Boy Choir Costumes: Garments--Ecelesiastical Robes


Figure 1.--

Ecclesiastical robes are most common in England where the boys wear them for religious services in England's great cathedrals. Some European choirs in the Netherlands, Spain, and other countries also wear eclesiastical robes, but this is most common in England. Choir boys wear both albs, surplices, and cassocks. This varies along primarily national lines. French choir boys commonly wear cassocks as do choristers in Spain. English choir boys more commonly wear albs and surplices. American choirs are not as religiously oriented as European choirs, but many robes are worn by boys in many America churches. These are not, however, normally boy choirs.

Note

HBC when Chris Wagner founded this website had no idea of the different avenues that his historical quest would take him. As a result, HBC has gotten involved in areas where we have no real expertise. Certainly ecclesiastical robes is one of them. We have always viewed, however, as a learning experience. While we may not fully understand a subject, we are interested to learn. Thus our approach is to set up a page containing what we know and encourage HBC readers to add to it. In the case of the ecclesiastical robes worn by choir boys, we greatly appreciate information provided by Fr. Wayne, an Anglican priest in England with 40 years of experience with boy choirs. He has pointed out that we have not correctly used the terms alb, surplice, and cassock. We will provide the correct terms here, but it will take is some time to correct the errors on the various country pages. We certainly appreciate Fr. Wayne's very helpful comments.

Historical Background

Boy choirs were an institution of the early Christian church, dating back to the 5th century. Some of the earliest schools in England and the continent date back to the schools to train choristers. HBC at this time has no information on the clothes worn by these boys and the clothing in which they sang. While choirs now sing in cathedrals dating back nearly a millennium. There is not, however, a clear continuity between the choirs in these cathedrals and the modern choirs. The English Reformation and Civil War (14 and 15th century) and the French Revolution (18th century) ended many historical traditions. English cathedral choirs now date to the Victorian era. London's Temple Church in the mid-19th century played a major role in resurrecting the surpliced boys' choir. The Temple Choir created a sensation at the time. No less than Prince Albert attended one of their services to hear the much acclaimed choir. French choirs mostly date from the era of religious revival following World War I. As a result, there is no continuity between the vestments of modern boys choirs with early such choirs. The modern choirs are, however, based on ecclesiastical robes which are based on historical styles.

Garments

Ecclesiastical robes are most common in England where the boys wear them for religious services in England's great cathedrals. Some European choirs in the Netherlands, Spain, and other countries also wear eclesiarical robes, but this is most common in England. Choir boys wear both albs, surplices, and cassocks. This varies along primarily national lines. French choir boys commonly wear cassocks as do choristers in Spain. English choir boys more commonly wear albs and surplices. American choirs are not as religiously oriented as European choirs, but many robes are worn by boys in many America churches. These are not, however, normally boy choirs.

Alb

Alb is a white linen robe with closed sleeves. It is normally a garment worn by an officiating priest. An alb is almost always white and wraps around the wearer. While normally worn by a priest, it is also a garment worn by choir boys. When worn by a chorister, it is worn alone. Very often, albs have hoods and are accompanied by a belt or rope at the waist known as a cincture. Nearly all the French boychoirs are wearing albs.

Cassock

A cassock is a long, close fitting garment worn by ecclesiastics and others engaged in church functions. Once we might have said priests, but cassocks are now worn by officiating clerics in protestant churches which do not have priests. A cassock is almost always worn under a surplice. Like the alb, it is an ecclesiastical garment also used by choirs. The cassock always has a standing collar and is fastened in the front with snaps or buttons. You see cassocks worn by almost all English choirboys.

Robes

Choir robes worn by American church choirs do not really have any historic basis. They are garments that appeared in the late 19th century loosed based on the look of other ecclesiastical garments.

Surplice

A surplice is a loose-fitting, broad-sleeved white garment usually made of linen. It is worn over the cassock. The correct spelling is surplice, not surplus or surpluses. Surplus is a correct spelling, but not that of the choir garment. You see surplices worn by almost all English choirboys.

Countries

Modern choirs wear a great variety of garments. Many are secular choirs wearing secular garments. Others are church choirs which often sing in ecclesiastical robes. These choirs also have secular uniforms which they travel in and may use for secular performances.

England

Most boy choirs today are secular choirs. In England, however, most boy choirs are supported by the country's great cathedrals. Many of these choirs sing in cassocks and surplices. They often have traveling uniforms usually based on school uniform styles.

France

France is another country which has choirs associated with religious groups. In France the choirs are often founded by local Catholic churches and are not so commonly associated with the country's great cathedrals.

Germany

Most German choirs are secular and not associated with churches.

Italy


Netherlands


United States

Most American choirs are secular. Boys may participate in individual church choirs and this wear choir robes.









HBC





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Created: Npvember 12, 2001
Spell checked: November 12, 2001
Last updated: November 12, 2001