The Full Wiki

Tonsure: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Roman tonsure

Tonsure is the practice of some Christian churches, mystics, Buddhist novices and monks, and some Hindu temples of cutting the hair from the scalp of clerics, devotees, or holy people as a symbol of their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem.



The origin of the tonsure remains unclear, but it certainly was not widely known in antiquity. There were three forms of tonsure known in the 7th and 8th centuries:

These claimed origins are possibly unhistorical; the earliest history of the tonsure is lost in obscurity. This practice is not improbably connected with the idea that long hair is the mark of a freeman, while the shaven head marks the slave (in the religious sense: a servant of God). Other theories are that the tonsure mimics male pattern baldness in an attempt to lend artificial respectability to men too young to display the real thing, or that the tonsure is a ritual created by balding superiors in act of vanity and power over young non-bald subordinates.

Among the Germanic tribes, there appeared the custom that an unsuccessful pretender or a dethroned king would be tonsured. Then he had to retire to a monastery, but sometimes this lasted only until his hair grew back.[5] The practice of tonsure, coupled with castration, was common for deposed emperors and his sons in Byzantium from around the 8th century, prior to which execution, usually by blinding, was the normal practice[6].

Tonsure today



Western Christianity

In the Latin or Western Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, "first tonsure" was, in medieval times, the rite of inducting someone into the clergy and qualifying him for the civil benefits then enjoyed by clerics. Tonsure was a prerequisite for receiving the minor and major orders. Failing to maintain tonsure was the equivalent of attempting to abandon one's clerical state, and in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, any cleric in minor orders (or simply tonsured) who did not resume the tonsure within a month after being warned by his Ordinary, lost the clerical state. Over time, the appearance of tonsure varied, ending up for non-monastic clergy as generally consisting of a symbolic cutting of a few tufts of hair at first tonsure in the Sign of the Cross and in wearing a bare spot on the back of the head which varied according to the degree of orders. It was not supposed to be less than the size of a communicant's host, even for a tonsuratus, someone simply tonsured, and the approximate size for a priest's tonsure was the size of a priest's host. Countries that were not Catholic had exceptions to this rule, especially in the English-speaking world. In England and America, for example, the bare spot was dispensed with, likely because of the persecutions that could arise from being a part of the Catholic clergy, but the ceremonious cutting of the hair in the first clerical tonsure was always required. In accordance with Pope Paul VI's motu proprio Ministeria quaedam of 15 August 1972, "first tonsure is no longer conferred". Since that time, however, certain institutes have been authorized to use the first clerical tonsure, such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (1988), the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (1990), and the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney, (2001).

Apart from this general clerical tonsure, some Western Rite monastic orders, for example Carthusians and Trappists, employed a very full version of tonsure, shaving the head entirely bald and keeping only a narrow ring of short hair, sometimes called "the monastic crown" (see "Roman tonsure", above), from the time of entrance into the monastic novitiate for all monks, whether destined for service as priests or brothers. Some monastic orders and individual monasteries still maintain the tradition of a monastic tonsure.

The fuller form of clerical tonsure led to the wearing of a skull cap in church to keep the head warm. This skull cap, called a zuchetto, is still worn by the Pope (in white), Cardinals (in red) and bishops (in purple) both during and outside of formal religious ceremonies. Priests may wear a simple black zuchetto, only outside of religious services, though this is almost never seen except as a practical garment used for warmth by some monks. Some priests who held special titles (certain ranks of monsignori and some canons, for instance) formerly wore black zuchettos with red or purple piping, but this too has fallen out of use except in a few, extremely rare cases.

Eastern Christianity

Clerical tonsure of an Orthodox reader.

Today in Eastern Orthodoxy and in the Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Rite, there are three types of tonsure: baptismal, monastic, and clerical. It always consists of the cutting of four locks of hair in a cruciform pattern: at the front of head as the celebrant says "In the Name of the Father", at the back of head at the words "and the Son", and on either side of the head at the words "and the Holy Spirit". In all cases, the hair is allowed to grow back; the tonsure as such is not adopted as a hairstyle.

Baptismal tonsure is performed during the rite of Holy Baptism as a first sacrificial offering by the newly baptized. This tonsure is always performed, whether the one being baptized is an infant or an adult.

Monastic tonsure (of which there are three grades: Rassophore, Stavrophore and the Great Schema), is the rite of initiation into the monastic state, symbolic of cutting off of self-will. Orthodox monks traditionally never cut their hair or beards after receiving the monastic tonsure as a sign of the consecration of their lives to God (reminiscent of the Vow of the Nazirite).

Clerical tonsure is the equivalent of the "first tonsure" in the Latin church. It is done immediately prior to ordination to the minor order of reader but is not repeated at subsequrent ordinations.[7] This led to a once common usage that one was, for instance, "tonsured a reader", although technically the tonsure occurs prior to the prayer of ordination within the ordination rite.


In Buddhism tonsure is a part of the rite of pabbajja and also a part of becoming a monk. This involves shaving head and face. This tonsure is renewed as often as required to keep the head cleanly shaven.


In Hinduism, the underlying concept is that hair is a symbolic offering to the gods, representing a real sacrifice of beauty, and in return, are given blessings in proportion to their sacrifice.

Hair cutting (Sanskrit cuda karma, cuda karana) is one of traditional saṃskāras performed for young children:

"According to the teaching of the revealed texts, the Kudakarman (tonsure) must be performed, for the sake of spiritual merit, by all twice-born men in the first or third year."[8]

In some traditions the head is shaven completely while in others a small tuft of hair called sikha is left.

In some South Indian temples like Tirumala, Palani and Tiruttani it is customary for pilgrims to shave their heads in or near the temple of the god they are visiting.

There has been an Indian custom to perform a tonsure on widows after their husbands' death. It is not uncommon to tonsure the head of a child after the death of a parent (usually father).

K. Jamanadas has argued that tonsure was originally a Buddhist costum and that Brahmanic practices always considered tonsure inauspicious.[9]

Tonsuring in the Hindu culture serves multiple purposes and is used as a symbol. One of Its most prominent purposes is to show ones love for the God by washing away their past and starting anew [10]. Moreover tonsuring can be used for punishment or to show that someone is an outcast in society because of the law they have broken . It is also used as a way to raise money for local synagogues which is where women across India become victims of the more powerful leaders .Firstly, the art of tonsuring originated before the Common Era.

The original purpose for tonsuring was to show ones devotion to the Gods by shaving their heads clean, women included, and start their lives anew. By shaving their heads, it enabled these people to free themselves from their past sins and continue on with purer lives. However over the course of thousands of years, tonsuring has found new functions. Tonsuring can denote ones social class or personal standing. For example, someone with a closely shaven head is practicing celibacy.

A social outcast will have a completely bald heads while men that are ardently religious will shave their heads only leaving a sihka 1.Seoncdly tonsuring can be used for punishing people for dastardly crimes. For example in mid June 2009, a Hindu woman was accused of killing her husband alongside her two sons. She was then beaten in public and shaven bald, which is also symbolic of social ostracizing [11]. There are many other cases of tonsuring being used for that purpose however when used for that, people are shaven clean leaving them completely bald.

Punishment for women with tonsuring is more severe, sadly, than with men. This is due to the social injustices that women have to face within the Hindu culture. In the modern era, tonsuring has been used as a way of generating income for the Hindu community while unfortunately victimizing the female community. For example, the American hair industry uses the free trade process to make profit not only for them but the people of India.

The free trade works as such: the American hair industry buys the hair materials directly from the Hindu populace to later use in their community; after generating an amount of income a percentage of it (usually more) is given back to the Hindu community[12].

This money is used by the Hindu people to fund the expansion of their synagogues and helping their community. Unfortunately, many Hindu women are forced to shave their heads against their will and face brutality from their community leaders. This has become a problem within this community and higher leaders are trying to find ways to solve the issue. Even so, it is a very gray area and it has proven to become hard to stop because it has moved to an “underground” state. Political leaders are not stopping and are still trying to find ways to prevent the persecution of their women by these community leaders.


It is a ritual for pilgrims on the event of Hajj to shave their heads before entering Mecca. Shaving off hair from the head was considered an ancient symbol of becoming a slave in Arabia and when a pilgrim shaves his head, he declares himself to be the slave of his Lord.[13]


Martin Luther held that the mark of the beast was the tonsured haircut worn by Roman Catholic clergy.[14]

See also


  1. ^ a b McCarthy, Daniel (2003). "On the Shape of the Insular Tonsure". Celtica 24: 140–167. Retrieved June 18, 2009.  
  2. ^ McCarthy, pp. 147–150
  3. ^ McCarthy, p. 140.
  4. ^ McCarthy, p. 141.
  5. ^ Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, II.41.
  6. ^ Byzantium by John Julius Norwich Published by Viking 1988
  7. ^ In the West, the minor orders were those of porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte, and the major orders were subdiaconate, diaconate and priesthood, with the rank of bishop usually being considered a fuller form of priesthood. In the East, the minor orders are those of reader and subdeacon, (and, in some places, acolyte); the orders of doorkeeper (porter) and exorcist (catechist) now having fallen into disuse.
  8. ^ Manu samhita 2.35, Georg Bühler translation
  9. ^ K. Jamanadas (1991). Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine. Sanjivan Publications. "The traditional custom of tonsures performed at Tirumalai as religious ceremony can not be viewed upon as a custom of the Brahmanic religion."  
  10. ^ Antiques Digest. "Hindu Tonsure." Old and Sols. Google, 14 Mar. 1998. Web. 29 Oct. 2009. [1].
  11. ^ "Heads of woman, 2 others tonsured for murder." The Tribune. N.P., 14 June 2009. Web. 29 Oct. 2009.
  12. ^ “Shame and Glory: Sociology of Hair”. Anthony Synnott. The British Journal of Sociology Vol 38 No. 3. Sep 1987 pp 381-413. Blackwell Publications.
  13. ^ Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Mizan, Hajj, Al-Mawrid
  14. ^ Plass, Ewald Martin. What Luther Says: An Anthology‎, St. Louis: Concordia. p. 1141.


  • Beda Venerabilis (1896). Venerabilis Baedae Historiam ecclesiasticam gentis Anglorum, Historiam abbatum, Epistolam ad Ecgberctum, una cum Historia abbatum auctore anonymo, ad fidem codicum manuscriptorum denuo recognovit,. Charles Plummer (ed.). Oxonii: e typographeo Clarendoniano.  
  • McCarthy, Daniel (2003). "On the Shape of the Insular Tonsure". Celtica 24: 140–167. Retrieved June 18, 2009.  </
  • Robinson, Nalbro Frazier (1911). Monasticism in the Orthodox Church. AMS Press. pp. 175. ISBN 0404053750.  

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TONSURE (Lat. tonsura, from tondere, to shave), a religious observance in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches, consisting of the shaving or cutting part of the hair of the head as a sign of dedication to special service. The reception of the tonsure in these churches is the initial ceremony which marks admission to orders and to the rights and privileges of clerical standing. It is administered by the bishop with an appropriate ritual. Candidates for the rite must have been confirmed, be adequately instructed in the elements of the Christian faith, and be able to read and write. Those who have received it are bound (unless in exceptional circumstances) to renew the mark, consisting of a bare circle on the crown of the head, at least once a month, otherwise they forfeit the privileges it carries. The practice is not a primitive one; Tertullian simply advises Christians to avoid vanity in dressing their hair, and Jerome deprecates both long and closely cropped hair. According to Prudentius (IIEpur. xiii. 30) it was customary for the hair to be cut short at ordination. Paulinus of Nola (c. 490) alludes to the tonsure as in use among the (Western) monks; from them the practice quickly spread to the clergy. For Gaul about the year 50o we have the testimony of Sidonius Apollinaris (iv. 13), who says that Germanicus the bishop had his hair cut "in rotae speciem." The earliest instance of an ecclesiastical precept on the subject occurs in can. 41 of the Council of Toledo (A.D. 633): "omnes clerici, detonso superius capite toto, inferius solam circuli coronam relinquant." Can. 33 of the Quinisext council (692) requires even singers and readers to be tonsured. Since the 8th century three tonsures have been more or less in use, known respectively as the Roman, the Greek and the Celtic. The first two are sometimes distinguished as the tonsure of Peter and the tonsure of Paul. The Roman or St Peter's tonsure prevailed in France, Spain and Italy. It consisted in shaving the whole head, leaving only a fringe of hair supposed to symbolize the crown of thorns. Late in the middle ages this tonsure was lessened for the clergy, but retained for monks and friars. In the Eastern or St Paul's tonsure the whole head was shaven, but when now practised in the Eastern Church this tonsure is held to be adequately shown when the hair is shorn close. In the Celtic tonsure (tonsure of St John, or, in contempt, tonsure of Simon Magus) all the hair in front of a line drawn over the top of the head from ear to ear was shaven (a fashion common among the Hindus). The question of the Roman or Celtic tonsure was one of the points in dispute in the early British Church, settled in favour of the Roman fashion at the Council of Whitby (664). The tonsure at first was never given separately, and even children when so dedicated were appointed readers, as no one could belong to the clerical state without at least a minor order. From the 7th century, however, children were tonsured without ordination, and later on adults anxious to escape secular jurisdiction were often tonsured without ordination. Till the 10th century the tonsure could be given by priests or even by laymen, but its bestowal was gradually restricted to bishops and abbots.

<< Tonson

Tontine >>

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

(Lat. tondere, "to shear")

A sacred rite instituted by the Church by which a baptized and confirmed Christian is received into the clerical order by the shearing of his hair and the investment with the surplice. The person thus tonsured becomes a partaker of the common privileges and obligations of the clerical state and is prepared for the reception of orders. The tonsure itself is not an ordination properly so called, nor a true order. It is rather a simple ascription of a person to the Divine service in such things as are common to all clerics. Historically the tonsure was not in use in the primitive Church during the age of persecution. Even later, St. Jerome (in Ezech., xliv) disapproves of clerics shaving their heads. Indeed, among the Greeks and Romans such a custom was a badge of slavery. On this very account, the shaving of the head was adopted by the monks. Towards the end of the fifth, or beginning of the sixth, century, the custom passed over to the secular clergy.

As a sacred rite, the tonsure was originally joined to the first ordination received, as in the Greek Church it still is to the order of lector. In the Latin Church it began as a separate ceremony about the end of the seventh century, when parents offered their young sons to the service of God. Tonsure is to be given by a candidate's ordinary, though mitred abbots can bestow it on their own subjects. No special age for its reception is prescribed, but the recipient must have learnt the rudiments of the Faith and be able to read and write. The ceremony may be performed at any time or place. As to the monastic tonsure, some writers have distinguished three kinds: (1) the Roman, or that of St. Peter, when all the head is shaved except a circle, of hair; (2) the Eastern, or St. Paul's, when the entire head is denuded of hair; (3) the Celtic, or St. John's, when only a crescent of hair is shaved from the front of the head. In Britain, the Saxon opponents of the Celtic tonsure called it the tonsure of Simon Magus. According to canon law, all clerics are bound to wear the tonsure under certain penalties. But on this subject, Taunton (loc.cit.inf.) says: "In English-speaking countries, from a custom arising in the days of persecution and having a prescription of over three centuries, the shaving of the head, the priestly crown, seems, with the tacit consent of the Holy See, to have passed out of use. No provincial or national council has ordered it, even when treating of clerical dress; and the Holy See has not inserted the law when correcting the decrees of those councils."

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
Facts about TonsureRDF feed


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address