From a recent work, by Edward J. Wood, on the wedding day in all ages and countries, we glean a few interesting facts in reference to the wedding-ring. The use of the ring, both in betrothal and marriage, seems to be of very old date.
Among the ancient Hebrews the selection of a bride, always made by the parents of the lover, was followed by an espousal, which was confirmed by oaths and accompanied by presents. These gifts were probably the origin of the gift of the ring. In the first meeting of the servant of Isaac and Rebekah, he seeks her favor by the present of a massive earring and two bracelets. After the consent of her parents, there were more costly gifts such as jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment.
In later days, it was the custom for the bridegroom to place a ring upon the finger of the intended bride. It is not certain how early this custom began. There is no mention in the Bible of betrothal finger-rings, but, in the book of Genesis, a ring is mentioned as a token of fidelity or friendship. Then in the book of Luke, a ring is mentioned as a token of adoption.
No reference to rings was made by the Talmudists, and this is an opinion that they were not used in the Mosaic days, but came in at a later period as an economical substitute for dowry-money. The modern Jews still attach more moment to the breaking of glass, not as a bond of union, but a suggestion that the union is irrevocable. When damage is done to the crystal, it suggests of the frailty of life and a portent of the punishment of infidelity.
Whatever may be the fact as to the use of marriage-rings in the Bible days, monkish legends relate that Joseph and Mary used one, and moreover, that it was of onyx or amethyst. It was said to have been discovered in the year 996, when it was given by a jeweler from Jerusalem to a lapidary of Clusium, who had been sent to Rome by the wife of a marquis of Etruria, to make purchases for her. The jeweler told the lapidary of the preciousness of the relic, but he despised it, and kept it for several years among other articles of inferior value.
However, a miracle revealed to him its genuineness, and it was placed in a church, where it worked many curative wonders. In 1473, it was deposited with some Franciscans at Clusium, from whom it was stolen. Ultimately, it found its way to Perusia, where a church was built for it, and it still performed miracles, but they were trifling in comparison with its miraculous powers of multiplying itself. It existed in different churches in Europe at the same time, and each ring being as genuine as the others, it was paid the same honors by the devout.
In modern Greece there are two rings used, which are gold for the bridegroom and silver for the bride. These were frequently interchanged by the two in token of union and of domestic equality, the higher value of the ring of the husband marked his superiority. In the time of Pliny, an iron ring was sent as a pledge to the intended bride. These iron rings were set with adamants, the hardness and durability of both iron and stone signifying the perpetuity of the contract.
Juvenal states that during the imperial period, the man gave a gold ring in token of his fidelity to his betrothed, and that she wore it as now, on the finger next to the small one. Tertullian speaks of them in his day. Isidore says that women wore only this ring, or not more than two at most. Some nuptial rings were of brass and some of copper. The plain circle was not the only form of wedding-ring, as some were carved in devices such as a key to signify the domestic authority of the wife.