Arch of Swords (Sabers) Ceremony
Copyright 2003, HudsonvalleyWeddings.com
Military weddings are a privilege of those in the armed forces or cadets. All are formal, with military personnel in dress uniform and commanding officers seated according to rank. What most guests at a military wedding are most likely to remember is the "crossed sabers," also known as the "arch of sabers," or the "arch of steel. The word steel, is synonymous for and used to represent either sabers for Navy or swords for Army, Air Force and Marines. Traditionally the bride and groom walk through the arch of swords. That passage is meant to ensure the couple's safe transition into their new life together. The arch of swords is formed by an honor guard made up of members of the military who would normally wear a sword or saber when in dress uniform. Should one of the honor guard also be serving as a wedding attendant, in order to conform to tradition, he or she must be in full uniform. That includes wearing a sword or saber while in the wedding party. No one out of full dress uniform may, when conforming to military procedure, carry a sword or saber. The commanding officer should serve as a resource for the prospective bride and groom for information about who can and who cannot wear a uniform with a sword.
The arch of swords procedure is a simple and elegant one. The honor guard form two lines opposite each other. On the command of "draw sword" or "draw sabers," the steel is raised with the right hand, with the cutting edges facing up. The couple enters the arch, kiss, and then passes through. The newly married couple then salute the honor guard. Members of the honor guard then sheath the swords or sabers and return them to a carry position. Depending on church rules and on the particular branch of service, the arch can be formed either outside or in the foyer of the chapel, synagogue or church.
Yet another tradition relating to the arch of steel is a gentle "swat to the backside" that the bride receives from the last swordsman. Grooms take heed. Should you decide to adhere to this custom, it would be prudent to inform your bride about the possibility so that she isn't unpleasantly surprised. In addition, it is also traditional for the wedding cake to be cut with a saber or other type of military sword.
Although the ushers usually act as sword bearers, other officers may be designated as sword bearers--which would accelerate the arch of swords ceremony following the wedding ceremony. It is customary that six or eight ushers (or designated sword bearers) take part in the ceremony. Although the chaplain's office will furnish swords (sabers for the ceremony, it is customary, such as at West Point, for the cadets to furnish their own white belts, gloves, and breastplates.
If the ushers have removed their swords, they now hook them on. In an outdoor ceremony, they proceed down the steps of the chapel where they form, facing each other in equal numbers.
In the NAVAL SERVICES, the head usher gives the command, "Officers, draw swords," which is done in one continuous motion, tips touching. The bride and groom pass under the arch--and only they may do so-- then they pause for a moment. The head usher gives the command, "Officers, Return (swords brought to the position of "resent arms" swords."
Swords are returned to the scabbard for all but about three or four inches of their length. The final inches of travel are completed in unison, the swords returning home with a single click.
When the arch of swords ceremony is held indoors, it takes place just as the couple rises after receiving the blessing. All members of the bridal party wait until the ushers swords are returned to their scabbards before the recessional proceeds.
In the Army and Air Force, the Arch of Sabers is carried out in this way: when the bride and groom rise from their kneeling position after the benediction, the senior saber bearer gives the command, "Center Face". This command moves the saber bearers into position facing each other. The next command is "Arch Sabers," wherein each saber bearer raises his right arm with the saber, rotating it in a clockwise direction, so that the cutting edge of the saber will be on top, thus forming a true arch with this opposite across the aisle.
After the bride and groom pass under the arched sabers, the command is, "Carry Sabers" followed almost immediately by "rear face," with the saber bearers facing away from the altar, thus enabling them to march down the side aisle. They form again with arched sabers on the steps of the chapel.
Military weddings are one of the best examples of how traditions and rituals can be the foundation for the creation of a truly memorable event. Anyone who has been fortunate to participate in or be a guest at such a wedding, will surely agree.
For more information about military weddings, check out these excellent resources available at Amazon.com: "Service Etiquette" by Oretha D. Swartz. and "Military Weddings and the Military Ball" by Mary Preston Gross and Mickey Tomlinson.
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