The earliest examples of wedding rings are from Ancient Egypt. Western customs for wedding rings can be traced to ancient Rome and Greece, and were transmitted to the present through Christendom in Europe, which adapted the ancient customs.
Depending on culture, a wedding ring is typically worn on the base of the left or right ring finger. Many spouses wear their wedding rings day and night, causing an indentation in the skin that is visible even when the ring is removed. Another indication of their cultural importance is that wedding rings are among the few items that prison inmates and visitors are permitted to wear.
It is commonly believed that the first examples of wedding rings were found in ancient Egypt. Relics dating to 6,000 years ago, including papyrus scrolls, are evidence of the exchange of braided rings of hemp or reeds between spouses. Ancient Egypt considered the circle to be a symbol of eternity, and the ring served to signify the perpetual love of the spouses. This was also the origin of the custom of wearing the wedding ring on the ring finger of the left hand, because the ancient Egyptians believed that this finger enclosed a special vein that was connected directly to the heart, denominated in Latin the "Vena amoris".
The Western traditions of wedding rings can be traced to ancient Rome and Greece, and were first associated with the marital dowry and later with a promise of fidelity. The modern exchange of rings derived from the customs of Europe in the Middle Ages as part of Christendom. In the United States, wedding rings were initially only worn by wives, but became customary for both husbands and wives during the 20th century.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, European husbands bestowed a gimmel ring upon their wives. Similar to the puzzle ring, the gimmel ring consisted of two interlocking bands. The bride and groom both wore one of these bands after their engagement, and the two bands were reunited during the wedding ceremony. Subsequently, the wife wore the combined ring.
Different cultures used many other historical styles of wedding ring. For example, see the image below of the Byzantine ring depicting Christ uniting bride and groom. Also, in the Middle East the puzzle ring was a historical custom: this ring consisted of several pieces that joined together into a cohesive band when worn properly. The object of this style of ring was to render it very difficult to put on the finger properly such that, if the wife removed it, her husband would know. The fede ring, being a band consisting of two hands clasped in betrothal, is another historical custom of Europe that ostensibly dates from antiquity.
Limited gold content in the United KingdomEdit
In 1942 during the Second World War, British wartime restrictions on the manufacture of jewelry resulted in "utility" wedding rings that were limited to a maximum mass of two pennyweights, being slightly heavier than 3 grams, and were forged of 9 carat gold rather than the traditional 22 carat. The Regional Assayer Office hallmarked these rings, which guaranteed their gold content and compliance with the wartime regulations with a special utility mark adjacent to the mark for the year on the inside of the band; the hallmark resembled a capital "U" with the bottom curve absent or two parentheses enclosing a space, i. e., "( )".
The double-ring ceremony describes the exchange of wedding rings by and for both spouses. In several European nations such as the Nordic countries, it is common to exchange plain engagement rings of the same form for both sexes, and typically, an additional, more precious, and bejeweled wedding ring is given to the bride. In the nuptials, the groom's ring becomes a wedding ring also, and can be bestowed anew by the bride as a part of the wedding ceremony. The engagement is commonly a matter of agreement between the two, and the wedding rings are chosen together. Both engagement and wedding rings are worn on the left hand, the bride having both rings together. Occasionally, the groom receives a separate wedding ring. In Germany and Austria, both parties use engagement rings worn on the left hand. At the nuptials, a wedding ring is placed on the right hand, as in several east European nations, including Bulgaria, Poland, and Russia. This can be a new ring for the bride or both, or reusing the engagement rings. Any engagement rings can then remain on the left hand or be transferred to the right hand. In Germany, in has been customary for both the bride and the groom to wear a wedding ring since at least the 1870s and mentions of couples exchange rings during the wedding ceremony in the Netherlands can be found at least as far back as 1815. In Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Spain both sexes also wear engagement rings, and the groom's ring often becomes a wedding ring in the nuptial exchange ceremony.
Compositions and stylesEdit
In Western nations, wedding rings are often forged of rose, white, or yellow gold; palladium, platinum, argentium silver, or, more recently, silicone. The perpetuity of noble metals symbolizes the permanence of the marriage. Common engravings on the inside of the ring include the name of one's spouse, the names of both spouses, the date of the wedding, and/or a phrase of significance to the spouses. In many nations the engagement rings are plain while the bride's wedding ring commonly is bejeweled.
Some customs include the wedding ring as the final of a series of gifts, which also may include the engagement ring, traditionally given as a betrothal present. This custom was practiced in ancient Rome and is possibly much older.
Wedding ceremony customsEdit
In several traditions, the best man or maid of honour has the duty of keeping track of a couple's wedding rings and to produce them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the rings during the traditional marriage ceremony. In more elaborate weddings, a ring bearer (who is often part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the rings into the ceremony, sometimes on a special cushion.
Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians, the exchange of rings is not technically part of the wedding service, but rather are exchanged at the betrothal. It is always a two-ring set given to her by the priest or by the best man. The orthodox Christian Church of Greece has recently stopped performing betrothal blessings separately, as these were often non-committing, and now a betrothal ceremony is the initial part of the wedding service. In many families an informal blessing is now performed by the betrothed ones' parents in a family dinner that formalizes the betrothal. The ceremony of betrothal is now possibly performed immediately before the wedding (or "crowning" as it is more properly called), and the actual symbolic act of marriage is not the exchange of rings, but the crowning.
Historically, the wedding ring was connected to the exchange of valuables at the moment of the wedding rather than a symbol of eternal love and devotion, a sign of "earnest money". According to the 1549 edition of the Book of Common Prayer: after the words 'with this ring I thee wed' follow the words 'This gold and silver I give thee', at which point the groom was supposed to hand a leather purse filled with gold and silver coins to the bride. It is a relic of the times when marriage was a contract between families, not individual lovers. Both families were then eager to ensure the economic safety of the young couple. Sometimes it went as far as being a conditional exchange as this old (and today outdated) German formula shows: 'I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us, provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 Reichsthalers'.
Modernly, after marriage the wedding ring is worn on the hand on which it had been placed during the ceremony. By wearing rings on their fourth fingers, married spouses symbolically declare their life-long love for and fidelity to each other. This symbol has public utility, and is presently expected as a matter of tradition and etiquette, so much so that its absence is often interpreted as meaning that the person is single. Many spouses wear their wedding rings day and night. When needed because of hygiene or to avoid damage, they commonly wear their rings on a necklace.
Some cultures exchange additional rings: In some parts of India, Hindu women may wear a toe ring or "bichiya" instead of a finger ring, but the bichiya is increasingly worn in addition to a finger ring. In eastern India, primarily in West Bengal, women wear an iron bangle denominated a "loha". Increasingly, this bangle is plated with gold or silver to improve its appearance. In Romania, spouses celebrate their silver wedding anniversary, i. e., twenty-fifth anniversary, by exchanging silver wedding rings, which are worn on the fourth finger of the left hands along with their original, and usually gold, wedding rings.
Wedding ceremonies that use ringsEdit
- Church of England (Book of Common Prayer of 1662): "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
- Eastern Orthodoxy: In the Eastern Orthodox Service of Betrothal, the priest makes the Sign of the Cross with rings over the bride's head while declaring three times "The servant of God (Groom) is betrothed to the handmaid of God (Bride), in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen". Next, it is declared three times again over the bride's head with the names reversed, after which the rings are exchanged three times, either by the priest or best man. The priest asks God "to bless this putting on of rings with a heavenly blessing and that an Angel of the Lord will go before these Your servants, all the days of their life." In the Eastern Orthodox Church, wedding rings are traditionally worn on the right hand.
- Judaism: "You are consecrated to me with this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel." The groom declares this in Hebrew in Orthodox Judaism and both the bride and groom declare it in Reform Judaism.
- Roman Catholic Church: "N., take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Because the equality of the spouses is emphasized in the Roman Catholic Sacrament of Marriage, generally the bride and groom each give to the other a wedding ring and recite the above formula in turn.
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