Wedding Rings Through the Years
The exact origin of the wedding ring is uncertain
and is rife with superstition and mythology. Papyruses
dating back to the ancient Egyptian civilization
depict wedding rings, and historians credit the
land of the Pharaohs with originating this tradition.
Engagement or betrothal rings were in use as far
back as prehistoric times, but the wedding ring
is a relatively new tradition, and unlike the
engagement ring, is steeped in religious ritual.
In ancient times, accepting a wedding ring constituted
a legally binding agreement between husband and
wife. The wife became property of the husband,
a holding of sorts. It also represented protection
to the wife—a protection against challengers seizing
her legal and rightful position in a power grab.
Early Egyptian wedding rings were simple circular
bands, crudely crafted from indigenous materials
such as hemp and reeds. The lifespan of the average
wedding ring was approximately one year. It's
a safe bet that the average marriage outlasted
the average wedding band, since the eternal circle
signified eternal love and devotion. The circle
also represented the joining of two halves to
create a whole. The hole in the center symbolized
the gateway to the unknown—the future. Wedding
bands of ivory, leather, and other sturdy materials
were crafted by those who desired a more permanent
token of eternity.
Metals replaced the earlier hemp and reed wedding
bands. The early Romans moved to lead, while other
civilizations chose brass and copper. Eventually,
gold emerged as the metal of choice. In fact,
early Irish couples insisted on gold, as any other
material was thought to bring bad luck at best,
and constitute an illegal marriage at worst. For
couples unable to afford gold wedding bands, gold
wedding rings were secured for the service and
returned immediately afterward.
Early crude designs were adorned with semiprecious
metals in an attempt to disguise the handiwork.
The color of the stones also held significance.
The red ruby signified the heart, the blue sapphire
signified the skies and the heavens, and the rare
diamond's indestructible nature signified the
indestructible bond of marriage.
Fit played an equally important role in the realm
of superstition surrounding the wedding ring.
The fit had to be perfect. Too loose a fit would
lead to a sloppy marriage, carelessness, and even
cause the couple to grow apart. Too tight a fit
would doom the couple to a suffocating, painful
In ancient times, wedding bands occupied the third
finger on the left hand just as they do today.
The significance of the third finger was the belief
that the vein in the third finger, the "vena amoris,"
led directly to the heart. This was a thought
propagated by the Egyptians and adopted as truth
by the ancient Greeks and Romans, until later
Even after the discovery that there was no vena
amoris, the custom of wearing the wedding band
on the third finger survived. Early Christian
marriages included a ritual that landed the wedding
band on the third finger: As the priest recited,
"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy
Ghost," he took the ring and touched the thumb,
the first finger, and then the second finger.
When he said, "Amen," he placed the ring on the
third finger, sealing the marriage. The wedding
band has occupied the third finger into the 21st
century, except for a short period during the
Elizabethan era, when whimsy decreed that the
wedding ring reside on the thumb.
Double-ring ceremonies gained popularity during
World War II as young soldiers shipped off to
war. The token of the marriage contract took on
new sentimentality during those troubling times,
and that custom remains intact today. Ceremonies
differ, vows are often unique, but the tradition
of the wedding band has survived through the ages,
and probably will—for all eternity.
About the author:
M J Plaster is a successful author who provides
information on shopping online for engagement
rings, wedding rings, and wedding bands. M
J Plaster has been a commercial freelance writer
for almost two decades, most recently specializing
in home and garden, the low-carb lifestyle, investing,
and anything that defines la dolce vita.