Matrimony has existed since ancient times, in different forms which reflect the customs and values of different societies.
The Sumerians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians saw marriage solely for economic and social reasons.
In Ancient Rome marriage was seen as a form of social climbing to pass from one castle to another, and was also valid for the man. The marriages were arranged when the couple were still children.
The brides dress was white, a symbol of her purity, fastened with the knot of Hercules which only the groom could untie.
Another important accessory was the veil which was removed the day after the marriage had been consummated; the veil was saffron yellow and was a symbol of the fire of Vestal. Vestal was the goddess who protected the family hearth. On her hair, which was made into six plaits in honor of the six vestale virgins. The bride would wear a crown of lilies, corn ears, rosemary, and myrtle. These were all symbols of purity, fertility, masculine virility and long life.
The boy would give and engagement ring made of precious metal or iron, on which two hands clasping were engraved to the girl. The marriage took place a few years later with a religious ceremony. The signing of the marriage contract marked the conclusion of the rite. The newly-wed bride was carried over the threshold of their home by the groom as was the custom of both the Romans and the Greeks. Divorce was permitted and it was not unusual for men and wombed to marry four or five times. Cesar himself was married four times, Cicero divorced his wife to marry a girl whom was younger than his daughter, Tullia.
In all cultures, incestuous marriages were prohibited between children and their parents; marriage between brothers and sisters was actually imposed in some cultures such as Ancient Egypt, Persia, Uganda, the Hawaiian Islands, Sri Lanka, and among the Incas.
With the advent of Christianity, matrimony assumed a sacramental value with the sole purpose of procreation. But the sacred nature of the union between husband and wife determined the indissolubility of the bond leaving no possibility for a voluntary dissolution. This position is still maintained today by the Catholic Church, Orthodox Church and by the Hindus. These cultures consider marriage to be an unbreakable bond. Dissolution is only granted in exceptional cases after careful consultations with bodies specially designed to evaluate each case; bodies such as the Court of the Sacred Rota in the case of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the Middle Ages, from the ninth and tenth centuries, recognizing the great significance of marriage, the church transformed it into a religious ceremony and so consolidated its authority over the institution by banning civil ceremonies. Notwithstanding, marriages only took place for interest and money it was a way of uniting patrimonies and land.
There are no precise rules regard the wedding gown and the bride wears the most beautiful dress that a family can afford. The train later appears in the fifteenth century and it has remained one of the most essential and classic features of most wedding gowns today.
The earliest wedding gown to be documented was that of Princess Philippa, daughter of Henry the fourth of England. At her marriage to Erik of Denmark in 1406, he wore a tunic with a cloak in white silk bordered with grey squirrel and ermine. In the Middle Ages, known also as the Dark Ages, matrimony was completely severed from love and became a contract.
In the seventeenth century royal sovereignty annulled the concept of faithfulness in marriage. During this century the bourgeoisie which was emerging was convinced that this kind of custom would make society corrupt. During this period which was marked by deep religious lacerations, the celebrations became more intimate. Money was invested in the trousseau and for the dowry and the dress was also used after the marriage.
In the eighteenth century, the time of the great revolutions in America and France, the arrogance and lack of values of the aristocracy were finally permanently eradicated. Love again became fundamental in marriage and also an essential part of the human rights established after the two revolutions. In this century bridal gowns with floral motifs were worn and the Imperial Style originated in France; pastel colors were used and the line cut under the bust made the hips and abdomen appear less prominent.
The romantic period interpreted marriage as the natural consequence of love and at the same time condemned any kind of relationship outside of this. Traditions such as the long white bridal gown, gloves, the reception and the wedding cake began in the nineteenth century.
In the twenties, shorter wedding dress with longer veils became fashionable. The creator of this new feminine style was “Coco Chanel”. The mid-thirties, the marriage between Princess Marina of Greece and the Duke of Kent launched a new look. The bride would wear a tight bodied sliver and white dress in lame’, with long, tight sleeves and a train which reached the ground. She wore a diamond tiara with a tulle veil nine feet long. During the second World War, the bridal gown was borrowed or rented due to economic reasons. After the war, in the fifties, Cristian Dior created a feminine image with a thin waist, tight, rounded bust, a wide skirt the petty-coat, a tight bodice and low neck-line.
In 1956 Grace Kelly married Prince Ranieri of Monaco; it took twenty five meters of satin silk, taffeta, one hundred meters of tulle and three hundred meters of antique lace to make her gown. Since the 1960’s , with the advent of feminism and the revolution of the sexes, the dress no longer has a precise style. Through agreements between Church and State, known as “Pattie Lateranensi” the rules of interaction between the civil and the religious aspects of marriage have been established. At present people prefer to marry at a more mature age often after a period of living together, fewer are born, both for economic reasons and for a lack of time to bring them up because women are more independent and work outside the home. Housework and looking after the children are jobs shared by husband and wife. Some couples decide not to marry but live together, but the wedding day remains, for most people, the most important day of their lives.