“Med denner ringen tar jeg deg til ekte” (With this ring, I thee wed) – these poetic words describe the promise of two people in love.
The wedding ring is a symbol tied to romantic traditions that have run through the course of time. As far back as the Pharaohs, a circular band was seen as a representation of eternity – it has neither a beginning nor an end. The actual ceremonial exchange of bands, however, stemmed from the Roman Empire where the giving of a band was denoted as a public promise to honour an alliance or in acceptance of a position or responsibility.
During the reign of King Edward IV it was decreed that the fourth finger be formally known as the “ring finger” to seal a covenant. With ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost…’ the ring was bounced from finger to finger until it landed on the fourth with ‘Amen’.
It wasn’t until the 1500s that the gold ring was included in the wedding ceremony, and since ca. 1700 this tradition was custom in Norway, however, never became part of a traditional folk wedding.
Today many people around the world prefer to put the wedding ring on the left hand, mainly for convenience, but also to hold to a romantic notion that the finger is the closest leading back to the heart – the ‘vena amoris’, or vein of love, is a vein that runs from the fourth finger of the left hand to the heart.
However, in Norway it is custom to place the wedding ring on the right hand. This custom is based on a spiritual commitment. In the Bible it was the practice to wear rings on the right hand, the hand of authority and power, completing the pledge of commitment. The power and authority came from the right hand of God – the ‘right hand’ meaning the Christ. Therefore wearing the ring on the right hand – in Christ and through Christ – blessed the marriage. Both men and women wear the wedding ring in Norway.
The engagement ring is not as common in Norway. If one is given as a ‘betrothal’ symbol to marry then it is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. The engagement ring is a fairly new practise. The tradition started with Mary of Burgundy. She was the first woman to receive a diamond ring when she got engaged to Maximillion of Austria on the 17 August 1477. According to the story, Max asked his counsellor for advise on how to propose to marry and the counsel was to give her “a ring set with diamonds and likewise a gold ring”. Max proposed as he put a diamond ring on the third finger of Mary’s left hand and, of course, she said ‘Yes’. A tradition was born.