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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > H > Hair (in Christian Antiquity)

Hair (in Christian Antiquity)

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The subject of this article is so extensive that there can be no attempt to describe the types of head-dress successively or simultaneously in use in the Catholic Church. An idea can be formed only from the texts and monuments quoted, and here we shall simply indicate the principal characteristics of head-dress at different times and among different classes.

The paintings in the catacombs permit the belief that the early Christians simply followed the fashion of their time. The short hair of the men and the waved tresses of the women were, towards the end of the second century, curled, frizzed with irons, and arranged in tiers, while for women the hair twined about the head forming a high diadem over the brow. Particular locks were reserved to fall over the forehead and upon the temples. Religious iconography proceeds even now in accordance with types created in the beginning of Christianity. Images of Christ retain the long hair parted in the middle and flowing to the shoulders. Those of the Blessed Virgin still wear the veil which conceals a portion of the brow and confines the neck. The Orantes, which represent the generality of the faithful, have the hair covered by a full veil which falls to the shoulders. Byzantine iconography differs little as to head-dress from that of the catacombs. Mosaics and ivories portray emperors, bishops, priests and the faithful wearing the hair of a medium length, cut squarely across the forehead. Women then wore a round head-dress which encircled the face. Emperors and empresses wore a large, low crown, wide at the top, ornamented with precious stones cut en cabochon, and jeweled pendants falling down to the shoulders, such as may be seen in the mosaics of S. Vitalis at Ravenna and a large number of diptychs. The hair of patriarchs and bishops was of medium length and was surmounted by a closed crown or a double tiara.

The barbarians allowed their hair to grow freely, and to fall unrestrained on the shoulders. After the fall of the Merovingians, and while the barbarian invaders were conforming more and more to the prevailing Byzantine taste or fashion, they did not immediately take up the fashion of cutting the hair. Carloman, the brother of Charlemagne, is represented at the age of fourteen with his hair falling in long tresses behind. The councils regulated the head-dress of clerics and monks. The "Statuta antiqua Ecclesiae" (can. xliv) forbade them to allow hair or beard to grow. A synod held by St. Patrick (can. vi) in 456 prescribed that the clerics should dress their hair in the manner of the Roman clerics, and those who allowed their hair to grow were expelled from the Church (can. x). The Council of Agde (506) authorized the archdeacon to employ force in cutting the hair of recalcitrants; that of Braga (572) ordained that the hair should be short, and the ears exposed, while the Council of Toledo (633) denounced the lectors in Galicia who wore a small tonsure and allowed the hair to grow immoderately, and two Councils of Rome (721 and 743) anathematized those who should neglect the regulations in this matter. This legislation only shows how inveterate was the contrary custom. The insistence of the councils is readily explained if we recall the ridiculous fantasies to which the heretical sects permitted themselves to go. Whether through the love of mortification or a taste for the bizarre, we see, according to St. Jerome's testimony, monks bearded like goats, and the "Vita Hilarionis" also states that certain persons considered it meritorious to cut hair each year at Easter.

In the ninth century there is more distinction between freemen and slaves, as regards the hair. Henceforth the slaves were no longer shorn save in punishment for certain offences. Under Louis the Débonnaire and Charles the Bald the hair was cut on the temples and the back of the head. In the tenth century the hair cut at the height of the ears fell regularly about the head. At the end of twelfth century the hair was shaven close on the top of the head and fell in long curls behind.

Thus people passed from one fashion to another, from hair smooth on the top of the head and rising in a sudden roll in front, a tuft of hair in the form of a flame, or the more ordinary topknot. Not every one followed these fashions, but the exceptions were considered ridiculous. If anyone wishes to form an idea of the head-dress of the more modern epoch, pictures, stamps, and books furnish so many examples that it is useless to attempt description. The clergy followed with a sort of timidity the fashion of the wig, but, except prelates and court chaplains, they refrained from the over-luxurious models. Priests contented themselves with wearing the wig in folio, or square, or the wig á la Sartine. They bared the part corresponding to the tonsure. The decadence of the religious orders has always been noticeable in the head-dress. The tonsure very early interposed an obstacle to fantastic styles, but the tonsure itself was the occasion of many combinations.


Sources

Information relative to the head-dress of regulars will be found in HÉLYOT, Histoire des ordres religieux. See also DAREMBERG AND SAGLIO, Dict. des Antiques grecques et lat., s.v. Coma; BAUMEISTER, Denkmäler des klass. Alterthums, I, 615 sq.; KRAUSE, Plotina, oder die Kostüme des Haupthaares bei den Völkern der Alten Welt (Leipzig, 1858); RACINET, Le costume historique (1882).

About this page

APA citation. Leclercq, H. (1910). Hair (in Christian Antiquity). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07113a.htm

MLA citation. Leclercq, Henri. "Hair (in Christian Antiquity)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07113a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Randy Heinz, sfo.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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