The View from the Sacristy: Veils

March 26, 2014 Comments Off on The View from the Sacristy: Veils

veilsIf you have ever been in our sacristy, you know that we store our vestments in large drawers that allow the vestment to lay completely flat. In this way our vestments can be stored and not suffer from the stress of gravity from hanging on a hanger. We also use these drawers to store some non-vestment items: the altar linens (corporals, purificators and lavabo towels), the banners (St Luke’s Ox, the Agnus Dei, and the Virgin and Child), a Pall (the shroud used to cover a coffin), and of course the Lenten veils.  Every Shrove Tuesday evening the altar guild gathers to “Lenten” the church.  We cover every image in the church and the chapel with veils.

In researching the history of Lenten veils, I did discover that covering sacred images, icons and crosses, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday is part of the Sarum tradition.  In the Roman tradition, sacred images are only covered from Passion Sunday until Holy Saturday. So it’s a six-week covering versus a one-week covering.

In the church-proper, the veils are the same color as the walls so that if you glace at the place where the icon of Our Lady of the Sign usually hangs you might just notice that the icon seems to be gone and not that a veil is hanging in front of it.

In the chapel the veils do not match the color of the walls but are made up of the unbleached linen with squares of purple and ox blood (a very dark red). I always think of these veils as being made up of all the colors of Lent: the Lenten array of Sarum, the Roman purple  and the ox blood of Holy Week.

I have always asked myself why we do this. Now, as an Episcopalian I know that if you do something more than once it makes it a tradition, and so no real explanation is necessary or really wanted, but since Lent is a serious, somber time of self-reflection the veils do give the church and chapel an appropriate look for the season. It is also a fast from the beauty of the icons and other covered images which helps us long for them after not seeing them and enjoying them for the whole of Lent, when they will look even brighter and more beautiful in Easter’s Light.

– Sean Scheller

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