Stole (στολή), a Greek term for (1) a vesture or garment; (2) a vestment reaching to the feet, and worn by bishops and priests. This garment was originally of white linen, but so early as the beginning of the 7th century some of the younger clergy of Spain had taken to "colored oraria" decked with gold, and were not even content with one only. See Marriott, Vestiarium Christianum, p; 215.
In more recent times the stole is a narrow band of silk or stuff, fringed at the ends, adorned With embroidery, and even jewels, worn on the left shoulder of deacons, when it is called orarium (q.v.), and round the neck of bishops and priests. It was, probably, like the maniple, at first a handkerchief or towel. It denotes the yoke of Jesus, or, as Tyndale states, the rope with which our Lord was bound to the pillar of scourging. That it is of ancient origin may be seen by the fact that the Council of Laodicea, A.D. 364, forbade its use to subdeacons. The fourth Council of Toledo says that it is worn by a deacon on the left shoulder "because he preaches," and by a priest on the right shoulder that he may be ready for his ministrations. Anciently the stole was long, reaching nearly down to the feet. In the Western Church it is the custom for a priest, when ministering at the altar, to cross the stole on his breast and put the ends through the girdle of the alb. This has become general since about the 13th century. A bishop, as he wore a pectoral cross, wore his stole straight. The deacon, at mass, wears his stole over the left shoulder, fastened under the right arm. The stole is a symbol of jurisdiction, in which sense it is constantly worn by the pope, even when not officiating; and there is a custom in Italy, illustrative of the same principle as to jurisdiction, of the parish priest; after he has administered extreme unction, leaving the stole upon the foot of the bed, not to be removed until the death or recovery of the patient.
The stole of the Eastern priests, called orarion, or epitrachelion, is merely a long strip of silk or stuff more than, double the width of a Western stole, and with a hole in the middle of the upper part, through which the celebrant puts his head. It has an embroidered seam down the middle.
In the Reformed Church the stole is still used under the slightly changed form of the scarf (q.v.). Until within the last few years the use of the stole or scarf was confined in the Reformed Church of England to bishops, chaplains of the nobility, members of chapters, and graduates in divinity of late, however, it has been generally worn by the London clergy, though with what authority is not clear. See ORNAMENTS, ECCLESIASTICAL.