Stole Definition: Definitions for the Clothing & Textile Industry

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The stole (a liturgical vestment of various Christian denominations) is an embroidered band of cloth, formerly usually of silk, about two and one-half to three metres long and seven to ten centimetres wide, whose ends are usually broadened out.

Etymology and history

The word stole derives from Latin stola, from the Greek stolē, 'garment', originally 'array' or 'equipment'.

The stole was originally a kind of scarf that covered the shoulders and fell down in front of the body. After being adopted by the Church of Rome about the seventh century (the stole having also been adopted in other locals prior to this), the stole became gradually narrower and so richly ornamented that it developed into a mark of dignity. Nowadays, the stole is usually wider and can be made from a wide variety of material.

There are many theories as to the "ancestry" of the stole. Some say it came from the tallit (Jewish prayer mantle), because it is very similar to the present usage (as in the minister puts it on when he leads in prayer) but this theory is no longer regarded much today as that the stole originated from a kind of liturgical napkin called orarium very similar to the sudarium. In fact, the stole, in many places is called the orarium. hence, it is linked to the napkin used by Christ in washing the feet of his disciples. Hence, it is a fitting symbol of the yoke of Christ, the yoke of service.

The most likely origin for the stole, however, is to be connected with the scarf of office among Imperial officials during the Roman Empire. As members of the clergy became members of the Roman administration, they were granted certain honors, one specifically being a designator of rank within the imperial (and ecclesiastical) hierarchy. The various configurations of the stole (including the pallium or the omophorion) grew out of this usage. The original intent, then was to designate a person as belonging to a particular organization and to denote their rank within their group, a function which the stole continues to perform today. Thus, unlike other liturgical garments which were originally worn by every cleric or layman, the stole was a garment which was specifically restricted to particular classes of people based on occupation.


Roman Catholic

In the Roman Catholic Church the stole is conferred at the ordination of a deacon and is the common vestment of the Holy Orders. The bishop wears the stole around his neck with the ends hanging down in front while the deacon places it over his or her left shoulder and lets it hang cross-wise at his or her right side. In former times, priests crossed the stole over his or her breast (as pictured at right) but since the Second Vatican Council, the stole has been worn in the same fashion as that of the bishop. In Roman Catholicism, wearing of the stole is reserved to deacons, priests, and bishops. The pope will also sometimes wear a special State stole in choir robes. This papal stole of state is heavily decorated and bears the coat of arms of the pontiff. During Advent and Lent, deacons can replace the normal stole (which is narrow) with a special "broad stole" which is very wide, resembling the Greek stole worn by Orthodox deacons.


Similarly, in churches of the Anglican Communion, stole is conferred at the ordination of a deacon, and the deacon wears the stole over the shoulder. At ordination to priesthood, the newly ordained priest then wears the stole around her or his neck, hanging down in front.


In Protestant churches, the stole is most often seen as the symbol of ordination and the office of the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Stoles are often given by the congregation (sometimes hand-made or decorated) as a love gift at ordination or at other life milestones. Generally, Protestant clergy wear the stole in the same manner as Anglican or Roman priests--around the back of the neck with the ends hanging down the front (and not crossed). Stoles are commonly worn by ordained ministers in Lutheran (see below), Methodist (see below), Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and other denominations.

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, only bishops and pastors wear the stole as there is only the one order of ordination, that of pastor, in the Lutheran tradition (the office of bishop is only a specific office or vocation, not a separate order of ordination). Diaconal ministers, the ELCA's equivalent to the deacon, generally do not wear the stole, but sometimes will wear the traditional deacon's stole while performing liturgical functions traditional to the diaconal order.

In The United Methodist Church, deacons wear a stole around the shoulder as in the Anglican and Roman traditions. An ordained elder wears the stole in the same fashion as an Anglican or Roman priest, the role of elder being the United Methodist equivalent to that office.


Together with the cincture and now defunct maniple, the stole symbolizes the bonds and fetters with which Jesus was bound during his Passion; it is usually ornamented with a cross. Another version is that the stole denotes the duty to spread the Word of God. In the Roman Catholic and United Methodist Churches, the stole is colored white or gold for Christmas, Easter, and other high feasts, red for Pentecost Sunday, feasts of martyred saints, Good Friday, and ordinations, green for Ordinary Time (the periods between Epipthany and Lent and from Pentecost Sunday to Christ the King), with Violet/purple for Advent and Lent. Roman Catholics also use rose (pink) for the 3rd Sunday in Advent (the pink candle in the Advent wreath) and the 4th Sunday in Lent--symbolizing as a "break" in the gloom of penance during the purple seasons.

In the Anglican Communion and the ELCA, the primary colors are the same (white, red, green, and purple), but with blue often being worn in place of purple for Advent (symbolizing the night sky or the Virgin Mary), and either crimson (Anglican Communion) or scarlet (ELCA) being worn for the Holy Week period. Black, a common color used by most denominations, symbolizing mourning, was originally worn for Good Friday and funerals, but since the 1960's, black has been superseded by white. In some situations, black is still reserved for funerals in some Roman Catholic and Anglican funerals (an example of the latter was for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the "Queen Mother"), while ELCA Lutherans use black only for Ash Wednesday, and as a cross drape for Good Fridays. As a rule, the Anglican use is generally identical to the Roman use from which it derives.

The stole in Eastern rites

In the Eastern rites, the stole is known as the epitrachelion (when worn by a priest or bishop) and the orarion (when worn by a deacon or subdeacon). The priest's stole consists of a long strip of cloth, hung around the neck with the two strips sewn together. The protodeacon or archdeacon wears it over the left shoulder and crossed under the right, and the deacon wears it over the left shoulder with the two ends left hanging. This is only common in the most traditional Orthodox churches. In most Rites, the stole is always worn in the first-mentioned fashion unless the deacon in question is wearing only his exorasson (outer cassock) and then it is essentially folded double and over the left shoulder. The subdeacon wears his orarion over both shoulders, crossed in the back and the front. Those acting as subdeacons wear theirs crossed only in the back, to show that they are not clergy.


  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. 26, p. 953.



Clothing Definitions


Picture of an Anglican priest vested in an alb,
cincture and purple stole. Taken by Gareth Hughes
on 21 October 2005

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The above article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (  ).  5/27/06
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