The Origins of the Bridal Veil and Its Protection From Evil Spirits
The bridal veil is one of the most recognizable elements of a traditional Western bridal ensemble. This bridal accessory is reckoned to have its origins in Roman times. In the past, it was believed that the bridal veil had apotropaic powers and was used primarily to ward away evil spirits. Nevertheless, the veil served other important functions as well. Although the veil is still used in weddings today, it has largely been reduced to a mere accessory, as its functions have mostly been forgotten or disregarded.
The Origins of the Bridal Veil
It is commonly believed that the bridal veil was used as early as the Roman period. During this time, it was believed that the bride was especially vulnerable to the influence of evil spirits on her wedding day. Therefore, measures had to be taken in order to ward off these malevolent beings. One of these, for instance, was to style the bride’s hair with a spear point. While this tradition has not survived to this day, the veil has.
The Roman bride’s veil was known as a flammeum, which based on the word itself, is believed to be flame-colored. The color of the veil was meant to symbolize the couple’s intent to remain married for the rest of their lives. Additionally, the flammeum is thought to have covered the bride from head to toe, which was intended to make her look like she was on fire, hence giving it its apotropaic power. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the veil was made to match the height of the bride, so that it may be re-used as her burial shroud.
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A Roman bridal veil was known as a flammeum. (Rui Vale de Sousa / Adobe)
What Does the Bridal Veil Symbolize?
The symbolic value of the bridal veil is seen also in other marriage traditions. In Jewish tradition, for example, it was the groom who placed the veil over the head of his future wife, and this is meant to symbolize the promise he is making to marry her for her inner beauty. In Christianity, the veil symbolizes the modesty and purity of the bride, as well as her reverence for God. In a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, the veil, being red in color, was worn as an auspicious symbol in addition to its ability to chase away harmful spirits.
Jewish Orthodox Wedding – the wedding veil symbolizes the promise he is making to marry her for her inner beauty. (Krista Guenin / CC BY-SA 2.0)
The bridal veil served a number of practical purposes in the past as well, though these are not as relevant today as their symbolic function. As an example, in the past, when arranged marriages were the norm, the bridal veil was meant to conceal the bride’s face from the groom. Marriage was considered to be a transaction between two families and the veil was meant to prevent the groom from changing his mind about the marriage in case he did not like what he saw. Once the veil was lifted, however, the ‘transaction’ was regarded to have been completed and the man would no longer be able to “return” his wife. Evidently, the opinion of the woman about her new husband mattered little in those days.
The Longevity of the Bridal Veil
The popularity of the bridal veil went into decline for some time in the past but saw a resurgence during the Victorian period. Needless to say, it was thanks to Queen Victoria’s wedding that this accessory became popular once more. During the Victorian period, the bridal veil became a status symbol and the length, quality, and weight of the veil was determined based on the social standing of its wearer. For instance, the longest veils were worn by royal brides.
Bride in wedding dress with long veil. (Infrogmation / CC BY-SA 2.5)
The popularity of the bridal veil has persisted since then into modern times. Nevertheless, its original Roman function has largely been forgotten, along with its other traditional symbolisms and practical functions. It may also be said that this traditional bridal accessory was affected in the last century or so by economic and technological factors. For instance, prior to the Second World War bridal veils, especially those used by the upper classes, had to be reduced in length as clothing material was rationed. Additionally, while lace and silk were the materials traditionally used for making veils, these have been replaced by nylon and other synthetics after the war.
An example of carrickmacross lace, a form of lace that the Duchess of Cambridge incorporated into her wedding dress and veil. (Socialambulator / Public Domain)
Top image: Closeup wedding accessory - bridal veil. Source: (pvstory / Adobe).
By Wu Mingren
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