Saturday, October 22, 2011


Marriage... Beginning of new life, creation of new family. Not alone anymore, children to come. There were (and still are) many things, customs, superstitions, sayings and so on connected to the Czech wedding. Do you, for example know, why the wedding day was mostly Tuesday?

November, January, February
What do these three months have in common? The simple fact that most weddings took place during these freezing months. Why? It's cold, it's dark, it's snowing... And that's exactly why. There was nothing to be done on the fields. People had at least some free time as the nature was sleeping. It was also time when the pig-sticking and carnival season took place, so there was meat available which was not too common during the rest of the year. 

December was excluded as it was holy time - time of Advent, when no celebrations were allowed, no loud music, no drinking, no gluttony which was common during the time of carnivals and pig-sticking. And March was too late as the field work started with the end of February.

Wedding morning by John Henry Frederick Bacon (1892)
If you take careful look on the wedding dates and you translate them into days, you'll find out that about 95 percent of all weddings took place on Tuesday. Today the weddings are on Saturday or Sunday as we have free weekends. Our ancestor celebrated Sunday as a holy day and they had no free Saturday (or any other day of the week), so - why Tuesday? 

It is written in the Bible: And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. (John 2,1-2). The Sunday was the first day of the week and based on it, Tuesday was the third one. It became a tradition and almost all marriages took place on this day.

Age in the registries
You'll find age shown in the parish records which were written after 1784. This age could be correct - and it also could be very incorrect. The age written to the registries was told to the priest by the engaged couple. And here is the large BUT - age was not important to our ancestors. They didn't remember the year in which they was born, they just knew they are about 23 years. It could mean 21 as well as 26 years. Usually when you get an information about age from the marriage registry, search the birth registry plus minus 5 years.

Full age
Today the full age is 18 years in the Czech Republic. The full age was set to 24 or 25 years in the Austrian Empire where Bohemia, Moravia and part of Silesia belonged before 1918. The engaged couple needed agreement from their fathers (or the authorities if the fathers were already deceased) to get married if they were younger. 

You can sometimes find father's signature in the marriage registry because of this regulation. It's very valuable trophy to the family chronicles as it's not too common to have such old signature.

Marriage Ban(n)s
Triple banns were held during the public masses three Sundays (or feasts) before the date of marriage. These banns had one simple reason - to avoid marriages between relatives. As there was only a limited quantity of possible brides and grooms this control was really needed.

Banns were written in banns books and sometimes also in the marriage registry. The dates are often written in church dates, ie. not for example 22nd October, but "20th Sunday after Holy Ghost" and so on. I'll write a post dedicated to this church dates someday later.

Place of marriage
The marriage took place in the bride's home parish after 1784. The groom came there in the morning with whole family and all companions (including witnesses of the marriage), both families (and whole village) went to the church for a mass and the marriage was held during the mass. The celebration was then in the groom's house where the whole company moved. 

Widows and widowers
They had special position in the society. They were often old, but more often there were young widows and widowers still in reproductive age who were willing to have more children - or who were searching for someone who will help them raise their children.

The marriages of widowed people took place mostly in May, June or July, simply in late spring or in summer. The reason was again simple - there was no need of long celebration, the wedding was quick and quite. So it just toom place during a usual public mass and then everyone went home. The celebration was just in the near family circle (of course, if the widower or widow was someone in higher social positin, the wedding would take place in winter...).

Impediments and dispensations
Banns took place in the parishes of birth of both bride and groom, to avoid legal or canonical impediments of marriages. The impediments might be more than simple "close relatives" one - you were considered a relative not only by a blood-line, but also with families of your godparents and in-laws, also there might occur one of the couple is already married to a living person, or especially in case of women the time from the death of her late husband is less than a law permits (I think it was mostly a three months to a year time frame, to avoid problems to determine who is the father of the child).

Quite often you can see that there is a church permission to have a one bann instead of three (it was mostly in cases the marriage hurried - not only because of pregnancy, but also for a possible collision of the time of the marriage with liturgical periods when weddings were impossible - Christmas, the period around Easter).

If there occured the impediment, you had to ask for a dispensation by church or state authorities. It depends on the kind (or seriousness) of impediment, or if there were more of them (like when you marry your cousin who was previously a wife of your deceased brother). Mostly you can see dispensations by bishop or archbishop, but there could occur also a dispensation by pope.

I definitely forgot to describe many customs, traditions and other things connected to the marriage and marriage day. I believe I'll write another post about marriages later to introduce you to Czech wedding customs and traditions.


  1. I have found the dates of my husbands Catholic Bohemian ancestors but I never looked to see what day of the week it was..guess I will have to do that.

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  2. This information is really fascinating. I didn't know any of it, but it seems so reasonable and sensible. Thanks. I too will check the day of the week from the records I have found.

  3. My great grandmother married on a Saturday - July 7, 1883. Does that mean something different?

  4. I am surprised that the age was not important, if the age of majority, or adulthood, was legally prescribed. I am not doubting you, Lanko, but it is just surprising. Were people not interested in their vested rights? Or was it one of those things that was passed down from Vienna, but pretty much ignored by common people?

    Also, I am surprised that the priest would not want to be careful about the age of the people that he married. After all, according to the church rules, people of only certain age could get married (whether the dates proscribed by Rome matched those proscribed by Vienna is another question). Would it not be fairly easy for the priest to go back to the birth matrika to check out the date in church records?

  5. Great history of weddings. Were the witness usually relatives or godparents? I recognize many family names there.

  6. Great history of weddings. Were the witness usually relatives or godparents? I recognize many family names there.

  7. Very interesting and useful. I was surprised by the information that almost all weddings took place on Tuesdays, because most of my family's weddings took place on Sundays, and there are also some on Mondays.