Matrimonial Arras, A Hispanic Tradition

One of the symbolic moments in the traditional wedding of Latin America and Spain is the delivery of the arra. However, the modern meaning has changed compared to the origins. Read on to learn about the history of this beautiful tradition.
Arras matrimonial, a Hispanic tradition

The wedding rite is a ceremony full of symbols that represent the promise, the union, the expectations, the entrusting to each other. One of these symbols is the exchange of matrimonial arras.

Present in the traditional Catholic weddings of Spain, Latin America and the Philippines, the arras are coins that represent the material and spiritual prosperity of the couple.

The arras are loaded with meaning: the man transfers his wealth to the woman and in turn receives them. The exchange takes place in front of the priest who blesses the union and the descendants.

Just as the ring symbolizes the covenant, the matrimonial arras represent the will to share everything in marriage. “Mine is yours, yours is mine”, goods are shared. They are, at the same time, a wish for abundance and prosperity.

What are matrimonial arras?

Exchange of matrimonial arras during the wedding
The arras represent the marriage union of the couple. “Yours is mine, mine is yours.”

The arras are thirteen coins, 12 gold and one silver brought to the altar in a basket or tray, usually by a child. After the rite of exchanging the rings, the witnesses deliver them to the groom who, in turn, will place them in the hands of the bride.

They are typically a gift from the groom’s “godmother” – another important figure in Hispanic weddings, but this is a more recent tradition.

There are also those who use a different symbol, a jewel, a flower, a candle. Some couples choose coins from a different country with a special meaning, because that is their origins or because they are going to live there in the future.

Arras can also be exchanged in civil marriages, obviously without the priest’s blessing.

The rite

After the exchange of the rings, the priest blesses the arras and the groom gives them to the bride with these words: “Receive these arras as a pledge of God’s blessing and a symbol of the goods we will share”.

The bride then returns them to the bridegroom with the same words and, finally, the priest blesses the couple and their possessions.

The distant origin of the arras

The word arras has a long evolution that begins in the Paleolithic era in Syria. Around 1400 BC, the Erabatu were taxes imposed on families. The word evolved into the Greek “Arrabón”, a pledge left as a guarantee in purchases.

In Roman times, it was first known as “Arrhabo”. In a 2nd century BC text by Plautus, the Aarrhabo was a form of promissory note and also a guarantee. Subsequently  Pliny the Elder, procurator of Rome from 70 to 72 AD, already used the word Arra referring to commercial guarantees. 

In ancient Rome, moreover, the word Arrabón indicated, in the jargon of the exploiters, the payment received by prostitutes in exchange for the protection offered.

The arras in the Middle Ages

Hand stacks some coins
In the Middle Ages, marriage was comparable to a deed of sale and included a dowry

Arra remained a commercial term during the early Middle Ages in Visigoth Spain. It was used in sales contracts and indicated the deposit left as a deposit by the buyer.

These commercial contracts also included the pact stipulated between the father of the bride and the groom for the delivery of the daughter to the future husband.

As we have said, at the beginning of the Middle Ages marriage was a legal and commercial agreement, defined by a contract. The father of the bride gave the fatherland power over the daughter to the suitor, in exchange for a dowry.

This document took the name of Desponsatio (hence the word esponsales or spousal, the formal promise of marriage) . At the same time an agreement of the Arras was signed, detailing the goods granted to the bride. This took place without the need for consent from the girl, usually a minor. Often the two future spouses did not even know each other.

After a certain time from the stipulation of the Desponsatio and the deed of the Arras, when the girl reached the age to procreate, the wedding was celebrated. Over time this ceremony has become a religious rite, under the influence of the church. At that time the arras were part of the tradition.

The religious order of the Arras

In the Catholic tradition the arras originate in the Old Testament. Abraham gives Rebekah gold vases, clothes, a nose pendant and two gold bracelets, as a token of the wedding she will contract with her son Isaac.

For this reason, during the ceremony the priest says: “God omnipresent you ordered Abraham, your servant, to reserve the arras for Isaac and Rebecca as a pledge of holy marriage”.

Why are there thirteen?

The origin of the thirteen arras is not entirely clear. The 19th century “ Cartilla de Prelados y Sacerdotes ” (book of prelates and priests) states that the number is implicit in the Old Testament. The explanation lies in the fact that Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, had 12 sons who founded the twelve tribes of Israel. Thirteen, therefore, is twelve plus one, which is God.

Other sources believe, however, that the tradition is Arab. A coin for each month of the year, plus a bronze one for the poor, to divide the abundance.

The choice of matrimonial Arras

Newlyweds we exchange the matrimonial arras

Now that we know the history of the arras, we understand why they are an important part of weddings in Spain and Latin America. Equally important is the choice of arras which must be accurate and charged with a special meaning.

In jewelers, future spouses can choose between different types or decide to be original and better represent their values.

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