Clothed in tradition

Written by Judith Hickson, Curator, Queensland Stories

Vestments – Greek Orthodox from Jerusalem 1919. Consisting of a Chasuble, Stole, Girdle, Undervestment and a Pair of Cuffs.

In today’s world, where increasing importance is placed on fashion, what we wear is a window into our social worlds – a kind of non-verbal, symbolic language which speaks for who we are and how we would like others to see us.

Though interpretations may differ across cultures and circumstances, concepts and ideas about personality, religious affiliation, authority or rank, economic status and class can all be conveyed through our clothing.

The religious world is no different, with special forms of ecclesiastical garments being worn for thousands of years to distinguish clergy from lay people – for ceremonial occasions – weddings, graduations, rituals and rites of passage and religious events – or as part of a ceremonial tradition.

Ceremonial vestments, especially the Byzantine-inspired religious wear of Eastern churches, were commonly made of costly and richly decorated silks and brocades, featuring intricately woven or hand-embroidered motifs and patterns that reflected both societal direction and changing fashion trends. [1]

‘The Empress Theodora and Retinue’ mosaic panel, c. 526AD – 547AD, in the Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, is one of the earliest illustrations showing the richly patterned cloth and colours typical of the Byzantine period. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Over time, the origin, history and changing fashions of ecclesiastical dress has embraced a broad field of research, with special focus from art historians on the beauty of its sophisticated and elaborate embroidery. 

Particular attention has been paid by researchers to Ottoman or Persian silk fabrics and embroidered designs due to their prevalence in ecclesiastical material culture and to their preferred use in the making and decoration of vestments before less-costly manufactured European textiles became more widely available.


[1] Varvounis, M G & Macha-Bizoumi, N 2015, ‘The modern and contemporary tradition of sacerdotal vestments in Greece (19th – 20th Century)’, Church Studies, vol. 12-2015, pp. 585-598, p. 585.

Custom and Honour

Among Queensland Museum’s most important historical treasures is a magnificent set of Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical vestments. A gift from the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude, Damianos, these century-old garments were presented, in the tradition of hil’at, to Australian clergyman and Army Chaplain, Canon David Garland, in 1918.

According to the established customs of the Orthodox Church, the presentation of a robe of honour (known as hil’at) was based on an Islamic ceremonial convention which symbolised social status and prestige.[1] Stemming from the development of diplomatic and commercial exchange between the Ottoman Empire and its social and trading networks, and owing allegiance to pre-Islamic Eastern, Asian and European traditions, the giving of hil’at  held not just reciprocal expectations, but also communicated the value or high regard held by the giver for the receiver of the gift. [2]

Vestments – Greek Orthodox from Jerusalem 1919. Consisting of a Chasuble, Stole, Girdle, Undervestment and a Pair of Cuffs.

Interweaving Byzantine and Ottoman liturgical textile design, the intricately embroidered, silk damask vestments – in Orthodox terms known as ‘sacerdotal’ or ‘priestly’ vestments – include a phelonion (chasuble or cloak), epitrachelion (stole), a set of epimanikia (cuffs), zone (belt) and red sticharion (a type of kaftan worn under the phelonion).

The silk damask fabric, or kamouchas, a type specific to ecclesiastical garments, features an elaborate, interwoven floral decoration of tulips, carnations and peonies, interspersed with smaller sprays of cornflower and narcissi, and a twisting serrated gold leaf design (saz) characterized by central motifs with serrated edges outlined in dark red.

Though the longstanding diplomatic and commercial nuances of the Patriarch’s gift to Canon Garland may not have been explicit at that time, the giving and receiving of the vestments cemented the deep connection and life-long friendship that was to ensue between the two clergymen and their respective religious organisations.


[1] Vryzdis, N 2017, ‘Towards a History of the Greek hil‘at: An Interweaving of Byzantine and Ottoman Traditions’, Convivium, vol. 4, iss. 2, pp. 176-191.

[2] Cevisli, A 2017, ‘Portraits, turbans and cuirasses: Material exchange between Mantua and the Ottomans in the 1490s,’ in Biedermann, Z., Gerritsen, A. and Riello, G. eds., 2017. Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia. Studies in Comparative World History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Connections and Congregations

In 1917, at the age of fifty-three, Canon David Garland was appointed Chaplain to Australian forces in Egypt and the Middle East, during which time he ministered to recruits in training camps as well as establishing ‘soldiers’ clubs’ – often just large tents or marquees – in which they could read, write and relax in comfort in a homely, welcoming atmosphere, away from the temptations of the bazaars and souks of Cairo.

During his chaplaincy in Palestine and Egypt, seeking a unity of understanding between the Anglican and Orthodox Churches, Canon Garland formed close bonds with Greek Christians in the city, a circumstance which led to an invitation from Archimandrite Damianos, Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, to celebrate the Eucharist in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The historic service took place on New Year’s Day in January 1918 in the Greek Orthodox chapel of St Abraham’s and was reported to be the first Church of England service to be celebrated at the Holy Sepulchre since the advent of the First World War. 

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem by Gerd Eichman. Source: Wikimedia, Creative Commons.

Deriving its name from the word ‘sepulchre’, meaning ‘tomb’, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (كنيسة القيامة) in Jerusalem is believed to be the site of the crucifixion, tomb and resurrection of Jesus and is widely considered the most sacred site in Christendom. 

Built in 325 A D by Roman Emperor Constantine, the church has since become the foremost destination for Christian pilgrimage, with many thousands of pilgrims visiting each year to venerate within its sacred walls and providing a major source of income for the six major Christian communities who serve as its custodians and share parts of the church property. These include the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac Orthodox churches.

As the oldest Christian church in Jerusalem, the Greek Orthodox church is also the largest landholder and enjoys special status in Jerusalem. Administered by Greek clerics of the Holy Order Brotherhood, the mission of the Patriarchate is to safeguard and preserve many of the Christian Holy Shrines in Jerusalem, the Holy Land. 

St. Abraham’s Monastery (below right) is in the south-eastern portion of the Holy Sepulchre Square. Originally the province of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, the Monastery was transferred to the Greek Orthodox community in 1660. Today, St. Abraham’s Monastery is a Christian guesthouse for pilgrims visiting Jerusalem.

Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archimandrite Damianos. Source: Wikimedia, Creative Commons.
Entrance to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St Abraham. Source: Picasa
Leader of Allied Forces in the Middle East, British General, Edmund Allenby, leaving the Thanksgiving Service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, preceded by Archimandrite Nicodemus, 9 December 1917.  The service was held under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Church. Image: Canon David Garland. Source: State Library of Queensland.

Faith and Friendship

As well as his ministry to Australian troops, Canon Garland conducted pastoral work with the Greek community in Palestine and Syria, providing liaison between the British military authorities and the Coptic Church. It was during this period that he was presented with the set of vestments which he later wore during multi-faith church services held at his own parish church of St Barnabas and at the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches of St George and St Nicholas where he was esteemed for the enduring friendship, support and relationships he established with Orthodox communities both in Australia and overseas.

Canon Garland’s contribution to the Greek Orthodox community during his war chaplaincy in Jerusalem and on his return to Brisbane later earned him the award of the Gold Cross of the Holy Sepulchre by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.   In July 1921, the award was formally presented to Garland by then acting Greek consul, Mr Christy Freeleagus. In conferring the award, the Patriarch paid special tribute to the deep ‘respect and reverence’ held by Canon Garland for the Greek Orthodox Church.

Above: Canon Garland, (third from left) wearing his sacerdotal vestments, with Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Australia, Timotheos Evangelinidis (centre) and Acting Greek Consul, Mr Christy Freeleagus (right of Archbishop Timotheos), with the choir of St George’s Greek Orthodox Church, Brisbane, 1936. State Library of Queensland.

Both Canon Garland and Mr Freeleagus were also present at a ceremony at St Barnabas Anglican Church, Red Hill in September 1936   during a visit by the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Australia, Timotheos Evangelinidis. In the Archbishop’s sermon he referred to the affection with which Canon Garland was regarded by the Greek Orthodox Church and that the warm friendship between Orthodox and Anglican priests was a very important and significant sign.

On his death, Canon Garland was honoured in a service at St Barnabas led by Anglican Archbishop William Wand.  At Canon Garland’s request, a section of the Greek Orthodox burial service was read by Reverend Nikon Patrinakos, Archimandrite of the Greek Orthodox Church of St George, supported by Reverend Antonieff and Monk Fedot Shaverin, representing the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas.

Objects that speak

As storytelling has evolved to be the heart of museums’ practice, today’s audiences are familiar with the power of objects to encompass wide-ranging narratives. As curators and researchers, we like to delve deep into stories – to bring knowledge and new meaning to the subjects we write about. Thanks to the society named in his honour and to the historians who have brought clarity and deeper understanding to his personal history, Canon David Garland’s story – as a war-time Chaplain, Anglican priest, and as acknowledged architect of Anzac Day – is well-known today.

Yet, Canon Garland’s sacerdotal vestments, the beautiful objects at the centre of this story, tell another story, infused in ancient traditions, in the intertwining of cultures and faiths, in practices of diplomacy, peacemaking, reconciliation and inclusion.  Sometimes, objects speak for themselves and there is little need for us to say more.

To uphold our commitment to preserve and care for the vestments for future generation, Canon Garland’s vestments have temporarily been returned to our collection store. To learn more about these or other objects in our social history collections, your can search and explore our online collections site.  

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