Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wedding Rings : Origin, Customs & Much more


From the ancient Egyptians, rings and bracelets were plaited from reeds that grew beside the fertile Nile River where the biblical basket containing the baby Moses was found by the Egyptian princess. Initially, rings were made from vegetation but since it required frequent renewal, it was replaced by tougher materials such as bone or ivory, and leather.
The Egyptians believed that the veins on the third finger of the left hand traveled directly to the heart. However, at that time, rings were worn more for their decorative worth than their sentimental value.

From 332 BC - The Romans 

In 332 BC, after conquering Egypt, the armies of Alexander the Great continued to adopt the notion of this "vein of love" or veno amoris and eventually, passed it on to the Romans who took on far greater importance on the finger rings.
At the time of betrothal, and as a way of binding the future bride to her future husband, the groom's family gave a ring made from iron to her. During the days when marriage was more negotiation than love match, perhaps still practiced in other cultures today, the act of giving a ring was a show of the groom's goodwill. It also serves to protecting the future bride's rights in the face of possible home-wreckers.

The use of rings in wedding ceremonies is traced back to the early part of the fourth century. However, the first explicit description of the ring’s usage seems to come from Isidore of Seville, who became archbishop of that city in 595. He wrote: "The ring is given by the espouser to the espoused either for a sign of mutual fidelity or still more to join their hearts by this pledge; and therefore the ring is placed on the fourth finger because a certain vein, it is said, flows thence to the heart."

The belief that the fourth finger (counting from the thumb), has a vena amoris–a love vein running directly to the heart–is obviously pure superstition. The annular (ring) finger shares the same "route" to the heart as the other fingers. In spite of its superstitious origin, the custom of wearing the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand has prevailed in most Christian countries to this day.  

Early Pagan Practices

The practice of wearing a ring is also thought to stem from earlier pagan times when a man would encircle a likely woman in rope to ensure her spirit would remain under his command. Although the early Christians discarded most of the pagan customs, in 200 AD, they continued the Roman practice of the betrothal ring. The Christian betrothal rings have been found in the catacombs outside Rome. The use of a wedding ring in a marriage ceremony is first recorded in the early part of the fourth century.
During the Middle Ages, gold rings set with gems overtook iron as the most fashionable demonstration of eternal love.

13th Century Customs

In the early 1200s, Pope Innocent III decreed that a waiting period between betrothal and marriage should be observed. This created a practical need for the engagement ring. In 1217, the Bishop of Salisbury decreed: "Let no man put a ring or rush, or of any other material, upon the hands of young girls, by way of mock celebration for the purpose of easily seducing them."

16th Century Customs

The Puritans avoided the notion of wedding rings in the 1500s, as they perceived jewelry to be materialistic and frivolous. Instead, couples had to exchange more practical and useful wedding thimbles when they were married.
It was not until 1549, when King Edward VI of England officially declared the third finger as the "ring finger" and designated the left hand as the "marriage hand" in the Book of Common Prayer.

19th Century's Victorian Era

In 1840, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert handed out six dozen rings to guests, each engraved with the queen's profile, on their wedding day.

20th Century Wedding Rings

During World War II, many young soldiers chose to exchange rings with their bride so they could be reminded of their wife during the long separation.

21st Century Generation

In 2000, the world's largest gold ring is made in Saudi Arabia. It consists of more than 56 kilograms of gold.
Today, the engagement and wedding rings represent a mix of old customs, as a symbol of love and devotion, as they are of wealth, power and ownership.


Sunday Life Magazine, supplement of The Sydney Morning Herald

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