The wedding ring is one ancient jewellery tradition that has never been forgotten. Ever since the time of the ancient Egyptians a wedding ring has been a symbol of the union between a man and a woman. It may of course date back even further than this but evidence to prove it has yet to be found. These early rings were not the gold bands that we have today; they were much more likely to be woven bands of plant material such as papyrus, later replaced by bands of leather and even bone. During the Roman age the rings were made of iron. Gold was used during this time but it was rare. It is thanks to the Romans that the wedding ring made an appearance in the Celtic world.
While the ring was a symbol of the unity between a man and a woman it was also a symbol to show that the woman was definitely the property of the man under the law, in Rome at least. The Celts saw the matter rather differently, to them the man and the woman both had equal standing in the relationship and the giving and receiving of a ring was a symbol of the contract they had entered into as equals. In Celtic law both partners contributed equally to the marriage in the areas of finances and emotional support; if one partner were to die the remaining partner would inherit everything without any argument.
The use of the ring as a symbol of unity during a wedding became more popular as Christianity swept the country. It was a common occurrence for the poorest members of society to ‘rent’ a wedding ring for their wedding ceremony, only to have to return it back to the merchant once the ceremony was over. By now almost all of the rings used were made of gold. Handfasting was a common joining ceremony in the Celtic world, something which more couple are bring back into use today. Traditionally the man and woman would have something of a trial period of assessing their compatibility before they committed themselves to marriage. They would essentially live together for one year, plus one day before committing themselves to the solemnity of marriage. A different version of a wedding ring would be worn during this time period to symbolise their betrothal, which would then be replaced by the official wedding ring.
The Irish Celts
The Irish Celts had a slightly different tradition with their own version of the betrothal ring, the Claddagh coming to the fore in the 17th century; the design is still popular today in different parts of the world and the meaning it conveys changes depending upon the way that the ring is worn. However this ring was not designed to be a wedding ring, it was originally worn to show fealty to the lord of the land on which they lived before it started being used for betrothals and then weddings. The wedding ring has come a long way since its early days as a woven band of papyrus and looks like it is a tradition that will last for centuries to come.
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