AskDefine | Define banns

Dictionary Definition

banns n : a public announcement of a proposed marriage

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The announcement of a forthcoming marriage (legally required for a church wedding in England and Wales and read on the three Sundays preceding the marriage).


the announcement of a forthcoming marriage

Extensive Definition

The banns of marriage, commonly known simply as "the banns", (from an Old English word meaning "to summon") are the public announcement in a parish church that a marriage is going to take place between two specified persons.
The purpose of banns is to enable anyone to raise any legal impediment to it, so as to prevent marriages that are legally invalid, either under canon law or under civil law. Impediments vary between legal jurisdictions, but would normally include a pre-existing marriage (having been neither dissolved nor annulled), a vow of celibacy, lack of consent, or the couple's being related within the prohibited degrees of kinship.
In England, under the provisions of Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act, a marriage is only legally valid if the reading of the banns has taken place or a marriage licence has been obtained. By this 1753 statute, 26 Geo. II, c. xxxviij, the banns are required to be read aloud in church over a period of three Sundays prior to the actual wedding ceremony. Banns must be read in the home parish churches of both parties to the marriage, as well as in the church where the marriage ceremony is to take place (where this is different). Omission of this formality renders the marriage void. Prior to this law, it was possible for eloping couples to marry clandestinely in various places—finding an imprisoned clergyman in the Fleet Prison was one well known way (a "Fleet Marriage"), at least for couples near London. After the law, elopers had to leave England, usually for Scotland, and proverbially to the village of Gretna Green, in order to contract a marriage while avoiding these formalities. These details often figure in melodramatic literature set in the period .
In the Roman Catholic church the form of words spoken by the priest is as follows. 'I publish the banns of marriage between (Name of party) of the Parish of........ and (Name of other party) of this Parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is for the (first, second, third) time of asking.'
According to the rites of the Church of England (Marriage Act 1984), similar wording is used. In addition:
  • (1) ... banns shall be published on three Sundays preceding the solemnization of the marriage at the time of divine service.
  • (2) Banns shall be published in an audible manner and in accordance with one of the following forms of words:
    • "I publish the banns of marriage between A.B. of ----- and C.D. of -----. If any of you know any cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second or third] time of asking." or
    • "I publish the banns of marriage between A.B. of ----- and C.D of -----. If any of you know any reason in law why these persons may not marry each other, you are to declare it now."
In the Canadian province of Ontario, the publication of banns for three consecutive weeks remains a legal alternative to obtaining a marriage license. Two same-sex couples married this way at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto on January 14, 2001, since the province was not then issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples. The marriages were ruled valid in 2003. See Same-sex marriage in Ontario. Banns being read once in a church ordinarily attended by both parties to the marriage is allowed in lieu of a licence in Manitoba.
In the Canadian province of Québec, equivalent formalities are required for all marriages, although the statutes do not use the word "banns". There is no requirement for a government-issued license, but a written notice must be posted at the place of the wedding for 20 days beforehand, and the officiant verifies the eligibility of the intended spouses.

Other uses

A second use of "the banns" is as the prologue to a play, i.e., a proclamation made at the beginning of a medieval play announcing and summarizing the upcoming play. An example can be found in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, a Middle English miracle play written sometime after 1461.


banns in Danish: Lysning til ægteskab
banns in French: Publication des bans
banns in Italian: Pubblicazione di matrimonio
banns in Slovenian: Oklici pred poroko
banns in Swedish: Lysning

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Gretna Green wedding, affiance, banns of matrimony, betrothal, betrothment, bridal, bridal suite, bridechamber, chuppah, church wedding, civil ceremony, civil wedding, elopement, engagement, epithalamium, espousal, espousals, espousement, forced marriage, handfasting, honeymoon, hymen, hymeneal, hymeneal rites, marriage, marriage contract, nuptial apartment, nuptial mass, nuptial song, nuptials, plighted faith, plighted troth, prothalamium, saffron veil, shotgun wedding, spousals, troth, wedding, wedding canopy, wedding song, wedding veil
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