Episcopal Vestments

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What is a mitre and stole? 

A mitre is probably the piece of clothing most often associated with bishops. If you have seen a chess set, you’ll know that even the chess pieces called bishops are topped off with mitres. Although there is some dispute about how longstanding the tradition is (some people claim it is from the time of the apostles) there is no question that mitres have been worn by bishops for at least 1,000 years. 

Mitres are usually white, gold or red, sometimes quite beautifully embroidered, and have two tails, called “lappets,” that fall from the back. The shape of the mitre is supposed to represent the tongues of fire that rested on the heads of the disciples gathered in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost, when God sent the Holy Spirit to the Church. A bishop receives a mitre during his or her ordination as a bishop, when the Holy Spirit comes to the new bishop in the same way that the Holy Spirit came to the first disciples. You will notice that, during church services, bishops take their mitres on and off, depending on what is happening in the liturgy. For instance, the bishop always removes the mitre when offering prayer to God.

The stole is a long strip of material worn by bishops, priests and deacons when officiating at the Eucharist or other sacramental functions. The priest wears the stole around the neck and hanging down in front (either crossed or straight) over an alb or surplice. The stole is of the liturgical color of the day and matches the material of the other vestments and may be decorated with different liturgical symbols.  There are several theories regarding the origin of the stole’s use including a kind of liturgical napkin called an orarium which is linked to the napkin used by Christ in washing the feet of his disciples, and is a fitting symbol of the yoke of Christ, the yoke of service. Others theorize that its origin is from the scarf of office among officials in the Roman Empire, used to denote rank.


What is a cope?

A cope is a ceremonial cloak – or cape – that is semicircular, richly ornamented, with a clasp in front and a hood in back. It is worn over the alb and stole. The shape is derived from the outdoor overcoat worn in the Roman empire. 

The presider usually wears a cope at non-Eucharistic liturgies in place of the chasuble. He or she may wear a cope at the Eucharist during the entrance procession and even during the liturgy of the word. Bishops sometimes wear it when performing Episcopal functions such as ordinations and confirmations. 


What is an alb?

A long, white garment with narrow sleeves, an alb is the basic garment worn by ordained and lay ministers at the Eucharist and other church services. The alb (from the Latin alba, meaning white) is derived from the under tunic of the Greeks and Romans of the 4th century. It may be girded (tied) at the waist.


What is a chasuble?

A sleeveless outer vestment worn by the celebrant during the Eucharist, the chasuble may be oval or oblong with an opening for the head. It typically reflects the liturgical color of the day. The chasuble and cope are both derived from the outdoor cloak worn by all classes and sexes in the Greco-Roman world. Chasubles vary widely in fabric and style, from plain cloth to elaborate designs. 


What is the rochet and chimere?

A rochet is a vestment of white linen or similar material that replaces the surplice and is generally used only by bishops. It has long sleeves that often end in ruffles or pleated cuffs. It usually is worn under a chimere. 

The chimere is a robe without sleeves worn over a rochet or alb. Traditionally black, in recent times it is usually red.  It typically is not worn with a chasuble or cope.