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Dear catholic.com visitors: This website from Catholic Answers, with all its many resources, is the world's largest source of explanations for Catholic beliefs and practices. A fully independent, lay-run, 501(c)(3) ministry that receives no funding from the institutional Church, we rely entirely on the generosity of everyday people like you to keep this website going with trustworthy , fresh, and relevant content. If everyone visiting this month gave just $1, catholic.com would be fully funded for an entire year. Do you find catholic.com helpful? Please make a gift today. Thank you. Wishing you a blessed Lenten season.

Why are male saints often depicted with a shaved head?

Question:

Pictures of male saints often show them not just with halos, but with their heads shaved. What is the significance of the shaved head?

Answer:

It is called a tonsure and was used to mark a man in the clerical state–in other words a man who had taken religious vows.

This practice finds its origin in the Old Testament (Nm 6:18) and is very much alive in the New. Paul had his head shaved when he made a vow (Acts 18:18); others did likewise (Acts 21:23-24).

The practice continued throughout the early Church and became formalized as part of the externals marking a man as an ecclesiastic. The tonsure was generally part of the ceremony for admitting a novice or a seminarian. In 1972 the “minor orders” were combined with the order of deacon, and the tonsure was no longer required.

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