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Why are male saints often depicted with a shaved head?

Full 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?


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.

Written by: Catholic Answers Staff


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