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Thursday, 4 October 2012

history of #christianity in 15 #objects - no. 3 #byzantine marriage crown

presented by the Rev'd Dr Simon Jones
in summary

- there are two crowns in a museum in athens, they are bronze and thought to be from the 10th century.  they comprise of a narrow band raised at the front with a semi circular shape which would have covered the forehead

- hebrew scriptures have little about marriage and around 10th century bc its probably true to say that couples entered into a civil contract rather than a public commitment within a religious setting

- in the times nearer to christ forms of blessing prayer develop - possibly jewish couples were crowned in some way

- similarly the new testament has little on how early christians married so its reasonable to assume they followed the jewish practise which consisted of 1) a betrothal and then 2) the marriage itself (probably centred around a feast to which the bride and her attendants processed - possibly wearing a special gown and or a crown)

- moving to the 1st three centuries of christianity we still don't have that much to go on as far as liturgical details are concerned. generally there seems to have been a shift from a domestic rite (possibly lead by a family member or a cleric) to a church wedding presided over by a bishop or presbytery 

- whenever such an approach was 1st used, by the 4th century crowns would have been part of many marriage ceremonies.  they are thought to signify the spiritual triumph (over sensual passions?) of a couple who are united in christ

- unlike in the western church (an exchange or rings and of consent) the crowns were given to the couple by the church and this highlights a theological difference between the eastern and western churches on marriage.  the east says church marries, the west says couple are ministers of a sacrament

- evidence from the 8th century for the byzantine rite suggests a ceremony consisting of betrothal and marriage (and the form of the rite is similar to what happens today in byzantine churches except betrothal and marriage rites are telescoped into one)

- whereas in the western tradition marriage is associated with eucharist and the highlight is the blessing of the wife, in the east the highlight is the crowning before the liturgy or the word

- in the east the giving of the rings is associated with betrothal not marriage, and the rite is betrothal of the couple to each other by the church.  also in the eastern rite it is clear that those called to marriage are participating in the mystery of salvation and the life of the trinity in a particular way

- theologically marriage is not a sacrament christ initiated and its helpful to talk of the marriage of christians rather than of christian marriage

- the crowns help us to see that marriage is not only a gift of god to couples but also to the church and its mission

- and they challenge us to celebrate marriage as the generous hospitality of the trinitarian god, the source of all life and in whose gift it is to crown all things in love

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