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Spanish women wearing the mantilla during Holy Week in Seville, Spain

A mantilla is a lace or silk veil or shawl worn over the head and shoulders, often over a high comb called a peineta, popular with women in Spain.[1] It is now particularly associated as a pious religious practice among women in the Roman Catholic Church, worn as a Christian headcovering.[2]


The lightweight ornamental mantilla came into use in the warmer regions of Spain towards the end of the 16th century, and ones made of lace became popular with women in the 17th and 18th centuries, being depicted in portraits by Diego Velázquez and Goya. In the 19th century, Queen Isabella II actively encouraged its use. The practice diminished after her abdication in 1870, and by 1900 the use of the mantilla became largely limited to formal occasions such as bullfights, Holy Week and weddings.

The speculation that it was originally worn by women of the Andalusia region of Spain, allegedly due to Muslim influences, is unsubstantiated. From the 16th century onwards, as Spaniards settled in Mexico, Central and South America, they brought the traditional cultural custom of wearing the mantilla with them.

Peineta crafted of Mother of Pearl

In Spain, women still wear mantillas during Holy Week (the week leading to Easter), bullfights and weddings. Also a black mantilla is traditionally worn when a woman has an audience with the Pope and a white mantilla is appropriate for a church wedding, but can be worn at other ceremony occasions as well.


A peineta, similar in appearance to a large comb, is used to hold up a mantilla. This ornamental comb, usually in tortoiseshell color, originated in the 19th century. It consists of a convex body and a set of prongs and is often used in conjunction with the mantilla. It adds the illusion of extra height to the wearer and also holds the hair in place when worn during weddings, processions and dances. It is a consistent element of some regional costumes of Valencia and Andalusia and it is also often found in costumes used in the Moorish and Gypsy influenced music and dance called Flamenco.

In Roman Catholicism[edit]

Based on an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, it has been traditional in many countries for women to wear some form of Christian headcovering in church. The light mantilla was often preferred to the more cumbersome hat for its charm.[3] The custom was rarely observed in recent decades but is making something of a comeback in recent years.[citation needed]

Papal protocol calls for mantillas to be worn by women, especially Catholics, when received in formal audience by the Pope. On such occasions, black mantillas were worn by Laura Bush in 2006, members of Grand Ducal Family of Luxembourg at the papal inauguration of 2005, Michelle Obama in 2009, and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1962.[4] By contrast, Irish President Mary Robinson,[5][6] Soviet Union First Lady Raisa Gorbachev, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and German Chancellor Angela Merkel all met popes without wearing mantillas. Others who have worn black mantillas include Yulia Tymoshenko, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, first ladies from Malaysia, Jordan, Iran, and Lebanon and ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.

Laura Bush wearing a silk lace mantilla at a meeting between her husband George W. Bush and Pope John Paul II at Castel Gandolfo

In accordance with what is known as the privilège du blanc, whereby Catholic female monarchs and the consorts of Catholic monarchs wear white when meeting the Pope, while black is traditionally, though now only optionally, worn by others, Queen Sofia of Spain wore a white mantilla at the requiem mass for John Paul II and at the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

In popular culture[edit]

In the British television soap Hollyoaks, Catholic character Carmel Valentine wore a mantilla while in mourning for her deceased sister, Tina Reilly. Mimi Maguire from Channel 4 drama-comedy Shameless also wore one. Lady Gaga wore a mantilla in the video for her song, Alejandro. In the Disney feature Cars Toons: Mater's Tall Tales, a scene features Mater as a bullfighter, while in the crowd, two ladies wearing mantillas swoon over his heroic bullfighting.

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