Norwegian bridal crowns on virtual display

Vesterheim’s Collection Connections event explores Norwegian wedding traditions

bridal crown

Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School in Decorah, Iowa, houses many of the artifacts that were used in traditional Norwegian wedding ceremonies and festivities.

COURTNEY OLSEN
Editorial Assistant
The Norwegian American

The summer wedding season is quickly approaching, and although this year’s celebrations are likely to be small in size because of pandemic restrictions, it can be cheering to look back on elaborate wedding celebrations of generations past.

bridal crown

Bridal crowns have been worn in Norway since the late 14th century.

In Norway, weddings were once two- to three-day affairs, filled with music, food, and beautiful clothing. Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School in Decorah, Iowa, houses many of the artifacts that were used in traditional Norwegian wedding ceremonies and festivities. They include bridal clothing and jewelry, musical instruments, and decorated food containers. 

On April 12, Vesterheim will host a special virtual event exploring its collection of Norwegian wedding objects, with a particular focus on their selection of bridal crowns. The event will be led by Liz Bucheit, a goldsmith and jewelry maker specializing in traditional Norwegian and Irish jewelry and metalworking techniques. She is a native of Decorah. 

“I grew up gazing at the silver crowns in the Vesterheim museum when I was a little girl,” she said. “I couldn’t believe brides got to wear such a beautiful piece on their wedding day.” 

Bridal crowns have been worn in Norway since the late 14th century and peaked in popularity in the 19th century, but their roots are part of a long tradition that extends across centuries and geography, dating as far back as the Roman era. 

“In Roman times, a bridal wreath of flowers was worn by the bride on her wedding day. This wreath was also rendered in silver and gold by skilled craftsmen for wealthier families and eventually took on the elaborate design characteristics of the crown style familiar to us today.” explained Bucheit. “Bridal headwear symbolized purity and chastity and incorporated symbols representing fertility and good luck. [In Norway], the use of silver also protected the bride against the evil eye and or abduction by troll folk, and there are many folktales of attempts to abduct brides on their wedding days!”

bridal crown

Silver is a core element to all Norwegian bridal crowns, though the typical design of a crown varied by region. The use of silver also protected the bride against the evil eye and or abduction by troll folk.

Silver is a core element to all Norwegian bridal crowns, though the typical design of a crown varied by region. 

“Crowns from Telemark and Trondheim are larger and feature solid silver construction and lots of dangling ornaments and chains, while bridal headdresses from Hallingdal and Voss are comprised of materials like wool, felt, leather and glass beads,” said Bucheit. “Symbols like silver birds, leaves, green and red stones, barley and wheat symbols, and silver coins were included in crown designs, making for a rich mix of moving and musical elements.”

In most cases, a bride could borrow a crown from her local church, though given the crown’s symbolism of purity and chastity, the bride needed to be considered highly reputable to wear one. Bucheit said this is one of her favorite

bridal crown

Wearing a beautiful tradition crown, a bride can be “queen for a day.”

parts of the bridal crown tradition: “Any bride could literally be ‘queen for a day’ regardless of economic strata. This shared community ownership of an object of adornment has guaranteed its legacy as an established tradition in modern times as well.”

Along with the bridal crowns, attendees will have an opportunity to explore and learn more about other pieces from Vesterheim’s wedding objects collection, including bridal belts, brooches, and wedding pendants.

“This event presents an excellent opportunity to not only learn about the history, creation, and folklore surrounding these incredible objects but to also view Vesterheim’s collection of pieces the public doesn’t always get to see,” said Bucheit. “It’s also great to learn more about how traditions survive the test of time and how people continue a cultural conversation by connecting to their heritage.”

The event is part of a larger series hosted by Vesterheim called “Collection Connections,” with each event led by one of Vesterheim’s Folk Art School instructors.

bridal crown

Dangling elements are found on bridal crowns.

“Highlighting the incredible folk-art collection at Vesterheim, these conversations are opportunities to stay connected with the folk art community,” explained Andrew Ellingson, folk art education coordinator for digital learning and outreach at Vesterheim. “Each event in the series highlights pieces from the collection as explained, interpreted, and appreciated by a master folk artist.” 

Other upcoming Collection Connection events cover woodcarving, tapestry, and several kinds of rosemaling.

Collection Connections: Bridal Crowns and Wedding Traditions will be held April 12, 7–8 p.m., CST. Registration, more information, and other Collection Connections events can be found at folkartschool.vesterheim.org/class/2021-04-12-collection-connection-bridal-crowns-and-wedding-traditions. 

All photo courtesy of Vesterheim.

This article originally appeared in the March 12, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Courtney Olsen

Courtney Olsen is the assistant editor of The Norwegian American. She recently graduated with her master's degree in history from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. A historical fiction enthusiast, she spends her free time working through her ever-growing reading list with a cup of tea in hand.

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