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St. Benedict - founder of the Benedictine Monks

Last time we looked at the path a new recruit to religious life must walk – trialing life as a postulant, then entering training as a novice, being permitted to make his solemn or permanent vows (Monastic Life – From Postulant to Monk).

We are now going to look into more detail about the clothing worn.

The monks’ clothing is called the ‘habit’.  It is made up of several different layers.

When the postulant decided to start his proper training as a ‘novice’ he would have been supplied with two tunics, a scapula for work, stockings and shoes.

The two tunics enable him to work and sleep in one whilst the other is being washed.  They were often ankle-length and tied at the middle by cloth or leather belt.

Over the tunic, a monk would wear a scapula.  This was a long wide piece of woolen cloth worn over the shoulders, with a hole for head.  This garment was secured at the front.  The scapula signified ‘obedience’.

The colours varied between orders.  The Benedictine Monks, which were practicing during the period of King Alfred (the setting of Denny Bradbury’s book ‘Borvo’), started out wearing white or grey habits – the colour of un-dyed wool.

In later years, they dyed their clothing black, and became known as ‘the Black Monks’.

Other orders, such as Cistercian and Carthusian, wore greyish-white or brown.

After taking their solemn vows, monks were issued with two cowls (hoods).  These highlighted the fact they had given their allegiance to God.

Some monks would also wear a cross and chain over their scapula, others would instigate suffering and self-punishment by wearing hair-shirts under their tunics.

Another part of ‘dress’ associated with monks was the tonsure – the shaved head.  It was often the preference of the monk as to how shaved the head would be.

All of these items helped the monks to focus on God and set them out from the rest of the people on their travels.

Next time, we explore the daily routine of life within a monastery and ask why people would give up freedoms in the pursuit of monastic life.

Laura Scott

To purchase one of Denny’s books please click on the images below or contact Denny directly at email denisebradbury@btinternet.com.
The Reunion Denagerie of Poems by Denny Bradbury