Kingdom for a Crown:
An Around-the-World History of the Skullcap
and Its Modern Socio-Political Significance
© Most Reverend Antonio Hernández, O.M.D.
An extract from
skullcap (skúlkap), n. 1. A small, brimless, close-fitting
cap, often made of silk or velvet,
worn on the crown of the head. 2. YARMULKE. 3. The domelike roof of the
Skullcaps became an
obsession of mine when I was ordained a Buddhist priest-- theres
nothing like a skullcap to protect a big, bald head like mine. There were
only two skullcap traditions I knew growing up: the Jewish and the Catholic.
Other than the Brownie Scouts, the pope, my bishop and a few Orthodox
Jews, skullcaps were simply never to be seen anywhere. I am half descended
of Spanish Jews who converted to Catholicism and half descended from Chinese
Buddhists. I was raised Catholic and trained for its priesthood for many
years. Youd think I would have seen more skullcaps around, but no.
In an advanced English class I took in the Fall of 2000, we were assigned
a research paper. Of course, I leapt at the opportunity to make my natural
inclination to research skullcaps into a research paper topic. I would
do a two-parter: first I would deal with skullcap history, then I would
outline the contrast in Buddhist, Jewish and Catholic traditions. That
was all I knew at the time, and thought there was really nothing much
This book grew, over a two-and-a-half year period, directly out of that
little ten-page research paper. I simply had no idea what a subject this
is! The things I learned!
even my general historical knowledge was
significantly improved. What a joyful adventure in scholarship and history
the research proved to be. All the skullcap styles, traditions, religions
that use them, the sheer antiquity of the skullcap, were all overwhelming
and beautiful to discover. In the case of the Jewish skullcap and its
impact on modern American law, my discoveries were terrifying.
The general history of the skullcap is breathtaking. It is found among
almost all nations and races, and it has played vital roles in history.
We will have a chance to explore this history, along with the rich traditions
and histories of each country by turn. After this we shall explore the
Jewish tradition, which is not really so well known to us in the West;
we will see how the yarmulke went from an identifier to an object of ridicule,
and later came to affect American Constitutional law. We will take a brief
look at a practicing Jewish attorney and what he is doing to preserve
the sanctity and dignity of the skullcap tradition. Finally, well
see what skullcap history America has to offer, and well examine
the construction, sizes, purchasing and maintenance of skullcaps, for
the benefit of those who wear them and those who would like to try one
for fit. Just before the bibliography, there is a huge glossary of skullcap
terms-- another pleasant surprise in the history of skullcaps.
It was the most pleasant discovery of all, perhaps, to learn what an absolutely
practical and handsome fashion accessory the skullcap is. As the forerunner
of the modern béret Basque, it would have to be so. It offers the
perfect protection, warmth, shade (to the head anyway), and an exciting
fashion statement. It can be folded almost into any little shape and stowed
in the pocket. It can be left on the head when its cold-- it is
not headwear that is recognized in the "cap-tipping" etiquette.
In other words, it is THE perfect cap.
It is so very much my hope that you will enjoy this true adventure through
our past, through our very psyches, as much as I did when I first embarked
on it. I learned that in this case, both the subject itself and all the
attendant lessons were equally powerful. Never has such a simple, seemingly
commonplace little item-- and a fashion item at that-- had such tremendous
impact on the world. Good reading, and enjoy!
Nation under Scrutiny
Antonio Hernández, IBA
Jefferson, for example, wrote a great deal about God, yet he was an atheist.