It is a tradition to see brides stand on the left side of the groom at weddings but have you ever wondered the reason behind it?
“Marriage by capture,” as the practice is known historically, is no easy feat. The idea of a man abducting a woman to make her his bride has nevertheless been practiced for thousands of years, addressed in Greek mythology, in the Bible, and in endless historical accounts.
While bridal abduction still exists among some cultures in Africa, Central Asia, and elsewhere, its legacy has stuck around the Western world in an unexpected way— the way the bride and groom stand at their weddings.
Traditionally, the bride stands on the left at the altar and the groom stands on the right. According to The Knot and Compton’s Encyclopedia, this is not a coincidence: In historic, swashbuckling times, a man needed to keep his right arm free to draw his sword.
Like the mythological Paris battling his way to the sea with Helen captured in his left arm, a prospective groom had to expect some resistance from the bride’s family or rival suitors well into the middle ages. As a majority of men are right-handed, it made sense to keep one’s bride on the left and leave one’s sword-arm free.
Incidentally, the tradition of marriage by capture is also where the habit of choosing a “best man” at weddings came about. When a young groom intended to whisk his bride from her family home, he had to bring backup to the brawl.
Many of them formed a raiding party of groomsmen, often fellow bachelors spoiling for some action, and among them was the “best man,” who was literally the best man at handling a sword.
In modern times, of course, the wedding party is picked as a ceremonial honour to beloved friends or family, and many grooms take the right without really thinking about it.
Modern bachelors will hopefully have secured the approval of their bride’s family—and there would be no reason for a brawl to ensue.