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Marriage Customs Of The Armenians

( Originally Published 1897 )



The Armenians do not, as a rule, allow their daughters much freedom, and in consequence marriages are in most cases " arranged," the go-between being usually a priest. But in Smyrna and Constantinople, where young people are allowed to see more of each other, it need not be surprising to learn that they some-times settle their own fate. Armenians believe in lucky times for marriages, and since these occasions are few and far between, it follows that a large number of couples are sometimes united in a single day. An English traveller once saw sixty bridegrooms at the altar rails awaiting their brides ; and on that occasion a most unfortunate mistake was made. Two brides of similar height somehow changed places and were each married to the man engaged to the other. Divorce is not allowed in this country, and so a pretty but poor peasant maid became the wife of a comparatively rich middle-class man, while a wealthy but plain lady was united to a blacksmith !

The wedding celebrations usually begin on a Friday, the actual marriage taking place on the following Monday. As with Turks and others the bride is taken by her companions to the bath. Saturday is devoted to feasting, in which the poor are not forgotten. On Sunday there is still more feasting. The young men wait upon the girls, who sit down first ; then the married couples and lastly the young men.

Monday evening is devoted to the religious ceremony. The bride's dress is very curious ; her whole figure is enveloped in crimson silk, a silver plate resting on her head. Also a large pair of cardboard wings, covered with feathers, are fastened on to her head. The ring and wedding garments are blessed by the priest, as a precaution against the tricks of evil spirits, of which we shall have more to say presently. And now the disguised bride is conducted back to the reception room to begin the dance with her father, or nearest relative, while the others throw coins at her. Then the bride-groom, whose wedding garments have been consecrated, is led up to the bride by her mother, for the second betrothal, which may be thus briefly described. The priest, after reading the 89th Psalm, places the right hand of the bride in that of the bridegroom with these words :

When God presented Eve's hand to Adam, Adam said, ` This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.' . . . What therefore God hath joined together let no man put asunder." A small cross is then tied upon their foreheads. Arrived at church, the first part of the ceremony takes place in the porch. The 122nd Psalm is read, and the bridal pair, after confessing their sins, receive absolution. An exhortation follows, after which the priest asks each separately whether he or she will remain faithful to the other, though that one become blind, sick, crippled, or deaf," receiving the answer yes." Joining their hands he then offers up certain prayers and leads them to the altar. The wedding mass is celebrated ; bride and bridegroom are crowned and receive the sacrament. On arrival at the bridegroom's house a sheep is sacrificed at the threshold, as among the Arabs, and the party step over its blood. Having taken their seats side by side on a sofa, the husband and wife now drink a cup of consecrated wine together. The guests come and offer their felicitations. The bride is still enveloped in her red silk, and now a baby boy is laid on her lap with the words, " May you be a happy mother." Then they all dance, the bride leading off with her husband.

For several days following, the newly-married pair must submit to the tedious ceremony of " wearing the crowns." This may last as long as eight days, but, as a rule, the priest removes the crowns (which have been worn day and night) on the following Wednesday evening. At this, the final ceremony, the priest brings their heads together till their foreheads touch, rests a sword and a cross upon them, gives a blessing, and warns them against unfaithfulness. The cross is the holy symbol of their religion, while the sword reminds them of the swift and sure punishment of God should they not keep true to their vows. Again consecrated wine is drunk, and now, at last, they are left alone.

Armenians have a curious custom with regard to the bride's father-in-law. A bride may not speak to any of her husband's relatives until she has first asked and obtained permission from the father-in-law, and on giving this permission he bids her lay aside the veil.

But it is said that this important person sometimes sternly refuses his consent, and that many a bride has gone through married life without ever speaking to the parents of her husband ! Doubtless we have here a relic from prehistoric days when a father-in-law was taboo " as he still is in certain countries. With regard to the custom previously alluded to of blessing the wedding garments, it appears that here also is a relic of prehistoric superstitions. These people—at least the peasants—seem to have a strong belief in evil spirits (djins), which are supposed to be particularly busy during the first forty days of married life. Also at night, so that newly married couples do not venture out after dark, unless accompanied by some responsible relative. Both Mussulmans and Armenians say that, unless a new garment is blessed, the djins will come and steal it, and of this they are quite convinced. There is a story to the effect that these mischievous beings once spirited away an old Turkish woman and kept her in an underground palace for three days. On her return she told her friends of the strange scenes she had witnessed, and assured them that the djins wore clothes stolen from human beings. It seems to the author that we have here legends based on facts which of late years have been brought to light by archaeologists and others. There undoubtedly were once " little people " (fairies) living in underground dwellings, who stole whatever they could lay their hands upon and were very active at night. The author has dealt with this subject in his previous work entitled " Prehistoric Man and Beast," to which the reader, desirous of information, is referred.



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