65° - 01.09.1967, Blaðsíða 13

65° - 01.09.1967, Blaðsíða 13
25% illegitimate second births over the same period. (The comparable figures for the whole of Iceland in 1962 were 60.9% first births, and 21.1% second births.) The engagement-family is orientated toward marriage, and people within this family tend to marry between the birth of the first child and that of the second. We mention in passing that it is quite common for the young couple to marry at the christening of their first child. Somehow it is though that the marriage-baptism combination will ensure that the child be registered as legiti- mately born. This belief has no support in law, but is an interesting social phenomenon in that it provides a mechanism, however fictional, for dealing with the only disadvantage which might accompany the engagement-family: the appear- ance of an illegitimate child on official records.1 From the above it has emerged that the institu- tion of public engagement plays a basic role in giving shape to the pattern of family organzation in our society. At the same time it will be ap- preciated that this institution has direct bearing on the question of legitimacy. This being so, it will be of some interest to inquire into the history of this institution. It has frequently been maintained that the high rates of illegitimacy are a fairly recent develop- ment in Icelandic social history and that its ex- planation can be sought within the context of present-day Iceland. A backward look, however, will show us the roots of the contemporary en- gagement-family. Saga literature offers many examples of mar- riage proceedings in pre-Christianized Iceland, examples corroborated by the oldest Icelandic code of law. According to these sources there were three distinct stages in the marital process: the proposal, followed by matchmaking negotia- tions, the ceremonial betrothal, and the wedding feast. For our purposes it is the betrothal cere- mony stage which is most important. So legally important was this ceremony that children born to those betrothed, before or after betrothal, were Ed. note: A child in Iceland does not usually receive a legal name until baptism, until that time being regis- tered only as a male or female child, so this belief in baptism as a legitimatizing factor is understandable. legitimate by law. The betrothal ceremony was the cornerstone of the civil institution of mar- riage. The introduction of Christianity and its legisla- tion by the Aiding (parliament) in the year 1000 did not seemingly affect well-established law relating to pre-Christianized marriage procedure. In the first ecclesiastical code of law in 1123 there was still no mention of marital affairs, a fact which seems to indicate that even at that time the Church did not play any decisive role in controlling matters of this nature. But in accor- dance with the claim of the Church for unlimited jurisdiction over the so-called “spiritual matters”, a new ecclesiastical code of law was drawn up and made effective by the Aiding in the year 1275 for Skalholt diocese, but not until 1354 in Holar diocese. This new ecclesiastical law in- corporated all matters of importance concerning the institution of marriage; the ceremonial be- trothal still held its place at the center of the constitution of legal marriage. Even within the ecclesiastical setting no marriage was concluded unless the betrothal formula had been cited, con- cluding quite significantly with the following words: “and from now on you are my legal wife”. Children born to a legally betrothed couple were to be considered legitimate, and this mar- riage-creating-significance of the betrothal cere- mony was still further underlined in the opening words of the chapter dealing with the dissolution of marriage, where it said that no marriage might be dissolved once the betrothal ceremony had been performed. Considering the fact that here we are dealing with an ecclesiastical code of law according to which the institution of marriage was a strictly spiritual concern, it is indeed quite surprising to discover the status given to the institution of be- trothal, for to all effects and purposes the be- trothal ceremony presented us with a civil form of marriage. There are clear indications, however, that much was done in order to conceal the civil characteristics of this ceremony, for instance, by placing it within the closest possible context to the ecclesiastical wedding. The Reformation brought with it a new con- ception of things spiritual and wordly. According to this conception, marriage as a social institution 65 11



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