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Monks Habit

Posted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 8:24 pm
by Rookster
Hi - I'm looking for someone who can supply a decent late C14th Monks habit - any suggestions out there ?

I've got my own habits which are pretty unusual and couldn't be shown to the MOPs :wink: :twisted: :twisted:


Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Thu Jan 24, 2013 8:01 am
by Brother Ranulf
You need to be more specific and think about a particular Order of monks (that's if you don't really mean friars or canons, who dressed similarly but lived very different lifestyles). I have made Benedictine habits myself in the past but my sewing days are over - I could supply a pattern if you can source the wool cloth yourself and have some sewing skills. 14th century monks dressed very much the same as 12th, 13th and 15th century monks.

Benedictines and Cluniacs wore black habits (really more often very dark grey/brown than jet black) over linen shirts; Cistercians wore natural wool habits (off-white) with nothing underneath; Carthusians wore natural wool over hair shirts and had the entire head shaved. Augustinian and Praemonstratensian/Norbertine Canons were priests, not monks, but dressed similarly - Augustinians had white cloaks over black habits, Praemonstratensians wore natural wool habits.

Friars included Dominicans in black cloaks over off-white habits, Austin(Augustinian) in black cloaks over white, Carmelites in white cloaks over brown habits, Franciscans in brown or grey habits, and others.

The idea of "lining" monks' black habits with white material seems to have become widespread among many modern reenactors, but this is an error based on misinterpreted evidence. Medieval artists from the end of the 12th century onwards used white lines to pick out the edges of neck and sleeves because the usual black outline simply did not show up well enough - white was also used to outline other dark colours.

Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 1:48 am
by randallmoffett
Brother Ranulf,

Some great info here. Any good sources for people wanting to do personas of people in the church?

I have a History of the Church in the Middle Ages by Logan but the person interested thought it was too heavy of reading sadly... any ideas of some more brief books that give the basics of the rules and orders?



Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 8:15 am
by Brother Ranulf
That's an interesting question and I am not sure that there is (or can ever be) anything "brief" which covers all the different Orders, the ways they lived and the Rules they followed (or more precisely, how each Order of monks interpreted exactly the same set of rules). The Canons and Friars had their own sets of rules. It is far too complex a topic covering too huge a time span. My own bookshelves include these among many others:

The Benedictines in the Middle Ages by James G Clark (now that's what I call heavy going!!!) :crazy:

The Cistercians in the Middle Ages by Janet Burton and Julie Kerr

Life in the Medieval Cloister by Julie Kerr

Milton Abbey by J P Traskey

Monasteries and Monastic Orders by Kristina Kruger (a truly enormous book covering all of Europe throughout the Middle Ages)

The Canterbury School of Illumination by C R Dodwell

The Art and Architecture of English Benedictine Monasteries by Julian Luxford (later medieval and heavy going)

Monasteries in the Landscape by Mick Aston

I also have some books that touch on the subject very briefly (which is not exactly what you asked, since they don't go into any great detail but they do mention specific historic Churchmen):

Every One A Witness: The Norman Age by A F Scott

Daily Living in the Twelfth Century by U T Holmes

England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett

The Plantagenet Chronicles by Elizabeth Hallam

Anyone thinking of doing "a persona" of a person in the Church needs to think long and hard about what they are getting into. A canon, chaplain or priest for example would need to be able to read and write and sing in Latin, have an extensive knowledge of prayers, psalms and other texts in Latin, have their head shaved in the Roman tonsure, have extensive knowledge of Canon Law and the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the content of the Opus Dei/Holy Offices, the Church calendar, lives of the Saints and martyrs (including any obscure local ones), the forms of service for baptisms, burials and weddings if they are empowered to do those things, the uses of the various objects used in Mass and other services (thurible, pyx, ewer and piscina and so on), the vestments and the formal rituals associated with each one (alb, stola, maniple, amice, cope, chasuble, belt) and the many kinds of books used in services (troper, psalter, hymnal, gradual, breviary, manual, processional and others). That's only scratching the surface.

Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:57 am
by Henri De Ceredigion
When I played Friar Tuck in a production our local theatre group did of Robin Hood, I did as much reading up on the subject and discovered (rather to my surprise) that Friar Tuck who is commonly portrayed as


could not have for the simple reason the tales of Robin Hood started to appear in the 1300's or so and as a result I found that monks in those days wore full body hessian sacks (for want of a better term) and so that's what my aunt designed for me (to go over my normal clothes) which considering that when we did it the UK was experiencing it's coldest winter since 1995 was a good thing!

Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 2:55 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Several points to make on that posting:

1. Friars were (and still are) not monks. They are at extreme opposite ends of the Church establishment and are in no way connected.

2. Friar Tuck was not in any of the original Robin Hood stories but was added in several hundred years later along with the maid Marion.

3. Hessian cloth was first imported from India in the early 19th century, long after the medieval period had ended.

4. The types of cloth used for clothing in the Church of Rome were firmly established as wool, linen and silk, with additional underclothes of fleece in cold climates and hair shirts (cilicia) worn as a penitence or as an atonement for sin. Hessian was never used for any clothing among European churchmen.

This is the English Benedictine monk John Lidgate presenting a book to Henry VI, 15th century - not wearing any kind of hessian anything but the prescribed black wool habit:
john lidgate 15th century.jpg
john lidgate 15th century.jpg (104.73 KiB) Viewed 8972 times

Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 4:06 pm
by randallmoffett

Some good points. Thanks for the books. I will start by the library and put some loan requests in. I expect that they he would not get quite that deep into it (especially the tonsure. Maybe we can figure out some way of making it without including partial baldness... wish I was good at makeup) but if any one else ever shows interest I wish I had something more compact. Logan's work goes from 400s-1500s and finding the info that is somewhat spread out is tricky.

Have not read Clarks recent work on Benedictines but read his work on monasticism years ago.

I am not sure doing a persona of some person in the church would in theory be any different than any other persona, every group has things they need to do and should do. Technically most of the people doing English nobles should speak and likely read French into the 1300s at least, many still after.

That said I can help with latin from my undergrad to know still use it fairly often and still have some access to other religious documents of the period but I'd let the person interested get all the material stuff. My persona is that of a Scot knight but the family has strong ties to the church in Scotland so I was trying to help promote something done so rarely in reenactment. Which considering the time is rather sad.


Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:59 pm
by Mark Griffin
Just don't wear a cocoa coloured bobbly towelling thing with an enormous cowl you can carry several small kids in and a huge wooden cross pendant. And listen to What Ranulf says, he knows his stuff

Still shuddering at the purple cardinal thing that blessed us once at a Bodiam show. Ye Gods!

Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Thu Apr 25, 2019 7:05 pm
by Brenticus302
Hello! I am also considering an impression of a monk. I understand that it is going to take a lot of work to (eventually) do it's going to take a long time/ be a long journey, but I do think I want to do it.

Brother Ranulf, I was wondering if you might be willing to reach out to me regarding all of this?

I plan on reading some of the books you recommended, but I also have some questions, such as: if I joined a medieval camp, what reason might I have to be there? Could a monk have been on pilgrimage and fallen in with a company in the 100 years war? Would a monk have accompanied them for prayers and the like, or would that have likely been left to other positions in the church (this is what I'm guessing is the case).

I'm reaching out to whoever I can to get all the info I can on this, as I believe it is a very underrepresented part of history (though I could also be wrong there) in camps and the like.

Shoot me a message if you can/would- same for anyone else who has a Benedictine monk impression.

Thanks in advance!

Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Sat Apr 27, 2019 5:49 am
by Brother Ranulf

On the one hand monks would be unlikely to be outside their own monastic cloister, since their vows included one of "stability" (meaning to remain within the walls for life). On the other hand, there were a number of reasons for monks to be out and about with express permission.

Monks did not go on pilgrimage, since the monastic life was deemed to be far more important than being a pilgrim. They could be sent out to borrow books from other monasteries - this happened constantly since the only way to obtain another copy was to borrow an original and then painstakingly make a copy of it by hand. Holy Relics could be moved in caskets or reliquaries from place to place, monks being tasked with escorting the cart. Sometimes a punishment for unacceptable behaviour would be for a monk to go to another, less comfortable location such as a remote Scottish monastery and they would travel mainly on foot. Senior monks (priors and abbots) would travel to regular meetings called Synods, along with bishops and other senior clerics. There were a few other reasons, such as travelling to a grange or another of the monastery's holdings, which were sometimes far from the main centre.

Monks were generally not ordained priests so they could not conduct Mass, weddings, funerals or baptisms; they would certainly know blessings, hymns, psalms and prayers in Latin but it is unlikely that their fellow travellers would be educated enough to join in with much beyond the Lord's prayer or Ave Maria.

Let me know if you need more information or if there is any particular detail I can clarify. If you can find a copy of Traskey's "Milton Abbey" and Kerr's "Life in the Medieval Cloister" these would be excellent starting points for anyone going into re-enactment as a monk; Traskey' book is mainly about the long history of a single monastic site, but also gives a good overview of the general monastic routine across all of England and is very clear and well written.

Good luck and Pax tecum.

Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Sun Apr 28, 2019 5:56 pm
by 40/- freeholder
Just a follow up query for Brother Ranulf. How did John Lydgate spend so much time in the secular world? I understood he was a monk but he was a prolific author of secular works. I was involved in a production of Lydgate's Disguising at Hertford many years ago, written for the court of the young Henry VI.

Re: Monks Habit

Posted: Sun Apr 28, 2019 6:54 pm
by Brother Ranulf
John Lydgate is more than a bit of an oddity and I have looked into his career with considerable interest.

It is true that he was a Benedictine monk at St Edmundsbury from 1382, but his career took an unusual path as he began to take Holy Orders and was made a subdeacon in 1389 - the first step on the long ladder to becoming a priest. There is, strangely, no evidence that he ever made it to that rank. He then went to Oxford University from 1409 onwards (at this point he was not a monk but a clerk in minor orders, as were all University students), so we can deduce that he was on a fast track towards becoming a secular (non-monastic) cleric, although in 1423 he oddly turns up as prior at an Essex monastery (so now he is a monk again!). He resigned this position fairly soon, which again is unusual, apparently in order to travel and write (so not a monk). Such a step would have been expressly contrary to the Rule of St Benedict and there must have been powerful forces at work behind the scenes smoothing over any possible recriminations.

His writing career seems to have started while attending Oxford - yet another surprise, since there was normally no time for anything outside the very full curriculum. If he was writing at the court of Henry VI it would have been after his resignation as prior soon after 1423. He seems to have been forgiven his earlier faults since he apparently lived out his final years back at St Edmunds - taking back those who leave a monastery is covered in chapter 29 of the Rule. He would have been asked to promise "full amendment for the fault for which he left" and he would have lost all previous seniority.

Everything about Lydgate is odd, although you could say that he is the exception that proves the rule. I suspect that his close association with the Duke of Gloucester opened various doors that would have been firmly locked to other monks and protected him against punishments.

Thanks for pointing him out to me.