Often when we think about weddings — or write them into our books — we imagine the full works with floaty white dress, olde worlde church bedecked with flowers, rosy-cheeked clergyman, uplifting organ music, smiling friends and family.
But it wasn’t always so.
Weddings: not IN church, but AT the church door
Strange though it seems, in medieval times, weddings didn’t take place inside a church. In fact, many weddings didn’t involve a priest at all. Even if a priest was there, his job was only to bless the couple. In 1215, the Church decreed that a contract of marriage was to be “in the approved manner at the church door“. The priest was to be at the church door too, but in order to oversee the wedding, not to do the marrying — that was done by the consent of the couple themselves.
The Catholic Church decreed in 1563 that marriage required mutual consent plus joining by a priest. Since the Reformation was in progress, however, that didn’t apply everywhere.
In Scotland, even into the 20th century, a couple could marry by simply exchanging consent in front of witnesses. Think of all those romantic Gretna Green weddings. The runaway couple might have assumed that the strange Scotsman in the Marriage House was doing the marrying, but in fact they were doing it themselves, by declaration before witnesses. Continue reading