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Q: Religious Habits of Nuns and Sisters of the Roman Catholic Church ( Answered,   3 Comments )
Subject: Religious Habits of Nuns and Sisters of the Roman Catholic Church
Category: Relationships and Society
Asked by: frankie1937-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 09 Mar 2004 17:58 PST
Expires: 08 Apr 2004 18:58 PDT
Question ID: 315093
Where would I find descriptions of  Roman Catholic Nuns and Sisters 
Religious Habits --actual details of the making of them would be
excellent.  But, general descriptions would also be acceptable.  The
Chapman collection of Gonzaga University is somewhat useful.  I would
also like to have names of the books that depict the founding of
various religious orders in Europe , Canada, the U.S. and throughout
the world.
Subject: Re: Religious Habits of Nuns and Sisters of the Roman Catholic Church
Answered By: crabcakes-ga on 10 Mar 2004 14:41 PST
Hello frankie1937,

This was an enjoyable question to research! Attending Catholic schools
as a child was for me, contrary to some, a good experience , and this
research certainly brought back many memories! A bonus for me was
re-encountering the ubiquitous phrase ?Nihil Obstat?, always stamped
in my childhood books! Terms like ?whimple?, ?scapular? and ?habit?
have not been in my vocabulary either, for some years! (I was almost
tempted to place a ?JMJ? at the top of my answer!)

Finding verbal descriptions of habits and other sisterly garb is not
easily found online. I believe your best bet will be to return to
books marked ?Nihil Obstat? and ?Imprimatur?! I have found numerous
books, some online resources, (including some un-conventional ones)
and online sources for the founding of religious orders.

Descriptions of Nun?s Habits

Gothic Garments not only sells habits, but has a fair description of
the garments and how to put them on!

A gallery of habits
Nuns Habits

Nuns' coifs, 1850-1900 and 1968-present
Worn by the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa

This site sells Nun dolls, accurately portrayed, with detailed habits.
(Yes, they are dolls, but the habits seem to be authentically done)

This Olam Shrine site describes a generic habit. Here?s a short quote
from the site:
?The white collar is a symbol that the nun is surrounded with
"community", the religious life lived in common. The white Franciscan
cord, with three knots in it, symbolizes the vows of poverty,
chastity, and obedience that this new novice hopes to make at her
first holy profession? (My teachers were Sisters of Mercy, who told us
the white whimple represented our souls. When we sinned, it was equal
to making a black crayon mark on our soul, and we had to keep our
souls as white as the whimple Sister wore)

?Even a nun's clothes were limited to the habit and that was specified
by each order. "Our habit was one of the best," Sister Christina says.
They were fashioned after dresses widows wore in Marseilles, France.
Before World War I women were all wearing long dresses, so nuns didn't
stand out as much as they did
Origins of the Scapular

About scapulars

A short description of Buddhist nuns:

Some general descriptions can be found inVIctor Hugo?s Le Misreables
(Found on the first half of this page)

The Passionist Nuns page here has a small group of nun?s photos.
Clicking on any one will enlarge the picture for a better view of the

The Order of St. Benedict has some simple descriptions of their habits

Brief description of Cistercian habit

Books on Nun?s clothing:
The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns
By Elizabeth Kuhns
A review here:
Another review

This old book appears to have a wonderful collection of religious garb.
Pere lIelyot: Histoire des Ordres Monastiques, Religieux et Militaires, ?1714-1719
This famous work, which saw many editions, was published in eight
volumes with no less than 810 engraved plates of costumes. Volumes One
to Six are perhaps of less interest to us, as they show the habits
(dress) of a bewildering array of monks and nuns, and give
descriptions of these various religious orders.? Scroll down to the
third book.

Politics of Habit, by Cheryl Reed
?When Mother visited the Passionists for the first time in 1980 and
saw their habit?a floor-length tunic with buttons from the neck to the
waist, a long veil that covers the head and extends down to the
thighs, an elongated strand of rosary beads attached to a hand-made
leather belt and sandals?she was smitten. Her only turn-off, she
concedes, was a black and white plastic pin the sisters wear over
their hearts. ?I thought it was very tacky.?
Church Vestments : Their Origin and Development
by Herbert Norris

St. Athanasius Press now prints some previously out of print books.
This page advertises ?Religious Orders of Women in the United States?
, by Elinor Tong Dehey
St. Joan of Arc books has a review: ?Dehey's work was the first
attempt EVER made to collect a listing of every religious order of
women in the United States describing their origins, their
foundresses, their works, activities, charism, way of life clothing
(habit) and institutions?

Medieval Religious Women 
by Nichols, John A. (Editor), and Shank, M. Thomas (Editor)

Older Books from Avila University Archives:
Power, Eileen. Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275-1535. 
(1922; reprint ed., NY: Biblio & Tannen, 1964) 
Evelyn O?Neill Collection, Avila University, Kansas City, Missouri,
contains numerous older volumes, such as :
	Images of Women in Mission: Resource Guide and National Directory of
Catholic Church Vocations for Women. Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press; 1981.
A Religious of the Society. The Life of Cornelia Connelly: 1809-1879,
Foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. New York, NY:
Longmans, Green & Co.; 1924.
	Beck, Bernadette. The Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries:
Origin and Development,  Diss. Washigton, D.C.: Catholic University;
Bilinkoff, Jodi. The Avila of Saint Teresa: Religious Reform in a
Sixteenth-Century City. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; 1989.
Mother Mary of the Seven Dolors and the Early Origins of the
Marianites of Holy Cross (1818-1900). Milwaukee, WI: Bruce; 1959.
Costin, M. Georgia. Priceless Spirit: A History of the Sisters of the
Holy Cross, 1841-1893. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press; 1994.
	Di Donato, Pietro. Immigrant Saint: The Life of Mother Cabrini. New
York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.; 1960
To use the collection, contact Kathleen Finegan, Director of Library Services
 Avila University
11901 Wornall Road
 Kansas City, MO   64145
(816)942-8400, ext.2311 

Newer Books:
Carr, Annemarie Weyl. "Women and Monasticism in Byzantium: Introducton 
from an Art Historian." Byzantinische Forchungen 9 (1985) 1-15 
Johnson, Penelpe D.. Equal in Monastic Profession: Religious Women in 
Medieval France. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991) 
Monson, C.A., ed. The Crannied Wall: Women, Religion, and the Arts in 
Early Modern Europe. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992) 
Ranft, Patricia. Women and the Religious Life in Premodern Europe. (NY: 
St. Marin's Press, 1996) 
Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two Millenia by Jo Ann McNamara

Harvey, B. F.  Monastic Dress in the Middle Ages, Precept & Practice,
Canterbury 1988

Marvels of Charity: History of American Sisters and Nuns
by George C. Stewart
Wrote one reviewer, Patrick Ahaus,  ?This book has excellent pictures
on the nuns in the full traditional habit thru out the book, with
quick accounts of the various religious orders. In the back of the
book is a dateline of all the religious orders of Sisters and the
institutions they founded in the United States such as catholic
hospitals, and colleges. Its an wonderful resource on any person
researching the history and traditions of the Catholic Sisters (nuns)
who have served our country as educators and health care
Kraemer, Ross (ed). Maenads, Martyrs, Matrons, Monastics: A Sourcebook
on Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World. Philadelphia, PA: 1988
(includes vitae of Thekla, Perpetua and Felicitas, Marcella, Pelagia
the Harlot and Mary the Harlot).

Mary MacKillop: An Extraordinary Australian, by Paul Gardiner
This popular biography of the founder of the Australian Sisters of St.
Joseph is a side benefit of his in-depth research

Catholic Nuns and the Making of America,  by John Fialca
Read review here:
University of Notre Dame Archives:
Kaupas, Maria, Mother. The Founding of the Sisters of St. Casimir
(Claret Center for Resources in Spirituality, 1981)
Olha, Sr. M., OSBM, comp.. Vessels of Election: Sixteenth Centenary of
St. Basil the Great A Historical Sketch of the Sisters (Philadelphia:
Sisters of St. Basil, 1979).
Petit, Francois, O. Praem.. The Norbertine Order: A Short History (De
Pere: St. Norbert Abbey Press, 1963).
Winowska, Maria. Pioneer of Unity: The Life of Caroline Sheppard,
first English Little Sister of the Poor (London: Burns & Oates, 1969).
Fischer, Edward. Maybe a Second Sprint: The Story of the Missionary
Sisters of St. Columban in China (New York: Crossroad, 1983).

Lawson, William, SJ. All You Need Is Love: A life of Vicenta Maria
Lopez, Foundress of the Daughters of Mary Immac. (Langley, England: St
Paul Publications, 1969).
Lesage, Germain, OMI. The Origins of the Sisters of the Assumption of
the Blessed Virgin Mary (Nicolet, Canada: Editions A.S.V., 1982).
About the achives at Notre Dame
Wemple, Suzanne Fonay. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the 
Cloister 500-900. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981)
Sister Mary David Fraine.  Clarion Call, Eight Centuries of Franciscan
Poor Clare Life
Purchase here:
European Nuns:
Hairline, Craig. The Burdens of Sister Margaret, Inside a 17th Century Convent

Women under Monasticism, BY Lina Eckstein

Roman Catholic Nuns in England and Wales, 1800-1937

John Nicholas Murphy.  Terra Incognita or The Convents of the United Kingdom
?This is a new unedited reprint of the 1873 book. It has been out of
print for over 100 years and is greatly sought by Catholics. Although
there are no photos, it contains an ENORMOUS wealth of information and
is written in a modern narrative style making it a great and easy
read. There is so much information within its pages.?
Review here

Catholic Archives of Texas has the following:
Catholic Directories, 1817-1899: 3,000 mft. -- microfilmed directories
of Catholic dioceses and institutions; clergy lists, religious orders
of women and men in the U.S., Canada and Mexico; hard copies also
available until 1993.
Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate Archives in San Antonio,
1849-1949: 700 mft. -- Correspondence consisting of letters of first
bishops and clergy in Texas, codices of various missions, lists of
missionary assignments, necrology, etc. of the Oblate Missionaries of
Mary Immaculate, San Antonio
A Photo collection:

See a preview of this list of books concerning history of nuns, at Questia has several subscription rates.
Books and journals at Questis, on nuns

Untold Sisters, Hispanic Nuns

Nuns in 19th century Irelans

Nuns and Soldiers

No Cross, No Crown, Black nuns in the 19th century New Orleans

Monks, Nuns, Saints, and Outcasts

Celestial Sirens, nuns of Milan

Nuns in Germany

Web sites about the founding of religious orders:

Origin and History of Nuns (Catholic)

ORDER OF ST. SAVIOUR (Brigittine Order)

Sisters of Charity

Sisters of  The Little Company of  Mary

Oblate Sisters of Providence

Dominican Nuns

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur

Clinton Franciscans

Sisters of Life

Biography of St. Faustina

History of the Grey Nuns

History of the Catholic Church
Hold down the Control Key while pressing the letter F, type in
?sisters?, without the quotation marks, and this will bring you to the
beginning of some religious order history.

Nuns of the Visitation Order

Religious Orders of Poland

Basilians, Ukraine


Sisters of Mercy

The Ursulines

Sacrementine Nuns

Sisters of LeRafflay

First Chinese Nuns

Additional Information:

In case you have a membership at Highbeam (A free trial membership can be had)
Exploiting the Religious Habit : ?You don't see many Canadian or
American nuns in traditional habits any more. A 1960s Vatican decree
which called for modifying religious habits that were unsuited "to
circumstances of time and place" prompted many religious orders to
abandon them altogether. Today some sisters still wear a short veil
with a knee-length habit, or a modest blouse and skirt. Others,
indistinguishable from businesswomen, dress mostly in smart secular
attire, displaying perhaps a cross on a neck chain, or worn as a lapel
pin. ?

Why Nuns SHOULD Wear Habits

Marian Sisters: This site has information on the habit
Description of Marion Sisters? habits
?The Sisters wear a royal blue habit and scapular, navy blue veil with
white lining, white guimpe and corona, Miraculous Medal on cord around
neck, large black rosary at right side on black leather belt, gold
ring on third finger of left hand. On Sundays and special feastdays,
the Sisters who have 3-year vows or perpetual profession wear large
brown scapulars.?

Life of St. Patrona of Perge

At the bottom of the page are some illustrations of late 18th century nuns

The Religious Habit

The Power of the Habit

The Difference a Habit Makes,,PTID5339%7CCHID26%7CCIID135648,00.html

New Habits, Todays Women Who Choose. By Isabel Losada

Adoremus Religious Apparel

A Heavenly Stitch, in Phoenix, AZ, makes habits

Catholic History: The Veil

Pictures of nuns, around the world

A link to hundreds of religious orders

Fire and Roses, the Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834

Convent Theater in Modern Early Italy

On a lighter note: 

Take a Nun Knowledge quiz,,PTID5339%7CCHID476560%7CCIID122456,00.html

You can order a Flying Nun hat here!

These are paper doll nuns! See 20 kinds of nuns in their habits!

Nun wins prize for wearing habit

Thoughts on habits

Nun stories

Nun salt & pepper shakers (!!!)

An irreverent look at nuns: Nunsense Show Tour

I hope this helps! I wish I could have found how to sew a habit, but
all I could find were Halloween type costumes. If any part of my
answer is unclear, of if I have duplicated information you already
had, please request an Answer Clarification before rating. This will
allow me to assist you further, if possible, as I do not know what
sources you already have, other than the Gonzaga Collection.


Search Terms
Nun?s wimples
Nun?s vestments
Making nun?s clothing habits
Nun?s habits
Religious order clothing habits
Nun?s veils 
Founding convents
History religious orders Catholic nuns
description nun's attire
nun's apparel
history nuns

Request for Answer Clarification by frankie1937-ga on 12 Mar 2004 20:32 PST
Dear Crabcakes-ga
I am completely new to this procedure.   I have no idea how to rate
anything.  I know a little about religious habits.  It has been my
side hobby for many years.  I too have mane wonderful memories about
the nuns who taught me --Felicians from Lodi N.J.  --at one time a vey
ascetic group filled with the love of God.  I recall going to the
motherhouse in 1986 to visit with five of my former teachers.   In the
"heritage room" were many objects including a sample wicker suitcase
that was used in the 1900's and in it, low and behold, the czapka 
(pronounced chapka) which in Polish roughly mean hat of some sort.  
It was the solution to a problem I had thought about ever since a lad
of 10.  --- how was that headdress formed --how did they get it to be
that way.  It was for me a happy moment.   I wonder how one would get
a hold of the books that you mention.  Are any of them on the internet
through adobe or something.   The chapman collection that I mentioned
charges 50 cents for each page that they xerox and send.  The Avila
University site you mentioned seems like a good place to look for
things.  I guess I should write to the good sisters to ask how I might
get to see their collections.     What do you think?  God Bless
-Frankie1937(year of my birth).

Clarification of Answer by crabcakes-ga on 12 Mar 2004 21:38 PST
Hi again frankie1937,

Thank you for your clarification, and I'm glad to "know" another
person who had pleasant experiences while in Catholic school. I'm
going to admit something here....I used to watch "The Bells of St.
Marys" and "The Nun's Story" *every* time they came on TV! I was never
as fortunate as you in actually learning HOW those nuns put their garb
and czapka on-it was always a mystery to me! I had a
sister-fascination for some time - they were so good to me even though
I always got bad marks for comportment!

I searched some more for books for you, but when I answered your
question, I felt I had exhausted all sources! The books that can be
purchased actually have a link to sites such as,  or  St.
Athanius Press. Some of the books can be checked out of the library.
If your library is small, or they don't have a book that IS in print,
you can use a little know service: An inter-library loan. Speak to
your local librarian, and ask them to locate the book for you. Even if
a library in another state has the book, they can send it, at no
charge to you, to your local library. Of course, you will have to be

As for the older books, try to contact the owners of the
collections.There is an e-mail address listed in the answer in the
Avila University section. I'm afraid I can't address the cost to use
the collections, but I have included contact information for you, with
each collection. Surely the "book-keepers" will be willing to assist
you in locating helpful volumes!  I'm hoping the cost will be minimal.
This is just a suggestion, but see what you think: If you are
e-mailing the good sisters, send them a link to this question! Then
they can read for themselves what you are looking for, and how
sincerely appreciative you would be! (And don't forget to add JMJ at
the top of the e-mail salutation -- I loved that in school!)

It seems to me that one of the newest books out, 
The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns, By Elizabeth
Kuhns,  would be a good start. You can buy it at, new for
$16.77 and used for varying prices. If you register with
(free) you can use the "See Inside the Book" feature. With this
feature, you can see the Table of Contents, the index, and the covers,
inside, front and back. also has this book (Non-habit related however): 
Nuns As Artists: The Visual Culture of a Medieval Convent (California
Studies in the History of Art, No 37)
by Jeffrey F. Hamburger

As far as rating this answer is concerned, you can read about the
sytem here. Rating is not mandatory, but it is appreciated (especially
if it is good!  :-)

Scroll down the page to "What you can do once your question is asked" 
Part of what you will find there is this: "After you get a response to
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I hope this has helped you! This WAS a great question to research! Best of luck!
Et cum siritu tuo, crabcakes
Subject: Re: Religious Habits of Nuns and Sisters of the Roman Catholic Church
From: brchris-ga on 05 Aug 2004 13:57 PDT
This is a superb and thorough answer to the question regarding the
habit. The ONLY qualifier I would propose is that the "Singing Nuns"
of Spokane are NOT Roman Catholic; catholic of some sort, but not
Roman. I enjoyed immensely reliving my own Catholic school days and
the incredible witness of the Sisters of St. Josep of Orange. The
education I received at their "habitted" hands is invaluable and
treasured, even though they have since left the habit far behind.
Subject: Re: Religious Habits of Nuns and Sisters of the Roman Catholic Church
From: frankie1937-ga on 06 Aug 2004 15:38 PDT
Dear brchris-ga

I agree that the answer was excellent.  I was aware of the Singing
Nuns situation.   I think that one day a fine piece of research
documented by thousands of photographs which gave the desired
information on the habits of various nuns in e.g.  the Chapman
collection would arose interest in the true worth of a habitted
religious as indicated in the past.   Mother Katherine Drexel back in
1929 began her own magazine with many photographs of her sisters
working among the Native Americans and African
Americans.  She said ----and rightly so---that the photos inspired
others to join the work or contribute to it.    Frankie1937
Subject: Re: Religious Habits of Nuns and Sisters of the Roman Catholic Church
From: cedarwaxwing-ga on 15 Oct 2004 19:23 PDT
I have recently been looking for photos of nuns habits from the 1920s
as part of working on my family history.  So far the book I have found
most useful is the ?Religious Orders of Women in the United States,?
by Elinor Tong Dehey.  For me it fit the time frame I need and has
lots of photographs of nuns in their habits.  When looking for that
book I came across another book with useful about US nuns and their
habits:  Guide to the Catholic sisterhoods in the United States. 
McCarthy, Thomas Patrick.  5th edition.  Washington,  Catholic
University of America Press,  1964.  This also has many photographs.

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