Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Cope

COPE, THE. An ecclesiastical vestment. The cope, like the chasuble, was originally an outdoor garment worn by laymen, monks, and clergy. Isidore of Seville is the first person that mentions it, A.D. 620, and he derives its name, capa, from its embracing, capit, the whole man. It originally had a hood to draw over the head, and was sometimes called pluviale as being a protection against bad weather. It was a long cloak, reaching to the ground behind, open in front, but brought together by a clasp or button. It was naturally used by ecclesiastics at ceremonial meetings and outdoor processions, and so it came to be regarded as a processional dress. Durandus account of its symbolical meaning, A.D. 1250, is as follows: “It is embroidered with fringes, which are labours and cares of this world. It has a hood, which is heavenly delight. It is long, reaching to the feet, which signifies perseverance to the end. In front it is open, to denote that eternal life is open to men of holy life, and that the wearer’s life ought to be an open example to others. By the cope we also understand the glorious immortality of our bodies, for which reason we only wear it on the greater festivals; having respect to the future resurrection when the elect, laying aside the flesh, will receive two garments, rest of soul and glory of body. This vestment is very properly of ample size, and its sides are joined in front by only one necessary fastening, because in that day the body, rendered spiritual, will not shut in the soul by any narrowness. And it is provided with a fringe, because then nothing will be wanting to our perfection, but what we now know in part, we shall then know even as also we are known” (Rationale divinorum officiorum, Bk. iii.).

Amidst all these fantastic significations it will be seen that there is no idea of sacrifice imposed on the cope as one of its symbolical meanings; and for this reason probably it was admitted as an occasional robe by the Reformed Church of England. In 1549 the minister at the Lord’s Table was allowed to wear either a chasuble (called a vestment) or a cope. This was a step onwards, the chasuble up to this time having been regarded as indispensable. In 1552 both the chasuble and the cope were forbidden, the surplice being substituted. All the Mass garments were restored under Queen Mary. I 1559, Queen Elizabeth being on the throne, a cope was used by the Bishop of Chichester and two of the Archbishop’s chaplains at the consecration of Archbishop Parker. In the same year a clause of the Act of Uniformity, commonly called the Ornaments Rubric, was added, without authority, to the Prayer Book of 1559, by which the ornaments which “were in use in the second year of Edward VI.” (that is, the 1549 ornaments) were to be used, “until other order should be taken” by the authority of the Queen with the advice of the Metropolitan. In 1566 the “other order,” foreshadowed in 1559, was “taken” by the Advertisements drawn up by the Queen’s direction, and issued by Archbishop Parker, which ordered that in cathedrals and collegiate churches the principal minister, the gospeller, and the epistoler should wear copes, and all other clergy, in all their various ministrations, the surplice. In 1604 the canons of that year ordered that the minister of highest rank in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, on the chief feasts, should at the Holy Communion wear the cope, and all other ministers the surplice. This is the last rule respecting English ecclesiastical dress, as the repetition of the so-called Ornaments Rubric in the Prayer Books of 1604 and 1662, carries with it, in each case, a simultaneous authorisation of “the other order” which was “taken” at the royal instance by Archbishop Parker in 1566, and sanctioned by the Church in 1604, superseding the order relating to the Edwardine ornaments. [Frederick Meyrick]

Before the Reformation, the cope was regarded as a suitable festive decoration, which might be worn by women, boys, and laymen, as well as out of doors. But it was not even permitted to the “sacrificing” celebrant at Mass. The language of our 24th Canon about “principal feast days” is explained by such passages as the following. Rupert of Deutz ( d. 1130) says, “we put on copes also in greater feasts”; but he was then speaking, not of the priest, but of the “Cantors,” i.e. “rectores chori,” or rulers of the choir (Dublin Review, cxx. 17). Durand says, “illam non nisi in majoribus festivitatibus induimus” (Marriott, Vest. Christianum, p. 167). “Festis duplicibus, sive praecipuis, quae, ob id, Festa in Cappis dicebantur,” says Matthew of Paris (Watt’s edit., p. 227. Compare North’s Chronicle of St. Martin’s, Leicester, p. 103). And this probably was the origin of the custom at Oxford for the “Heads” to appear on such occasions in dress gowns (Notes and Queries, 2nd series, i. 230). Silk copes for the “principal” rulers of the choir were ordered by Bishop Gravesend in the thirteenth century to be used at Lincoln Cathedral; and the Greyfriar’s Chronicle, p. 68, records how, in A.D. 1550, “Item at Xtmas was put down at Powle’s the Rectores Chori, with all their coppys at procession, and no more to be used.” Indeed, the rubric then in force, under the First Prayer Book (p. 97), prescribed the cope to be worn “after the Litany ended” on Wednesdays and Fridays “if there be no Communion.” The non-sacrificial and even “secular” character of this dress explains why Cranmer and his fellow-bishops secured for themselves the right to wear the cope at Holy Communion in lieu of the Mass “Vestment” (i.e. chasuble), and also why, with a view of destroying the “distinctive” dress of the Mass, the bishop was required to wear the same dress at “all other” ministrations (see p. 157 of Parker Soc. edit, of First Book of Edward VI.).

In the larger and richer churches, the copes were not only used in sets of three, as before explained, but were made to match the celebrant’s chasuble, varying with the season. Mr. Walcott’s Westminster Inventories mentions (p. 16) “copes and Chezabulls agreable,” temp. Henry VIII., and in his Parish Goods in Kent (p. 66) we find at Dartford “one cope with one vestment to the same, suted with th’albe thereto belonging.” This explains the meaning of “agreeably” in the Advertisements of 1566 and in Canon 24.

In 1548, when the First Prayer Book was enacted, the Reforming party among the bishops were, if not in a minority, at least balanced by a powerful and compact phalanx of Romish prelates, and were unable or afraid to attempt to give to their clergy the same liberty which they had secured for themselves. Under that book, therefore, no parish clergy man might shirk wearing a “ distinctive dress” at Holy Communion; while his “epistoler and gospeller” might not at any time wear the “distinctive” dress in question. But when the Rubric of 1552 abolished this “distinctive” difference between the Lord’s Supper and “all other times of ministration,” and had been re-enacted in 1559, under penalties, by the 1 Eliz. c. 2, it becomes of extreme interest to notice how the Government and the bishops dealt with the cope. In the vast majority of the poorer parishes its use was either unknown or was abolished forthwith by authority. The strict letter of the law said, “shall wear neither alb, vestment, nor cope,” but shall have and wear “a surplice only.” Accordingly, as the contemporary Machyn’s Diary (p. 208) and Stow’s Annals (p. 639, b) testify, the copes were generally destroyed by the royal Visitors acting in the High Commission, which included all the bishops newly nominated and most of the M.P. s and peers who had personally taken part in the passing of the Act of Uniformity, 1 Eliz. c. 2. Canon T. W. Perry (the champion employed by the E.C.U. to defend the vestments) admits that in twenty-four instances the Lincolnshire copes had been destroyed or converted before the Advertisements of 1566 were issued (On Purchas Judgment, p. 237). But that admission gives no adequate idea of the actual facts. Out of the first seventy-nine Lincoln parishes recorded as visited by Archdeacon Aylmer in 1565, before the Advertisements issued, fifty-one had no copes at all, fifteen had been “defaced,” twelve had been “sold”; and in several returns it is spoken of as “popish,” and is reported to the Visitors as being an “illegal” ornament, though “yet remaining” in the custody of the wardens. These facts appear from Peacock’s Church Furniture. Mr. Tyssen’s Surrey Inventories also throws light on the varied ways in which the copes were held to be “in use.” Inter alia, twenty-nine copes were assigned to be made into coverings for the Lord’s Table. The official “assignments” for the Hundred of Redgate run in this form: “Delivered unto the hands of the said wardens unto the use of the Church, there to be occupied according to the effect of the commission directed unto the Commissioners appointed for the sale of church goods and other order to be therein taken for the same, as followeth,” and then follow such entries as “Item, a cope to make a communion table cloth,” “Item, a cope of blue dornix and an old coverlet to cover the communion table,” “Item, iiij vestments to make a communion table cloth.”

So at Carshalton, we read “Md. that the ij albes . . are now made into surplices to the use of the Church”: and at St. Saviour’s, Southwark, “Item, xix albes . . whereof the wardens have made xvi surplices for the quere which was all that could be made of them.” When we compare this language with the proviso “such ornaments shall be retained and be in use . . . until other order shall be therein taken,” we see at once that it merely prescribed for the careful retention and utilization of the ornaments in the hands of the wardens, and that the “other order” was “therein taken” by the Commissioners at the royal visitation.

Thus, as Bishop Horn testifies, “the copes were taken away” in the Visitation of 1559 (Zurich Letters, i. 142 and App. 84) in parish churches; while we learn from Puritan writers and from Bishop Sandys that in Cathedrals and collegiate and some of the “larger” churches they were temporarily retained (in sets of three), as also in the Royal Chapel and on certain occasions of State ceremonial and display.

It is singular that the actual compromise thus brought about was left to the discretion of the royal Visitors to determine by “taking order” in each parish, according to circumstances, and does not correspond exactly with any theory as to the then existing statutory standard of ritual. If it were true that from 1559 to 1566 the rubrics of 1549 were in force, it is an astounding fact that not one single instance of compliance with the alleged “law” has ever yet been discovered. Not even in Elizabeth’s private chapel was the ritual of the First Prayer Book followed even for a single day. Yet a small and uncertain percentage of churches were connived at in their “retention” of the cope, provided that they did not allow the Epistoller and Gospeller to be arrayed in “albs, tunicles, or dalmatics” or any otherwise than the officiating clergyman himself. In this way the Executive were enabled to humour the love of pomp and dignity in the more florid services and to change the symbolism. It was no longer in honour of the Mass, as such, but of the events commemorated on the “principal feast days” (i.e. those which had “proper prefaces”) in honour of Almighty God (Canon 24). Yet the fact that the cope was a costly dress, extremely inconvenient, hot and heavy, and disabling the clergyman from “using both his hands” with “decency” and unfettered freedom, led to the rapid discontinuance of this cumbersome dress. And since the Restoration, it has rarely been seen anywhere in England. A disuse of forty years even by the Canon Law itself evacuates the obligation of mere canons. So that it would now need fresh legislation to legitimatise the re-introduction of such belated “survivals of the [un] fittest.” [J. T. Tomlinson]


  1. The continental reformation in Europe was a tremendous disservice to the Anglican Church in that it 'threw the baby out with the bathwater'. It is only right that Anglicanism is surely and steadily reclaiming it's Catholicism through ceremony and ancient ritual being returned to formal worship.

  2. Hi I am Joseph Franklin from India, we are member of Anglican Church it is Cathedral. Now I am coming to the point that is The "COPE" used as an outdoor garment worn by laymen is fully worn-out. So we need to purchase new one. So in India the "COPE" is not available, so can guide us how can we purchase the same COPE the above image shows. My email Id is josephfranklin1986@gmail.com. "PLEASE HELP US TO MAINTAIN OUR CHURCH TRADITION".

  3. I observed on priest attempt to celebrate the Communion at Christmas in a heavy ornate cope. Most restrictive and somewhat comical. He did not have the benefit of your study Jordan

  4. Good artcile, but it would be better if in future you can share more about this subject. Keep posting.遺產ċˆ†é…