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Marriage (Vielse)

In the Middle Ages marriage between Christians was a sacrament which was constituted by an agreement and by consummation. The church required the announcement and a church ceremony.

After the reformation, the theological view was that marriage was a temporal or secular arrangement, and the marriage was seen as a voluntary action. From the middle of the 1500’s marriage became obligatory in the church. The marriage ordinance of 1582, which came to Norway in 1589, required engagement (trolovelse) and that the intended marriage was to be announced from the pulpit three separate times.

In the beginning of the Church’s regulation of marriage the previous practice of having the marriage take place at the doors of the church continued, but in the course of the 1600s it became usual to have the ceremony at the altar. By 1685 this had become the church ritual.

The marriage ritual received its final form with the publication of an alter book in 1580. Three questions were asked of the bride and groom after the pattern set in the engagement, the priest declared them man and wife, gave them a blessing, and read some scriptural admonishments.

Payment to the priest, known as “pusefe”, for these services was made as early as the 1500’s. In 1539, it was decided that the payment should be 6 schillings. This was repeated several times in the 1500’s. However, there is reason to believe that this price varied from place to place according to their local customs. C.5. no. lov. 2-12-7 prescribed that the priest could take a freely given gift at the marriage and that in the country he should have 32 schillings as payment. In addition the bride and groom were to make an offering at the altar. In practice the payment for marriage in many places was between 2 and 10 riksdaler.

In the market-towns a marriage could take place on any day of the week. But, except for Sundays, the marriage should be finished by 11 o’clock. If the marriage took place during the service it was done after the early prayers or in the high mass before the sermon. In the country the marriage should take place during the high mass. The ordinance of 1736 forbade marriage on Sunday and Holidays in the market-towns. However, this was enforced very gently.

The ordinance in 1683 allowed that with royal permission the marriage could take place in a home. Actually, this had been the case much earlier. Then beginning in 1800, the county officials could give permission for a home marriage. From the 1670’s soldiers and junior officers in the military could not marry without permission from their superior officer. This ordinance was repealed in 1793 and permission was no longer required.


1. ”Norsk Historisk Leksikon: Kulture og samfunn ca. 1500-ca. 1800”, 2nd ed., by Steinar Imsen and Harald Winge, Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, as, Oslo 1999. FHL Book Nr. Ref 948.1 H26i.

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