I believe in the power of relics.
The wedding veil I wore in 1991 had been in my mother’s family since 1859, when Mary Mulligan wore it for her wedding to Robert Green. It was then put away for forty-three years until 1902, when Caroline Green, granddaughter of the first bride, married Articus Johns. It was worn three times in the teens and 1920s, twice during World War II (once just ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbor), and with regularity throughout the 1950s and 1960s. My mother wore it when she married my father in 1958, a mere three months after they had met. They are approaching their forty-ninth wedding anniversary.
I was the sixteenth bride to wear the veil in 132 years. I find it difficult to look at the veil and grasp that human hands made it. Its filmy weight seems to have sprung from woodland fairies instead of Belgian lacemakers. The bridal references in its astonishingly detailed patterns are glorious and profuse. There are pomegranates, ferns, airy sprays of what look like spring beauties and bluets, curvaceous roses and tulips, a distinctly churchlike arch-and-spandrel motif, and an undulating length of interlocking rings.
Just before my outdoor wedding in eastern Ohio, I stood under hemlocks and maples, the sun striking the leaves above to glowing green and chartreuse. As my father and my sister draped the veil’s folds over my shoulders, I felt myself step into an invisible procession— four Marys, two Margarets, three Elizabeths, two Catherines and more—of women who had had the privilege to adorn themselves with this delicate relic. It was a reminder of a bygone era when veils were meant to cover blushing faces, not make fashion statements.
Since then several other cousins have worn the veil as well, each annealing her love of tradition with her need to be an individual in this line of brides. The veil lets us join hands across the years—across centuries—and we each rejoice to see another bride enter this privileged circle.
Wedding practices have changed so much over the years—not many of us get married merely in our “Sunday best” anymore, or serve our guests only cake and punch. To have this family veil make its shimmering, repeated appearance in so many family weddings through three centuries gives us each a tangible tie to each other. In this modern era where so much seems either new or disposable—or both—the family veil is a relic, and a treasure.
For all its fairy magic, this bridal veil is real, and substantive, and connects us all in ways that resound ever clearer as the years close behind us. It is family. It is history. It captures within its filmy length nearly two dozen tales of hope and new beginnings, and it is powerful and precious to all of us.
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