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St. Anthony the Great, wearing the Coptic habit.

A religious habit is a distinctive set of garments worn by members of a religious order. Traditionally some plain garb recognisable as a religious habit has also been worn by those leading the religious eremitic and anachoritic life, although in their case without conformity to a particular uniform style.

For instance, for some Roman Catholic or Anglican orders, the habit may comprise a tunic covered by a scapular and cowl, with a hood for monks and a veil for nuns; in other orders it may be a distinctive form of cassock for men, or a distinctive dress and bonnet for women. Modern habits sometimes take the form of a distinctive clerical suit for men and a simple dress suit for women. Catholic Canon Law requires only that it be in some way identifiable so that the person may serve as a witness to Gospel values, simple as a mark of detachment from vanity and greed, and becoming.

In many orders, the mark of the end of postulancy and the beginning of the novitiate in a particular religious community is a ceremony during which the new novice, having formally requested admission to the community, is clothed in the community's habit by the superior. In some cases the novice's habit will be somewhat different from the habit of a member under vows: for instance, in certain orders of women where the veil still forms part of the habit it is common for novices to wear a white veil while professed members wear black, or if the order generally wears white, the novice wears a gray veil; among some Franciscan communities of men, novices wear a sort of overshirt over their tunic; Carthusian novices wear a black cloak over their white habit.

In some orders, historically or still today, different types or levels of profession are indicated by differences in habits. Lay brothers in some monastic orders wore a habit somewhat different from choir monks, for instance; or junior professed sisters in some communities of women wear a slightly different habit from the permanently professed.

Habits of Roman Catholic religious orders

Nuns in traditional habit.

Pope John Paul II in his Post-Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata (1996) says concerning the religious habit of consecrated persons:

§25 … The Church must always seek to make her presence visible in everyday life, especially in contemporary culture, which is often very secularized and yet sensitive to the language of signs. In this regard the Church has a right to expect a significant contribution from consecrated persons, called as they are in every situation to bear clear witness that they belong to Christ.
Since the habit is a sign of consecration, poverty and membership in a particular Religious family, I join the Fathers of the Synod in strongly recommending to men and women religious that they wear their proper habit, suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place.
Where valid reasons of their apostolate call for it, Religious, in conformity with the norms of their Institute, may also dress in a simple and modest manner, with an appropriate symbol, in such a way that their consecration is recognizable.
Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their Constitutions do not have a specific habit should ensure that the dress of their members corresponds in dignity and simplicity to the nature of their vocation.


The religious habit of Roman Catholic nuns typically consists of the following elements:

  • White Coif: This is the garment's headpiece and includes the white cotton cap secured by a bandeau, a white wimple or guimpe of starched linen, cotton, or (today) polyester to cover the cheeks and neck, and is sometimes covered by a thin layer of black crape.
  • Black Veil: This element is worn pinned over the coif head coverings and could be worn down to cover the face or up to expose it. The headpiece sometimes includes a white underveil as well.
  • Holy Habit: This is the central piece of the garment, also commonly referred to as a tunic. It is a loose dress made of black serge fabric pleated at the neck and draping to the ground. It can be worn pinned up in the front or in the back to allow the nun to work.
  • Woolen Belt: The habit is often secured around the waist with a belt made of woven black wool.
  • Rosary: The nun's rosary of wooden beads and metal links hangs from the belt by small hooks.
  • Sleeves: The habit contains two sets of sleeves, the larger of which can be worn folded up for work or folded down for ceremonial occasions or whenever entering a chapel.
  • Cross: A cross of silver traditionally hangs from a black cord around the nun's neck.
  • Ring: Nuns which have taken final or "perpetual" vows indicate this status by wearing a simple silver ring on the left hand.
  • Underskirts: The complete vestment includes two underskirts, a top skirt of black serge trimmed with cord and a bottom skirt of black cotton.
  • Scapular: This symbolic apron hangs from both front and back; all orders wear it over the habit, but Benedictine nuns also wear it over the belt whereas other orders wear it tied under the belt.
  • Shoes: Simple functional black shoes are the usual footwear.
  • Card: This stiff black covering is worn over the coif when the nun leaves the convent in order to prevent the coif from becoming wet or soiled.
  • Suitcase: Nuns often travel with a small black hand-held bag containing personal items and toiletries.
  • Apron: A variety of styles of aprons can be worn over the habit to protect it during work activities.

It should be noted that different orders adhered to different styles of dress and that these styles have often changed over time. In the 12th century the German abbess Hildegard von Bingen, for example, advocated a style for her nuns that included extravagant and lavish white silk habits worn with golden head pieces designed to present the nun to Christ in her most beautiful form.

Examples of Roman Catholic religious habits

Eastern Orthodox habit (schema)

The Analavos, worn by Orthodox monks and nuns of the Great Schema.

The Eastern Orthodox Church does not have distinct religious orders. The habit (Greek: Σχήμα, Schēma) is the same throughout the world—with minor, local distinctions. The normal monastic color is black, symbolic of repentance and simplicity. The habit of monks and nuns is identical, except that nuns wear an additional scarf, called an apostolnik. The habit is bestowed in degrees, as the monk or nun advances in the spiritual life. There are three degrees: (1) the beginner, known as the Rassaphore (or "rassa bearer") (2) the intermediate, known as the Stavrophore (or "cross bearer"), and (3) the Great Schema worn by Great Schema Monks or Nuns. Only the last, the Schemamonk or Schemanun, the monastic of the highest degree, wears the full habit.

The habit is formally bestowed upon monks and nuns at the ceremony known as the tonsure. The parts of the Eastern Orthodox habit are:

  • Inner Rason (Greek: Έσώρασον, Esórason; Slavonic: Podryásnik): The inner rason (cassock) is the innermost garment, corresponding to the Western monastic tunic. It is a long, collared garment coming to the feet, with narrow, tapered sleeves. Unlike the Roman cassock, it is double-breasted. The inner rason is the basic garment, and is worn at all times, even when working. It is often given to novices and seminarians, though this differs from community to community. The inner rason is also worn by chanters, readers, and the married clergy. For monks and nuns, it symbolizes the vow of poverty.
  • Belt (Greek: Ζώνη, Zone; Slavonic: Poyas): The belt worn by Orthodox monks and nuns is normally leather, though sometimes it is of cloth. In the Russian tradition, married clergy, as well as the higher monastic clergy, may wear a cloth belt that is finely embroidered, especially on feast days. The belt is symbolic of the vow of chastity.
  • Paramand (Greek: Παραμανδύας, Paramandýas; Slavonic: Paraman): The Paramand is a piece of cloth, approximately 5 inches square which is attached by ribbons to a wooden cross. The cloth is embroidered with a cross and the Instruments of the Passion. The wooden cross is worn over the chest, then the ribbons pass over and under the arms, like a yoke, and hold the square cloth centered on the back. The paramand is symbolic of the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:29-30).
  • Outer Rason (Greek: εξώρασον, exorason or simply ράσο, raso; Slavonic: ryasa): Among the Greeks it is worn by readers and all higher clerics; among the Russians it is worn only by monks, deacons, priests, and bishops.
  • Analavos (Greek: Άνάλαβος; Slavonic: Analav): The distinctive dress of the Great Schema is the analavos, and it is worn only by Schemamonks and Schemanuns. Traditionally made of either leather or wool, the analavos covers the shoulders, and then comes down in the front and back, forming a cross (see illustration, above right).
  • Polystavrion (Greek: Πολυσταύριον, lit. "many crosses"): The polystavrion is a long cord that has been plaited with numerous crosses forming a yoke that is worn over the analavos to hold it in place.
  • Mantle (Greek: Μανδύας, Mandías; Slavonic: Mantíya): The Mantle is a long, full cape, joined at the neck which the monastic wears over the other parts of the habit.

St. Tikhon of Moscow wearing the patriarchal white koukoulion

  • Klobuk (Greek: ; Slavonic: ): The distinctive headress of Eastern Orthodox monks and nuns is the klobuk, a stiffened hat, something like a fez, only black and with straight sides, covered with a veil. The veil has lappets which hang down on each side of the head and a stylized hood falling down the back. For monastics of the Great Schema, the klobuk takes a very distinctive shape, known as a koukoulion (cowl), and is embroidered with the Instruments of the Passion. The koukoulion is also worn by the Patriarchs of several local churches, regardless of whether or not he has been tonsured to that degree. In the Slavic tradition, the koukoulion will be in the form of a cloth hood, similar to that worn on the Western cowl. Outside church, monastics wear a soft hat known as a Skufia. Again, for Schemamonks and Schemanuns it is embroidered with the Instruments of the Passion.

The portions of the habit worn by the various degrees of monastics is as follows:

Rassaphore Stavrophore Great Schema
Inner Rason Inner Rason Inner Rason
Belt Belt Belt
Paramand Paramand
Outer Rason Outer Rason Outer Rason
Mantle (Russian use only) Mantle
Klobuk Klobuk Koukoulion

See also

External links

hr:Habit io:Kustumo hu:Habitus