Epigonatia, Introduction3 November 2011
Initially, the epigonation was a soft napkin (maniple – hand cloth) which hung from the belts of the clergy, as a handkerchief did from the belts of the nobles of Byzantium. At a later date the material was stretched over rhomboid-shaped stiffening and gold-embroidered. It still hangs from the belt and reaches to the knee.
Until the 12th century it was worn exclusively by bishops. Later its use spread to other senior clergy. In the 12th century the epigonation symbolised the napkin with which Christ girded Himself when He washed the feet of the disciples. In the 15th century it acquired a new symbolism: “the victory over death and the Resurrection of the Saviour”. For this reason it has the shape of a sword and has embroidered around its edge the verse of the psalm which the priest recites as he vests himself with it: “Thou hast girded thy sword upon thy thigh …”. The scenes which usually appear on this vestment are the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet, the Descent into Hell, or the Resurrection in the Western manner, and, in monasteries, scenes which have to do with the sanctity of the place, for example, the Burning Bush on Mt Sinai or the Vision of John on Patmos.