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Home Blog History of the Wedding Ring - History of the Wedding Ring | Engagement Ring | Wedding Ring | Ring Symbolism | Tradition of Wedding Rings at BunchesDirect


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History of the Wedding Ring

Have you ever wondered where we got the tradition of the wedding ring from? How long ago did the tradition begin, and were rings always made from precious metals? Why do we wear them on our left hand? Why have they come to symbolize love and devotion?

The wedding ring originates from the deserts of North Africa, where the ancient Egyptian civilization sprang up along the banks of the Nile River. wedding_rings_250x251The river was the source of fortune and life to the Egyptian society since it was along the trade route. Many plants grew on the banks of the Nile River for the Egyptian civilization to cultivate; it was these plants that were the first materials used to make a wedding band. Sedges, rushes, reeds, and papyrus were twisted and braided together into rings for women. Since these early rings were made of plants they usually only lasted about a year before deteriorating. Over time hemp was used, followed by longer lasting materials such as leather, bone, or ivory.

The reason a ring was chosen as the symbol for love was due to the fact that it was a circle; the symbol for eternity in Egyptian society, as well as many other ancient cultures. A circle represents eternity because it has no beginning and no end, like time – it continues forever. A circle always returned to itself and the shape began to be worshipped in the form of the Sun and the Moon. The hole in the centre of the ring also is significant. It is the symbol to the gateway or door that leads to things and events in both the known and the unknown worlds. Therefore, with the symbolism that the circle possesses it is not difficult to see why the ring is a gift to be associated with love; love which is never-ending and leads to things both expected and unexpected. The Egyptians saw love as being the most worthy and important emotion to take on the characteristics of the circle and capture eternity.

The Egyptians wore the ring like we do today, on the third finger of our left hand because it was believed that the vein in the finger directly traveled to the heart. This tradition was later taken up by the Greeks when they conquered Egypt, and then passed down to the Romans, who called this the vena amoris, which is vein of love in Latin. However, there are some countries and groups who do not follow this tradition and wear the ring on a different finger or hand. The Jewish faith wears the wedding ring on their index finger rather than their ring finger of their left hand, and Roman Catholics traditionally wore the ring on their right hand instead.

When the art of metallurgy was popularized, metals naturally replaced all other forms of wedding rings, but surprisingly it was a slow process. The early metal rings were clumsily made and uneven. Often precious and semi-precious stones were set into them. Using jewels at this time was not for romantic sentiment, but rather to display the wealth of the giver.

In early Rome, iron was the adopted metal of choice, rather than copper or brass, which was commonly used elsewhere. Romans saw iron as symbolizing the strength of their love for their bride-to-be, although rust was a problem with these rings.

Initially when a ring was given, the women then became property of her husband. Although rings are seen to be legally binding still, we no longer believe that a woman becomes property of her husband once she accepts his ring. Gold and silver rings were sometimes given on occasions to show that the bride’s groom trusted her with his valuable property. To symbolize this further, the ring was sometimes shaped as a key rather than a normal circular band; but it was not presented at wedding ceremonies, like nowadays, but instead when he carried her across the threshold to her new home.

wedding-ringsOnce the coinage system was implemented gold was rapidly promoted as the first choice for wedding rings. Later in medieval Europe gemstones were again a common tradition like when metallurgy was initially implemented. Rubies were chosen for their colour, red like the heart, sapphires were selected to represent blue skies above, but the most sought after and important of all was the indestructible diamond, just like engagement and wedding rings today.

Silver made a comeback in renaissance Italy, but was instead selected for the engagement ring, rather than the wedding band. Engagement rings tended to be highly ornate and were usually inlaid with neillo, a very decorative form of enamel engraving, that was coloured in black to stand in contrast to the bright metal. The Italians, instead of using traditional simple bands, used exquisite bands with clasping hands emerging from hoops at the front.

Silver again was popularized briefly again in seventeenth century England and France where they were widely used for wedding rings at the height of the fashion for posey rings; the word posey meaning love poem.   Men would get poems inscribed either on the inside or outside of the ring, with the words faith and hope often used in the selected poem. However, gold once again broke into the mainstream, and silver was once again pushed aside to the engagement ring, rather than the wedding band. A gold duplicate of the silver engagement ring would replace the original on the wedding day, so that the engagement and wedding rings matched.

In Irish folklore it was thought to be bad luck, or even illegal, if the ring was not made of gold. This was never an actuality, however, and like elsewhere metals of all kinds were used. But a gold ring was used during the ceremony throughout Europe if the couple could not afford one, although it had to be returned afterwards. The symbolism at the ceremony was important.

Other superstitions that emerged over time about the wedding ring were that it had to fit absolutely perfect when it was given to the bride or else trouble would fall upon the couple. If the ring was too-tight then it could point to a marriage that was filled with painful jealousy, or one person could stifle the other. If the ring was too-loose then it could symbolize the parting ways of the couple through careless acts or forgetfulness.

Originally, it was thought that the ring was wore on the left hand because when the man faced his bride at the alter, and he reached straight across with his right hand (most people are right-handed), that he would naturally lift her left hand. And the same would go for her, when she placed the ring on her husband’s hand, since more and more men are beginning to wear wedding bands too. A man wearing a wedding band is a fairly modern concept. The tradition only began around World War II when military men were travelling away from their wives for an extended period of time. Wearing the ring kept them close to their wives and offered them a cheerful reminder of their loved ones at home.

No matter what the ring looked like, it is clear that it was in honour of a union, engagement, and marriage, and it has been going on since ancient times. Although the traditional may not have always been as glamorous and romantic as it is today, it was still a way of exchanging a contract of engagement or marriage to the one you loved. The ring has come to represent the eternal commitment and love.