April 05, 2012

Suitable habits for Benedictine monks and nuns

[I first published this post several years ago.  It's still drawing questions and comments.]

A business suit consists of several items of clothing.

In the religious orders, our uniform or suit is called a “habit”.

The Order of St. Benedict (who died in A.D. 547) is the oldest religious order in the Church. From before A.D. 840 until shortly after A.D. 1200, there was almost no other religious life in the Church except the monks and nuns who lived by the regulations of St. Benedict.

The Benedictine habit is the forerunner of the habits of most religious orders that have come into being.

For the most part, the traditional Benedictine habit is simpler and has fewer elements than the habits of most other religious orders, especially those of women.

Here are the parts of the Benedictine habit. (You can click on the pictures to see larger versions.)


TUNICThe tunic is black, loose and long, covering the wrists, ankles and the base of the neck. On top of the tunic, at the waist, goes the cincture (belt)— made of black leather or black cloth. (Benedictines do not use cinctures made of rope or cord like the Franciscans.)


SCAPULAROver the tunic and the cincture goes the scapular. It was originally an apron for work, but over time it began to be seen as a symbol of the work of the Cross, and was made increasingly longer and worn all the time, not just for work. The scapular is a long panel of cloth with a hole in the middle for the head. It is shoulder-wide, straight-sided, ankle-length and square-cornered. The scapular hangs nearly to the ankles both in front of the body and behind. [The small devotional scapular that many Catholics wear is a symbolic miniature of the full-size scapular that monks and nuns have as part of the habit. The miniature devotional scapular has a front panel and a back panel like the full-sized habit scapular.]


WIMPLEBenedictine nuns wear a white, cloth wimple— a covering that drapes around the throat, chin, cheeks and head. An extra band of cloth covers the forehead.


VEILA “novice” is a new Benedictine-in-training who has not yet made vows. Over the wimple, a novice-nun wears a white veil. A nun receives a black veil when she makes vows.

A Benedictine monk has a black hood.The modern Benedictine monk’s hood is streamlined, but in past centuries it was much larger.


CUCULLAAt Mass and at Community Prayer, Benedictines add a formal, black gown, the cuculla over the habit. It has wide, deep, long sleeves, and also usually has broad vertical pleats or folds that hang the full length from the shoulders to the ankles. The cuculla is the ancestor of academic gowns, judicial chamber robes and choir robes.


Benedictines do not attach or wear a rosary as part of their habit. They also do not normally wear any visible medal, pin, emblem or crucifix. However the superior of a Benedictine monastery (an abbot for monks, an abbess for nuns) wears a pectoral cross on a chain like a bishop.

The abbot, Blessed Columba Marmion;
and St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

jan and lucy here
we are doing a school project and we were wondering if you could answer the following questions.
why do benendictine monks wear what they do?..why is the significance behind the dress and why was it instigated?.
thankyou for your time

8:28 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Jan and Lucy,

I'm glad to hear about your school project, and I hope it turns out well.

St. Benedict speaks of the special set of clothes (the habit) that monks wear as: "the clothing of the monastery." So, first of all, the habit, the clothing of monks and nuns, means that they belong to the monastery. Belonging to the monastery means we leave behind the fashions and ways of "normal" society by making special vows to God to live the way that monks and nuns live. The habit, then, is also a sign that we have made special vows that put us into a new relationship with the other monks in the monastery and with God.

The habit is like a married person's wedding ring. The wedding ring, says something about my relationship to other persons and to God; it is a sign about the public promises I have made.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

love the pictures..

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi i am interested to know if there has been any political issues that have sourounded the benedictine monks clothing? and how the dress has changed or adapted over time and why?
thank you very much

9:27 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Anonymous visitor asks:
"if there has been any political issues that have sourounded the benedictine monks clothing? and how the dress has changed or adapted over time and why?"

- - - -

As for political issues ... communist governments have sometimes forbidden the wearing of the habit.

- - - -

Changes or adaptations over time.

Originally, St. Benedict (who died in A.D. 547) did not specify any single color for the clothing of monks.

In the early 800's, imperial and Church decrees specified black as the standard color.

The scapular for St. Benedict was originally only a work apron. By the 800's it had taken the ritual form my article describes.

The hood was originally much bigger. In the 19th and 20th centuries it was made smaller and streamlined.

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does a novice's habit differ from a full monk's?

10:38 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The cuculla is only for monks in perpetual vows. So monks in temporary vows do not have it (and neither, of course, do novices).

Each monastery decides how a novice's habit is to differ from the habit of monks in vows (whether temporary vows or perpetual vows).

Some monasteries give a novice a knee-length scapular, as opposed to the full (ankle-length) one.

Some monasteries, like mine, give a novice a full scapular, but no hood. In my opinion, this is the better way, since the hood is one of the ancient signs of a monk, whereas the scapular was originally a work apron worn by everyone while at work.

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure your comment about "From before A.D. 840 until shortly after A.D. 1200, there was no other religious life in the Church except the monks and nuns who lived by the regulations of St. Benedict" is quite correct. There have, since long before St. Benedict, been eremites, as well as those living under the rule of Basil (ca. 360).

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do postulants differ from novices and how is that reflected in their habits?

5:51 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Eremites (hermits) were not, strictly speaking, a religious order. It is true, they were around before, during and long after St. Benedict.

Besides the Rule of St. Basil, the Rule of St. Augustine also predates St. Benedict.

Nonetheless, at least in the Latin Church, the Rule of St. Benedict, by imperial decree, was the only Rule in force from A.D. 840.

I do not know the history of the use of the Rule of St. Basil in the Eastern Church. I know only that it is used in the Eastern Churches today.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Postulants are the newest arrivals-- with the period of "postulancy" preceeding their becoming novices (the period of the "novitiate").

Canon Law does not mention postulants. However, Canon Law does mention novices, the novitiate being a state governed by canon law.

The difference of habit between postulant and novice is decided by the individual monastery.

In monasteries of nuns, postulants generally wear some modest form of prescribed dress, but not the monastic habit. When the postulant is ready to begin the novitiate, she receives the habit, but without the cuculla. Also, her veil as a novice is white, not black.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(On eremites) Thanks for the clarification.

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been a Benedictine Oblate for almost ten years. I know that as such I can be buried in monastic robes, which is fine, I guess, but for the last year or so I have been wishing - while at retreat and also during Adoration - that I had a sort of hooded garment I could wear to keep my head covered and my peripheral vision checked - less distraction. Right now I wear a hoodie when I go to adoration, but it's a sweatshirt and very warm. I think what I want or need is something like a scapular with a hood attached - something I'd just slip over my clothes. Have you ever heard of anything like that?

1:07 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Anonymous Oblate O.S.B.,

If you are a female, then a veil of some sort would be appropriate for the liturgy and adoration.

If you are a male, be aware that your head is to be left uncovered inside church, before the Blessed Sacrament at adoration, etc.

At my monastery, we have a work habit that is a pullover shirt with a hood.

1:14 PM  
Blogger James said...

I realize that this is an old post, but it popped up while I was doing research on the web. I'm researching medieval convents for a professor and I am currently looking into nuns' habits. Your blog is very informative, more so than the one book I was able to find that even addressed clothing. However, I can't really turn in a blog as a research source and I still have more questions about habits, and daily practices. I was wondering if you knew of any sources that might point me in the right direction as I'm muddling through the past, such as historical websites or anything really. The information in libraries is so scattered and full of holes on this general topic. I realize this is probably more than a little random to you and I appreciate you taking the time to even read this.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Try sifting through

and then the book,
"THE HABIT" by Elizabeth Kuhns

8:41 AM  
Blogger Darragh said...

I found this page because I am doing research into monastic habits. I've created a cartoon character who happens to be a monk, and I'm trying to be as accurate as possible. I am looking for an order, probably medieval, where the monks wore scapulars, capuces, and some sort of fitted hat. For the hat, i have an image of something that looks like a cross between a skullcap and a wimple. The image in my head is probably stereotypically monastic/medieval. Do you know the history of other orders' habits?

11:53 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Most of the older orders after the Order of Saint Benedict based their habits on elements of the Benedictine habit.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Br.Brown L.C.S.B said...

Dear Fr,
Can lay people e.g Oblates/Tertiaries wear the habit of the Order to which they belong? I know St. Catherine of Siena wore a dominican habit as a tertiary.

Jarel L.C.S.B

12:38 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Some sort of permission from the local superior would probably be needed. Women such as St. Catherine usually have made a private vow of virginity. Nonetheless it has been traditional for lay tertiaries to have permission to be buried in the habit of the religious order to which they are affiliated.

1:36 PM  
Blogger gemoftheocean said...

BTW, Fr. Stephanos, I've always thought your "work habit" was very practical looking. "Moving with the times" but still keeping with tradition!


1:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in desperate need of a new Habit, one that is washable and light enough to wear in the Humid South in Central Georgia.I am a Hermit, which means I pray for my Bishop and his intentions. If anyone knows of someone who makes habits, please let me know.My e-mail is "brvincent@catholic.org". Thanks and God Bless !

12:53 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Since you're in Georgia, try contacting the Trappist monastery in Conyers.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Montbretia said...

Dear Father, I came across your wonderful page while doing a google search. My question is that I have been watching a Catholic television station today where nuns were praying and I noticed on their hands that some had wedding rings on the left hand and others on the right and one had a wedding ring on one hand and a different kind of ring on the other. I would be most grateful if you can tell me about this. Thank you, God bless and stay safe.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

I know that in some religious orders the nuns wear wedding rings as signs of being "Brides of Christ."

I don't know if their customs dictate which hand the wedding ring goes on.

I'm wondering if the one who had a ring on each hand might have been an abbess. If she were an abbess, perhaps one ring was her wedding band and the other ring was her abbatial ring. An abbatial is analagous to the ring of a bishop, inasmuch as an abbot or abbess is the head of a "local church," a monastery.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Lem said...

Dear Father,
I am currently working on a film, set in a monastery, and curiosity has gotten the best of me. Where do you get your habits? Is there a huge stash available to you? Do you buy them somewhere specific?
All of this information is incredibly helpful!~
Thank you,

2:00 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

One of our own monks sews the habits for us.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you tell me where to get the material for sewing benedictine habits.
Liz O

1:52 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Any good black woven fabric will do for making the habit. However, black wool would be the most traditional.

1:55 PM  
Blogger liz said...

where to get a pattern for the benedictine habit?
Liz O

5:37 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Because the religious habit is sacred, monasteries would be reluctant to give out the pattern to someone who is not making the habit for the monks or nuns themselves.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Brett said...

I have several questions. I am a medieval reenactor. My persona is that of a 12th century Benedictine Monk.

One of the pictures shows the scapula being worn over the belt instead of under it. Is this traditional practice.

How was a monk who lived outside of a monastary referred to.

Was the wearing of prayer beads (Around a belt) allowed within the middle ages within the Benedictine order Your post says that they did not wear any type of cross.

What types of shoes were allowed. The rule of St. Benedict is not very clear (From my understanding) on the subject.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The Benedictine habit was standardized-- by authority of the Holy Roman emperor and a council of bishops and abbots in the 800's -- almost two centuries after St. Benedict (who died A.D. 547). One of those standardizations was the decree of black as the color for the habit. (St. Benedict himself did not specify a color.)

The Benedictine scapular is worn hanging outside the belt. (Trappists and Camaldolese wear the belt over the scapular.)

The only kind of Benedictine monk who would be living outside a monastery would be one who had permission from his abbot to live as a hermit.

Wearing the rosary ("prayer beads") has never been a part of the Benedictine habit.

Only an abbot wears a cross-- on a chain around his neck.

St. Benedict prescribes shoes and sandals. The sandals would have been summer wear. Shoes would have been the cheaper sort of the serving class, and in black.

The medieval hood was more voluminous than the modern one.

The depiction of the Benedictine habit in the "Brother Cadfael" films is an acceptable representation for Medieval, 12th century Benedictines.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Teutophile said...

I am in the process of being received into the Catholic Church (I have already been baptized) and I will be going off to graduate school in the fall. I am hoping to be able to wear a habit or other religious vestments full time but I wouldn't want to wear anything that I'm not entitled to wear. Do you have any suggestions? I hope that wearing a habit will be a constant reminder to me of my new Catholic faith, and an opportunity to evalgelize to all the college students who ask me what I'm wearing.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

I am glad you recognize that the religious habit is for those entitled to wear it. It would be misleading to wear it if one were not a member of a religious order.

Nonetheless, there are some principles that might be helpful for those laymen wanting to regularly dress in a manner that reflects their religious values.

First of all, what to wear to Mass? It would be most fitting for a man to wear a modest suit-- coat and times.

Outside of Mass, I've seen a few men who always wear a tie, even if with only a sweater or casual jacket, or even a tie with a long sleeved shirt and no coat or jacket.

The point would be to uphold a good standard of culture. Remember, Christ has brought his divine dignity to/into our humanity. Christians ought and need to embrace this uplifting of human dignity, and reflect it in the cultural forms and standards in everyday life.

Dignified, modest, dressing.

A visible crucifix pinned on or worn on a chain. Here are some of the best made traditional ones I have found anywhere.

Just a few starter ideas.

7:33 PM  
Anonymous Graham said...

Dear Father,
I know the tunic would have been of black wool, but what would have been the original or traditional material(s) of the scapular? Were leather (common for smiths & other workers) or linen ever used here?

2:47 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

From the time of our founder, St. Benedict of Nursia (who died in A.D. 547), until after A.D. 800, the habit could have been made out of any material that was inexpensive, and no single color was mandated. During this period, the scapular was still a real apron, and it would have been made out of inexpensive material, even used clothing. Ordinarily it would not have been made out of leather, which is much more expensive than inexpensive fabric. The exception would be an apron for the more heavy work such as metalsmithing, etc.

Under Emperor Louis the Pious and St. Benedict of Aniane in the 800's, the habit was standardized throughout the empire: black wool for the tunic and hood; the long scapular front and back also in black wool, worn no longer as a work apron, but as a formal part of the everyday habit.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Graham said...

Dear Father,

Thank you for a prompt and thorough answer.


7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent i see THE Fr. Cassian Folsom in one of your photos!

11:04 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

I was a student at the international Benedictine university in Rome when Fr. Cassian was completing his doctorate there.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr. OSB,

I was just wondering, why do monasteries of nuns have grilles that separate the nuns from the people, whether it is in their public chapel/monastery chapel or in the parlor?
How come monasteries of monks do not have grilles in their parlor?

8:53 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Those who are "cloistered nuns" live in the category of "Papal Enclosure"-- meaning that on authority of the Pope no one may be inside the enclosure except the nuns themselves and those persons whom Church law permits to enter the cloister for specific occasions.

Such nuns have grilles or bars that generally block public access to the areas used by the nuns, even inside their churches and chapels.

Historically, part of the reason for the grilles in monasteries of nuns was to protect the nuns.

Monks are not known for generally having such grilles, but they do exist in some monasteries of men, especially in Europe.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Dean Whinery said...

For readers of this blog who have not been blessed to meet Fr. S., he looks great in his habit, and certainly not a relic of the Middle Ages or earlier.
It is sad that so many orders hav "kicked the habit" "in the Spirit of Vatican 2."
To the person considering how to dress following Holy Baptism, you are so right to want to avoid appearing a religious if you are not. You might stand out in a crowd if you were to regularly wear an Alb, the long, simpñe plain white garment that, technically, is the dress for all baptized.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr. OSB,

Thank you for answering the question father. I recently found out that there is one monastery here in the Philippines, locally founded monastic congrgation for male where one can see the grilles in their chapel that separtaes them from the congregation. Well I do not know the name of the congrgation and I haven't been there.
Is the papal enclosure applies only to monasteries for women?
Can any religious congregation have cloister area, even though it does not have papal enclosure?
Moreover, why do nuns refer to as the "bride of Christ" not "wife"?
Is everyday a wedding day for them?


5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr. OSB,

Just continuation to the questions I asked. I have ask one Benedictine monk on the purpose of their monastic hood attach to their scapular, not cowl or shoulder cape. He said that hood is use to keep the head warm or during prayer to shut out distractions. If a monk is praying in the monastery chapel and does not want to be distracted, could he put on his hood? Aren't women only allowed to wear head covering in their head in the chapel?

5:25 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Robert, I know that papal enclosure has been a term used by cloistered nuns, but I don't know for sure if the term is used or not by male religious.

While use of grilles or bars has always been traditional for cloistered nuns, there is nothing in Church law that forbids monasteries of men to use them also.

Any religious congregation may have an area of their house or property that is cloistered and for their private use only.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The hood is not worn covering the head inside the church. Outdoors I put my hood up when it is cold.

The only time we use our hoods to cover our heads during a liturgy or ceremony is when we are walking from our church to our cemetery in procession while carrying the body of a deceased monk for burial. As soon as we leave the church door we put our hoods up, and as soon as we arrive at the cemetery gate we take our hoods down

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the difference between the Abbot, Cellarer, Prior and Porter?

5:57 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The abbot is the superior of the monastery.

The prior is the assistant of the abbot.

The cellarer is the business manager of the monastery.

The porter is on duty at the gate or front desk or lobby of the monastery.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anne said...

Hello Fr Stephanos,
I found your page whilst researching nun's attire for a play I am costuming. I am especially interested in authenticity. I would like to know how the "extra band of cloth" which you mention going aroung the forehead is attached. Is the veil itself secured to this band? If not, how is the veil secured, please? I have never seen one blow off in the wind, so I know it is fixed on somehow! :)
Thank you for your very interesting and detailed presentation of all these specialized and fascinating facts which are not easy to find elsewhere.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The band that goes around the forehead might be kept in place in several ways. It might have cords at the back that are simply tied together. It might be sewn in such a way that it is part of the wimple already.

The veil itself is usually pinned to the top of the wimple.

You may find it useful to inquire from monasteries of Benedictine nuns, such as St. Walburga Abbey in Colorado or Regina Laudis Abbey in Connecticut.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

Dear Fr. Stephanos,

I apologise if this is a very late post to an old topic, however I have a question for you.

I have been contemplating living the life of a monastic for over 2 years now, but have constantly been brushing it off. Recently I spoke about this to my contact brother in Taize(I'm not certain if you have ever heard of the ecumenical community that resides in that village in France), and he suggested I spend the summer at a monastery to discern the calling.

The problem is, as far as I know. There seems to be no monasteries for the Benedictine or Trappist orders of which I feel most called towards in Singapore, where I live. The closest monasteries geographically speaking are in Australia and Indonesia.

How would I go about with what I presume is a calling then? Would it be alright to contact the orders in a foreign land? Assuming of course that if I intended to stay for an extended period of time and if they allowed it, certain immigration laws might come into play.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Bryan,

Do you know of the Benedictine abbey in Manila? There are several monasteries in the Philippines.

Most monasteries will accept a "long-term" guest, especially one discerning a monastic vocation. You would simply need to write to explain your interest.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

Dear Fr. Stephanos,

Thank you very much for your reply, to be honest I hardly expected one so fast.

Another thing I forgot to enquire about and I hope this isn't bothersome for you.

Am I required to have certain documents related to my educational qualifications? As I understand it, gone are the days of the medieval saints who could just show up at the door and be accepted. And I have heard that most monks will be taught theology. I have enquired before at the major seminary here and they did mention that I would need college education to become a priest.

The problem I face, is that I do not possess college education.

If my calling is true and this is indeed my life's vocation, I would naturally wish also to study for and be ordained a priest.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Bryan,

Monasteries are quite flexible regarding educational backgrounds.

Are you specifically interested in entering the monastery of Taize in France, or in any monastery?

If your interest in Trappist, Cistercian, or Benedictine monasteries is simply for the purpose of having time to consider your vocation to Taize, then there ought to be much more flexibility for you as a "long-term" retreatant.

If, however, you are thinking of entering any of those monasteries, then you would need to know their particular preferences for qualifications.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

Dear Fr. Stephanos,

No, my interest in the Trappist, or Benedictine monasteries lies with eventually being able to join them. The community/monastery in Taize is actually for my discernment into one of those monasteries mentioned above.

I guess I will only know more after contacting the relevant authorities on the matter.

But for your monastery for example which I assume is Benedictine. Were or are there any such educational requirements?

Thank you very much for your time, it is appreciated.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The only educational requirement my monastery has for those applying to enter is a high school diploma or its equivalent.

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a word about Benedictine monasticism being the oldest form of religious life in the Church... Of course, this is not quite accurate, since St. Benedict himself refers to the writings and works of other monastic authors who predate him, and we know that Benedict himself was formed as a monk by his elder, Romanus.

It is true to say that hermits were not a religious order, as such, but neither was the great mass of monks following St. Benedict's Rule thought of as "The Benedictine Order" until much later in the history of religious life. Rather, monastic life was thought of as monastic life; Benedict's Rule was one form (the most common, after a certain point) of providing for it.

It is also true that early Monastic life in the West, as still in the East, could often be house- or elder/abbot-specific. I.e., wise old monastics would form a community and that community would be governed by the personal guidance of that man as the Spirit deemed best for each community, with the Tradition of the Church always being the "Polestar," so to speak, in discerning God's will for each monastic community. Leaders of this tradition were men like St. Columbanus of Luxueil, St. Colmikille of Iona, Ss. Romanus and Lupicinus of the Iura, St. Sabbas of Palestine - even St. Augustine and his monastic community - and many, many others.

St. Benedict specifically states that his rule is intended as a "beginner's" monastic rule, as one that provides a stable set of monastic principles. There seems reason to believe that spiritual life had taken a low ebb in Italy in St. Benedict's day (and the stated purpose of Pope St. Gregory the Great's "Dialogues" was partly to demonstrate that sanctity still thrived, here and there); Benedict's rule seems to have been intended as a guide to the foundation of monastic life at a time when this may have been difficult to obtain. For those who succeeded, St. Benedict mentions the value of further study of the writings of St. John Cassian, St. Basil, etc.

There is something to be said for Benedict's wisdom in providing monastic principles for an age that was in need of a good foundation. I am an Orthdox monk, but after two monasteries have collapsed under the weight of poor management, I am glad to have received permission to join a community using a Rule as a guide (St. Benedict's, at that!), with the wisdom to understand that charismatic, abbot-particular governance of a monastery may not be the best model for our spiritually lax age!

Sorry for the length of the reply, but it seemed profitable to be a bit more precise about the earliest types of religious life in the Church. This is our shared tradition, after all.

Dicoque omnibus, secundum morem solitum monachorum et occidentalium et orientalium: "benedicite!"

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have it on good authority that simply professed Camaldolese wear the scapular loose, with the belt tied only over the tunic. Solemnly professed wear it as you describe (i.e., belt over tunic and scapular).

8:05 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Orthodox Confrere,

Thank you for visiting the blog.

I cannot speak for any of the Orthodox Churches.

I did not say that Benedictine monasticism is the oldest form or religious life in the Church, since I am fully aware of the traditions that preceded it.

In the Latin Catholic Church, the Order of St. Benedict is the oldest religious order as we use the term "religious order."

Although the Rule of St. Augustine is older than the Rule of St. Benedict, no Order of St. Augustine existed until centuries after St. Benedict.

I sympathize with the experience of a monastery collapsing from poor management.

St. Benedict has a wonderful trinitarian structure for the monastery. Please see "How a Benedictine monastery can lead a man to God" on the following page.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boniface, OSB

Up here in North Dakota, back in the 1950s, there was an "Anti-garb" law passed. During World War II, some sisters, including Benedictines, had been hired by public schools around the state, especially in mostly Catholic areas, to help make up for the teachers that had gone off to fight. That was OK, but after the war, some were disturbed that the sisters continued to teach while wearing their habits, and got the law passed by referendum. As a result, since then religious could teach in public schools, but not wearing religious garb.

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do brothers get the title of O.S.B. or is that reserved for priests only?

5:32 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

All who make vows in the monastery make use of "O.S.B." ("Order of Saint Benedict") after their names, whether or not they are priests.

I am Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. The monk whose room is next to mine is Bro. Emmanuel, O.S.B.

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Maike said...

I'm researching The Benedictine Sisters of Mt Angel in Oregon for a School Project, and I stumbled across the habit 'issue' when I held an interview with one of the sisters in which I asked about their decision NOT to wear the habit, upon which she let me know she was glad the decision process was over and was then reluctant to share any more information.

Could you outline the main differences within communities that choose to wear the habit and the ones that don't? The thought process interests me immensly.


12:33 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Maike,

The Second Vatican Council ("Vatican II") in the 1960's called for some adjusting of the religious habit (safety and hygiene issues), but still called for the wearing of a habit.

In general, those communities that still wear a habit are in obedience to the directives of the Church.

Those that do not wear a habit, justify themselves by some ideology that really has no basis in anything the Church has written or said.

However, what IS the habit for any religious community? It ought to be something that is not the same as the clothing of the laity. It also ought to show that members of the same community dress the same. It also ought to be simple.

The Sisters of the "Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart" (sacredheartsisters.com)all wear the same outfit as each other, with a distinctive Sacred Heart pin on the blouse, but without a veil. They all live in a convent-- no one in a private rented apartment (as many sisters of other orders do). They all participate in various ways in their community's shared apostolates, that is, not one of them looks for "job" in some parish away from the other sisters (as members of other orders sometimes do).

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Maike said...

Thank you very much for the response, I wasn't sure if this was an up to date blog.

"Those that do not wear a habit, justify themselves by some ideology that really has no basis in anything the Church has written or said."

Could you specify a bit more when you say 'some ideology'?

12:37 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Ideology against the habit.
E.g., that it is a barrier that put's people off.

Against that, I would respond, "How does a police officer's uniform put off those who are looking for a police officer, or a doctor's uniform those who are looking for a doctor?"

Even a wedding ring is a "habit" for a married person.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Maike said...

Upon which I would answer that wearing a simple pin and a necklace with a cross (which most of the sisters of the convent I chose to study decided to wear) would be sufficient and also enough of a a symbol of devotion to the religious life. A full on habit draws special attention and seperates them from the community they are serving.

Or another approach I guess would be if a woman enters a convent to live a life with christ and further her relationship with god, why would she need to succumb to the expectations of the pope/society.

Then I looked at the actual Rule of Benedict to see what he said on clothing (http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbeaad1.html#55). Now, personally, I think that even though the text does specify on what to wear, the important message in this text is the commitment to God, rather than the emotional connection to clothing. I think that the habit now is so connected and expected of monks and nuns and has developed into such a symbol of faith and devotion sets back the original meaning of the habit which was for it to be purposefully unimportant so that a nun/monk could concentrate on the soul and its relationship to the Lord.

I hope I don't sound too ignorant, I obviously do not know everything and know how things should be done, I'm simply trying to get opinions and understand those.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Religious orders that officially choose to be recognized as such by the Catholic Church are out of integrity when they subsequently choose to defy the Church requirement of having an actual religious habit.

Religious orders that wear a habit are receiving the vast majority of new vocations.

Religious orders that wear no real habit are dwindling and some are clearly dying off.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Maike said...

In your last reply it sounded as if numbers and statistics were important in this matter, which I do not think should play a role in this at all. If one feels called by God to wear a religious habit, then, since it's all about ones relationship with God, that is the only justification one should need, or vice versa.

Throughout all my research i have only found people arguing and not willing to see the 'other' side of this issue. I'm not even looking for some sort of compromise, just an acceptance of the opposite, or at least an openness to discuss.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

It is not "all" about one's relationship with God, nor is that relationship with God the only justification one needs, as you have put it. It is also about one's relationship with the Church.

While St. Paul was on the way to arrest members of the Church, Jesus stopped him and asked him, "Why are you persecuting me?" Jesus identifies himself with the Church.

That is why my last reply has:
Religious orders that officially choose to be recognized as such by the Catholic Church are out of integrity when they subsequently choose to defy the Church requirement of having an actual religious habit.

In your own response, you give no recognition to that part of my previous answer, and, so it seems, it may be you yourself who, in your own words, are not willing to see the 'other' side of this issue.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Maike said...

When I said not willing to see the other side, I meant this from both points of view, applicable to both you and me. (English is not my first language, so I have a harder time expressing clearly what I want to.)

I am indifferent to this issue, neither pro nor against, I simply have to write a paper on this, and am trying to see and understand both sides.

As far as not recognizing part of your statement, I did not really feel as if you fully responded to the points I brough to light, but was in no way ignoring part of your response.

Also, I am not trying to look for an answer, because I do not think there is one clear way to do things, and there will always be controversy, but opinions is all I'm after, and since you seem to be a opinionated person, I am very glad that I found this forum. Many others seem to evade my questions.
Anyways, the deadline for the paper was on Monday, so technically I'm done, and wanted to thank you for your insight.

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Father,
A cousin of mine will be taking his monastic vows in about a month, and he inquired if anyone would be willing to sew him his scapular and black alb. I've been sewing quite a while, and am tentatively offering to help him out. I read in your comments that any plain black cloth is fine although black wool is traditional. However, I'm a bit lost as to finding a pattern. I've been looking online, and the variety of free patterns isn't well labeled to differentiate between the different orders. I could buy patterns but as a) I'm doing this as a service for my cousin and b) I only have a month, I'd rather not waste time waiting for a pattern to arrive in the mail. Do you know somewhere where I can find patterns for these vestments?
Many thanks.


10:09 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

I've read that the best pattern is from Butterick, and it's available now on ebay for less than $8.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a cassock pattern. (We looked at it today at Jo-Ann Fabric.) He needs a black alb and a [hooded] scapular. For now, I'm using his white alb as a pattern (tracing around it), and the scapular shouldn't be too hard by itself, but the process of putting a hood on it seems a little daunting since I can't seem to find any good pictures.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm sorry to revive an old topic. I've been reading the Sister Frevisse mystery novels by Margaret Frazer, set in fifteenth century England, and was hoping to find specifics about the nun's habits used at the time. Your post (and the further discussion) has been fascinating and informative.

I am a textile artist, therefore I want to know everything about the fabric itself.

Black is a very difficult colour to achieve and maintain, and I imagine that truly black cloth would have been very expensive to purchase. It seems, therefore, a curious colour choice for the entire order, in terms of hours spent maintaining the cloth's colour over time, and the expense of buying it ready-dyed.

Do you have knowledge of what substances would have been used in the Middle Ages to dye the cloth? Would the cloth (either linen or wool) have been dyed in England or was it imported from elsewhere?

Thank you for your attention.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

No apology needed! This has been my most popular post over the years.

I just did an internet search (Google) for medieval dye. It turned up lots of pertinent information, including recipes.

I understand that some wool is naturally dark or black. Perhaps that made it easier to achieve a good black by supplemental dying.

The black Benedictine habit would have been made from wool rather than linen.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

P.S. I don't know anything about importation.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an amazing and fascinating post. Thank you Father for all the wonderful information.
In Christ
Tony - Obl O.S.B.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Father Stephanos

I come from a small town in England, and I am interested to find out more about the life of the medieval Benedictine monks who used to live there, in Faversham Abbey. Maybe you will be able to help me...

Would a Benedictine monk have made a pilgrimage to Canterbury? That's only 7 miles or so away from Faversham.
If so, would they have traveled alone or in pairs, or have joined a pilgrimage like those portrayed by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales?

What personal possessions would a monk have had? I read that only an abbot would wear a cross. Would monks from richer families also have worn them, or was it a hierarchical symbol? Did they ever wear any other religious symbols, for example underneath the habit/out of view?

Would a monk have a personal bible? If so, would he have carried this on his person? Would they have traveled with it/taken it on pilgrimage?

What would they have taken on pilgrimage? Were they required to take gifts, or a letter from their abbot to the archbishop?

Would they have had any means of identification, apart from their dress? For example, would they have had something bearing the monastic seal so they could verify who they were/where they were from?

Were seals used only for letters/correspondence or were they used for other things, for example, to stamp the inside of a bible/as a personal identidication?

Once they reached Canterbury would they have been accommodated at St Augustine's Abbey? This was a Benedictine House. And Benedictine nuns on a pilgrimage would go the Benedictine Priory of St Sepulchre? And could they just turn up unannounced? Or would they just visit the cathedral, see the Shrine of Thomas Becket, and then stay outside in an inn in the city?

Sorry – that's quite a lot of questions. My imagination ran away with me!

Kind regards


9:02 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Among the “Canterbury Tales” is “The Prior’s Tale,” which is about a Benedictine prior (assistant superior appointed by an abbot).

Technically a medieval monk would have no personal possessions. However, in the monastery he would have for his own use a few practical things: sewing needle, writing stylus and tablet, handkerchief, knife. Only an abbot wears a cross. No other religious symbols were worn— the habit itself being a religious symbol.

Before the invention of the printing press a Bible would have had to have been written out by hand, and this was something that monasteries specialized in. It took an individual monastery scribe about a year to write out the whole text of the Bible. Bibles were far too precious for an individual monk to have had his own.

Monks on pilgrimage would have taken only the necessities. There may not have been any requirement to carry gifts or letters for anyone, though it would have been opportune to be the deliverers of any messages or letters that needed to be conveyed.

The only normal means of identification would have been the tonsure in addition to the monastic habit.

Seals would have belonged only to the monastery itself or the abbot, and would not be carried about, but kept safe in the monastery.

Generally monks and nuns would have lodged as guests in other monasteries, not in public inns.

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What kind of fabric is the monastic habit made of? I understand it is wool, but how is it woven?

7:21 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Traditionally it would be a wool serge.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do professed benedictine oblates make use of the letters Obl.S.B. affixed to their names like the letters O.S.B. after the names of benedictine monks and nuns? i've seen an oblate use those letters after his name in a social network page. thank you and god bless!

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's me again father. i have another question. i've read something about the permanent deacons, that they cannot remarry after their wife dies. what about permanent deacons that are single? my question is, why are they not allowed to get married? they're part of the laity anyway. thank you once again and god bless!

10:16 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Benedictine oblates are spiritually associated with the particular monastery they choose. There are no formal Church regulations for or against their using the title "Oblate of St. Benedict."

One a man receives ordination as a deacon, he is a cleric, and is no longer a "layman." A man may get married before ordination, but not after. When he requests ordination from the Church, he does so knowing the Church's practice, and that he will not be permitted to remarry if his wife dies.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you father stephanos for answering my questions and god bless you!

3:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Father. I came across this post looking for Benedictine Belts. I have a friend who is an oblate, and is looking into becoming a hermit. She asked my son if he would make her a Benedictine belt to wear. It is some kind of a pattern, she mentioned. (My son does leather work.) Do you have any idea where I might find a pattern for such a thing? Thank you and God bless.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Most monasteries today simply avail themselves of what's called a garrison belt. It's one and three quarters of an inch wide, and it has a square buckle. You can easily obtain one at a work uniform shop or online.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father.

God bless,

8:20 AM  
Anonymous donna ondish said...

I am looking for some help. A friend was accepted into a benedictine monastary. He is a novice and wears a short gray hood. However he is a bit taller than anyone else there and all the hoods are tight and short for him. I would like to have some made and donate them to the monestary, but I cant seem to locate a pattern or if there is a place I could order from that would also be khelpful. Thank you for your time, Donna

5:38 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

I recommend you ask his monastery for the pattern they use, and then perhaps you could adjust it for a larger or longer size.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Prue Batten said...

What an amazing collection of Q and A's, Father!
And I am about to add another.
I am editing a novel written about the 1190-1220 timeframe. My protagonist is a female noble who, in a journey from Aquitaine to England, by necessity stays overnight in many hospices of priories and abbeys. She spends time in a little priory in England with a small community of nuns (less than a dozen) who I would like to think had taken a vow of silence.
So my first question is would this have been likely in the timeframe?
Secondly, would the nuns have rosary beads? I have read that in the twelfth century they didn't exist.
Thirdly, would a singular priest be attached to a small village church, or would priests have visited from larger abbeys to hold services?
Fourthly, were there not wandering priests called 'barefoot friars' in the timeframe? I have read as much.
If you are able to help me answer any of these points, I would be so very grateful.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Prue,

In Aquitaine and England, A.D. 1190-1220 ... the only kind of nuns would as yet be Benedictines.

There is no such thing as "a vow of silence" in the religious orders. Rather, there are hours of stricter or complete silence-- called "grand silence"-- during which no conversation is to take place (from the last prayer of the day, Compline, until after the praying of Lauds and Prime the next morning). Then, during the day hours, talking may take place only as needed.

Rosaries did not exist at that time. Later, however, when the rosary came into use, the Benedictines never wore it as a visible part of their clothing.

A village church would generally have its own priest. In England, especially, at that time, it would be entirely possible that a Benedictine monk who was a priest might be resident at the village church with perhaps a few other priests or monks. It was the Benedictines who had served as missionaries to bring and spread the faith in England. It is also likely that a priest who did not belong to a religious order resided at the village church.

The word "friar" did not exist in English at that time. The orders using the title "friar" did not come into being or even into England until towards the end of the 1200's.

As for wandering monks, that would not have been likely at that time. (Centuries before, yes, but not by your time frame, since St. Benedict condemned and did not allow for such).

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Prue Batten said...

Father Stephanos,

Thank you so much for answering the questions so swiftly. It appears that I shall have to do a bit of re-write with this edit as veracity is important for this little story.
Kind regards.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Sharron, neice of OSB said...

Dear Fr. Stephanos,
Love your blog and the information it contains.
Query for you....
I have seen many different colors of habits during my travels. I know who most of the colors belong to, but there are some I do not recognize. Can you assist in the identification of the dark blue, teal blue, tan and white?

8:08 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

"dark blue, teal blue, tan and white"

Many religious orders use dark blue. The same is true of the combination of tan and white. I don't know who uses teal blue.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am discerning to become a benedicitne oblate and am soul searching prayer, work and study. My whole perspective is changing within this framework. I am seeking guidance on balancing the three. What is the basic time frame for monks and nuns to pray, work and study. Work is the one that is pressing the most of need. I am a homeschooling mother of 4 girls as well and would like guidance.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...


The time frame for monks and nuns to pray will not work for a homeschooling mother -- nor would a homeschooling mother's time frame work for monks and nuns. The sacred priorities of one who has freely chosen to be a mother and to homeschool are the very things that consecrate her day and sanctify her life -- not the priorities of monks and nuns.

If you are interested in Benedictine oblate spirituality, perhaps it would be good to recommend three "minimum ingredients": (i) Morning Prayer (as in the official Liturgy of the Hours, or the abbreviated variation such as found in the publication "Magnificat"); (ii) prayerful and reflective reading of Scripture -- a practice traditionally called "lectio divina" in Latin; (iii) Evening Prayer. All of that, of course, would have to be tailored to fit into the priorities of a homeschooling day.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you for your thoughful words. I have been searching my heart and the words,"The sacred priorities of one who has freely chosen to be a mother and to homeschool are the very things that consecrate her day and sanctify her life -- not the priorities of monks and nuns." I needed to hear that. These words breath grace and wisdom. Thank you. Funny, just ordered a copy of Magnificat. We will see how it works!

6:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Father,

This has nothing to do regarding the habit but a question regarding giving a gift to a monastery of monks. Recently I had chance to visit and see they are still watching television on a couple of old TV sets. I'd like to buy them a new flat screen. I don't want to surprise them and have them turn it down. Should I send a note to the Abbot and ask if I can do it first instead of surprising the community?

1:52 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

That seems tactful enough.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I am discerning becoming an Oblate.

I do however have a question about Oblates. I understand that Oblates do not normally wear habits, and I personally would not want to wear a habit in public as an Oblate, but are Oblates strictly forbidden to wear habits?

Also, if an Oblate WERE to wear a habit, like if he had special permission, would the habit be exactly the same as a normal Benedictine monk?


5:44 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

In the U.S.A., people are free to dress as they wish.

That being said, those who are not canonically professed in a religious order would do best to avoid giving false witness by going about dressed in such a way that they give the impression they belong to that religious order.

Oblates of a monastery have sometimes been permitted to be buried in the habit of the monastery.

Individual monasteries may have their own policies as to "stages" of the habit. For instance, a postulant/candidate might have not habit at all; or may have only part of the habit; in my monastery, that postulant/candidate wears only the tunic and belt -- no scapular and no hood. A novice in my monastery receives the scapular over the tunic, but still no hood; in some other monasteries the novice receives a scapular and hood, but the scapular is half the normal length. Among nuns, the novice wears a white veil.

Sometimes an oblate will receive permission to live in the monastery among the monks without making the vows of the monks. In such a case that oblate would be invested with some stage of the habit -- but definitely not with the cuculla, which belongs only to monks who have made perpetual canonical vows.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Luna said...

This is a very informative and lovely page. Thank you for offering your time to it and to all of us with so many questions.

Would you be able to tell me the function or purpose of the hoods Benedictine monks wear?

Thank you

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Fr Stephanos...Wow ! Four years and still getting comments !

I work as The Sacristan at my Parish Church. One of my duties is the care and conservation of the liturgical vestments. Some of the pieces the Priests have date back to the 1940's. They are truly extraordinary. As such, I have also become interested in the various habits worn by Religious. Ergo, my entry in this thread!

Regarding the Benedictine habit...in some photos it appears that the hood is attached either to the tunic or to the scapular ? Is there a preference ? I have also seen examples where the hood is seperate from both garments and is attached to a cowl which is completely removeable.

Regarding cold weather? Do you wear simple black outerwear or does your order wear a garment, similar in nature to a cope but more like a cape?

Thank you, Michael

2:15 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Originally, the hood was both practical and symbolic. It could give shade from the sun when working outdoors, but could also provide warmth in cold weather. Symbolically it was an allusion to childhood, since it was a kind of hat that child could wear without losing; it was also an allusion to poverty and humility, since it was the common headgear of the poor who worked in the fields.

Today the hood is symbolic, rather than really practical.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

In my monastery the hood is sewn as a part of the scapular, and does not detach. In some places the hood is attached to the scapular by a button and is removable.

As for cold weather garments, in my monastery we just add a coat or sweater if it is cold outdoors. However, some European monasteries may have a heavy woolen cape for the same purpose.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous AS said...

Father, first thank you for your work on this site. It is much appreciated. Like others, I too have a few questions:

1. I understand that Benedictine Oblates must, by definition, be associated with a particular Monastary. I am not aware of any Benedictine Monastary in my area (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) despite its dense population. Is it possible to become a "long distance" Oblate, and if so how would you suggest I proceed?

2. Are there Benedictine Monastaries that follow the traditional latin liturgy (now called the Extraordinary Form) in their entire liturgical life (i.e. Divine Office and Mass in Latin according to the 1962 books)? If so, where? I currently pray the 1962 Office daily, and attend the TLM.

3. How is it decided which Brothers will become ordained as Priests, and where do they attend seminary? On average, how many Benedictine Monks become priests? Is this decided at the time a candidate is admitted, so as to prevent someone who discerns a vocation to the priesthood from being bound by perpetual vows as a lay brother, or do some Brothers leave the Order or decline perpetual vows over a difference on opinion with their Superiors on this issue?

Thank you Father. I will include you and your Brothers of Prince of Peace in my prayers.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear AS:

1. I think the closest Benedictine monastery to you is Saint-Benoit-du-Lac. However, since that is still "long distance" for you, you could inquire from any monastery that interests you.

2. For the Extraordinary Form, visit the website of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey. http://www.clearcreekmonks.org/liturgy.html

3. No one who enters the monastery is required to become a priest. However, generally speaking, no one is admitted to the monastery with any guarantee of being eventually ordained to the priesthood. The discernment and especially the final decision as to ordination belongs to the abbot. However, in some monasteries, it may be the policy that the monks first vote on whether or not to have a particular man ordained (just as they always vote on whether a man may make vows or not). Since 1969, by legislation from the Holy See, no one makes vows as a "lay" brother anymore; rather all who profess vows do so as full-fledged religious.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous AS said...

Thank you Father. May I ask - what proporation of Benedictine Monks are priests, and does this ratio vary much between monastaries?

1:02 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

I don't know what percentage of the world's Benedictine monks are priests. However, it does vary from monastery to monastery.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Benedictine monasteries have wandered from the original spirit of St. Benedict. Monasteries are now made up mainly of priest monks, something that St. Benedict did not envision. This change, which was caused by the need for evangelization of Europe, made monasteries rectories for the diocese, and now only seminarians, retired monk priest, and novices make up the choir. This is certainly different from the original Benedictines. Today there are very few monasteries made up of brother monks with a few priests ordained for the celebration of the Eucharist. I know, I left an American monastery because I didn't want to be a "second class" monk who lived in the monastery and made up for the absent priest monks.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

In my monastery of 24 monks, only 7 are priests.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous curious said...

I'm just really surprised a monk is allowed a blog. I thought they weren't allowed to speak to anyone. There are a lot of misoconceptions about monks though, I am sure.
I thought they weren't allowed to leave the monastery but as some monasteries have parishes I guess they must even drive cars and have to go to the shops for the odd things. Sorry, this is deviating from the subject matter of habits. I visited Ampleforth Abbey, Yorkshire, thus summer and find it all very intriguing.

2:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am helping my third grade daughter research Saint/ Blessed Adeline for her All Saints Day project , ( her namesake ). Little is available online but that she was a Benedictine French Nun , was the abbess of the convent her brother St Vitalis helped create in Normandy , Oct 20th is her celebration and that they were called the White Ladies due to the color of their habit. Is there any more information you are aware of? Thank you , have a blessed day !

3:40 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Beyond what you've written here, the only other additional details I've been able to find are at:

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Marie said...

Thank you so much for answering us Father Stephanos !!! I am having her learn St Benedict's works, so she can comprehend St Adeline's life and work for the Church. I am sewing her a habit all in white , with just a simple cross to imitate their dress code in the 500's , simple non dyed cloth and no Rosary . God Bless You !!! :)!!!

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have volunteered to portray the part of Fr. Peter Whelan OSB at Andersonville National Historic Site this coming spring. He was described as wearing a shabby cassock while he performed his prison ministry. My question is would he have really worn a cassock or would it probably have been a tunic? Fr. Whelan was also the Vicar General of Savannah. It is important to me to get the impression of Fr. Whelan as correct as possible. The date of Fr. Whelan's prison ministry was 1864.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

There were not that many Benedictines in the U.S. at the time. The first monastery here was founded in 1846. There was likely not much difference at that time between the tailoring of a tunic and that of a cassock. In fact, today, depending on the individual monastery, the tunic might be indistinguishable from a cassock. In his wartime ministry -- active outside of a monastery -- it would have been much easier for Fr. Whelan to have obtained and used a cassock, rather than a monastic habit with tunic as well as scapular.

Frankly, the scapular is at times cumbersome when one is doing physical labor such as Fr. Whelan did in the prison camp. since it flies around and gets in the way-- and, in certain work situations, that can be dangerous. We must either remove it, or gather and tuck it around the waist beneath the belt, or tie on an apron to hold it back

8:47 AM  
Blogger maureen777 said...

Why did nuns have to wear the big doom shape or stiff winged, pointed sides head gear.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The shape or style of the "head gear" depended on when and where each particular religious order was founded, since very often the nun's head gear was simply a variation of the head gear all local women wore.

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:40 PM  
Anonymous Marcus said...

Why do some Benedictines wear blue, while most wear black?

8:57 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The color choice can depend on each monastery's decision. Some might use a black habit for "normal" wear, and a blue one (perhaps denim) for heavy work.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Moz said...

Dear Father,

How long has the nun's uniform been made of those four pieces? I am looking at a picture of a Benedictine nun's outfit from the sixteenth century, and she seems to have a scapular with very large, long sleeves, like a seamless outer garment and no tunic.

Is this possible? Ideally I would like to contact you via e-mail and ask you to look at the picture, please.

Thank you so much for any help you can give.

3:02 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

What you are describing would be the "cuculla" that is worn over all the rest of the habit during ceremonies of worship.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Hieromonk Arsenius said...

The chicken or the egg?

> A Benedictine monk has a black hood, instead of a wimple and veil.

Worded this way, this makes it sound as though the cowl of the monk is a substitute for - or derivative of - the woman's veil. I posit that the cowl came first, not the veil: just read the iApophthegmata Patrum and Vitae Patrum of the pre-Benedictine Desert Fathers.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Hieromonk Arsenius said...

> From before A.D. 840 until shortly after A.D. 1200, there was no other religious life in the Church except the monks and nuns who lived by the regulations of St. Benedict.

Almost, but not quite.

St. Bruno founded the Ordo Cartusianorum (Carthusian Order) in the late 11th century. They do not now and have never followed the Rule of St. Benedict, but rather the Consuetudines ("Customary") of the Grande Chartreuse, their order's motherhouse, in France.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

I must offer my appreciation to the wonderful description of your blog -- about anyone reading this "not keeping custody of the eyes." Best witticism I have heard in ages.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Anne Mavor said...

Dear Father Stephanos,
I so appreciate your thoughtful and informative answers to all the questions people pose. I am creating a habit my ancestor Sibylla D'Anjou would have worn in the 12th century. She became a nun in the convent of Saints Mary and Martha in Bethany, located in the Crusader state the Kingdom of Jerusalum. I wonder if the fabric and color of the habits were different from the black wool habits worn in Europe at the time.

In addition, she was a wealthy person when she joined and became abbess following the death of her step-aunt Ioveta of Bethany.

Thanks for any insights. Anne

9:54 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Anne,

In the 1100's black wool habits would have been the standard. It can snow in Jerusalem.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Mark Lodico said...

question- does the cuculla have a hood or no? If it does, I suppose that the hood of the tunic is placed in the hood of the cuculla?

5:20 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Mark Lodico, that is a good question. The word cuculla means hood. However, the voluminous "cover-all" garment that is today's Benedictine cuculla (ancestor of academic robes) does not normally have its own hood. What we do is put the cuculla on over everything, and then pull out the hood that is attached to the scapular, laying it down over the cuculla.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Mark Lodico said...

Thanks much , Father Stephanos

3:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm curious about the habit (or lack thereof) worn by hermits (not belonging to a religious order) and consecrated virgins, both currently and in the past, and given the comments here on tertiaries, I wondered if you might know. The habit is usually talked about in the context of the cenobitic orders, but Julian of Norwich is always portrayed wearing a habit (which could be artistic licence - I don't know), and I believe there are a few modern consecrated virgins (e.g. Sr. Wendy Becket) who wear some form of recognisably religious dress, though most don't.

In histories of religious dress, the veil is always talked of as being something that evolved from what was worn by the consecrated virgins in the very earliest days, but one hears nothing of what they did thereafter, or how it came to be taken over mostly by the cenobites.

Do you know anything about what the canons of the RC church currently say on this issue and why?

7:43 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The Catholic Church's "Code of Canon Law" directs the members of religious orders to wear a habit, but does not spell out the design or components of a habit. It leaves to the religious orders the duty of specifying in what their habit is to consist.

Religious orders that have "third orders" for laity might provide some privilege and context for wearing of a habit by laity in the respective third orders. However that is in no way mentioned in the Code of Canon Law.

Diocesan hermits and consecrated virgins who do not belong to religious orders, but are under the authority of their local bishops may be permitted by their bishop to wear some sort of habit.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see, thanks.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Markku Nicholas K., obl,s,b. said...

I did as a Benedictine of the Subiaco-Cassinese congregation use the full habit. The Rule (as a translation of Abbot Justin Mc Cann) says in the chapter 55: "Let the clothing be given to the brethren according to the nature of the locality in they dwell and its climate...It is the abbot's business to take thought for this matter. But we believe that in the ordinary places the following dress is sufficient for each monk...And let not the monks complain of the colour or coarseness of any of the things, but be content with what is found in the district the live and can be purchased cheaply..." Well, I was at Prinknash Abbey, England and we wore white in honour of the Blessed Virgin. But simplicity before anything else. Mark Nicholas Koponen, obl.s.b. Finland and Sweden.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What is the difference of the Tunic and Cassock? Can I use a Cassock in place of the Tunic? (Cassock->Cincture->Scapular)?

4:59 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

A tunic and a cassock are much the same. With a scapular worn over them, there would be little or no difference. In general, however, a cassock is more fitted to the body, and can be worn with or without a cincture/belt. A tunic is looser and needs a cincture/belt.

5:07 AM  
Anonymous M.J. Piazza said...

I've heard that monks are supposed to keep their hands under their scapulars, but the Cadfael Chronicles (a wonderfully well-researched book series later adapted to television) depicts monks keeping their hands tucked into their sleeves. Which is more common? Additionally, what did medieval monks do if they did not have access to black fabric or dye?

7:41 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

I do not know when the custom of normally keeping the hands under the scapular began, but that custom is what prevails, not keeping the hands inside the sleeves.

The black color for the monastic habit was only mandated when the Synods of Aachen (A.D. 816-819) standardized the habit for the whole Holy Roman Empire. The color was from naturally black wool.

5:11 AM  

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