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' 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
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:
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
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
11901 Wornall Road
Kansas City, MO 64145
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,
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
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.?
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.com. 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
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
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
Sisters of Mercy
Sisters of LeRafflay
First Chinese Nuns
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
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
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
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
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 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.
Making nun?s clothing habits
Religious order clothing habits
History religious orders Catholic nuns
description nun's attire