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With This Ring, I Thee Wed

Posted Jul 20 2010 10:15am

With this ring, I thee wed

The endearing sentiments of a wedding peak as these traditional words are exchanged by the couple.  And the symbol of rings reflect a hope that still survives in our society.  Marriage is forever, a union that cannot be broken.  Of course, reality imposes itself on us and divorce statistics expose our struggle to fulfill that promise of matrimony. 

Yet, the ring itself sets a standard that is worthy and has a history that is anything but romantic.  The history of the wedding ring is as winding and ironic as the many marriages they represent.  What follows is a digested version of the believed history of the famed wedding ring.

The Circle
In ancient egypt, reeds, rushes and hemp along the Nile were twisted into rings and bracelets to adorn wrists and fingers.  An evolution of meaning saw this accessory of fashion become a symbol of love. 

The symbol of a circle has long been revered as a picture of eternity.  In time, the ring would indicate eternal love and find its place in the history of romance depict in Egyptian hieroglyphs.  Though the short-lived organic materials would be replaced by longer lasting leather, ivory and other choices, this use of the ring as an icon of romance and commitment would be adopted and adapted by Greek and Roman cultures.

Diamonds and Gold
As early as the times of the Pharaohs, there is evidence that metals were used to fashion rings.  Archaeological finds prove that the prototypes were fairly crude and uneven.  Again, egyptian hieroglyphs depict early rings with precious stones to apparently beautify them.

The ancients often used gold rings as coinage rather than as an expression of romantic sentiments.  During the Roman empire, affluent males would give their brides their rings as a token of trust.  Rather than adorning their fingers, the rings were often fashioned into keys.  Given to the bride at time of matrimony, she would be carried over the threshold with gold key(s) in hand.

Again, as traditions go, this practice evolved into a ring adorning the brides finger though the giving of rings at ceremonies would come sometime later.  The gold rings were quickly made ornate with rubies at first.  As the practice of ring making became more of an art than function, the indestructible diamond became the preferred stone in many cultures.

The Meaning
Though the modern meaning of the ring is the unbroken and eternal commitment of love between mates.  It has not always been so.  And the practice of exchanging rings is a recent cultural evolution (circa WWII).  The history of the meaning of a ring is the history of our view of marriage.

The idea of the ring finger (third finger on the hand) has its tie back to the ancient world wherein it was believed that a vein on that finger led straight to the heart.  As such, it only seemed appropriate that this would be the appendage adorned to show love.

The use of the right and left hands are inconsistent historically, though there is evidence that the left hand was more often chosen to wear rings.  Prior to World War II, many women wore their wedding rings on the right hand.  However, the explosion of marriage among GI’s being deployed during the 1930′s saw an interesting phenomenon.  Men (mostly right-handed) standing before their brides consistently opted to reach straight out and take their left hands upon which to place the ring during wedding ceremonies.  This seems to have been a singular point at which a cultural norm was (re) established.

Rings began as a symbol of the ideals of love rather than of lifelong fidelity and commitment.  The ring became a symbol of commitment during the Roman Empire.  Placing a ring on a woman’s hand was a recognized legally binding symbol of engagement.  However, a more appropriate interpretation of Roman law really saw the woman as property of the man, though the Roman laws afforded the woman some basic rights during engagement.  Wearing the ring, she could be somewhat assured that she had some recourse should some other woman try to ‘take her man’.

Christianity in middle ages England sealed he ring as a requisite symbol of lifelong fidelity.  puritans would later be outraged by the Catholic church’s suggestion that Mary and Joseph used wedding rings.  Quakers would reject the materialism of the symbol.  Yet, the Christian church still celebrates the meaning if not the materials of the ring.

Whatever, the individual notions of the wedding ring, the enduring sentiment is that of the circle.  The ring continually pouring back into itself stands to remind us of the call and continuity of love.  One husband and one wife for one lifetime giving of themselves to one another: this is the challenge and choice of husband and wives.

This twisting and intertwining of fates creates a circle of life. 

Will your circle remain unbroken?


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