This figure is one of a set of 50 dressed to represent the outfits worn by Catholic religious orders. They are made of tow (hemp) with wax heads, hands and feet. They were probably made in France, as they are labelled in French, but some of the orders represented were only active in Germany and the Netherlands.
This figure represents an Alexian friar. The Alexians originated in the early 1100s as the Beghards, male equivalents of the Béguines (see 1212:3-1905). Like Béguines, while dedicating their lives to religion and good works, Beghards did not take vows or adopt a rule of life. They lived in small rooms or 'cells', which led to their being called Cellites. In the fourteenth century, the Cellites chose to dedicate themselves to care for the sick, particularly victims of bubonic plague who were treated as outcasts at the time. At that time they formed the Alexian Brothers, taking St Alexius as their patron saint. Although recognised in 1469 as a religious order by Louis de Bourbon, Prince-Bishop of Liège (1438-92), the Alexians were not formally confirmed until 1870. The order is still going strong today, and has founded many Alexian hospitals. The Alexians wear a plain black belted tunic, scapular, and cloak.