Coptic Monastic Hood (Egypt)

A Coptic monk wearing a qalansuwa hood, Egypt. A Coptic monk wearing a qalansuwa hood, Egypt. Photograph by Karel Innemée.

The qalansuwa is a black hood that covers the head and neck's back of a Coptic monk or nun in Egypt. It is associated with a monastic professional of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. It is officially called a koulla (Coptic; but the word itself is wide-spread in the Middle East), but by the end of the twentieth century it was commonly referred to as a qalansuwa (Arabic).

It is often described a ‘Coptic monk’s hood’, because monks are often seen wearing them in public. However, this type of hood is also worn by Coptic nuns, but the hood is totally covered by the nuns’ head veils (this tradition may have started in the 1970's).

A basic qalansuwa is made out of a rectangle of cloth that is folded down the middle, lengthwise. One end is then shaped and sewn to fit the head. Qalansuwa's are decorated with thirteen embroidered crosses, six on each side of the head and a larger one at the front, just above the forehead. The crosses represent Jesus Christ (large cross) and his twelve apostles (the smaller crosses).

Traditionally, the qalansuwa was hand embroidered by a senior monk for his novice. By the end of the twentieth century, however, many qalansuwa's were machine embroidered in small monastic ateliers (often run by nuns). Qalansuwa's have also become popular as souvenirs for (secular) pilgrims and are seen as a means of providing a source of revenue for various monastic establishments.

There are various ideas and traditions within the Coptic Church about the origins of the hood. According to one tradition, it was St Anthony, who gave Coptic monks their distinctive black hoods. Apparently an angel asked St Anthony to wear the hood, shaped like a baby’s bonnet, to remind him to be simple and pure like a child. The devil, however, tried to pull off the head covering. St Anthony caught it, ripping it down the middle. Today the head covering is stitched down the centre where the material was torn in two, symbolizing the conflict between good and evil, God and the devil.

See also the Needles entry on a Coptic monk's hood at the TRC.

Source: INNEMÉE, Karel (2016), 'Ecclesiastical vestments and embroidery from Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Publications, pp. 325-332, esp. pp. 326-327.

KI and GVE

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 March 2017 12:28
More in this category: « Maaseik Embroideries Altar Cloths »