Few people can walk past a jewellery shop without casting an eye over the window display. But as you look at the beautiful jewellery on show have you ever thought about where those stunning gemstones or the gold and silver come from? Have you ever dreamed of owning some of those gorgeous pieces? Of course you have. And when you look at the wedding rings do they evoke memories of your own special day or make you dream of your wedding day to come? Or have you ever stopped to wonder what makes them so important in our lives?
In most cultures the wedding ring is a symbol of the joining of two people for eternity. It is a symbol of love and commitment and a relationship that cannot be broken. Different cultures, however, have their own traditions and customs regarding the wearing of wedding rings. In many cultures, too, the wedding ceremony and the exchange of wedding rings is preceded by the man giving an engagement ring to the woman as a symbol of intention.
The history of wedding rings dates back thousands of years and they are recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs that show the ring on the third finger of the left hand, which was thought to contain the ‘vena amoris”, the “love vein” said to go directly to the heart.
This belief carried on through the Renaissance and so the tradition of wearing the ring on that finger took hold. In the West – Western Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States – it is usually worn on the left hand, but in Eastern Europe – Germany, Poland, Russia and so on – it is more commonly worn on the right.
The actual wedding ceremony also differs among cultures. In the United Kingdom and the United States the groom is usually attended by a Best Man, who is responsible for the care of the rings and handing them to the bride and groom before they are exchanged. Sometimes, the rings will be delivered to the best man by a ring bearer or pageboy.
The rings themselves are traditionally a single continuous band of gold or silver, though modern rings are sometimes made of platinum or titanium or a mixture of yellow and white metals. Some may carry a diamond or other precious gemstone. Today’s couples also often engrave the inside of their rings with the date of the wedding and the initials of their spouse, a recently resurrected tradition that dates back to Roman times.
Wedding rings have been important symbols throughout recorded human history and remain so today. As you look at your own wedding ring or those in the display window, you might just give a thought to the significance of wedding rings – you might just value yours that little bit more.