Today’s post will be a bit different than usual. We will be looking at the Bragan nuptial rite as found in an early 16th century rituale. The current post will limit itself to describing the rite and prayers contained therein; commentary on it may come in a future post.
The Nuptial rite, according to the Rituale Romanum, as it currently exists, is very stark in comparison to its non-Roman counterparts (might one be inclined to qualify its starkness as “noble simplicity”?). Yet we know that this was not always so. In a 9th century letter from Pope Nicholas I to Boris I of Bulgaria, in which the latter had inquired of the Pope on several subjects, we find that there were more elements to the nuptial rite [emphasis mine]:
“We shall strive, while avoiding a wordy style, to show you that the custom, which you say the Greeks maintain in their marital unions, recalls in small ways the custom which the Roman Church received in antiquity and still maintains in unions of this sort. Now then, our men and women do not wear upon their heads a band of gold, silver, or some other metal when they contract a marriage pact. Instead, after the betrothal is celebrated — which is the promised pact of future marriage made with the consent of both those who contract the pact and those under whose power they are — the betrothed man joins the bride to himself with vows through the finger marked by him with the ring of faith and the betrothed man hands over to her a dowry (dos) pleasing to both people along with a document containing this agreement in the presence of those invited by both parties. Then, either soon after or at an appropriate time, namely in order that no such thing be presumed to be done before the time defined by law, both are brought to the wedding. First, they are stationed by the hand of the priest in the church of the Lord along with offerings which they should offer to God and so at last they receive the blessing and the celestial veil, on the model, namely, of the Lord who, after placing the first people in paradise, said to them: Increase and multiply, etc. [Gen.1:38] Tobias, before he had come together with his wife, is also described as having prayed to God with this same prayer.[cf.Tobit 8:4] The person who passes into a second marriage, however, does not receive this veil. When they leave the church after this, they wear crowns on their heads, which are always kept by custom in the church. And so, after the wedding is celebrated, they are directed to lead their own life with God disposing over the rest. These are the wedding vows, these are the solemn agreements of married people, as well as those which at present do not come to mind. But we do not claim that it is a sin if all of these things do not occur in a marriage agreement, as you say the Greeks told you, especially since so great a lack of wealth usually oppresses people that it offers them no help in preparing these things. And for this reason, according to the laws, the consent alone of those whose union is at issue, is enough [to make a marriage]. Yet if this consent alone is perchance lacking in the wedding, all the rest, even if it is consummated with intercourse itself, is in vain, as the great teacher John Chrysostom attests, who says: Not intercourse but will makes marriage.”
In this letter we see five elements: ring; dowry; blessing; veil; crowns. Currently, only the ring and the blessing survives in the Roman rite.
The medieval Latin church was one of liturgical pluralism (even if at times there was a fraught relationship between rites/uses), with each primatial see having their own use/rite, not to mention religious orders. This liturgical plurality continued to exist well after the issue of the bull Quod Primum, though certain uses began to die out for reasons that do not concern us here. Of the elements mentioned in Pope Nicholas’ letter we find at least four of them in a number of medieval uses, particularly those of Salisbury, Braga, and some French dioceses; Spain maintained them as well, via influence from the Mozarabic rite. Continue reading