Thoughts on the Origins of the Monastic Style Cope of the Early Liturgical Movement

Sometimes you will hear references to something called a "monastic cope." The question that naturally arises for people is what is meant by this.  It's first worth noting that the so-called monastic-cope is neither universally used by monastics and, what's more, it is also not reserved to them. In this regard, calling something a "monastic cope" is rather like speaking about a "Neri chasuble" -- namely, it is merely a name given by association. In the case of the so-called monastic cope, it is named such by virtue of the fact that its use was especially seen by monastics, primarily of the Benedictine family, as part of the monastic element of the early Liturgical Movement in the first half of the twentieth century. What is it? It is a cope without a hood or "shield" on the back. 

To approach this subject, we first need to step back and consider the history of the cope more generally to understand how we ended up with this particular form. 

The cope is essentially an outer cape, or mantle, that in its earliest forms included a functional hood. It served as an outer garment to protect from the cold and elements, especially during processions. Over time, the hood would come in many instances to be replaced by an ornamental "shield" which hung down the back of the body of the cope much like a hood would when not worn over the head, but which could no longer be functionally used as a hood. The shape of this shield has varied from those which are pointed, to others which are semi-circular, but none of them functional as hoods. 

Left: A modern cope with a functional hood. Middle/Right: Shields which have replaced functional hoods.

From what I can gather, as part of the monastic element of the earlier Liturgical Movement, perhaps rooted in the Benedictine communities of the north of Europe, the shield itself, in the absence of it being a functioning hood, was removed entirely and in its place what was frequently seen was the use of a design approximated the visual placement of the hood/shield, without it being actually either.  The following are examples of this form:

As a result of this association with this style of cope in relation to its use within the context of monastic orders, it has come to be popularly but informally known as a "monastic cope."

From a stylistic point of view, these tend to look best as in the examples shown here where at very least designs or other textiles are employed to approximate the visual appearance of the hood/shield -- rather than those which dispense with this altogether, leaving only the body of the cope and an orphrey. 

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