Most people are familiar with Loving Cups, although may not know them by that name. Loving Cups can be found in varying different shapes and sizes, and whilst commonly found with two handles, often can have up to three or four. A popular design for trophies, the origin of the Loving Cup can be traced back to antiquity, with cultural ties to Irish, French, and Jewish traditions.
The most common Loving Cup ritual that still exists today is a Celtic wedding tradition, which has seen a revival in modern day Irish wedding ceremonies. There are many variations of this centuries old practice, each with a touching and rich significance behind it. One such tradition sees a Loving Cup filled with wine, and is to be the first drink shared by a newly wedded couple. The wine is specially brewed with both sweet and bitter flavors, which symbolize the upcoming challenges to face the husband and wife. Another tradition sees the wedding guests each bring a pebble, which they collectively place in a Loving Cup, and present to the bride and groom. With a pebble representing each guest, the Loving Cup is filled with water and blessed; acknowledging the love and well wishes of the people in attendance.
But where did these touching and heartfelt traditions begin? Surprisingly the Loving Cup has a somewhat funny, if not gruesome history behind it. There are two specific stories behind the Loving Cup, which set the foundations for the traditions we are familiar with today.
A jovial story of the creation of the Loving Cup dates to the reign of 16th century French King, Henry IV. It is said that the King was on a hunting trip, and became separated from his party, when he stumbled upon a wayside inn. The king entered the establishment, and ordered a glass of wine from the maid inside. In her excitement, the maid handed the King a cup, but did not present the handle towards him, causing him to spill wine on his white gauntlets. On his arrival home, the King commissioned the royal potters to create a drinking vessel with not one, but two handles, to send to the inn and prevent a similar accident happening again. King Henry returned to the inn, and ordered a wine from his custom made cup. According to the legend, the maid brought the King his cup, yet was grasping both handles. Again the King had his gauntlets ruined. Not to be undone, the King commissioned yet another cup, this time with three handles, to be sent to the inn. From there the Loving Cup became a popular drinking vessel, which could be easily handed throughout banquets and feasts.
One of the earliest known Loving Cup ceremonies was started after the murder of King Edward the Martyr; who was stabbed to death in 978 AD whilst drinking from a two-handled Loving Cup. By raising a rather large vessel to his mouth, he left his belly and torso exposed to his assassin. Prior to King Edwards’ death, Loving Cups were an everyday part of drinking rituals, with the cup being passed between drinkers. After the Kings death, it became common practice for the drinker to solicit a pledge; a companion to stand and guard you whilst you were drinking. The Loving Cup ceremony soon became a sign of solidarity and companionship, and was later adopted and popularised by livery companies and guilds throughout medieval England and Europe.