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Last Updated: Monday, 10 December 2007, 13:36 GMT
What does a dog collar represent?
The Magazine answers...

Dr John Sentamu
Dr Sentamu cutting his collar

The Archbishop of York has dramatically cut up his dog collar on live television and says he won't wear it again until Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe is out of office. But what does the dog collar represent?

As protests from the clergy go, it was a pretty powerful one.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, cut up his clerical collar - known as a dog collar - on live television on Sunday. He said it was a protest against Robert Mugabe and he would not wear it again until Zimbabwe's leader is out of office.

He told Andrew Marr - who was interviewing him at the time on his BBC One show - his collar is about identity and Mr Mugabe had taken the identity of the Zimbabwean people and "cut it into pieces". But what does such a collar actually represent?

It is a sign or mark of a person's holy calling

The clerical, or Roman, collar is a sign or mark of a person's holy calling, according to the Church of England. It is an identifying badge that can be recognised by people of all faiths.

Worn by both Anglican and Roman Catholic priests around the world, the narrow, stiff, upright white collar fastens at the back. Part of both formal wear and day attire, it is often seen as a small white rectangle, peeking from under a black tab-collar shirt.

It wasn't until around the 6th Century that clergy identified themselves outside the church building with special dress, and it has developed and changed over the centuries.

'Big deal'

The collar is thought have been invented in the late 1800s. According to the Church, it became popular with Anglican clergy during the Oxford Movement, which attempted to revive Catholic religion in the Church of England in the 19th Century.

Church rules on the subject are vague. Canon law - the rules and regulations of the Christian church - says the apparel of bishops, priests and deacons should be "suitable to office" when on duty to communicate their "spiritual charge".

Canon law states that it can be removed if there are "justifiable" reasons and there is no punishment for not wearing one and many evangelical clergy chose not to.

A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

"Like so many things, the rules on this issue can be interpreted in many ways," says a spokesman for the Church of England.

"However, to say there is no requirement in canon law for the collar to be worn is wrong. But in this case the archbishop's protest would be viewed as a justifiable reason for not wearing it.

"His actions are certainly no empty gesture. What he did is a very big deal."

The issue was recently debated when National Churchwatch - which provides personal safety advice - advised clergy to take off their dog collars when on their own, to reduce the risk of being attacked.

It said vicars are attacked more often than professions such as GPs and probation officers.


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