Who stands where at the Altar?

Who stands where at the Altar?

As a Marriage Celebrant in Sydney I am always asked about the positioning of the bride and groom at the altar.

Although most brides and grooms have attended many weddings when it comes to their own they often feel strangely disorientated and confused about where they should stand, when at the altar (the altar is referring to the sacred space at the front of the gathering where the ceremony will be conducted).

There is a history attached to the ‘right choice’, that being the Groom standing on the left side, facing the altar.

If we look at tradition the most accepted theory is that in the days of small villages a groom often travelled to the neighbouring village to kidnap or capture his bride. Her family members may then try to rescue her before (or even at) the marriage ceremony. Another theory is that thieves could try to capture the bride during the marriage and therefore claim her elaborate dowry. Given that the usual practice was for the couples to face the altar and the minister to stand between the couple, it was determined that the bride stood to the left of the groom so he could put his left arm around her thereby protecting her from the would-be abductors. This meant that his right arm was free to use his sword to defend his bride. This would work for a right-handed man so I wonder if it was reversed if the Groom were left-handed??? As a curious side comment, the Best Man was the best warrior from the Groom’s village who went along to help the groom protect his bride in the event of an attack.

With my encouragement I ask couples to turn and face their guests, holding hands angled slightly to each other, this 180 degree turn means that the couples then stand in a reversed position so that the Groom (if right-handed) cannot easily pull out his sword…..oh nooooo!!!!, thank goodness we still have his best warrior man next to him poised and ready to defend the bride.

Isn’t history fascinating, investigating the establishment of traditions and then blindly following them even if the traditions are antiquated and irrelevant?

These days the sides on which couples choose to stand vary, some like; to be facing their parents so that the parents have a special view of their children’s expressions during the ceremony, one bride didn’t want her tattoo facing the guests, certain sides are more photogenic and the sun can also play a part, deciding that it would be best for the groom to squint.

So there we have it, we are free to make choices, to shed the restricting traditions imposed for antiquated reasons, free to make the best choices for the ceremony.

If you would like to explore other ceremony positioning options please feel free to contact Mary, who is a Marriage Celebrant in Sydney.