Monastic habit templatesLine drawings were prepared by the Sisters of St. Joan of Arc to assist in making the habits.
Monastic habit templatesAlthough similar, not all monastic habits are created equal.

Main Content

Good Habits: Monastic Robes Signify Stages

Students and visitors often are curious about the black robes worn by the monks of Saint Anselm Abbey. Although similar, not all monastic habits are created equal. The regular habit that the monks wear on campus consists of the tunic and the scapular. However, at different stages in monastic life, and on different occasions, different elements of the habit are worn.

Monastic community membersBr. Stephen Lawson '08 (far left in photo) displays the tunic that all monks wear, covering them from neck to ankle and buttoning down the middle. A novice cinches his tunic with a black cloth belt, but he wears  no scapular, hood or white collar.

As a novice, Br. Stephen spent a year in spiritual formation with the Novice Master. During that year, he was introduced to the foundation of monastic spirituality according to the Rule of Saint Benedict and the monastic tradition.

Br. John Paul James, O.S.B. (center left) wears over the tunic the scapular and hood that were presented to him at his first profession of vows as a monk, which occurs once the novitiate year is complete.

The scapular is an apron that hangs over the tunic front and back. Originally a working apron, it is now mostly ceremonial. At Saint Anselm Abbey, the hood is attached to the scapular. The first profession of vows is also when a monk first dons his white collar, which sits below the hood, scapular and tunic, with only the edge visible. At Saint Anselm, all professed monks wear the collar, whether they are ordained priests or not.

During simple vows, typically the first three years after novitiate, a monk wears a black leather belt beneath his scapular.

Br. Isaac Murphy, O.S.B. (center right), a solemnly professed monk, wears the regular habit. The only difference between that habit and Br. John Paul's is the wide, black cloth belt that solemnly professed monks wear. This is hard to make out from the photograph at the right, but if you look closely you can see the narrow leather belt Br. John Paul is wearing.

Fr. Anselm Smedile, O.S.B. '93, (far right) solemnly professed, displays the cuculla, that all monks receive at the ceremony of solemn profession. A cuculla is a large cowl worn on high feast days in church, and for important celebrations. such as commencement exercises. The monks wear the cuculla over the habit, though they usually remove the hood that attaches to the scapular as the cuculla has its own hood. The cuculla has 73 pleats, corresponding to the 73 chapters of Benedict's Rule.

The line drawings (seen in the rotating images at the top of the page) are from a French language manual prepared by the Sisters of St. Joan of Arc to assist in making the habits. The principal seamstresses were Sister Mary Paul, s.j.a. and Sister Theresa, s.j.a. For the last two years, a local laywoman, Maria Eveleth, has been preparing the habits.