The Ugliest Vestments Ever Worn

This sure isn’t accentuating the positive – over at Real Clear Religion, Nicholas G. Hahn III gives 20 examples of “The Ugliest Vestments Ever Worn.”

I count 1 Baptist in the lot, 1 Lutheran, 2 nondenominational (both Joel Osteen), 5 Roman Catholic, and 11 Episcopal/Anglican. Three of the latter are all from Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Get this: of the 5 Catholic examples, one of them is Alexander Sample! And two are Benedict XVI. Don’t blame them – I suspect it is their handlers in both cases.

What do you think of these examples, and by what criteria do you… oh never mind, you don’t need any help from me to issue your opinions. Have at it.

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29 comments

  1. I have to say that the majority of these are not ugly, rather they are startlingly modern. I think this is a good thing because the Church should strive to incorporate and appropriate contemporary materials and artistic styles. Also, it is beneficial to remember everyone thought fiddlebacks were horrible when they became in vogue and the same for the “gothic” style vestments. So, on with the modern vestments!

    (No superman priest, though)

  2. I enjoyed this post. Since I often view the National Cathedral on the internet, I see a lot of ugly vestments on women bishops (DC has a woman bishop). Seeing the ugly vestments on all these male Episcopal bishops is a relief. It is more an Episcopal problem rather than a women problem.

    Now for the big question: were those B16 photos Marini-1 or Marini-2???

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #2:
      Jack, I was wondering the same thing, possibly early on in his pontificate and with Marini-1 because I noticed that B16 is using JPII’s crucifix crozier. He later ordered a different crozier under Marini-2 but there may have been some overlap, Marini-2 may have come on board before the new crozier.
      I am no fan of B16 but I thought he actually looked dapper and snappy in those two photos, probably taken before Marini-2 starting pulling grandma’s petticoats out of the trunk for B16 to wear.

    2. @Jack Rakosky – comment #2:
      Jack,

      Both of those are Marini-I, the first is from Austria in 2006, and the second is from the opening of the synod of Bishops 2005. I rather like the lime-green chasuble, btw.

  3. He’s unfair to the bishop from Finland. After all these color jams, I thought the gray was quiet and distinguished.

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #5:
      I like the gray also, Rita and I liked some of the abstract designs. I do not care for priests walking around like billboards with whole scenes on their vestments

  4. Was Our Lord and Savior strumming a Martin, Gibson, Taylor, Larivee, Breedlove, or totally multicultural via a Yamaha, Alvarez-Yairi, Takamine or Godin?

  5. As much as I prefer traditional vestments, for most of these examples, simply reducing the colour palette to say one primary liturgical colour would likely render them tolerable (i.e. no rainbows).

    They are not so much strikingly modern, as lacking a solid grasp of how to use colour.

    1. @Scott Smith – comment #7:

      I agree with Scott Smith’s view. If you are following a system of seasonally related liturgical colours, then one colour should predominate. I like both ‘noble simplicity’ and beautiful fabrics. I would make three comments in addition.

      First, the cope is traditionally a more showy vestment than the chasuble. A recent UK TV series entitled ‘The Fabric of Britain’ made the point that medieval copes were often status symbols. The few surviving examples of what was known as Opus Anglicanum (English Work) are clearly items of the greatest luxuriousness. So perhaps Bishop Schori should not be held up as an example of ugliness. She is merely too highly coloured! Also, the cope is still worn in some Anglican circles for the Eucharist, which is not the case in the Catholic Church.

      Second, there is sometimes a problem when a designer artist is employed to design vestments. Examples I have seen in the UK sometimes display an ignorance of how the fabrics will work and hang, and often too an ignorance of how the vestment is to be worn, which must bear on the design. Designers need to be encouraged to ‘think liturgically.’

      Third, some of the examples shown are simply poorly made, with fabrics creasing and not lying straight along the seams and, it seems, a lack of awareness of how things like orphreys, hoods and morses actually work.

      Alan Griffiths.

      1. @Alan Griffiths – comment #8:

        And I agree with all your additional comments.

        I would particularly emphasise your point about beautiful fabrics. The style of modern vestments is generally quite OK – It is the use of overly cheap material that seems to ruin them.

        Plus, the “cheap” material likely comes with a higher financial cost, as it needs to be replaced so much more often.

      2. @Alan Griffiths – comment #8:

        ” If you are following a system of seasonally related liturgical colours, then one colour should predominate.”

        Which makes me wonder if those colorful colors are intended to represent any special liturgical meanings, and if so, what they might be.

      3. @Elisabeth Ahn – comment #10:

        @ Elisabeth Ahn – comment 10.

        Until the 19th century, liturgical colours -vestments and altar hangings, were not altogether fixed as they tend to be today. It seems that in the early medieval period there was great variability and no ‘system’ – mosaics (I have the apse mosaic in Santa Maria In Trastevere in mind for one) show coloured albs, dalmatics richly adorned worn under much plainer dark chasubles, stoles of yet further diverse colours, etc.

        Innocent III mentions a basic colour system, black, white and red and green, if I remember correctly, but there is no evidence that this was ‘universal.’ The inventories compiled by royal commissioners in England and Wales in the reign of Edward VI as a prelude to the spoliation of churches in 1552/3 give a good sense of what colours were worn. There seems to have been little ‘system’ although red and blue are common colours given and some places were beginning to show more of an organised system, for instance the Devon Parish of Morebath cited by Eamon Duffy (‘The Voices of Morebath,’ Yale 2001) with its newly bought black vestments for funerals in the 1530’s.

        The Anglican ritualists of the Victorian period went to great lengths to invent complicated colour ‘sequences’ which they supposed were medieval but which in fact owe more to their authors’ imagination than to the facts. One feature of this was the use of unbleached linen in Lent, which does have some medieval precedent, at least as far as veiling images and altarpieces was concerned.

        To this day there are differences. Some countries and communities use blue for the Blessed Virgin Mary ( like Pope Benedict was wearing), while in the Ambrosian Rite of Milan red is the colour for many of the sundays of Ordinary Time, Holy Thursday, Corpus Christi, etc, and recently (according to an entry in NLM) black has made a comeback in Milan for the weekdays of Lent.

        Colours don’t mean anything much except in the most general terms, like white and gold seem more festive than violet or black and red has a definite, though ambiguous, sense both of the blood of martyrs and the fire of the Holy Spirit.

        Alan Griffiths

      4. @Alan Griffiths – comment #27:

        Thank you! [insert The More You Know gif]

        I confess this tidbit made me giggle: “The Anglican ritualists of the Victorian period went to great lengths to invent complicated colour ‘sequences’ which they supposed were medieval but which in fact owe more to their authors’ imagination than to the facts.”

  6. I think one needs to be aware of the cultural underpinnings of many of these vestments before casting judgement on their ‘ugliness’. As an example, Bishop Prior’s was a gift to him from the Native American community (look closely and you will see the Medicine Wheel situated within the cross) and reflects a number of symbolically important colors, i.e. it isn’t simply a rainbow.

  7. Seriously, what is that on Bishop Sample’s chasuble? I’m a southern boy, and it looks like a Moon Pie to me…Is that cultural conditioning? The funny caption at the bottom of the pic suggests a side of french fries, but I immediately thought “Cream Soda” or “Big Red”.

  8. Abp Welby’s enthronement robes, with the “Anglican dolphins,” were originally purchased for Ian Cundy when he was appointed bishop 20 years ago. A group of his students at Durham, including Welby, raised the money for it. After bp Cundy’s death, the vestments were given to Welby by the family.

    The gold color is appropriate for enthronement I suppose. The 3 fish represent the trinity, while the purple blue and white element surrounding them represent water changing into wine.

    A clip on YouTube of the designer, Juliet Hemingray, is my source for these details, which do not address the supposed ugliness of the vestments. It is more a comment on how easy it is to be snarky about the unfamiliar.

  9. These photos make a plain rochet and a black chimere appear as a welcome relief. Presiding bishop Schori, the Anglican bishops, and Pope Benedict look like advertisements for Ronald McDonald.

    Vestments shouldn’t be about me!!! Wasn’t filmmaker Frederico Felini trying to tell us that?

  10. Context can be important. What might be fitting for school kids on a Tuesday morning wouldn’t be right in a cathedral.

    I’m not sure the Finnish bishop’s vestments are a problem. A tad busy structurally speaking, but I might say the same thing for anybody wearing a fanon or even a pallium.

    Monochrome isn’t a cure-all. But expressionistic vestments pictured here are over-the-top. I wouldn’t say “ugly.” For ugly, you have to go beyond the camera’s eye: quality of fabric as well as bright colors.

    I’ve seen worse.

  11. The only one of these that is really theologically objectionable is the superhero version — complete with a squirt-gun for sprinking!

    The others are simply inculturated examples. So, Jeff Reed raises the relevant point. Expressing surprise (This is at a funeral!) that Al Sharpton would wear bright colors to a funeral service simply indicates that the list’s compilers have probably not been to a funeral service in a black church. Surprise! And context matters as well. Vestments are not worn around town, after all. It may be that many of these are adapted to other elements of liturgical decor and would be integrated into the overall setting.

    As is the case with the RCR’s list of ugly churches, these lists are compliled by folks who seem to have a very limited view of the tradition. My guess is that if the Book of Kells were to be published by Liturgical Press tomorrow they would include it in a future list of ugly Gospel books. But because it is of ancient origin it is beautiful. Nostalgia almost always betrays dilettantism.

  12. Was it Osteen’s ties that is at issue? I assumed it was his impossibly blow-dried hair. As Esquire Magazine pronounced some years back: if it takes a man more than 10 minutes to prep his hair in the morning, he has too much of it – hair, or time, or both.

  13. My observation of vestments (from a Roman Catholic point of view) is that they must conform to the conventions, but that many clerics can’t resist a personal touch here or there – to reflect a particular devotion, perhaps, or something significant or even trivial like a hobby. I know of one priest (and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there are scads of others) who has some sort of Notre Dame University image near the bottom of one of his stoles – the silhouette of the leprechaun in the Gentleman Jim Corbett pugilistic stance.

    In my case, my choir gave me a stole as an ordination present that has some musical notation near the bottom. That’s at least related to the sacred in some way, but it’s a personal thing for me.

    I suppose the sins of the featured vestments is that they’re out of whack in balancing the conformity with whatever else they’re trying to communicate. I suppose in the case of Jefferts Schori’s rainbow vestments, it’s solidarity. Jim McKay gave us an explanation of the dolphins. I confess I’m still

  14. My observation of vestments (from a Roman Catholic point of view) is that they must conform to the conventions, but that many clerics can’t resist a personal touch here or there – to reflect a particular devotion, perhaps, or something significant or even trivial like a hobby. I know of one priest (and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there are scads of others) who has some sort of Notre Dame University image near the bottom of one of his stoles – the silhouette of the leprechaun in the Gentleman Jim Corbett pugilistic stance.

    In my case, my choir gave me a stole as an ordination present that has some musical notation near the bottom. That’s at least related to the sacred in some way, but it’s a personal thing for me.

    I suppose the sins of the featured vestments is that they’re out of whack in balancing the conformity with whatever else they’re trying to communicate. I suppose in the case of Jefferts Schori’s rainbow vestments, it’s solidarity. Jim McKay gave us an explanation of the dolphins. I confess I’m still baffled by the cheeseburger.

  15. Sorry about the duplicate comments. One of my cats jumped up on the keyboard at a really inopportune moment (it’s within 90 minutes of their dinner time), my screen jumped to something else, and apparently it posted my comment in mid-composition. There is no Request Delete option for me on comment #22 for some reason. Anthony, could you be so good?

  16. It is, admittedly, a little unfair to lead off with Katherine Jefferts-Schori’s Oven Mitt Miter. It sets a high bar that’s difficult to leap. However, I was impressed with the ensemble displayed by Bishop Araujo de Andrade (also Anglican, sort of), which is nearly as intense in its retina-detaching power.

    I am not sure why Osteen is included, since he doesn’t actually wear vestments, just ugly ties. I realize the author wants to spread a wide denominational net, but vestments really are only understood int he context of ritualist denominations. Which Osteen’s simply is not.

    P.S. To answer Jack Rakosky’s question about Benedict XVI’s chasuble, Davis Wesson is correct: it was worn in Austria in 2007, when Marini I was the Papal MC, though I understand that it may have been a local initiative as much as anything; remarkably, Benedict’s papacy managed to stagger on for almost six more years despite this aesthetic assault.

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