The liturgical robes and garments that priests wear during Mass and other religious events are commonly referred to as vestments and are steeped in historical significance and symbolism. Here we will discuss the gothic stole, and its role as religious finery within the church. At vestment.co.uk, you can find liturgical vestments, stoles, and much more—all with beautiful ornate detailing.
What Is It
A gothic stole is a special ecclesiastical vestment which is worn by varying members of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and protestant clergy alongside other Christian sects. If you have ever attended a service, then at some point you will probably have seen a stole. A stole is the long scarf-like piece, a band of fabric roughly two to four inches wide and eight feet long. When we talk about gothic stoles, we are referring to specific stoles that are designed in the gothic styles of the European middle ages, which is where a lot of the ecclesiastical vestments and architecture hail.
Gothic stoles are usually adorned with certain liturgical symbols including crosses and doves. Their styles are often simpler than their Roman cousins, as the width of the band stays the same size throughout.
Little is known of the true origins of the stole, although several theories have been suggested. It seems some of the first uses of the stole were seen in the East around the fourth century. It was first seen in the West and Rome around the late eighth and early ninth centuries where it was adopted as a mark of the clergy and its popularity increased across the Roman empire.
The gothic stole is worn by certain high ranking members of the clergy; deacons, priests, and bishops, and is worn in a specific way by each. Deacons will wear the stole as a sash, resting on the left shoulder and falling across the body to the right hand side. A priest will wear the stole similar to a scarf, around the neck with the long narrow ends either coming down straight or crossing over the chest. A bishop will wear the gothic stole in a similar manner to a priest, however they will only wear the stole hanging straight downwards, ensuring it never crosses - this is due to the fact that bishops wear the pectoral cross.
In today's use, the gothic stole is worn over the Alb, and under the Chasuble. Whether priests decided to cross the ends over or allow them to hang straight is a decision up to themselves. The Pope himself has a papal stole and will wear it occasionally as part of his choir dress. This stole however is heavily decorated and adorned with his personal coat of arms.
The gothic stole symbolises the bonds and ropes with which Jesus was bound with during his crucifixion and the events leading up to this - as such it is usually adorned with a cross, cementing this connection.
The stole also denotes the duty of the wearer to spread the word of God.
The colour of the stole represents the current celebration for the liturgical calendar—such as purple for advent, white for Easter—and is decorated with ecclesiastical symbols usually including a cross, although they come in a wide variety of styles and colours.
To conclude, the gothic stole is an ancient garment which has adorned the shoulders of clergymen for hundreds of years. Stoles have a widespread use across catholic churches from the East to the West, worn by Eastern and Greek orthodox, and Western Methodist, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics alike.
They are amongst some of the most recognisable attire for priests and deacons, and so the next time that you go to Mass you’ll know a little more about the origins of the gothic stole, and the long history behind it.