Dean’s Letter: Vestment Guide

Hello St. Paul’s,

Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, the first season of the church year, as we once again begin the cycle that takes us through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, through Pentecost, with the second half of the year focusing on the teachings of Jesus.

You’ve probably noticed that we color-code our year, with each season marked by a particular color. In addition to the colors, the vestments themselves are a clue to the different leadership roles people take in the service. Some time ago our wonderful cathedral photographer Susan Forsburg put together a “Field Guide to the Processional” for our blog, with detailed information about each type of vestment. I’m not going to duplicate that effort, which is still totally relevant and available online, but here’s a brief summary, using Susan’s photos, to introduce you to some of our Anglican sartorial splendor.

This picture shows some of our choir members in cassock and surplice: a distinctively Anglican outfit for lay people leading the music in our worship.

Here is our deacon, the Rev. Canon Brooks Mason, in the Gospel procession. He is wearing a plain white robe, known as an alb, which symbolizes baptism and can be worn by all baptized Christians. You’ll see it worn by our altar servers or acolytes, the lay people who assist with the procession and Communion preparation. But Brooks is also wearing a stole, diagonally from his left shoulder to the right of his waist. This marks him out as a deacon, which is an ancient and honored ordained role charged with the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel. This stole is white, which means the picture was likely taken during the Christmas or Easter season.

Next is the Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk: priests in the Eucharist service wear our stoles around our necks. This stole is green, belonging to what we call ordinary time, the Sundays between Epiphany and Lent, and the Sundays after Pentecost all the way to Advent. The lace on Jeff’s alb is a purely aesthetic choice. 

This picture of several of our priests demonstrates the beautiful Sarum blue of our Advent vestments, donated in honor of the Rev. Canon Lee Teed when she retired some years ago.

The priest presiding at the Eucharist wears this poncho-like garment called a chasuble. We have an amazing collection of chasubles, some of them in quite startling color combinations. Green is standard issue, however.

When we dress for a formal service of the Daily Office, Morning or Evening Prayer, or sometimes for the Burial Office, we wear Anglican Office Dress: cassock, surplice, academic hood, and tippet, which denotes ordained status. Deans and Canons of St. Paul’s Cathedral wear royal purple cassocks, as you see here, and we have the option of adding embroidered seals of our diocese, province, or seminary. In this picture you can see the seal for St. Paul’s Cathedral and below it the seal for Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.

Another impressive cathedral collection is our array of copes, liturgical capes worn originally for warmth but also for processions on special occasions. The Rev. Canon Michael Kaehr is wearing an “all-seasons” cope which incorporates all the principal liturgical colors. Copes can come in any color combination and vary widely in length and fullness.

Here our Canon Verger, or Dean’s Verger, Lisa Churchill, is wearing festive verger apparel: the purple cassock for her status as keeper of the liturgical peace (hence the stick, or virge), a red and grey anthem or chimere identifying her as the head verger, and a white bow tie, an unofficial adornment our own St. Paul’s vergers add on Christmas and Easter.

Verger Stephanie Pierce’s chimere is white, like the rest of our vergers. If she were still in training, known as a sub-verger, her cassock would be black.

Incense is always optional in Episcopal worship, but we routinely use it except in Lent. The person carrying the incense is known as the thurifer (from the Latin for incense, thus, thuris, and ifer for the bearer). Thurifer Judy MacDonald is wearing a black cassock and cotta, which is a short version of the surplice and more practical when you are swinging a pot or thurible full of burning charcoal around.

The bishop has her own particular vestments: a red-purple cassock, a rochet which is like an elaborate surplice with cuffs, a red chimere, and a tippet if she is officiating at Morning or Evening Prayer. Alternatively for the Eucharist, she may wear a stole in place of the tippet or an entirely different set of vestments:
the white alb, the stole denoting her priesthood, a splendid cope and the pointed mitre, the item that most singularly identifies a bishop. The bishop also typically carries her crozier or shepherd’s crook.

Finally, as a footnote, in some churches you may see what is known as a fiddleback chasuble, modeled here as part of the liturgical fashion show we enjoyed in 2019. The fiddle shape isn’t as pronounced in this example as in some. The model is also carrying a maniple, a stylized towel symbolizing the servant ministry of ordained persons.

So there you have it, a quick summary of the major vestments worn in our liturgies. For more detail, you can go to; or if you want to see more of our unique vestments look in the cathedral’s Flickr account for the liturgical fashion show from October 2019.

See you on Sunday!

Your sister in Christ,

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