A band of material worn by bishops, priests, and deacons for all liturgical services; bishops and priests wear it about the neck and with the ends loose or crossed over the breasts; deacons, across the breast from left shoulder to right waist. The origin of the stole is obscure. It was already in use in the East in the 4th century as an insignia for the lower clergy, and was adapted apparently from Imperial civil services. In the West it had made its appearance in Spain by the 7th century; thence its use spread throughout the Carolingian realm, until by the 12th century it was accepted at Rome. Theories supporting the derivation of the stole from a towel for serving at table or a neck-cloth for warmth can no longer be held. From the first record of its use the stole is always mentioned in conciliar and synodal decrees as a distinctive mark for deacons, later for priests and bishops. The name was given to it in Gaul and is derived from the Greek designating a white robe of distinction. Furthermore it was originally worn over the other vestments.
The stole was always white until the 16th century when it became customary to match its color to that of the chasuble or dalmatic and embroider a cross on it. It must be worn by the clergy when they administer any sacrament or exercise their order during any liturgical function. The custom of having deacons wear the stole from the left shoulder to the right waist originated in the 12th century. Though the practice of crossing the stole over his breast is attested already in the 7th century, it did not become universal until the promulgation of the Missale Romanum by Pius V in 1570. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, and the frequency of concelebration, the ancient practice of clergy wearing stole freely over the alb was revived.
Bibliography: h. norris, Church Vestments (London 1948). e. a. roulin, Vestments and Vesture, tr. j. mccann (Westminster, MD 1950). j. braun, Die liturgische Gewandung im Occident und Orient (Freiburg 1907). j. mayo, A History of Ecclesiastical Dress (London 1984). d. hines, Dressing for Worship: A Fresh Look at What Christians Wear in Church (Cambridge 1996). d. philippart, ed., Clothed in Glory: Vesting the Church (Chicago 1997).
stole1 / stōl/ • n. a woman's long scarf or shawl, esp. fur or similar material, worn loosely over the shoulders. ∎ of a strip of fabric used as an ecclesiastical vestment, worn over the shoulders and hanging down to the knee or below. stole2 • past of steal.