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Present usage

The dalmatic is the outer liturgical vestment of the deacon. It is worn at Mass and at solemn processions and benedictions, except when these processions and benedictions have a penitential character, as in Advent, during the period from Septuagesima Sunday to Easter, at the blessing of candles and the procession on Candlemas Day, etc.; this is because the dalmatic has been regarded from the earliest times as a festal garment. The dalmatic is also worn by bishops under the chasuble at solemn pontifical Mass, but not at private Masses. Priests are not permitted to wear the dalmatic under the chasuble unless a special papal privilege to this effect has been granted, and then only on those days and occasions for which the permission, has been given.

At Rome, and throughout Italy, the dalmatic is a robe with wide sleeves; it reaches to the knees, is closed in front, and is open on the sides as far as the shoulder. Outside of Italy it is customary to slit the under side of the sleeves so that the dalmatic becomes a mantle like a scapular with an opening for the head and two square pieces of the material falling from the shoulder over the upper arm. The distinctive ornamentation of the vestment consists of two vertical stripes running from the shoulder to the hem; according to Roman usage these stripes are narrow and united at the bottom by two narrow cross-stripes. Outside of Rome the vertical stripes are quite broad and the cross-piece is on the upper part of the garment. There are no regulations as to the material of the dalmatic; it is generally made of silk corresponding to that of the chasuble of the priest, with which it must agree in colour, as the ordinances concerning liturgical colours include the dalmatic. As the dalmatic is the distinguishing outer vestment of the deacon, he is clothed with it at his ordination by the bishop, who at the same time says: "May the Lord clothe thee with the garment of salvation and with the vesture of praise, and may he cover thee with the dalmatic of righteousness forever".


According to the "Liber Pontificalis" the dalmatic was introduced by Pope Sylvester I (314-35). It is certain that as early as the first half of the fourth century its use was customary at Rome; then, as today, the deacons wore it as an outer vestment, and the pope put it on under the chasuble. In early Roman practice bishops other than the pope and deacons other than Roman were not permitted to wear the vestment without the express or tacit permission of the pope--such permission, for instance, as Pope Symmachus (498-514) gave to the deacons of St. Cæsarius Arles. The Bishops of Milan most probably wore the dalmatic as early as the fifth century; this is shown by a mosaic of Sts. Ambrosius and Maternus in the chapel of San Satiro near the church of San Ambrogio; mosaics in the church of San Vitale at Ravenna show that it was worn by the archbishops of Ravenna and their deacons at least as early as the sixth century. About the ninth century the dalmatic was adopted almost universally for bishops and deacons in Western Europe, even including Spain and Gaul, where instead of a dalmatic deacons had worn a tunic called an alb. About the tenth century the Roman cardinal-priests were granted the privilege of wearing the dalmatic, at which time also priests outside off Rome, especially abbots, received the same as a mark of distinction. Thus, John XIII in 970 granted the Abbot of St. Vincentius at Metz the right to wear the dalmatic. Benedict VII in 975 granted this privilege to the cardinal-priests of the cathedral of Trier, but limited it to occasions when they assisted the archbishop at a pontifical Mass or celebrated the solemn high Mass in the cathedral as his representatives. According to Roman usage the dalmatic was only worn by prelates at the pontifical Mass, and never under the cope on other occasions, as was often the case in Germany in the later Middle Ages.

The custom of leaving off the dalmatic on penitential days originated, like the vestment itself, in Rome, whence it gradually spread over the rest of Western Europe. In the twelfth century this usage was universal. On such days the deacons either wore no vestment over the alb or put on, instead of the dalmatic the so-called planeta plicata, a dark-coloured chasuble folded in a particular manner. An exception was made in the penitential season for Maundy Thursday on which it had been the custom from ancient times, principally on account of the consecration of the holy oils, to use the vestments appropriate to feast days, In early times the dalmatic was seldom used by deacons at Mass for the dead, but in the latter part of the Middle Ages it was universally worn during solemn requiem Masses. At an early date it was customary at Rome to confer the dalmatic on a deacon at ordination; the usage is recognized in the "Eighth Ordo" (eighth century) and the "Ninth Ordo" (ninth century) of Mabillon. In the rest of Western Europe the custom took root very slowly, and it did not become universal until towards the end of the Middle Ages. The first medieval liturgist to mention it was Sicard of Cremona (c. 1200), from whose language it is evident that the ceremony was not everywhere prevalent. A prayer at the bestowal of the dalmatic was not customary until a later period.

Shape and material in earlier ages

The original form of the vestment as well shown by the remains of the pre-Carolingian period, especially by the mosaics in San Satiro at Milan (fifth century) in San Vitale at Ravenna (sixth century), and in San Venanzo and Sant' Agnese at Rome (seventh century) also in various frescoes, such as the picture of the four holy bishops in the church of San Callisto at Rome. According to these representations it was a long, wide tunic with very large sleeves and reached to the feet. In the above-mentioned pictorial remains the width of the sleeves equalled the half or at least the third of the length of the vestment. Up to the twelfth century the Italian representations show no change in its form. After this, in the Italian remains, the vestment is shorter and the sleeves narrower although the traces of the change are at first only here and there noticeable. As early as the ninth century the shortening of the vestment and the narrowing of the sleeves had begun in Northern countries, but up to the twelfth century no important modification had taken place. In the thirteenth century the length of the dalmatic was still about 51-55 inches. In Italy this measurement was maintained during the fourteenth century; in the sixteenth century the dalmatic, even in Italy, was usually only about 47 1/4 inches long. In the seventeenth century its length everywhere was only a little more than 43 1/4 inches; in the eighteenth century it was only 39 1/3 inches, and at times about 35 1/2 inches. The shortening of the vestment could hardly go further and, as its length decreased, the sleeves became correspondingly narrower. To facilitate the putting on of the dalmatic slits were made in the sides of the vestment in the pre-Carolingian era, and in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries regularly shaped openings were often substituted for the slits. In the latter part of the Middle Ages, especially in the fifteenth century, the sides were very commonly opened as far as the sleeves, unless the dalmatic was widened below by the insertion of a gore. Now and then, in the fifteenth century, the sleeves appear to have been opened for the sake of convenience, but this custom was not general until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and then it was not observed in Italy, where, in accordance with the Roman usage, the sleeves were always closed.

Originally the dalmatic was made of linen or wool, but when silk became more common and less expensive, the dalmatic was also made of silk. From about the twelfth century, judging from the inventories, the vestment seems to have been made almost altogether of silk, although up to modern times there were also dalmatics made of fine woollen material. Until after the tenth century the dalmatic was always white. From this time on coloured dalmatics are more often found, especially outside of Italy, in countries where old traditions were not so firmly rooted. Coloured dalmatics were the rule when, about 1200, it was determined what colours should be recognized as liturgical and in consequence their use was definitely regulated. As soon as certain colours were prescribed for the chasuble it must have seemed only proper to employ the same for the outer vestment of the deacon. The ornamentation of the dalmatic at first consisted of two narrow stripes, called clavi, which went in a straight line down the front and back, and of a narrow band on the hem of the sleeves. In the beginning the stripes were more purple than red in shade. In the old representations fringe is found on the dalmatic as early as the seventh century; at times it was placed on the sleeves, at other times along the openings on the sides. About the ninth century the curious custom arose of setting tufts of red fringe on the clavi and on the bands of the sleeves; this usage was kept up until the thirteenth century, but it was more common in Northern countries than in Italy. In the later medieval period there was great diversity in the ornamentation of the dalmatic, and very often it received no ornamentation at all. In Italy it was customary to set a costly, and often richly embroidered, band (aurifrisium, parura, fimbria) above the lower hem on the back and front of the vestment and also above the sleeves; at times narrow vertical bands were added to this adornment. In France and Germany the preference was to ornament the two sides of the vestment with broad and elegantly embroidered bands which were united on the breast and back by cross-bands. Occasionally the dalmatic was entirely covered with embroidered figures. A fine specimen of such decoration is preserved in the imperial treasury at Vienna. This dalmatic is completely covered with a costly ornamentation consisting of human figures very artistically executed in fifteenth-century Burgundian embroidery and was one of the rich Mass-vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Origin and symbolism

The dalmatic was taken from a garment of the same name, which originated, to judge from the designation, in Dalmatia, and which came into common use at Rome probably in the course of the second century. But it was only the garment as such, and not the ornamental bands, that Rome imported, for the clavi were an old Roman adornment of the tunic. The secular dalmatic is often mentioned by writers and is frequently seen in the pictorial remains of the later imperial epoch, e.g. in the so-called consular diptychs. It was part of the clothing of the higher classes; consequently it is not surprising that it was taken into ecclesiastical use and afterwards became a liturgical vestment. The earliest symbolical interpretations of the dalmatic occur at the beginning of the ninth century, in the writings of Rabanus (Hrabanus) Maurus and Amalarius of Metz. On account of the cruciform shape and the red ornamental stripes, Rabanus Maurus regarded it as symbolical of the sufferings of Christ and said that the vestment admonished the servant of the altar to offer himself as an acceptable sacrifice to God. Amalarius saw in the white colour a symbol of purity of soul, and in the red stripes the emblem of love for one's neighbour. What in later times was said of the symbolism of the dalmatic is hardly more than a repetition of the words of Rabanus and Amalarius.

In the Oriental rites deacons do not wear a dalmatic; while instead of the chasuble the bishops wear an outer vestment called the saccòs, which is similar to the dalmatic. The saccòs came into use in the eleventh century.

Dalmatic in England

The English inventories frequently give the dalmatic the same name as that of the wearer: thus (1539. Ludlow Priory. Salop.): "A chasabull and ij deacons of whyte nedell work for lent." According to the old English Consuetudinary of Sarum (Salisbury) (ch. xcvi) the acolytes, thurifers, etc. of the great cathedrals and minsters wore dalmatics in their ministrations. At York Minster they had sets of four tunicles pro thuribulariis et choristis (for the thurifers and chanters) in each of the four colours, white, red, blue, and green (York Fabric Rolls, pp. 228, 233-4). The dalmatic is still worn by the sovereigns of England at their coronation as supertunic, surcoat, colodium. (For the use of the dalmatic in England consult Rock, "Ages of Faith".)


BOCK, Geschichte der liturgischen Gewänder (Bonn, 1860), II, 83-100; MARRIOTT, Vestiarium Christianum (London, 1868), Introduction, lv-lx; ROHAULT DE FLEURY, La Messe (Paris, 1888. richly illustrated), VII, 71-109; DE LINAS, Anciens vétements sacerdotaux in Revue de l'art chrétien (1st series, Paris, 1860). 561-77, 627-59; WILPERT, Die Gewandung der ersten Christen (Cologne, 1898), 20, 36-40; KRIEG in KRAUS. Real-Encyk., s.v. Kleidung; BRAUN, Die liturgische Gewandung im Occident und Orient (Freiburg im Br., 1907) 247-302; LOWRIE, Christian Art and Archeology (London, 1901); MACALISTER, Ecclesiastical Vestments (London, 1896).

About this page

APA citation. Braun, J. (1908). Dalmatic. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Braun, Joseph. "Dalmatic." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Wm Stuart French, Jr. Dedicated to Rev. Mr. Francisco Soutoyo.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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