Curiosity about nuns and their distinctive clothing is almost as old as Catholicism itself. The habit intrigues the religious and the nonreligious alike, from medieval maidens to contemporary schoolboys, to feminists and other social critics. The first book to explore the symbolism of this attire, The Habit presents a visual gallery of the diverse forms of religious clothing and explains the principles and traditions that inspired them. More than just an eye-opening study of the symbolic significance of starched wimples, dark dresses, and flowing veils, The Habit is an incisive, engaging portrait of the roles nuns have and do play in the Catholic Church and in ministering to the needs of society.
From the clothing seen in an eleventh-century monastery to the garb worn by nuns on picket lines during the 1960s, habits have always been designed to convey a specific image or ideal. The habits of the Benedictines and the Dominicans, for example, were specifically created to distinguish women who consecrated their lives to God; other habits reflected the sisters’ desire to blend in among the people they served. The brown Carmelite habit was rarely seen outside the monastery wall, while the Flying Nun turned the white winged cornette of the Daughters of Charity into a universally recognized icon. And when many religious abandoned habits in the 1960s and ’70s, it stirred a debate that continues today.
Drawing on archival research and personal interviews with nuns all over the United States, Elizabeth Kuhns examines some of the gender and identity issues behind the controversy and brings to light the paradoxes the habit represents. For some, it epitomizes oppression and obsolescence; for others, it embodies the ultimate beauty and dignity of the vocation.
Complete with extraordinary photographs, including images of the nineteenth century nuns’ silk bonnets to the simple gray dresses of the Sisters of Social Service, this evocative narrative explores the timeless symbolism of the habit and traces its evolution as a visual reflection of the changes in society.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of Religion eBook: The Habit|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group|
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A Catholic sister wearing religious garb can board a city bus and not be surprised if the bus driver places his hand over the fare box, insisting she ride free of charge. Respect for the habit remains universal-nun imposters who panhandle in city subways bank on wearing it to collect as much as $600 per day. It also can be an easy target for lampooning-consider the popular "Fighting Nun" puppet or the "Nunzilla" windup toy.
The nun's habit is one of the most widely known and recognizable religious symbols of our time, an icon deeply embedded in our cultural consciousness. Perhaps the habit has continued to fascinate us because of its unique blend of associations. As memoirist Mary Gordon recently wrote, "The image, the idea, of a nun brings together three powerful elements: God, women, and sex."
At the same time that the habit serves to shroud the body and to mask the individual, it also dramatically announces its wearer to the world. The habit has the glamour of fashion while being antifashion; it is the antithesis of extravagance and sexual allure, yet it impresses and arouses. The sighting of a nun in habit remains for most of us a notable event, because what the habit proclaims is something so counterculture and so radical, we cannot help but to react with awe and reverence or with suspicion and disdain. From this clothing, we immediately recognize a woman who has decided to commit her life fully to God, to renounce the possibility of bearing children, and to work within the boundaries of a community for some specific sacred purpose, frequently in neglected or controversial areas. She seems both less th...