AskDefine | Define verger

Dictionary Definition

verger n : a church officer who takes care of the interior of the building and acts as an attendant (carries the verge) during ceremonies

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Pronunciation

Noun

  1. In the context of "mostly|UK": A lay person who takes care of the interior of a church and acts as an attendant during services, where he or she carries the verge (or virge). An usher; in major ecclesiastical landmarks, a tour guide. In the United States, the office is generally combined with that of sexton.
    1857 ‘We have often seen each other,’ said Little Dorrit, recognising the sexton, or the beadle, or the verger, or whatever he was, ‘when I have been at church here.’ — Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, Book 1, Chapter 14.

Extensive Definition

For the Verger in Dad's Army, see Maurice Yeatman
For the Verger in The Vicar of Dibley, see Emma Chambers
A verger (or virger, so called after the staff of the office) is a person, usually a layperson, who assists in the ordering of religious services, particularly in Anglican churches.

History

The Office of the Verger has its roots in the early days of the Church of England's history. The Order shares certain similarities with the former Minor Orders of Porter and Acolyte. Historically Vergers were responsible for the order and upkeep of the house of worship, including the care of the church buildings, its furnishings, and sacred relics, preparations for liturgy, conduct of the laity, and grave-digging responsibilities. Although there is no definitive historical examination of the Office of Verger, evidence from Rochester, Lincoln, Exeter, and Salisbury Cathedrals points to the existence of Vergers even in the 12th century. Koster is the Dutch word for sexton or verger, derived from the Latin custos (the equivalent German word is "Küster"). The symbol of a Guild of Cathedral vergers is the Crossed keys. Perhaps the best-known portrait of an Anglican verger in fiction is in Somerset Maugham's short story, "The Verger."

Duties

During the service itself, a verger's main duty is ceremonially to precede the religious participants as they move about the church; he or she does not typically take any speaking part in the service itself. It could be argued that a verger's main pride during a service lies in his or her inconspicuousness; vergers often play a very prominent role "behind the scenes" — helping to plan the logistical details of service and discreetly shepherding the clergy through it. (In some churches these latter duties are handled by a Master of Ceremonies, while the verger functions as a sort of marshal in the procession.)

The Virge

The office's title comes from the ceremonial rod which a verger carries, a virge (from the Latin virga, branch, staff or rod; see virgule). The Maces of State used in the House of Lords and the House of Commons of the British Parliament are examples of another modern use of the medieval virge. In former times, a verger might have needed to use his virge to keep back animals or an overenthusiastic crowd from the personage he was escorting or even to discipline unruly choristers.

Vestments

The typical vestments of a verger are a black cassock with Fascia, purple or violet chimere, and a jabot. Today many modern vergers wear a scapular instead of a chimere

Modern function

In small churches today, the office of verger is often combined with that of sexton: the verger assisting at services and the sexton maintaining the church building the rest of the time are one and the same person.

The Roman Catholic Church

The office of Verger has, for the most part, disappeared in the Roman Catholic tradition, the closest function being that of the sexton or the head or senior usher, particularly in those churches (usually large establishments, like St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City) that have an organized and formal corps of ushers.
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