The Origins of Wedding Rings And Why They’re Worn On The 4th Finger Of The Left Hand

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Today I found out the history and symbolism behind the tradition of wearing a wedding ring and why, in most western cultures, it’s worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, otherwise known as the ring finger.

Wedding rings today are a billion dollar sentiment of love, but no  one can really say for sure when this age old tradition actually started. Some believe that the oldest recorded exchange of wedding rings comes from ancient Egypt, about 4800 years ago. Sedges, rushes and reeds, growing alongside the well-known papyrus were twisted and braided into rings for fingers an other decorative ornaments worn by the women in those days.

The circle was the symbol of eternity, with no beginning or end, not only to the Egyptians, but many other ancient cultures. The hole in the center of the ring also had significance. It wasn’t just considered a space, but rather a gateway, or door; leading to things and events both known and unknown. To give a woman a ring signifies never-ending and immortal love.

The materials these rings were made of didn’t last very long and soon were substituted with rings made of leather, bone or ivory. The more expensive the material, the more love shown to the receiver; the value of the ring also  demonstrated the wealth of the giver.

The Roman’s also eventually adopted this tradition but with their own twist. Rather than offering a ring to a woman as a symbol of love, they awarded them as a symbol of ownership. Roman men would “claim” their woman with the giving of a ring. Roman betrothal rings were later made of iron and called “Anulus Pronubus.” They symbolized strength and permanence. It is also said that the Romans were the first to engrave their rings.

It was not until about 860 that the Christians used the ring in marriage ceremonies; even then, it was not the simple plain band as we know it. It usually was highly decorated with engraved doves, lyres, or two linked hands. The Church discouraged such rings as ‘heathenish’ and, around the 13th century, wedding and betrothal rings were considerably simplified, and given a more spiritual look which was very aptly expressed by a Bishop when he dubbed it a “symbol of the union of hearts.”

Wedding rings through different stages in history have been worn on different fingers, including the thumb, and on both the left and right hands. According to  a tradition believed to have been derived from the Romans, the wedding ring is worn on the left hand ring finger because there was thought to be a vein in the finger, referred to as the ‘Vena Amoris’ or the ‘Vein of Love’ said to be directly connected to the heart. However, scientists have shown this is actually false. Despite this, this  myth still remains regarded by many (hopeless romantics) as the number one reason rings are worn on the fourth finger.

Another theory thought to be behind the ring being placed on the left hand by Christians seems a little more plausible. Early Christian marriages had a ritual to wear the wedding ring in the third finger. As the priest recited during the binding ,”In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, he would take the ring and touch the thumb, the index finger, and the middle finger; then, while uttering “Amen”, he would place the ring on the ring finger, which sealed the marriage.

A more practically based theory is that the soft metal (traditionally gold for wedding rings) is less worn or injured on the finger of the left hand, due to most of the world being right handed.  Further, the fourth finger on the left hand is probably the second to the least used finger on a person’s hands outside of pinkies.  Pinkies being small, making a small ring with little surface area to decorate, perhaps motivated people to then place it on the next least used finger, namely the fourth finger on the left hand, which is roughly the size of the other fingers.

Bonus Facts:

  • The earliest and smallest engagement ring was given to Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII. She was two years old at the time.  Presumably the ring was given to her by Pedobear. 😉
  • Seventeen tons of gold are made into wedding rings each year in the United States!
  • Back in the 1300’s, when people were particularly superstitious, it was believed that taking a piece of the bride’s clothing would grant the guests good luck. This lead to many guests that would literally tear cloth from the bride’s dress (which made for a very peeved bride!). So, in an attempt to stave off greedy luck-seekers, many brides began to throw items to guests that could be easily removed from her and that included her garter. Eventually, grooms began to remove the garter and tossed it to the men as a means to prevent tipsy male guests from trying to do the deed themselves. In an effort to help the women feel included, it eventually became customary for the bride to throw her bouquet at the female guests.
  • There are dozens of good-luck, bad-luck traditions followed by different cultures around the world. In Greek culture, a sugar cube is tucked into the bride’s glove to “sweeten” the marriage. For good luck, Egyptian women pinch the bride on her wedding day. The English believe a spider found in a wedding dress means good luck.Peas are thrown at Czech newlyweds instead of rice. Ancient Greeks and Romans thought the veil protected the bride from evil spirits. Brides have worn veils ever since. The groom carries the bride across the threshold to bravely protect her from evil spirits lurking below.
  • The first recorded account of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477 when King Maximilian I of Germany (1459-1519) proposed to Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482) and offered her a diamond to seal his vow. (So, men you now know who to blame!)
  • Interestingly, in many countries, even today, including Norway, Russia, Greece, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland, Austria, Germany,Portugal and Spain, the wedding ring in worn on the ring finger of the right hand and not the left. In Jewish tradition, the groom places the ring on the bride’s index finger, and not the “ring” finger at all.

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  • kelly

    Pedobear remark was uncalled for, stop perpetuating a fad joke that belittles a serious issue.

    • @Kelly: I’ve never gotten the impression that anyone actually somehow thinks pedofelia is somehow OK or less horrible because of the pedobear meme; it also doesn’t seem that the people who find humor in it are enjoying some form of morose delectation over such actual real acts. In the end, most jokes and humor are all about turning serious or horrible issues (at various levels) into something funny; this is more or less the essence of humor. Because of this, pretty much everyone laughs at horrible things, it’s just the level of horribleness that can be funny to a specific person that varies from individual to individual. In the end, I personally think learning to find humor in any situation, regardless of how horrible or whether the situation happened to you or someone else, makes life much more enjoyable and is generally a healthy response to life’s exigencies, more often than not. This doesn’t imply that one loses site of the seriousness or horribleness of a given situation. Rather, sometimes all you can do is laugh. In my experience, it’s usually people who have had very little go wrong in their life, in terms of the things that actually matter, that have a hard time laughing at the darker side of life. To each his own, I suppose.

      • LYNN ALLEN

        If you ask yourself this question it seems to clarify the best direction…
        Is it kind…..Is it honorable…..does it elevate…..otherwise it would best humor and all be kept private….thank you ….kindly….Lynn

  • Internet

    @kelly: An engagement ring was given to a two year old. This is the internet. A Pedo-bear reference is practically obligatory in that situation.

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  • Me

    It is not true that the wedding ring is worn on the right hand in Portugal – I don’t know about the other countries mentioned.

    The engagement ring is worn on the right ring finger until the wedding day, when it’s moved to the left ring finger together with the wedding ring (put on by the groom) or removed completely.

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  • Gospel James

    I think the wedding band is no longer necessary for a couple to feel in love and united. A wedding band does not guaranttee psychological fidelity between a married, or engaged couple; and so should be discontinued.

    • Natasha

      Wow @ Gospel James who screwed you over?

      • Eberhardt

        @Natasha: If Gospel James is anything like me, then he’s not talking bout getting screwed over. It’s about having been around the world in 80 days (or less), or having been around the block an innumerable amount of times, and seeing that at some point everyone (especially us guys) will be riding many horses without the special one[s] knowing it. When the haze of youth clears a bit, and we’re able to commit to others (mostly others who have already led the same lifestyle), then we know for sure that it’s not about a trinket, or a legal document, or a preacher/rabbi/caliph/pandit – whatever you believe in – but about your complement in this existence.

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  • Mark Unhjem

    In Norway years ago the couple put on “wedding” rings when they were engaged. It was a sign of commitment, and that were off-limits to others.

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  • menaredogs

    There are plenty nasty women who actually look for married men. So …. Men wear your wedding rings. Don’t miss out on the homewrecking females hunting you.

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  • @Gospel James, you hit the nail right on the head. I think it must be discontinued because nowadays, some couples hide their rings and go behind their spouse. May God forgive them. God never gave Adam and Eve a ring to bind them as husband and wife.

  • NicolePT

    Ok, where exactly have you heard that in Portugal people use the wedding ring on the right hand!?? It´s just not true! engagement and wedding rings are used on the left hand, the ring finger.. only commitment rings are used on the right hand.

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  • Jefferson Leaman

    Wedding ring should be discontinued because God has not commanded it in Scripture.

    • John T. Kuhrke

      That is retarded Iogic.

      God didn’t command us to buiId and drive cars either.

  • st. Francis

    Thank u mr. Poster. It a pity that many buy an idea without finding out the origin. I’v search 4 dis knowledge, and i found it. I don’t need any element to prove my love. If one have no faith in my words, he/she can have no faith in my gift.

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  • Anon

    Christians don’t have priests, they have ministers. You were meaning to say Catholics. Just FYI…

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  • KMH

    The smallest engagement was given to two-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, on the event of her betrothal to the INFANT Dauphin of France, son of King Francis I, in 1518. Mary’s tiny gold ring was set with a diamond.
    There was no pedophile. This just goes to show people need to get their ducks in a row before telling people false information.
    Ignorance is not always bliss.

    • John T. Kuhrke

      KMH … What the heck are you yammering about. The articIe never said any of those things. You need to get your ducks in a row.

  • Pastor Jefferson leaman

    God hates idolatry and if you His child wanting to see Him than get off your ornaments. Exodus 33:1-6

  • Patrick K Attikey

    Adam did not put ring on Eve’s finger which was the first marriage. GOD just hate jewelry; They foreign gods according to Bible: Gen. 35:1-5, l Peter 3:3-5, l Timothy 2:9 etc etc. RING IS NOT MARRIAGE BUT SUBMISSION AND LOVE (CHARACTER)

    • John T. Kuhrke

      Wow, Patrick. You are so fuII of shit.

  • bradley lehman

    @Jefferson Leaman. ur very wrong,cause it is mentioned in the bible,as to which. the ring is worn on the left hand ring finger,as it is closest to the heart. u need to re-read ur bible.

  • John T. Kuhrke

    Wow. AII these crazy comments under an articIe on the meaning of rings.

    I wouId add one thing to the fray. In the BibIicaI days, engagements and marriages occurred in a different fashion. You got engaged but it was serious. The engagement was when the ceremony took pIace. You were committed. You remained chaste and Iived separateIy for a period. When she came over to the guy’s tent one nght, that was the wedding. At that time you became married. There was no wedding ceremony. In the eyes of God, you just got married.
    Next time you are having casuaI sex, think about that one. IoI
    I bet I’ve been married 500 times.

  • Kenneth Wayne Noble

    I guess married people here think more like Romans. Romans apparently used iron bands to bind prisoners and married people. In the US, we use brighter, shinier and softer metals like zinc to bind prisoners and gold to bind couples. Personally, I believe that a life-long commitment to someone you intend to be on intimate terms with should be forged in love, compromise and free will, not in greed, 1-sided dominance and the bonds forced by finger-cuffs, possible monetary/social penalties if a couple decides to break up or the legal proceedings, agreements and charges otherwise forced on married couples whether they stay married or not- forced by social pressure to engage in otherwise useless and obsolete rituals. Also forced by an increasingly domineering and combative government, appointed by what usually turn out to be 2-faced pricks that manipulate and turn against the people who elect them.

  • ifeogo

    According to the Wedding Service, the Church originally intended the Wedding Ring to serve as imperishable “symbol of security” or “seal of guarantee” or “sign of earnest” by which the Groom symbolically bestows the legal rights to his estate on the Bride. This is unambiguously expressed in the words:
    Old: WITH this ring I thee wed,
    with my body I thee worship,
    and with all my worldly goods I thee endow:
    In the Name of the Father,
    and of the Son,
    and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

    New: I give you this ring
    as a sign of our marriage.
    With my body I honour you,
    all that I am I give to you,
    and all that I have I share with you:
    in the name of the Father,
    and of the Son,
    and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

  • ifeogo

    To the Greco-Romans, Egyptians, Indians and other ancient pagan cultures, rings had mystical symbolisms, and the Wedding Ring also symbolised the “bond of covenant fidelity” but not the “seal of security” to guarantee the Bride’s right of possession in her Husband’s estate.

    The Church (especially the Church of England) did not derive or institute the legal use of the Wedding Ring from any of the usual fanciful or mystical insinuations. Church wedding ensures the Bride’s right to possess her husband’s heritage, whereas pagan marriages ensured the Groom’s possessiveness over the Bride. Besides, because of polygamy and divorce in non-Christian society, a security seal ring for the Bride was unthinkable.

    The only paganish legal use of the ring which has some bearing with the Christian Wedding Ring is the Signet Ring. The Signet Ring was engraved to emboss the royal pictogram on solid wax used as seal. Signet rings had also served some redemptive purpose for the people of God in the Scripture. Pharaoh’s Signet Ring conferred on Joseph the regal authority and property right over Egypt (Gen 41:42) also as Ahasuerus’s Signet Ring conferred royal legislative authority on Esther/Mordecai (Esth 8:1-2, 5-8). God’s messianic promise of guarantee to Zerubbabel was to make him a Signet Ring (Hag 2:23). Jewish men wore their Signet Rings on their right hand (Jer 22:24). Since the Roman Empire began to accord metro-political authority to the Bishops, the Church has been giving regal Signet Rings to her Bishops during their enthronement.

  • ifeogo

    It is important to note that since the Second World War when women began to also give ring and modern marriage revisionism, the thrust of words used for giving the ring has been muddled and evolved in newer liturgies.

    Unlike the Engagement Ring given before marriage as a fanciful token of love, the Wedding Ring was not originally meant to be valuable exchanged token of love as is popular today or merely civil covenant sign of marriage-bond or sign of marriage-vow but mainly a legal covenant seal of guarantee or seal of co-signatory which secures the Bride’s right of co-possession co-ownership and co-heritage of her husband’s identity and estate (Eph 1:13-14). This is clearly evident from the ancient Church’s words for giving the ring. Many modern liturgical revisions seem to play down on this though most family estate legislations still retain this ancient Christian stance. The giving away of the Bride by her family removes her from her father’s heritage except for her dower. The transfer of heritage security (somewhat similar to Germanic mund or Romanic manus) through the endowment ring bond (Anglo-Saxon wed) ensures that no one has multiple heritage lineages. This demands the prior settlement and fulfilment of basic communal, civil, and legal requirements before wedding.