Not just celebs renewing their vows

By Joanna Moorhead

Why do couples renew their vows?Photo / Thinkstock
Why do couples renew their vows?Photo / Thinkstock

The bride wore a giant meringue, the groom a gold-braided white tuxedo and 250 guests witnessed the arrival of the bridal party in a horse-drawn glass carriage. If it sounds like Disneyland, that's because it was (Disneyland California, which was closed to visitors for the couple's big day). But if it sounds like a wedding, it wasn't quite. Mariah Carey and America's Got Talent presenter Nick Cannon were indeed pledging their troth to one another earlier this month; only this was the fifth time.

The couple have renewed their wedding vows every year ever since they were first hitched in 2008. Since then they've had re-runs at venues including the Eiffel Tower, Las Vegas, and a hospital room after Carey had given birth to their twins, Monroe and Moroccan, two years ago; each May, it seems, the objective is to outdo the last in its outlandish lavishness.

Carey and Cannon certainly aren't the only celebrities to have gone big on marriage vow renewal. Last month actor Matt Damon and his wife Luciana Barroso renewed their vows in St Lucia.

Other big names who've done it again include supermodel Heidi Klum and singer Seal, Madonna and director Guy Ritchie - though in these cases the renewal wasn't an obvious success, as both marriages hit the rocks soon after.

So is the trend simply another way of hogging the headlines - or is there a deeper meaning to renewing your marriage vows? No-one is collating the figures but, anecdotally at least, the phenomenon certainly seems to be on the increase in Britain. Almost every local authority now has information on how to renew your vows - and, explains Steve Lloyd, head of registration of Lancashire County Council, although renewals are small numerically compared with actual weddings (30 a year in his area, compared to 3,000 marriages) there is a steady stream of interest, with a snowball effect from one renewal ceremony to the next. "You often find that people booking to renew their vows have been to a similar ceremony where friends have renewed theirs," he says. "Whatever the reason for doing it, there clearly is a reason - and that means there are invariably strong feelings running through the ceremony. They're always meaningful, whether it's just the couple themselves or a huge group."

Reverend Andrew Axon of St Philip and St James in Hucclecote near Gloucester agrees. He expects to officiate at six or seven renewal ceremonies this year, but at his last parish in Nottingham he was doing around 20 annually. "As more people hear about it, so the more popular it tends to become," he says. "Often there are echoes of the original wedding: couples will choose the same flowers, maybe the bride will wear the same jewellery, and often there's a photograph on display from the wedding itself." One thing that doesn't tend to make a second outing is the bride's dress. "Most women say they can't fit into it any more," says Rev Axon.

Sometimes, but by no means usually, the ceremony has been triggered by a crisis in the couple's relationship. "I've had couples where one has been unfaithful and renewing their vows is part of coming back together," he says. "And that can be very powerful, because it's a real statement of renewal."

The Catholic Church - a big defender of marriage as an institution - has pioneered mass wedding-vow renewal ceremonies over recent years: last weekend more than 600 couples celebrating key anniversaries between 10 and 60 years packed Westminster Cathedral to renew their promises. Similar ceremonies are held each year in other cathedrals across the country, with parish priests invited to put forward couples who are marking significant anniversaries.

"We've been doing it for six years now and it's enormously popular," says organiser Edmund Adamus, director for marriage and family life in Westminster archdiocese.

"The idea is to celebrate all the hidden sacrifices and acts of love that happen day-in, day-out in a long marriage, but which go unnoticed in the wider world. Marriage isn't always easy and these days break-ups get far more media attention than staying together - and this service seemed to us to be a way of acknowledging that staying married takes hard work and commitment and that ought to be recognised and valued."

At a point during Saturday's ceremony, Archbishop Vincent Nichols invited each couple to face one another and to remake their vows. "The feedback we had was amazing," says Mr Adamus. "People say they had no idea how special and moving it would be to make those vows all over again."

Kathleen Smith, 61, and husband Gerald, 62, remade their marriage vows in December 2011 on their 40th anniversary. "In some ways I think it meant even more the second time around than the first," says Kathleen, who lives in Halifax. "When we got married in 1971 I was 19 and Gerald was 20. We were so young and in so many ways you can't know the enormity of what you're taking on.

"We've been very lucky and incredibly blessed - we've had a happy marriage and we've got two daughters and five grandchildren - but there's no doubt that it's a long journey and we hope we've still many years ahead. Saying those vows again, surrounded by our family, was really wonderful. It gave us a second day we'll never forget and it was both a time to celebrate the life we've had so far together, and to look forward to what's to come. I'm very glad we did it."

Hitch me baby one more time

Guy and Madonna

Their vows were renewed in Kabbalah ceremony in 2008. They split up later the same year.

Seal and Heidi Klum

Renewal of vows was an annual ritual for this golden couple. Their marriage ended last year.

Matt Damon and Luciana Barroso

These two rented an entire caribbean resort for their second wedding party.

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