The ring is of course a perfect circle and for some it is this symbolism that is important when exchanging or giving a wedding ring.
It symbolizes the eternity of the couple’s love, as a ring has no end and no beginning. In slightly more prosaic terms it can be equated with the giving of a dowry or a bride price, in which the bride’s family pays the groom or conversely the groom pays the father of the bride. Whichever way the trade went, money was definitely changing hands and as the years went on; this became the simple exchange of wedding rings.
This is not to say that no money changed hands later, just that there were no huge coffers of coins hauled in to the church before anyone signed on the dotted line!
In fact, in the wedding ceremony from the reign of Edward VI, there is actually a mention of gold and silver immediately after the mention of the ring. Bearing in mind how many wives his father Henry VIII got through, the mercenary side of marriage is perhaps understandable.
There is a belief that the ring has its origins in a link in a chain, implying that the wife is the chattel of her husband.
Although in history women have not always had many rights and their property and wealth went to their husband on marriage, the wedding ring is too precious, being made of gold or other rare metals, to represent something as lowly as a slave girl’s chain.
The choice of finger on which to wear a wedding ring is interesting. In religions and cultures where a wedding ring is worn, it is usually on the fourth finger, although the choice of hand can vary.
It was believed once that the blood that flowed to the heart went through the fourth finger and so it linked the eternal ring of love to the heart, believed to be the seat of emotion.
By the time the circulation of the blood was worked out by William Harvey in 1628 and everyone knew this wasn’t strictly true, the tradition was very well established and anyway, there was no really good reason to change the finger.
Wedding rings are traditionally made of gold, but silver, platinum and more unusual metals such as copper are used as well. If you wear a platinum wedding ring it is important to wear other rings of the same metal, as it will wear gold away, being much harder.
Part of the traditional belief of the wedding ring is that once it is placed on a finger it should never be removed and people can get quite upset if they ever have to take their rings off because of illness or injury.
A wedding ring is something very close to the heart – so perhaps our ancestors were right all along!