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The Scapular necklace | Origins and meaning

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The scapular derives from the Latin word scapula, which means shoulder, representing a significant part of the religious dress worn by the monks. Today, the scapular necklace has become a commonly used garment you will undoubtedly have seen. Its history is very ancient and hides a deep meaning.

There are different types, and each scapular is indissolubly linked to its origin. Are you curious to know more about the scapular? Then read on!

What is the scapular necklace?

The scapular is typically worn by monks, characterized by two large rectangles of fabric and two strips of the same material placed on the shoulders. The two rectangles of cloth fall along the person, partly on the back and partly on the chest. This particular type is the original version and is also the one that is still worn today by most of the members of different religious orders; first of all, the Carmelites, the main spreaders of this devotion. 

There are other more straightforward and compact versions of the scapular. Allowing altar servers to wear it whatever kind of life they lead. The scapular has a meaning and a value that comes from the Marian cult: on the part of the faithful, it indicates a relationship of belonging to the Madonna. And on the part, Madonna shows her commitment to protecting and helping us in times of need.

As we have said, the scapular is nothing more than a strip of cloth with an opening for the head that hangs over the chest and back. Sometimes it is also possible to find the version with the hood. It is often worn for devotional purposes, small scapular or little dress, in honor of the Virgin Mary, saints, or particular devotions.

Representation of the scapular necklace

scapular necklace

Source: amazon

The history of the scapular necklace

Originally the scapular was a garment used only by some religious orders. Such as, the Benedictine monks covered the shoulders, the back, and the belly and, in some cases, were also equipped with a hood. It was generally used as a work residence to protect ordinary clothes. Over time, however, its use has changed until it reaches the shape it still maintains today. A fabric strip hangs on the chest and back to the feet.

The scapular has a humble origin. In the early Middle Ages, the servants used to wear over the tunic, a short coat of the color that indicated the master. It was a sign of belonging but also a guarantee of protection. Something similar was also present in the cavalry, one of the most characteristic medieval institutions. The knight wore over his armor the insignia symbology to whom he dedicated his exploits. Also, in this case, we see a sign of belonging and dedication. Not towards a master but towards the loved one.

Another aspect that makes the story of the scapular even more fascinating is linked to a supernatural event in the work of the Madonna. In 1251 the Order of Carmel, coming from the Holy Land and transplanted to Europe, was surrounded by numerous oppositions and was in danger of extinction. In this great despair, the Prior General, the English Saint Simon Stock, addressed his prayers to Mary. Composing the hymn Flos Carmeli for her.

The particular uses of the scapular

Our Lady heard this cry and appeared to him holding a scapular in her hands. She gave it to Simone and confided to him a promise kept and remembered in the following centuries. The contract read thus: “My beloved son, receive the scapular of your order, a sign of my fraternal friendship, a privilege for you and all Carmelites. Those who die dressed in this scapular will not go to hell fire. It is a sign of salvation, protection, and support in danger and a covenant of peace forever. “

One of the most traditional uses is that made by the Carmelite brothers. Who carries the scapular during the processions in honor of the Virgin of Mount Carmel? During the pilgrimage of Holy Thursday from one altar of the reposition to another. Sometimes, the vulgar term “dress” indicates the scapular. There are also small ones to sew on the straps of the undershirt or to use as an inner garment to provide protection.

In 1950 a bull of Pius XII invited the use of the scapular as a weapon of Marian devotion as it is an instrument accessible to all the faithful. Not everyone knows that scapulars are also used in the typical clothes of Gospel choirs around the world during concerts. 

What is the meaning of the scapular necklace?

As mentioned before, the scapular is the apron the monks use during work to not dirty the cassock. Positioned on the shoulder blades, the scapular became an essential part of the habit that the Carmelites still wear today.

Over time, a more compact scapular was created, designed for the lay faithful. This way, the faithful can participate in Carmel’s spirituality and its remarkable graces, such as the Sabbath privilege. In fact, in his bull called Sabatini, Pope John XXII affirmed that whoever uses the scapular can be freed from the pains of Purgatory on the Saturday following his death and access the gates of Paradise.


Today the scapular necklace is made of two squares of brown fabric joined by cords. Inside the squares, the image of Our Lady of Carmel is on one side, and on the other, the Heart of Jesus, or in some cases, the Carmelite Order coat of arms.

It is considered a miniature of the Carmelite habit; for this reason, it is usually made of canvas. The believer who dresses with the scapular becomes part of the Carmelite family and consecrates himself to Mary. The scapular is, therefore, a visible sign of the covenant with Mary.

Are you looking for a scapular to use as a protection tool? On Amazon, you can find different types. Enjoy your shopping session, and take care of your soul!