1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Maniple

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MANIPLE (Lat. manipulus, from manus, hand, and plere, to fill), a liturgical vestment of the Catholic Church, proper to all orders from the subdeacon upwards. It is a narrow strip of material, silk or half-silk, about a yard long, worn on the left fore-arm in such a way that the ends hang down to an equal length on either side. In order to secure it, it is sometimes tied on with strings attached underneath, sometimes provided with a hole in the lining through which the arm is passed. It is ornamented with three crosses, one in the centre and one at each end, that in the centre being obligatory, and is often elaborately embroidered. It is the special ensign of the office of subdeacon, and at the ordination is placed on the arm of the new subdeacon by the bishop with the words: “Take the maniple, the symbol of the fruit of good works.”[1] It is strictly a “mass vestment,” being worn, with certain exceptions (e.g. by a subdeacon singing the Gospel at the service of blessing the palms), only at Mass, by the celebrant and the ministers assisting.

The most common name for the maniple up to the beginning of the 11th century in the Latin Church was mappula (dim. of mappa, cloth), the Roman name for the vestment until the time of Innocent III. The designation manipulus did not come into general use until the 15th century. Father Braun (Liturg. Gewandung, p. 517) gives other early medieval names: sudanum, fano, mantile, all of them meaning “cloth” or “handkerchief.” He traces the vestment ultimately to a white linen cloth of ceremony (pallium linostinum) worn in the 4th century by the Roman clergy over the left arm, and peculiar at that time to them. Its ultimate origin is obscure, but is probably traceable to some ceremonial handkerchiefs commonly carried by Roman dignitaries, e.g. those with which the magistrates were wont to signal the opening of the games of the circus. As late as the 9th century, indeed, the maniple was still a handkerchief, held folded in the left hand. By what process it became changed into a narrow strip is not known; the earliest extant specimen of the band-like maniple is that found in the grave of St Cuthbert (9th century); by the 11th century (except in the case of subdeacons, whose maniples would seem to have continued for a while to be cloths in practical use) the maniple had universally assumed its present general form and purely ceremonial character.

The maniple was originally carried in the left hand. In pictures of the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries it is represented as either so carried or as hung over the left fore-arm. By the 12th century the rule according to which it is worn over the left arm had been universally accepted. According to present usage the maniple is put on by priests after the alb and girdle; by deacons and subdeacons after the dalmatic or tunicle; by bishops at the altar after the Confiteor, except at masses for the dead, when it is assumed before the stole.[2]

In the East the maniple in its Western form is known only to the Armenians, where it is peculiar to subdeacons. This vestment is not derived from the Roman rite, but is properly a stole, which the subdeacons used to carry in the left hand. It is now laid over the subdeacon’s left arm at ordination. The true equivalent of the maniple (in the Greek and Armenian rites only) is not, as has been assumed, the epimanikion, a sort of loose, embroidered cuff (see Vestments), but the epigonation. This is a square of silk, stiffened with cardboard, surrounded by an embroidered border, and usually decorated in the middle with a cross or a sword (the “sword of the Spirit,” which it is supposed to symbolize); sometimes, however, the space within the border is embroidered with pictures. It is worn only by bishops and the higher clergy, and derives its name from the fact that it hangs down over the knee (γόνυ). It is worn on the right side, under the phelonion, but when the sakkos is worn instead of the phelonion, by metropolitans, &c., it is attached to this. The epigonation, like the maniple, was originally a cloth held in the hand; a fact sufficiently proved by the ancient name ἐγχείριον (χείρ, hand), which it retained until the 12th century. For convenience’ sake this cloth came to be suspended from the girdle on the right side, and is thus represented in the earliest extant paintings (see Braun, p. 552). The name epigonation, which appears in the latter half of the 12th century, probably marks the date of the complete conventionalizing of the original cloth into the present stiff embroidered square; but the earliest representations of the vestment in its actual form date from the 14th century, e.g. the mosaic of St Athanasius in the chapel of St Zeno in St Mark’s at Venice.

See J. Braun, S. J., Die liturgische Gewandung (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1907), pp. 515–561. and the bibliography to Vestments.

  1. According to Father Braun this custom cannot be traced earlier than the 9th century. It forms no essential part of the ordination ceremony (Liturg. Gewandung, p. 548).
  2. For the evolution of these rules see Braun, op. cit. pp. 546 seq.