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 merry laughter.

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 the Moslems.

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.