What is a Priest Stole?

Janis Adams

Traditionally worn by priests and bishops, the priest stole is a liturgical garment which customarily indicates the office or order of the wearer. A priest stole is type of shawl or scarf, ranging in width from 2 to 4 inches (5.08 to 10.16 cm) and in length from 7 to 9 feet (2.133 to 2.743 m). The stole is most commonly decorated with crosses placed in tandem, across from one another. Additionally, some denominations add ornamental fringe to both ends of the priest stole.

A priest wearing a stole.
A priest wearing a stole.

The fabric originally used to create a conventional priest stole was either silk or linen. The fabric was of a tight weave and often heavily starched to create a more substantial appearance. An interfacing was often added as well, to further reduce wrinkling. Today a number of different types of fabrics are used when making this liturgical garment.

A priest being ordained.
A priest being ordained.

Colors of stoles are traditionally dictated by the time of year at which they are worn, and if they are to be worn in celebration of a holiday. Priest stoles worn in celebration of Christmas and Easter are made with a white fabric. Red fabric is chosen for those to be worn on Good Friday, and on both Palm Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. Violet is used for Lent and Advent, and black — not violet or purple as many would assume — is selected in the event of the wearer presiding over a funeral service or mass.

Although most commonly worn by men, women also wear scarves, wraps, or stoles as a head and/or shoulder covering during liturgical services. Those worn by women tend to be fashioned out of a thinner material than those worn by men, and are worn more often to cover the head rather than just the shoulders. Often a light silk is used or a sheer, gauzy linen or pashmina. While white is a common color of choice, these types of stoles come in a wide variety of hues and patterns. The length and width of these stoles vary largely, as well.

Apart from being worn as a liturgical garment, stoles have long been in fashion, dating all the way back to ancient Rome. Worn by both men and women, stoles are used not only as a fashion accessory but for the purpose of providing an additional layer, for added warmth. The shape of the traditional priest stole is often used as a basic pattern form for many fashionable stoles, scarves, and wraps.

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