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Form, Material, and Use

The maniple is an ornamental vestment in the form of a band, a little over a yard long and from somewhat over two to almost four inches wide, which is placed on the left arm in such manner that it falls in equal length on both sides of the arm. It is worn only during Mass, not at the administration of the sacraments, during processions, nor at Benediction, etc.

In order to fasten the maniple on the arm either two strings are placed on the inner side near the middle, or else an elastic band is used, or a loop is formed in the maniple itself by sewing together the two halves which have been laid over each other, at a distance of about six inches from the middle. Another device for securing the maniple is to set a small band a little to one side of the middle and to secure this band with a pin to the alb.

The maniple is made of silk or half-silk material. The colour is in accordance with the liturgical rules. The ends of the maniple are often broader than the upper part, but too great a breadth at the ends, as in the so-called pocket or spade-shaped maniple, is ugly. In the middle and at each end the maniple is ornamented with a small cross; of these crosses that in the middle is always necessary as it is prescribed by the rubrics of the Missal. The maniple is worn by the subdeacon, deacon, priest, and bishop, but not by those who have only received minor orders. For the subdeacon the maniple is the liturgical sign of his rank, and at ordination is placed on his left arm by the bishop himself. A bishop puts on the maniple at the altar after the Confiteor, other ecclesiastics put it on in the sacristy before the service.

Name and Origin

In earlier ages the maniple was called by various names: mappula, sudarium, mantile, fano, manuale, sestace, and manipulus , appellations which indicate to some extent its original purpose. Originally it was a cloth of fine quality to wipe away perspiration, or an ornamental handkerchief which was seldom put into actual use, but was generally carried in the hand as an ornament. Ornamental handkerchiefs or cloths of this kind were carried by people of rank in ordinary life. Ancient remains show many proofs of this: for instance, the mappa with which the consul or praetor gave the signal for the commencement of the games was a similar cloth. The name manipulus was given because it was folded together and carried in the left hand like a small bundle ( manipulus ).


Without doubt the maniple was first used at Rome. At least it was worn at Rome early in the sixth century even though not by all those ecclesiastics who later used it. The pallialinostima spoken of in the lives of Popes Sylvester and Zosimus, which appeared at this date in the "Liber Pontificalis", can be explained with most probability as references to the ornamental vestment called later mappula and manipulus. About the close of the sixth century under the name of mappula it was also worn by the priests and deacons of Ravenna. (cf. the letters which passed between Gregory the Great and Archbishop John of Ravenna ). By the beginning of the ninth century the use of the maniple was almost universal in Western Europe, being customary even at Milan which had otherwise its own peculiar rite. This is shown by the relief work on the celebrated pallioto (antependium) in the Basilica of St. Ambrose at Milan, a fine piece of goldsmith's work of the middle of the ninth century. The use of the maniple in Gaul and Germany is proved by the statements of Amalar of Metz, Rabanus Maurus, Walafried Strabo, By the "Admonitio synodalis" and by other writings, as well as by various miniature paintings. That it was also worn in England is evident from the elaborately worked maniple now in the Museum of Durham cathedral which, according to the inscription embroidered on it, was made by order of Queen Aethelflaed (d. before 916), wife of Edward the Elder for Bishop Frithestan of Winchester. At Rome in the ninth century even the acolytes wore the maniple. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the singular custom prevailed at Cluny and other monasteries that on the chief feast days all, even the Lay brothers, appeared at Mass in alb and maniple; this practice, however, was forbidden in 1100 by the Synod of Poitiers. When in the eleventh and twelfth centuries the subdiaconate developed into a higher order, the maniple became its distinctive vestment.

Nature and Mode of Wearing

The maniple was originally a folded piece of cloth. It cannot be positively decided when it became a plain band. Probably the change did not occur everywhere at the same time. Maniples made of a fold of material existed at least as early as the beginning of the tenth century; this is proved by the maniple at Durham made for Bishop Frithestan. About the end of the first millennium it was hardly more than an ornamental band. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries these bands were, as a rule, very long and narrow and had laid on at the ends for ornament squares or rectangular pieces of material; after a while, however, this form of maniple went out of use. In the sixteenth century it began to be customary to broaden the ends, giving them something of the form of a spade, until in the eighteenth century the shape of the ends became completely that of a spade or pocket. For the period up to the twelfth century almost nothing is known as to the material of which the maniple was made. In the later Middle Ages it was generally of silk. As early as the tenth century much importance was attached to its ornamentation. The inventories of this time repeatedly mention costly maniples adorned with gold or silver. In the succeeding centuries even more importance was attached to the rich ornamentation of the maniple. It was enriched, so the inventories inform us, with embroidery, small ornaments of precious metals, precious stones, and pearls. Maniples of this period with costly embroidery are to be found in the cathedral of Sens, in the convent of the Sisters of Notre-Dame at Namur, at Pontigny, in the cathedral of Bayeux, in the Museum of Industrial Art at Berlin, etc. A favourite way to finish the ends was with fringe, tassels, or little bells. The maniple had generally no crosses at the ends or in the middle. Originally it was held in the left hand; from the eleventh century, however, it became customary to carry it on the lower part of the left arm and the usage has remained the same up to the present day. Even in medieval times it was seldom worn except at Mass. The ceremony of giving the maniple to the subdeacon at ordination developed in the tenth to the eleventh century, but it was not until the thirteenth century that the custom became universal.


In the Middle Ages the maniple received various symbolical interpretations. At a later period it was common to connect this vestment with the bonds which held the hands of the Saviour. In the prayer offered by the priest when putting on the maniple are symbolized the cares and sorrows of this earthly life which should be borne with patience in view of the heavenly reward.


In the Greek Rite the vestment that corresponds to the maniple is the epigonation. It is a square piece of material often embroidered with a sword and intended as an ornament; it is hung at the right side on the cincture and falls to the knee. The epigonation does not belong to all the clergy but only to the bishop. Originally also an ornamental handkerchief and called at that date encheirion it received its present form in the twelfth century.


Very similar to the maniple in form and nature is the subcinctorium, an ornamental vestment reserved to the pope. It is worn on the cincture ; on one end is embroidered a small Agnus Dei and on the other a cross. The pope wears it only at a solemn pontifical Mass. The subcinctorium is mentioned under the name of balteus as early as the end of the tenth century in a "Sacramentarium" of this date preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris (f. lat. 12052). It is mentioned under the name proecinctorium about 1030 in what is known as the "Missa Illyrica". Later it was generally called subcinctorium. In the Middle Ages it was worn not only by the pope but also by bishops, and even in a few places by priests. However, it gradually ceased to be a customary vestment of bishops and priests, and in the sixteenth century only the popes and the bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Milan wore it. The original object of the subcinctorium was, as St. Thomas explicitly says, to secure the stole to the cincture. But as early as about the close of the thirteenth century, it was merely an ornamental vestment. According to the inventories, even in the eleventh century much thought was given to its ornamentation. Most probably the subcinctorium was first used in France, whence the custom may possibly have spread to Italy about the close of the first millennium.

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