The Wedding Days and Nights of Olde: Ye Medieval Wedding Celebration

by: Michael Kabel

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The medieval themed wedding ceremony and reception draws from traditions that date back as much as 1,000 years. Like the period itself, they have their own distinctive charm, including rich details, sumptuous feasts and firmly held traditions and rites.

Today many couples choose to emulate Medieval wedding traditions, either in spirit or in recreating their customs. While some of these traditions are perhaps best left in the past, others stand out for their romance and simple, timeless elegance.

Marriage was an important event, between whole families and the church.

Medieval weddings as they're remembered today really began with the proclamations of the Council of Westminster in 1076, which required a priestly blessing on all marriage ceremonies. Later, in the 16th Century, new church laws required a priest sanction all betrothals, or arranged marriages between families. Betrothals often began quite early in a person's life, sometimes even early childhood. They usually included very explicit contracts describing the terms of the marriage.

The bride's gown and beauty could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Brides during the Middle Ages often wore long, flowing gowns with a blue ribbon to show purity, and a wreath of flowers in her hair. For sanitary reasons, her wedding day might be the only time the bride could wear her hair down. Brides sometimes plucked their hairline in order to display a more prominent brow. They would also wear lots of makeup and perfume, to increase their beauty and help hide blemishes and scars.

Affluent and wealthy brides could afford dresses made of the silk and gold and silver thread that was just arriving for the first time from the Far East. And though bathing was not always common for people of the era, the occasion of the wedding was definitely reason to enjoy a hot soak before the ceremony.

Many wedding ceremonies happened in castles.

Castles were often the seat of government and society, and the Catholic Church (the only real organized religious organization in Europe at the time) allowed weddings outside of a church if a priest gave his blessing later. The wedding occasion was a reason to celebrate almost like no other, with plenty of entertainment and pageantry leading up to the big event. The castle's lord would sometimes free prisoners in celebration of the marriage.

For poorer couples (more or less everyone except the wealthy Nobility), marriages were often held in their local church or even in their home. Instead of a ring, the bride and groom would sometimes break a coin in half, with each carrying a piece as a sign of their union.

The reception feast was a meal for the ages.

The wedding feast included such Medieval delicacies as roast turtle dove, quail, venison, and oysters steamed in milk. Along with the main dish, candied apples and fruit picked from the wild were also served in giant quantities. Vegetables included carrots, cabbage, and leeks. Beverages ranged from simple water to fine wine and heavy ale. Dessert was literally a pile of small cakes and pastries stacked high atop one another, giving guests their choice of finish. After the meal, the celebrations continued all night long, with dancing and feasting until the early morning hours.

The reception had its ribald side, too. Guests would sometimes follow the bride and groom back to their room and attempt to catch the bride's garter. Later that same evening, they sometimes tried to bring the new couple a special "reinvigorating" potion known as a "bride's broth."

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