"...Let Her Be Veiled."

Chapter 5

The Veil in Early Christian Art

by Tom Shank

The catacombs of Rome are an extensive underground series of cemeteries where the early Christians buried their dead during the first four centuries. They consist of countless narrow passageways, along which are carved niches for burial, and which lead at times to small chambers or rooms.

The catacombs carved in the substrata rock beneath the city of Rome extend to an almost unbelievable 550 miles, are often six levels deep, and contain the room for the interment of over six million bodies!

During the various intense persecutions of the church, Christians were forced to retreat for brief periods of time for refuge in these dark and silent hand-carved caverns. Throughout the first few centuries, and even after Constantine legalized nominal Christianity, saints continued to bury their dead and to paint the likeness of their departed loved ones, scenes from Scripture, and Christian symbols, in the catacombs. Herein is the first Christian art.

On the following pages are reproductions, poor though they are, of several frescos, which give the earliest pictorial evidence of the fact that Christian women of the first centuries did veil their heads. It goes without saying that these paintings speak conclusively of the universal apostolic practice of the use of the veil as taught in 1 Corinthians 11.

The dates of these paintings cannot but be approximate—some could be considerably earlier than is mentioned, as the construction and use of the catacombs by Christians had begun even in the latter part of the first century. Also included here are pictures from an early manuscript and a mosaic from an early church building.

In surveying these pictures, a few conclusions can be drawn:

  1. There is no single style of veiling used, although most are of the draping type. A couple are cap-like, and most of this style also have draping material attached.
  2. Modest dress is evidenced throughout, with a conspicuous absence of jewelry and other finery. The example of the Samaritan woman at the well is given to stand in contrast with this, with her earrings, hairdo and uncovered head.
  3. Of interest is the representation of the majority of the departed saints with hands raised up in worship, for they were depicted as experiencing the joy of fellowship with their Lord in heaven.

I have, in some cases, had to outline the shape of the veils for greater clarity.

Veiled woman, early 3rd century

Catacomb of St. Peter and St. Marcellinus

Veiled women

Veiled woman

Veiled martyr; unveiled Samaritan woman

Veiled women; 5th century

Two veiled women; 5th century

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