A Moveable Spring Feast
Last Sunday (14th May) was Rogation Sunday. It hits the table of Moveable and Immoveable Feasts and comes with the addition of three Rogation days before Ascension Day, which this year falls on May 18th . Rogation Sunday is the sixth Sunday after Easter. Ascension Day, when Christ ascended into Heaven, marks the end of Eastertide.
Rogationtide is to my mind a celebration of spring. The Latin Rogare translates as: to request, ask or beseech’ and Rogation is a time for those working on the land, to seek God’s blessing for crops that have been sown. We are familiar with Harvest as a celebration for ‘gathering in’ the crops but less so with Rogation. It is an ancient church festival which as well as seeking blessings on agricultural land, looks for reconciliation over boundaries and other difficulties. The Rogation Days (Cross or Gang Days) were the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday following Rogation Sunday - before Ascension Day (the Thursday). On Rogation Days, no meat of fish could be eaten - they were fast or grass days. Parishioners fasted until noon and walked the fields to Beat the Bounds - to reinforce Parish boundaries. A ritual of demarcation. The Parish was not just an ecclesiastical but also a government boundary, for civil administration. It gave an opportunity for Rogation processions to perambulate Parish boundaries, singing litanies and praying for good weather and a fruitful harvest. The exact origin of this custom is unclear. The use of willow and birch rods or wands to beat the boundaries is significant because these were also used in pre Christian rituals. Birch is the twig found in besoms, which have connections with Pagan festivals. The bark was removed from the sticks before the Beating of the Bounds began. In Medieval times, it was thought that during the procession, evil spirits, responsible for sickness and conflict, would be expelled. On a more human level, it was a time for the settlement of disputes and an opportunity to define the rights of tenant farmers, many of whom would have been illiterate. A bid for harmonious community spirit. I like this idea, a lot.
The beating of the bounds has regional quirky customs and Rogation Days became a popular festival. Some processions were spread over more than one day. It was often an occasion for picnics and jolity. Each parish had its own landmarks where traditional idiosyncratic customs would be displayed; for example at a particular tree or stream. The Beating of the Bounds seems to have fallen in and out of favour (Cromwell), but it was included in the Elizabethan Injunctions for the suppression of superstition and the planting of true religion (1559). In post Reformation perambulations, women appear to have been invisible. Interestingly, youths, played a prominent role. Perhaps this was a physical thing – the use of sticks to beat the boundary and indeed in some Parishes, flagellation. The Beating of the Bounds was punctuated by Gospel readings, hymns and erection of crosses at Parish intersections. Food and drink was central to the ritual. Bread, cheese, cake and ale are noted consumables.
George Herbert (1593-1633), a poet and diligent Church of England clergyman was keen to uphold the perambulations. In The Country Parish he mentions four good reasons for Beating the Bounds
A blessing of God for the fruits of the field and echoed centuries of tradition and a celebration of community identity.
Justice in the preservation of the bounds.
Charity, in loving, walking, and neighbourly accompanying one another, with reconciling of differences at that time if they be any
Mercy, in releeving the poor by a liberall distribution and largesse
As a nation of predominately city dwellers we may have lost contact with the soil, but Rogationtide offers an opportunity to acknowledge the start of the growing season and to encourage neighbourly friendship. A time to be more in touch with the countryside, to reflect on food and social justice, and to strengthen community identity. A lot of positivity within an ancient, almost forgotten Christian festival
I’m on the hunt for authentic Rogation recipes, but will content myself here, with a recipe for Wild Garlic Scones. The recipe is simple, seasonal, and fitting for a picnic basket. Foragers should be mindful of the rules of the countryside and of Dante's fourth circle - greed. Pick enough for yourself, no more and don't tug up any roots or holdfasts.
Makes 6 WILD GARLIC SCONES
225g SR flour
50g cold butter cubed
Large handful of roughly chopped wild garlic
Approx 150ml milk
Egg wash to glaze (additional milk will suffice)
1 Prepare a baking tray and heat the oven 220ºC Gas 7
2 Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the chopped wild garlic and mix together.
3 Stir in enough milk to make dough. Turn the dough on to a lightly floured surface and gently roll to 3cm thick. (Do not knead scone dough).
4 Use a cutter to stamp out 6 scones. Pop the scones onto the prepared baking tray, glaze with egg and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 10minutes until the scones are risen and golden.
5 Cool on a wire rack.