You see them on Ebay identified as “short stoles” by those who are baffled. Once in a while you may see one dangling from left arm of the celebrant in an Anglo-Catholic parish- but seldom these days do you see them in Episcopal churches at the Eucharist. What is it? Well, it is one vestment element of the former basic Eucharistic vestment set- the maniple. How or why the maniple disappeared and went extinct on the chancel is a riddle. Were they getting in the way? Too fussy? Too much trouble? Was there a decree banning maniples? Nobody I have asked seems to know or have an answer. I receive armloads of old maniples in all colors to “recycle” and relocate. Ebay is flooded with unwanted maniples. And a maniple without its matching stole is an unwanted and sad thing indeed.
Along with the stole and chasuble (and perhaps a burse and chalice veil) , a Low Mass set of Eucharistic vestments always included a maniple. The maniple was the outward insignia indicating a subdeacon, deacon, or priest- all of whom are entitled to wear the maniple. The subdeacon receives the maniple, a deacon retains it as the stole (worn diagonally) is bestowed, and a priest or bishop retains the maniple along with the stole. Although of no practical use whatsoever, it has an ancient origin which is most probably Roman. The mappula was a sort of table napkin carried to meals which was used to wipe the mouth and folded at the end of the banquet and carried away folded over the left arm. There was also a silken ceremonial napkin called the mappa which was a luxury by the 4th century and had the dignity of a consular mark. Waved in the right hand, it was a starting signal for races or was waved to show enthusiasm at events and speeches.
At one point , in clerical use, deacons covered their left hand with it, subdeacons held the edges of the paten with it, and it was the “I” in the vestment layout in the sacred monogram IHS. Usually the stole and maniple ends matched exactly and were nearly always fringed. The shape of the end of the maniple echoed the shape of the stole ends and some got quite unusual with “spade ends” (think of the garden tool), triangular ends, flared ends and in the 1960’s pretty much no flare at all before the maniple went into obscurity. Got any maniple photos to share? I miss them- the Low Mass set looks a bit unfinished without them- and a jaunty biretta. Puts me in mind of that great song from the musical Annie- You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile. Alas, another reason to mourn Maniple Demise- they furnished a wonderful opportunity for beautiful and highly visible embroidery work. How did they go on and stay on? Sometimes a loop of elastic, sometimes a buttonhole which fit over a button on the alb sleeve- and sometimes you would just “Tie One On”!
Wippell’s (bless them) still stitches on a neat white button on the left sleeve of their superbly- constructed traditional alb, in hopes that not all sacristies have pitched out their maniples. Someday I suspect there may be a Friends of Maniples Society.