Rorate Caeli

Fr. Anthony Symondson Questions the Borromeon Revival

An article of the above title appears on the New Liturgical Movement, in which the English Jesuit, Fr Symondson discusses the "re-introduction" of the Borromeon form of chasuble. His article, which is largely personal opinion, deserves some response.

There is a widespread confusion about the form of the Borromeon chasuble. In Father Symondson's article, he includes pictures of "Borromeon" vestments which are most assuredly not according to the dimensions laid down by Saint Charles Borromeo for the chasuble. Borromeo required the chasuble to be sufficiently long at the back to cover the alb, reaching the heels and wide enough that it reached the wrists. The chasuble worn by Pope Benedict in the Sydney Cathedral in July (photograph adjacent) was made according to the dimensions set down by Saint Charles.

But another style also existed in this period of the 16th century. It was neither as long, nor as wide as the chasuble dimensions laid down by Saint Charles. It is often shewn in paintings of Saint Philip Neri (adjacent picture). Father Symondson mistakenly describes this as "Borromean" (sic). Another photograph is included of a red chasuble of Saint Charles, which is now displayed in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. This chasuble is obviously wider than the one shewn in the painting of Saint Philip Neri.

This particular style of chasuble was interlined so that it became a very stiff affair. The so-called "Roman" vestments (also mistakenly referred to as "fiddlebacks") were also interlined in this manner. This interlining was intended to provide sufficient support for the lavish ornament often applied to these vestments.

But Father Symondson makes the mistake of imagining that the Philip Neri style of chasuble can only be made in this manner, with interlining. I can assure him that it need not; and when it is not interlined, it becomes a most convenient and comfortable vestment to wear.

It is a great puzzle to me why the revival of the "Philip Neri" style of chasuble by the Italian firm "Tridentinum" and also by my own Saint Bede Studio should trouble Father Symondson so much. Perhaps most significantly, the "Philip Neri" chasuble serves as a middle ground between those who prefer Roman vestments and those who prefer Gothic. Why should providing such a via media attract criticism?

I invite readers to look at this article for an alternative view about the history of these vestments.