The Flabellum

The flabellum is a metal disk fixed on a long handle which was used in the Catholic Church in order to keep flies and other insects away from the priest and the consecrated body and blood of Christ. The flabellum was mainly used during Catholic ceremonies and its provisions were contained in the Apostolic Constitutions which stated that two deacons on each side of the altar were to hold a fan made of feathers or thin membranes and drive away small animals that may attempt to come close to the cups. The flabellum was widely used for ceremonies in ancient Egypt and later in the Catholic Church. However, its usage in the church was terminated during the fourteenth century.

The flabellum was made of different materials such as feathers of a peacock, fine linen cloth, and silk. Originally, the flabellum was mainly used for liturgical purposes. Additionally, it was also used as a sign of honor for bishops and princes. During the ancient days, the flabellum was used to drive away insects from the pope whenever he made his way from the altar or  while he was being carried on the sedia gestatoria.

The Flabellum was a scared fan that was used in religious ceremonies as a way of showing honor to the pope or priest. There were different designs for the flabellum with a wide range of variations in terms of shape, size, color and materials. The fans were so sacred that not anybody could hold and use them. During the church ceremonies, the fans were only permitted to be used to protect the pope or blood and body of Christ, and not for any other purpose. According to the liturgical laws of the Catholic Church the deacon was supposed to stand by the Holy Table and fan the sacred gifts by waving the fan gently over them starting from the time of the Offertory until the Communion. This was required because the gifts used to be left uncovered unlike today when the sacred gifts are normally covered and therefore there is no need to chase away any insects.  

Being a religious item, the flabella (Plural of Flabellum) was preserved in several Roman museums even after they were no longer used by the Roman Catholic Church. It is also crucial to note that flabella were not only used in the Roman Catholic Church but also by other denominations. Among these denominations are the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholic. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the Flabellum is still in use today. The fans used by each of these denominations are distinctive. Some had bells around the circumference of their disks; when waved, they would produce some sounds which resembled the sounds made by several Sanctus bells.

With the religious meaning attached to the flabella, these items were very sacred. The use of this fan was seen as a great honor to the pope and it could only be used during special occasions.