Free Online Bible Library | Surplice

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A liturgical garment, medieval and monastic in origin. The term is a corruption of the Latin superpelliceum, meaning “to be worn over the pelisse or fur gown.” In the unheated churches of N Europe it was necessary to wear a fur-lined gown, and the difficulty of getting the more primitive, tight-sleeved albe over this garment led to the evolution of the larger surplice. By the fourteenth century it was the essential choir-vestment everywhere, but it was never worn by the celebrant at the Eucharist. The 1552 English Prayer Book retained it as the only vestment, and under Elizabeth I the Puritans strongly objected to its use as “papistical.” Parker's Advertisements (1566) and the 1604 Canons ordered its use for all church services. In the Revised Canons, it is one of the permitted forms of eucharistic vesture, and customary for all other services. The modern surplice is shorter and less full than the medieval.

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