Being a symbol of eternal love, unity and commitment, the wedding ring is one of the most precious jewelry pieces a person can have. Its round shape recalls the blazing sun and arms that embrace, thus signifying purest sentiments of love and devotion that come back round again.
But, have you ever wondered what is hiding behind the tradition of wearing this type of ring and most importantly, why soon-to-be married couples stick to this tradition so devotedly? The custom of exchanging vows and wedding rings at the altar is considered one of the oldest marital traditions, although it has been changing over time across different civilizations and cultures in the world.
Ancient Egypt: The Infinity Ring
Historical reports say that the first appearance of the wedding ring took place in Ancient Egypt, 3.000 years ago. The translated hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians are proving that these people cherished the wedding ring as a symbol of enduring love between a man and a woman. Their rings were mostly made of braided reeds into the traditional circle-form. In fact, the hole in the center of the ring represented a door or a gateway leading to future events.
The tradition of wearing the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand is actually dating back to this era, when the ancient Egyptians for the first time in history, created the universal belief that there is a vein of love running from the left hand’s fourth finger straight to the heart itself. The vein was originally named as Vena Amoris. Consequently, the belief was accepted by all the other primeval cultures and continued to be carried out across time up to present day. An interesting thing about the Egyptian wedding-ceremony tradition is that it was the man who put the wedding rings on his finger and the finger of his wife, signifying his masculine power and the confidence he has in his wife’s ability to take care of the house and the children.
Since rings made of reed showed to be not durable, Ancient Egyptians started making rings of bone, ivory and leather. Hence, the more expensive the material of the wedding ring was, the greater the value of the ring and the richness of the giver.
Ancient Rome: The Ring for Purchasing the Bride
Romans also adopted the custom of giving a ring on a wedding, but this time things were slightly different. Thus, the wedding ring was necessary for the groom to purchase the bride from her father. Later on, by the end of the 2nd century BC, the bride herself was given a ring made of pure gold, signifying that the groom considered her trustful to his wealth and property.
Since the golden wedding ring was expensive and precious, the Roman wife wore her wedding ring only in public and not while performing the household work. Hence, the wedding-ring substitute for home use was a plain, betrothal ring made of iron, also known as ‘Anulus Pronubus’. Very often, this iron ring featured a small key shape that signified permanence, strength and control over the possessions of the ring’s giver.
Although the Roman wedding tradition allowed married couples to wear their wedding rings on any finger they want, most of them practiced the same wearing habit as the ancient Egyptians by wearing the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand. They feared that if they do not wear the ring where Vena Amoris runs, their marriage and home will be cursed.
It is also said in jewelry history that Romans were the first civilization that started engraving wedding rings. One of the most recognizable ring styles invented by the Romans is the so-called ‘Claddagh Ring’. Its unique design with depict hands holding a crowned heart symbolizes love, loyalty and friendship. Claddagh rings continued to be used as jewelry of promise during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe. These rings are traditionally given from the mother to the daughter who is about to get married.
Medieval Times – The Ring for a Wedding Contract
It is only around 860 when Christians started using rings for their wedding ceremonies. At first, this custom was seen as a pagan tradition and it wasn’t accepted by the Church. But, the perception of exchanging rings on a wedding ceremony finally changed and the Christian Church started performing formal weddings.
The exchange of wedding rings was practically an exchange of prized possessions and also, a sign of tangible assets. This idea is taking us back to the times when marriage was not always a union of love, but a contract between two families, as a way to ensure the couple’s economic security and well-being. Weddings of this type still exist in some cultures today, as part of their long traditions and customs that are not easy to change, even with time.
The Renaissance Period – The Ring of Romance
During the years when The Renaissance was in its full blossom, the so-called ‘Gimmel Rings’ appeared in France and started to be used as a precious gift to the bride. These wedding bands, also known as puzzle rings were made in a set of two interlocking bands – one for each of the spouses. The unity of the two bands represented the unity between the two lovers, which was a belief originating from the Middle East.
During this period, wedding rings used to be worn on various fingers, including the thumb. A very interesting thing about this custom is that in some cultures, the wedding ring was worn on one hand before the beginning of the wedding ceremony and put on the other hand during the ceremony itself.
Later on, wedding rings in America and Europe become more luxurious, carved out of first-quality gold and embellished with precious gems, like sapphires, pearls, amethysts and rubies. There is another trend that aroused in Victorian era – wedding rings with a snake design, inspired by the famed ring of Queen Victoria.
Writen by: Liljana Tomova