Veils and Cauls

Just recently I have returned to my family history, dug out my charts & photographs and spent a while pondering over them. My cousin in Burntwood, Lichfield had sent me photographs from his collection and asked for some help. The pictures are fascinating, especially one of a lovely wedding group. It had nothing written on the back of it and neither of us could place the people in it – a shame, as it is a lovely wedding portrait – the bride looks resplendent in her wedding dress and veil and is carrying a lovely bouquet. Many of us must have valuable old photographs in our boxes or albums and I do urge you to write on the back – a reference of who they are for generations to come.

In 1854, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert re-enact their 1840 marriage ceremony
In 1854, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert re-enact their 1840 marriage ceremony

This got me thinking about veils and their significance to the bridal attire. The veil is the oldest part of the bridal ensemble. In ancient times people ‘wrapped the brides from head to toe to represent the delivery of a modest untouched maiden’! It has many origins and has been in and out of fashion for decades. Queen Victoria set a trend by choosing to wear a white dress and veil at her wedding – previously, the white attire had been quite rare. The veil means different things in different faiths and was thought to originate as far back as the Romans, as there are statues of women wearing ‘veils’ or ‘head coverings’. In Christian faith the veil is a sign of humility before God, and a reminder of the bridal relationship between Christ and the Church. St Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 v14-16 goes to great length to explain about veils.

In the past a bride wore a veil to protect her from evil spirits who might want to ‘thwart her happiness’. In arranged marriages, again in the past, it hid the face of the bride from the prospective husband. Today, if the bride wishes, she can either have her veil removed from her face by her husband or can do it herself as a sign of equality in the relationship. These veils are called ‘blushers’. The modern bride can choose to have one or not – it has become a bridal accessory and a romantic addition to the bridal ensemble. Some veils have family significance and are passed down through generations. Something old… as the saying goes!

This brings me to another ‘veil’ that is part of my family. My father told me that, when he was born, he had a veil over his head. He once showed me the skin – shrivelled and dried in a box! He was quite proud of the fact and said that he would never drown! Apparently, this is a rare occurrence (approximately 1 in 80,000) and is even less common today. It happens when the baby is born with the amniotic sac, intact, over the head and the face and is called a caul. A baby born with a caul was said to have magical powers and was greatly feared in the past as being evil or an ill-omen. The caul was dried and hung on the door to ward off evil spirits! Janet, our own retired midwife in the congregation, told me that she had delivered two babies with a caul. It shows how rare they are. Even rarer are total cauls that cover the whole body of the baby. Cauls must be broken to enable the baby to breathe!

I have read that babies born with a caul grow up to be good at predicting the weather – my father was brilliant at this! He would often say ‘Stay here and shelter. This rain will be gone in 5 minutes’ – he was rarely wrong!


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