Band of gold
A tradition as lasting as love
The use of the wedding ring dates back to ancient Egypt.
Because the ring was traditionally a seal by which orders were signed (i.e., signet rings bore emblems whose impressions were stamped on important documents), it was regarded as a mark of the highest friendship and trust by those who received it.
That was the reason that the ring was adopted for the marriage ceremony to signify that the wife was admitted to sharer in her husband's counsel and be a joint partner in his estate.
The engagement or betrothal ring first came into use during the late Roman Empire. It became the first article of gold ever worn by the Roman maiden, replacing an earlier ring of iron.
It was believed that the gold ring symbolized everlasting love that would never tarnish, just as the metal of which it was made.
Close to the heart
And why does it go on the third finger of the left hand? Ancient Egyptian writings by Appianus suggest it is because this finger was believed to be connected by an artery to the heart. The tradition continues today.
A writer in the late 17th century referred to this artery as "a vein of blood, called vena amoris, which passeth from the finger to the heart."
In some cultures, however, the wedding ring was worn on the third finger of the right hand. This was the custom in England until the end of the 16th century, except for a brief period during the reign of Henry VIII when it was fashionable to wear the wedding ring on the thumb.
Just plain Mary
It is said that the marriage of Queen Mary to Philip of Spain in 1554 did much to establish the prestige of the plain gold wedding band.
After much discussion as to the proper ring for the royal marriage, Mary declared that she preferred to be married with "a plain hoop of gold like other maidens."
And this preference for the gold wedding ring continues today, more than four centuries later.