Why do nuns wear the veil?

The answer lies in the bond with the “groom” God. But there are also times when nuns may not wear it: here are what they are

Why do nuns wear the veil? What are the meanings it has? And why do they wear veils of different colors? He answers these questions Julia Galeotti in “The veil. Meanings of a female headdress” (Dehonian Editions Bologna). Galeotti quotes the Benedictine mother Anna Maria Canopi (1931-2019), founder of the Mater Ecclesiae abbey on the island of San Giulio (Lake Orta, Novara), in one of her articles on “Women church world“, weekly in pink de “The Osservatore Romano“, to explain the meaning and emotions associated with veiledthat is, the delivery of the veil to the consecrated woman.

Under the gaze of God

«The meaning of the veil is evident – ​​she explained MotherCanopic – the nun, consecrated in virginity to be exclusively the bride of Christ, must escape the gaze of other possible suitors and lovers. She therefore lives withdrawn from the world, in the cloister (claustrum, from which the terms cloistered, cloistered derive), to always be under God’s gaze and to please him only for the purity and intensity of love».

The kiss of the veil

Mother Canopi continued: «The veil is, therefore, a kind of enclosure within the enclosure, since even within the monastery the nun has a very reserved lifestyle and way of relating to the other cloistered nuns. However, this custom has nothing oppressive, indeed the veil is very dear to the nun and devoutly worn by her; she kisses it every time she puts it on and puts it down. It, diverting her from wandering with her eyes, it helps her to keep the gaze of her heart more directly turned to God, in the contemplation of his always desired and sought after face. Furthermore, her veil is also the sign of her modesty which, in a certain sense, hides her from her own husband”.



The blood of Christ

The liturgical rite of velatio virginumCanopi points out again, «is highly suggestive. In ancient times the veil was also in use in red, to signify that the virgin had been redeemed by the blood of the bridegroom, Christ». On the basis of this testimony, notes the author of the volume, the nun therefore lives the nuptial and maternal mystery on a supernatural level in a sublime way; the strong symbolism of her veil indicates precisely the generosity and intensity with which the cloistered gives herself to God for everyone, remaining hidden, to be completely free.

100 year old nun

Different colors

Returning to the norm, the veil of consecrated women can be styled in a different way and change in color and fabric, respectively indicating the order of belonging, the function performed by the religious in the community or the moment of daily life.

The “domination” of black

Indeed, the dominant color has historically been black. Just to give a few examples, the Dominicans they have worn it since 1206, together with a tunic and scapular of white wool tightened by a belt; the Augustinians from the middle of the thirteenth century together with a wool tunic, girdle and scapular all brown; for Carmelites, in addition to the black veil, brown tunic and scapular, striped cape of various colors first, then white; black veil also for Trinitarian contemplatives from 1236, together with cassock, red crusader scapular on the chest.

Sisters children

The Cistercians

White veil, however, for the Servant of Mary, with black cassock (with leather belt), scapular and cape. The Cistercians at the beginning they dressed in black, then passing on to a cassock of natural raw wool, a black scapular, cloth slippers called socci, soled stockings with leather or clogs: however their chapter of 1481 allows peplums and tunics, provided they were not precious or pleated . But no silk veils.

soeurs de boulaur


When can it be removed?

In every religious order, there is the custom of adopting a dress for the choir and a simpler one for domestic use. In house clothing, the veil can be removed by the nuns, leaving the hair half-covered by a bandage and a wimple. And even in their own rooms the nuns are dispensed from wearing it. The covered head is instead prescribed for the recitation of the breviary which takes place in the choir of the internal church, since it is a solemn act that expresses the reverence due to the relationship with God.


In choral dress

The use of the veil in choral dress provides for the same system of covering the head, but the thickness of the veil can be very different. Against the very thin black fabric of the Benedictine nuns of San Lorenzo, we can see the dark cloth of the Augustinian nuns of Santa Caterina in Venice, documented by the image that the Franciscan Vincent Coronelli published in his Catalog of Religious Orders in three volumes, between 1707 and 1715.


Historically in the cloister the type and color of the veil of the nuns, as well as the dress, played a role of recognition: they indicated the status of the nuns in the cloistered structure, distinguishing between them professed women, with black veils, and novices, usually with white veils. The veil is therefore also an index of difference in hierarchical degree.



Why do nuns wear the veil?