Tuesday, December 4


What the (Liturgical) Heck?

It pains me to admit this, but for the time being it appears the Whapsters are stumped. A dear friend of the Shrine emailed us this picture earlier this week, and wanted to know if we could identify who these strangely-dressed folk are, or what they might be doing.

The location is the cathedral in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and based on the priest in the photo, identified as one Msgr. Conroy, and the state of the altar behind the group that it must be somewhere between 1921 and 1933. Our best guess is they're some sort of local sodality--but such extravagant costumes indicate there must be something more to it than that. We've got a braintrust of several eminent churchladies, a bunch of liturgy nerds, a seminarian and one wisecracking Dominican novice working on this as we speak.

Some (often contradictory) thoughts based on our recent conversations:

- The little kids are boys, despite their fancy-pants getup (cf. Buster Brown and most instances of period childrens' fashion).

- The costumes resemble vaguely a group of choirboys in Seville Cathedral called the "Seises" or "Sixes" (both include plumed hats and pseudo-Renaissance getup.)

- The group is from a parish play or theatrical production (sed contra: why are they lined up in front of the altar?).

- The boys are carrying canes, not swords.
- The box is a reliquary (the woman is wearing gloves to handle a sacred object.)

- The box is a stage prop (the ornamentation is too generic/crude in quality and the box too casually held. Sed contra: she may simply not know how to hold the box properly).

- The box has the arms of Florence on it.

-The box has generic fake heraldry on it.

- The woman is not dressed as a saint, because her clothing is too fashionable.

- The woman is not a May Queen because she has no crown and white gown.

- But the children might be some sort of escort or court.

- The woman is wearing some sort of uniform, because, while fairly modish, her clothing is nonetheless distinctly unusual, and being made almost wholly of velvet, impractical and heavy.

- The black color of the woman's garb may be related to the whole custom of pious women (especially like those who are in the various papal or chivalric orders) wearing black to church.

- There is a rosary hanging out of the box (or not, it's hard to tell.)

- The fact that a woman is standing on the altar steps, in the sanctuary, in the 1920s, indicates something very exceptional and unusual has occurred for her to be there.

- The photo is of the aftermath of a parish pageant.

Less seriously, we also threw out:

- The photo shows the annual Lolipop Guild Mass.

- The woman is wearing the summer choir-dress of the Pious Sodality of Churchladies. (Okay, it's all velvet but surely the winter version must have ermine somewhere!)

Anyway, I'm stymied. And while I prudentially question the value of dressing up little boys that way (or at the very least give them a proper sword if you do!). If, say, they were dressed as Papal Chamberlains, 18th century aristocrats or mini-Julius II, that'd be different. But I generally think shiny Mary Janes are better left to churchladies, Alice Liddell and Christopher Columbus. But I will gladly admit the mystery lady in the center, velvet, beret, gloves, train and all, is quite snazzy.

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