For many centuries, until around 1175, Anglo-Saxon 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 (see wimple). 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 traveling 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, much as the keffiyeh is used today.
Note: , which the King James Version renders as: "And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved" has been interpreted in one source as implied advice to Sarah to conform to a supposed custom of married women, and wear a complete veil, covering the eyes as well as the rest of the face, but the phrase is generally taken to refer not to Sarah's eyes, but to the eyes of others, and to be merely a metaphorical expression concerning vindication of Sarah (NASB, RSV), silencing criticism (GWT), allaying suspicions (NJB), righting a wrong (BBE, NLT), covering or recompensing the problem caused her (NIV, , NIRV, TNIV, ), a sign of her innocence (ESV, CEV, HCSB). The final phrase in the verse, which KJV takes to mean "she was reproved", is taken by almost all other versions to mean instead "she was vindicated", and the word "הוא", which KJV interprets as "he" (Abraham), is interpreted as "it" (the money). Thus, the general view is that this passage has nothing to do with material veils. .
Among Christian churches which have a liturgical tradition, several different types of veils are used. These veils are often symbolically tied to the veils in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and in the Temple of Solomon. The purpose of these veils was not so much to obscure as to shield the most sacred things from the eyes of sinful men.
Tabernacle veil. Used to cover the church tabernacle, particularly in the Roman Catholic tradition but in some others as well, when the Eucharist is actually stored in it. The veil, which is in part meant to remind worshippers that the (usually metal) tabernacle cabinet is meant to echo the tabernacle tent of the Hebrew Scriptures, signals that the tabernacle is actually in use. It may be of any liturgical color, but is most often either white (always appropriate for the Eucharist), cloth of gold or cloth of silver (which may substitute for any liturgical color aside from violet), or of the liturgical color of the day (red, green or violet). It may be of simple, unadorned linen or silk, or it may be fringed or otherwise decorated. It is often designed to match the vestments of the celebrants.
Ciborium veil. The ciborium is a goblet-like metal vessel with a cover, used in the Roman Catholic Church and some others to hold the consecrated hosts of the Eucharist when, for instance, it is stored in the tabernacle or when communion is to be distributed. It may be veiled with a white cloth, usually of silk. This was formerly required but is now optional. In part, it signals that the ciborium actually contains the consecrated Eucharist at the moment.
Chalice Veil. During Eucharistic celebrations, a veil is often used to cover the chalice and paten to prevent dust and flying insects from coming in contact with the bread and wine. Often made of rich material, the chalice veils have not only a practical purpose, but are also intended to show honor to vessels used for the sacrament.
Humeral Veil. The humeral veil is used in the Roman Catholic Church during the liturgy of Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and on some other occasions when special respect is to be demonstrated to the Eucharist. From the Latin for "shoulders," it is an oblong piece of cloth worn as a short of shawl, used to symbolize a more profound awareness of the respect due to the Eucharist by shielding the celebrant's hands from actually contacting the vessel holding the Eucharist, either a monstrance or ciborium, or in some cases to shield the vessel itself from the eyes of participants. It is worn only by bishops, priests or deacons.
Chancel Veil. In the early liturgies, there was often a veil that separated the sanctuary from the rest of the church (again, based upon the biblical description of the Tabernacle). In the Byzantine liturgy this veil developed into the iconostasis, but a veil or curtain is still used behind the Royal Doors (the main doors leading into the sanctuary), and is opened and closed at specific times during the liturgy. In the West, it developed into the Rood Veil, and later the Rood Screen, and finally the chancel rail, the low sanctuary railing in those churches that still have this. In some of the Eastern Churches (for instance, the Syrian liturgy) the use of a veil across the entire sanctuary has been retained.
Lenten Veiling. Some churches veil their crosses during Lent and Holy Week with a fine semi-transparent mesh. The color of the veil may be black, red, purple, or white, depending upon the particular day and the liturgical practices of the church. In traditional churches, there will sometimes be curtains placed to either side of the altar.
Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given (her) for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God (New American Bible translation)
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 in most places before the 1960s for women 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.
The wearing of a headcovering was for the first time mandated as a universal rule for the Latin Rite by the Code of Canon Law of 1917, which has been declared abrogated by the present (1983) Code of Canon Law. The photograph here of Mass in the Netherlands in about 1946, two decades before the changes that followed the Second Vatican Council, shows that, even at that time, when a hat was still considered part of formal dress for both women and men, wearing a headcovering at Mass was not a universal practice for Catholic women.
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 nunnery or 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.
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.
A variety of headdresses worn by Muslim women in accordance with hijab (the principle of dressing modestly) are sometimes referred to as veils. Many of these garments cover the hair, ears and throat, but do not cover the face. The khimar is a type of headscarf. 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 practice of wearing a veil - uncommon among the Arab tribes prior to the rise of Islam - originated in the Byzantine Empire, and then spread. The wearing of head and especially face coverings by Muslim women has raised political issues in the West; see for example Hijab controversy in Quebec, Islamic dress controversy in Europe, Islamic veil controversy in France, and United Kingdom debate over veils.
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). Veils, however, had been used in the West for weddings long before this. Roman brides, for instance, wore an intensely flame-colored 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, symbolising the groom taking possession of the wife, either as lover or as property, or the revelation of the bride by her parents to the groom for his 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 in the Book of Genesis, a man named Laban tricks Jacob into marrying the wrong woman. Because of the heavy veil that was not raised until after the union was complete, Jacob married the older and homelier of Laban's daughters, Leah, instead of the young and beautiful Rachel, whom he loved. 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 badeken.
In this context, the term may refer to a piece of sheer cloth approximately 3 x 1.5 metres, 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.