By Alexis Wilson-Barrett
The ceremonial act of marriage dates back thousands of years. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of associated traditions, which are still practised and somewhat expected during modern day British weddings. This week, as part of our ‘Wedding Season’, we are focusing our attention on the history and reasons behind some of the popular traditions associated with the Bride.
The Engagement Ring
The presentation of a diamond engagement ring dates back to 1477 when Archduke Maximillian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy. Prior to this, a simple gold band was worn by the bride-to-be to signify her ownership. Engagement Rings are traditionally placed on the fourth finger of the left hand, due to the 17th-century belief that it there is a vein present in this finger, which leads directly to the heart.
Ancient Roman law stated that there were to be 10 witnesses at a matrimonial ceremony. It is from this, that the tradition of Bridesmaids and Ushers derives. The witnesses would dress in similar attire to that of the Bride and Groom in order to confuse any supernatural beings whose intentions were to harm them. In Medieval England and France, the witnesses were given an additional responsibility. The act of ‘Fingering the Stocking’ meant that what we now call bridesmaids and ushers, were required to check the stockings of the newlywed for evidence of consummation taking place.
Another tradition dating back to Roman times is the veil. This was originally a red sheet of cloth which would cover the bride entirely to make it appear as though she were on fire, thus warning off any evil spirits which may have been in attendance. Although the design of the veil altered dramatically over the next few hundred years, the reason for its usage remained the same: to disguise the bride from evil spirits. The lifting of the veil, however, symbolises the change in ownership from the father of the bride to the groom. Many modern brides choose to eliminate this tradition from their ceremony, due to what it represents.
Brides have not always worn white on their wedding day. Queen Victoria was the first notable figure to wear white and this was simply because it was the colour of her favourite lace. The Victorian obsession with purity meant that others followed suit and the wearing of a white dress became expected. Prior to this, one would just wear their ‘best dress’ which was often the same one that was worn to church on a Sunday.
Something Old, Something New…
‘Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue and a sixpence in your shoe.”
Originating in the 19th century, this English rhyme dictating what a bride should add to her attire on her wedding day, still very much influences the modern day bride. The old and the blue items were supposed to protect the bride against an evil curse of infertility. The borrowed item was often an item of underwear borrowed from a woman who already borne children, with the intent of fooling the curse-giver into believing that the bride was already fertile so the curse could not be placed. The meanings behind the specified items have changed somewhat, but women who are close to a bride will often present her with one of these as a token of good luck.
Next week, we will introduce you the some of the traditions associated with the groom. As you may expect, the symbolism for these will be vastly different to those associated with the bride. Stay tuned!