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The Lock of the Love

The romantic tradition of placing padlocks on bridges, gates and fences is a worldwide trend that has even found a place in Oxford.

Written by Leslie Criss | Illustrated by Sarah McCullen

A number of padlocks decorate the fence at the end of the runway at the University-Oxford Airport. Each symbolizes the love between two people who have just gotten engaged or married. The tradition involves attaching a padlock to a particular gate or fence and then tossing away the key.

A couple’s act of attaching a padlock onto a bridge or gate to profess their abiding affection is nothing new, nor is it unique to Oxford. Another popular place in the state for putting padlocks is the Swinging Bridge in Byram, Mississippi.

In fact, history has it the tradition has been around quite a while. The story is told of a Serbian schoolteacher who fell in love with a Serbian officer about a century ago. Though the two were committed to one another, when he went off to fight in Greece, he fell in love with another woman. It is said the Serbian schoolteacher soon died of a broken heart. Other young Serbian women in her small town, to protect their own loves, began writing their names and the names of their loved ones on a lock and affixing them to Most Ljubavi, translated as Bridge of Love.

Another story, set in Hungary during World War I, has the same circumstances, but after the young Hungarian woman was jilted by her lover, she began placing locks on bridges the two had visited.

Not surprisingly, Paris, the City of Love, is the site of many love locks. The ritual began in Paris in 2008, but today the railings of bridges over the Seine are packed with padlocks. In fact, in 2014, a portion of railing on one Paris bridge collapsed because of the added weight of thousands of padlocks. Still, there remains something romantic about attaching a padlock to a bridge or gate and tossing the key to declare one’s endless love for another.

In the past several decades, the tradition has caught fire and spread across Europe and into other countries, including the United States and Oxford’s small airport fence, where love locks continue to be placed.

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