Pontifical Gloves: A Brief History and Consideration

Detail from image by Australian Sacred Music Association
Continuing on with our consideration of the traditional pontifical vestments of the Latin rite, we last considered pontifical sandalia (sandals) and I would now like to turn your attention to pontifical gloves -- or what are called chirothecae in the rubrics. This particular ornament is, like the pontifical sandals, reserved to prelates; typically this would mean those with episcopal orders but, by special privilege, some other lesser prelates such as canons or abbots as well may use them.

Their Use and Construction

Episcopal gloves, like sandals, are only worn only at Solemn Pontifical Mass and are to match the colour of the other vestments. As is also the case with sandals, there are no black coloured pontifical gloves. Nainfa describes them accordingly:
The pontifical gloves are made of silk, and variously ornamented according to the solemnity of the occasion and the wearers rank and dignity. For Cardinals, Prelates invested with the episcopal character and Abbots, the back of the glove is embroidered with a more or less elaborate cross or monogram; and the Protonotaries Apostolic of the first two classes (di numero and supernumerary) may wear pontifical gloves of silk bordered with a strip of gold braid; but for all other Protonotaries, Prelates and Canons, who may be allowed, by law or privilege, the use of the pontificals, the gloves must be of plain silk without any special ornament.
Traditionally episcopal gloves are woven from silk thread and have, upon closer inspection, an evident pattern or texture to them. (As an aside, I would note that this tends to give the gloves a masculine look and feel.)

Source: OC-Travel
Source: OC-Travel
History and Development

Writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia, the estimable paramentologist, Joseph Braun, suggests that the origins of episcopal gloves is thought to have been France, becoming customary in Rome sometime around the tenth century -- but earlier outside of Rome.

It is thought that "the chief reason for the introduction of the usage was probably the desire to provide a suitable adornment for the hands of the bishop, rather than practical considerations such as the preservation of the cleanliness of the hands." In this regard then, these are entirely founded in the desire to ornament the pontifical liturgical rites.

In the Middle Ages these gloves were either knitted or otherwise produced with the needle, or else they were made of woven material sewed together; the former way seems to have been the more usual. In the later Middle Ages it became customary to enlarge the lower end, giving it the appearance of a cuff or gauntlet, and even to form the cuff with a long joint which hung downwards and was decorated with a tassel or little bell. The back of the glove was always ornamented, sometimes with an embroidered medallion or some other form of embroidery, sometimes with a metal disk having on it a representation of the Lamb of God, a cross, the Right Hand of God, saints, etc., the disk being sewn on to the glove, or, at times, the ornamentation was of pearls and precious stones. The gloves were generally made of silk thread or woven fabric, rarely of woollen thread, sometimes of linen woven material. Up to the end of the Middle Ages the usual colour was white, although the gloves at New College, Oxford, are red; apparently it was not until the sixteenth century that the ordinances as to liturgical colours were applied to episcopal gloves. Even in the Middle Ages the occasions on which the gloves were worn were not many, but their use was not so limited as today, for in the earlier period they were occasionally worn at the pontifical Mass after Communion, at solemn offices, and during processions. Episcopal gloves are symbolical of purity from sin, the performance of good works, and carefulness of procedure.

In the vesting rites of the pontifical liturgy, the prelate prays the following prayer as he puts on the pontifical gloves:

Ad Chirothecas  Circumda, Domine, manus meas munditia novi hominis, qui de caelo descendit; ut, quemadmodum Jacob dilectus tuus pelliculis hoedorum opertis manibus, paternam benedictionem, oblato patri cibo potuque gratissimo, impetravit; sic et oblata per manus nostras salutaris hostia, gratiae tuae benedictionem mereatur. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum, qui in similitudinem carnis peccati pro nobis obtulit semetipsum.

[Place upon my hands, Lord, the cleanliness of the new man, that came down from heaven; that, just as Jacob Thy beloved, covering his hands with the skins of goats, and offering to his father most pleasing food and drink, obtained his father’s blessing, so also may the saving victim offered by our hands, merit the blessing of Thy grace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who in the likeness of sinful flesh offered Himself for us.]

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Examples of Pontifical Gloves From Different Centuries

The Glove of St. Adalbert, ca. 12th-14th century.
Treasury of St. Vitus Cathedral (Source)
Spain, ca. 1510-20. Copyright the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston (Source)
Pontifical gloves of the Archbishop of Salzburg, 16th Century (Source unknown)
Spanish, 16th Century. (Source)
Italian, early 17th century.
Copyright the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston (Source)
Italy, 17th century.
Copyright the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston (Source)
Early 17th Century
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Museum Expedition 1921, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund, 1921 (Source)
Spanish, early 17th Century. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the Rembrandt Club, 1911 (Source)
Italy, 18th Century.
Copyright the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston. (Source)
18th century (Source)
French, Early 18th Century.
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Museum Expedition 1921, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund, 1921 (Source)
Italy, 21st Century (Source)
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Some Examples of Pontifical Gloves in Use

A Final Comment

As with pontifical sandals, I would once again make a plea to usus antiquior communities to have these items at the ready for any solemn pontifical Masses your community might be privileged to have celebrated.

While it can be tempting to pass these pieces of vesture off as non-essential, they have formed a part of the particular solemnity and beauty of the solemn pontifical rites for more than a millennium and we would do well to ensure their continuance. As bishops today are quite a bit less likely to have their own sets of these pontificals it would seem best if the communities took matters into their own hands so that they would at least have the more common colours of pontificals -- white and red -- at the ready,

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