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Originally it was one or more branches (the French often use verges, the plural of its equivalent, as the normal word for a rod, the rarer singular verge rather indicates a switch) used as an instrument for corporal punishment, or as a riding crop.
It is best known as the ceremonial staff of the Anglican and Episcopal lay church officers known as verger (or originally virger : the title derives from virge), who originally used it as a 'weapon' to make way for the ecclesiastical procession (compare the catholic garde suisse), and occasionally to chastise unruly choristers.
Sources and references
- What is a virge? in FAQ on Website of Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church