Christianity changed the culture and society of Iceland, as it also did in other parts of Northern Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. One of the important areas of change involved the introduction of new rules on the legal requirements for marriage.
Property and Virginity examines Icelandic law codes, marriage contracts, and other documents related to court proceedings. Based on extensive source material never researched before, this pioneer study explores the very gradual Christianization of marriage in Iceland. It shows that this process, which lasted for hundreds of years, had consequences for family and kinship politics, for inheritance and property transfer, and for gender relations.
As canon law began to change the old ritual of betrothal, the virginal state of the woman entering marriage gained greater importance. At the same time, marriage in the Late Middle Ages continued to include many elements of its older understanding as a contract concerning property transfer between families. A new perception of gender relations also arose, whereby women became partners in the actual contract-making. The 'handshake' was now between the husband and wife, instead of between the father of the bride and her future husband. The rituals connected to the different bonds gained new meaning: marriage was no longer a financial matter alone, but also involved religious beliefs and a closer union of the spouses.