~ White Wedding Dress and Veil ~
16th Century England and France
by Charles Panati
White has denoted purity and virginity for centuries. But in ancient Rome, yellow was the socially accepted color for a bride’s wedding attire, and a veil of flame-hued yellow, the flammeum, covered her face. The bridal veil, in fact, predates the wedding dress by centuries. And the facial veil itself predates the bridal veil.
Historians of fashion claim that the facial veil was strictly a male invention, and one of the oldest devices designed to keep married and single women humble, subservient, and hidden from other males. Although the veil at various times throughout its long history also served as a symbol of elegance and intrigue, modesty an mourning, it is one article of feminine attire that women may never have created for themselves.
Originating in the East at least four thousand years ago, veils were worn throughout life by unmarried women as a sign of modesty and by married women as a sign of submissiveness to their husbands. In Muslim religions, a woman was expected to cover her head and part of her face whenever she left the house. As time passed, rules (made by men) became stricter and only a woman’s eyes were permitted to remain uncovered-a concession to necessity, since ancient veils were of heavy weaves, which interfered with vision.
Customs were less severe and formal in Northern European countries. Only abducted brides wore veils. Color was unimportant, concealment paramount. Among the Greeks and the Romans by fourth century B.C., sheer, translucent veils were the vogue at weddings. They were pinned to the hair or held in place by ribbons, and yellow had become the preferred color-for veil and wedding gown. During the Middle Ages, color ceased to be a primary concern, emphasis was on the richness of fabric and decorative embellishments.
In England and France, the practice of wearing white at weddings was first commented on by writers in the sixteenth century. White was a visual statement of a bride’s virginity-so obvious public statement that it did not please everyone. Clergyman, for instance, felt that virginity , a marriage prerequisite, should not be blatantly advertised. For the next hundred and fifty years, British newspapers and magazines carried the running controversy fired by white wedding ensembles.
By the late eighteenth century, white had become the standard wedding color. Fashion historians claim this was due mainly to the fact that most gowns of the time were white; that white was the color of formal fashion. In 1813, the first fashion plate of a white wedding gown and veil appeared in the influential French Journal des Dames. From that point onward, the style was set.
~ Wedding Rings: 2800 B.C. Egypt ~
by Charles Panati
The origin and significance of the wedding ring is much disputed. One school of thought maintains that the modern ring is symbolic of the fetters used by barbarians to tether a bride to her captor’s home. If that be true, today’s double ring ceremonies fittingly express the newfound equality of the sexes.
The other school of thought focuses on the first actual bands exchanged in a marriage ceremony. A finger ring was first used in the Third Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, around 2800 B.C. To the Egyptians, a circle, having no beginning or end, signified eternity-for which marriage was binding.
Rings of gold were the most highly valued by wealthy Egyptians, and later Romans. Among numerous two-thousand-year-old rings unearthed at the site of Pompeii is one of unique design that would become popular throughout Europe centuries later, and in America during the Flower Child era of the ’60’s and ’70’s. That extant gold marriage ring (of the type now called a friendship ring) has two carved hands clasped in a handshake.
There is evidence that young Roman men of moderate financial means often went for broke for their future brides. Tertullian, a Christian priest writing in the second century A.D., observed that “most women know nothing of gold except the single marriage ring placed on one finger.”
In public, the average Roman housewife proudly wore her gold band, but at home, according to Tertullian, she “wore a ring of iron.”
In earlier centuries, a ring’s design often conveyed meaning. Several extant Roman bands bear a miniature key welded to one side. Not that the key sentimentally suggested a bride had unlocked her husband’s heart. Rather, in accordance with Roman law, it symbolized a central tenet of the marriage contract: that a wife was entitled to half her husband’s wealth, and that she could, at will, help herself to a bag of grain, a roll of linen, or whatever rested in the storehouse. Two millennia would drag on before that civil attitude would reemerge.
~ Wedding March: 19th Century England ~
by Charles Panati
Below is the history of the Wedding March.
The traditional church wedding features two bridal marches, by two different classical composers, the precursor of the wedding march.
The bride walks down the aisle to the majestic, moderately paced music, of the “Bridal Chorus” from Richard Wagner’s 1848 opera Lohengrin. The newlyweds exit to the more jubilant, upbeat strains of the “Wedding March” from Felix Mendelssohn’s 1826 A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The custom dates back to the royal marriage, in 1858, of Victoria, princess of Great Britain and empress of Germany, to Prince Fredrick William of Prussia. Victoria, eldest daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, selected the music herself. A patron of the arts, she valued the works of Mendelssohn and practically venerated those of Wagner. Given the British penchant for copying the monarchy, soon brides throughout the Isles, nobility and commoners alike, were marching to Victoria’s drummer, establishing a Western wedding tradition.
~ Wedding Cake: 1st Century B.C. Rome ~
by Charles Panati
The wedding cake was not always eaten by the bride; it was originally thrown at her. It developed as one of many fertility symbols integral to the marriage ceremony. For until modern times, children were expected to follow the marriage as faithfully as night follows day; and almost as frequently.
Wheat, long a symbol of fertility and prosperity, was one of the earliest grains to ceremoniously shower new brides; and unmarried young women were expected to scramble for the grains to ensure their own betrothals, as they do today for the bridal bouquet.
Early Romans bakers, whose confectionery skills were held in higher regard than the talents of the city’s great builders, altered the practice. Around 100 B.C., they began baking the wedding wheat into small, sweet cakes-to be eaten, not thrown. Wedding guests, however, loath to abandon the fun of pelting the bride with wheat confetti, often tossed the cakes.
According to the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, author of De rerum natura (“On the Nature of Things”), a compromise ritual developed in which the wheat cakes were crumbled over the bride’s head. And as a further symbol of fertility, the couple was required to eat a portion of the crumbs, a custom known as confarreatio, or “eating together.” After exhausting the supply of cakes, guests were presented with handfuls of confetto-“sweet meats”- a sort of confetti-like mixture of nuts, dried fruits, and honeyed almonds, sort of an ancient trail mix.
The practice of eating crumbs of small wedding cakes spread throughout Western Europe. In England, the crumbs were washed down with a special ale. The brew itself was referred to as bryd ealu, or “bride’s ale”, which evolved into the word “bridal”.
The wedding cake rite, in which tossed food symbolized an abundance of offspring, changed during lean times in the Middle Ages. Raw wheat or rice once again showered a bride. The once-decorative cakes became simple biscuits or scones to be eaten. And guests were encouraged to bake their own biscuits and bring them to the ceremony. Leftovers were distributed among the poor. Ironically, it was these austere practices that with time, ingenuity, and French contempt for all things British led to the most opulent of wedding adornments: the multi tiered cake.
The legend is this: Throughout the British Isles, it had become customary to pile the contributed scones, biscuits, and other baked goods atop one another into an enormous heap. The higher the better, for the height augured prosperity for the couple, who exchanged kisses over the mound. In the 1660’s, during the reign of King Charles II, a French chef (whose name, unfortunately, is lost to history) was visiting London and observed the cake-piling ceremony. Appalled at the haphazard manner in which the British stacked baked goods, often to have them tumble, he conceived the idea of transforming the mountain of bland biscuits into an iced, multi tiered cake sensation. British papers of the day are supposed to have deplored the French excess, but before the close of the century, British bakers were offering the very same magnificent creations.
~ Throwing Shoes at the Bride ~
Antiquity Asia and Europe
by Charles Panati
Today old shoes are tied to a newlyweds’ cars and no one asks why. Why, of all things, shoes? And why old shoes?
Originally, shoes were only one of many objects tossed at a bride to wish her a bounty of children. In fact, shoes were preferred over the equally traditional wheat and rice because from ancient times the foot was a powerful phallic symbol. In several cultures, particularly among the Eskimos, a woman experiencing difficulty conceiving was instructed to carry a piece of an old shoe with her at all times. The preferred shoes for throwing at a bride-and later for tying to the newlyweds’ car-were old ones strictly for economic reasons. Shoes have never been inexpensive.
This, the throwing of shoes, rice, cake crumbs, and confetti, as well as the origin of the wedding cake, are all expressions for a fruitful union. It is not without irony that in our age, with such a strong emphasis on delayed childbearing and family planning, the modern wedding ceremony is replete with customs meant to induce maximum fertility.
~ Marriage Banns: 8th Century, Europe ~
by Charles Panati
During European feudal times, all public announcements concerning deaths, taxes, or births were called “banns”. Today we use the term exclusively for an announcement that two people propose to marry. That interpretation began as a result of an order by Charlemagne, king of the Franks, who on Christmas Day in A.D. 800 was crowned Emperor of the Romans, marking the birth of the Holy Roman Empire.
Charlemagne, with a vast region to rule, had a practical medical reason for instituting marriage banns.
Among rich and poor alike, a child’s parentage was not always clear; an extramarital indiscretion could lead to a half-brother and a half-sister marrying, and frequently did. Charlemagne, alarmed by the high rate of sibling marriages, and the subsequent genetic damage to the offspring, issued an edict throughout his unified kingdom: All marriages were to be publicly proclaimed at least seven days prior to the ceremony. To avoid consanguinity between the prospective bride and groom, any person with information that the man and woman were related as brother or sister, or as half-siblings, was ordered to come forth. The practice proved so successful that it was widely endorsed by all faiths.
~ The Honeymoon ~
by Charles Panati
There is a vast difference between the original meaning of “honeymoon” and its present-day connotation – a blissful, much-sought seclusion as prelude to married life. The words antecedent, the ancient Norse hjunottsmanathr, is, we’ll see, cynical in meaning, and the seclusion is bespeaks was once anything but blissful.
When a man from a Northern European community abducted a bride from a neighboring village, it was imperative that he take her into hiding for a period of time. Friends bade him safety, and his whereabouts were known only to his best man. When the bride’s family abandoned their search, he returned to his own people. At least, that is a popular explanation offered by folklorists for the origin of the honeymoon; honeymoon meant hiding. For couples whose affections were mutual, the daily chores and hardships of village life did not allow for the luxury of days or weeks of blissful idleness.
The Scandinavian word for “honeymoon” derives in part from an ancient Northern European custom. Newlyweds, for the first month of married life, drank a daily cup of honeyed wine called mead. Both the drink and the practice of stealing brides are part of the history of Attila, king of the Asiatic Huns from A.D. 433 to 453. The warrior guzzled tankards of the alcoholic distillate at his marriage in 450 to the Roman princess Honoria, sister of Emperor Valentinian III. Attila abducted her from a previous marriage and claimed her for his own – along with laying claim to the western half of the Roman Empire. Three years later, at another feast, Attila’s unquenchable passion for mead led to an excessive consumption that induced vomiting, stupor, coma, and his death.
While the “honey” in the word “honeymoon” derives straightforwardly from the honeyed wine mead, the “moon” stems from a cynical inference. To Northern Europeans, the term “moon” connoted the celestial body’s monthly cycle; its combination with “honey” suggested that all moons or months of married life were not as sweet as the first. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, British prose writers and poets frequently employed the Nordic interpretation of honeymoon as a waxing and waning of marital affection.
~ Ring Finger: 3rd Century B.C. Greece ~
by Charles Panati
The early Hebrews placed the wedding ring on the index finger. In India, nuptial rings were worn on the thumb. The Western custom of placing a wedding ring on the “third” finger (not counting the thumb) began with the Greeks, through carelessness in cataloguing human anatomy.
Greek physicians in the third century B.C. believed that a certain vein, the “vein of love”, ran from the “third finger” directly to the heart. It became the logical digit to carry a ring symbolizing an affair of the heart.
The Romans, plagiarizing Greek anatomy charts, adopted the ring practice unquestioningly. They did attempt to clear up the ambiguity surrounding exactly what finger constituted the third, introducing the phrase “the finger next to the least”. This also became the Roman physician’s “healing finger”, used to stir mixtures of drugs. Since the finger’s vein supposedly ran to the heart, any potentially toxic concoction would be readily recognized by a doctor “in his heart” before being administered to a patient.
The Christians continued this ring-finger practice, but worked their way across the hand to the vein of love. A groom first placed the ring on the top of the bride’s index finger, with the words “In the name of the Father.” Then, praying “In the name of the Son,” he moved the ring to her middle finger, and finally, with the concluding words “and of the Holy Spirit, Amen,” to the third finger. This was also known as the Trinitarian formula.
In the East, the Orientals did not approve of finger rings, believing them to be merely ornamental, lacking social symbolism or religious significance.
~ Diamond Engagement Ring: 15th Century Venice ~
by Charles Panati
Here is the history of the diamond engagement rings.
A Venetian wedding document dated 1503 lists “one marrying ring having diamond.” The gold wedding ring of one Mary of Modina, it was among the early betrothal rings that featured a diamond setting. They began a tradition that probably is forever.
The Venetians were the first to discover that the diamond is one of the hardest, most enduring substances in nature, and that fine cutting and polishing releases its brilliance. Diamonds, set in bands of silver and gold, became popular for betrothal rings among wealthy Venetians toward the close of the fifteenth century. Rarity and cost limited their rapid proliferation throughout Europe, but their intrinsic appeal guaranteed them a future. By the seventeenth century, the diamond ring had become the most popular, sought-after statement of a European engagement.
One of history’s early diamond engagement rings was also its smallest, worn by a two-year-old bride-to-be. The ring was fashioned for the betrothal of Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, to the dauphin of France, son of King Francis I. Born on February 28, 1518, the dauphin was immediately engaged as a matter of state policy, to assure a more intimate alliance between England and France. Infant Mary was presented with the veriest vogue in rings, which doubtless fit the tiny royal finger for only a short time.
Though the origin of the diamond engagement ring is known, that of betrothal rings in general is less certain. The practice began, though, well before the fifteenth century.
An early Anglo-Saxon custom required that a prospective bridegroom break some highly valued personal belonging. Half the token was kept by the groom, half by the bride’s father. A wealthy man was expected to split a piece of gold or silver. Exactly when the broken piece of metal was symbolically replaced by a ring is uncertain. The weight of historical evidence seems to indicated that betrothal rings (at least among European peoples) existed before wedding rings, and that the ring a bride received at the time of proposal was given to her again during the wedding ceremony. Etymologists find one accurate description of the engagement ring’s intent in tis original Roman name, arrhae, meaning “earnest money.”
For Roman Catholics, the engagement ring’s official introduction is unequivocal. In A.D. 860, Pope Nicholas I decreed that an engagement ring become a required statement of nuptial intent. An uncompromising defender of the sanctity of marriage, Nicholas once excommunicated two archbishops who had been involved with the marriage, divorce, and remarriage of Lothair II of Lorraine, charging them with “conniving at bigamy”. For Nicholas, a ring of just any material or worth would not suffice. The engagement ring was to be of a valued metal, preferably gold, which for the husband-to-be represented a financial sacrifice; thus started a tradition.
In that century, two other customs were established: forfeiture of the ring by a man who reneged on a marriage pledge; surrender of the ring by a woman who broke off the engagement. The Church became unbending regarding the seriousness of a marriage promise and the punishment if broken. The Council of Elvira condemned the parents of a man who terminated an engagement to excommunication for three years. And if a woman backed out for reasons unacceptable to the Church, her parish priest had the authority to order her into a nunnery for life. For a time, “till death do us part” began weeks or months before a bride and groom were even united.
Click on the Church Banner to email me or Call