1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Banns of Marriage

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BANNS OF MARRIAGE (formerly bannes, from A.S. gebann, proclamation, Fr. ban, Med. Lat. bannum), the public legal notice of an impending marriage. The church in earliest days was forewarned of marriages (Tertullian, Ad Uxorem, De Pudicitia, c. 4). The first canonical enactment on the subject in the English church is that contained in the 11th canon of the synod of Westminster in London (A.D. 1200), which orders that "no marriage shall be contracted without banns thrice published in the church, unless by special authority of the bishop." It is, however, believed that the practice was in France as old as the 9th century, and certainly Odo, bishop of Paris, ordered it in 1176. Some have thought that the custom originated in the ancient rule that all "good knights and true," who elected to take part in the tournaments, should hang up their shields in the nearest church for some weeks before the opening of the lists, so that, if any "impediment" existed, they might be "warned off." By the Lateran Council of 1215 the publication of banns was made compulsory on all Christendom. In early times it was usual for the priest to betroth the pair formally in the name of the Blessed Trinity; and sometimes the banns were published at vespers, sometimes during mass. In the United Kingdom, under the canon law and by statute, banns are the normal preliminary to marriage; but a marriage may also be solemnized without the publication of banns, by obtaining a licence or a registrar's certificate. In America there is no statutory requirement; and the practice of banns (though general in the colonial period) is practically confined to the Roman Catholics.