Wedding Vows History; A brief lesson in tradition


03/11/2011

Wedding Vows History; A brief lesson in tradition

Although marriage is a widely practiced tradition few people give thought to how it has developed throughout history. The exact origin of the practice of exchanging wedding vows is uncertain but it is clear that the tradition has enjoyed a rich history spanning diverse cultures. Famous historical evidence of the practice can be derived from The Book of Common Prayer which was produced in 1549. Following the death of King Henry the VIII (famous for beheading and divorcing four of his wives) the stage was set for reformation of England’s religious doctrine and The Book of Common Prayer formalised a set of standard marriage vows. Owing to the era marriage was viewed as a religious institution rather than an institution of state and accordingly The Book of Common Prayer advocated wedding vows which referred to marriage as the joining of man and woman, in holy matrimony before god.

Prior to the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer medieval vows contained a promise by the bride to be ‘bonny and buxom in bed and at board’. This phrase was used as early as 1085 as evidenced by early marriage contracts. To modern eyes the relationship between bed and buxom may appear strong but the passage of time has done much to alter the interpretation of these words. Bonny is derived from the French word bon and the Latin word bonus, in the context of the era it simply meant good. Buxom meant yielding and ready to obey. Given the modern day connotations associated with the use of the word buxom this would hardly be an appropriate vow for the present day and the emphasis on obedience of wives to their husbands has ceased to be a popular sentiment.

Accordingly adaptations have been made to vows derived from The Book of Common Prayer. The American Episcopalian Church voted to remove the word ‘obey’ from the brides vows but it is largely retained throughout the Anglican Church. Due to its unpopularity brides are permitted to customize their wedding vows if they wish to omit ‘obey’ in favour of another word. Princess Diana suffered scrutiny for her decision not to use the word ‘obey’ and Sophie Rhys-Jones (who married Prince Edward) was criticised for including it. Social commentators labeled Sophie’s actions as archaic and offensive. Recently all eyes were on newlywed Kate Middleton as she vowed to cherish Prince William rather than obey him. Ultimately vows are a personal choice and it is important not to let third party concerns over shadow your own preferences.

The ancient Egyptians also recognised marriage as an important institution and were one of the earliest civillisations’ to regard marriage as a legal relationship. They regarded the ring as a symbol of eternity, with no beginning and no end like time itself. The hollow dimension of the ring is said to be symbolic of a door to the unknown future. The ring, as in the present day was worn on the third finger of their left hand owing to the belief that the vein within it could be traced to the heart. The Romans came to call this ‘the vein of love’.
 


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