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By tunic is understood in general a vestment shaped like a sack, which has in the closed upper part only a slit for putting the garment over the head, and, on the sides, either sleeves or mere slits through which the arms can be passed. The expressions under-tunic or over-tunic are used accordingly as the tunic is employed as an outer vestment or under another. A tunic that reaches to the feet is called a gown tunic (tunica talaris, Gr. poderes); a tunic without sleeves or with short sleeves is called colobium; one which leaves the right shoulder free, exomis. By tunic (tunicella) is understood in liturgical language that sacerdotal upper vestment of the subdeacon which corresponds to the dalmatic of the deacon. According to present usage the dalmatic and tunic are alike both as regards form and ornamentation. They also agree in the manner of use as well as in the fact that the tunic, like the dalmatic, is one of the essential vestments worn at the pontifical Mass by the bishop. It is unnecessary here to go into full details, but it will suffice in regard to form, ornamentation, and use to refer to what is said under dalmatic. As regards the form, according to the directions of the "Cæremoniale Episcoporum", the tunic should be distinguished from the dalmatic by narrower sleeves, but this is hardly observed even in the pontifical tunic, which is worn under the dalmatic. The bishop himself puts the tunic on the newly-ordained subdeacon with the words: "May the Lord clothe thee with the tunic of joy and the garment of rejoicing. In the name", etc.


According to a letter of Pope Saint Gregory the Great to Bishop John of Syracuse, the subdiaconal tunic was, for a time, customary at Rome as early as the sixth century. Gregory however suppressed it and returned to the older usage. From this time on, therefore, the Roman subdeacon once more wore the planeta (chasuble) as the outer garment until, in the ninth century, the tunic again came into use among them as the outer vestment. As early as the sixth century subdiaconal tunic was worn in Spian, which according to the ninth canon of the synod of Braga, was hardly or not at all distinguishable from the diaconal tunic, the so-called alb. No notice of a tunic worn by subdeacons has been preserved from the pre-Carolingian era in Gaul, yet such a vestment was undoubtedly in use in France as in Spain. There is certain proof of its use in the Frankish kingdom at the beginning of the ninth century, both from the testimony of Amalar of Metz and from various inventories. About the close of the year one thousand the tunic was so universally worn by subdeacons as a liturgical upper vestment that it was briefly called vestis subdiaconalis or subdiaconale. As early as the first Roman Ordo the tunic is found as one of the papal pontifical vestments under the name of dalmatica minor, dalmatica linea. The Roman deacons also wore it under the dalmatic, while only the tunic and not the dalmatic was part of the liturgical dress of the Roman cardinal-priests and hebdomadal bishops. Outside of Rome also the pontifical vestments frequently included only the tunic, not tunic and dalmatic together, or, as was more often the case, the dalmatic without the tunic. Not until the twelfth century did it become general for the bishop to wear both vestments at the same time, that is, the tunic as well as the dalmatic. The granting to abbots of the privilege of wearing the tunic as well as the dalmatic, is very seldom mentioned, and even then not until the second half of the twelfth century. Before this era abbots never received more than the privilege of wearing the dalmatic. The acolytes at Rome wore the tunic as early as the ninth century; in the Frankish kingdom it was probably customary in some places in the tenth century for acolytes to wear the tunic; it was worn by acolytes at Farfa towards the close of the tenth century. In the late Middle Ages the wearing of the tunic by acolytes was a widespread custom. In the medieval period the tunic was called by various names. Besides tunica, it also bore the name of tunicella; dalmatica minor; dalmatica linea, or simply linea; tunica stricta, or merely stricta; subdiaconale; roccus; alba; and, especially in Germany subtile.

As to the original form of the vestment, it was at first a tunic in the shape of a gown with narrow sleeves and without the vertical ornamental strips (clavi). The material of which it was made was linen for ordinary occasions, but as early as the ninth-century inventories silk tunics are mentioned. The development that the vestment has undergone from the Carolingian period up to the present time has been in all points similar to that of the dalmatic; during the course of this development the distinction between the dalmatic and the tunic steadily decreased. Silk gradually became the material from which the tunic was regularly made; It grew continually shorter, and slits were made in the sides which, by the end of the Middle Ages, went the length of entire side up to the sleeve. Finally, outside of Italy, the sleeves were also slit, just as in the dalmatic which, already in the later Middle Ages, was hardly to be distinguished from the tunic, especially as in the meantime the red clavi of the dalmatic had been replaced by another form of ornamentation, which was also adopted for the tunic. When in the course of the twelfth century a canon was developed respecting the liturgical colours, the canon was naturally authoritative for the tunic as well as for the chasuble and dalmatic.

In the Middle Ages the use of the tunic at Mass corresponded throughout to that of the dalmatic consequently discussion of it here is unnecessary. The ceremony in which the bishop, after the ordination places the tunic upon the newly-ordained subdeacon had its origin in the twelfth century, but even in the thirteenth century it was only customary in isolated cases. It was not until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that the usage was universally adopted in the rite of ordination of subdeacons. As to the origin of the subdiaconal tunic it was, without doubt a copy of the dalmatic, in which the vertical trimming of the dalmatic was omitted, and the sleeves were made narrower.

The tunic (stickaphion) worn by the subdeacon in the Oriental Rites does not correspond to the subdiaconal tunic of Western Europe, which from the beginning had the fixed character of an outer tunic, but resembled the alb, even though, according to present custom, it is no longer exclusively white, but often coloured.


BOCK, Gesch. Der liturg. Gewänder, II (Bonn, 1866); ROHAULT DE FLEURY, La messe, VII (Paris, 1888); BRAUN, Die liturgische Gewandung im Occident und Orient (Freiburg, 1907).

About this page

APA citation. Braun, J. (1912). Tunic. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Braun, Joseph. "Tunic." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Wm Stuart French, Jr. Dedicated to Mrs. Judy Fradl.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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