Las arras, or Las arras matrimoniales (English: arrhae, wedding tokens, or unity coins) are wedding paraphernalia used in Christian wedding ceremonies in Spain, Latin American countries, and the Philippines. The tradition is also followed, with varying names and customs, in countries and communities bearing degrees of Hispanic influence. Traditionally, in Spain and Latin America, it is made up of thirteen gold coins and a "madrina de arras" (an ornate box or chest) in which they are placed; in the Philippines, it is in an ornate basket or pouch. After being blessed by a priest, they are given or presented by the groom to the bride.
Origins and representation
The word arras is a Spanish word meaning "earnest money", "bride price", or "bride wealth". The custom of using coins in weddings can be traced to a number of places including Spain and Rome. The book An introductory dictionary of theology and religious studies claims that origin of arras was from gold rings or coins in Visigothic Law. Whereas the Sex and Society claims the practice emerged from Frankish marriage ceremonies.  The ancient Roman custom includes the act of breaking gold or silver equally into two pieces. This signifies the promise to marry by two individuals. The Spanish tradition includes treating the set of coins as a representation of the bridal dowry or a way of hastening prosperity, and is placed inside decorated boxes or trays. Perhaps making sense of it all Reynolds & Witte write in their book that the Franks during their wedding gave 13 pennies while the Spanish gave coins or some sort of marriage gift then these two practices merged in the 11th century.
The thirteen wedding unity coins symbolize Jesus and the twelve apostles. The exchange of the coins represent the groom's promise to provide for his family, and the bride's trust in his ability to do so.
Filipino bridal entourages typically include an "arrhae-bearer" or "coin-bearer", a young page who functions similarly to the ringbearer. Unlike the ringbearer, he carries the actual arrahe on a pillow.
Depending on the culture in which this tradition is followed, the tradition of "arras" may be used on different occasions, although it is rare in most Hispanic countries. They may be used for quinceañeras, debutante balls for young ladies, and at Bat Mitzvahs.
In legal terminology an "arras" is a civil law contract. Legally, it could also mean money or items with value given by a buyer to a vendor. The purpose of giving such a payment is to provide an evidence of "contract earnest". It is usually part of a pre-contract.
- Hispanic Wedding Traditions, worldlyweddings.com
- Weddings in the Philippines, seiyaku.com
- Hispanic Wedding Traditions, weddingarras.com
- Wedding Unity Coins/Arras Coins/Arras Wedding Unity Coins, weddingunitycoins.com
- Espín & Nickoloff 2007, p. 126
- Kerber 2007, p. 181
- Reynolds & Witte 2007, p. 23
- Espín, Orlando O.; Nickoloff, James B. (2007). An introductory dictionary of theology and religious studies (2007 ed.). Liturgical Press. ISBN 0-8146-5856-3. - Total pages: 1521
- Reynolds, Lyndon; Witte, John (2007). To have and to hold: marrying and its documentation in Western Christendom, 400-1600 (2007 ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-86736-3. - Total pages: 519
- Wainwright, Geoffrey; Tucker, Karen Beth Westerfield (2006). The Oxford history of Christian worship (2006 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513886-4. - Total pages: 916