Definition of tonsure in English:



  • 1A part of a monk's or priest's head left bare on top by shaving off the hair.

    • ‘Peter the Great greatly restricted access to monastic tonsure, thereby virtually barring the nobility from entering the black clergy.’
    • ‘His dark hair lay cropped close to his head like a monk's tonsure and his small black eyes sat deep within their sockets like tiny pieces of coal buried in a lump of snow.’
    • ‘In 1943, he completed medical studies and secretly assumed monastic tonsure, receiving the name Anthony.’
    • ‘His hairstyle also reminds me of a tonsure, and his monkish qualities include withdrawal from Earth and earthly delights; his commission and starship serve as a monastery.’
    • ‘My hair was long as it always had been; our order didn't endorse tonsures, thank God.’
    • ‘His cowl had fallen back, exposing his tonsure.’
    • ‘One of the disputed matters might seem absurd to us now: it was the form of the tonsure, the way in which monks shaved the tops of their heads.’
    1. 1.1[in singular] An act of shaving the top of a monk's or priest's head as a preparation for entering a religious order.
      • ‘At that time Nimmyo's mother, Dowager Empress Saga, took the tonsure and entered a temple.’
      • ‘Yet Jacques Daret had been tutored as a child and was a trained cleric who received his tonsure from the bishop of Cambrai in 1423.’


[WITH OBJECT]often as adjective tonsured
  • Shave the hair on the crown of.

    • ‘The second presents Augustine as a tonsured monk in an austere cell, working with a quill on a small book.’
    • ‘A tonsured man in red appeared in the open doorway, offering us each a glass of red wine.’
    • ‘The essentially Byzantine profile of the woman on the left and the tonsured cleric on the far right act in effect as the donors of a Renaissance altarpiece, linking the viewer and the real world to that of sacred unreality.’
    • ‘Peruse any illustrated Inferno, and you will find, among the pictured thieves, usurers, murderers, and traitors, numerous tonsured pates, episcopal miters, and papal tiaras.’
    • ‘The young kneeling, tonsured figure on the right appears to be a high-ranking ecclesiastic - a canon or dean - whose biretta rests at Christ's bound feet.’
    • ‘His name appears beside the picture of a tonsured cleric, twice in a book of hours.’
    • ‘The unsubmerged halves of the smooth stones at the water's edge - covered with patches of dark moss - looked like the tonsured heads of drowned monks.’


Late Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin tonsura, from tondere shear, clip.