Veiled Catholic Nuns

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Carmelite nun with veiled face.

Before the Vatican II Council the trademark of Catholic nuns used to be their habit, consisting of flowing robes and veils that covered the entire body, leaving only the face and hands visible.

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Praying nun with covered face.

But the design of the habits of the many orders of nuns has varied over the ages. During various times in history it has been practices among some orders to have their nuns to also veil their faces. Today this tradition is very uncommon and only a few orders mandates this practice.

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Procession of nuns, one with face covered.

Most of the times the nuns used veils similar to the burqa used by some Muslim women. They used to pull their ordinary veil down to their chins to cover their faces. Some even wore their veils all down to their chests.

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Sitting nun with white habit, black veil covering the face.

The nuns did this every time they went outside the convent or had to meet persons from the outside. In 1561 St. Theresa of Avila wrote a letter were she outlined the rules for the convents she intended to start. Among other things,she was very explicit about the use of face veils among her nuns: “There will be no more than fifteen nuns in it, who will practice very strict enclosure, never going out or allowing themselves to be seen without veils covering their faces.”

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A group of Carmelite nuns outside the convent gate.

The following is written by Father Kieran Kavanaugh in his introduction to The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila: “In one of its religious uses the veil became the sign of consecrated woman. In Teresa’s time it caused no surprise or annoyance to see nuns with their faces veiled; this was often done by other women as well when they ventured into the streets.”

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Two Albanians nuns with mouth veils.

In Albania some orders of Christian orthodox nuns has been using veils to cover their mouths. This has also been the practice of ordinary Christian women in this part of the world while Moslem women usually covered the whole face up to the eyes.

Over the years several orders of nuns have used different styles of veils to conceal their faces. Elizabeth Kuhns writes in her book ’The Habit’ that some nuns used a hood with only a narrow opening for the eyes. Among some orders of nuns, even niqab-style veils have been used.

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Nuns, some of them with veiled faces.

In a lithography of the different dresses of Monks and Nuns from the orient, the artist Albert Racinet illustrated habits of several orders. One of them, a Capuchin nun wears a white veil that covers the entire body, similar to a burqa.

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Nun with black habit, black head veil and a white face veil, unknown source.

In a lithography of the different dresses of Monks and Nuns from the orient, the artist Albert Racinet illustrated habits of several orders. One of them, a Capuchin nun wears a white veil that covers the entire body, similar to a burqa.

Another nun from the Bere order is shown both in her indoor dress and how she dresses outside the convent. Indoors her dress is similar to the clothes of ordinary women, her head is covered with a black veil but her face is uncovered. When the Bere nuns went outside the convent rules mandated that they should put on roubends, a type of coif that also covered the lower part of the face.

Nun with black habit, dark blue head veil and a white face veil, unknown source.

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Procession of veiled nuns.

During Biblical times face veiling was very common among women in Palestine as in the rest of this region. In some countries it was even mandated for free women while slave women were compelled to show their faces. For that reason it is highly likely that the mother of Jesus used to veil her face, just like the rest of the female population in this area.

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Two Carmelite sisters with face veils.

If the habit of nuns is supposed to imitate the dress of the Virgin Mary, it would be most logical for them to adopt a headdress that also concealed their faces. It seems however most likely that this practice continues to be reserved for only a few strict orders.

To the right there are a number of illustrations to this text. Most of the images are autentic photographs of nuns with veiled faces, some are historical artwork and some are modern attempts to reconstruct historical habits. Click on any image to see a larger version and a short description.

H/t Adam XZ

Carmelites!  The order of St. Teresa of Jesus, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross, St. Teresa of the Andes, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, and so many more!

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