Excellent article, filed under the general theme of each of life’s rituals being gradually, then suddenly, subsumed by the self.
I’m getting married on Saturday in a church in Lancashire whose foundations date back to the Anglo-Saxons, followed by a big party in a nearby venue. The day isn’t about me – I’m just the groom, the fella in the suit – and it’s only partially about my beautiful bride. No, it’s about getting 100-odd family and friends together to eat, drink and partake in one of Christendom’s ancient traditions. I can’t wait to see the people I love under that roof.
In my eyes, that’s what a wedding is about.
Congratulations, and very best wishes!
Congratulations. I do hope that all goes well on the day and that you and your bride spend a life-time of happiness together.
Whilst i too wish you all the very best, it’s worth remembering that people of other faiths (and none) also get married, in an equally committed way. The union of two people didn’t begin with Christendom!
And don’t forget that marriage in church is a relatively recent phenomenon (12th century) when The Church decided to take control of yet another aspect of peoples’ lives (and realised it could make a few quid out of it as well…..)
Doesn’t it go back at least as far as 1076? Council of Westminster (in England, at any rate).
But though love comes into it,we hope,its always been more about money,property status in society and all those things. I know I’m such an old romantic. Funny isn’t it how most people “fall in love” with someone pretty much on their income level,looks level,job.level,etc Just lucky I guess. A bus driver marries a nurse or a lady in a building society,a.writer marries a writer,I never get that,why do they do that,lol film stars marry other film stars. There is the odd exception. Maybe once in a while a TV actress marries a Prince,but it never ends well.
Have a day off FFS.
Wishing you a brilliant day and a wonderful life together.
May you both find everlasting happiness together.
While I agree with the sentiment of this piece., it represents such a blatant contradiction of Fraser’s earlier liberal views on gay marriage.
He writes: “All this is just another step along the road to the privatisation of marriage. Marriage used to be a community event; it is now a private ceremony…And the vows themselves can be made up to reflect whatever it is you think you are doing.”
Here, Fraser laments the privatisation of the marriage institution. Yet, from time immemorial, marriage’s public purpose is to provide contingency for assuring the joint responsibility and care of future offspring by those from whom children of the marriage are reasonably presumed to originate (i.e. legal presumption of legitimacy/parenthood.)
Back in 2008, in support of gay marriage, Fraser endorsed the privatisation thesis, by writing: “But gay marriage isn’t about culture wars or church politics; it’s fundamentally about one person loving another. The fact that two gay men have proclaimed this love in the presence of God, before friends and family and in the context of prayerful reflection, is something I believe the church should welcome.”
Why the church should bless gay marriage | Giles Fraser | The Guardian
If (as he declared) marriage is fundamentally about one person loving another, then the wedding is indeed a private ceremony, and doesn’t need to be a community event. On that basis, marriage doesn’t even need to serve the aforementioned public purpose.
Fraser really can’t have it both ways.
Yes! When marriage became about “who you love” this was bound to happen. It has become self focused.
Until marriage returns to being a covenant (with all the historical weight) between God and the husband and wife, it will continue snowballing into a self promoting spectacle.
So, as a staunch atheist with no belief in any God, I shouldn’t be able to get married either?
You can join the millions who have married in the registry office.
I would indeed have a secular wedding, but marriage in the 21st Century is a secular institution so it isn’t quite as simple as returning it to ‘a Covenant between God, man and woman’
Why get married?
I am the son of divorced parents so not bothering with marriage is a tempting option, don’t get me wrong.
Not a problem if you’re ugly and nobody loves you. Ha Ha.
Marriage predates those with religion involved considerably. E.g. Manu Marriages in early Roman times, which date back presumably to the Law of Manu. The Church wasn’t involved in marriage ceremonies until probably the 11th century AD.
I’m not sure that’s what he’s saying
The most joyous wedding I ever attended was when my son married his husband. By far.
Not only were the guests celebrating the love between these two fine young men, they were acknowledging that the freedom to marry whomever one loved was now possible.
As father of the groom I made a speech. I concluded with:
“A few years ago a wise person once told me that the most precious and important relationship in your life is your relationship with your spouse. Thank you, son.”
And that’s entirely consistent with the view that marriage is “ fundamentally about one person loving another”.
What’s inconsistent is for Fraser, in one breath, to laud the fact that a lesbian or gay person is free to marry their same-sex partner, but, in the next breath, to lament the fact that others will be free to marry in MacDonalds, or free to be married by an Elvis impersonator.
I don’t think that’s what he was saying. He simply regretted that his church was reduced to the same status as a MacDonalds ie just another venue to be hired. He wants marriage in a church to be a religious undertaking.
“He simply regretted that his church was reduced to the same status as a MacDonalds ie just another venue to be hired. He wants marriage in a church to be a religious undertaking.”
Well, that summary runs contrary to the Fraser’s own clearly expressed concerns: “All this is just another step along the road to the privatisation of marriage. Marriage used to be a community event; it is now a private ceremony.”
“All this is especially problematic given that the essence of love is that it’s not all about you, which is why the “all about me” wedding feels like a threat to marriage itself.”
“A wedding was a civic and public event, held in the parish church right in the heart of the community.”
Fraser sees the privatisation of marriage (“all about me” wedding) as undermining its long-standing communal significance.
The problem with his argument is that it just ‘cherry-picks’ a comparatively minor dimension of marriage’s public purpose (as a community event), while his support for same-sex marriage reveals scant regard for marriage’s primary public purpose (providing contingency for assuring the joint responsibility and care of future offspring by those from whom children of the marriage are reasonably presumed to originate).
After all, those children cannot be reasonably presumed to originate from a same-sex couple.
I think he’s one of these Jesus lite trendy vicars. Not that I’m a big fan of Jesus,sadly. I’ve got more time for his Dad,GOD.
You are right to highlight the contradictions between Fraser’s two articles.
Other countries have for decades permitted religious and civil marriage ceremonies in gardens and other venues. My sister was married by a man of the cloth in the garden of our parents’ home in 1984 in Zimbabwe. It seems to me that the UK continues to be extraordinarily stuffy about marriage venues.
I think Fraser has a point, though, about the marriage as a civic and community event as opposed to it being a self-absorbed, private event that is disengaged from any community context or social accountability – no doubt a consequence of our national obsession to copy and develop everything American!
Quite a killjoy, oldmanish observation, but he’s certainly on to something.
I remember some years ago trying to get my head around Jean Baudrillard’s notion of hypereality. Amongst the examples given were the typical celebrity wedding; an occasion completely stripped of meaning and authenticity whose primary, if not sole purpose, had become the production of what the participants supposed would be as accurate a copy of an imagined ‘perfect wedding’ as possible.
At the time this example seemed a little distant (not least because I would pay, and still pay zero attention to celebrity weddings) but as the years rolled on, I witnessed more and more ‘normal’ weddings first hand and this illustration of hypereality became ever more acute in my mind.
And now thanks to social media we can see its not just weddings but every other occasion – a daily vomitting of carefully curated, competitively uploaded images: the purpose of the events themselves seeming only to produce photographic representations of them, to be aired in exchange for clicks of a like button and, of course, to further sharpen in focus the ‘perfect life’ (or what is supposed to be) of the various stars of the show.
Again an excellent standard of article from Giles today. The religious, legal and community aspect of marriage has been increasingly lost, although weddings performed in settings that have more meaning to the essentially secular participants may merely recognise that the church no longer has the role in peoples lives that it once did. Perhaps it is time to recognise that change.
When something dies, something new will take its place. The churches made themselves irrelevant to most peoples’ lives, so now we find new ways of marking important life stages.
In Australia, the home of informality, we have long been able to get married wherever we like. One of my brothers, a hippie back in 1972, got married in the back yard of the house they were renting – it was nice, touching, appropriate. (They’re still married).
Funerals are also very different these days. Most of the ones I go to are at the cemetery in halls that have big video screens, and are live-streamed around the world. Lots of jokes, funny old photos. Songs like The Seekers’ ‘I know I’ll never find another you’ are popular (My mother had it played at my father’s funeral). We had the traditional Catholic funeral mass in church for my mother, and what a battle to get the music we wanted played! (No, it wasn’t The Seekers). The churches and their observances have largely died out, we’re in unchartered territory.
I go to a lot of funerals. It’s an age thing. I always enjoy hearing about different aspects of the people I knew.
The worst funeral I want to was a Catholic one where the priest referred to the deceased as Christ rather than Chris and failed to say anything of substance about the young man except that “he played golf and did a bit of this and a bit of that”, although the runner up was a Methodist funeral where the Minister reading from an iPad managed to completely garble the family relationships.
Having seen Billy Connolly in “What I did on my holiday” I have told my wife I want a Viking funeral. She is not so keen on the idea.
The funeral service is a worship service, where God is worshipped, not the deceased. If you want a panegyric to the deceased do it in your own time and your own place – and allow the church to do what it should be doing, worship God.
I don’t think I have been to a service where the deceased is worshipped. That would indeed be a bit blasphemous.
We buried my Mum recently on my own land. No religion, I spoke of her time over 93 years and how she lived a fulfilled life. We had grandchildren from 5 time zones tuning in showing their love and the men there – me, my brother, two sons and one nephew – shovelled the soil in ourselves there & then. My nephew told me he couldn’t believe how intimate it was and how he felt like he’d done a final service for his grandma.
Every word that was said was meant, and from love. Nobody made errors. Even my very religious mother-in-law, who was originally horrified at the plan, said afterwards it was the most beautiful funeral she’d ever attended and said it would do her fine.
The point is that why make something a performance, with established actors? The Priest, Vicar or whatever doesn’t really care less about the person they’re chanting over. Have your Viking funeral, or have them put you in the bonfire. It doesn’t matter just so long as it’s done by those you knew and knew you best, for their sake (not yours of course, you’re not actually there!)
Delighted to hear you arranged the funeral for your mother that you wanted and everyone involved were satisfied.
You are quite right that the funeral is for the survivors not the deceased. When we have discussed my funeral I have always said to my wife that her choice is the important one together with that of our sons rather than mine as I will not be there to either approve or disapprove. ( I am significantly older than she is so it is the likely scenario).
Certainly I don’t expect to be worshipped.
I hate and avoid formal weddings, and did so myself: weddings are merely a toe curling, disingenuous form of low rent amateur dramatics cum drunkfest precursor to divorce.
But what an industry! There’s The Dress, shoes, hair (likewise for bridesmaids), variations on the tuxedo, cars, flowers, venue, food and, omg, the alcohol; there’s the video people, the musicians … and the transportation of all of the above to Bali and back. Best set aside $100,000.
It seems (in America, at any rate) that they have become “celebrity for a day” pageants for many. I think the form has largely evolved to match the forms which have developed in movies.
The entire meaning of marriage has been lost after the definition was changed to include two men or two women. Next step is to marry your pet, because you love them too!
Not forgetting that a marriage that remains unconsummated isn’t legally a marriage (or certainly didn’t used to be!)
A marriage between a man and a woman must be consumated.
However, the so-called ‘equal marriage’ makes no such legal demand – mostly because its impossible.
The meaning of such a marriage is therefore different to the meaning of a marriage as defined by God.
Oh for goodness sake, i was simply pointing up the silliness of consummating a marriage with a pet!!
There were marriages and marriage ceremonies long before they were performed in churches by a priest.
Absolutely. Within ancient Roman society (for example) one form of cum manu marrage could be enacted simply by living together as man and wife for a specified period, I think it was one year, and could be dissolved by her staying away for three nights. There was no requirement for legal or religious ceremonies.
Surely the only thing that actually matters to marriage is whether the two people love each other? Marriage is a secular as well as a religious institution now. Plus, marrying another human being (man or woman) is in no way comparable to marrying a pet.
Surely the only thing that should matter to a marriage is whether the two people love each other? I agree with the point on the performative nature of some weddings, but as marriage is a secular institution now it should only be based on the love and consent of the people involved. Also marrying another human being (man or woman) is not comparable to marrying a pet.
For those that don’t think that extending the idea of marriage is going to lead into other weird places, I came across this:
‘Getting married is an invention’: one woman’s choice to self-marry. Jennifer Hoes married herself at a ceremony in Haarlem in The Netherlands in 2003. From Jennifer’s perspective years later, the act transforms into a powerful expression of individuality, and an invitation for others to set their own path!
Yes I personally think that once gay marriage was foisted upon us, it was only natural that anything and everything else would have to be allowed. Why else would the Trans movement be so hysterical, although honestly I thought it would be incest or polyamory next in line.
Having sung in the choir at numerous weddings, I can totally understand what Giles is saying. Of course, what he doesn’t acknowledge is that the Church has contributed to this by allowing people to marry where they like instead of their own parish church; it then does become a hired venue which, for a hard up parish with a picturesque church is a money spinner.
I particularly remember a wedding where the bride couldn’t sit down because her dress (tastefully chosen to show off her tattoos) was far too tight and the male alto next to me muttered, ‘The last time they wore those suits was in court’.
The main problem for the church is letting people who don’t believe in God get married there. To them it literally is just a venue.
As usual, Giles Fraser’s wisdom and insight is spot on. “the essence of love is that it’s not all about you, which is why the “all about me” wedding feels like a threat to marriage itself” perfectly articulates what so many weddings have become.
I had hoped that Covid lockdowns would have relegated these extravagant and egotistical weddings to a faintly embarrassing history, but (despite inflation) the opposite seems to have happened.
I wish it could be all about the marriage and not the wedding.
Greetings from Canada, Carnal Carnival Chapel Land. Because Canada has no state church, many weddings are akin to Hollywood movie shoots where the Pastors and organists are paid extras. As Pastor I have instructed the film crew where the best shots are to be obtained, and warned the photographer against running up the aisles to obtain shots during the vows reminding them they can take staged shots after the ceremony.
In my first church, for a wedding with just two witnesses, the lady witness hissed to the bride during the signing of the register,” Let’s get the Hell out of here. “ They did get the Hell out if the church and as I drove the marriage certificate to the Post Office the bridal party was soon seen kicking back beers on the bride’s front porch. Which was rather refreshing from viewing the bride at the head table sashaying about with a bottle of beer. Understated elegance!
As a Navy Chaplain I did due diligence reminding all present at the military chapel wedding rehearsal that the wedding was not the “ pit stop before the party.” Not sure the admonition was acted upon.
Or, the church had a hall which was rented for a rabbit convention the same day as a wedding. We had to negotiate strongly for the Bride’s Parking on that rainy day.
Brother Giles, I am with you. I have officiated over a happier funerals on the same day as I had a wedding. And of course there was the overheard groomsman’s comment before the wedding that he hoped she would now be happy as he had agreed to her wish for a church wedding.
I am so glad I am retired. I wish Canadians would go to the secular Justice of the Peace and leave God as much out of their marriage day as they do every other day. The Grump.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 (my translation).
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of rejoicing; for it is the final scene of life, and the living may pay attention and learn.
The Southbury Child now playing at the Bridge Theatre is an interesting complement to this excellent article . In that play, a flawed vicar takes a stand against the church being festooned with balloons at a child’s funeral. As Thought provoking stuff about the place of Church and religious conscience in modern life ( and death) – as is this piece.
We had the same issue at our local church cemetery when some parents wanted to festoon their child’s grave with colourful toys. Our rector held out for a compromise where one small, discreet toy was allowed. He was portrayed as if he were being an insensitive curmudgeon, but he was merely holding out for traditional funereal practises..
In fact, by allowing even one, he was compromising and thereby opening the door for greater abuses.
I totally understand the point around some traditions especially if abandoning them leads to vulgarity, however I think both of these comments are missing the point. For parents at their own child’s funeral allowing the toys would’ve been the compassionate thing to do. I unfortunately lost my cousin when he was young, and the funeral was horrible so if the parents can lessen their pain and remember their child by placing the toys on the casket, who is anyone else to judge?
I am sorry about your cousin, and I hope that the placing of toys on his casket gave his parents some very small consolation, but this is not the same as a proliferation of toys on the grave within the cemetery itself.
I’ve long thought that weddings have become a great way of conning a couple out of shed loads of money. Some of the weddings that I have been to were, to but it kindly, naff, especially some of the so-called vows made after the legally necessary ones. Weddings have long ago become a party sometimes just for friends, especially the ones held abroad where, too often, grand-parents and parents can’t afford to go, even if they are physically able. As for baptisms …
Marriage only became a Sacrament on the 11th November, 1563, so it’s still early days.
I thought it was earlier, but the point is the same.
Nonsense. Have you not seen all those seven sacrament fonts in medieval churches, which include matrimony? I think the first formal declaration of marriage as a sacrament was in 1184, at the Council of Verona (contra the claims of the Cathars). The date you’re referring to is the Council of Trent’s ruling on the indissolubility of marriage.
Your answer to the photographer and the vows is simply to tell him that you won’t go through the vows until he/she gets out of the way. I’m very clear with photographers *before* the day as to who is in charge and what I demand (not expect) from them.
As to funerals – they’re actually far worse in terms of narcissism these days. And I take the same hardline – ‘this is the service we use, if you don’t like it, go elsewhere.’ Its my church and my congregation, not theirs. If they want me, or my church, they get what WE do, not what they want.
Thank you for putting into words an appalling trend that I noticed decades ago. It started with strapless, tarty wedding dresses and has now evolved to ceremonies as some sort of musical comedy performance. Well…at least they’re getting married.
How quaint and old-fashioned these tidings must be, wherever you are.
And don’t lump and denigrate Star Wars like that. We are the True Believers.
It is known.
The Force be with you.
And with your spirit.
I agree with much in the article.
But it feels odd to hear a Church of England representative complain about the marginalisation of religion, when the Archbishop of Canterbury seizes every opportunity to marginalise the Church of England by promoting his own Leftist and woke ideological pontifications from the pulpits of that very church.
I don’t disagree with the sentiment but think the history is more complicated and possibly illuminating.
Banns etc came in with the early modern period, when thinkers like Locke mapped marriage onto Adam and Eve as the basis for society, needing to be managed legally, not by a promise made under God, as with the pre-modern notion of marriage (hence the role of the lychgate, under which lovers might promise themselves to each other, so long as the chaperones weren’t present, and share the sacrament, which to this day and unlike other sacraments is witnessed not administered by a priest).
So maybe the privatisation today is an unconscious yearning for less mass law and depersonalised bureaucracy in our lives, and more responsiveness to love and spirit – for all the gaudy forms of a material age.
As far as I know the Lateran Council made the publication of banns compulsory in 1215, much earlier than the early modern period. I don’t think you can associate it with Hobbes’ ideas. Surely Christian marriage has always been based on the first couple, Adam and Eve.
The Lateran Council has nothing to do with UK law.
It did in 1215. We were a Roman Catholic country back then and under canon law.
You may be right. Banns may have existed before, say to prevent polygamy, monitor not marrying cousins etc.
What Locke argued was for the modern sense of what we now call the nuclear family, for which he used Adam and Eve as a model. Plus that private notion of family needing to be secured by the state, hence perhaps repositioning banns, but also making Anglican priests clerks in holy orders with state powers etc.
The medieval notion of family and marriage as integral to society was around a sense of what we would now call the extended family, overlayed with multiple other commitments and loyalties too.
A certain error of mine: it is Locke not Hobbes, in Locke’s Essay on Civil Government.
We were a country back then in communion with the Church of Rome. The concept of Roman Catholicism as contrasted with Ecclesia Anglicana came much later.
I recall chatting to staff at The Jockey Club in Newmarket, shortly after it opened to offer “wedding venue facilities to non- members”, Post to a ghastly and vulgar football theme wedding, whatever that was.
When guests arrived sober, they were in awe of the beautiful and majestic surroundings… by drunken leaving time it was ” We ain’t good enuff to be allowed in here normally, posh toff b……s”…
the peoples republictoylitte of nu britn in a nut shell ( beware of allergies, nuts sources from non oppressed work force, and transported using zero carbon transport)
I would like to see marriage abolished as a legal concept and replaced by a civil partnership document which, if people wanted to do it, they would just sign in an office in front of witnesses, with no ceremony at all. People could then choose to have a religious ‘marriage’ ceremony, if that was important to them, or just a party.
It would remove all the historical, patriarchal baggage around marriage, and would allow churches and other faiths to be honest and behave with integrity about what they considered marriage to be and for whom they were prepared to conduct them.
After all, it is only the C of E in which a vicar is trained and qualified as a registrar as part of his or her training. The two need to be separated.
Well legal ramifications are quite important really, and why require a witness if there are no legal consequences? It has been possible to have a civil marriage without ceremony at a registry office for quite some time now. Apart from this, couples are free to engage in any personal (non legal) forms of commitment they wish.
… kind of spiritualised Esperanto,
Brilliant!!! Thank you. That made my day.
The opening sentence was very arresting. Good writing. It made me really stop and think about that. I quite agree.
Personally I also love those very simple short weddings, perhaps sèen in black and white films, classic novels or foreign films such Il Postino. A ceremony, a gathering, a meal. No time for drunken regrets, overblown vanity projects with budgets to match. Modesty and dignity marking a marriage is a beautiful thing.
They will be paying off the wedding after the divorce.
58 years of age. Got married a month ago in a cruising yatch club. Pop up wedding. We including references to God etc. Only 20 invited as that was our budget. Went on self drive honeymoon for two weeks. Our friends own a farm and everyone got together for a medieval wedding feast. It was open to friends and friends of friends. The weather was horrific, but about 60 turned up to stay the night and it was a lot of fun. One friend did chooks on the spit, other friends played guiter. A bonfire was lit despite the downpour. Everbody dressed up in period constumes found at op shops or the like. Better than the official wedding or church wedding either of us had had or ever bee to in the past. Cost we incurred for popup wedding was about $1200 including food and drinks what we call the real wedding was about $200 for chooks. Everybody pitched in with food and drinks. Fabulous time.
I also love to call chickens chooks! Sounds a grand do.
Just the other day I saw and heard about that crap TV presenter Graham Norton (my opinion other ones are available) his “wedding” at a castle in Ireland. It was a show biz show off Beckham style wedding,in fact I think that we’re there. But it was a private.ceremony,invited guests only. Poor guests,they had to sing for their supper,it was part of the deal..OK I get that the venue would have cost a lot of money,the guests are all high profile but – the name of the spouse was kept secret. This is definitely not legal,yet. Marriage is not a private institution. Marriage is a recognised aspect of.society. It has good and bad legal implications and responsibilities. It has never,ever,ever been about “lurve”,all kissy-kissy and dancing barefoot through the dewy dawn. Seems there is even confusion among commentators if Graham Norton is already “married”,is this another person or is this a new person. The reason Marriage is a public ceremony for thousands of years, or in Britain for at least 300 years is to make it more difficult for penniless male fortune hunters to abduct heiress. Its important for the rest of society to.know who is married to who for lots of reasons. Not that I.care who GN is “married” to..Just imagine in future,all.those backgarden chav weddings.
Personally, I cannot stand wedding ceremonies and avoided having one myself: the only entertainment that I have ever enjoyed at a wedding was when, listening to the Champion Stakes from Newmarket via an earphone and my radio, whilst kneeling devoutly, I found myself urging on Pat Eddery on ” Pebbles”, a tad too vigorously, so as the signing of the register took place to the quiet and dulcet tones of the church organ, Peter Bromley’s voice suddenly echoed round The Brompton Oratory with ” And in the final furlong, Pebbles goes clear”….