A medieval and early modern “best seller,” William Durandus's monumental late-thirteenth-century liturgical treatise, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, offered its readers a definitive, codified explanation for almost every aspect of church symbolism. A close look at its book-length discussion of the use and hermeneutics of hurch vestments, however, reveals a consistent problem at the heart of ecclesiastical attire: how the changing “fashion” of actual garments worn by the clergy in this period no longer accorded with the traditional, often biblical prescriptions that guaranteed the authority of those very garments. This article investigates Durandus's delicate (and sometimes not so delicate) handling of these discrepancies with an eye toward the larger theoretical questions involved when material objects, and especially clothes, are used to convey material transcendence.

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