The Robe of Simplicity: Initiation, Robing, and Veiling of Nuns in the Middle Ages

  • Désirée Koslin
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Using the humble, black monastic dress2 as evocative metaphor, Bishop Alcock spoke to the novices and nuns of his diocese in the voice of St. Agnes, an early Christian martyr who was a popular role model and patron saint for many religious women in the Middle Ages. Their clothing and consecration ceremonies were rich in symbolism of ancient standing and are at the core of this essay, which will also discuss the development of the prescribed dress practices of the various religious orders. The medieval nun’s “taking of the veil” constituted a voluntary act of submission and an imposition, imparities that resonate in medieval art and literature. This topic deserves attention today, a generation after the decrees of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) when distinctive religious dress was all but abolished. The clothing of the religious has not been addressed by the many recent scholars who have focused on medieval religious women. The theme was clearly of great interest, however, to the women themselves, their contemporaries, and to many subsequent generations of proponents as well as detractors of monasticism.3


Woollen Cloth Medieval Period Vatican Council Female Branch Artistic License 
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© Stewart Gordon 2001

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  • Désirée Koslin

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