The paintings in the catacombs permit the belief that the early Christians simply followed the fashion of their time. The short hair of the men and the waved tresses of the women were, towards the end of the second century, curled, frizzed with irons, and arranged in tiers, while for women the hair twined about the head forming a high diadem over the brow. Particular locks were reserved to fall over the forehead and upon the temples.
Images of Christ retain the long hair parted in the middle and flowing to the shoulders. Those of the Blessed Virgin still wear the veil which conceals a portion of the brow and confines the neck. The Orantes, which represent the generality of the faithful, have the hair covered by a full veil which falls to the shoulders.
Byzantine iconography differs little as to head-dress from that of the catacombs. Mosaics and ivories portray emperors, bishops, priests and the faithful wearing the hair of a medium length, cut squarely across the forehead. Women then wore a round head-dress which encircled the face. Emperors and empresses wore a large, low crown, wide at the top, ornamented with preciousstones cut en cabochon, and jeweled pendants falling down to the shoulders, such as may be seen in the mosaics of S. Vitalis at Ravenna and a large number of diptychs. The hair of patriarchs and bishops was of medium length and was surmounted by a closed crown or a double tiara.
The councils regulated the head-dress of clerics and monks. The “Statuta antiqua Ecclesiae” (can. xliv) forbade them to allow hair or beard to grow. A synod held by St. Patrick (can. vi) in 456 prescribed that the clerics should dress their hair in the manner of the Roman clerics, and those who allowed their hair to grow were expelled from the Church (can. x). The Council of Agde (506) authorized the archdeacon to employ force in cutting the hair of recalcitrants; that of Braga (572) ordained that the hair should be short, and the ears exposed, while the Council of Toledo (633) denounced the lectors in Galicia who wore a small tonsure and allowed the hair to grow immoderately, and two Councils of Rome (721 and 743) anathematized those who should neglect the regulations in this matter. (wow!!!) This legislation only shows how inveterate was the contrary custom. The insistence of the councils is readily explained if we recall the ridiculous fantasies to which the heretical sects permitted themselves to go. Whether through the love of mortification or a taste for the bizarre, we see, according to St. Jerome’s testimony, monks bearded like goats, and the “Vita Hilarionis” also states that certain persons considered it meritorious to cut hair each year at Easter.