The symbolism of the wedding ring

Rings have symbolized so many things over the years, and serve as being an emblem of love and commitment, and can also be seen as a matter of status. The modern wedding ring is worn by both men and women and the significance has shifted over time to being a symbol of marriage union.

If you are married, you are more than likely wearing your ring every day, without giving it much thought. But have you ever wondered what the history is and how it became an important wedding tradition?

It’s said the tradition of exchanging rings dates back 3 000 years, while the first diamond wedding ring was recorded in the will of a widow who passed in 1417.

There are also historians and jewelers that have agreed that it dates back to ancient Egypt, and pharaohs were thought to wear rings to give them eternity. They also wore their ring on the left hand, on the ring finger, also known as the vein of love.

The Egyptians then went on to conquer Alexander the Great, and the Greeks adopted the Egyptian custom of exchanging rings to signify a couples love and devotion by exchanging copper and iron rings at their marriage vows. Wedding rings began to evolve to show off wealth and be more customized by incorporating different metals, such as gold, and precious gemstones, like diamonds, that are symbolic.

Up until the last few centuries, marriage was a much less formal affair that rarely involved any official paperwork or legal witnesses. Throughout ancient times and the Middle Ages, a verbal exchange of commitment, and the occasional wedding ring, was all a couple needed to declare themselves married.

It wasn’t until the 12th century that the Christian Church established marriage as a “holy sacrament”, requiring an official wedding ceremony, which included placing a ring on the bride’s finger.

Even then, marriage was viewed primarily as a business transaction or exchange between two families—not as a way to show your lifelong commitment to a soulmate.

The Puritans in colonial America considered jewelry frivolous. The husbands gave their wives thimbles instead of rings. After brides used their thimbles to sew clothes and textiles for their new home, they could then saw off the tops of their thimbles to create rings.

The formal marriage proposal only began as a ritual in the 20th century in North America when couples gave each other a ring.

Up until then, it was mostly the wife wearing a simple band, and husbands were often ring-less. The soldiers in the Second World War began the tradition in the 1940s when soldiers leaving for war wanted something to remind them of their loved ones waiting for them back home. It was a turning point, not only for engagement rings, but also wedding bands.

World War II was also responsible for establishing the tradition of men’s wedding bands—something that wasn’t common practice throughout earlier history. Married soldiers began wearing wedding bands during deployment as reminders of their wives back home. The tradition eventually caught on among the civilian population, and men’s wedding bands are still widely worn today.

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