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Roman Collar
Question from Gail on 10/1/2005:

I have a southern baptist friend who says that the protestants invented the white collar worn by priests. Can you please provide any information you may have on this subject.

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 10/4/2005:

The hitsory of the Roman collar is somewhat convoluted, but one can start by noting that the collar we know today is actually a fairly recent adaptation.

Roman collar traces its distant origins to the 15th century when clerics began following then current fashion of placing their linen collars over their outer clothing. This became accepted custom, and by the 17th century there were many forms of this linen collar, such as the ornate Roman variety, the collarino, of ornate and expensive lace, and the French adopted the collars worn by the noble classes, of linen and fine lace. As black was increasingly worn by clergy, the collar served as a one of the obvious elements in their attire. Church officials abolished excessive ornamentation for the collars, and a linen band was slowly used to offer protection against dirt and stains. This was the direct origin of the current collar, with priests using a softer style choker of cloth, sometimes merely a scarf; bishops and other prelates could afford a linen choker. From this came the embrace in Rome of the collar as it is known today. The collaro was of starched line that was approximately three inches wide and that was fitted into the rabbi (or rabat), the cloth fitted around the neck of a cleric and placed under a simar or cassock.

Today, the collar (usually made of plastic or linen) is most commonly identified with clergy of many denominations. In Europe, of course, many priests wear variations on the Roman collar. In the United States, an effort has been made in recent years to encourage priests to wear a black suit and especially the Roman collar as identifiable elements in their ministry.

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