MUSEUM NOTEBOOK

When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on February 10, 1840 she wore white.

At the time a variety of colours were worn, but after the popular and fashionable monarch chose white, a trend was set that spread over the world and remains a popular choice. So what about other wedding traditions?

Protection from evil spirits played a big role in early marriage ceremonies.

It was believed long ago that evil spirits were jealous of happy couples and would visit weddings to curse them, so a number of protection devices were introduced to counter ill wishes.

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The bride wore a veil to disguise and protect her from the spirits.

Her bridesmaids wore matching dresses, ideally resembling the bride's gown, to try confuse the spirits.

These spirits were often hungry, so throwing rice or nuts and fruit over the bride would distract them from their curses.

Wedding bells were pealed, not only to announce the happy union, but to ward off the evil ones. The inclusion of rosemary and lavender in the bouquet was also believed to repel them.

As well as protection from evil, inviting luck for the newlyweds was important.

A horseshoe was thought to help repel evil and also to actively bring luck.

The display method is a matter of debate: holding the horseshoe ends up was thought to trap the luck and prevent it from spilling out, but holding it ends down encouraged the luck to flow out and fill the house.

Museum Notebook
Museum Notebook

The legend of the lucky horseshoe goes back to a blacksmith who was visited by a cloaked figure asking the smith to reshoe him instead of his horse.

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Recognising him because the devil has cloven hooves which need shoes, the blacksmith tortured him until he agreed to never visit a house displaying a horseshoe.

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To help increase luck, the bouquet was tied with a ribbon, sometimes in elaborate knots, to represent the strength of the marriage.

The people of Tudor England thought if guests threw shoes and hit the carriage carrying the bride and groom, good luck would ensue.

This proved too dangerous, so the tradition changed to tying a shoe to the back of the carriage, evolving into tying tin cans to the back of the honeymoon car.

The bride herself was believed to be very lucky because being married was the pinnacle of a woman's life back then.

Touching the bride brought luck to the guests, even more so if they were able to obtain a piece of her veil or dress.

To help distract them, the bride would throw her bouquet, and guests were able to have a flower to bring them luck. If anyone was lucky enough to catch the whole bouquet, she would be married next.

It was bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony, believed to stem from arranged marriages where the couple would not meet until they were at the altar. Hiding the bride from the groom helped to stop him from running away if he didn't like the look of her. This is where veils come in handy too.

And, of course, fertility played a big role in weddings. Throwing rice, grain, nuts or fruit helped to encourage fertility for the happy couple.

A wedding in 1914. The bride wears a veil to hide herself and carries a horseshoe for luck, the bridesmaids wear similar dresses to confuse vengeful spirits.
A wedding in 1914. The bride wears a veil to hide herself and carries a horseshoe for luck, the bridesmaids wear similar dresses to confuse vengeful spirits.

In ancient Rome a loaf of bread was crumbled over the bride's head and guests collected the crumbs for luck. Anglo Saxons threw wheat and barley on the floor for the bride to walk on.

The multifaceted horseshoe helped to repel evil, brought luck, and also resembled the crescent moon which symbolised fertility.

The bouquet of flowers helped the bride smell nice but was also thought to imbue her with their abundance. And the flower girls and page boys were thought to be representative of the children the couple would have in the future.

Wedding postcard with a woman's hand clasping a horseshoe wreath. This horseshoe is letting the luck run out and fill the house.
Wedding postcard with a woman's hand clasping a horseshoe wreath. This horseshoe is letting the luck run out and fill the house.

To learn more about wedding customs and dresses, visit the exhibition Here Come the Brides at the Whanganui Regional Museum. Open 10am to 4.30pm (except on Good Friday). Entry is free.

• Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.