They say that not even the Pope knows how many orders of nuns there are in the world, but a new guide should give the pontiff a better understanding of the symbolic and practical significance of the wide variety of habits that religious sisters wear.
And if you receive a book
token as a Christmas gift this year, then this book may be one way to
Looking Good: A visual guide to the nun’s habit illustrates
the different dress worn by more than 40 different communities of nuns
and sisters, and the book tells the stories behind the different clothes
Produced by GraphicDesign&, a publishing house specialising in
esoteric design, the guide is a collaboration between theologian
Veronica Bennett, who tells the story of each garment, and graphic
designer Ryan Todd, who has provided wonderful minimalist illustrations
of each outfit.
The illustrations themselves are full of symbolism – for example, the
orientation of the subjects is a clue as to how much the order is ‘in
the community’ and how much its members lead cloistered lives.
Looking Good starts by cataloguing the various components
that are used in the garb of Catholic female religious. These include
habits, tunics, veils, coifs, medals, rosaries and sandals. Almost every
female religious order draws from some but not all of these components
it its daily uniform.
Many of these types of garment then contain
subtypes – for example, many orders wear some form of a girdle, while
for others it is a belt, a cord, or a cincture, and the choice that is
made is full of connotations.
Franciscan sisters, for example, wear a cord instead of a belt as a
symbol of their vow of poverty. The cord has three knots to symbolise
the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and each knot has five
coils as a reminder of the five wounds of Christ.
An example of how religious garb has developed for practical reasons
is the habit of the Sister Ministers of the Sick of St Camillus, who
originally wore black but changed to white following the 1918 Spanish
Flu epidemic and the increasing understanding of the importance of
hygiene in preventing the spread of infection.
Often religious dress reflects local cultural custom.
Missionaries of Charity, founded in Calcutta in 1950 by Saint Mother
Teresa, wear a traditional sari, albeit one that is white with a blue
border, in keeping with normal day-to-day dress in India.
the Little Sisters of Jesus wear denim clothing when serving in the
The style website WIRED described the guide as “an unexpectedly
groovy-looking book – this is the perfect stocking filler”.
Hour described it as “a fascinating, insightful read”.
To order a copy, priced UK£17.50, visit: http://www.graphicdesignand.com/shop/looking-good