White textile: A symbol of purity and holiness

White textiles, for the majority of cultures and religions are a strong symbol of spiritual and physical purity. In the spiritual world, white color represents clear, honest, and transparent minds and souls. In the material world white cloths are related with clearness and lack of dirt. Indeed, white surfaces highlight even the smallest stains. A white fabric can be washed many times without fading and the sun not only discolors the fabric but it makes it even more white.

  • The Strachitsa of the Holy Table in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Rite, the altar is called Holy table. Although there are variations, normally the Holy Table is covered with three cloths on all four sides. The first cloth that covers the Holy Table is called Strachítsa (katasarkion in Greek Orthodox Church) and it is a plain linen cloth. It is bound to the altar with cords at the time of its consecration and it is never removed. However, after many years it can be removed for restoration and cleaning and bound again to the altar. The white linen covering symbolizes the winding sheet in which the dead body of Christ was wrapped in the tomb.

  • Fair Linen of the Roman Catholic Church.

In Roman Catholic Church the altar is typically covered with three layers of cloth. The topmost is a long , white linen, called Fair linen. The cloth has the same depth as the Mensa of the altar but it is longer, generally hanging over the edges withing a few inches of the floor. Five small crosses might be embroidered on the fail linen- one to fall at each corner of the Mensa and one in the middle of the front edge, symbolizing the five wounds of Jesus. 

The Fair linen should be left on the altar at all times. When removed for replacement, it should be rolled and not folded. As in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, fail linen symbolizes the shroud in which Jesus was wrapped for burial. 

At the beginnings of the 20th century the Cathοlic Church required the use of linen or hemp fabric while in older times it was also used silk fabrics and silver and golden threads. During the last years the rules of the church are not so strict and it is advised to cover the altar with at least on white textile. Similar uses of white textiles can be found in Anglican and Lutheran Churches. 

Altar, catholic, church
"Saint John's Aktar in Kennington, Λονδίνο
Image Source: Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Chalice cloths in Roman Cathοlic Church. 
- The Purificator. It is a white linen cloth which is used to wipe the chalice after each communicant partakes.
purificator, chalice, Catholic, church
"The purificator of the chalice
Image source: Paterm - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
-The Pall is a stiffened square card covered with white linen, usually embroidered with a cross, or some other appropriate symbol. The purpose of the pall is to keep dust and insects from falling into the Eucharistic elements.
-The Corporal is a square white cloth upon which the chalice and paten are placed. It may be edged with a fine lace and a cross may be embroidered on it near the front edge.
Holy communion, Roman, Catholic, Church
Chalice and paten placed upon the corporal. 
Image source: "
Fractio-panis1" by Photo by G. Sfasie (wa:Uzeu:Waelsch) - Self-photographed. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.

  • White dress in Christian tradition. 
In Roman Catholic church, people and especially young children wear white cloths during their first Holy Communion. Also in most Christian churches baptismal garments are white. Some churches also adopt white clothing for certain members of their clergy. Βest known is Pope's white clothing.

  • Mandeans' white clothing
Mandeans are a small gnostic group living in Middle East. To participate in religious ceremonies they wear white. Mandaism is one of the oldest monotheistic religious. Although some of their rituals are similar with other religions, such as the Christian baptism and the belt rope of the zoroastism, however Mandaism is a distinct religion.  

  • Ihram clothing 
Ihram clothing is worn by the Muslims during Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, the last month in the Islamic calendar. The word Ihram is also used to describe the state a pilgrim is in during the Hajj pilgrimage. Before entering Ihram, pilgrims bath, trim their nails and hair, make wudu (cleaning ritual) and pronounce a formal intention to perform Hajj. The body must be cleaned before the white cloth is worn. The bath is called Ghusl and means to ritually wash the whole body. Water in Islam and other religions relates with body and mind purification.

Men's garments often consist of two white un-hemmed sheets (usually towelling material) and are universal in appearance. The top is draped over the torso and the bottom is secured by a belt, plus a pair of sandals. Women's clothing, however, varies considerably and reflects regional as well as religious influences. Women often don't wear special clothing or cover their faces.

On a symbolic level, Ihram's objective is to make everyone appear the same by God, either you are a king or a servant. Every pilgrim is dressed equally avoiding attracting attention. White clothing also contributes to a feeling of unity, all pilgrims feel like brothers and sisters joined to worship God. 

Although Ihram is simply an item of clothing to be worn during the pilgrimage, there are many competing views on the proper wearing of it. For example the exact number of days a pilgrim is required to wear Ihram varies according to the type of pilgrimage the individual is performing.

Arafat pilgrims.jpg
"Muslim pilgrims during Hajj" 
by Karim Manji - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Muslim Kafan.
In Islamic religion a dead person is wrapped in white linen or cotton textiles (Kafan). Kafan has no ornamentation since dead human should be as simple and humble as possible.  

  • Mormons' underwear or temple garment 
The adherents of the latter day Saint movement, both men and women wear special white underwear day and night. Garments work as a constant reminder of the covenants people made in the temple. This custom helps people remain pure both in body and spirit. It is also considered that these underwear offer some kind of protection from the evils and temptations of the world. In Mormone folklore, tales are told of latter-day Saints who credit their temple garments with helping them survive car wrecks, fires and natural disasters. 

Two piece temple garments for men and women.
Image source: "
Garment" by The original uploader was Duke53 at English Wikipedia Later versions were uploaded by AlanystOkamiIttoJaksmataMojaveNCKubigula at en.wikipedia. - The use of this photo was granted to me by the owner of the copyright, a Mr. Packham on 11/11/06. He releases it without any attribution necessary. Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Mormon's baptismal garments
The officiant and the proselyte at a Mormon baptism are both dressed entirely in white. The proselyte traditionally wears white suit, white socks and white underwear. The officiant either is dressed in a white suit or with a white trousers and shirt. Women and girls used to attatch heavy objects to their skirts to avoid floating in the water. 

  • Jewish Kittel 
A kittel is a white dress which serves as a burial shroud for male jews. The robe is simple without pockets providing equality for all in death. On special occasions it is also work by Ashkenazi Jews. Kittel is also worn by married men on Yom Kippur.

Εβραϊκό kittel
Jewish Kittel
Image source: "Kittel" by Shuki - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

  • The sacred girdle worn by Zoroastrians 
Zoroastrians (Parsis) wear white cloths both in wedding and funeral ceremonies. During Navjote, a ritual through which the individual is inducted into the Zoroastrian religion, the proselyte begins to wear Sedreh (white underwear with one pocket) and Kushti (sacred girdle). The girdle is worn wound three times around the waist. It is tied twice in a double knot in the front and back, the ends of the Kushti hanging on the back. The kushti is made of 72 fine, white, woolen threads, which represents the 72 chapters of the yasna. The ritual of untying and tying the Kushti is performed several times a day and during the ritual, the individual must remain standing in one spot and may not speak to anyone. If the individual speaks the ritual must be recommenced. 

Zoroastrian priest instructing a  child in the tying of the Kushti
Image source: "
Navjote Yazdi" by Tyabji - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

  • The white cloths of the initiates in Santeria 
Santeria is a religion with roots in Yoruba tribe of Nigeria and spread to the New World and especially in Cuba with slaves. Santeros during their rituals are dressed in white. Moreover new initiates in Santeria wear white for a whole year covering their head with a scarf or hat. White symbolizes purity and spiritual clarity. Apart from white cloth the new initiate avoids make-up and jewelery other than the sacred necklaces and bracelets given during initiation. 
A new initiate in Santeria
Image source: About Santeria
  • White clothing in Candomblé.
Candomblé, is a syncretic Afro-Brazilian religion developed in a creolization of traditional Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs brought for West Africa by enslaved captives in the Portuguese Empire. During rituals the initiates are dressed in white, dance and sing for hours worshiping their deities. Many of the dresses look like aristocratic garments with rich and elegant decorations and embroideries. 

  • Bunu Yoruba weavings.   
According to the anthopologist Elisha P. Renne, Bunu associate white with nature spirits, including spirits of water. As well the Bunu link it to moist, and often fertile, substances such as milk, rain, mucusm tears, urine and semen. Rene notes that white cloth is the panacea for several spirit-related problems and provides the path through which humans and spirits can travel between each other's worls as needed. 
  • Widowhood in hindusim
 In traditional families, widows were, and in some cases still are, required to wear white saris. This tradition is based on the belief that death is not the end of the soul but a pathway to the next level. Furthermore induism does not encourage deep mourning because the movement of the dead to the next level is obstructed.  
  • Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini Yogas wear white or ivory cloths during teaching prefering natural fibers. 
  • Religious habit: The white
religious habit is a distinctive set of garments worn by members of a religious order. Monks and nuns in Christian Eastern Orthodox tradition wear black. However, they are plenty of white religious habits. Some of them are: 

-Trappists (The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance)
-The religious habit (based on the Indian sari) of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
-Mercedarians (The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives also known as Our Lady of Ransom)
-The order of Carthusians. The religious habit is white (a novice wears a black cloak over the white Carthusian habit).
-The Monks and Sisters of Bethlehem, of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno.
Trappist praying 2007-08-20 dti.jpg
A trappist monk dresses in white
Image source: "Trappist praying 2007-08-20 dti" by © Daniel Tibi |. Some rights reserved. - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Eyo Masquerades  
The Eyo Festivalis a Yoruba festival unique to Lagos, NigeraThe word "Eyo" also refers to the costumed dancers, known as the masquerades that come out during the festival. The origins of this observance are found in the inner workings of the secret societies of Lagos. Back in the days, The Eyo festival was held to escort the soul of a departed King or Chief and to usher in a new king. The white-clad Eyo masquerades represent the spirits of the dead, and are referred to in Yoruba as "agogoro Eyo" (literally: "tall Eyo")
Νιγηρία, πολιτισμός, φεστιβάλ
 Eyo masquerades in Lagos, Nigeria 
Image source: "Eyo Olokun" by Slashme - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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