The traditional marriage ceremony comes from ancient origins
|I would think everyone reading this has attended the typical marriage ceremony, but hasn't given its origins much thought. Though some add a bit more to the presentation, the basics are always the same. The groom waits out front with the minister, bridesmaids, best man, and groomsman, while the bride is escorted down the aisle by her father. When she reaches the alter, the minister asks who gives this bride away. The father responds and sits down by the mother. Then the minister goes through the introduction of the couple and asks the guests if anyone objects to the union. No one usually answers, so it is followed by leading the couple into their vows to each other.
But, where did that all originate? The marriage ceremony that we all know has only come about in recent history. The institution of marriage has been around since Moses crossed the desert, but the ceremony, as we know it, came about the time settlers invaded America. We don't have to look too far in the Bible to discover that women were originally considered property. Nowhere in the Bible are instructions for a marriage ceremony. A woman was owned by her father at birth and given, or sold, to a man that wanted her. A man would choose her for several reasons but the main ones were for sexual pleasure, bearing him children, and cleaning up after him; pretty much the same as today. Men could have several wives while the woman could only have the one man; a practice still held by the Muslim faith.
In most early societies a suitor would approach the father and negotiate the terms of the exchange; much like buying a cow. If she was a talented and beautiful asset, the father would ask for the best deal possible. If the suitor couldn't meet that demand, other suitors were sought. The young lady didn't have much say as to who her husband would be. At the time Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, there was no such thing as a ceremony held in front of a clergyman. There was the story of the wedding where Jesus turned the water into wine during the banquet, but no mention of a Rabi conducting the event. Depending on the wealth of the bride's father, the ceremony was usually an event where guests (witnesses) congregated. During the festivities, the father would announce to all that he was giving his daughter to the groom and for all to take notice that from that day forward, the groom would possess her as his wife. And may they produce many sons.
But what about other suitors who also wanted the beautiful daughter and didn't get her? In those days some people would crash the party and start a fight with the groom. To insure someone would think twice about doing this, the groom would have well-armed bodyguards handy. The head of this group was usually the most skilled swordsman. In today's ceremony, we call him the best man and the bodyguards, groomsmen. Usually, before the father would announce the union of the couple, he would ask if anyone there had a problem with his decision. If someone spoke up, a bloody fight would follow.
The clergy came into the ceremony in the 14th Century, via the Catholic Church. If a king was to marry his queen, the tradition of dealing with the father of the bride was still part of the deal. The bride was usually royalty from another kingdom and was bargained away to help prevent war with a neighbor. We have all seen the musical, Camelot, where Guinevere's father forced her to marry King Arthur to unit their kingdoms. The Catholic Church would officiate the ceremony so that the people of both kingdoms would believe the union was blessed by God. Meanwhile, the commoner would still get his wife the old fashion way by negotiating with the father. Polygamy was still practiced throughout the world; however, the Catholic Church prohibited a king from having multiple queens. But, he was allowed to have all the concubines he could handle. Only children from the official queen could be heirs to the throne.
Then came Pilgrims settling America. They were very religious and adopted the one wife philosophy. The traditional ceremony, officiated by a clergyman, was conceived while keeping the image of the father handing over his possession to the groom. The guests were the witnesses and the banquet usually followed the ceremony as it is today. To this day, it is still traditional for the groom to approach the bride's father and ask for her hand. The buying part has been dropped and the bride has all the say as to who she marries. We now know where the best man and groomsmen idea came from, but no one seems to know where the bridesmaid tradition came from. Maybe they were extras to choose from should the bride not show up.
Once women got the right to vote in America, there was no more talk of women as chattel or men having multiple wives at the same time. It was the power of the woman vote that made divorce difficult, but they changed their minds in the 70's to make it easier again. In a 2010 poll questioning 1000 American women over sixty, seventy percent had been married multiple times. In the days where the father chose the groom, the right to divorce was unheard of for a woman. In 2010, eighty three percent of all divorces in the US were instigated by the wife. Maybe our ancestors were right by having the father pick the groom.