Veiled Nuns

Procession of Carmelite Nuns

Veiled Nuns


„… I have already written you a long account of an affair which I could not help undertaking for reasons with which God had inspired me. I dare not explain myself more clearly here. I will only say that certain holy and learned persons think that I am bound to set aside all fear and to do my utmost that this affair may succeed. There is a question, as I told you, of founding a convent where there are to be only thirteen nuns, without possibility of increasing the number; they are to keep a very strict enclosure, to speak to no one except with their veils down; and lastly, they will have to be much given to prayer and mortification. I will enter into greater details in my letter which I shall send you by Antony Moran when he leaves here. …”


„ … The observance of cloister was to be as strict as might have been expected from St. Teresa, who had herself experienced so many of the dangers of intercourse with those outside the convent walls. The grille was not to be opened, or the nuns allowed to raise their veils to speak with any but the nearest relations and a few persons of interior spirit and edification of life and character. The object of the conversations which were allowed was to be the good of the soul alone. The novices might be freely visited, for St. Teresa wished it to be seen that they were in the house of their own good-will, and might leave it if they chose.”

„We assume that what you call the Great Veil, is actually the Parlor Veil that you are referring to. In the times of Our Holy Mother St. Teresa, she and other cloistered nuns would wear these veils covering their faces completely when meeting persons outside the cloister, particularly on her journeys when setting up new foundations of Carmelite Nuns. …”

„… The purpose of these parlor veils was to maintain the spirit of the cloister even when certain duties were necessary to perform outside the cloister. This spirit was and continues to be a spirit of detatchment from the things of the world and being set apart from the world in order to maintain intimate converse with their Spouse, Jesus Christ.
Carmelite life is also a hidden life, and St. Teresa tried to even maintain this aspect of our life in tact when one needed to leave the enclosure. It also helps maintain recollection, custody of the senses, and maintaining religious decorum outside the monastery. In the days of St. Teresa, this was a very common practice and widely accepted as the norm since all of Europe was still predominately Catholic. …”


„ … The journey was always made, if possible, in litters or closed coaches, and it is said that she had herself once met with some rudeness when she had travelled otherwise. She made a point of giving the impression everywhere that her nuns were people of quality, who were to be treated with consideration on their road. As soon as the journey had begun, all were to behave as if in the convent itself. They were never to lift their veils where anyone could see their faces. She herself always spoke, even to women, with her veil down, unless there was some strong reason to the contrary. There was always a bell that the times of silence and prayer might be observed. An hour-glass was taken, to measure the time accurately. When the bell had rung for silence, it was observed by all the company, not only by Teresa and her nuns, but by the priests and seculars, and even the servants who accompanied them.”

„One of the former prioresses at Cristo Rey (who just passed away on Pentecost this year, and was one of the holiest people I have ever met!) told me she was VERY glad that they had done away with the face veil. She felt they were unsafe, even though they may have been ‘filmy’. She told me at one point when they were still worn, she had been sent around with a workman who was working inside the enclosure. (She was one of the few truly bilingual sisters, and was very much in the forefront of the construction of the Cristo Rey monastery for that reason in the 1950s.) She said that she had an ‘odd feeling’ about him while she accompanied him with the hand bell (let me know if you don’t understand that reference), although he was verbally pleasant enough. She couldn’t see too much through that veil… but she accompanied him as he moved through the house. After he had left, still feeling something just wasn’t right, she went back and found he had left open bowls of acid all over the place.
… Sometimes there really are practical reasons for re-considering some of those customs …“


„Our Enclosure veils were of fine muslin type fabric, which effectively hides one from view but permits enough vision to the one wearing it, not be a danger.
We wore them for public Mass and for any occasion when in sight of the general public, ie, when accompanying a Sister in the Parlour. On Profession days we had permission to put back our veils in the parlour, and that was the only time people got to see our faces …”

„Teresa, when she went to Toledo to negotiate with Dona Luisa, had with her the two nuns already mentioned, Anne of All the Angels and Antonia of the Holy Ghost. She sent for four more from Avila Mary of the Blessed Sacrament, Mary Magdalene, Isabel of Jesus, and Isabel of St. Joseph. These last four were taken from the Convent of the Incarnation, and the fact shows us that the little band of devoted friends whom St. Teresa had left behind her in her first convent was by no means exhausted. Thus she was able to recruit her new foundations without diminishing or greatly disturbing the community at St. Joseph’s.

When all was concluded, Dona Luisa took them all with her to Malagon, where they lodged in the castle until the house was ready to receive them. It was on Palm Sunday, a day to which Teresa had a great devotion, that the solemn founding of the convent took place. The parishioners came in procession to receive them, and the nuns walked in their white mantles, and with their veils over their faces, to the Church, where a sermon was preached, and then the Blessed Sacrament was carried in procession to the new house. It was a day of much devotion, and the people were greatly moved. This new convent, like that at Medina del Campo, was dedicated to St. Joseph. There were now, therefore, three convents of the Reform to attest St. Teresa’s devotion to the blessed spouse of Mary.”

„When I entered, we had a big thick double grille in the Parlours, but it was replaced, when I was a novice, by a simple single lattice. Very soon after we were permitted to be in the Parlours without our enclosure veils too. Then the double grille came down in Chapel and this was replaced by a thin muslin curtain. In fact it was much harder to see the Sisters through the muslin than it had been through the grille – but this was because we did away with our enclosure veils for Mass. This was in 1970.”

„… The grille was not to be opened, or the nuns allowed to raise their veils to speak with any but the nearest relations and a few persons of interior spirit and edification of life and character.”

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