The wedding ring is a vivid symbol of love, partnership and unity that is recognisable the world over. No single other object symbolises marriage more than the wedding ring, yet the exchange and wearing of the rings is a custom that married couples take for granted without even questioning why it is done. This article takes a closer look at wedding ring history and explores the origins of the traditional wedding band.
Wedding Ring History - Where It All Began
Whilst some would argue that wedding ring history dates back to Neanderthal times, when tokens were exchanged as a sign of friendship, the consensus of opinion takes us to North Africa. For it was in North Africa, or within Ancient Egypt to be more precise, that the first recorded exchange of wedding rings took place, some five thousand years ago.
In Egypt, ring-money (used prior to the introduction of coins) or hemp, twisted into a ring, was given to the Bride and placed on the fourth finger of her left hand (the one beside the little finger). The ring shape was linked to the supernatural, with people believing that the continuous band led to everlasting love, whilst the use of ring-money indicated that the Bride was endowed with her husband’s wealth (or lack of!)
Wedding Ring History - In Ancient Rome
Later on, in Roman times, a ring’s acceptance by a lady was viewed as a binding, legal agreement and a symbol that she was no longer 'available'. Neither gold nor silver was used, but instead the Romans favoured the romantic metal of iron with it's world famous ability to rust – what a loving bunch they were! At the same time in Ancient Rome, another trend was emerging – this time with key rings. As soon as the Bride had been 'carried over the threshold', she would be presented with a ring with a key on it. The key would be used to access a form of safety deposit box where the Groom’s valuables were kept. The presentation of the key was seen as a token of confidence in the relationship and that a belief that all that they had, they shared.
Wedding Ring History - Through The Years
As time passed, the popularity of rings went through peaks and troughs. From the Puritans, who believed that wedding rings were objects of Satan, through to folk in the middle ages, who wrote the Book of Common Prayer, defined wedding vows, and decreed on which finger the ring was to be worn. It was around the same time that the smallest ever wedding ring was believed to have been made for King Henry VIII’s daughter, Princess Mary, who married to the Dauphin of France. She was just two years old at the time yet she still married a toy boy – he was only 8 months old (it's kind of sweet, but very odd if you know what we mean!)
Wedding Ring History - In Modern Times
Other than a vast improvement in quality and choice, little has changed in wedding rings since Tudor and Elizabethan times, although there has been one notable change when it come to male wedding rings.
The practice of men wearing wedding rings is a relatively new one. Pre-1940 only 15% of Grooms would receive and wear ring from their Bride, but when World War II broke out, the figure shot up to 60%. The Korean War of the 1950’s resulted in figures hitting 70% and nowadays virtually every Groom will receive a ring with 80-90% of them going on to wear them on a regular basis. War separates couples, and as the wedding ring symbolises marriage and helps to remind us of loved ones, the male wedding band quickly established itself as a gesture of love and affection that has been carried on to the modern era.
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