Religious Headcoverings/Christianity

Scripture About Head Covering


1 Corinthians 11:1-16



"(1)Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (2)I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. (3)But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. (4)Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, (5)but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head -- it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. (6)For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. (7)For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. (8)Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. (9)Neither was man made for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. (10)For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (11)Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. (12)For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. (13)Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? (14)Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, (15)but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (16)But if anyone is disposed to be contentious -- we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God."

This passage is in the New Testament of the Bible. It is from the letter of the Apostle Paul of Tarsus to the Christian community at Corinth. Note that verse 4 tells men to worship bareheaded and Paul's reasoning is given in verse 7: man is the image and reflection of God. Verse 5 tells women to wear a veil at worship.


Christian Groups Who Practice Head Covering


Until the 1960s women wore hats on formal or semiformal occasions and going to church was seen as a formal occasion: people wore their "Sunday best". If I may bring my own memories of a Protestant childhood in the UK in the 1950s to bear on the subject, I can remember an attitude that wearing one's best honoured the Lord. All grown women and many little girls wore hats to church. At my local authority run secondary school we girls did not normally wear our berets but we did on school visits to church. I do not remember anyone ever mentioning the Apostle Paul's writings on the matter: however I do remember having a vague feeling it was disrespectful to God to be casually dressed and hatless in church. In the late 1960s of course everything changed. I wonder which factor counted for most in the abandonment of hats in church: greater informality in society as a whole, a more critical, questioning attitude to parts of scripture, "women's lib"?

I wonder how far Paul in his letter to the Corinthians was thinking about attractively styled hair being a distraction from prayer. Back then hats and hairstyles in church seemed designed to enhance a woman's good looks. Catholic parishes may have been closer to the probable underlying thinking in Paul's prohibition as I believe head scarves and mantillas covering the hair were worn rather than hats.

I visited several historic Catholic churches on the Continent in the early 1960s and I remember how emphatically guides told us women that we must cover our upper arms and wear headscarves. Mother carried headsquares for both of us in her handbag and it seemed a very foreign custom.

The website People of our Everyday Life cites Monsignor Pope who has explained that it was traditional for women to wear veils or hats in church, then in 1917 canon law laid down that women should have their heads covered in church. When canon law was revised in 1983, head coverings were not mentioned specifically. Yet the same revision makes crystal clear that any longstanding, well-established custom remains in effect; canon law is not greater than such. Mgr Pope says that women were coming to church bareheaded before then, which echoes what was happening in the Protestant churches that I know of.

The wearing of veils and mantillas can even lead to awkwardness nowadays as only the bride wears a veil at a wedding and only very close family wear black veils at a funeral.