A Brief History of the Wedding Ring
The wedding ring has long represented the commitment we make to our spouses on our wedding day, and symbolizes the everlasting promise to love and cherish each other that coincides with this commitment. From Christian, Jewish, Sikh, and Hindu weddings, to civil ceremonies, the exchanging of the wedding rings is almost ubiquitous.
The tradition of the wedding ring is known to date back as far as the Ancient Egyptians, who viewed the circle as a symbol of eternity, and therefore, the eternal love meant to grace the couple. The tradition was also commonplace in ancient Greece and Rome, which further found the name of the bearer’s loved one inscribed on the ring’s inside. The name’s placement meant it could be worn against the wearer’s skin, thus implying the partners were symbolically always in contact with one another. During the time of the Renaissance, Europe witnessed the rise in prominence of the gimmal ring, which consisted of two and sometimes three separate loops to be worn by the betrothed until their wedding day. When the day arrived, the rings were combined into one, to be worn by the woman, displaying her new status as a bride. If the ring set included a third loop, it was traditionally held by the person meant to be witness or officiate the wedding, and whose duty would find him reuniting the set as the couple’s vows were spoken.
The gimmal ring is also thought to be the early relative of the dubious puzzle ring, which was said to have been given to brides to thwart any future affairs. The significance behind this was that the ring would fall apart if removed from her finger, signaling to her husband some kind of impropriety, before she would successfully be able to piece the ring back together. At the same time, the Renaissance saw a trend in bridegrooms gifting their brides with the romantic poesy rings, which contained an engraved poem wrapped around it, undoubtedly a much more appropriate sentiment for a wedding ring.
The wedding ring’s placement has traditionally been on the 3rd finger, and as the old adage instructs, this is because the ring envelopes the vein, or the vena amora, which ends at the tip of this finger and begins directly from the heart, or the “seat of love.” However, a Judeo Christian take on the origin of this placement insists that it was actually the priest who chose this finger during early ceremonies, as he would begin by placing the ring on the bride’s thumb, stating the words “In the name of the Father,” then, he would move the ring to her index finger, stating “In the name of the Son,” then on to the bride’s middle finger stating “And in the name of the Holy Ghost,” finishing the act by finally placing the ring on the 3rd finger, ending with “Amen,” and here the ring would stay.
Modern Day Traditions
Early wedding rings were typically only worn by women. It is interesting to note that today’s double ring ceremonies were not prevalent until more modern times. Indeed, it wasn’t until the first half of the 20th century that both parties took part in wearing a wedding band. The desire for both parties to bear their wedding bands was driven by the onset of World War II, finding men leaving their brides to go war. Inspired by their family ties and wishing to carry the comforting reminder of their wives at home, the men left for war with their own wedding bands. Since then, the tradition continued to grow and has transformed itself into becoming the norm.
As we consider the significance of the wedding ring, whether it be interpreted by a plain gold band, or the tattooed initials of one’s spouse on one’s finger, we can see that its journey has been long and varied. Predominantly representative of everlasting love, and perpetual commitment, the wedding ring has evolved along with our sights and values. While previously serving as the status marker for a bride, the ring’s modern inclusion of both partners signifies the equal approach to our marriages ad vows now welcomed by those in the throes of marital bliss. Seemingly destined to stay, the iconic ring will continue to symbolize our unspoken commitments to our spouses, and serve as a quiet declaration to all, that the wearer is indeed taken.