Why are ships christened with a bottle of champagne?

Why are ships christened with a bottle of champagne?

From ritual sacrifices to today's tradition of smashing bottles on the hull, the practice of launching ships dates back to Greek times.

 

The ship that has not tasted wine will taste blood, warns an old British proverb. This saying represents an ancestral tradition of seafarers.

As far back as Greek times, the blood of sacrifices was spilled to ensure the benevolence of the gods towards the ship on the high seas.

Over time, blood was replaced by wine, and later by champagne. But where does this tradition of christening ships before putting them into service come from?

This rite has evolved along with civilisations up to the present day, where the christening of a ship has become an unwritten rule that is compulsory in the maritime sphere.

Superstitions have spread over time for those ships that had not respected the tradition of launching.31 de Mayo 1911 botadura del Titanic Wikimedia Commons e1569425646335

One of the most emblematic cases is when, in 1911, White Star Line decided to launch the 'Titanic' into the sea without having previously carried out its traditional christening.

 

In ancient times, the first time a ship touched the sea was a cause for celebration. This tradition arose to prevent the sea from taking human tribute or even the ship from sinking during the voyage.

Some also argue that it is an "elegant and ceremonious" way of testing the strength of the ship's hull. Judge for yourselves.

In Babylon, they sacrificed an ox, the Turks a sheep, and the Vikings christened their ships with human blood.

In India, a 'puja' ceremony, a Hindu ritual dedicated to the worship of the gods, was performed to wish the ship and its sailors luck.

In Japan, axes were thrown to ward off evil. In any case, the ceremony originated from pagan customs that were eventually adopted in our modern society.

This tradition arose to prevent the sea from taking human tribute or the ship from sinking.

The sacrament still retains its overall essence today, but has evolved in one direction or another depending on the time and place.

In India, for example, a coconut is thrown against the hull instead of a bottle, and in Japan the mooring rope is cut with a specially constructed axe, which must always be carried on board. 

THE HABITAT OF THE GODS FOR THE GREEKS

The sea has been considered a place of unknowns, where it was believed that different gods inhabited and had to be honoured to prevent them from unleashing their fury on the ships that plied the waters.

The unpredictability of the sea and the capricious nature of the wind added to this spiritual significance when the first sailors began to venture far from shore.

Legends say that the sacrifices began as human sacrifices, later became animal sacrifices and were eventually replaced by offerings of food, water and wine.

The Greeks were the first to start smashing amphorae of wine against the hulls in honour of the god of the sea, Poseidon.

A custom later adopted by the Romans and dedicated to their god Neptune.

Other traditions also included the throwing of water and wine onto ships, as did Christians and Jews, for the blessing of ships and for god's protection, while in other civilisations, such as the Ottoman Empire, ritual animal sacrifices were performed.

The Greeks began smashing amphorae of wine against the hulls in honour of Poseidon.

Religious connotations have been maintained in ship christening ceremonies over time, especially in countries where Christianity has predominated..

As time went on, each country or culture developed its own way of doing this. Some sprinkled holy water all over the ship, others made a mass or a speech.

From this background, these practices became widespread as a symbol of good omen for sailors.

 

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Marquise de Lafayette’  1977 / USS Nautius

From El Mercatil


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