STOLE, VESTMENT (Lat. stola and orarium, Fr. etole, It. slola, Sp. estola, Ger. Stola), a liturgical vestment of the Catholic Church, peculiar to the higher orders, i.e. deacons, priests and bishops. It is a strip of stuff, usually silk, some 25 yards long by 4 inches broad; in the middle and at the ends, which are commonly broadened out, it is ornamented with a cross. Its colour varies with the liturgical colour of the day, or of the function at which it is worn.
There is very little evidence as to the form and character of the stole before the Carolingian age; but from the 9th century onwards representations of the stole show that it varied in no essential particular from that of the present day. In the i ith, 12th and 13th centuries it was remarkably long and narrow. From the gth to the 13th century it was mostly provided with a separate piece by way of finish to the ends, and this in the 12th and 13th centuries was as a rule trapeze-shaped. In the late middle ages the stole was usually of uniform breadth; but from the 16th century onwards the ends again began to be widened, until in the 18th century we have the hideous form with large shovelshaped ends. Fringes, tassels, little bells and the like were used as decorations of the ends of stoles at least as early as the 9th century; but crosses in the middle and at the ends were rarely added during the middle ages. The usual material of medieval stoles was silk, and the better ones were embroidered with silk, gold thread, pearls, etc.
The stole is worn immediately over the alb; by deacons, scarf-wise over the left shoulder, across the breast and back to the right side; by priests and bishops, dependent from the neck, the two ends falling over the breast. In the case of bishops, however, the stole always hangs straight down; while priests wear it crossed over the breast when vested in the alb. Essentially, the actual method of wearing the stole conforms to the original practice. During the middle ages there were, however, deviations of custom: e.g. priests, even according to the Roman use, did not wear the stole crossed over the alb, though this had been prescribed for Spain so early as 675 by the 4th canon of the council of Braga. In southern Italy, probably under Greek influence, and in Milan (where the custom still survives) the diaconal stole was put on over the dalmatic. Similarly in Spain and Gaul, anterior to the Carolingian age, the stole was worn by deacons over the alba or outer tunic.
According to the Roman use the stole is now only worn at mass, in administering the sacraments and sacramentalia, when touching the Host, etc., but not e.g. at solemn offices or in processions. In the middle ages, however, it was the custom to wear it at nearly all liturgical functions. In the gth and 10th century it was even made obligatory, by the decrees of the synods of Mainz (813) and Tribur (895), on priests throughout the Frank Empire to wear it at all times, especially when travelling. Elsewhere it was the custom to wear it always, at least for a year after ordination.
The custom of giving the stole to priests and deacons at their ordination is of great antiquity. So far as Spain is concerned there is evidence for it in the decrees of the 4th council of Toledo (633), and for Rome that of the 8th century Ordo of Mabillon. The present practice according to which the bishop lays the stole over the left shoulder of the deacon, and crosses it over the breast of the priest is already found in the pontificals of the 10th century.
There is no evidence to show when the stole was first used in the Western Church. In Gaul and Spain we already find it in the 6th century; our first evidence for its use in Rome is of the 8th century, which is however, of course, no proof that it was not in use earlier. The mosaic in the apse of S. Vitale at Ravenna, which has been taken to prove the existence of the stole in the first half of the 6th century, has no value as evidence, as the lower part of the figure of Bishop Ecclesius (see VESTMENTS, fig. 2) was renewed in the 12th century. It is noteworthy that at Rome, until the 10th century, the stole was worn by the lower orders of the clergy also.
In the Eastern Church the stole (Gr. upapiov, the diaconal stole, tmrpaxri^iov, the priestly stole; Slav, orar and epitrachil; Arm. urar; Syr. uroro; Nest, urara; Copt, orarion and patrashil) makes its appearance very early. The stole of the deacons is mentioned so early as the 4th and 5th centuries, the first instance being in the 22nd canon of the council of Laodicea, where it is mentioned specifically as the insignia of a deacon. Of a priestly stole we hear for the first time in the Theoria mystica (8th century) . In the Maronite, Syrian, and Nestorian Churches subdeacons also wear the stole, and among the Maronites the lectors as well. There is very little evidence as to the character of the stole in the ancient Church of the East. The stole of priests and bishops, decorated with crosses, was worn originally in all rites as in the West, i.e. hanging in two loose bands over the breast; at the present day, according to the Greek rite, the two bands are firmly sewn together, while in the Armenian, Syrian and Coptic rites they have even been amalgamated into a single broad strip with an opening at the top for the head. Its ancient form has been retained only by the Nestorians, who wear it crossed over the breast. The diacona! stole was and continues to be worn usually hanging over the left shoulder, the ends falling straight down before and behind. Only the Copts and Armenians wear it scarf -wise. Originally the diaconal stole would seem to have been a narrow strip of folded linen, and it appears in the pictures of the Qth century as a narrow band ornamented with crosses. Later, it was often the habit to embroider on Greek diaconal stoles the words AFIOS AFIOS AFIOS.
The question of the origin of the stole admits of no conclusive answer. It is certainly not derived from the antique stola, called tunica, as was formerly always held, nor yet from the prayer blanket (tallith) of the Jews. More careful investigation, moreover, throws very considerable doubt on the possibility of the derivation of the priest's stole from the ancient neck-cloth (orarium) and of the diaconal stole from a napkin used in the liturgy. A more reasonable theory seems to be that which suggests that, in the East, the stole was originally introduced as that which it was when it first appears in the 22nd canon of Laodicea, viz. a special liturgical mark of distinction for deacons, which in course of time was extended to all the higher orders. In all probability it was introduced straight from, the East into Spain and Gaul. Rome also probably imported it from the same quarter, but weakened its significance by making it a cloth sanctified by being laid on the Confessio of St Peter, the bestowal of which at ordination was intended to express the fact that elevation to clerical office in the Roman Church was a grace bestowed de benedictione S. Petri and that the ordinands were undertaking with their consecration the duty of serving St Peter, i.e. the Roman Church.
Wherever the Reformation was introduced the stole was done away with, even when chasuble, alb and cope were retained; the reason being that it was the ensign of the major orders, which in the Catholic sense were rejected by the Reformers. 1 (J. BRA.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)