Category Archives: Pre-Vatican II Hats

Ariel Agemian: Armenian Catholic Painter

Ariel Agemian (1904-1963) is a name I was not familiar with, before today. But his paintings are beautiful.

His family was all killed in the 1915 mass genocide of Armenians by the new country of Turkey. (Yeah, nothing like blaming the Armenians for WWI, and stealing their lands and houses.)

But Agemian got out, and was raised in the Armenian community in Italy. He ended up also working in places like France and the US, doing both secular and religious paintings, as well as decorating churches.

His style is a nice blending of modern with traditional, East with West. I like his stuff a lot.

He was named a Knight of St. Gregory for his services to the Church. He did a lot of cardinals’ and bishops’ portraits, as well as being employed by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood to produce illustrations for various US Catholic books: My Daily Psalms, My Imitation of Christ, Christ in the Gospel, My Meditation on the Gospel, and My Mass. (Agemian’s illustrations were used to great effect in a stirring Holy Week video spot from EWTN, found on the linked page.)

Here’s the official website for his paintings.

“Oneness in Christ” is a wonderful painting of the reception of the Eucharist. (It also shows pre-Vatican II Catholic women in hats…. Yes, I do run this into the ground, but until people stop forgetting, it needs to be noted.)

His realistic recreation of the Face on the Shroud of Turin is great. I also like this sketch of an older version of the Blessed Mother.

I like his Pre-Raphaelitish painting of the Child Jesus in the Temple. Portraying Jesus as sitting on a wall, danglng His legs, is great fun as well as emphasizing His age.

Re: the young blond Christs that are in some of his paintings but not others — the official website attributes this to Agemian liking to paint his daughter Annig, who is a very blonde Armenian.

(And yes, there were occasionally blond and red-headed Jews and Middle Easterners, even back in the day. One of the Egyptian stereotypes about the Sea Peoples was that they were redheads. The House of David was supposed to have a lot of redheads, Esau was notoriously a redhead, and even the Neanderthal bones found in Israel included some redheads. It should also be noted that a lot of folks are blond as kids, but end up with light or dark brown hair after adolescence. My neighbor’s son and my own older brother were two of these. So Agemian wasn’t being unhistorical, per se — he was making a now-unpopular artistic/symbolic choice.)

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Pre-Vatican II Hats in the Austro-Hungarian Empire

Hungarian ladies wearing wreaths to Mass, at the 1866 coronation of Franz Josef I as King of Hungary. These were fashionable in the 1860’s all over Europe. You’ll see similar ones in pictures of Queen Victoria standing under Prince Albert’s Christmas tree with the kids.

(Modern pictures of Hungarian ladies wearing traditional embroidered headbands and crown-like hats.)

Here’s a rare picture of Austro-Hungarian ladies wearing veils, from the coronation of Franz Josef I as Holy Roman Emperor. These are the same kind of fashionable veils worn by Queen Victoria in the late 1840’s.

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Royal Catholic Bridesmaids Wearing Hats

To avoid making people scroll down for the hat portion of my post on the imprisoned Queen of England, morganatic marriages, and the PITA in-laws you got if you married into the Austro-Hungarian imperial family, I’m going to repost the hat portion here.

Here’s a picture of the marriage of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to Countess Sophie Chotek, a Hungarian noblewoman of high birth. Because of their unequal (though high) rank, their marriage was severely opposed by Emperor Franz Josef. After most of the crowned heads of Europe and the Pope interceded for the couple, the Emperor finally acceded, but only under the condition that it be a morganatic marriage where Sophie would never become empress and the children could not succeed to any titles.

The Emperor refused to attend or let most of the relations attend, so the Nuptial Mass was celebrated in the tiny Reichstadt Castle chapel. But the celebrants were the parish priest with two friars as deacon and subdeacon. So they got a Nuptial Mass said for them (a sign that there was no scandal in God’s eyes), the Mass itself was in full splendor, and everything showed that the Church regarded it as a true marriage of equals with nothing morganatic about it.

The picture comes from an illustrated journal of the day, The Sphere. (Note that the Catholic archduchesses all wore hats to Mass.)

Caption: “THE WEDDING OF THE ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND AND AND THE COUNTESS SOPHIE CHOTEK AT REICHSTADT.”

“The Archduke Franz Ferdinand duly wedded the Countess Sophie Chotek, the choice of his heart, at the Imperial castle of Reichstadt in Bohemia last Sunday week. The service was conducted by the parish priest, assisted by two Capuchin friars The little wedding procession, consisting of thirty-one persons, proceeded from the Archduchess Maria Theresa’s drawing room through the billiard room, where the Emperor Franz Josef and the Czar Alexander II met in conference in 1876, to the little chapel, to which no one else was admitted. First in the procession walked the bridegroom with his stepmother the Archduchess Maria Theresa, and his two half-sisters, the Archduchesses Maria Immaculata and Elizabeth, and his two sisters; and after then the bride, accompanied by her uncle, Prince Löwenstein, and Count Charles Chotek, head of the family. The Countess wore a white silk dress trimmed with myrtle blossoms, and on her forehead a diamond coronet, a wedding gift from the Archduke. Behind her came her brother, her sisters, and their husbands, and two or three court dignitaries. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s brothers were not present. From Reichstadt the bride and bridegroom proceeded to Konopischt Castle in Bohemia, a favourite estate of the Archduke’s, where they are passing their honeymoon. Our picture is by the one artist present (a Viennese).”

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In the Old Days, Most US Catholic Women Wore Hats

Scroll down and follow the links for photographic proof.

St. Joseph’s, Ravenna, NE, early 1900’s. A pretty small picture.

1919 outdoor Mass during the Spanish influenza epidemic, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mill Valley, CA. Hats. (And face masks.)

St. Jarlath, Oakland, CA. Overhead picture of Mass in 1954 and church steps picture of female parishioners in 1921.

St. Adalbert’s, South Bend, IN, 1927. Hats.

1929 front porch Mass, Reynoldston, NY. Hats.

Overhead shot of a Mass in Massachusetts, 1930. Hats as far as the eye can see.

1942 Catholic Mass, Chicago IL. Kerchiefs and scarves. Looks like it was cold. A 1940’s Mass at St. Martha’s, Sarasota, FL. Hats.

Nuptial Mass at St. John the Evangelist’s, Cambridge, MA. Pre-1956, but date unknown.

Woman in knit tam receiving Communion at the rail. Date unknown. (UPDATE: Link broken. I’ll keep this here for archival purposes.)

Church steps picture from St. Joseph’s, Sturgeon Bay WI. Women in hats.

“The Holy Communion”: Currier and Ives print. Shows French or Irish immigrants and a communion cloth. Women wearing cloaks. Another print, also called “The Holy Communion.” Looks like a nuptial Mass. Woman wearing bonnet.

I keep grinding away at this. Yes. And I will keep on, until people realize the historical facts. In Italian, Portuguese, and Hispanic ethnic parishes (and Filipino, Japanese, and Korean ones, since they were heavily influenced by Hispanic missionaries), sure the ladies wore lace veils and even real mantillas. But in most of the US, pre-Vatican II Catholic women wore a wondrous variety of Sunday hats, sometimes augmented by kerchiefs, shawls, hairbows, and the like. Lace chapel veils (what most people mean by “mantilla”) didn’t become widely popular until the beehive hairdo.

If you like ’em and wear ’em, that’s fine. If you think every Catholic woman should dress like a 1961 Jackie Kennedy reenactment society, you’re weirding me out. They are one little shard of Catholic tradition, not the Law and the Prophets.

What occurs to me is that, since people see so many fewer sisters and nuns in habits, they are unconsciously transferring some of their feeling for nuns over to lace chapel veils. The current weird iconic-ness of Amish women may be part of this also. (We’ve got tons of Mennonites and related churches living close to this neck of the woods; and they’re just normal people, not icons. Seeing them on romance novel covers not written for them is like somebody publicizing love-muffin Moravian Brethren or something.)

Bonus link: Treatise on the Catholic Mass showing Elizabethan women at Mass wearing “French hoods,” those little coif things. It’s a big church, so more than one Mass is going on at the same time.

Illustrations of Penal times Masses in Ireland held in secret. Women in shawls and kerchiefs.

UPDATE: I know it’s traditional to get testy during Lent on the Internet, folks, and I know we’re all sad and grumpy about the Pope’s resignation. But tone it down a tad. There’s nothing wrong with the whole veil thing per se. It’s the oversimplification and the misinformation I don’t like.

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The Old White Veil Rule

Talking to my mom this morning, I mentioned the recent comments on Father Z’s blog about people in some traditional Latin Mass communities having the custom that single women wear white lace “veils” and married women wear black lace veils.

(This sort of simple identification custom is very useful for a small community, but it’s also the sort of thing which immediately screams “New tradition!” I mean, what do you do when people wear purple veils or blue veils or rainbow veils? Or what if they wear solid or print fabric veils or scarves? It also obviously discourages the wearing of hats…. Besides, it’s a bit creepy to advertise marital status with your head instead of your ring finger. But I digress.)

The important bit is that my mom was really unhappy about the idea that anybody was wearing white veils in church. Why? Because it’s after Labor Day! “No white after Labor Day” applied back then to veils as well as all other clothing. (Unless you were wearing a habit and had escaped such things.) Naturally, this would only have been an American rule, although I believe “no white in the winter” was/is a fashion rule in many countries with cold climates. (Dirt. Coaldust. So white was for cool summer clothes.)

Anyway, since all of Father Z’s Hispanic and Italian combox members disclaimed all knowledge of this tradition, I was wondering if this married/single color thing had been some kind of whitebread American Catholic insta-tradition from the bouffant days before Vatican II. So I asked. My mother disclaimed all knowledge of such a tradition and said that none of the teaching nuns had ever told them any such thing, and basically expressed dislike for the very idea. (Which is pretty much the reaction you’d expect from my mother to a new tradition! If I think something’s vaguely hinky, you can bet it strikes my mom about five hundred times worse.) 🙂

OTOH, my mom did indicate that she was somewhat open to people wearing hats/veils in church again. That is, she didn’t swear eternal hatred of headcoverings today, and said that she’d far rather dig out her veils than her hats, because the veils and scarves wouldn’t crush her permed hair. 🙂

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Catholic Ladies in Hats. (After Vatican II, Yet.)

Contra all the younger people who think that tradition automatically equals lace veils and mantillas, here’s a picture from 1965 of a typical bunch of American Catholic ladies dressed up for Mass. (They’re welcoming Pope Paul VI to New York in 1965, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral; but the level of formality is pretty typical of what I vaguely remember Catholic ladies wearing on Sunday in Ohio in the early 1970’s.) If you click on the photo to see it enlarged, you will notice a lot of nice hats and simple scarves on the female half of the congregation, but not many lace veils at all. Some women don’t seem to be wearing anything on their heads, but they may be wearing gauzy see-through scarves, which were pretty common. Here’s a smaller shot that gives more of a close-up when enlarged; you’ll see some winter hats too. Another crowd shot of the Pope leaving – you can see some faces here.

But before Vatican II, here’s a huge crowd of be-wimpled nuns and be-hatted Catholic ladies at the Budapest Eucharistic Congress in 1938. By Margaret Bourke-White, no less.

This is not to say that it’s wrong to wear veils to church. It’s just modelling another part of tradition than what was done in my part of the US, or in most chunks of Europe.

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Don’t Fear the Hat!

I’m sitting here awake at 4 in the morning, watching Catholic Compass on EWTN. A bunch of Catholic movie stars are saying a rosary in a Hollywood church, interspersed with dramatizations of the Glorious Mysteries, and then each Mystery capped off with a song. The year of production is 1950, I believe.

During the church scenes, would you care to guess how many girls or women are wearing veils?

One. Said veil is part of her hat, and is apparently made of net that swirls up into the air above her head.

How many women are wearing every kind of cute little hats perched on the very top of their heads?

Most of them.

How many are wearing big garden hats?

Only one.

And now one of the Hollywood ladies, who has a much higher voice than me, is singing “The Holy City”! Heh! Makes me feel a bit better about my ignominious pre-Mass performance of the thing on Palm Sunday. It’s higher than I thought. (And she too is wearing a hat. A nice sensible one.)

I say it again: Most American Catholic women did not wear veils, before Vatican II, until the beehive hairstyle came into fashion and hats went out. If you really want to look traditional, instead of looking like the sixties, do like the old ladies and get yourself a church hat.

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