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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > R > Regalia

Regalia

According to the usage current in the British Isles the term regalia is almost always employed to denote the insignia of royalty or "crown jewels". The objects more immediately included under the collective term as commonly used are the following: the crown, the sceptre with the cross, the sceptre with the dove, the orb, the swords, the ring, the spurs, also the vestments in which the sovereign is arrayed after the unction, to wit the colobium sindonis, the dalmatic, the armill, and the royal robe, or pall, as well as a few other miscellaneous objects connected with the coronation ceremony, such as the ampulla for the oil, with the spoon, "St. Edward's staff", etc. All of these descend from pre-Reformation days, and many of them are directly religious in origin. Indeed there was a tendency not only in England, but also in Germany, France, and elsewhere, to connect these insignia with some saintly and sometimes legendary possessor of a former age, and to regard them strictly as relics. In point of fact all the English regalia were broken up and sold after the execution of Charles I, and the oldest of those now in existence had to be constructed anew at the Restoration in 1661; but it had always been the custom of old to regard them or most of them as connected with St. Edward the Confessor, to whose shrine in Westminster Abbey, where the coronation takes place, they were regarded as belonging. Even now the royal crown which the archbishop places on the king's head is still spoken of in a marginal note to the coronation service as "St. Edward's Crown", while we find in a chronicle of the fourteenth century, the "Annales Paulini", a vehement protest made in connection with the coronation of King Edward II that the unworthy favourite Piers Gaveston should have been suffered to carry the "Crown of St. Edward" with his "polluted hands" (inquinatis manibus).

Most of the regalia enumerated above call for no special comment, but with regard to some few, the significance of which has been misrepresented by Anglican writers with a more or less controversial purpose, a few words are necessary. To begin with, it has been pretended that the vestures in which the king is arrayed are the vestments of a bishop, and indicate an intention to endow the monarch with an ecclesiastical character. This contention forms part of a theory propounded by a prominent Anglican liturgist, Dr. Wickham Legg, that the king according to the medieval view was mixta persona (i.e., both layman and ecclesiastic) and therefore spiritualis jurisdictionis capax (a fit subject for spiritual jurisdiction). The underlying and indeed the avowed purpose was to show that although it cannot be denied that the king is the official head of the Church of England, still there is nothing unbecoming in such a relation because the king is a minister of the Church and consecrated to this special office by the Church herself. But the various arguments by which this contention is supported, and notably that based upon the supposed ecclesiastical character of the coronation vestments, are wholly fallacious. The colobium sindonis (alleged to be the equivalent of the alb) and the dalmatic, or supertunica, are simply the ordinary dress of the later Roman Empire, and they did not acquire their liturgical character until after they had become the customary apparel of emperors on state occasions. This form of underclothing can be plainly traced in the consular diptychs upon which the consuls are represented as presiding at the games. In these same diptychs the most prominent feature in the official vesture is an elaborately embroidered scarf which hangs down perpendicularly in front, passes round the body, and falls over the left arm. This scarf is called the lorum. It is almost certainly the ancestor of the archiepiscopal pallium, but it remained for long centuries, as numberless Byzantine paintings and sculptures show, the most conspicuous element in the imperial state costume. There is serious reason to believe, though the details cannot be gone into here, that the lorum is represented by the "armill", though this is now a sort of stole which two or three centuries back was tied at the elbows. The address originally made at the delivery of the armill declared it to be a symbol of the "Divine enfolding" (divinae circumdationis), which agrees much better with a wrap like the lorum than with a stole or bracelet. Again "the Robe Royal or Pall of cloth of gold", which is embroidered with eagles, cannot with any reason be described as an ecclesiastical cope. It certainly represents the royal mantle which was originally a four-square garment fastened with a clasp over the right shoulder, such as is seen to recur several times in the carvings of the ivory book-cover of Queen Melisende now in the British Museum; such also as was found vesting the body of Edward I when his tomb was opened in 1774.

Not less misleading is the interpretation recently attached to one of the three swords carried before the king and known as the "sword of the spirituality" or "the sword of the Church". This does not in any way represent, as contended, a claim to exercise jurisdiction over the Church, but it only symbolizes the solemn promise of the king to protect the Church. There were three such promises originally made by the king: the first to defend and secure peace for the Church; the second to punish wrong-doers; and the third to show justice and mercy in all his judgments. Now the three swords, now and anciently borne before the king at his coronation, were known as the sword of the clergy, the sword of the laity, and the third (curtana), which has no point, the sword of mercy. There is every reason to believe that these three swords typify the matter of the king's three ancient promises. As for the sword with which the king himself is girded in the coronation ceremony, this was originally in imperial coronations at Rome laid upon the tomb of Blessed Peter and, like the archbishop's pallium, presented as de corpore beati Petri sumptum and consequently as a kind of relic of the Prince of the Apostles, in whose name and to defend whose authority the power of the sword is given to rulers by the Church. A theory that the orb is only a variant of the sceptre with a cross is now generally rejected, and with reason.

Sources

The questions here discussed are misleadingly treated in most manuals dealing with the coronation, e.g., LEGG, The Coronation Records (London, 1902); DAVENPORT, The English Regalia (London, 1897); JONES, Crown and Coronations (London, 1902). The reader may be referred for a fuller discussion to THURSTON, The Coronation Ceremonial (London, 1911); or IDEM, Is the Crowned King an Ecclesiastical Person? in Nineteenth Century and After (March, 1902), For the archaeological data regarding the regalia, the above works of DAVENPORT and LEGG are of value. For the German regalia see especially BOCK, Die Kleinodien des heil. Rom. Reiches (Vienna, 1864); and FRENSDORFF, Zur Geschichte der deutschen Reichsinsignien in the Nachrichten of the Gottingen Academy (1897).

About this page

APA citation. Thurston, H. (1911). Regalia. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12713a.htm

MLA citation. Thurston, Herbert. "Regalia." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12713a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Herman F. Holbrook. Thou settest a crown of pure gold upon his head. Psalm 21.3.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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