The word 'wed' means to unite closely, to join in marriage, to marry.
The ceremony of 'Marriage' in Britain had a significant development in the Middle Ages when the Church found it necessary to create marriage ceremonies and legislation to make marriage, a legal and binding contract. Prior to this, various traditions in various countries, allowed marriage by verbal consent, with no real means of confirmation and legality.
The Church therefore established the tradition we have today of public ceremonies in the
presence of a priest and witnesses to a marriage and by the twelfth century, ecclesiastical wedding ceremonies had become common in Europe.
The ceremony of getting married in Britain in the 21st Century is made up of traditions, folklore and ritual. These date
back to the Middle Ages and it's important to understand how life was in the Middle Ages (a time when evil spirits and magic charms were believed to rule our lives) to be able to understand
the basis of some of the rituals and superstitions now associated with a modern marriage ceremony.
It was believed that evil spirits lurked close to people during rites of passage (the marking of the end of one life and the
beginning of the next) so it was very important for good luck charms and rituals to be employed to keep the bride and groom safe on their wedding day and to ensure their future happiness.
A marriage in Britain can be a religious ceremony or a civil ceremony. A religious ceremony
is conducted in a Church, whilst a civil ceremony can be in a Registry Office or place that has been licensed to hold civil ceremonies, which can now be as diverse as a British Zoo or
in a British double decker bus. The possibility to marry in places other than a Church or Registry Office is allowed because of the 1994 Marriage Act.
The Proposal and Engagement
In the Middle Ages it was often that a woman was 'kidnapped' by her groom. A single woman was a very valuable asset to her family - to do the work and work the soil - so many families were reluctant to let their single daughters leave the family to get married. Therefore a man, accompanied by his best friend, who would stand by him in case a fight broke out, would take his bride by force. (This led to the tradition of
'Best Man' - someone who would stand by the groom to protect him and look after him). The Ushers or Groomsmen also stem from this 'kidnapping'
A family having lost their very valuable labour asset of a daughter would then demand a 'payment' from the groom to be - this payment was to compensate for the employment of another to do the work previously carried out by the daughter. A time period was arranged for the man to pay for his bride (nowawadays referred to as the
'Engagement') and in the Middle Ages gold rings were used as currency - so a gold ring was given to the family in payment for the bride and is the reason why a gold ring is now placed on
the third finger of the left hand. The unbroken circle is also an age old symbol of 'Eternity'. The tradition of placing the Wedding Ring on the third finger of the left hand is
perhaps because during Medieval Times, a ring was placed on three of the bride's fingers in turn to represent the Holy Trinity -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Or perhaps it's
because as far back as the ancient Romans who believed that the vein in the third finger ran directly to the heart, so the wearing of rings on that finger joined the couple's hearts and
The earliest rings have been found in Egyptian tombs - these were usually
signet rings and were worn with a crest or pattern to identify the wearer and were used to authenticate documents.
Often Gimmal Rings
which are a set of three interlocking rings, were separated and worn in Elizabethan times by the bride to be, the groom to be, and their witness, during the engagement. On the wedding day the three pieces were united as a single ring for the bride.
The formality of the groom asking the father of the bride to be, for her hand in marriage,
relates to olden times and is an acknowledgment that respect should be paid to a woman's family for the loss of their daughter.
The Engagement Ring
Is usually in gold because of the tradition above and are given as 'an intent to marry'.
Diamonds are the most chosen stone to decorate rings, either in a wedding ring or engagement ring. Cupid (the Goddess of
Love) is reputed to have had diamond tips on his arrows which could pierce the heart of any unsuspecting victim and make them fall in love. The tradition of diamond engagement rings perhaps
started with the Archduke Maximilian of Austria when he gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477.
The diamond is said to represent innocence, and is a symbol of love and courage. The ancient Greeks believed that diamonds were
splinters of stars that had fallen down on the earth. They have also been said to be the tears of Gods, crystallised lightning or hardened dew drops.
Spartan soldiers in Sparta, Greece, were the first to hold stag parties. The groom would feast with his male friends on the
night before his wedding to celebrate leaving his days of bachelorhood but he would also swear continued allegiance to his comrades. The grooms friends would also give him money - to ensure that
he would still be able to go drinking with them - because after the wedding the bride was supposed to control the money!
A woman's hen party is her way to leave her old life but assure her girlfriends she would still remain their
friend. The women also gathered to offer advice and support to the new bride.
After The Ceremony
Walking through the arch of swords following the ceremony was done to ensure the couple's safe passage into their new life
In Pagan times rice and grain was usually thrown at the bride and groom to represent fertility and continuity. This has
been adapted to paper and dried petals.
Releasing White Doves
The Dove is a symbol of love, peace and faith.
The Wedding Breakfast
The wedding cake dates back to the Middle Ages when the bride would carry a bouquet of wheat and scatter the grains
after the ceremony. This was then made into cakes and broken over the Bride's head to ensure good luck and fertility. Essentially the wedding cake is a fertility symbol.
King Charles II was probably the first person to establish the wedding cake was made of sugar
icing and decorated. The choice of symbols to decorate a cake have special meanings.Doves, horseshoes etc all bring good luck and fortune.
The wedding cake is cut by the bride and groom to represent sharing their new life together. All the guests should eat
some to ensure good luck. A single woman can place a piece of wedding cake under her pillow and should dream of the man she is going to marry.
If you have a very tall three tiered cake the bride and groom should kiss over the cake and if they don't
knock it over they will have a life of good fortune.
The traditional gift is almonds and this is because of the motto: 'A gift of five almonds
represents health, wealth, long life, fertility and happiness'
Tying shoes to
Shoes were a powerful symbol in ancient times. In Egyptian society, shoes were
exchanged when they exchanged goods and the father of the bride would give the groom to be, her shoes, as confirmation of the contract.
The shoe is also a symbol of fertility and a sign of passing responsibility for his daughter onto her husband. In
Anglo-Saxon times, the groom would tap the heel of the bride's shoe to show his authority over her.
The tradition of the honeymoon comes from the time when the groom would kidnap his bride to be and carry her of to a
secret hiding place where he would keep her for a set period of time until depending on the laws/traditions at the time - her ownership would pass on to him.
On the first night of the honeymoon it was tradition for the wedding party to accompany the bride and groom to the
marriage bed. With the effect of the mead that had been drunk, the wedding party would become very rowdy and try and undress the bride, so she would toss her garter
into the crowd to distract them. It is also now traditional to make an 'apple pie' bed or disrupt the first night in some way or other. This dates back to the Middle Ages when a group of
friends would gather and just for fun, try to disturb the married couple by making a lot of noise.
The bride should be carried over the threshold by her groom because the threshold of houses were supposed to
contain evil spells. The groom had to carry his bride over the evil spirits in order for her to start her new life, spell free. It was also considered very bad luck if the bride
should trip or fall.
Marriage/Hope Chest/Bottom Drawer
Some families began collecting items for their daughter's marriage as soon as they were born and
stored these items in a chest or 'bottom drawer'
embroidered with the daughter's maiden name - even when they knew who was to be her groom - in case they tempted luck and she didn't get married.
The Marriage Ceremony
Choosing the day on which to marry was very important in olden times. There are rhymes which indicate which is the best day to
Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday best of all, Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, Saturday for no luck at all
Little regard is paid to this rhyme in modern times as Saturday is the
most favoured day to marry
Another pagan rhyme tell us
which time of year to marry: The sun has always been associated with fertility and summer is traditionally a time when most couples marry. In Scotland it was traditional for the Bride to 'walk
with the sun', proceeding from east to west on the south side of the church and then circling the Church three times for good luck.
Married when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind & true,
When February birds do mate, You wed nor dread your fate.
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow
both you'll know.
Marry in April when
you can, Joy for Maiden & for Man.
in the month of May, and you'll surely rue the day.
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you'll go.
Those who in July do wed, must labour for their daily bred.
Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see
Marry in September's shrine, your living will be rich and
If in October you do marry,
love will come but riches tarry.
you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember.
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.
During the service the groom stands on the right of the bride, this dates back to the days when men wore swords. If any man
challenged the groom to the rights of his bride he could draw his sword with his right hand while still hold hers with his left.
The taking of each others right hand as part of the ceremony is because the open right hand is a symbol of strength, resource
and purpose. The coming together of both right hands is a symbol that both the bride and the groom can depend on each other and the resources that each brings to the marriage. It also represents
the merger of their lives together into one.
The journey of the
bride to the church is an important ritual when the bride must look out for 'lucky omens'
see a rainbow.
have the sunshine on your back
have a black cat cross your path.
be greeted by a chimney sweep
'Bad Omens' include:
seeing a pig, hare or lizard running across the road,
seeing an open grave.
seeing Monks or Nuns as they foretell barrenness and a life dependent on charity.
Seating in the Church
The bride's family sits on one side of the church whilst the groom's family sits on the other. This goes back to the time
when a girl of one tribe would be offered by her father as a peace offering to another tribe. The tribes had to be kept separate in case someone started a fight.
After the marriage ceremony the bride and groom are asked to kiss. This is a way of showing they are accepting the
contract of marriage. In olden times a kiss, usually on the cheek, was a sign of acceptance of an agreement.
Because of the susceptibility of the bride to evil spells and in order to confuse the spell landing on the bride, her best
friends would dress in the same clothes as herself - so the evil spirits would not know on which person to land.
In olden times as the bride and her party walked to the church a little girl would throw flower petals in her
path to ensure good luck and ward off evil spirits.
The best man originates from the time when a bride to be was often 'kidnapped' from her
family and the groom would take his very best friend who would help him and support him in case of a fight.
In early times a woman wore her best dress and the groom and guests their best clothing but it is thought that Anne of Brittany
started the tradition of wearing a white wedding dress in 1499. It is a myth that white is a sign of virginity, the colour was always associated with 'joy' and the colour was also thought
to ward off evil spirits.
It was believed that the bride should never make her own
dress or try on the outfit before the wedding, or let her groom see her in her wedding dress before the wedding. Enthusiastic rituals ensured the last stitch of the dress was not made until the
bride left for the church. All these rituals were to ensure the marriage took place and the bride was not at any risk of not getting married.
The colour of the brides dress was written in another rhyme.
Married in White, you have chosen right
Married in Grey, you will go far away,
Married in Black, you will wish yourself back,
Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead,
Married in Green, ashamed to be seen,
Married in Blue, you will always be true,
Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow,
Married in Brown, you will live in the town,
Married in Pink, you spirit will sink.
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe is a Victorian rhyme
associated with wedding clothing for the bride.
The interpretations are:
is usually something belonging to a grandparent or parent and shows the continuity of 'family' - although the bride is leaving her old family behind she is showing she will still remember them.
Something new represents the new life the bride is entering and the hope for success and
Something borrowed should be something borrowed from a family
member or an already happy bride and is supposed to pass on good luck. The item must be given back or bad luck will follow.
Something Blue - blue is a sign of fidelity and constancy. The custom of wearing a blue ribbon in a bride's hair began in
ancient Israel and symobolised fidelity.
Silver Sixpence in her shoe. A silver sixpence is
considered a lucky charm and in olden times silver was ascribed with healing powers. It is often interpreted as bringing wealth to the newly weds.
The veil perhaps originated in the Middle East and because of arranged marriages. The groom was not allowed to see the bride -
in case he changed his mind - until the legal ceremony was over and he lifted the veil, revealing her for the first time.
Flowers played a very important part in olden times - the smell of the flowers were believed to ward off evil spirits and bring
During the plague in England people would wear pouches of flower petals
around their necks so they would not be infected with the Plague believed to be carried by strong bad smells. The throwing of the bouquet is a way of spreading the brides good fortune and
luck. Whoever catches it will be blessed with good luck and will be the next to marry.
choice of flowers in a bouquet is usually for visual purposes and to retain a'colour' theme for the wedding but all flowers have a meaning:
Apple blossom - good fortune
Aster - daintiness, symbol of love
Bluebells - everlasting love
Blue Violets - faithfulness
Carnation White - honesty
Daisies White - loyalty/innocence
Forget-me-nots - true love
Gardenias - joy
Iris - wisdom
Ivy - fidelity
Lilies - innocence & purity
Lily of the Valley - happiness
Orange blossoms - fertility & purity
Orchids - beauty
Red Rose - passion/beauty
The Groom is supposed to wear a flower that appears in the Bridal Bouquet in his buttonhole. This stems from the Medieval
tradition of a Knight wearing his Lady's colours, as a declaration of his love.