20 August 2017


In the passage by the Dining Room of the Clergy House attached to S James, Spanish Place, I noticed an engraving of a prelate carying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance. I think the engraving had a date around 1792.

The prelate was wearing a wig.

I'm sure there are zillions of you out there who have the following sort of information right at your snuff-stained finger tips: did prelates eo fere tempore wear their wigs all through Mass? Even after their zucchetto had been removed as they approached the Consecration? When did Catholic bishops stop wearing wigs? (I think it went out of fashion in Anglican cicles in the 1830s.)

Changing the subject ... readers will have seen the splendid picture on Fr Tim's blog some time ago of the admirable Bishop Richard Challoner wearing his wig and blue choir dress. French and Irish bishops also wore blue ... illuminating comments?? A sign of Gallicanism? When did it cease?

We poor converts need all the help we can get in our struggle to become genuinely inculturated.

Good to see Fr Tim blogging again. Like all good Catholics, I check his blog daily.


Eriugena said...

Might not have been a detachable wig, but rather extremely coiffed natural hair.

guidetto said...

Priests - at least in Italy - wore wigs but short ones, without tails and with a round hole where the tonsure was.
I am not sure whether they actually wore them during Mass; I recollect though seeing at a friend's house, a member of one of the families of the Ravenna nobility, a "supplica" to the S. Congregation of Rites of an XVIII c. ancestor, a canon, who asked to be able to keep his wig on during Mass on account of the cold.

Макс Фомич said...

Rev. John O'Brien writes in his "A history of the mass and its ceremonies in the Eastern and Western church" (1869) as follows:

In case the celebrant should have permission to wear a wig he is never bound to remove it, for it ranks neither as a Berretta nor Zucchetto, but is rather esteemed as one's own hair. Permission to wear it, however, is very rarely granted by the Holy See.

Richard Duncan said...

I believe the practice was to have a wig stand on the gradine and to take the wig off at the offertory.

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Dear Reverend Father, 18th century French clerical wigs were often made with the tonsure sewn into it, some survive; a small round disc, about 2 inches across, mostly from mother-of-pearl or ivory, but presumably for lesser clerics whose wigs do not survive, from bone or painted canvas. Such practice continued until the end of the common wearing of wigs in the early 19th century.

It can only be presumed from such provision therefore, that the wig was retained at all times. How unedifying a spectacle to have all these elderly clerics removing their wigs in choir to reveal their graying 'brosse'! I am surprised at you even suggesting such a thought!

An interesting philosophical consideration this, while it might be inferred that it involves pharisaic disrespect to the Sanctissimum, it must nevertheless remain true that anything which is contrary to human modesty and decorum can never be pleased to the Almighty. The abandonment of the wig for dressed natural hair is thus a logical, if disappointingly pedestrian, development.

To my knowledge all episcopal soutanes here were of the blue-gray colour to which you refer. A visit to the museums at St Edmund's College Old Hall Green or Oscott will show all the Vicars Apostolic so dressed. It is simply what was worn north of the Alps. The Roman colour, though more purple, was certainly never as vividly puce as it is today. Indeed English bishop of one's youth in the 60s and 70s, wearing English tailoring, were much more subdued and masculine in their choice of purple.

Fr Anthony said...

I'm glad not to have to bother with a wig, since I have my hair. I just do a low ponytail for Mass.

Unknown said...

The wearing of wigs by clerics was prohibited at a fairly early date but it seems that local churches outside of Italy did not feel the rule was universal. McManners' £Church and Society in Eighteenth Century France" describes them being widely worn, though perhaps with a hole where the tonsure should be, which might be substituted for a piece of flesh coloured silk or pig skin ("an unclean animal rejected from the sacrifices of antiquity", as one Jansenist critic noted).

I have also heard it said that the Norbertine's in Austria and southern Germany wore wigs crowned with small disks of mother-of-pearl to represent to tonsure.

The wearing of blue episcopal garb does not seem to indicate any sort of Gallican opinions, since it seems fairly universal among bishops north of the Alps.

The rather awful pinkish shade of purple worn by Latin Rite bishops today is a modern innovation, introduced by Paul VI.

Felix Romanus

Pater Edmund said...

The learned doctor Jean-Baptiste Thiers has a treatise on this subject: https://books.google.at/books?id=jrAPpamDCQsC&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false

DeHereticoComburendo said...

Benedict XIII (of Eggs Benedict fame) published a bull in 1724 against clerics wearing wigs. The bull’s in Latin (obviously) and so is beyond my ken but I can distinguish “minus perucca” and the penalty “incarcerationis totidem dierum” amongst the verbiage.

Anonymous said...

Following on from Pater Edmund, Abbé Jean-Baptiste Thiers's lengthy treatise on the wig (1690) deals in great detail with contemporary practice. Thiers notes that clergy should take off their headpieces from the Preface to the Ablutions but that they do not. Many clergy had a shorter wig for offices but this and their street wig had a tonsure made out of animal skin to imitate human skin, thus conforming to statutes on the clerical tonsure. Thiers notes that it was a cleric at court, Abbé de La Rivière (later a bishop), who began the trend of clerical wigs in the 1660s. He also observes that one can sympathize with bald and red-headed men for wanting to hide their shame! I have an article on the wig treatise available here: https://itineraires.revues.org/2209

Thiers was quite a character. An authoritarian archdeacon in his diocese delighted in humiliating clergy on pastoral visitations (can one imagine such a scenario?!), which usually commenced with him ordering parish priests to remove their stoles in his presence. When he visited Thiers's parish, he was about to remonstrate with the bestoled Thiers when the latter presented him with a printed 400-page treatise in Latin, De stola in Archidiaconorum visitationibus (1679), proving why Thiers not only could but also should wear a stole during such visitations (see my article 'Vested Struggles: The Social and Ecclesiological Significance of Stoles in Seventeenth-Century France', Church History, 77 (2008)). The archdeacon's surname was Robert, leading Thiers to write some anonymous satires whose titled punned with a popular sauce (La Sauce Robert). Thiers also wrote on bells, church vestibules, Franciscan beards, and the correct pronunciation of Paraclitus. It is to be regretted that he never finished his study of horse carriages.

El Codo said...

Perhaps it would be sound practice for all converts to have to wear wigs until it is felt that they have been fully "inculturated"as you say,Father,and there could then be a "wig throwing" ceremony to demonstrate publicly that they have abandoned their previous errors? If they should fall back into such ways,such as claiming priestly lineage while practising as a Protestant,the wig could be reinstated. This would be a pastoral measure designed to arrest backsliding.

Protasius said...

Re the blue choir dress: Given that before the advent of modern dyes at the end of the 19th century, it is not too much of a surprise if the violet of a bishop's robes came out rather more blue, given the sometimes rather (un)reliability of earlier methods.

The precise shade of violet for prelates was only standardized in the 1930s (and IMHO it looks rather like pink than violet); before that you can rather often find prelate's robes and vestments with hues of violets that look more like the blue of the flower violet.