Like many others who have written on this subject I have numbered the fingers 1 - 5, the thumb being 1 and the little finger being 5. I hope that this helps to avoid confusion.
At the cocktail party, one woman said to another, “Aren’t you wearing your wedding ring on the wrong finger?”
The other replied, “Yes I am. I married the wrong man!”
Unless there is something going on that none of us know about I can confidently predict that when Prince William marries Kate Middleton on Friday he will at some stage in the proceedings, slip a ring onto the fourth finger of her left hand. Given eight fingers (and two thumbs) to choose from, why will he be going for this one?
According to Brewer’s “Phrase and Fable”, the first port-of-call for anyone looking for an answer to anything, in England up the end of the 16th century the wedding ring was worn on the right hand. The eventual placing of the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand was formalised by the ecclesiastical lawyer and scholar Henry Swinburne. In his ‘Treatise of Spousals, or Matrimonial Contracts’, printed in 1680 he wrote…
“The finger on which the wedding-ring is to be worn is the fourth finger of the left hand, next unto the little finger; because by the received opinion of the learned … in ripping up and anatomising men’s bodies, there is a vein of blood, called ‘vena amoris’, which passeth from that finger to the heart.”
Swinburne’s point was that by wearing the wedding ring close to the “vena amoris” or “vein of love” the matrimonial couple would be symbolising their undying love for each other.
This idea of the 4th finger being in some way connected to the heart was originally proposed by the 2nd century grammarian Aulus Gellius who pinched the idea from the ancient Egyptians. He thought that heart and finger were linked by a very delicate nerve. The prominent Dutch physician and antiquarian Levinus Lemnius (1505-1568) agreed with this connection idea but felt that it was not by a nerve but a blood vessel..
“A small branch of the artery and not of the nerves, as Gellius thought, is stretched forth from the heart unto this finger, the motion whereof you may perceive evidently in all that affects the heart of woman, by the touch of your forefinger. I used to raise such as are fallen in a swoon by pinching this joint and by rubbing the ring of gold with a little saffron; for, by this, a restoring force that is in it passeth to the heart and refresheth the fountain of life unto which this finger is joined. Wherefore antiquity thought fit to encompass it about with gold.”
I have noticed that a very similar effect can often be achieved by rubbing the palm with gold.
In the Greek and Roman Church the thumb and first two fingers of the left hand represent the Trinity. In marriage ceremonies in the past the husband would first place the ring on the top of the thumb of the left hand, with the words, “In the name of the Father.” He then removed it to the forefinger, saying “In the name of the Son,” then to the middle finger, adding “And of the Holy Ghost.” Finally, he put the ring onto the fourth finger, with the closing word “Amen.” According to some the placing of the ring on the left hand, rather than the right, demonstrates the bride’s subjugation to her new husband. According to others this is complete baloney and a misogynistic falsehood.
Whether William and Kate will be thinking about any of these things when they get married on Friday we will probably never know. The apparent advantages that they have over other couples contemplating marriage - wealth, privilege, influence and so on - won’t really help them when it comes to finding the essential elements that make marriages work - tolerance, love, flexibility, respect and commitment. Marriage is a giant leap for anyone, rich or poor, young or old, royal or common. All we can do for William and Kate is stand back and let them get on with it - and to wish them well on every step of the way.
– from Martyn Day
CREDIT: The picture of William and Kate is the official engagement photograph by Mario Testino. The photograph of the wedding rings is by Jeff Belmonte.