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Give Your Love Letter Ceremony a Centuries-Old Twist with Letterlocking

Published Wednesday, Mar. 17th, 2021

Close up photo of someone holding a carefully folded letter, sealed with wax, with a message that says 'For Lydia'. The letter is folded in an intricate way, called letterlocking, and forms a square.
Cover image via, What It's Like To Open Locked Letters video

Renaissance-era “locked” letters offer an exciting twist to a modern wedding ritual! 

A Love Letter Ceremony, where partners exchange sealed letters during their wedding, is a thoughtful alternative to common unity rituals.


This ritual allows couples to privately share their love and wedding day sentiments on paper, and then revisit those emotions later, on a meaningful date like an anniversary, when the letters are finally opened and read.


The exchange can be combined with a wine box unity ritual, embellished with a handmade chest, or enriched with letters from parents and other elders, making it a versatile unity ritual. 


With this in mind, let us suggest another new (or… very old) twist! Letterlocking! 



What is letterlocking? 

This decorative art is an elaborate technique for folding a handwritten letter into its own protective envelope, using multiple creases, folds, strips, and slits of the letter itself to secure the ‘lock.’ 


Originally, letterlocking acted as a centuries-old version of email encryption -- a method of sealing sensitive personal letters away from prying eyes. The method was used by regular folks and royalty alike, popular since the time paper was invented, all the way up until the 1800s. And because each person preferred different folding patterns and styles of ‘locks’, often sticking with one or two favorite styles, it almost served as a second, heartfelt signature! 



Image of an opened locked letter, from the Letterlocking Org website, hand holding letter with paper lock

A partially opened love letter, via


“Locked” letters protected messages of hope, conquest, passion, and young clandestine love. 


With these romantic and exciting origins in mind, it’s easy to see how letterlocking can add a charming element to modern weddings… as two lovebirds seal their words of devotion away in a ceremonial fashion for later reading. 


Instead of simply securing your letter in an envelope and slipping it away until an anniversary reading, consider a traditional and truly individual touch that inspires feelings of romance, curiosity, and Renaissance flair! (This is also a great addition to a medieval themed wedding!)


To get started, here’s a short instructional video of Queen Elizabeth I’s signature spiral lock, used on a personal letter to Henry III, King of France. 




The above technique is demonstrated by Jana Dambrogio, MIT Libraries’ conservator and the kickass researcher who coined the term ‘letterlocking.’


Other types of locks and fascinating history can also be found on Dambrogio’s website.




In the news: 

Locked letters made the news recently, when a Renaissance-era letter was “unfolded” virtually, allowing it to be read for the first time in 300 years! 

This 300 year old letter survived the passage of time but wasn’t readable, because unfolding it now would destroy its delicate paper. But recently, experts were able to use an X‐ray microtomography scanner (used in dental research) and a complex algorithm to decipher its intricate folding pattern, “unfolding” it virtually to recreate the message. 

Suddenly, researchers could see heartfelt words that were nearly lost forever! And in a matter of days, interest in the lost art of letterlocking -- and the timeless art of letter writing itself -- was rekindled. 




Discover other unique unity rituals: 



Or read Navigating Your Wedding Ceremony and learn how to craft a one-of-a-kind custom ceremony from start to finish.



Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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