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The Death of St. Bede, the monastic clergy are wearing (long) surplices over their cowls

The surplice (Late Latin superpelliceum, from super, "over" and pellis, "fur") is a non-liturgical vestment used by in traditional Western worship. The surplice has the form of a tunic of white linen or cotton material. It continues in use by various Christian communions of the West (particularly the Roman Catholic Church), as well as in the Orthodox Church's Western Rite.


It was originally a long garment with open sleeves reaching nearly to the ground, as it remains in the Anglican and other English traditions. In the Roman Catholic tradition after the schism and after the Middle Ages , it became shorter (barely to the hips), had closed sleeves, square shoulders and often features lace decoration. Sometimes the Roman Catholic-style surplice is referred to with the Medieval Latin term cotta [meaning 'cut-off' in Italian], as it is derived from the cut-off alb.

The surplice descended from the Greek alb, which it replaced in the North before Rome's schism from Orthodoxy.


The surplice apparently seldom received rich ornamentation. In pictures and sculpture from the Middle Ages it appears as a garment hanging in many folds, but otherwise plain throughout. There is a surplice at Neustift near Brixen in the Tyrol that dates back to the twelfth (or, at least, to the thirteenth) century; it is the only medieval surplice that we possess. This surplice shows geometrical ornaments in white linen embroidery on the shoulders, breast, back, and below the shoulders, where, as in the albs of the same date, large full gores have been inserted in the body of the garment.

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