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For many centuries, until around 1175, Anglo-Saxons and then Anglo-Norman women, with the exception of young unmarried girls, wore veils that entirely covered their hair, and often their necks up to their chins. Only in the Tudor period (1485), when hoods became increasingly popular, did veils of this type become less common. For centuries, women have worn sheer veils, but only under certain circumstances. Sometimes a veil of this type was draped over and pinned to the bonnet or hat of a woman in mourning, especially at the funeral and during the subsequent period of “high mourning”. They would also have been used, as an alternative to a mask, as a simple method of hiding the identity of a woman who was travelling to meet a lover, or doing anything she didn’t want other people to find out about. More pragmatically, veils were also sometimes worn to protect the complexion from sun and wind damage (when un-tanned skin was fashionable), or to keep dust out of a woman’s face.
Veils with religious significance
In Judaism and Christianity the concept of covering the head was associated with propriety and can be witnessed in all depictions of Mary the mother of Christ, and was a common practice with Church-going women until the 1960s. A number of very traditional churches do retain the custom even to this day.
Traditionally, in Christianity, women were enjoined to cover their heads in church, just as it was (and still is) customary for men to remove their hat as a sign of respect. This practice is based on the Bible (Corinthians: 11:4-16).Unknown. (ND). Corinthians 11:4-16 (New International Version). Retrieved August 19, 2010, from Bible Gateway: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+11%3A4-16&version=NIV In many traditional Eastern Orthodox Churches, and in some very conservative Protestant churches as well, the custom continues of women covering their heads in church (or even when praying privately at home). In the Roman Catholic Church, it was customary, before the 1960s for women in most places to wear a headcovering in the form of a scarf, cap, veil or hat when entering a church. The practice now continues where it is seen as a matter of etiquette, courtesy, tradition or fashionable elegance rather than strictly of religion. Traditionalist Catholics also maintain the practice.
A veil forms part of the headdress of some religious orders of nuns or religious sisters ; this is why a woman who becomes a nun is said “to take the veil”. In many orders, a white veil is used as the “veil of probation” during novitiate, and a dark veil for the “veil of profession” once first vows are taken; the color scheme varies with the color scheme of the habit of the order. A veil of consecration, longer and fuller, is used by some orders for final profession of solemn perpetual vows. Nuns are the female counterparts of monks, and many monastic orders of women have retained the veil. Other orders, of religious sisters who are not cloistered but who work as teachers, nurses or in other “active” apostolates outside of a monastery, have abolished the use of the veil, or adopted a modified, short version; a few never had a veil to start with, but used a bonnet-style headdress even a century ago. The fullest versions of the nun’s veil cover the top of the head and flow down around and over the shoulders. In Western Christianity, it does not wrap around the neck or face. In those orders that retain one, the starched white covering about the face neck and shoulders is known as a wimple and is a separate garment. The Catholic Church has revived the practice of allowing women to profess vows as consecrated virgins; women who take the vows of religion without belonging to a particular order but who are under the direct care of the local bishop. These women may be given a veil as a sign of consecration. There has also been renewed interest in the last half century in the ancient practice of women and men dedicating themselves as anchorites or hermits, and there is a formal process whereby such persons can seek recognition of their vows by the local bishop; a veil for these women would also be traditional. Some Anglican women’s religious orders also wear a veil, differing according to the traditions of each order.
In Eastern Orthodoxy and in the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, a veil called an epanokamelavkion is used by both nuns and monks, in both cases covering completely the kamilavkion, a cylindrical hat worn by both monks and nuns. In Slavic practice, when the veil is worn over the kamilavkion, the entire headdress is referred to as a klobuk. Nuns wear an additional veil under the klobuk, called an apostolnik, which is drawn together to cover the neck and shoulders as well as their heads, leaving the face itself open.
Veils in Mormonism
Mormon women also wear a veil as part of ritual temple clothing. This veil, along with the entire temple ritual clothing, is worn only inside the temple. Normally, the veil is worn off the face; it is lowered to cover the face of the wearer during prayer, as part of the temple ritual.
Mormons who have undertaken the temple ritual will typically be buried in this clothing. During the viewing of the body, the face remains unveiled. Immediately prior to the closing and sealing of the casket, the veil is lowered over the face of the deceased.
A variety of headdresses worn by Muslim women in accordance with khimar (the principle of dressing modestly) are sometimes referred to as veils or headscarves. Many of these garments cover the hair, ears and throat, but do not cover the face. The niqab and burqa are two kinds of veils that cover most of the face except for a slit or hole for the eyes. The Afghan burqa covers the entire body, obscuring the face completely, except for a grille or netting over the eyes to allow the wearer to see. The boushiya is a veil that may be worn over a headscarf, it covers the entire face and is made of a sheer fabric so the wearer is able to see through it. It has been suggested that the Byzantine practice of wearing a veil – uncommon among the Arab tribes prior to the rise of Islam – originated in the Byzantine Empire, and then spread among the Arabs.Review of Herrin book, and Michael Angold, Church and Society in Byzantium Under the Comneni, 1081-1261, pp. 426-7 & ff;1995, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521269865; see also John Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path,, p.98, 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Veils with hats
Veils pinned to hats have survived the changing fashions of the centuries and are still common today on occasions when women wear hats. However, these veils are generally made of netting or another material not actually designed to hide the face from view, even if the veil can be pulled down, which is not always the case.
It is not altogether clear that the wedding veil is a non-religious use of this item, since weddings have almost always had religious underpinnings, especially in the West: in the Christian tradition this is expressed in the Gospel passage, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6), but veils had been used in the West for weddings long before this (Roman brides, for instance, wore an intensely flame-coloured and fulsome veil, called the flammeum, apparently intended to protect the bride from evil spirits on her wedding day). The lifting of the veil was often a part of ancient wedding ritual. In many cultures, the lifting of the wedding veil symbolized the groom taking possession of the wife, either as lover or as property, or the revelation of the bride to the groom by her parents for approval. In ancient Judaism the lifting of the veil took place just prior to the consummation of the marriage in sexual union. The uncovering or unveiling that takes place in the marriage ceremony is a symbol of what will take place in the marriage bed. Just as the two become one through their words spoken in wedding vows, so these words are a sign of the physical oneness that they will consummate later on. The lifting of the veil is a symbol and an anticipation of this. In the story of Jacob in the Old Testament (found in the Book of Genesis), his father-in-law, Laban, tricks Jacob into marrying the wrong woman. Because of the heavily masked veil that was not raised until after the union was complete, Jacob married the older and homelier Leah instead of the young and beautiful Rachel. Rachel was his one true love, and the deceit resulted in Jacob eventually having both as his wives. The story also resulted in the Jewish practice where a groom lowers the veil before the ceremony and lifts the veil before the kiss. This practice is known as Bedeken.
Conversely, veils are often part of the stereotypical image of the courtesan and harem woman. Here, rather than the virginity of the bride’s veil, modesty of the Muslim scarf or the piety of the nun’s headdress, the mysterious veil hints at sensuality and the unknown. An example of the veil’s erotic potential is the dance of the seven veils. In this context, the term may refer to a piece of sheer cloth approximately 3 yards by 45 inches, sometimes trimmed with sequins or coins, which is used in various styles of belly dancing. A large repertoire of ways to wear and hold the veil exists, many of which are intended to frame the body from the perspective of the audience.
In West Africa
Among the Tuareg of West Africa, women do not traditionally wear the veil, while men do. The men’s facial covering originates from the belief that such action wards off evil spirits, but most probably relates to protection against the harsh desert sands as well; in any event, it is a firmly established tradition. Men begin wearing a veil at age 25 which conceals their entire face excluding their eyes. This veil is never removed, even in front of family members.