Ecclesiastical vestment

Contributed by: The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles

Front of Roman Chasuble Back of Roman Chasuble Detail of mould and stain damage on lining Detail of damage on back, near cross Front detail, showing damage and fabric use Inside front, showing flood water damage Inside front,  detail of damage Detail of embroidery, centre back Fabric rot, darning and discolouration Dye transfer on inside front Mould and dye discolouration
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Object information

Significance statement

Little is know of the provenance of this particular garment other than where it was found after the 1955 Maitland Flood, once of the worst natural disasters in Australia in the 20th Century.

The object itself shows some signs that it may have been made during a time of want by resourceful local women who sewed for the church. Traditionally eccesiastical dress would be made by an specialist Eccesiastical tailor  most probably in a major city. It is difficult to determine but the quality of embriodery of the IHS ( a symbol of Jesus Christ) on the centre back suggests a professional quality. The chasuble may have had a matching set of items including a stole, chalice veil, burse and maniples. Perhaps these were lost to time or destroyed in the flood.The chasuble is one of many items of eccessiastical dress worn by the priests of the cathederal, probably from a communal wardrobe. Therefore it is difficult to say who it was made for or worn by.

The 1955 Maitland Flood is considered an extrememly significant event in the history of the Lower Hunter. It is still within living history and many local people speak of the effect it had on their lives as well as show the evidence in photographs. It was also one of the first natural disasters to be broadcast to the country on television. The local people speak of the aftermath of this disaster, the clean up, the mud, the dirt, the mould, and the want to get rid of it. Often in the aftermath of disasters, items made from paper and cloth are considered too difficult to deal with and are simply thrown away.  Fortunately for this item, the rescuer saw it for what is was, possibly eccesiastical dress, and considered it worthy to be saved and conserved. The garment, how and where is was found and the fact is was saved at all make this item significant.

Author: Justine Malinowski, 01/07/2014.


A 'Roman' or 'Fiddleback' style chasuble. The garment is lined front and back. The lining is a golden chintzed cotton. The outer front panel has been pieced together for a wine red damask fabric and same colour plain heavy cotton weave fabric and is the traditional 'Roman' or 'fiddleback' shape i.e shaped like a violin back. The way in which it has been panelled suggests that the maker did not have a lot of fabric to work with. It could have been made for an older garment, perhaps 'mend and make do'? The back is made from a long flat, shoulder width panel. It has been made from the wine red plain heavy weave cotton. The outline of the Cross has been created with a decorative floral woven braid, with mitered corners. The initals "IHS" are in the centre of the Cross and a decorative floral design fills the rest of the cross. The design has been created in machined chain stitch in a number of tonal colours. Two different widths of woven braid are used, they are both of the same woven design. The design resembles a twisted thorny vine with evenly spaced open petaled flowers. One is 13mm and the other is 25mm wide. The narrow braid is stitched flat around the outside edge of the garment and the 25mm braid is used to create the cross and edge the front and back neckline. The braid is used on the front panel in a rectangle and across the shoulders. On the inside front line there is a long length of cotton tape that is used to fasten the garment to the body around the chest and under the arms. Garment is extrememly water damaged with colour/dye 'run' evident on the lining. Lining is also mould stained. Garment is extremely worn around the neck line, suggesting high usage.

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

The garment was found in the debri of the Pro-Cathederal catholic church after the 1955 flood. The item was given to a member of the Maitland Repertory Society, who washed and cleaned it as much as possible. The item was then given to Mrs. Nell Pyle, the Repertory's wardrobe mistress, and it was stored until donated to the museum in 2005.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The 1955 Flood had the most devastating effect on the landscape, commerce and lives of the residents of Maitland and its surrounding areas. The flood was by far the largest and most destructive in the 20th Century. As with all natural disasters, it is cleaning up that is the hardest thing to face. In the case of a flood it is the effect of the water and what is carried along with it that deters people from trying to save a variety of items, in particular textile items. People believe they are beyond salvage and repair and will often throw them out. They are small (and seemingly insignificant) and would carry mould and mildew etc. As is the case of the chasuble, there has been significant water damage in two forms, dye colour transfer and mould damage, both of which are irreparable.

Make do and mend- after a close study of the garment, I feel that the garment was made in a time of want. The pieced together nature of the front panel and a simple cotton lining. The decorative braids fortunately compensate for the makeshift nature of the garment.

This garment has been exhibited

This garment was included in 'In our Area'- an exhibition organised by The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles, East Maitland which featured textile items and garments significant to the history of Maitland and Lower Hunter Valley area. 

  1. Place of origin:

    Maitland, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Roman Catholic Pro-Cathederal Maitland. Presumed to be owned by the church as part of their Ecclesiatic wardrobe, used by the Reverend at the time. 

  3. Worn by:

    Various priests at the Cathederal.

  4. Occasion(s):

    Chasuables are worn as part of the Ecclesiatic wardrobe. Red is worn to celebrate Masses of the Holy Spirit.

  5. Place:

    Roman Catholic Pro-Cathederal, Maitland, closed 1989, due to earthquake damage.

  6. Made by:

    Possibly made by local women of the parish.

Trimmings / Decoration

The 13mm wide braid is stitched flat around the outside edge of the garment. The 25mm wide braid is used to form the cross on the back and edge the neck line front and back. The braid is used on the front panel in a rectangle and across the shoulders. 


Garment has two different widths of woven braid. The design of the braids are the same. A 13mm wide braid and a 25mm wide braid.

Fibre / Weave

The age and use of the garment indicates that the fibre of the fabric is cotton. The garment has sustained significant water and fungal damage, with a lot of dye transfer, this also helps to indicate a natural cellulose fibre probably cotton. The are three fabrics used. The outer garment features a thick weft, plain woven fabric and a damask fabric with a decorative woven tile and floral design. The lining fabric is a plain weave and appears to have been chintzed.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Machine sewing has been used to piece the fabric and garment pieces together. The braid has been hand stitched on.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


A number of pieces have to used to make up the centre front panel and the two sides panels that make the front. The cutter has matched the pattern of the damask in each panel.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Not technically a fastening, but a cotton tape is hand stitch inside the front neck line to tie the garment to the body under the arms, around the chest.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring


Chest 390 mm
Front neck to hem 710 mm
Back neck to hem 1000 mm
Neck to sleeve head 145 mm
Cross back 945 mm
Convert to inches

This type of garment 'sits' on the body. It is un fitted. Therefore measurements relate to area of the body the garment would sit on. The 'neck to sleeve head' measurement is the shoulder width.

Dress Themes

While the use of the Roman style chasuble has always been closely related to the Tridentine Liturgy, it can be worn for Novus Ordo liturgies as well. The reason it was always connected to the Tridentine Rite was since the priest's back was always to the people, it was the back of the chasuble that was decorated in some way. In this case it is the IHS vesica on the back of the chasuble.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

History of the Catholic Church in the Maitland New Castle area. 

Wikipedia page about the chasuble. 

Commeneration article baout the 1955 floods in Maitland and surrounds. 

Meaning of IHS 

Link to collection online


Chasuble is in poor condition due to how it was found. The chasuble could have been in a worn condition before being destroyed by flood water. The neckline at the back is worn and frayed. Perhaps during the initial cleaning process after being found, more dye could have been transfered? It was certainly not properly dried to stop mould from growing, but the damage could already have happened while in the mud.

Evidence of repairs

Hand darned to hold together holes on back near hem.

Mould damage

Lots. Lightly covering majority of the garment.


  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor


  1. Discolouration
  2. Distorted/warped
  3. Frayed
  4. Holes
  5. Stained
  6. Torn
  7. Water damage
  8. Worn
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