What is an Altar Shoulder Cape?

An Altar Shoulder Cape, also known as a cope, is a type of liturgical vestment worn by clergy during various Christian liturgical ceremonies. This garment is essentially a ceremonial cloak that covers the shoulders and is open at the front, reaching down to the elbows or even longer. Altar Shoulder Capes are rich in symbolism and vary in design according to the liturgical season and the specific rites.

Historical and Cultural Significance

The Altar Shoulder Cape holds a significant place in Christian liturgical traditions. Historically, it has been used primarily by bishops, cardinals, and sometimes priests. The cape is not only a garment of dignity and honor but also serves as a symbol of the yoke of Christ, representing the burden and responsibility of the clergy to lead their congregations.

Varieties and Usage

Altar Shoulder Capes come in various colors and styles, reflecting the liturgical calendar. Standard colors include white, green, red, purple, light blue, and gold, each corresponding to different seasons and festivals within the Church year. For instance, white is often worn during Christmas and Easter, while purple is used during Advent and Lent.

Design and Decoration

These capes may be adorned with various religious symbols, such as crosses or the specific coat of arms of the diocese or the cleric. Gold piping or decorative borders are standard, adding to the visual richness of the garment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who wears an Altar Shoulder Cape?

Altar Shoulder Capes are worn by members of the Christian clergy, predominantly within the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some Orthodox churches. Their use is generally reserved for bishops, cardinals, and sometimes priests, depending on the occasion and local customs.

When is an Altar Shoulder Cape worn?

This vestment is typically worn during special services such as Eucharistic adoration, processions, and other solemn occasions. It symbolizes the wearer’s office and responsibilities, adding a layer of solemnity and reverence to the liturgical ceremonies.

How is an Altar Shoulder Cape different from other liturgical garments?

Unlike other liturgical garments that might cover the entire body, such as the cassock or alb, the Altar Shoulder Cape is specifically designed to cover only the shoulders and arms. It is open at the front and does not have any front closures, distinguishing it from other types of liturgical capes or cloaks.


The Altar Shoulder Cape is a garment steeped in tradition, embodying the dignity and responsibilities of the clergy. It is a visible sign of the yoke of Christ that the clergy bears, serving as a reminder of their duty to lead and care for their congregations. As with many elements of liturgical attire, the Altar Shoulder Cape is rich in symbolism and varies in design according to the liturgical context, enhancing Christian worship’s visual and spiritual experience.

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