The Christian Woman's Head Covering Through the Centuries
This article and all pictures are reprinted here with kind permission from the author and Scroll Publishing.
The Christian Woman’s Head Covering Through the Centuries
When I first saw some Mennonite women with their head coverings, I
couldn’t imagine why they were wearing those things on their heads. I
figured it was simply some type of quaint costume.
But then I read the writings of the early Christians. And then I
understood why Mennonite and Amish women wear prayer veils or head
coverings. I realized that it was in obedience to 1 Corinthians 11:5,
which says, “Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head
uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her
head were shaved.” The early Christian women veiled their heads not
only in church, but also anytime they were in public.
From my later study of church history, I discovered that Christian
women continued to maintain this practice through the all centuries up
to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the nineteenth
century, many Christians in the United States and western Europe began
arguing that long hair constituted the only covering women needed.
Others said that women only needed to wear a covering when in church.
The middle class and wealthy women switched from veils and caps to
ornate bonnets—if they wore a covering at all. Bonnets became more a
matter of fashion than of modesty or obedience to 1 Corinthians 11.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the ornate bonnets of the
nineteenth century had given way to ladies’ hats. Until the
mid-century, women in Europe and America typically wore a hat or scarf
in public, but they were simply following tradition and fashion—without
realizing that there was originally a spiritual reason behind the
practice. Similarly, until about 1960, western women wore hats when in
church. But the meaning behind the hat was lost.
Today, Christian women in eastern churches still cover their heads in
church. Some of them cover their heads all of the time. In the west,
some Plymouth Brethren women still wear the prayer veil in church, as
do many black women. But usually these sisters do not wear a head
covering at other times.
Generally speaking, in the west today, only the Mennonite, Amish,
Brethren and Hutterite women still practice wearing a head covering at
all times. However, in recent years, they have been joined by thousands
of Christian women from house churches and other independent
congregations who have re-discovered this New Testament practice.
But, as it has been said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So I
have set forth below pictures of the Christian woman’s head covering
from the early Christian era to the present day.
During the Middle Ages, Christian women continued to wear head
coverings for modesty and prayer. These coverings were quite
substantial. In fact, the traditional veil worn by Roman Catholic nuns
until recent times were based on the coverings that most Christian
women wore in medieval Europe.
Around the time of the Reformation, the cap form of head covering became popular in northern Europe in place of a hanging veil.
1525: Lutheran Church Service
1530: German Anabaptist
1600's and 1700's
In the sixteenth century, the cap type of covering replaced the hanging
veil in western Europe and in the newly discovered Americas.
1620: New England
1600's: Netherlands - Anabaptists
the 1800's, middle and upper class women generally wore bonnets for
head coverings. Sometimes these were more a matter of fashion than of
modesty. However, among the common people, caps and veils were still