Belts and Buckles, Introduction

3 November 2011

The belt (‘zonarion’ or ‘zoster’) was a typical accessory of the dress of the clergy and, in earlier times, the lay nobility. In Byzantium, various belts were the mark of various offices, so that the expression “to put on a belt” meant to undertake an office. According to some commentators, the belt passed into the use of the Church in imitation of the belt worn by Aaron: “And thou shalt put them [the belts] upon Aaron … and his sons with him”40.

The priest wears the belt in conformity with the words of the Lord: “Let your loins be girded about and your lamps burning; and ye yourselves like men that wait for their lord” (Luke 12: 35-36). The belt symbolises spiritual power and temperance, as can be seen from the prayer which the priest says as he puts it on: “Blessed be God who girds me with strength”.

The earliest belts worn by the clergy were of woven material and bore the inscription: “Jerusalem the Holy”. In more modern times, we find gold-embroidered belts with floral decoration surrounding liturgical inscriptions, usually the Sanctus. They fasten with buckles which may be silver, gilt, ivory, or gold-embroidered, as in the case of the one described below.