The Benedictines

The Order of Saint Benedict, better known as the Benedictines, is a federation of monasteries that have, throughout their history, adopted the Rule of Saint Benedict. Benedictines, called black monks, usually wear a black tunic tightened by a leather belt. Their head is covered by a cap of the same color that ends in a point. It is attached to the scapular - a large piece of cloth at the front and back - and is worn for solemn vows, at services, and during the main acts of community life. During the liturgy, the monks put on a wide sleeved cowl.

The Olivetans

While Benedictines are more commonly dressed in black, there is an exception born in Italy. At the beginning of the 14th century, a Sienese nobleman founded the congregation of Saint-Mary of Mt-Olivet. The monks follow the Rule of Saint Benedict but adopt the white habit. They are then called Olivetan Benedictines or white Benedictines in connection to the mother abbey. In America there are a few convents for Olivetan nuns.



The Cistercian Order is a reformed branch of the Benedictines whose origin dates back to the foundation of the abbey of Cîteaux by Robert de Molesme in 1098. It was under the abbey of Aubry that the clothing of the Cistercians changed and differed from that of the Benedictines. At that time, they adopted a white wool garment, which earned them the nickname "white monks" or "white Benedictines". Over the top they wear a black scapular held in place by a leather belt. During services, the monks put on the cowl and, by this gesture, mark their entry into another activity.



The Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans, is an order founded by Dominic of Guzman in 1215. Like the Franciscans, it belongs to the category of mendicant orders. These religious, working closely with the population, wear a white habit, composed of three pieces. First of all a tunic and a scapular that's tightened with a leather belt, as well as a capuce -- a piece of fabric resting on the shoulders which covers the chest and arms to the elbows, coming to a point on the back. Since the 15th century, the Dominicans have added to their habit a rosary of fifteen decades that hangs on the belt. They sometimes wear a long black cape-like garment, called a cappa, over the tunic which consists of a cap and a hood in the same shape as the main garment.


Black, grey, dark brown, light brown, and even light blue, the color of the Franciscan habit has evolved considerably over the centuries according to the customs and countries. The hagiographical accounts, and especially the first Vita written by Thomas de Celano in 1228, evoke the importance of the habit for Francis of Assisi as a social and moral marker. The saint thus chose a coarse tunic, synonymous with poverty, and in the shape of a cross. Today, the Franciscans have inherited this very simple habit, generally of a dark brown color. The observant Franciscan friars wear a round hood, while the conventual friars can wear a double hood. On their belts, there is usually a white rope made of three knots. They represent the three vows dear to the Franciscans: obedience, chastity and poverty. Finally, Franciscans are often seen wearing sandals.

Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate

The Franciscan brothers of the Immaculate are among the exceptions of the Franciscans. They wear a blue tunic, a hood, a belt made of rope, sandals and they carry the miraculous medal. This congregation, founded in 1970, aimed at returning to an authentic Franciscan life with a Marian dimension.


The Carmelites are a contemplative order founded by hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine at the end of the 12th century and placed under the protection of the Virgin Mary. In the 13th century, the Carmelites left their hermitages to take refuge in Europe. According to ancient sources, the first monks wore a brown, grey or black tunic. The coat was striped white and brown and sometimes more rarely white and black. According to tradition, the Saracens, after having taken control of the Holy Land, forbade the monks to wear white clothes because white was for them a mark of distinction and nobility. The brothers were then forced to follow the custom of the Orientals and wear colorful coats. Following the General Chapter of the Order in Montpellier in 1287, the Carmelites abandoned their striped or barred coats in favor of a white covering as we see it today. The brown scapular that the monks wear, like many other orders today, was reportedly given by the Virgin Mary to Saint Simon Stock, an English monk then Prior General of Carmelites, as he begged the Virgin Mary to help the persecuted Order.


The Carthusian Order is a contemplative religious order with solemn vows, of a semi-eremitical type, founded in 1084 by Saint Bruno and six of his companions. It takes its name from the Chartreuse massif, north of Grenoble. The Carthusian habit is made up from the beginning of a white tunic and a scapular with a cap specific to Carthusians. These two pieces of clothing have been the traditional dress of the monks since the creation of the Order. They also permanently wear the hair shirt (shirt or rough belt) held at the waist by a rope as a sign of penance.


The Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré, commonly called Premonstratensians, is an order founded by Saint Norbert of Xanten at the beginning of the 12th century. The premonstratensians wear a white woolen garment and scapular. The white recalls their religious state while the wool reminds us that they are penitents.


The Order of the Holy Trinity and of the Captives is an ancient order founded in 1198 in France by Saint John of Matha and Saint Felix of Valois. The trinitarians wear a white habit with a scapular on which there is a red and blue cross. During the Revolution, the Order had more than 100 houses in France. Today, only three remain.