Rings are more than a means to add some pizzas to your look. They play an important role in our life and boast multiple functions. Make sure to check out the first part of this post to learn about some of the most unexpected functions. Today, we are going to talk about rings and their significance in engagement, wedding, and funeral ceremonies.
RINGS AS A SYMBOL OF MARRIAGE
Smooth and simple rings (bands) are the most common attribute of wedding ceremonies. In the 1st century AD, the civil laws of the Roman Empire envisioned that an oral or written agreement of two parties, the groom and the bride’s parents, was enough for marriage. An agreement came into force as soon as the groom handed an iron ring to the parents of his chosen one. From this moment, a woman was no longer a maiden; de jure she obtained the status of a wife. For a lawyer in ancient Rome, a ceremony of presenting such a ring equated to a marriage contract, the so-called futuratum. A wedding celebration by itself existed only to let the public know that two people became husband and wife.
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Another interesting custom is found in Israel. A bridegroom handed his bride a coin as a sign that he would undertake his obligations to take care of family well-being. Later, a ring replaced the coin but it retained its original meaning. A couple exchanged engagement rings long before the wedding. Often, it happened when both a groom and a bride-to-be were children. The future head of the family obtained a gold ring while his fiancée got a silver ring. Sometimes, this was the other way around: a bridegroom had a silver ring as a sign of strength and a bride carried a gold band to signify her purity and integrity.
When it was time to get married in accordance with Jewish wedding traditions, a couple had only one ring - a groom gave it to a bride. A rabbi was supposed to check whether a wadding ring was valuable enough.
In Christianity, two rings are required to get married. Unlike Jewish traditions, a priest doesn’t scrutinize wedding bands. Devout Christians tend to wear rings with engraved prayers.
Today, engagement rings are as widespread as wedding bands. However, these pieces are relatively young. It was the idea of large jewelry companies to promote engagement rings as evidence of true love and serious intentions. The tradition to propose with an engagement ring is known since the 19th century.
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According to legends, when Joseph engaged to Mary, he put a ring on the middle finger of her left hand. In ancient Christian wedding rites, it was customary to move a ring from finger to finger. First, a ring was out on the thumb and the couple repeated the words: “in the name of the Father”. Then, the ring was moved to the index finger and the couple said: “and the Son”. When it occurred on the middle finger, almost-newlyweds exclaimed: “and the Holy Spirit”. After that, the ring finally transferred to the ring finger and stayed there ‘till death do us part”. Since antiquity, people have been convinced that the ring finger of the left hand is connected to the heart. Thus, the left hand became the symbol of the heart while the right hand signifies power.
SYMBOL OF LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP
The Medieval period was the heyday of chivalry and romance. The legacy of that era is friendship and love rings that denoted affection, romantic feelings, and allegiance. Knights bestowed their loved ones with rings that featured short poems either in Latin or, more typically, in French since it was the language of love. Some encryptions frequently repeated, which suggested that jewelers had a limited stock of romantic phrases. The most common inscriptions said ‘mon cuer avez’ (you have my heart), ‘de tout mon coeur’ (with all my heart), and amor vinicit omnia (love conquers all).
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Fancier rings boasted enameled leaf, flower, and tear patterns. Affluent individuals gave their paramours pieces adorned with precious stones, especially if they deemed them as symbols of marriage. Another popular design of that era is seen in rings called Gimmel or Gimmal (in Latin, gemellus means twins). These pieced were made of two, sometimes three, hoops or links connected together to symbolize the bonds of friendship and love. They featured an intricate mechanism that opened the shank so that one ring could get through the other. A betrothed couple would have one ring each and if the set featured the third piece, it was given to a witness who held it until a wedding.
Naturally, rings that symbolized love and friendship could not do without appropriate symbols. The most common of them were cupids holding bows and arrows as well as hearts. More sophisticated items depicted deer eating dittany, a plant that was believed to heal wounds, including those caused by Cupid’s arrows. You can also meet a dog motif, which talked about devotion and loyalty.
FUNERAL AND MOURNING RINGS
In the XVIII century, many European countries adopted a custom to give rings to everyone who went to a funeral. These mourning rings were supposed to honor the memory of a deceased person. Normally, mourning pieces featured a compartment to stored hair or a portrait of a loved one. Some of the rings were made entirely of hair.
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Most often, funeral rings carried black enamel and had images of skulls or urns for ashes. Along with that, they featured engraved names, mottos, or woeful inscriptions such as ‘espoire de moi sans fyne’ (always pray for me) or abbreviation CMU (c'est mon ure – my time has come). It is believed that Queen Victoria popularized commemorative rings. She ordered a ring with a portrait of her late husband and did not remove it until she died. The highlight of this ring was a micro-photograph of Prince Albert placed under a quartz crystal. It also carried a monogram of "V" and "A" initials that sat on both sides from the ring’s setting.
MEMENTO MORI RINGS
The very first rings that serve as a reminder of death appeared in antiquity. They combined the symbolism of death (skeletons, skulls, hourglasses, as well as figures of cupids holding an inverted torch) with inscriptions talking about the transience of human existence. These images were the visual equivalent of the expression “memento mori” - remember you must die.
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The second wave of their popularity came in the Middle Ages when the epidemic of the black death was raging in Europe. Skulls and skeletons, which stared at people from luxurious rings, emphasized their mortality and inevitability of death. On top of that, due to the increasing influence of the church, such jewelry was supposed to promote morality and piety in those who lived in anticipation of the judgment day. Even wedding rings of that period were made in the memento mori style to remind that vanity and wealth are ephemeral and love is eternal, just like death.
A traditional Irish engagement ring, Claddagh, became one of the most beloved symbols of marriage not only in Ireland but also around the world. Claddagh belongs to the so-called fidelity rings. It is known that symbols of fidelity became widespread during the Roman Empire. However, their heyday happened in the Middle Ages when every self-respecting beauty desired to have jewelry that would speak about her inamorato's love and loyalty. In most cases, fidelity rings were crafted like two connected hands. As a sign of agreement, two hands symbolized that a couple would stay true to their vows.
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Sometimes, fidelity rings, along with holding hands, featured a heart. And if in addition to the hands and the heart the design incorporated a crown, it became the Claddagh ring. You can often see an engraving on a ring’s band saying "Grá, Dilseacht, agus Cairdeas" which means "Love, Loyalty, and Friendship". In Claddagh rings, the heart symbolizes love, hands are friendship, and the crown stands for devotion. Irish Catholics have another explanation for this design: two hands are united by love and crowned with the grace of Christ. Alternatively, the crown means dedication to the Father, the left hand - to the Son, and the right hand - to the Holy Spirit.
Claddagh rings are worn not only as a sign of engagement but also as a symbol of friendship. If this ring sits on the right hand and the heart is turned away from the wearer, this suggests that this person is looking for love. If the ring is worn on the right hand and the heart faces its owner, then he or she is in a romantic relationship. If a person wears Claddagh on the left hand and the heart as if looks at them, it becomes an engagement ring. Finally, the fourth way to rock a Claddagh ring is to put in on the left hand and face the heart outwards. If a bride and a groom put rings in such a way during the wedding ceremony, they showed that their hearts reached out to each other. In the same fashion, this ring can be seen on the fingers of widowed and divorced individuals. By tradition, Claddagh rings are passed from a grandmother to granddaughter or from mother to daughter.
LEGENDS ABOUT RINGSMany legends and myths surround rings. According to one of them, Prometheus had to wear the very first ring at the behest of Zeus. That was a link taken from the shackles that bound the titan. An alternative version says that Prometheus himself decided to keep a piece of the chain as a symbol of rebellion and torments he had to go through.
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In the Nibelungen Saga, a young warrior Siegfried gets hold of a ring that grants the power to rule the world but curses the one who owns it. In the Middle East, one can summon a genie, an almighty spirit, with the help of a magic ring. The legendary ring of King Solomon granted power and health. In the Tolkien fantasy novel “The Lord of the Rings”, the stumbling block is a golden ring that can conquer and enslave the whole world.
Finally, you should know the legend of the Claddagh ring since we have already mentioned it in this post. As we have already said, Claddagh is a small fishing village in Ireland. It was the birthplace of Richard Joyce. He left his home at a young age to find work in the West Indies, earn some money, and marry his beloved one. However, on his way to West Indies, his ship was captured by Algerian pirates and Richard was sold to a Moor jeweler. The slave quickly mastered the craft of his master. Longing for his bride, he created a ring that depictured two hands that hold a heart under a crown. This ring later became known as the Claddagh ring.
A few years later, when William III of Orange reached an agreement with the Moors to release all captured Brits, Richard finally obtained freedom. Despite the fact that his master wanted him to marry his only daughter and become a co-owner of his jewelry workshop, the young man returned to Ireland. All this time, Richard's fiancée had been waiting for him faithfully. Upon returning home, Richard Joyce got married and started his own jewelry business.
If you are looking for a ring to become your amulet, or you need an original ring to pop the question, or maybe you’re a biker hunting down an item to mirror your personality, then welcome to AJT Jewellery. We offer hundreds of rings in intriguing biker, punk, rocker, and Gothic designs, as well as more traditional pieces, to wear every day. Don’t hesitate to check out our catalogs.