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Nigel J. Morgan and Pauline Johnstone

Garments and items used by the clergy.

Nigel J. Morgan

The form of ecclesiastical vestments in the Early Christian period and during the Middle Ages is known largely from works of art rather than extant objects. Textiles are susceptible to decay with time, and although a number of vestments survive from the 14th and 15th centuries, few survive from the earlier centuries, when vestment forms were developing. Visual information is provided by mosaics, wall, panel and manuscript paintings, ivories, illuminated manuscripts and above all from tomb sculpture and sepulchral brasses.

Such evidence is abundant from the 6th century, but from the earliest years of the development of vesture for the rituals of the church it is largely lacking. It can generally be concluded, however, that most Christian vestments were derived from late Roman secular dress. It is unlikely that the ritual garments of the Jewish levitical priesthood had much influence on this early development, although this cannot be completely excluded. In the Middle Ages, when it was of importance to explain the symbolic function of vestments, writers frequently linked the Christian vestments with those described in the Old Testament for Aaron and the priests of the Old Law. Such medieval interpretations have clouded the issue as to whether any aspect of Christian vesture did originate in Jewish forms....