What was the original idea behind monks wearing Cowls?


What is the purpose of this ceremonial cloak? What is it supposed to do, or represent to the religious leaders?

3 Answers

  • Connie
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Monastic Cowl

    The cowl (sometimes known as a capuche, especially for friars) is the hood worn by the Carmelite Monks. The monk wears a monastic cowl that hangs over his upper back and is used to cover his head during the winter months. Although the cowl serves a practical purpose in keeping the monk's shaven head warm, the cowl is more importantly a sign of mourning. The word "monk" is derived from Greek words meaning "one who mourns in solitude." So what does a monk mourn? The Carmelite Monks mourn for their own sins and the sins of others, begging for God's mercy and justice. The cowl is a reminder of Christ's Dolorous Passion on Calvary for sinners, a death that He would have endured had there been but one poor sinner.

    The Carmelite monk wears the Holy Habit as an external sign of his complete consecration to God in the Vows of Obedience, Chastity and Poverty. The Holy Habit becomes for him a constant reminder that he is called to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary; he, like a soldier, is clothed in the armor of the habit as he bravely does battle for God and for souls. Although the Holy Scapular is the habit properly speaking, each article of the monk's clothing has been entrusted by Holy Mother Church with a significance that urges him on to the heights of holiness..

    The most obvious quality of the Carmelite habit is that it is made of durable brown wool. The Cross is brown; the humus of the earth is brown. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Carmelites wear brown, since they are called to carry the Cross of Our Lord, Jesus Christ and to imitate the humility of the Blessed Virgin.

    The Holy Rule exhorts the Carmelite to "place the helmet of salvation on [his] head," and this is what the Carmelite does every time he covers his head with the cowl. His head being covered in the brown wool and his face hidden unless you look directly at him, the monastic cowl also serves to hide the monk so that God alone might know his countenance.


    In most communities, it is the cowl that is given at solemn profession...the cowl is white, echoing martyrdom, wedding garments, baptismal garments, and putting on Christ. It is designed so that one can literally do nothing but pray in it! The sleeves are voluminous--even on the modifed version. The hood closes one off to what is around. The full length ensures that one is fully covered. It is called the "cowl of humility and the helmet of salvation."


    They are most commonly bestowed upon the monk at the time of his making solemn, or lifetime, vows. They are generally worn in conformity with the color of the monk's tunic, with the Benedictines wearing black, and other groups which follow the Rule of St. Benedict, e.g., the Camaldolese and Cistercians, wearing some form of white. Dominicans also wear black cowls. Some orders which are not part of the Benedictine tradition do not make use of this cloak. However, the Franciscans, Carthusians and Dominicans all wear cowls.


    The black cowl represented dying to the world. It means that the monk has withdrawn from worldy things. The habit made out of the "cloth of the poor" represents the monk's poverty. The cowl proclaims his chastity and celibacy -his total commitment to the will of God.


    The white Cistercian choir habit — the cuculla or cowl — honours the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the glory that is hers in the mystery of the Assumption where she is seated next to her risen and ascended Son. The white cowl is a sign of her protection, rather like the scapular of the Carmelites. When the Cistercian monk puts on his cowl before going to choir to sing the praises of God, he is, symbolically, clothing himself in the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother.


  • 3 years ago

    Cowl Monk

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Cowl (cucullus, cuculla, cucullio.—Ducange, "Gloss.", s.v.), a hood worn in many religious orders. The name was originally used for a kind of bag in which grocers sold their wares (ibid.), then for an article of dress that was like it in shape.

    The lacerna or byrrhus (our cope), the usual cloak for outdoor wear until far into the Middle Ages, had a cowl fixed behind, that could be drawn over the head. So also had the paenula (chasuble—Wilpert, "Gewandung der Christen", pp. 13, 45, etc.; Braun, "Liturg. Gewandung", pp. 240, 348). Juvenal (VI, 118) and Martial (XI, 98) refer to the cucullus of the lacerna. Sozomen says that monks covered their heads with a hood called cucullus (H. E., III, xiii), and Palladius tells us the same fact about St. Ephraem and the disciples of Pachomius (Hist. Laus., XIII). Both St. Jerome (Ep. xxii, ad Eustochium) and Cassian (De habitu mon., I, iv) refer to it as part of a monk's dress. St. Benedict ordered two kinds of cowls for his monks, a warm one for winter and a light one for summer (Regula S. Ben., iv). The cowl became a great cloak with a hood. Benedict of Anagni forbade his monks to wear one that came below the knees (Ardo, Vita Ben. Anian., xl). The Benedictines, Cistercians, and all the old monastic orders now use the cowl, a great mantle with a hood that can be thrown back over the shoulders, as a ceremonial dress for choir; the Franciscans have a smaller hood fixed to their habit; canons wear it on their mozzetta, and bishops and cardinals on the cappa. With the Augustinian and Servites it is still a separate hood not attached to anything. Ducange (sv) says the name is a diminutive of casula—"quasi minor cella". A cowl fixed to a cloak is still commonly worn in Tyrol, parts of Austria and Hungary, etc. Cucullata congregatio occurs occasionally as a general name for monastic orders (Ducange). The color of the cowl is that of the habit, black among Benedictines, white with the Cistercians, etc.

Still have questions? Get your answers by asking now.