Nun's Customs in the Past


Did nuns used to bow to priests when they met them? And I heard that sisters would never shake hands with people either, did they bow instead?


They often bow (slightly) when meeting a Priest, however not to lay persons, usually. They do shake hands, at least nowadays, although a few hundred years ago, most were cloistered and only met people from behind a grill, and often wore a short veil over their faces as well, so they didn’t shake hands with anyone. They do shake hands with laypeople nowadays, but still tend to travel, even to the grocery or pharmacist in pairs at minimum, and sometimes 3 together.

Did you know that even nowadays, when Sisters (as opposed to the cloistered, who are properly called “Nuns”) are able to attend Parish dinners, or can be invited to a restaurant by friends of the Convent or members of the Parish and will eat in public (which they never did in years past, even the 1950’s), they still may not use chewing gum in public?? I used to chew gum when waiting in lines or at the airport. When I accompanied three other Sisters from our Convent to the Airport to meet a Sister who was returning from her visit to her family prior to taking first Vows, I stuck a piece of chewing gum in my mouth, since the plane was late and we’d already been there over an hour. You’d have thought I’d pulled off my Veil and started dancing in the lobby!! Wow, did I ever get chewed out! Had to dump the gum quick! And this was in the 90’s! However, going out to a restaurant when my parents visited, and taking two Postulants along and eating in public was fine, we were with older people and in a group. But, chewing gum was restricted to Recreation or our own cells when studying. When the Bishop and a local Priest visited us for dinner in our refectory though, we bowed when they entered, and gave a short bow if introduced – did not shake hands with them at all.


Bowing wasn’t regulated strictly to nuns.

In the days of yore (and, sometimes today), some people will greet a priest with a quick bow, and the bishop with a genuflection and a kiss of the ring.


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