• WordNet 3.6
    • v tonsure shave the head of a newly inducted monk
    • n tonsure shaving the crown of the head by priests or members of a monastic order
    • n tonsure the shaved crown of a monk's or priest's head
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Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
    • Tonsure The act of clipping the hair, or of shaving the crown of the head; also, the state of being shorn.
    • Tonsure (R. C. Ch) The first ceremony used for devoting a person to the service of God and the church; the first degree of the clericate, given by a bishop, abbot, or cardinal priest, consisting in cutting off the hair from a circular space at the back of the head, with prayers and benedictions; hence, entrance or admission into minor orders.
    • Tonsure (R. C. Ch) The shaven corona, or crown, which priests wear as a mark of their order and of their rank.
    • ***
Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
    • n tonsure The act of clipping the hair, or of shaving the head, or the state of being shorn.
    • n tonsure Specifically— In the Roman Catholic and Greek churches, the ceremony of shaving or cutting off the hair of the head, either wholly or partially, performed upon a candidate as a preparatory step to his entering the priesthood or embracing a monastic life; hence, entrance or admittance into the clerical state or a monastic order. In the early church the clergy wore the hair short, but not shaven. The tonsure seems to be as old as the fifth or sixth century. In the Greek Church the hair is wholly shaved off. In the Roman Catholic Church a part only is shaved, so as to form a circle on the crown of the head, and the first tonsure can be given only by a bishop, a mitered abbot, or a cardinal priest.
    • n tonsure The bare place on the head of a priest or monk, formed by shaving or cutting the hair.
    • tonsure To shave or clip the hair of the head of; specifically, to give the tonsure to.
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Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
    • n Tonsure ton′shōōr act of clipping the hair, or of shaving the head: a religious observance of the R.C. and Eastern Churches, which consists in shaving or cutting part of the hair of the head as a sign of the dedication of the person to the special service of God, and commonly to the public ministry of religion
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Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
F., fr. L. tonsura, a shearing, clipping, from tondere, tonsum, to shear, shave; cf. Gr. to gnaw; perhaps akin to Gr. to cut, and E. tome,
Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
L. tonsura, a shearing—tondēre.


In literature:

Here he was accepted, and in a short time received the tonsure.
"Bell's Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Carlisle" by C. King Eley
Although he was an archbishop he had only the first tonsure.
"Lucretia Borgia" by Ferdinand Gregorovius
There was some talk of his entering a monastery where he would have had to adopt the tonsure.
"Heroes of Modern Europe" by Alice Birkhead
This he opened, and discovered the false tonsure and friar's gown.
"The Pacha of Many Tales" by Frederick Marryat
I have a benefice vacant, but should dislike to see those locks of yours tonsured.
"The False Chevalier" by William Douw Lighthall
A tailor of St. Giles in the Fields shaved a dog with the priestly tonsure.
"History of the English People" by John Richard Green
A crown looks better than a tonsure.
"Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, Volume 7" by Elbert Hubbard
The mark of his tonsure was next removed, and that with great cruelty.
"Great Men and Famous Women. Vol. 3 of 8" by Various
Priests in black robes and tall, cylindrical hats, and others with brown robes, rope girdles and tonsured heads, were coming and going around us.
"Out-of-Doors in the Holy Land" by Henry Van Dyke
In the Old Testament it is permitted to no priest to wear the tonsure.
"The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained" by Martin Luther

In poetry:

Handsome still with hood and tonsure,
E'en as when the boy Pedrillo,
Insolent with youth and beauty,
Who reviled the gentle Rabbi.
"Fra Pedro" by Emma Lazarus