A wedding ring for three fingers

Now we all know everything about wedding rings but here’s something that may not be that well-known. In the Norman pontifical from Lyre (in Evreux, France) there is something quite fascinating about the way a wedding was being conducted in the middle of the twelfth century. A pontifical is a sort of users manual for priests and clergy relating to the different offices they perform during the liturgical year. Evidently, by the 12th century, the wedding had become the object of the sacrament of Marriage and was one of these offices for which instructions were included in the pontifical.

There is the question of the wedding ring that the groom was to offer to the bride. However, there is no indication that there was an exchange of rings but what intrigues me is what I called the ritual of the three fingers. Have a look below. The translation belongs to the invaluable Anne J. Duggan.

7th century Byzantine wedding ring depicting Christ uniting the bride and the groom. Would it be related to the ritual of the three fingers in the Norman pontifical?

“Before everything, let those who are to be joined in marriage come to the doors of the church in the sight of many witnesses, and let the priest ask the consent of both, and let there be a reciting of the woman’s dowry, and let some money be set aside for division among the poor, and then let the woman be given by her father or his friends, and let the man receive her in God’s faith and his own, to keep her in health and sickness as long as he lives (sanam et infirmam quamdiu vixerit), and take her by the right hand. [….] Then the priest blesses the ring, saying […] Let the husband take the ring and, together with the priest place it on three fingers of the right hand of his spouse in turn […] and then place the ring on one finger of the left hand, and leave it there, so that it is thereafter worn on the left hand […] After this, let them be taken into the church […] After this, when they have been led into the right side of the church choir, with the woman standing on the man’s right, let the Mass of the Holy Trinity be begun, Benedicta sit […]”

A first look at that and everyone would say that the three fingers represent the three Persons of the Trinity. My guess, however, is that the spouse and the priest were to emulate God’s mystical communion of the two spouses in Christ’s name, a vision that had been given expression on this 7th century ring. Of course, the two interpretations might just complement each other.

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