The History of
the Wedding Ring
The use of the wedding ring as a symbol of the bond between husband
and wife is familiar to us as the concept of marriage itself, but from
where did this interesting tradition emerge? The history of wedding
rings as they are known today is actually unclear. In an article dating
from the July 1869 issue of Appleton’s Journal of popular Literature,
Science, and Art, Edward J. Wood hypothesizes that the modern (modern
as of 1869) use of wedding rings stems from the practices of ancient
Hebrews. It was customary for the family of a prospective groom to give
gifts to the potential bride and her family. The general assumption
is that it is from this tradition that the use of wedding rings as we
know them seems to have evolved.
Wedding rings are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but references
do exist that suggest the aforementioned Hebrew practices. Genesis 24:53
in the King James Version reads, “And the servant brought forth jewels
of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah:
he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things,” speaking
of the servant of Abraham, the father of Isaac, who was to wed Rebekah.
The wedding ring first came into use in Christian wedding ceremonies
around 870 A.D.
The tradition of wearing a wedding ring on the fourth finger of the
left hand also comes from the ancients. In ancient Greece it was believed
that an artery from that particular finger led directly to the heart.
While we now know this is pure mythology, it does serve as a rather
romantic explanation for the tradition.
Although the concept of the wedding ring is obviously very old, the
ring was almost always worn by the bride. Double-ring wedding ceremonies
are rather new. Wedding rings for men were almost unheard of before
1940 and increased in use about the time of the Second World War. According
to an October 1953 story in Hobbies, only about 15% of wedding ceremonies
included a ring for the groom. After the start of World War II, the
percentage jumped to 60%, and then to 70% after the start of the Korean
war. Today it is more common than not for grooms and brides alike to
wear a wedding ring.
So, why a wedding ring, as opposed to, say, a wedding bracelet or necklace?
Religious ceremonies usually include a mention by the officiating clergyman
of the ring’s unending circle being representative of both God’s perfect
love for humanity and the marrying couple’s undivided devotion to one
While the precise origin of the wedding ring is unclear and lost to
history, today we recognize the wedding ring as a symbol of the unity
of marriage. The couples of today also generally choose their wedding
rings together, thus adding to the personal symbolism that the jewelry
carries for them. Additionally, the wedding ring serves as a social
symbol in today’s world, signifying to others that this man or woman
is “spoken for.”
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