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Episcopal Gloves

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Liturgical gloves ( chirothecœ , called also at an earlier date manicœ , wanti ,) are a liturgical adornment reserved for bishops and cardinals. Other ecclesiastics, including abbots, cannot use them without a special papal privilege. They are worn only at a pontifical Mass, never at any other function, and then only to the washing of the hands before the Sacrifice. Episcopal gloves at the present day are knitted by machine or hand from silk thread, and are ornamented on the back with a cross; the border of the opening for the hand is also, as a rule, embellished. The colour of the gloves must correspond with the liturgical colour of the feast or day in the services of which they are worn; episcopal gloves, however, are never black, as they are not used on Good Friday nor at the celebration of Masses for the dead. When a bishop is consecrated the gloves are put on him by the consecrator, aided by the assisting bishops, just after the Blessing. The use of episcopal gloves became customary at Rome probably in the tenth century, outside of Rome they were employed somewhat earlier. Apparently they were first used in France, as the earliest traces of the custom are found in this country, whence it gradually spread into all other parts and even to Rome. The chief reason for the introduction of the usage was probably the desire to provide a suitable adornment for the hands of the bishop, rather than practical considerations such as the preservation of the cleanliness of the hands, etc. Episcopal gloves appertained originally to bishops, but at an early date their use was also granted to other ecclesiastics, thus no later than 1070 the abbot of the monastery of San Pietro in Cielo d'Oro at Pavia received this privilege, the first certain instance of such permission.

In the Middle Ages these gloves were either knitted or otherwise produced with the needle, or else they were made of woven material sewed together; the former way seems to have been the more usual. Gloves made by both methods are still in existence, as for example, in Saint-Sernin at Toulouse, at Brignoles, in S. Trinità at Florence, in the cathedrals of Halberstadt and Brixen, in New College at Oxford, Conflens in Savoy, and other places. In the later Middle Ages it became customary to enlarge the lower end, giving it the appearance of a cuff or gauntlet, and even to form the cuff with a long joint which hung downwards and was decorated with a tassel or little bell. The back of the glove was always ornamented, sometimes with an embroidered medallion or some other form of embroidery, sometimes with a metal disk having on it a representation of the Lamb of God, a cross, the Right Hand of God, saints, etc., the disk being sewn on to the glove, or, at times, the ornamentation was of pearls and precious stones. The gloves were generally made of silk thread or woven fabric, rarely of woollen thread, sometimes of linen woven material. Up to the end of the Middle Ages the usual colour was white, although the gloves at New College, Oxford, are red; apparently it was not until the sixteenth century that the ordinances as to liturgical colours were applied to episcopal gloves. Even in the Middle Ages the occasions on which the gloves were worn were not many, but their use was not so limited as today, for in the earlier period they were occasionally worn at the pontifical Mass after Communion, at solemn offices, and during processions. Episcopal gloves are symbolical of purity from sin, the performance of good works, and carefulness of procedure.

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