The History of the Common Wedding Vows You've Come to Know

History of Wedding Vows, parchment, quill pen

"To have and to hold"; "from this day forward"; "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer". We can guarantee that regardless of your religious upbringing, you're likely familiar with these common wedding vows. Do you know where these phrases came from? Read on as we share fascinating history of wedding vows.


It probably comes as no surprise to you that wedding or marriage vows have a religious background. As a primer, marriage is considered to be one of the seven sacraments in the Catholic church. Ffor those who are interested, the other 6 sacraments are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders.

The wedding vows that most couples recite today come from Thomas Cranmer's The Book of Common Prayer. The first draft of what became the final version was written in 1549, then refined by King James I in 1662. Much of Cranmer's modernized wedding service was derived from numerous Catholic medieval practices. These include the Sarum ritual used in the celebration of any type Christian public worship.

Nevertheless, much like many things during that time period, the entire sermon besides the exact pledges were spoken in Latin. By reworking the tradition, Cranmer made it more accessible and ultimately evolved today's wedding practice. So basically the English wedding vows we know today are just minor modifications of what was first introduced back in 1549.

What Do Each of the Common Wedding Vows Mean?

Let's dissect each of these common wedding vows further so that you can decide how to incorporate them into your own vows.

Phrase 1: “To have and to hold from this day forward”

This is the whole gist of the vows and upon the basis of the wedding ceremony. As soon-to-be wedded spouses, you're promising that from today onward, you're a newly formed two-person team who will tackle everything together!

Expressing your commitment to be by your partner's side through both good and bad times is an excellent way to strengthen your relationship. This could be the opportunity to promise to tolerate their quirks. It could also be your promise to face any future obstacles together.

Phrase 2: “For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health”

At this moment, each partner is vowing to enter into a commitment that is unshakable, even when life's struggles threaten to tear them apart. They're choose to be steadfast as married spouses, no matter what.

This sentiment still stands true today, having been applicable to relationships for centuries. Money and health can still be sources of strain between couples, even in the present day.

For those who don't prefer a religious ceremony, civil unions are an increasingly popular choice. Vows are simpler and you have more freedom to decide on the wedding venue. As such, a civil ceremony provides couples an opportunity for a meaningful yet tailored event.

Phrase 3: "Until death do us part"

Interestingly enough, many American couples recite these common wedding vows at the altar. And it doesn't even matter how religious they actually are. This last portion of "until death" often makes couples think twice. It's a well-known fact that over 39% of modern marriages end in divorce. The source or inspiration of this phrase comes from the Bible, specifically the Book of Romans, Chapter 7: "A married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him."

In addition, Jesus is stated to have said in the Book of Matthew, Chapter 19: "At the beginning the Creator "made them male and female," and said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh"? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate". Literally, Catholics and broadly those who are Christian, believe that the only way out of a marriage is death with God being the only "person" who can undo the marriage. Regardless of how religious you are, the phrase indicates a marriage commitment for an entire lifetime.

Early Marriages

It's also interesting to note that the earliest marriages were neither legal nor religious - they were simply casual agreements between families to establish relationships for trading and other obligations. So they were born out of necessity, not out of love or commitment. So now you know all about the history of common wedding vows and where they came from!

Need some inspiration before you start writing your vows? Wedding Vows From Around the World may be a great place to start. 


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