Wedding Rings: Tradition, Commitment, and Love
Wedding rings for brides have a long history, perhaps dating back 4,800 years to the ancient Egyptians who twisted hemp strands into a circle to symbolize supernatural immortal love.
The Romans adopted the Egyptian custom of a band (iron being the metal of choice) on the third finger of the left hand encircling the vena amoris, the love vein, which connects directly to the heart. Lest you wax too nostalgic about the romantic sensibilities of an idyllic Rome, the band was part of a legal covenant of ownership; wives in ancient times were the property of their husbands and the un-removable ring was proof of title. Trusted slaves, such as household staff, wore similar finger rings.
History of Wedding Rings
Sultans and sheiks in the middle east around 2,000 years ago required each of their wives to wear silver puzzle rings; labyrinthine twining bands which probably were imported from China carried by caravans along the famous Silk Road. These exotic pieces of jewelry were pledges of devotion each wife was obligated to make to their master.
By the middle ages gold and silver bands were fashionable for those who could afford them. They were often embellished with symbolic gems; red ruby the color of a pure heart, blue sapphire reflecting the blessings of heaven, and of course, a girl’s best friend, the diamond. Precious, rare and coveted, diamonds symbolize an indestructible bond or promise between bride and groom. Still, these quite valuable wedding rings were part of a legal barter system and symbols of transfer of ownership of the bride from the father to the husband.
Engagement Ring Introduction
Incidentally, until the thirteenth century there were no engagement rings. Pope Innocent III, with his infallible power, declared that a waiting period be honored between the betrothal agreement, sealed with an engagement ring, and the wedding ceremony. This allowed time for any legal challenges to the final and irreversible marriage. Thus, the King of Germany, Maximilian I gave the first recorded diamond engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477.
Those fun loving Puritans of colonial America renounced wedding bands as frivolous pagan jewelry. Instead, a thimble was given as a more utilitarian symbol of a wife’s practical role in marriage. The irrepressible romantic nature of these wives caused them to often rebel and slice off the bottom of the symbol and create a wedding band.
Interestingly, there is little evidence of wedding rings being customary for grooms until World War Two when American GI’s wore a gold band to remind them of their beloved back home. From there the tradition of wedding rings has evolved through platinum art deco and Celtic Claddagh to tattooed bands ala Pamela and Tommy Lee