Before the rise in popularity of celebrants, running away to Gretna Green was considered the ultimate in ‘alternative weddings.’
The popularity of this venue dates back to 1754 when Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act came into force in England, which vetoed the union of any couple under the age of 21 without parental consent. In Scotland however, boys could marry at 14 and girls at 12. ‘Irregular marriages’ under Scottish law also allowed almost anyone to conduct the marriage ceremony. The local blacksmiths and their anvils have become symbols of the Gretna Green wedding as the ‘anvil priests’ have performed thousands and thousands of weddings there.
Why a blacksmith? It was believed that blacksmiths could heal the sick and that any marriage performed by one would be a happy one. They were also revered because of their work with horses and iron – a magical combination of rock and fire. Manipulators of this magical metal were believed to have supernatural powers themselves and the giving of a horseshoe by a pageboy, to a departing bride, came to symbolise good luck and fertility
Legend has it that back in the 10th Century, the Devil himself asked St Dunstan, patron saint of blacksmiths to shoe his hooves. Recognising who, or what, was making the request, St Dunstan complied but made it as painful as possible and extracted from the Devil a promise that he would never enter a place where a horseshoe was displayed.
There’s a lot of disagreement about how a horseshoe should be displayed. Some say that hung ends up will allow good luck to collect in the U shape, others that ends down will allow good luck to flood into the house. For optimum luck, a horseshoe should come from the hind feet of a grey mare!
Similar in shape to the crescent moon, horseshoes were also believed to have supernatural powers of enhancing fertility. They most often were held in place by seven iron nails, a number of huge importance since ancient times.