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Scapular – A Symbol of Obedience, Piety, and Devotion

The word scapular originates from the Latin word Scapula which means shoulders, which refers to the object and the way it’s worn. The scapular is a Christian garment worn by the clergy to depict their devotion and commitment to the church.

Initially designed as a protective garment to be worn during manual or physical labour, over the centuries, the scapular gained recognition as a symbol of piety and devotion. There are two different types of scapulars, the Monastic and the Devotional, and both have distinct meanings and significations.

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Let’s take a closer look at the scapular and its various symbolic meanings.

Origins of the Types of Scapular  

The Monastic scapular originated in the seventh century, in the order of Saint Benedict. It consisted of a large piece of cloth that covered the front and back of the wearer. This long cloth was initially used as an apron by monks, but later became a part of the religious attire. A variation of this was the Non-Monastic scapular.

Later on, the Devotional scapular became a way that Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans could show their devotion and promise to a saint, a confraternity or a way of life.

1. Monastic Scapular

The Monastic scapular was a long piece of cloth that reached up to the knees. Earlier, monks used to wear the Monastic scapular with a belt, to hold the cloth together.

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In Medieval times, the Monastic scapular was also known as the Scutum, because it had a layer of cloth that covered the head. Over the centuries, it emerged in newer colors, designs, and patterns.

The Monastic Scapular has also been worn to distinguish various ranks of the clergy. For instance, in the Byzantine monastic traditions, the higher-level priests wore a decorated scapular to separate themselves from the lower ranking clergy.

2. Non-Monastic Scapular

The Non-Monastic Scapular was worn by people who were dedicated to the church but weren’t restricted by any formal ordinances. This is a smaller version of the Monastic scapular and was a way for the wearer to remember their religious pledges in a subtle way. The Non-Monastic scapular was made of two rectangular pieces of cloth that covered the front and back.  This version of the scapular could be worn under regular clothes, without drawing too much attention.

3. Devotional Scapular

Devotional scapulars were predominantly worn by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. These were objects of piety which featured verses from scriptures or religious images.

Similar to the Non-Monastic scapular, the Devotional scapular has two pieces of rectangular cloth tied with bands but is much smaller. The band is placed over the shoulder, with one of the rectangles hanging in front and the other hanging at the back, imitating the style of the original scapular. 

The Devotional scapular is associated with specific pledges and indulgences and became so popular, that in 1917, there were reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary wearing it.

Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring devotional scapulars.

Editor's Top Picks
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Last update was on: June 18, 2024 11:11 am

Scapulars in Protestant Churches

The scapular was worn in protestant churches, such as the Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist churches.  Some churches permitted the use of scapulars, to distinguish between choir boys and girls. It was also worn to differentiate the serving men and women from the higher-ranking clergy. The protestant scapulars usually had a different signification than the Catholic ones.

Symbolic Meanings of The Scapular

The scapular is predominantly a symbol of devotion and dedication.

  • Symbol of obedience: The scapular was also called the Yoke of Christ, and it symbolized subservience and obedience. Those who removed the scapular went against the authority and power of Christ.
  • Symbol of a religious order: Scapulars were associated and identified with a particular religious order. The members of the order were required to wear a specific color or design to reflect their allegiance.
  • Symbol of a promise: The scapulars were a constant reminder of the promise and pledge given to Christ and the church. It was worn to help individuals remember their oath to a particular way of life.
  • Symbol of rank: Scapulars were designed differently based on the rank of the priest or nun. Usually, those who belonged to a higher social order had a richly decorated scapular.

Types of Scapulars

Over the centuries, scapulars have changed and evolved. Today, there are around eleven different types of scapulars permitted by the Catholic church. Some of the prominent ones will be explored below.

1. The brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The brown scapular is the most popular variety in Catholic traditions. It’s said that Mother Mary appeared in front of St. Simon, and asked him to wear a brown scapular, in order to gain salvation and redemption.

Brown Scapular
Brown Scapular, By Marqués de la Force – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

2. The red scapular of Christ’s Passion

It’s said that Christ appeared as an apparition to a female devotee and implored her to wear a red scapular. This scapular was adorned with an image of Christ’s crucifixion and sacrifice. Christ promised greater faith and hope to all those who wore the red scapular.  Eventually, Pope Pius IX approved the use of the red scapular.

3. The black scapular of the Seven Sorrows of Mary

The black scapular was worn by lay men and women, who honored the Seven Sorrows of Mary. The black scapular was adorned with an image of Mother Mary.

Black scapulars
Black scapulars, By Piotrus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

4. The blue scapular of the Immaculate Conception

Ursula Benicasa, a famous nun, had a vision in which Christ asked her to wear the blue scapular. She then requested Christ to grant this honor to other faithful Christians as well. The blue scapular was adorned with an image of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Clement X granted permission for people to wear this blue scapular.

5. The white scapular of the Holy Trinity

Pope Innocent III approved the creation of the Trinitarians, a Catholic religious order. An angel appeared to the Pope in a white scapular, and this garment was adapted by the Trinitarians. The white scapular eventually became the outfit of people who were affiliated to a church or religious order.

6. The green scapular

The green scapular was revealed to Sister Justine Bisqueyburu by Mother Mary. The green scapular had an image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Immaculate Heart itself. This scapular could be blessed by a priest, and then worn either on top of one’s clothing, or under. Pope Pius IX approved the use of the green scapular in 1863.

In Brief

In contemporary times, the scapular has become a compulsory element in religious orders. There’s a belief that the more a scapular is worn, the greater the devotion to Christ.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.