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Friday, February 19, 2010

Medieval Weddings Part 2

Welcome back to my series on medieval romance and weddings. Last Friday we left off with the feast after the wedding ceremony, but I didn’t mention the wedding cake. Yes, they had wedding cakes back then. It was the custom for guests to bring small cakes to the feast. They were stacked on top of each other, and the bride and groom tried to kiss over the top of the stack without knocking it over. If they succeeded it was thought to bring luck and good fortune. Over time the custom of covering the cakes with the same icing evolved, and the modern wedding cake was born.

Wedding gifts were different in the medieval period. Every marriage had at least three gifts exchanged. The first gift was the dowry which the bride’s family presented to the groom. The second gift was from the groom’s family. They gave a house and an income (a way to make a living) to the newly married couple. The third gift was given to the priest who conducted the ceremony.

It was also customary for a groom to present a bride with a gift of furniture after their wedding night. This gift was to compensate the bride for her loss of virginity.

On the wedding day itself brides primped in order to look their best. They did use cosmetics and would paint every inch of their faces, just as we do. They’d also be sure their hairline was okay and didn’t need replucking. Back then they thought a high forehead was beautiful, and they plucked their hair to get it.

If the bride was wealthy she probably put on some jewelry. In the Middle Ages all gems had symbolic meaning. Here’s a list of common gems and their meaning.

Chrysoprase: Virtue
Red Jasper: Love
Beryl: Purification
Green Jasper: Faith
White Jasper: Gentleness
Amethyst: Christ's martyrdom
Chalcedony: Closeness to God
Emerald: Christian hope
Sardonyx: Chastity or humility
Chrysolite: Heavenly life
Sapphire: Heaven-bound
Hyacinth: God's grace

The wedding ceremony itself took place outside the church door before entering the church for a nuptial mass. During the ceremony in front of the church doors the man stood on the right side and the woman stood on the left side facing the door of the church. The reason they did it this way was because woman was formed out of a rib in the left side of Adam.

Due to the harsh realities of the times some people weren’t married in church at all. They were married in castles. That was okay as long as you got a priest to bless the union later.

After the ceremony itself the feast would begin. It was an amazing celebration filled with minstrels, jugglers, and other entertainers. Relatives came from far and wide to mix and mingle with the local folk. Often to mark the day a noble would free prisoners. Beggars lined up at the gates to feast on leftover food.

Our word honeymoon came from another custom of the time. For a month after the marriage the bride and groom drank honeyed mead. So the word honeymoon was born.

Does a medieval wedding sound like fun? As I did research for this article I found that lots of modern brides have medieval theme weddings. Some of their dresses and cakes are fantastic. What about you? Want to share something about your special day?


LuAnn said...

I've really been enjoying your posts about medieval weddings, especially some of the customs. Thanks.

Elaine Cantrell said...

I'm so glad, LuAnn. Sometimes people don't comment so you don't know if you're pleasing folks of not.

Toni V.S. said...

Very interesting LuAnn, and very thorough. With your permission, I'd like to keep it for future reference.

StephB said...

Wow, Elaine, your series on Medieval weddings was fabulous. I enjoyed reading both posts, especially this one. It is very interesting to see how modern weddings are similiar and diffrent. Well done! Thanks for doing the research and sharing.


Caroline Clemmons said...

This was interesting. I knew some of this--like the honeymoon--but most of it was new information for me. Thank you for sharing it. I particularly enjoyed the part about the stack of wedding cakes.

Elaine Cantrell said...

Thanks for stopping by, ladies. I love the medieval period so these details fascinate me.

Clover Autrey said...

Thanks for doing all that research. You made it easy for the rest of us. Fascinating stuff, Elaine.

Mary Ricksen said...

1Great post. my kinda wedding