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Time and place of the marriage

Weddings within the year

According to the Roman Rite in force until the Vatican II liturgical reform, people could get married at any time. However, that ritual stated that the nuptials could not be held during Advent and Lent. In popular parlance, it was said that “the votives were closed” during those two period of the year. The votives or nuptials, which will be discussed below, included the blessings, the symbolic entry of the bride in the wedding mass and the reception.

That restriction was in force until the 1970s, although with some leniency. Therefore, hardly any marriages were held in the past during the period on the liturgical calendar that coincided with December – Advent – and the start of spring – Lent -. When deciding on the date of the wedding, those periods of the year when the Church did not allow nuptials or votives were taken into account.

The exception to the rule was on extraordinary grounds such as having to emigrate to The Americas or the bride being pregnant, cases which required an emergency wedding.

Otherwise, according to the surveys, there was no time of the year that was clearly more popular for weddings: in any event, they tried to make sure that the family event did not coincide with the busiest times of the year in the past when the threshing, grape and olive harvests happened or the fishing seasons, depending on the livelihood.

On the contrary, the preference was for the weddings to coincide with religious festivities, either the feast day of the patron saint or pilgrimages, with fairs or with family celebrations, such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

The wedding entourage

Up until the mid-20th century, the relatives and wedding guests formed a small entourage that walked with the bride and groom to the church on foot. In the northern Basque Country (lying within France), the entourage would go to the town hall, Herriko Etxea, before entering the church.

The very morning of the wedding, the bride would be joined at home with her friends and other guests to help her get ready.

The guests and neighbours who visited the home of the bride or the groom would be offered breakfast or refreshments. This custom still continues in the countryside of offering the neighbours and guests refreshments several hours before the ceremony.

The religious ceremony. Eliz-ezkontza

In the southern Basque Country (lying within Spain), the Sacrament of Matrimony was celebrated according to the Toledo Manual[1] while the Roman Rite was followed in the northern Basque Country. The greatest different between both rituals is that the latter does not include the blessing and handing over of the arras (wedding coins). The marriage service is in three parts:

- The mutual consent.

- The blessing of the wedding coins and rings.

- The votive mass.

Congratulations, tribute and gifts

At the same time, at the very door of the church, the newlyweds, ezkonberriak, are congratulated by cheering and firecrackers being set off, while, in some regions, almonds are thrown to the children and, following more recent customs, grains of rice, rose petals, confetti, etc. are thrown over the bride and groom.

The tribute becomes particularly colourful when at the exit of the church, dantzaris and hilanderas dressed in their typical dance costumes form a guard of honour for the newlyweds, wedding sponsors and guests under the arch formed by swords, sticks, bows or scarves. The newlyweds with their nearest and dearest stand formally in front of the church and a dantzari performs a ritual dance, aurresku, in honour of the new spouses. Other folk dances may sometimes then be performed.

Wedding photographs

Until the mid-20th century, the newlyweds went to a photographer’s studio for the official wedding portrait to be taken. Once it was framed, it was hung in a prominent place of the lounge or another room in the home. Copies of this photography, with paper frames, were sent as a memento to relatives and close friends.

In the following decades, even though the photographer would go to the church and the wedding reception, the newlyweds usually went immediately after the ceremony and before the reception to a studio for a photograph to be taken on the very day of the marriage. Well-off families would contract a photographer to go to the bride’s home and take her photo in the lounge.

Civil marriage. Ezkontza zibila

There were three situations to be considered in the southern Basque Country during the 20th century. During the II Republic (1931-1936), the couple had to enter into a civil marriage before the judge in charge of the Civil Register for the marriage to be legally valid, regardless of whether they wanted also to marry in a religious ceremony. During Franco’s regime (1939-1975), religious marriages were legally valid for civil purposes and were nearly the only type held. The couple had to provide proof that they were non-Catholic in order to be able to have a civil marriage, something that was extremely difficult in practice. A new period started in 1981 with the Divorce Act that established two types of marriage, civil and religious.

Pursuant to current legislation, civil marriage is entered into before the Judge of First Instance in charge of the Civil Register or before the mayor or person nominated by the latter. Religious marriage can be entered into according to the rite of any of the religions recognised by the State, with the obligation to send its certificate to the Registry for it to be legally valid.

  1. The Toldeo Manual was a liturgical book issued by the Episcopal See of Toledo. Even though it was written in Latin, the 1582 edition contained in the vernacular language (Spanish) the instructions for the faithful and their responses. This book was embraced as a "manual" by many dioceses in Spain and The Americas and in the 17th century, it was included as an appendix to the Roman Ritual Published by Pope Paul V in 1614 after the liturgical reform of the Council of Trent. Editions in Basque of this manual have been used. Así Manuale Sacramentorum. Euskeraz. Bateoa ta Ezkontza. Zornotza: 1934.