Four Continental Variations on "Roman" Vestments

Quite frequently when discussing vestments there are basic terms that are used to identify certain styles of vestments. One such example is speaking of a "Roman" style of vestment. But speaking of a "Roman" vestment is no more clear than talking about a "gothic" one insofar as there are all sorts of variations in the particular shapes and designs that can be found, tied both to time and particular place.

In view of that, I thought it might be of interest to our readers to explore four commonly seen continental styles of "Roman" vestments: the Italian, French, Austrian and Spanish. Now, there are, in point of fact, other regional styles -- including the Polish, Swiss and, outside the continent, the American, amongst others -- but these four seem to me particularly important to distinguish for reason of their commonality and popularity.

With that in mind, what I wish to do is attempt to break down some general characteristics of four of these regional styles -- but with the clear caveat that I am speaking here only in terms of some common regional expressions; however in speaking of common expressions I do not mean to imply that these are the only expressions that can be found within these regions -- that would be a vast oversimplification. Instead, what I intend to identify are merely some common characteristics that might help people identify these regional styles. I would further note that the focus here is on designs from the 18th century onward.

That caveat aside, let's take a look.

The Italian Form (Italo-Roman) 

1. Chasuble

While all of the forms presented here are typically referred to as "Roman," the Italian form is arguably on the top of the list for meriting that designation since it represents the form of the "pianeta" (as it is referred to in Italy) that is predominantly used within Rome and other parts of Italy (at least traditionally).  That said, these designations are all somewhat imprecise and colloquial at the end of the day, but for the sake of distinguishing these different "Roman" cuts, we will call this the "Italo-Roman" form (and other regional cuts by similar designations). 

The Italo-Roman form is essentially a further trimmed back version of the so-called "Neri" (which itself is really just an earlier development on the Roman cut -- once again, let's recall these designations are all fairly imprecise).  This particular cut is distinguishable by the fact that the chasuble is cut in the front in such a way that the breast is concealed entirely as is most of the shoulder. As a result, the Italo-Roman form of chasuble tends to be wider in the back than the French form. 

The characteristic decoration of the Italo-Roman chasuble is a T-cross on the front and a single column at the back.  The galloons used come in the form of either straight or Solomonic form, generally in gold or silver.   The use of explicit Christian symbols or monograms are rarely part of the decoration of these chasubles; floral and vine decorations are, however, very common. The one exception to this absence of explicit symbolism are the use of "stemma" (heraldic arms) on some of these chasubles. These are located at the base of the column orphrey on the back of the chasuble. 

Silk damasks and brocades are the usual materials for these works. 

2. Dalmatic / Tunicle

The Italo-Roman dalmatic and tunicle are not distinguished from one another in terms of their design.  The shape of the vestment is essentially that of a "T" with the body of the dalmatic widening on a gradual angle as it proceeds toward the bottom of the vestment. The bottom hem of the vestment is cut in a straight horizontal line. 

The arms of dalmatic and tunicle are closed with ribbon ties to make them loosely enclose the arms of the deacon and subdeacon and, generally, there are also ties at the neck for the same purpose. 

The length of the vestment is not as short as its Austrian counterpart, but neither as long as the Spanish, sitting a few inches above the knees (depending on the particular height of he who is wearing it of course). 

The orphreys are made by the use of horizontal and vertical galloons (or also embroidery that approximate a similar design). While not universal, the placement of the the horizontal bars of the orphreys, seen below, is fairly typical and characteristic of the Italian style. 

3. Stole and Maniple

The end of an Italo-Roman stole and maniple sees a gently angled end that is not as exaggerated as the French "shovel" form, but still pronounced. (In many ways it is an echo of the shape of the body of the dalmatic and tunicle.)

If the cross that typically ornaments these is made with galloons, these will very frequently appear higher up on the stole or maniple, with the horizontal bar of the cross sitting at about the point where the end of the stole/maniple begins to widen and angle outward.  However, the cross can also be found lower down as well, particularly when the cross takes an embroidered form. 

Metallic fringe is frequently found on the end of these pieces as well, though in other instances on might simply see a piece of galloon along the bottom edge. 

(Earlier forms also saw the use of tassels for this purpose, and by the same token, other vestments also often included fringe as well in earlier centuries.)

3. Cope

The Italo-Roman cope includes a wide orphrey column that proceeds along the entire interior edge of the cope, including around the shoulders. Beneath this is the hood or shield that is generally rounded in form, or sometimes a rounded square.

In some instances the shield is detachable by the use or ribbons and, generally speaking, it usually includes fringing around the edge as well as a decorative galloon within that echoes the shape of the shield.  Decorations within the hood are usually limited to embroidered vine work and/or floral designs (if anything at all) as opposed to symbols or monograms.

The front of the cope is attached by a piece of fabric that sits across the breast and, if stemma are present, they will be found at the base of the front of the cope within the orphrey column.

The French Form (Franco-Roman) 

1. Chasuble

To start with I would note that what I am describing here is particularly associated with the 19th century. In terms of the shape of the chasuble, the back the chasuble is narrower than some other regional shapes (Italian, Austrian, Polish, etc.). On the front one will frequently see an angular shape (this is also seen in the dalmatic and tunicle) and one will note that where the back piece joins the front (at the breast) it is quite narrow by comparison to the Italian form. For this reason, these chasubles expose more of the breast and shoulder to view, making it look less full than its Italian counterpart.

French forms of the chasuble include a cross on the back and a column on the front.  One of the more popular and distinctive forms of this cross is the so-called Parisian cross which is a Latin cross that has a square set behind the axis of the cross. Another is a fully embrdoiered, budded Latin cross. Within the axis of the cross is generally some sort of Christian symbol or monogram. This cross is generally filled with designs, frequently embroidered vine work, though in other instances and in the absence of embroidery, it may be filled with a brightly patterned brocaded fabric.

The materials for a French chasuble are generally the same as any other regional style, with one exception; it became very popular to use velvet in France as well.

An embroidered version in the French style
One can see how more of shoulders of the priest are exposed in the French form than in the Italian due to its thinner dimensions at the breast. (For a comparison, see the green Italian chasuble shown earlier in this article.) 
2. Dalmatic / Tunicle

The shape of the French style dalmatic and tunicle is also distinct from its Italian counterpart. Most notably it is open not only at the sides but also under the arms (unlike the Italian form which sees the arms tied closed).

The arm pieces of the dalmatic/tunicle lay open as a rectangular piece of material, generally somewhat stiff and creased in the middle.  Like the chasuble, the front sees an angular shape that cuts in at the breast, revealing a bit of the breast and arms of the deacon or subdeacon. The length of these vestments are generally similar to their Italian counterparts.

In terms of its decoration and materials, these are the same as noted for the chasuble. One notable characteristic of the design of the French dalmatic and tunicle is that the horizontal bar of the orphrey is placed either immediately beneath the opening for the neck (see below) or very close to it (see above). Generally there is only a single horizontal bar.  These orphrey bars are quite wide and their design is echoed on the arms of the vestment.

3. Stole and Maniple

Very common to the 19th century French form is the distinctive, more exaggerated end to the stole and maniple. This form is frequently and popularly referred to a "spade" or sometimes "shovel" form because that is essentially what the shape is similar to.

The cross is placed in the middle of this spade/shovel end, either embroidered (as pictured here) or using galloons to form the cross. Which depends on how the rest of the chasuble is ornamented.

As a general rule, these have fringing placed on the bottom, metallic in nature and either in gold or silver.

4. Cope

Whereas the Italian style of cope sees the column orphrey proceed around the entire back and shoulders of the cope, in the French form these are more typically limited to the front with the shield/hood sitting right up at the neck and shoulders of the cope itself.  Because of this, the fringing that goes around the hood (which, in shape, is frequently akin to a rounded square) proceeds around to the front of the cope -- which is typically attached by metal clasps at the neck rather than a rectangular piece of fabric at the breast.

In terms of the decorative work on these copes, vine and floral work is common but the hoods of these copes also frequently include Christian symbols and monograms. In other instances, where there is no embroidery, an alternate fabric of different colour and pattern is also commonly seen.

The Austrian Form (Austro-Roman) 

1. Chasuble

The main characteristic that distinguishes the shape of the Austrian form of the Roman chasuble is that the back of the chasuble angles outward in very gentle, slightly rounded fashion. Likewise, the front of the chasuble is also very round in its general shape compared to the other regional variations shown here. 

Frequently the Austrian style is seen to employ a column on both front and back -- though, here again, this is by no means universal.  The width of those column orphreys tends to be quite a bite wider than both the Italian and French styles of Roman chasuble, echoing the greater width of these chasubles generally. 

2. Dalmatic / Tunicle

The dalmatic and tunicle in the Austrian form is quite a bit more form fitting than either its Italian or French counterpart. The arms of these vestments in particular are quite a bit smaller in their proportions. When worn, they appear quite snug and often are slightly shorter than either the French or Italian form. In addition the bottom hem is slightly rounded.

3. Stole and Maniple

The stole and maniple in the Austrian form is similar to the Italian form insofar as it has a gently angled end, but its distinctive feature is a rounded bottom that includes no fringing of any sort -- the end being framed by small galloons all around with a cross placed within. (One can see how rounding is generally characterizes all of these various Austrian forms.)

4. Cope

The cope of the Austrian form is quite similar to the Italian with a wide orphrey band going all the way around the front, over the shoulders and neck/back. The distinctive feature of the Austrian cope is that the hood is generally more ornamental in its shape, often coming into a point -- where a tassel is also quite commonly found, though not always.

The Spanish Form (Hispano-Roman)

1. Chasuble

The Spanish form is probably the most well known variation precisely because the shape of the chasuble (and dalmatic / tunicle) is so distinct by comparison to the others. In fact, the Spanish form of chasuble is the only one that merits the colloquial term "fiddleback" in my estimation because it is the only one whose overall shape is actually somewhat approximate to a violin.

The Spanish chasuble is the most cut back form of chasuble, being cut in such a way as to completely expose the shoulders. In fact, this form of chasuble is cut back so much I hesitate to even designate it a part of the "Roman" family but its origins seem to clearly enough come from there. In many regards it has taken on its own distinctive identity, which is precisely one of the reasons why it is so well known already amongst these continental variations.

Spanish chasubles include two column orphreys on the front and back. Their ornamentation is generally very similar to the Italo-Roman style insofar as they generally utilize brocaded silk fabrics or floral/vine embroidery (however, the example below shows that there is some variation in this regard).

2. Dalmatic / Tunicle

The dalmatic and tunicle in the Spanish form is also distinctive for reason of its longer arms and body. These arms, like the Italian, are tied close with ribbons and the body of the Spanish dalmatic/tunicle is generally also longer than the other forms we have shown here. It's shape is rather akin to an elongated Italo-Roman dalmatic.

In terms of its decoration, typically one sees ornamental bands on the ends of the arms as well as in rectangular form at the base of the vestment, attached to two horizontal orphrey bands.

3. Stole and Maniple

Echoing the cut back nature of the Spanish form generally, the stole and maniple have similar proportions, with a thinner width that opens up into a slightly broadened end (in a shape that is similar to the Italian form.)

4. Cope

The Spanish cope, to my knowledge, has no particularly distinctive features. In many regards it is similar in form to its Italian and Austrian counterparts, with a wide orphrey band going around the entire inner edge of the cope and a rounded hood/shield attached beneath.


As noted, these are by no means the only forms and variations that can be found in the so-called "Roman" family of vestments, however, they are amongst some of the most commonly seen and reproduced forms today.

My hope is that this summation will help people to understand that the so-called "Roman" form is by no means a monolith. It is, in fact, something that sees multiple regional variations -- some of which (I believe) are more elegant and befitting than others.

For clerics, this also means that if you are considering commissioning or procuring vestments from the Roman family -- which are amongst some of the most popular amongst younger clergy today -- you will want to consider which particular regional variation is not only most to your own personal tastes, but which, you believe, will most lend themselves to the dignity of the sacred liturgy.

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