The Carmelite Habit
The Scapular
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Endnotes
Click to return to Carmelnet

Before I go into the Scapular Story, I would like to say a few words about the Carmelite habit. The Carmelite Rule does not specify a habit and we have no idea how the first hermits on Mount Carmel dressed except for what we find in some slightly later documents about their striped mantle. Lacking specific evidence, however, we can reasonably presume that their original habit was standard hermit gear: a longer-than-fashionable tunic, a belt and some sort of hood.  I have mentioned the striped mantle, and Elias Friedman, O.C.D. suggests that this was shaped, not like the current mantle but more like a poncho.  This is a reasonable assumption as the current mantle is in the shape of the mantle worn by canons regular; it would have looked pretentious on lay hermits.  In a few minutes I will mention how the mantle may have come to change shape. Let me just add that Father Elias proposed that the original mantle was similar to the carpeta worn by Sufi holy men among the indigenous population of the Mount Carmel region.  [17]

There is no evidence that the first hermits wore a scapular, nor is their reason to suppose that they did. The scapular was not a garment common to lay hermits, but belonged more properly to recognized religious. Scapulars were worn by monks over their tunics as a work apron.  (The monastic habit is not the scapular and tunic, which are ordinary functional clothing for the monk, but the cowl, a great sleeved gown, cut very full, and worn over the scapular and tunic for liturgical and formal occasions.)  Lay hermits -- such as the Franciscans or those groups which in 1256 were united to form the Augustinians -- did not wear a scapular.  Some -- though not all -- canons regular did wear the scapular.  Notable among these were the canons who, under the leadership of Domonic de Guzman, evolved (with their scapulars) into the Dominican friars in the second decade of the thirteenth century.

In 1247 two Dominicans, Cardinal Hugh of Saint Cher and Bishop William of Tortosa, were asked by Pope Innocent IV to help the Carmelites make several adaptations to urban -- and mendicant -- life.  The two Dominicans proposed many Dominican customs to the Carmelites as they struggled to carve out an identify for themselves.  We do not know of the whereabouts of any constitutions for the Carmelites previous to 1281, but historians are confident that the 1247 legislation had strong Dominican influence.  Perhaps it was at this point that the scapular became part of the Carmelite habit.  We do know from extent manuscripts that the constitutions of the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had to insist that the Carmelites wear their scapulars; they do not seem to be very attached to the garment.  This would be, of course, very strange, if the Blessed Virgin Mary had indeed appeared to Saint Simon Stock in 1254 as the legends tell us.  If Friedman is correct about the cut of the mantle, perhaps it was at this time that the Carmelites changed the cut, though not the stripes, of their mantle to match the canonical mantle worn by the Dominicans.  We do not have enough evidence at hand to know. The stripes disappeared in 1290.

Habits were very important to medieval religious as they gave the individual a particular identity within the very multiform Church.  Religious rallied about their habits as if they were battle flags of the various divisions of an army.  Each wanted to bring glory to his habit as a means of increasing the glory of his order. Richard Copsey tells of religious orders stressing the privileges of dying within their habit.  The Franciscans, for example, circulated the story that Francis came to purgatory once a year to rescue all those in his habit.  This story was condemned by the Church, but remained popular.  George Tavard records some satirical verses composed at the time of the Synod of London in 1382.

    In the town and market places, these brothers preach
    That whoever dies in the habit of the Friars Minor
    Shall not suffer eternal damnation
    But immediately be led into heaven.  [18]