Unwrapping A Veil of Mystery: The Mantilla

December 26, 2013

Church, Mantilla, Symbolism

The Mantilla is a veil of mystery, and deep symbolic worth.

In my last post (you can read that here), I shared a very symbolic, personal “theology” (I put that in quotes, because I am by no means a theologian), behind why I, a modern, 21st century, well-educated, well-traveled, intelligent (sometimes – just kidding) woman – wear a veil.

You know, one of those white, lacy things.

Maybe your grandma had one.

Or your great-grandma.

Or maybe you use one that you found at an antique store as a doily.

Whatever – you know what I mean.

I wear a mantilla.

Gasp!

How could I, right?

I mean, what was I thinking?

Are feminist heads spinning now or what?

Well, maybe – especially as what I wrote in my last post was just a bare bones, symbolic outline of all my thoughts.

And symbolism can sometimes take a little unwrapping to bring forth the message contained deep within.

So, without further ado, I will embark upon attempting to unwrap all that I last wrote.

A Royal Metaphor

The symbolism that I chose to focus upon, as a metaphor for understanding the significance of the veil, was that of the royal crown jewels that are on display at the Tower of London in the historic country of England.

If you read my last post (which you can go back and do so here if you have not yet) you will recall that the memory of my visit(s) to this exhibition lingered with me over the years to come, and whenever I thought about the mystery behind being a woman, somehow it was that sight (amongst a few others, like this) that danced before my mind.

And when I pondered on my reasons why I, as a woman, wear a mantilla (a.k.a., “chapel veil”), it was that same lingering, famous image that whispered:

“I can tell you why….just watch.”

So I did – and I got it.

Without saying a word, I understood the profoundly deep symbolism behind the veil.

Darkness

The first code of symbolism that I began with in my last post, in relation to the exhibition of the royal crown jewels, was that of darkness.

Why darkness?

Is that not a little…morbid?

Not unless you find the depths of the powerful oceans morbid, or the darkness of a romantic, moonlit night strange.

In that case, I can’t help you.

Drink a few glasses of wine, go sit under the stars, and think for a bit – it might help. :-)

But if you can appreciate the romantic, the mysterious, the deep, and all of the many positive connotations that can emerge as a result…then you might begin to understand why darkness was where I began.

There is something about such an environment that can, when utilized correctly (as it was for the crown jewels), say:

“Shhhhh….be still…be quiet. Something special is here…something hidden…something worth blocking all else out for the sake of revealing its worth as a very rare, valuable, and precious treasure.”

By creating an environment where all else is purposely blacked out, the creators of the exhibition in London purposely developed a space where the beauty of the crown jewels could be more easily appreciated, understood, and admired…in the correct and proper way.

There is something about a treasure that can make us want to do that – and it can be seen repeated in many museums across the globe, when a very special item is placed on display.

The curator(s) often want to tune out the rest of the world – shut out the chaos, and the glaring, intrusive lights.

They want to find some way to create a veil.

They recognize that placing such valuable items in a noisy, bustling, exposed environment with harsh lighting would not do such royal items justice, but instead would diminish the profound effect that they are intended to have.

It would cheapen them – and maybe even make them seem more like fake replicas, not worthy of much dignity, than the real thing.

So, using darkness, the curator(s) separated the crown jewels from the rest of the world, veiling them into an almost sacred space.

A woman is much like that.

She is a treasure – the crown of creation – and when she dons the veil, she places herself into that mysterious place which blocks out all of the world, along with its noise and corruption, for the sake of highlighting her great, inherent dignity.

The Mantilla is a veil of mystery, and deep symbolic worth.

The Mantilla is a veil of mystery, and deep symbolic worth.

She says, in wearing the veil, that she is not common – there is something about her that is different.

She is a sacred treasure.

When others look upon her, they should recognize that she is set apart, and too precious to be harshly exposed to a cold world.

To do so would lower her, as with the royal crown jewels if exposed in the wrong setting – causing both to seem like a cheapened version of a true woman, or a true crown.

Some have compared this to the fact that we, as Catholics, keep the Host in a tabernacle, which in most churches also has a veil over it.

The tabernacle is, within, also a dark space – a hidden space, a mysterious space – a veiled space.

The very fact that it veils and hides highlights it – for all Catholics, unless they have gone off the liberal deep end, know that the focal point of every church is the tabernacle.

There, hidden deep within, too sacred to let all eyes fall upon it at all times, is the Host – Christ.

We, as Catholics, veil and hide what is sacred.

Our religion is one of mystery, for it is one of faith.

And a woman is a being of mystery, because her very body can act as a veil to the children of the future, if physical motherhood is a path she should find herself called to.

For nine months she veils their continuing creation in her womb – a sacred act – so sacred that it is hidden, for one should never throw their pearls to the eyes of just anyone they should meet.

The veil profoundly whispers of this truth, and says:

“Woman is a royal treasure, and the veil is her shroud of mystery that speaks to all of this.”

Repose

Repose was the next level of symbolism that I looked at, because there is something about entering such a darkened space as the exhibition in the Tower of London that makes one feel almost…still.

Even though your legs are still carrying you from point to point, and your body is in motion, you feel a sense of stillness and respect.

Almost awe.

The chaos and bustle of the exterior world (in this case, London), seems to have faded away, and (unless you visited on a very crowded day) you feel a sense of mystery and wonder.

You slow down – you pay attention a little more – your spirit enters into a state of receptive repose.

To me, that is also the symbolism of the veil.

Once that delicate, embroidered mantilla is placed upon my head, and the symbolic darkness of the veil shrouds me into my own interior world, I feel a sense of spiritual repose pulling at the edges of my soul.

Not that putting on a veil is a magical answer to the madness of life – of course not.

Some days I put on a veil and I still feel like going out and kung-fooing a few people who get on my nerves.

Hmph!

But all joking aside, the sense of inner repose – of disappearing into ones own private, spiritual world – is apart of the witness behind the veil.

It is something that others should also recognize.

When souls enter into a church and see a congregation of women with their heads delicately covered, they should immediately understand that those women are trying to leave the chaos of the external world behind and enter into their own interior prayer – their own personal receptiveness – to and with God, and the witnesses of these veiled women should generally feel a sense that this is what they are called to do as well: enter into prayer.

The symbolism speaks not only to the one wearing to the veil, but also to those around her.

It is a powerful witness, on many levels, helping to contribute to an overall sense of reverence, prayer, and interior, spiritual repose for all.

It says:

“I am now in my sacred space, alone with God, and you too should seek to enter into yours.”

It does not say, as is often the case in more “modern” environs:

“Hey, come talk to me! I am not covered – I am not in my own sacred space. Let’s chat!”

This is an entirely different world – a more sacred one, a more profound one, and a deeper one as well.

Protection

After repose, the next symbolic image that I turned to was that of protection.

Naturally, such a rare treasure as the crown jewels is not left on open display for anyone to reach out and take – no, on the contrary.

Such a treasure of immense value and worth is encased in glass walls – a protective casing, if you will.

To me, this symbolism speaks so highly of the veil, for glass is a fragile form of protection (even if it is bullet-proof, its connotation is fragility) – as is the veil.

Yet somehow, out of all the thousands upon thousands of people who pass through the famous exhibition in London each year, the crown jewels remain.

Any tourist could seek to shatter it – create a scene – attempt to run off with the prize – but they do not.

Why?

Because the glass, however fragile and easily breakable it may appear to be, serves as a form of protection.

It says, “you know that you can get close – but you cannot touch.”

It says:

“What lays before your eyes is protected – and does not belong to you.”

It belongs to the royal family – or, in the case of a woman with a veil upon her head, she belongs to an even higher royal family – that of God.

Not man, although she may have a husband who she belongs to just as he belongs to her – but God.

The fragile glass around the noble jewels (even if it is bullet proof, the concept of glass still speaks of fragility), and the fragile mantilla around the woman – speak loudly that they are covering their treasure within for a reason.

The mantilla says to the men who pass by:

“Think twice before you think wrongly of her. She is sacred – she is of a noble family, a royal lineage, for she is of God, and if you think of dragging her down and pulling her away from the royal dignity that is hers, you are committing a crime worthy of a great punishment.”

Furthermore, there is also the connotation of angels, something that I forgot to include when I first posted this, but which a reader politely pointed out (thank you!).

In the New Testament, scripture points out that a woman veils, “because of the angels.” (I Corinthians 11:10)

Angels protect us in the spiritual realm, and it is interesting to note that the great Catherine Emmerich, in her visions of the “new church,” pointed out that not a single angel or saint could be found to help those who were trying to tear down the old church and recreate it anew.

The angels had fled – they were not there to help, guard, and protect the endeavors of the souls striving to tear apart what centuries upon centuries had built.

If that is true, the same can be said in the opposite direction – that those who keep the traditions find the protection and presence of the angels at their side.

When a woman dons a veil, she pleases the angels, who see all of the symbolic connotations that she is unleashing into the visual world, and with their keen, penetrating minds, the same angels may note the subtle effects that such symbolism has upon the realm of the spiritual – through the window of the physical.

Remember, angels do not change – and if an unveiled woman spoke to them of prostitution and immoral license 2,000 years ago – it is likely that she still may do so now, even if our culture has lost the sensitivity to such a concept.

In pleasing the angels, we draw them to us, and surround ourselves by them.

Therefore, a veiled woman even helps to perhaps draw angelic, spiritual protection upon herself and her community at large.

Security & Troops

The next level that I ventured into, in my list of symbolic words, was that of security, and after that, the symbolism of “troops” – armed forces ready to protect and defend, if called upon to do so.

I am going to combine those two here, because I think that they blend well together after the prior term of protection.

The exhibition of the crown jewels is naturally surrounded with security.

I do not know what kind – I did not ask.

But it is just common sense that such a valuable treasure of a remarkable price would have security of the highest kind.

If someone finds a way to shatter the glass, alarms are going to go off.

Bells are going to shrilly ring.

Men, armed and ready to fight, are going to appear…and something is going to go down.

Something big, and dramatic.

And if you are the thief, trying to take off with what is not yours, you are going to pay the price.

A woman who wears a veil calls upon the men around her to provide this very same security that exists for the crown jewels.

She teaches boys to be men – and men to be gentleman.

She says, without saying a word, that she respects herself deeply – that she places herself outside of the realm of men, and thus outside of how men generally treat one another when they are together in their more rough-and-tough, masculine world.

A woman who steps into a church and veils her head is silently commanding respect – for herself, and all other women as well.

She says:

“I do not want you to look at me, or any other woman, as you would if your lower nature ruled your mind – and by that I do not just mean sex. I want you to look at me, and all women, and know that we deserve chivalry and respect. Stand up when we enter a room – take off your hat. Open doors, offer us your hand. Be polite – do not address us with coarse words, as you would around your male friends. Even if you do not know me, or the other women you see, you should, by virtue of our feminine call, be always respectful and ready to defend and fight for us should anyone dare to treat us different.”

By wearing a veil, women begin to teach men to think – and to respond a little differently than how they thought they should (or could).

She calls them to stand a little straighter when she is around, to think a little nobler, and to be what all women should, by virtue of their right as women, call all men to be – gentleman.

She teaches men their role in relation to women, as well as how they should think of and treat the more gentle gender, and in turn enhances the dignity of civilization at large.

As a result, the world is more likely to find itself with true men, and not just little boys, to help guide the way.

Light

We began with darkness, but ultimately the journey through the exhibition of the crown jewels is illuminated with light.

In such a darkness, surrounded by mystery, glass, alarms, protection, troops…surrounded by all that such a treasure demands…there is light.

The light that shines down upon each treasure, causing it to sparkle and shine in an atmosphere of dignity and respect, within such a simple frame of glass.

To me, the mantilla does that as well.

When I stand in a church, and look upon the many heads lining the pews, covered in mantilla’s of a variety of kinds, I see symbolic light.

I cannot see the faces hidden beneath the lace, or make out their features.

They are hidden – yet their small, lace veils shine a light upon their heads in a symbolic, supernatural way.

For in the end, the mantilla is a symbolic light of truth – highlighting each woman’s dignity – just as the light shining upon the crown jewels in the darkness highlights the noble treasure before each visitors eyes.

It speaks in all the ways that I wrote of above, of the worth and dignity of a woman, and how a woman who understands her worth affects the men around her, and thus all of civilization.

It shines the light of truth regarding the nature of women upon each and every feminine form.

A call unlike any other – unique in its own, yet affecting, influencing, and shaping the world in ways that it is often entirely unaware.

Yet it is a paradox that in order to do this, one must enter into the world of the veil, and start first with darkness in order to reach light.

By hiding herself, she reveals herself.

Her true self – her true worth.

Littleness

But, just so that women do not get too carried away with the sublime state of the feminine that they are called to embrace, and all of the influence that they are destined to share, there is littleness.

The crown jewels, as striking and noble as they are – are, in the end, still very small.

A crown is only so big – jewels are only of a limited weight.

They are small, daunted next to the “large” exhibition rooms, or the heads that they might grace.

They are vulnerable, hence their need for so much security and so much protection – from glass to alarms to secure guards, and everything in between.

Their inherent essence makes them this way, for to be a treasure is to be vulnerable.

It is yet another paradox of such a height – for to be so refined means that one must also be so vulnerable.

After all, thieves are always after a treasure.

The women who wear the veil are that treasure – the glory of the man, as the New Testament says – but also fragile and vulnerable in their great height, for it is a strange truth that the higher one climbs, the smaller and more vulnerable all becomes.

The End to a Metaphor

Thus the royal metaphor ends, but it has really only begun.

There is so much more that could be explored – so many more treasures to be gleaned, if we just look deep enough and read the symbolism before our eyes.

For the veil is ultimately just that – a symbol.

It will not make the world instantly perfect because women begin to wear it, but it will contribute.

Little by little, it will teach.

As days, and years begin to pass, and more and more men are faced with such images of women before their eyes, they will begin to think.

Just a little deeper – just a little wiser.

And women will help guide they way – because that is their call, to influence.

More than any verbal teaching, it is what women think of themselves – and how we manifest our thoughts through our exterior choices – that will speak volumes to a world gone mad with disrespect of both itself and others.

A woman in a mantilla is a little warrior in her own right – wielding a power that is often greater than that of the mighty and deadly sword.

If you are a woman, wield it well, but don’t forget to wield it as you rightly can.

~*~

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The ideas expressed on this site are the intellectual

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36 Comments on “Unwrapping A Veil of Mystery: The Mantilla”

  1. Me Says:

    Thank you for your wonderful metaphor display! I will show this to my husband as he was wondering why I want to veil. I gave him the short answer and how my soul feels pulled in that direction. Your lovely article will let me teach my boys as to why I am starting this (my veil will arrive within a week or so) and maybe, just maybe they will see that Mass is a sacred time and not a time to pick fights with each other.

    Reply

  2. Me Says:

    Reblogged this on Tales of a Mom and commented:
    Veiling has been tugging at me for a year and a half to two years now. It has intrigued me and intimidated me. I tried to win veils in contests, using the excuse that if I didn’t win, I didn’t need to do it. However, after being at the Carmelite Hermitage on the 1st, I knew that I had to do it. I felt naked, surrounded by women in veils. My husband told me to go order one and I have. It is a beautiful ivory and lavender colored veil, probably longer than it needs to be, but I plan to get my hair to my waist before I chop it off again. All of that does not matter. The article shared here is what does matter. It is a more in depth reason(s) to veil. Answers that I could not articulate well enough to my husband. May this help other women dive on in like I am about to.

    P.S. Do nancy if my veiling/mantilla friends have tips on keeping the veil in one place on my head? Do I need to see a comb to it? Do I need to wear my hair a certain way?

    Reply

  3. habitforming2 Says:

    Along with protection from man, there’s scriptural reference to protection and honor from Guardian angels. I always keep this in mind and it guards me from distraction at Mass.

    Reply

  4. Marc Says:

    Lemme comment on Security and Troops…from my perspective, I get that more gentlemanly “feeling” around nearly any modestly dressed woman. (which is veiling just in a different form, right?). I think that she is not out to tempt me or lead my eyes and heart astray. She deserves to have the door opened or whatever. I’m less inclined to do that for the opposite in appearance but I still try to do it anyway. Perhaps some tool was a real jerk to her and is just wanting someone to do something nice for her. But I do have to keep my guard up.

    I’ve been meaning to forward your blog to The Wife. I think she will have similar thoughts on wearing her veil for the past 9 years or so.

    Merry Christmas!

    Reply

    • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

      Hi Marc!

      Yes, I definitely agree with the concept of “veiling in a different form,” as you put it. I do not think that the chapel veil ends with the mantilla – but is also extended to the dress. I have yet to write on that though, but I find it almost pointless to wear a mantilla if one is dressed immodestly.

      Your viewpoint is really interesting – I wish more men would share their thoughts. I know I have not gotten to really exploring the dignity and worth of men yet, although I think some of it is coming through in little ways. But I love to hear what guys think.

      I think it is good that you still do that (open doors, be a gentleman, etc.) for the women who do not dress modestly. A lot of women just do not think, and like you said, they could have been through some very bad experiences and have an extremely low estimation of their own worth. You might give them something to think about when they see someone who treats them differently than what they might expect. Little kindnesses like that can go a long way for women who have been in a bad place, so kudos!

      Merry Christmas Marc, and thanks for commenting! :-)

      Reply

  5. kathleen Says:

    Dear RTS,
    I recommended this beautiful article with a link on the post on Catholicism Pure & Simple this morning: “Why Women Wear Mantillas In Church”. I just loved the profoundly beguiling metaphor you used – comparing the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London with “veiled women”. Just lovely!
    The article on our blog is getting a lot of hits, so maybe you are getting some traffic coming your way too. :-)

    I know I’ve been a rather infrequent visitor to your blog these last months, but I hope to amend that again now. God Bless

    Reply

    • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

      Thank you so much for the recommendation, and for the kind words. I appreciate it a lot. :-)

      No worries about the infrequent visitations – I am a very sporadic blogger as it is (if my random ramblings can even classify me as a blogger).

      God bless you and thank you so much again! I really appreciate it.

      Reply

  6. Theresa Says:

    Your blog is a truly sacred oasis. I found it while looking into the tradition of head coverings in the Catholic Church. I just started wearing a head covering (scarf) during Advent in a parish where absolutely no one is veiled in any way. I shared a little of my journey here: http://desertofmyheart.blogspot.com/2013/12/advent-veiling-project-week-4.html

    Your symbolism is just breathless and if one was discerning veiling before reading this, I would say there would be no question after reading it! I have been on the fence about it since I haven’t found a comfort zone so to speak. But it is the beautiful, prayerful encouragement of women like you that in turn gives me the courage to continue something I know in my heart and soul is right.

    In gratitude for sharing your thoughts.

    Blessings,
    Theresa

    Reply

    • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

      Hi Theresa, wow! Thank you so much for commenting, especially for your kind words.

      I read the post that you linked to, and I really like the quote that your friend sent to you when she did not know that you were discerning. It is beautiful, and really can relate to the symbolism of the veil.

      I agree that it does take a lot of courage to continue veiling in most of our modern churches, and I give you kudos for having the courage to do so. When certain symbols are lost and no longer appreciated or understood by a culture gone mad, there is a tendency to easily feel isolated or even judged in one way or another within the context of a parish where veiling is minimal or often absent.

      When I am in a parish that makes me feel like saying, “why bother?”, the thought of the New Testament reminds me that I do it “because of the angels” – because those in Heaven see my choice, from angels to saints, to Mary and God, and they are pleased by it. Angels are so sensitive to such little things, including guardian angels. If it pleased the angels (and thus the spiritual realm, because what pleases one there pleases all) in the past, then it still must please them (and make our guardian angels really happy!), as angels (saints, etc.) do not change.

      Plus, the thought of Mary in jeans and an uncovered head at Mass is enough to make me run for my skirt and veil. :-)

      God bless you and please keep me posted in your journey. It is an encouragement to me as well, and I would love to hear! :-)

      Reply

      • Theresa Says:

        I left a comment but not sure if it went through.

        I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful reply. I love the reference to the angels and I think that will stick with me now : )

        One of the things I was amiss in mentioning in my previous comment was that you really brought forth the mystical meaning of veiling which is something, personally, I am more drawn to rather than practical/traditional meanings. I am going to print out your post and spend some time with it.

        Many blessings this Lent.

        Reply

        • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

          You are welcome, and I agree with your comment – I understand and appreciate the practical reasons to wear a veil, but I think the more subtle, “mystical” reasons give it a real depth.

          Many blessings to you as well during Lent!

          Reply

  7. Mrs_EDavis Says:

    Bravo! Bellisima! What gorgeous writing.
    I remember when I was discerning veiling…. more than one woman in the Parish I then attended said they would never go back to veiling. The Priest said “there are other ways you can humble yourself”. Sigh. God, and a few friends who veil introduced me to this… I did so much research. I read and read. I even took flack for saying I think everyone woman should wear a veil. I now know it is entirely personal.
    I’m babbling, but I love the tradition and the beauty behind it.
    Thanks for helping to make it even more beautiful for me.
    Blessings,
    Em
    p.s. I started a FaceBook Group called Catholic Women Veiling Devotion, and have a series going on my blog called Our Ladies Image: Veiling if you ever want to write a short piece there, check it out.
    If not – no worries. You’re a busy lady, I’m sure.

    Reply

    • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

      Thank you so much!

      It is so good to hear of someone who did research into it, rather than making a snap decision. I really respect that.

      Here is my shared *sigh* to the response of the priest that you mentioned. Perhaps he did not realize that while it is true there are many ways we can silently humble ourselves, there are very few where we can help contribute to the humility and edification of individuals and society at large just as silently (other than prayer of course). In a world where so many women “silently” contribute to pride with their dress and bearing, it is a shame that he could not recognize and appreciate your positive, visual contribution.

      I am glad to hear that you have others to support you though, and I will check out your Facebook group! Thank you for the invite! As for writing, I can barely get myself to write here, but if my writing train ever leaves the platform, I will keep your offer in mind. :)

      God bless you and thank you for your words of support! I appreciate them a lot.

      Reply

      • Mrs_EDavis Says:

        In just a short period of time, there are 160 ladies in the group on FB. Another group has 800. I’m not sure if they are solely Catholic though. I wanted to make sure our little group was so we didn’t have to debate religions.
        Anyway – I hope yo duo join.
        And check out the Veiling Posts (in the tab Catholic Women Veiling Devotion) at the top of my blog.
        Great info.
        Blessings,
        Em

        Reply

        • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

          Thanks again for the invite – I did put in a request to join, and I checked out your Veiling Posts also. I enjoyed reading them! You had some really good insights, and I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. God bless you. :)

          Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why Women Wear Mantillas In Church | - January 15, 2014

    […]  “Reclaiming the Sacred” has three articles giving some deeply insightful thoughts about women who wear mantillas, using the captivating comparison and metaphor of the crown jewels in the Tower of London! http://reclaimingthesacred.com/2013/12/26/unwrapping-a-veil-of-mystery-the-mantilla/ […]

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