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Why do people cover their Heads?

In the course of my research, I came across the book "Die Kopfbedeckungen und ihre Bezeichnungen im Deutschen" by Hans-Friedrich Foltin (Wilhelm Schmitz Verlag, Gießen, 1963). It serves as an excellent point of departure in order to answer this question.


Foltin distinguishes:

  • Protective function: Climate, attacks, danger
  • Signifying function: authority, freedom, belonging, exclusion, emotional state
  • Ornamental and stimulating function: fear, awe, respect, affection

As far as clerical headdresses (> sinfying and ornamental function) are concerned, I came across the following speculations and elaborations which I am subsequently going to review point by point. Just to make this clear from the very beginning: I am not presenting my personal opinion or conception. For those who are interested in the subject, I recommend that you delve into it on your own by means of the sources cited below. To give you my conclusion in advance: Opinions on this matter are quite wide-ranging - some claim that one pray with one's head covered, others don't.

  • Within the Catholic church, only the celebrants wear headdresses during service. In fact, it is usually only the higher clergy (prelates, monsignori, bishops, cardinals, the pope) nowadays. The priests, deacons, chaplains, vicars (the "simple canons") and laymen are exempt from this custom.
  • The pope and the clergy claim to continue Aaron's priesthood. They wear headdresses themselves, yet laymen are prohibited from doing so, since they "belong" to the church.
  • According to Protestant tradition, headdresses are only worn on occasions outside the church, such as funerals.
  • In general, women keep their heads covered during service. Nuns wear their wimple. Concerning feminist interpretations of Paul, past and present, please consult the following article by Angela Standhartinger: "For this reason the woman should have authority on her head (1st Corinthians 11,10)" [fetched on 4 Sept 2006].
  • 24st sura, 31 of Koran: Concerning the Muslim custom of women veiling their face, Ethel King gives a good account of this matter to start with in her article "Burka, Hidschab, Nonneschleier: Über Mode und Kleiderordnungen" (115 KB). Furthermore, the following articles are worth a read: Daniel Hecker: Das Kopftuch als Uniform (108 KB) and Walter M. Weiss: Tschador, Turban und Kaftan - Über Kleidungssitten in der islamischen Welt (23 KB) [both German only]
  • Islam does not prescribe that men cover their heads; it is only women who are bound to wear a veil. As far as Muslim men are concerned, a plethora of different headcoverings can be found with much variation in terms of shape and colour. Men wear headdresses inside the Mosque and at prayer. Moreover, the Imam and the Ulama can usually be identified by the headcovering they wear in- and outside the Mosque. However, this headdress is not a "standardized" one. In these countries, headcoverings are representative of the political, gegraphical, cultural and religious identities as well. Their function is thus a mixed one.
  • Inside the synagogue, Jews cover their heads in kippas. Whether or not the kippa is mandatory is still the subject of a heated debate among Jews.
  • To cover one's head at prayer is interpreted as a "indicative of humility", "indicative of grief", "indicative of a state of dolour", indicative of one's fear or awe of God", "indicative of the higher status of (epistolary) scholars (priests) and dignitaries", ...
  • 1st Corinthians 11, 1-16: Most elaborations refer to this passage of the Bible. Comments and exegeses of this passage have served as a subject for quite extensive interpretations. The debate revolves around the question whether these passages were translated correctly. More specifically, the meanings of "head", "head" (as referring to a leader) and "face" have been examined. Furthermore, the length of the hair ("Jesus is presented with long hair quite often"). It is being researched whether the act of covering/ veiling was in fact meant to be the covering of one's face with one's hair.
  • The clothes of Jesus are discussed extensively by Alfred Edersheim in his book "The Life and Times of Jesus the messiah", 1883, Book III, Chapter 26: Jesus is said to have worn a headdress (a tallit), since it was deemed indecent to go out with one's head uncovered.
  • In Germany, the Muslim headscarf is the subject of a heated debate at the moment. Heide Oestreich's book "Der Kopftuchstreit - Das Abendland und ein Quadratmeter Islam" (Brandes & Aspel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-86099-786-6), gives a concise overview and may serve as a useful introduction to the subject. Some authors compare the headscarf to the nuns' wimple. Stuttgart: Nonnenschleier sind nicht geschützter als muslimische Kopftücher (15 KB). On 19 Oct 2006, the article Hey Du Zelt (1163 KB) was published in the Saarbrücker Zeitung.


Alfred Edersheim: The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [last viewed 4 Sept 2006]


Falvius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book III, Chapter 7 (25 KB); also available in German: Jüdische Altertümer, Marix Verlag, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-937715-62-2, pp. 125 ff.: "Von der Kleidung des Priesters und des Hohepriesters"


Ellen Kavanaugh: About Head Coverning (26 KB)


Ed Nelson: Did Yeshua Pray with a Head Covering? (36 KB)

Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.: Headship and Head Coverings (1 Cor. 11:3-16) (92 KB)

Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 – Its Issues and Implications (75 KB)


Rabbi Edward Levi Nydle: Headcoverings for Messianic Men: Tradition or Torah? (186 KB)


Rabbi Edward Levi Nydle: What about 1 Corinthians 11:4? (17 KB)

Tragen der Kippa, Statement der Union Progressiver Juden in Deutschland e.V., Hannover (26 KB)
[German only]


Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner: History of the Yarmulka (18 KB)


Ethel King: Burka, Hidschab, Nonnenschleier (115 KB)


Karl-Heinz Weber: Die Schöpfungsordnung Gottes (1. Korinther 11/1-16) (123 KB) [German only]


For a vivid example of how hats can mark their wearer as belonging to a certain group (a religious one, in this case), see the study "The Hats of Borough Park" (409 KB) by Werner Cohn, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of British Columbia. You may also find the articles on the "shtreimel" and the "spodik" (cf. the section Kopfbedeckungen) of interest with regard to this matter.


Liturgical Colours and the canon of colours

For a detailed description of the development and meaning of the liturgical colours, please consult Joseph Braun's book "Die Liturgische Gewandung im Occident und Orient" (pp. 728-760). Colours changed along with the extraction of dyes and the development of the dyeing process. This development may be traced back with regard to tekhelet (Biblical blue) (33 KB), the dye used for the tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl. Some colours that were part of the canon earlier in Christianity, such as orange, blue and yellow, are not used anymore. Please consult Wikipedia or the book K. Goldhammer, «Farbe, liturgisch», in: Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte, herausgegeben vom Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte München, Band VII, München 1981 (26 KB) at, Peter Eckardt, for the present canon.

Even today, the liturgical vestments worn by representatives of the free churches in the US are still very colourful.

Judging from online shops (like Ahuva Inc., Toranto, Canada; Egokippot, Karmiel, Israel), tallit und kippah are available in all shapes and colours as well. In the Old Testament already, colours were deemed precious. Accordingly, Jacob (Israel) clad his son Joseph in a coat of many colours which was meant to symbolize his higher rank (1. Mose 37:3). Similarly, a detailed description of Joseph's colourful dress may be found in A.L. Webber's musical "Joseph and the amazing technicolour dreamcoat" (cf. the lyrics of Songtext "Jakob & Co." ).

With regard to cardinal's purple, H. Janiesch & Partner, Rinteln-Schaumburg writes on his homepage:

"Purple was the most precious colour. Kings were clad in purple coats. Cardinals wear cardinal 's purple. The robes of the highest judges are still purple today (unfortunately, their appearance is spoiled by the wood panelling of the courtrooms). Purple was the most precious colour of the antique world. Only the most exquisite fabrics were dyed purple. The production of this was colour was the treasured secret of the Byzantine court and was lost in its demise. It is said that the dye was extracted from a sea snail, the hexaplex trunculus. Nowadays, real purple has a rather reddish shade. It is extracted from female scale insects.  About 140 000 insects are required for a kilo of this colour.
The original name of this colour was "kermes" or scarlet. Kermes was essentially light-resistant and did not fade away over the course of the years. According to the Koran, the Muslim fez is dyed with kermes.
1464 Pope Paul II issued an order to dye the vestments of the Cardinals with scarlet instead of purple from then on. Another red dye is the dyer's madder (or common madder). The daye is extracted from its roots and is still available today as an artists' paint. A new, better red came to be known in the wake of the discovery of the American continent: The red of the cochineal. This dye had been used by the Maya already and is still processed in food and cosmetics industry today.
At the middle of the 19th century, natural dyes were substituted by chemicals (coal-tar colours). Thus, the value of red diminished. Yet the symbolic and emotional implication associated with red persisted.
Hence, the colour red did not only play an important symbolic role in the past. Its symbolic and emotional connotation is still significant today."

Concerning the psychological significance of colours, one might draw a lot of information from the web:
Wikipedia article on colour psychology

A quick overview on colour psychology

Amt gibt Kappen (sind's nicht Kappen, so sind's doch Lappen).

This German saying rougly translates: "Each office gets you a hat (if not a hat, at least some notes)."

According to Grunar's 'Prussian chronicle' this saying dates back to the times of grand master Heinrich Reffle von Richtenberg, ruler of Prussia from 1470 to 1477. In the wake of the Thirteen Years' War, the country was in a bad shape, especially concerning its finances. The friars, too, had to put up with this miserable situation. Quite frequently, the orders were so short of money that they coud not even afford their clothes.

One of the friars, Matthias von Beybelen, asked the grand master repeatedly for a new vestment. Even though he showed his torn garment to him, the grand master always put him off. Finally, the grand master allocated to him the office of collecting the cheese that was part of the shepherds' duty to the grand master. In due course, Matthias had accumulated the means to afford a new garment. The others, of course, were quite surprised at this rapid improvement of his situation. Matthias used to reply to their questions: "Each office gets you a hat."
His answer quickly turned into a common saying, even beyond the Prussian borders. It is used to describe people who increase their meagre salary by drawing on a second minor source of income.

Even a small office will get you a hat - friars wear their hoods, bishops their mitre, abbots their 'caps', the Pope a triple crown. Every small office will gain you some kind of advantage.

[ndt] Alle Ämter gevt Kappen.
[ndt] Empter geben Kappen.
[nl] Het ambt geeft kappen.
[fr] Il n'y a point d'emploi sans bénéfice.
[fr] On ne peut manier le beurre, qu'on ne s'engraisse les doigts.
[lat] Quodlibet officium lucri pinguedine crassum.

In the course of my research on hats and headcoverings the following websites appeared exciting and informative to me:

Bea Kahl, Solingen

Der Hutmacher am Dom GmbH, Regensburg

Daniela Engel, Neuburg - Die Behüterin

Beate Pawolka, Dresden - Die Theatermodistin

Nicki Marquardt, Hutmacherin, München

Custom Heraldic Designs, Las Vegas, USA

Village Hatshop, San Diego, USA

Hat Shapers, USA

GUERRA 1855, Borgosesia, Italien

SPÓŁKA Z O.O., Polkap, Skoczów, Polen

Tonak a.s., Nový Jicin, Tschechische Republik

Etablissement Mohamed EL Abassi, Tunis, Tunesien

Wilsdom Design Inc., Oakland, CA, USA

Casa Yustas, Madrid, Spanien

Cappelleria Melegaris S.a.s., Milano, Italien

Bruno Pieroni s.n.c., Rom, Italien