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Ancient Marriage Customs

In the volume “Traditional Customs connected with the Scottish Liturgy’’ by Mr F. C. Eeles, F.R.Hist.S., FSA Scot., etc, newly published by the Alcuin Club, the following is given regarding ancient marriage customs:—

Until comparatively recently, marriages more commonly took place at the bride’s house than at the church. Before marriage, women used to wear nothing on their heads, except perhaps a shawl on a rainy or a cold day and in church. The hair was kept in place by a narrow black band called the snood, passing round the temples and tied behind, the presence of which unfailingly denoted virginity—indeed, if an unmarried woman committed fornication, the snood would have been torn from her head, if not laid aside by herself. At and after marriage, the woman put on a cap, made of white linen, tint in front and pleated behind. This was worn no matter how young the Bride might be, or how much hair she had, and, it was never afterwards discontinued. It will be noticed that it was really of the nature of a veil, and may have originally denoted that the wearer was living under vows. This would rather lend support to the view that the bride's veil is separate and distinct from the care-cloth. The bride’s dress was usually a mixture of reds and whites. The bride was attended by one bridesmaid (who was not a mere child), called her maiden, ami also by a young man. The bridegroom had likewise a young man, and also a “maiden.” The bride and bridegroom were accompanied at the .altar by one “maiden'’ and one young man, the other “maiden” and the other young man reunaining in a seat in the church. Widows and widowers were married on Sunday morning immediately before service.

During the marriage service the man stood on the right, the woman on the left, as directed by the rubrie, which, like most of the marriage service, is taken directly from the Sarum Manual. At. the word "Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?” the bride's father took Iher right hand and placed it in the priest’s right hand, and the priest thereupon gave it into the right hand of the man, who then said, “I, N, take thee, N. to be my wedded wife,” etc. The ring was placed upon the book, and the priest made the sign of the cross over it, using some form of blessing in silence. The man placed it on the third finger (that next the little finger) on the woman’s left hand. An old tradition told how at one time the ring was first placed momentarily on the thumb and the other fingers in succession before being finally placed on the ring finger. This was a very interesting survival of the old Sarum ceremony. . . .

It is very curious that the more modern custom of placing the ring, on the left hand has become the rule in Scotland—why, it is not easy to say. The right hand was anciently the hand for the ring, but Cranmer changed it to the left in the 1549 Prayer Rook. Strangely enough, the same change was made by the Roman Church in the ”Rituale” of Paul V. in 1615. and it was at first only received in certain places. The Romanists in this country, for example, do not seem to have adopted it until the eighteenth century. .....

The bride and bridegroom did not walk arm-in-arm or even side-by-side within the church; the bridegroom wont, first, followed by the bride, and afterwards the young men and the “maidens.”

But the great occasion for ceremony—-more than the actual marriage—was the “kirkin’,” or first appearance in church. of the newly married couple. This took place on the first. Sunday after the marriage, or on the same day (being Sunday) in the case of a. widow. About half an hour before the beginning of the service, the bride’s father (or oldest, male relative) went to the church ami sat down at the outside end of the seat which the newlv married couple were going to occupy, so as to keep out intruders. At the beginning of the service, the bride and bridegroom came to church in procession; the bride went first, supported by the two young men, one on each side, and the bridegroom followed, supported in like manner by the two “maidens.” At the church door the young men and the “maidens” stood aside and allowed the bridegroom to pass into the church and up the passage first and unattended. The two “maidens” and the two young mon follows!, each side by aide. The bridegroom stood at the entrance to (he seat while the rest of the party went in, and they sat in the following order—the. bride at the inner end of the seat next the wall; next her. not the bridegroom, but her own “ maiden ” ; then her young man, next the bridegroom’s maiden and his young man, last of all the bridegroom "himself at the outside end of the seat, the bride’s father having moved off somewhere else on the entry of the procession.

When the newly married couple first received Communion together, they went to the altar one after the other, and not side by side. The bride knelt between her husband and the priest, that is to say, on the right or south side in churches where the priest communicated the people from south to north. . . . She therefore received first; but she kept the Sacrament in her hands until her husband received, and then they both consumed it together. This, of course, could not be done in the case of the chalice. After the “kirkin’,” they left the church in procession in the same order in which they came. . . .

At Muchails ... a very peculiar custom was observed. The bridegroom's young man, who supported the bride on heir right, carried in his right band a staff, made of some white wood with the bark peeled off. It was between two and a half and three feet long, and was carried upright, a bunch of blue ribbons being tied to the top of it. The young man (who sat next thio bridegroom) held it in his right hand throughout the service. In the evening, the ribbons or streamers were tied round the right arm of the bridegroom ,. who wore them that night.

These marriage customs, which are of great interest, survived till the end of the nineteenth century among the fishing population on the coast, particularly at Muchalls. The recent migration of the fishing people to the large towns has had a most disastrous effect upon all old usages, and if a marriage were to take place among the few remaining inhabitants of the old villages, it is hard to know how much or how little of the old ceremonial would be followed.

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