encouraged this thought, whether the maniple was unadorned or decorated. For the last six or seven centuries she has chosen this prayer to be said while putting it on: Grant, O Lord, that I may so bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, that I may receive the reward for my labors with rejoicing.[11] It is evident that this prayer is taken from the verses of the Psalm, and many ancient Missals[12] leave no room for doubt on the question: Euntes ibant et flebant, mittentes semina sua: venientes autem venient cum exsultatione, portantes manipulos suos.[13] Manipulus means a handful, something carried by hand. The psalm verses present two kinds of maniples or handfuls. One is that of a sower who sows his seeds by hand, the other of the harvester who collects the crops. We sow seeds in this world by our work and suffering; and with the other hand we joyfully carry the maniples or handfuls, the fruit of this work. Thus the maniple of this world is a maniple of sorrow; and the one we carry in the other hand is a maniple of joy. Following this allusion, the Church desires that the maniple placed on the left hand or arm, which formerly served to wipe away the tears and sweat of work, will make us remember that we must work and suffer in this world if we desire to enjoy the recompense of eternal life.

An observation on the handkerchief that has been substituted for the maniple

In the 12th century, when the maniple had become so ornate that it could no longer serve to wipe the face, a new handkerchief was introduced. Odo of Paris, in his synod of 1200, prescribed that there should always be a handkerchief kept next to the Missal for this purpose.[14] The Dominican Missal of 1254 ordains the same practice in conformity with their Ordinary, as does the Council of Cologne of 1280. Around the same time Durandus wrote a special chapter about this handkerchief, de Sudario, after the chapter on the maniple.[15] For the entirety of the thirteen or fourteen centuries in which there have been special vestments used for the Sacrifice, we find some kind of handkerchief used, an orarium or sudarium, for the simple reason that propriety demands it. It is therefore very fitting that Sacristies should keep a handkerchief for priests. It should be very white and very clean as befits the dignity of the place, but not too ornate or beautiful. Otherwise people will fear to use it and it will become once again a mere ornament like the stole and the maniple.

The Stole

During the first eight centuries the stole was called the orarium, and was originally a narrow strip of cloth[16] used by persons of worth and distinction to wipe their faces.

St. Jerome helps us to understand what the orarium was in one of his letters, where he speaks about people who considered it a mark of distinction never to carry one,[17] or as he puts it, never to put a cloth around their necks.[18] He says it is not only useless but ridiculous, since they do not spare this expense in order to give money to the poor. This cloth was thought very becoming for those who spoke in public. This is why in the Church it became a vestment for bishops, priests, and deacons, and was forbidden[19] to subdeacons and other minor clerics as well as to monks.[20] But it was treated with the greatest care and never used to wipe the face. In many representations and painters from the Justinian era we can see that since the 6th century in both the Latin and Greek Churches, it was made of fabric with a long, straight cut, just as it is today.

Copyright Felix Wey, Bade (Source)
Rabanus Maurus, in his Treatise on the Education of Clerics written in 819, has this to say: The fifth vestment is called the orarium, though some call it the stole.[21] One of his disciples, Walafrid Strabo, who died in 849, only calls it the orarium;[22] and there is room to believe that those who gave the orarium the name stole, stola, which means a long robe, did so because they thought it was the relic of a larger garment, i.e. the border or gold embroidery of a long robe open in the front, of which all that remained was the long handkerchief hung around the neck. Without holding to any particular account of its origins, the Church has regarded the orarium simply as a vestment of honor, and desires that when the priest puts it on he ask God to help him recover the innocence and immortality that he gave to man in the creation. Lord, restore the stole of immortality, which I lost through the collusion of our first parents, etc.[23]


[1] Rabanus Maurus, Book 1, chapter 18.
[2] In Martyrol.
[3] The most ancient Roman Order, written before 800, mentions that a handkerchief is given to the Bishop by the subdeacon at the beginning of the Mass.
[4] Book 2, chapter 24 de sudario.
[5] In a Missal manuscript of Noyon from around 900, where the preparation for Mass is described, we read istius manipulae; and according to a Pontifical manuscript of Toul from around 1450, the bishop, after giving the maniple to the subdeacons, says: In vestione harum manipularum subnixe te, Domine, deprecamur, etc.
[6] Manipulus est ornamentum manus (Wil. Brito in vocab.).
[7] See the second volume of the Capitularies of our Kings, in the edition of M. Baluze, l’Estampe des Religieux du Chapitre de Metz, which contains a Bible belonging to Charles the Bald.
[8] Mappula qua solent siccari stillicidia oculorum, excitat nos ad vigilandum (Steph. Eduen. de Sacr. Altar., chapter 10).
[9] Ad extremum sacerdos fanonem in sinistro brachio ponit, quem et manipulum et sudarium appellaverunt, per quem olim sudor et narium sordes extergebantur (De offic. Eccles. Book 1, chapter 51; and Honorius Book 1, chapter 208).
[10] In sinistra manu quaedam ponitur mappula, quae manipulus vel sudarium appellatur, quo sudorem mentis abstergat, et soporem cordis excutiat, ut depulso taedio vel torpore, bonis operibus diligenter invigilet (Book 1, chapter 59).
[11] Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris, ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris (Miss. Rom).
[12] The ancient missals of Châlons-sur-Marne, of saint-Paul-de-Léon, of Fécamp, and all those of Paris until 1615 simple have the words of the Psalm Venientes autem venient, etc. and to this day this is what the bishop says to the Carthusians when given them the maniple at their consecration.
[13] Psalm 125.
[14] Districe praecipitur, ut quilibet sacerdos habeat in celebratione Missae propter munditiam vestimentorum servandam circa altare unum manutergium pendens circa Missale, ad tergendum os et nares, si fuerit necesse (Statutua Synod. Odonis de Soliaco.).
[15] Ration. Book 3, chapter 16.
[16] See Casaubon and Saumaise sur Vopiscus: they show very convincingly that orarium is a Latin word that was borrowed by the Greeks and Syrians just as sudarium, which comes of course from sweat, a sudore. Some have thought that the word orarium comes from ab ore tergendo, because it was used to wipe the mouth. But Saumaise shows that it comes rather from ora, which means the edge of a garment, because in very ancient times a cloth was attached to some edge of a garment, before it became the custom to carry handkerchiefs in the hand or about the neck (Comment. in hist. Aug. Script., vol. 2, p. 530 et seqq).
[17] Ridiculum et plenum dedecoris est referto marsupio, quod sudarium orariumque non habeas, gloriari (Hier in epist. ad Nepot.): “To go about without a linen scarf on is nothing: what is praiseworthy is to be without money to buy one. It is disgraceful and absurd to boast of having neither napkin nor handkerchief and yet to carry a well-filled purse.”
[18] Quid prodest circa collum ad abstergendos sudores linteolum non habere… cum marsupium nostrum universa pauperum turba suspiret (Hier. in Miss. chapter 3).
[19] Concil. Laod. can. [22-23]
[20] Monaco uti orario in monasterio non liceat (Conc. Aurel 1. can. 20. an. 511).
[21] Quintum est quod orarium dicitur; licet hoc quidam stolam vocent (Rabanus Maurus de Institut. clerc. Book 1, chapter 19).
[22] Vualfr. de rebus Eccl. ch. 24.
[23] Redde mihi, Domine, stolam immortalitatis quam perdidi in praevaricatione primi parentis, etc.

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