We’ve discovered why grooms stand on the right at a wedding, so now let’s show some love to the left: why do we wear wedding rings on our left hand?
Writing with your left hand during the medieval period could get you accused of being possessed. The Spanish Inquisition tortured & killed more lefties than righties. Many cultures have been averse to the left, from the long-standing Islamic no-no of eating or drinking with the left hand, to the ancient Japanese expectation that any wife not favoring her right side could be legally divorced on the spot. So why does a finger on a cursed hand now symbolize lasting love?
Marriage & the now-standard ring finger go back to 2nd-century Egyptians, who falsely believed there was a “delicate nerve” in the 4th left finger that stretched directly to the heart. Centuries later, the Romans held a similar belief, but, instead of a nerve, the Romans believed that the vena amoris, or “lover’s vein”, tied that finger with the heart. During the course of Roman engagements, a well-off suitor who could afford a ring would slip it on his bride-to-be’s 4th finger so that, from there on out, he’d always have a symbolic grip around her lover’s vein.
Others argue the tradition started out as an early Christian ritual. Whenever Orthodox worshippers crossed themselves, they’d join their thumb with their index & middle fingers, to represent the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The leftover “ring” finger signified earthly love, which made it ideal for a wedding ring.
Until the 17th century, though, Orthodox couples usually wore their rings on the right hand, since it was associated with strength (as did most Europeans of all faiths). But, during the Reformation in 1549, an English Bishop & Protestant reformer named Thomas Cranmer broke from tradition when he published “The Book of Common Prayer”, by instructing couples to switch their wedding rings over to their left 4th finger. Before long, husbands & wives across the continent were doing just that. And now, around the world, we still do it today.
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