Which Finger?

The circle represents eternity and symbolically unites the couple. Generally unknown is that marriage rings were formerly only worn by the bride, not the groom. This custom continued until the beginning of the nineteenth century. But on which finger and which hand the bride wore the symbol of matrimony varied with the period and the country. 

Thirteenth-century illuminations show wedding rings on either the index or third finger. There was a period during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries when some women even wore their wedding rings on their thumbs. Engagement and wedding rings were worn on the right hand in Catholic Europe. It was only during the Reformation in the sixteenth century that the custom of wearing the wedding ring on the left hand was introduced.

Today, the wedding ring is worn on the right or left hand, depending on the couple’s nationality. It is worn on the right hand in Germany, France, and other European countries to indicate marriage. In all English-speaking cultures, though, it has become customary for the wedding ring to be worn on the left hand.

There are several reasons for the wedding ring to be worn on the hand’s fourth finger. The fourth finger, called annularis or ‘ring finger’ by the Romans and ‘gold finger’ by the Anglo-Saxons, was also known as the ‘heart finger’. This finger was believed to connect directly to the heart, which in ancient times was considered not only the seat of the soul, but also the organ from which all feeling emanated. Therefore, this finger was the most suited to carry a symbol of love. On the authority of the Greek historian, Appian (95–165 CE), it was believed that a small vein, the ‘vein of love’, known as vena amoris by the Romans, runs from this finger directly to the heart – a belief popular throughout Europe for centuries.142 

Another reason for choosing the fourth finger as the ring finger might have originated from the Christian Church. According to Church doctrine, the thumb, index, and middle fingers stood respectively for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, whereas the fourth finger, which is commonly called the ring finger, stood for earthly love between a man and a woman. However, there is also an explanation based on practicality put forward by the Romans. The fourth finger is not easily extended without moving all the others; in other words, it is the finger best protected, and hence, the ring’s safety is ensured.


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