A Coptic Wedding by Unknown
I KNEW the little bride; a pretty child, not a
day over fifteen, with great, dark eyes and
dimpled cheeks, white even teeth, and rich fair
complexion. She had often come in to spend an
hour with me in my home in Cairo, affording me
much diversion by her childish, artless ways and
But now she was to be married—this baby girl.
Her future husband had never seen her face; for,
according to the custom of the people, the parents
had made all the arrangements, and the contract
usual in such ceremonies had been drawn up by
the fathers and mothers and signed in the presence
of a priest without a word or suggestion from the
parties most concerned in the transaction. The
intended bridegroom was a young clerk in the employ
of an English friend, a handsome, intelligent
boy, but with little experience of life. We had heard
the wedding was to be a grand affair, and were
glad to accept an invitation to this Egyptian ceremony.
On the night of the marriage, the bridal procession,
or zeffeh as it is called, looked as if wrapped
in flames as it came slowly up the narrow street in
the midst of hundreds of colored torches. A band
was playing Arab tunes and women were ringing
out the zaghareet—wedding laugh of joy—which
is a kind of trill made with the tongue and throat.
The entire way was lit with expensive fireworks of
brilliant variety, and all the street wraps worn were
of gorgeous colors.
Our little friend marched in this slow procession,
her features concealed, as usual; that is, she was
wrapped in a cashmere shawl, not covered by a
canopy, as in Arab weddings, although in many
respects the Coptic ceremony is similar to that of
She wore a white silk gown embroidered with
gold, and over this a long flowing robe of lace,
while masses of diamonds fastened the white face-veil
to her turban.
Just before her walked two little boys carrying
censers the smoke of which must have poured
directly into her face as she walked slowly on enveloped
in her cashmere wrappings.
On either side and a little in advance of the
bride were the male relatives and friends, while
behind her, continually trilling the zaghareet, followed
the female friends; and along the whole
procession two boys ran back and forth, bearing
silver flasks of pomegranate form filled with perfume
which they jetted in the faces of the guests
in a most delicious spray.
The house of the bridegroom's father where the
marriage was to take place, is situated in a narrow
street off the Mooski, and as we reached the entrance
we were met by black slaves who handed
us each a lighted taper. Then a sheep was killed
on the door-stone—a custom, I believe, observed
only in Cairo, and some of the larger cities of
Egypt. The bride, glittering with her diamonds
and gorgeous costume, was carried over it and
then the whole procession walking over the blood—the
body having been removed—all of us bearing
our lights—went in to the marriage, and the
door was shut. Does it not remind you of the
Parable of the Ten Virgins of old?
We were conducted to a room, very lofty and
spacious. A low divan reached around it and
constituted its sole furniture, excepting the table
on which was spread the marriage supper.
At this supper I witnessed a custom which reminded
me of an old Roman story. A slave
brought in two sugar globes on separate dishes.
When these were placed upon the table, one of
the guests was invited to open them. Immediately
upon one having been broken, out flew a lovely
white dove, its neck encircled with tiny bells which
rang merrily as it flew about. The other dove did
not at first fly, when liberated from its sugar cage;
but one of the guests lifted it up until it fluttered
away like the other. If either of the doves should
not fly, these superstitious people would draw from
it an evil omen.
Many Arab dishes were set before us, among
them boned fowl stuffed with raisins, pistachio,
nuts, bread and parsley; sweets and melons following.
But as an Arab eats with remarkable
rapidity, one course was hardly brought before
another took its place.
We were soon ready to accompany our host to
the room where the marriage ceremony was to be
performed, into which we were ushered in the
midst of Arab music, sounding cymbals, smoking-incense,
the zaghareet, and the unintelligible mutterings
of many priests.
The bridegroom, clad in an immense white silk
cloak embroidered with silk and gold, sat waiting
in one of two palatial-looking chairs. In the
midst of a perfect storm of music and confusion a
door opened, and the bride, her face still veiled,
entered and took the chair beside the bridegroom.
There were four priests to officiate in this novel
marriage, three of whom were blind; these muttered
Coptic prayers and filled the air with incense,
while the priest whose eyes were perfect tied the
nuptial knot by binding the waiting couple to each
other with several yards of tape, knocking their
heads together, and at last placing his hands in
benediction on their foreheads and giving them
a final blessing.
This concluded the ceremony.
We were glad to escape from the close room
into the pure out-of-door air. We drove away
under the clear, star-lit heavens, through the narrow
streets with their tall houses and projecting
balconies, out into the Mooski, the Broadway of
Cairo, now silent and deserted; on into the wide,
new streets, and so home; but it was nearly morning
before I fell asleep, for the tumultuous music
and trillings and mutterings of that strange ceremony
rang in my ears and filled my thoughts with
as strange reveries as if I had eaten hasheesh.