A surplice (
Late Latin"superpelliceum", from "super", "over" and "pellis", "fur") is a liturgical vestmentof the Western Christian Church. The surplice has the form of a tunicof white linen or cotton material, reaching to the knee or to the ankles, with wide or moderately wide sleeves.
It was originally a long garment reaching nearly to the ground, as it remains in the English tradition, but in the
Roman Catholictradition, the surplice is shorter and is sometimes called with the Medieval Latinterm "cotta".
Origin and variation
The surplice originally reached to the feet, but as early as the 13th century it began to shorten, though as late as the 15th century it still fell to the middle of the shin, and only in the 17th and 18th centuries in
Continental Europedid it become considerably shorter. In several localities it underwent more drastic modifications in the course of time, which led to the appearance of various subsidiary forms alongside the original type. For example:
* the sleeveless surplice, which featured holes at the sides to put the arms through
* the surplice with slit arms or lappets (so-called "wings") instead of sleeves, often worn by organists today, due to the ease of maneuvering the arms
* the surplice with not only the sleeves but the body of the garment itself slit up the sides, precisely like the modern
* a sort of surplice in the form of a bell-shaped mantle, with a hole for the head, which necessitated the arms sticking out under the hem.
The first two of these forms developed very early; and, in spite of their prohibition by
synods here and there (for example that of Liège "circa" 1287), they survive in various places to the present day. The latter two only appeared after the close of the Middle Ages: the first of them in South Germany, the second more especially in Venetia, where numerous pictorial records attest its use. As a rule, however, only the lower clergy wore these subsidiary forms of surplice. They came about partly under the influence of secular fashions, but more particularly for convenience.
Lack of exact information obscures the older history of the surplice. Its name derives, as Durandus and
Gerlandalso affirm, from the fact that its wearers formerly put it on over the fur garments formerly worn in church during divine service as a protection against the cold. Some scholars trace the use of the surplice at least as far back as the 5th century, citing the evidence of the garments worn by the two clerics in attendance on Bishop Maximian represented in the mosaicsof the Basilica of San Vitaleat Ravenna; in this case, however, confusing the dalmaticwith the surplice.
In all probability the surplice forms no more than an expansion of the ordinary liturgical alb, due to the necessity for wearing it over thick furs. The first documents to mention the surplice date from the 11th century: a canon of the Synod of Coyaca in
Spain(1050); and an ordinance of King Edward the Confessor. Romeknew the surplice at least as early as the 12th century. It probably originated outside Rome, and was imported thence into the Roman use. Originally only a choir vestment and peculiar to the lower clergy, it gradually - certainly no later than the 13th century — replaced the alb as the vestment proper to the administering of the sacraments and other sacerdotal functions.
Eastern Churchesdo not use a surplice or any analogous vestment. Of the non-Roman Catholic Churches in the West the surplice has continued in regular use in the Lutheranchurches, in the Anglican Communion, and among various Old Catholicdenominations among others.
In the Roman tradition, the surplice or cotta sometimes features [http://www.bethlehem-abbey.org.uk/m6.jpglace decoration] or embroidered
bordures, but is most typically plainly hemmed. The lace or embroidery, if present, will often be in the form of inserts set a few inches above the edge of the hem or sleeves.
The surplice is meant to be a miniature
alb, the alb itself being the symbol of the white garment received at Baptism. As such, it is appropriately worn by any cleric, by lectors and acolytes, or indeed by altar serverswho are technically standing in for instituted acolytes for any liturgical service. It is often worn, for instance, by seminarians when attending Mass and by non-clerical choirs. It is usually worn over a cassockand never alone, nor is it ever gathered by a belt or cincture.
It may be worn under a
stoleby deaconsand priestsfor liturgical ceremonies or the celebration of sacraments outside of Mass. On occasion, a copeis worn over the cassock, surplice and stole.
As part of the choir dress of the clergy, it is normally not worn by
prelates (the pope, cardinals, bishops, monsignori, and some canons) - instead, these clerics wear the rochet, which is in fact a variant of the surplice.
The surplice belongs to the "vestes sacrae" (sacred vestments), though it requires no
benedictionbefore it is worn.
AnglicanPrayer Book, that of Edward VI in 1552, prescribed the surplice as, with the tippetor the academic hood, the sole vestment of the minister of the church at "all times of their ministration", the rochetbeing practically regarded as the episcopal surplice. The more extreme Reformers furiously assailed its use, but in spite of their efforts, Elizabeth's Act of Uniformity (1559) retained the garment, and the advertisements and injunctions issued under her authority enforced its use, though they ordered the destruction of the "massing vestments" - chasubles, albs, stoles and the like.
The surplice has since remained, with the exception of the cope, the sole vestment authorised by law for the ministers, other than bishops, of the
Church of England(for the question of the vestments prescribed by the " Ornaments Rubric" see vestment). And apart from clerks in Holy Orders, all the "ministers" (including vicars-choral and choristers) of cathedraland collegiate churches, as well as the fellows and scholars of colleges in chapelhave worn surplices since the Reformation.
The clergy (at least its more dignified members) have employed as a distinctive mark the tippet or scarf mentioned above, a broad band of black silk worn stole-wise, but not to be confused with the
stole, since it has no liturgical significance and originally formed a mere part of the clerical outdoor dress. Formerly the clergy only wore the surplice when conducting the service, and exchanged it during the sermon for the "black gown", i.e. either a Geneva gownor the gownof an academic degree. This custom has, however, as a result of the High Churchmovement, become almost completely obsolete. The "black gown", considered wrongly as the ensign of Low Churchviews, survives in comparatively few even of evangelical churches; however, preachers of university sermons retained the custom of wearing the gown of their degree.
The traditional form of the surplice in the Church of England survived from pre-Reformation times: a wide-sleeved, very full, plain, white linen tunic, pleated from the yoke, and reaching almost, or quite, to the feet. Towards the end of the 17th century, when large wigs came into fashion, it became convenient to have surplices constructed gown-wise, open down the front and buttoned at the neck, a fashion which still partially survives, notably at the universities. In general, however, the tendency followed continental influence, and curtailed the surplice's proportions. The ample vestment with beautiful falling folds has thus in many churches given place to a scanty, unpleated garment scarce reaching to the knee. In some
Anglo-Catholicchurches, the surplices follow the style of the Roman cotta.
Name in other languages
The Catholic Encyclopedia
publisher =Robert Appleton Company
url = http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14343d.htm
accessdate = 2007-08-18
"Original text from the
1911 Encyclopædia Britannica".
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