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For centuries, brides have worn wedding veils in cultures all over the world. Princess Diana's cathedral-length tulle wedding veil was more than 24 feet long, while celebrity Star Jones' veil, at 27 feet, was even longer. Although today's veils are typically white or off-white, brides in early Christian times sometimes wore pale blue veils to symbolize the Virgin Mary.
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Many historians trace the origins of the bridal veil to ancient Rome, when a newly married woman wore a red or striped veil to distinguish her from unmarried women. In “The Private Life of the Romans,” Harold Whetstone writes that “so important was the veil of the bride that nubere 'to veil oneself'" was the word used for marriage. In the Roman Catholic tradition, nuns wear the veil even today as a sign that they are the “brides of Christ.” George Washington’s step-granddaughter’s husband reportedly first saw his bride-to-be behind a lace curtain and was so struck by her lace-veiled beauty that he asked her to wear a similar veil during their wedding.
In ancient cultures, the wedding veil was worn to ward off the “evil eye.” The Romans thought that demons were jealous of the bride's happiness, and a veil would confuse the evil spirit. In some cultures, the bride and groom were kept separated until their wedding day, sometimes for weeks. Wedding veils were worn to hide the face of the bride from the groom, especially in arranged marriages, where the bride and groom’s parents negotiated the marriage as a sort of business contract. The veil was worn to prevent the groom from seeing a less-than-attractive bride prior to the ceremony and then not marrying her. In some Eastern countries, an entire curtain was hung between the couple throughout the marriage ceremony. These superstitious beliefs linger today. Some people still think it’s “bad luck” to see the bride -- or the groom -- on the wedding day.
The Christian tradition often attributes the wearing of the wedding veil to the apostle Paul, who exhorted the Corinthian women to “cover [their] head[s].” The veil became a symbol of modesty, and it is still considered a sign of "chastity ... festivity and fun." The bride's father traditionally lowers the bride's veil before the wedding procession, and the groom raises the veil after the ceremony, before he kisses his wife.
Islamic or Hindu
Islamic or Hindu brides, especially those living in India, wear a “ghoonghat,” or veil, during the wedding ceremony. The veil sometimes covers not only her head, but also her back and waist, depending upon its length. An “odhnis,” which is made of silk, centers the veil on the bride’s head. The bride’s wedding gown is typically a dark cherry red.
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In the Jewish faith, the bride and groom, while standing under the "chupah," the traditional wedding canopy, are considered to be in an exalted state as they prepare to unite their lives as one. The bride radiates a special holiness, the light of God, which is so intense that her face must be covered. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, the Torah teaches that his face was equally bright from his encounter with God, and it was so intense that he had to wear a veil when he spoke to the Hebrew people.
- Veilubridal.com: The History and Tradition of the Wedding Veil
- InStyle: The Royal Wedding
- New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: Religious Veil
- The Private Life of the Romans; Harold Whetstone Johnston; 1905
- Weddings Southern Style; Beverly Reese Church
- Waterfront Wedding Chapel: A Compilation of Customs and Traditions Regarding Marriage
- Bridal Guide: The Surprising Truths Behind Common Wedding Superstitions
- Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images