Ancient Constantinople, style of Anton Schwarz, 1769-1839 © Durham University
300 years ago in May, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of George I's ambassador to Constantinople, attended a Turkish "bridal shower" or epithalamium.
Pera, Constantinople, May 1718:
"I was three days ago at one of the finest [bagnios] in the town and had the opportunity of seeing a Turkish bride received there and all the ceremonies used on that occasion…
All the she-friends, relations and acquaintance of the two families newly allied meet at the bagnio. . ..I believe there was that day at least 200 women. Those that were or had been married placed themselves round the room on the marble sofas, but the virgins very hastily threw off their clothes and appeared without other ornament or covering than their own long hair braided with pearl or ribbon. Two of them met the bride at the door, conducted by her mother and another grave relation. She was a beautiful maid of about seventeen, richly dressed and shining with jewels, but was presently reduced by them to a state of nature. Two others filled silver gilt pots with perfume and begun the procession, the rest following in pairs to the number of thirty. The leaders sung an epithalamium answered by the others in chorus, and the two last led the fair bride, her eyes fixed on the ground with a charming affectation of modesty. In this order they marched round the three large rooms of the bagnio. 'Tis not easy to represent to you the beauty of this sight, most of them being well proportioned and white skinned, all of them perfectly smooth and polished by the frequent use of bathing. After having made their tour, the bride was again led to every matron round the rooms, who saluted her with a compliment and a present, some of jewels, others pieces of stuff, handkerchiefs, or little gallantries of that nature, which she thanked them for by kissing their hands.
I was very well pleased with having seen this ceremony and you may believe me that the Turkish ladies have at least as much wit and civility, nay, liberty, as ladies amongst us."
From Letters from Turkey, Mary Wortley Montagu, published officially 1763.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu* Charles Jervas after 1716 © National Gallery of Ireland
*Cousin by marriage to Lady Elizabeth Montagu, the blue-stocking hostess (see May 2017 blog)
Lawrence Alma-Tadema's "Roman" baths, 1909 © Tate Britain
The historic Cagaloglu Hamam, Istanbul, built 1741
"We come into this world, we lodge, and we depart;
He never goes that's lodged within my heart."