The Arch of Sabers
and Use of Swords
in the Wedding Ceremony
The commanding officer should
serve as a resource
for any questions regarding the Arch of the Sabers.
A memorable, though not mandatory, part
of any military ceremony is the Arch of the Sabers. This tradition is
also called Arch of the Swords or Arch of Steel. The passage under the
swords is meant to ensure the couple's safe transition into their new
life together. The Navy Officer Saber is a curved sword with only one
edge and the sword is straight and has two edges.
Only commissioned officers can carry sabers or swords and participate
in this ceremony. (The Marine Corps is the exception, where NCO’s
are also authorized to participate in this ceremony)
ARCH OF STEEL
The word Steel is synonymous for either the sabers for the Navy &
Marines and swords for the Army and Air Force. The arch of swords is formed
by an honor guard made up of members of the military who would normally
wear a sword or saber when in dress uniform. Should one of the honor guards
also be serving as a wedding attendant, he or she must be in full uniform,
in order to conform to tradition. The arch is formed outside of the church,
chapel or ceremony location; traditionally, a sword should never be unsheathed
inside a ceremony sanctuary.
If you don’t have a sword or saber, in many cases, the chapel, local
honor guard or ROTC unit may have sabers available for use for this wedding
It is tradition that military groomsmen participate in the ceremony, but
other officers that are guest may be designated to help create the arch.
Officers who hold the sabers are expected to be in full dress uniform
and the guard is usually made up of 6-8 officers.
The head usher issues the commands at this
ceremony, starting with the comand "Center face," the signal
to form two facing lines. When the order "Arch sabers" (or "Draw
swords") is given, each usher raises his saber, cutting edge up,
to form the arch.
Officers have been known to detour from tradition:
a. Announcing the couple "Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Major
and Mrs. Jones."
b. Lowering the final two sabers to block the couple's way and demand
that they kiss!
c. A Marine Corps tradition, often adopted by the Air Force, is for the
last saber bearer to "tap" the bride with his saber and say,
"Welcome to the Corps, or Air Force, Ma'am."
The head usher gives the command, "Officers, Return (swords brought
to the position of "resent arms" swords." Swords are returned
to the scabbard for all but about three or four inches of their length.
The final inches of travel are completed in unison, the swords returning
home with a single click.