This is an excellent question and one that needs some tender loving care to explain. We’ll have to go back in history to help us all understand where Grandma’s sentiments come from.
Wedding History 101:
My research brought me back to the Medieval times (mid-1200’s – 13th century), before the Church was involved in legal marriages. It was the custom back then, that a couple could proclaim their agreement to marry one another by simply standing in the space they were in and saying “I take you to be my wife/husband” and saying Vows to each other. That space could have been a corn field, a stable or a pub, but most often it was in front of the church or on the porch of the church. The church was simply a convenient, public place to make a public declaration.
Sometimes the couple placed their hands on the hilt of a sword or used a cord to fasten their hands together during the wedding ceremony. The groom would give the bride a ring and the family of the bride would agree to pay a dowry to the groom. Provided that there was “a” (meaning one) witness, it was a binding contract between two people. This part of the wedding was also held on the porch or outside the church doors. A blessing from the church was preferred but usually not performed for people other than those of nobility. The blessing on the marriage was done inside the church.
The church only blessed marriages as a favour to the couple. However, blessings did become more popular over time and in 1439, marriage became a sacrament within the church. It wasn’t until 1563 that the presence of a priest or minister was actually required. Once the church got involved the ceremony became much more organized and the clergy began to keep more formal records. It’s important to understand that the church was the public, central gathering spot for small villages and all important events took place there. So, it was natural that the church should take on the task of performing weddings and keeping wedding records as a part of their roll, in service to their communities.
It was in 1753, when the new Marriage Act of England and Whales was declared, that all marriages had to take place in the church. Specific instructions stated that the marriage also had to be recorded in the church registry and in the presence of two witnesses. In 1837 civil marriages were recognized as an alternative to a church wedding in England and Wales. It is at this point that the government began to step in and take over the official recording of weddings, for the state.
400+ years later!
Welcome to the 21rst century – 400+ years later! As far as the ceremony goes, we’re not really doing wedding ceremonies much differently than we use to. Old habits are hard to break. We still make an intention to marry that involves our families and we still exchange rings and wedding vows. We still sign a registry and a marriage license but the difference is that there are more Marriage Officiates, with different credentials, who can perform legal weddings.
Let’s return to our question about Grandma.
In the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t been that many years since we moved away from the church as our central, public meeting place. Anyone who was raised in a small town, up to and until the 1970’s (and even today) would still have heavily relied on their church for all of their “Rites of Passage” ceremonies and refuge. Sure, civil ceremonies were taking place but it really wasn’t the norm. Grandma might have been born to and raised by parents who were still holding onto the Victorian era cultural values.
Grandma will be worried that your wedding will not be legitimate without it being in the church or officiated by a priest or minister. And, because the ceremony is not the old, comfortable, traditional one she is used to, that it will be a farce or leave her emotionally cold.
Here are some suggestions on how to help Grandma, when you hire me:
Please assure her that I am an ordained Minister and I can perform a fully legal and legitimate wedding. Let her know that you will be legally married when the ceremony is over and that your marriage will be properly documented. Above all else, confide in her about your plans for the ceremony. Let her know that you want to have a customized and personalized ceremony that is meaningful for both you and your fiancé.
Please remember Grandma in your ceremony. It can be as easy as saying the prayer that she is used to hearing in her church services or wearing something that is hers, on your wedding day. Marriage is about you and your beloved, and, it’s also about family and extended family. Everyone is important.
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Acknowledgements: With Thanks to Scott Thompson – eHow contributor and Wikipedia for their detailed and thorough work for our betterment.
By: Dr. Jayne Gibson
Copyright – All rights Reserved by the Author.
Oct 26, 2015