The act of shaving one’s hair on the scalp is known as tonsure and it has been associated with a multitude of religions through history. One theory is that it can be traced back to Jesus’s disciples, who practiced the art of tonsure on their own hair, which monks wish to imitate. Another idea concerning monks being the disciples of God is the ancient custom of shaving the heads of male slaves. Male monks then shaved their heads in kind to indicate their status as “slaves of Christ.” The narrow crown of hair also evokes images of the crown of thrones placed on Christ during his crucifixion.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘monastic crown’, the haircut has come to symbolise religious devotion and the rejection of worldly possessions. As hair has historically been associated with sexuality and eroticism, the haircut also confirms the vow of celibacy taken by monks. Tonsure was so important in the monastic tradition that failure to maintain the style was thought as being the same as abandoning the role of monk itself. Some monks could even lose their clerical state if they did not maintain the haircut.