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Why do some clergy wear academic hoods with their surplices?

19 October 2018

Write, if you have any answers to the question listed at the end of this section, or to add to the answers given below.


Why do some clergy wear academic hoods with their surplices? Canon B8 does not authorise it; moreover, the requirement in the corresponding 1604 canon referenced graduates of Oxford or Cambridge only.

Your answers: This is only one facet of a long history of the Church of England, and reflects changes during the past 150 years. Until the mid-1960s, the legality of eucharistic vestments in the C of E was disputed. High Churchmen since the 19th century had argued on the authority of the Ornaments Rubric that they were required. Despite Evangelical opposition, supported by The English Churchman, the Measure was passed. Ordination photographs now include some ordinands in a black “preaching scarf” as opposed to a stole.

Choir dress for non-eucharistic services is a cassock under a surplice with a scarf and a hood, if the wearer is a graduate, indicating where his or her degree was given. Until the Second World War, the majority of clerics were graduates who had gone on to residential training in a theological college. The Church of England awarded a specific hood to the minority of non-graduates at priestly ordination. It was black with a narrow red border. Hoods are not worn with vestments.

Residential training is no longer compulsory. Many newly ordained clergy are either not graduates, or the Church is a second career/vocation. We have moved into an egalitarian society where churches may be in groups. Owing to the introduction of washable modern fabrics, easy-care dry cleaning, and off-the-peg styles, the diversity in clerical dress is amazing. It includes skinny jeans, shorts, trainers, and a rainbow of coloured shirts with tunnel collars. It is still possible to learn quite a lot about any specific priest by observation, however, despite the former nuances’ disappearing.

(Miss) Primrose Peacock
Truro, Cornwall 

Canon 25 of 1604, as reproduced in The Anglican Canons 1529-1947, edited by Gerald Bray (CERS, 1998), specifies that cathedral clergy who are graduates shall wear “such hoods as are agreeable to their degrees”. The 1604 canons remained in force, with only minor modifications, until their post-war revision was completed in 1969. The number of universities had risen in the intervening period. Our readers may conclude that the canon was rarely interpreted as applying only to graduates of Oxford or Cambridge; and that custom has had plenty to do with this vesture. Canon B8, until its recent relaxation, required the wearing of a surplice with scarf or stole at morning or evening prayer, without mentioning (or forbidding) a hood, perhaps because that would not be worn with a stole.


Your question: The church that I attend is an Episcopal multi-generational gathered community in an urban setting with a demographic that has been changing for some years. The attendance in the pews is, on occasion, dwarfed by 16-20 members of the friendly, multi-generational robed choir. Congregation and choir members are comfortable with choir members’ moving from the choir stalls for the Peace, then sitting in the pews for the sermon before returning to the choir stalls for the liturgy of the eucharist. Views would be welcome on the practice of the choir members’ sitting in pews with the congregation to listen to the sermon, given the number in the congregation?

J. R.


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