Kit Overview: Clergy, Monks and Nuns

Christian religious figures in our period can be divided into three broad types: the clergy (deacons, priests and bishops), monks and nuns. This guide will discuss all three and any distinctive clothes they may have worn. Some of the items haven't changed much in the past millennia, whilst others have changed dramatically.

This guide is largely inspired by the Hastings 2006 clerical kit guide and by Henk 't Jong's brilliant advice on monastic wear. Along with the Regia Church Members Handbook and the Catholic Encyclopedia.

You might also be interested in our page of ideas about playing one of Alfred's Nuns. For an excellent introduction to the organisation of the Anglo-Saxon Church and life in contemporary religious orders, check out Sister Ann Kessler's book Benedictine Men & Women of Courage: Roots and History (available as a free PDF).

The photo above was taken at Hauksby in 2008, when the village played host to Abbess Winfrith and her chaperones.


Clergy should wear different kit depending on their rank and what they are currently doing.

Stealth Clergy

In their day-to-day life, when not celebrating Mass, clergy would wear basically a good quality set of male clothing. The only noticeably difference would be their hairstyle (a tonsure, that silly artificial bald-spot cut into the back of their hair) and possibly their cope. But there are no dog-collared tunics, sadly.

The Cope

A cope is a semi-circle of wool, worn with the straight edge coming down in front of the cleric. It is long enough that when worn as a cloak it reaches to somewhere between the knees and ankles of the wearer. They can be linen (or even silk) lined. They are often made with integral hoods, as the cope is often worn outside.
The cope is attached at the front either with a simple pin or broach, or by sewing a bit of the straight edges together, or by attaching a square of material (a handspan wide and three fingers deep) attaching the two straight edges. This square is called a morse or St Augustine's Stitch.
The cope can be white, red, green or black.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article about copes (offsite).


Clergy were often quite high-status, as the Church had a certain amount of money and was given money by pious lords and kings. So non-monastic clergy can be all about the bling. A nice big cross is funky, as are some prayer beads. And lots of embroidery for decoration, obviously featuring cross designs.

Clergy celebrating Mass

It's whilst celebrating Mass that all the really cool stuff gets pulled out. Also, re-enactors seem to enjoy using this at other times no matter how inauthentic (at Hastings 2006 all the Englisc clergy seemed to be in full Mass costume on the battlefield, for some reason…)
Exactly what you wear depends on your rank and role in the Mass. Everyone wears alb, amice, cingulum and stole. A Deacon wears a dalmatic; the Priest celebrating the mass wears a chasuble; Bishops wear a chasuble and sometimes a dalmatic underneath.
The stole, dalmatic and chasuble can all be white, red, green or black (or, in rare cases, violet, silver or gold). They should all be the same colour. The idea of using certain colours for certain days is a post-conquest invention. The earliest garments were white, different colours came later.

The Alb

An alb is an ankle-length white undertunic and made from bleached linen, silk or wool. It is the simplest vestment, and is always worn with the amice.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article about albs (offsite).

The Amice

Is made from the same material as the alb. It is a square neckscarf, folded diagonally and fastened at the front.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article about amices (offsite).

The Cingulum (belt)

A belt of braid or white rope worn over the alb. Also known as a girdle or a cincture.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article about cingulums (offsite).

The Stole

The stole is a long thin strip of coloured linen, silk or wool. It is 2-4" wide, and reaches from knee to knee when worn round the neck. It must have at least an embroidered cross at each end and in the middle, but can feature very elaborate details.

Priests wear the stole hanging down in front of them (either hanging straight or crossed at the waist), whilst deacons tie theirs loosely at their right-hand waist.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article about stoles (offsite).

The Dalmatic

The dalmatic is basically a mis-shapen tunic. It consists of two rectangles of coloured wool, linen or silk reaching from the shoulders to the knees or mid-calves, with wide half-length sleeves and a simple neck opening.
It can be lined and elaborately embroidered or decorated with tablet weave at the arm, neck and base openings. It can also have strips of decoration going base-to-base over the shoulders (12" apart), or a large central decoration motif (front or back).
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article about dalmatics (offsite).

The Chasuble

The chasuble is the most important liturgical garment, so should be made out of expensively coloured wool, linen or silk and lined in plain or coloured linen or silk. It should be extensively decorated.
There are two ways to make it. The first is a semi-circle of material reaching down to the waist or mid-thigh. Sew up the straight edge to create a cone, then make a square neck-hole at the point of the cone. The front and back should have a band of contrasting material (covering the seam) and the neckhole should also have contrasting material. It's a bit like a Really Fancy Poncho.
The second way to make it is more like a tabard, reaching to just above knee-height (revealing the dalmatic underneath). It should be broad, reaching a quarter to a third of the way down your arm. It should have no seams and fully open sides. The base should be slightly rounded.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article about chasubles (offsite).

Bishops stuff

Bishops wearing great big mitres are inauthentic except maybe for Norman clerics with close links to Rome in the 11th century (and even then it was just a pointy hat, not a proper mitre). Saxon mitres were more like standard hats. White linen was traditional.
Bishops would also all have a big amythest ring and a staff (with a hook, T or a ball on the end).
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article about mitres (offsite).


Check out these kit guides:

  • Regia has a handbook for priestly characters with good descriptions and pictures.



Monks from any religious institution should be dressed soberly. This particular guide is to make kits for monks followed the Rule of St Benedict, as enforced under Cluny near the end of our period (ie, the 10th and 11th centuries particularly on the Continent).

The Rule of St Benedict is an amazing resource for us, exactly detailing everything about the monastaries including what clothes should be worn. Chapter LV, 'Of the Clothing and the Footgear of the Brethren', says: let clothing be given to the brethren according to the circumstances of the place and the nature of the climate in which they live, because in cold regions more in needed, while in warm regions less. This consideration, therefore, resteth with the Abbot. We believe, however, that for a temperate climate a cowl and a tunic for each monk are sufficient, — a woolen cowl for winter and a thin or worn one for summer, and a scapular for work, and stockings and shoes as covering for the feet.
Thus monastic clothing consists of a tunic, cowl/habit, scapular, stockings and shoes.

Whilst the Rule of St Benedict says let the monks not worry about the color or the texture of all these things, but let them be such as can be bought more cheaply (Chapter LV), it became custom by the 10th century that dark grey wool (from black sheep) would be used to make their cowls/habits and scapulas, whilst the rest would be plain white linen.

As with clergy, monks should ideally have tonsures. In addition, note that some monks were also ordained clergy so could wear stoles.


The Underclothes

Under the habit, monks should wear plain white floor-length tunics (with standard tight sleeves). They would ideally also wear linen hose ('stockings'), but you can't really tell so linen trousers are fine. Shoes should be simple turnshoes, nothing fancy.

The Cowl or Habit

The main item of the monastic dress, this changed dramatically from the time of St Benedict to the 11th century. The original cowl was basically a woolen poncho with an attached square hood and open sides (which sometimes could be tied shut). Later this evolved into the true habit, which is more like a floor-length tunic with wide sleeves and an attached long triangular hood.

The Scapular

The scapular is basically a long strip of wool, reaching down to ankle length front-and-back, with a hole for the neck. It is about 40 to 45 cms wide. The hood pulls through the neckhole, and this holds it in place. The scapular operated as an apron and to protect the habit when sitting.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article about scapulars (offsite).

Tools of the Trade

Originally monks spent time working in the fields each day. However it was quite common in our period that instead their labour would be in scriptoria. So parchment, quills and a small knife to cut quills are all nice authentic additions and good talking-points.

(No) Bling

A plain wooden cross could be worn if you really feel like it, but no other bling! Specifically no prayer beads- whilst secular clergy used them, monks were expected to be focussed enough to prayer without them.

Inauthentic additions

Re-enactors often wear a rope or string belt over their habits. There is no evidence for this before the Franciscans. They also probably didn't wear separate hoods, this is another thing made popular by later monastic orders. It is possible they were done in Anglo-Saxon monastries not in regular communication with the continental monastries, and is more appropriate for early period characters.


Check out these kit guides:

  • Regia has a handbook for priestly characters with good descriptions and pictures. The use of seperate hoods by monks is controversial in our period as is the use of belts, but otherwise the guide is good.


There were two types of nun in Anglo-Saxon times. On the one hand was the cloistered nun who lived in a religious house and probably didn't travel outside it all that much - although nuns did move between houses and some even went to Germany to join St Boniface's missions, and Abbesses might attend the Witan and other political meetings. On the other hand we have the vowess or canoness - a woman, usually widowed, who took vows of poverty and chastity but continued living in her own home.

Click here for more information about playing one of Alfred's Nuns.

Very little is known about Anglo-Saxon nuns' garments, save for several complaints by 8th Century bishops about nuns dressing in the height of fashion, wearing bright colours and ribbons and curling their hair, however, after a monastery adopted the Benedictine Rule it seems sensible to assume that the sisters as well as the brothers obeyed Benedict's guidelines on clothing. If you'd like to be a pious Benedictine nun, you will probably get away with wearing basic Anglo-Saxon female kit, made in dark colours. You should make sure your hair is well covered by a large wimple (perhaps with a cap underneath it) and not display lots of bling. Other reenactors have suggested that a brown woollen dress with matching scapular could have been worn by cloistered nuns, while historians suggest that in the Chapel nuns would wear a black (i.e. dark grey) cowl and scapular as their brothers did. You could accessorise with a simple cross pendant or other religious symbol. (n.b. rosaries had not yet been invented and while lay people might use a string of beads or a knotted cord for counting their prayers, monastics and clergy were supposed to be focussed enough to do without).

For living history purposes, a bag of parchment and quill pen could provide an interesting talking point when interacting with the public - cloistered nuns were generally literate and, like monks, some of them were involved in transcribing religious documents and in education.


Check out these kit guides:

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