Sunday, 9 April 2017

Notes on the Calendar: April – Part 1

From the 1947 Pilot, this piece by G,.R. Balleine, which also mentions a few Jersey customs, may be of interest. 

I would note that the etymology of Easter from Eostre, a Goddess of the Dawn, which Balleine assets as fact, is now considered questionable by most scholars. This goes back to a single mention in Bede, which has no other corroboration anywhere. Sometime in the next ten years, it is to be hoped that the public and clergy will catch up with that.

The Venerable Bede did write in the 8th century that the name Easter stems from the goddess “Eostre” who gave her name to the “Eostur” month. How easily the public has swallowed this statement (one mention in “Temporum Ratione” (The Reckoning of Time))  as “fact,” however, testifies to why the world needs historians. No historical evidence exists to support Bede’s statement. Indeed, scholars have long known that Bede provides interpretations based on his own opinions instead of supporting historical evidence (i.e., not everything he says is correct!).

Historian Ronald Hutton, lamenting how Bede’s statement “has been so often quoted without any inspection or criticism,” stresses that “it is equally valid…to suggest that the Anglo-Saxon ‘Eoster-monath’ simply meant ‘the month of opening’ or ‘the month of beginnings’, and that Bede mistakenly connected it with a goddess who either never existed at all, or was never associated with a particular season, but merely, like Eos and Aurora, with the dawn itself.” As historical evidence for this “shadowy deity” evaporates, Hutton continues, all evidence for a March/April “pre-Christian festival in the British Isles” also evaporates.

Notes on the Calendar: April – Part 1
By G.R. Balleine

April got its name from the Romans, who called it the “Aprilis” month, which is Latin for the month when things open. April sunshine and April showers coax the buds open. And in ourselves much is too tightly shut. We, need open eyes, open ears, open minds, open hearts. May  genial April make us hear the Voice that whispers, " Open unto Me."

Anglo-Saxons called this month Eostre-month, from Eostre, their Goddess of the Dawn ; and the name still clings to Our great Spring Festival, Easter, the Festival of the Living Christ, with its triumphant message, ' Jesus is alive to-day.'

All churches are gay with flowers. All Services ring with Alleluias. And every communicant remembers the all embracing rule that bids him greet his Risen Lord in the Service lie appointed. At least three hundred million communicants will be kneeling at their Lord's Table on faster Day. Our own churches will take their share in that world-wide Eucharist.

Easter Day was also called Joyful Sunday. At Capri after their Communion, the congregation open scores of cages and set free a cloud of birds, symbol of souls released from captivity to the grave.

In South America boys let off the biggest bangers they can buy. If you ask “Why?” they reply, “It is the Victory”. Hungarians dress up scarecrows labelled ' Death,' and pelt them with mud, and burn them. It is their way of saving, “No longer now can thy terrors, Death, appal us."

Every Church Season used to be marked by some special food. Christmas pudding, Shrove Tuesday pancakes. Good Friday hot. cross buns. At Easter it was eggs, for the chicken bursting from its shell was taken as a symbol of Christ rising from the tomb.

The Northumbrian name. Bow-leg Sunday. Is puzzling, till you realize that the hyphen has got misplaced, and it should be Bowl-egg Sunday, when hard-boiled eggs were bowled downhill to see whose would reach the bottom first.

In .Jersey another food was added. Ch'n'cst pas Pâques sans Simné. Jersey simnel is quite unlike English Mid-Lent simnel cakes. We all know the bowl-shaped biscuits made of flour, egg, and butter.

And, if you want to keep up old customs. You must have tansy pudding for dinner in memory of the Jews' Passover ' bitter herbs.'

But, before Easter, comes Good Friday, the anniversary of our Lord's death. Hugh Redwood has appealed to his fellow Free Churchmen to make more of this day. He says rightly that England will never be Christian, until it thinks more of the Cross. Year in and year out we must preach Christ Crucified.

But on this day we have behind its immensely powerful allies. Deep-rooted instincts springing from thousand-year-old traditions, backed by Press and Wireless, combine to turn men's thoughts to the hill called Calvary. In Jersey the special Good Friday dish was not hot-cross buns, but “les fiottes”, dough balls floating in boiled milk.

Church-folk, however, do more than observe Good Friday. We keep the whole week as Holy Week.

You may be interested to watch some of the Services of our ancestors on the Thursday and Friday.

Imagine yourself in one of our Parish Churches in the year 1500. The Thursday had several names. It was Sheer Thursday, for every man had his hair and beard sheared (i.e., cut) in preparation for the morrow. It was the Birthday of the Chalice for on this day our Lord instituted the Holy Communion. But its commonest name was Maundy Thursday, Jeudi du Mandé from Old French, mandé, a command.

What command? Some say. ‘This do in remembrance of Me.' But historically the name seems to come from the words, ` A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another ' which was the first Antiphon sunny in that day's Service.

One feature of the Morning Service was the Feet-washing, when the Priest and the Seigneur washed the feet of thirteen poor men in memory of Christ washing His disciples' feet. The Bishop did this in his Cathedral, the King in his Chapel Royal, and .special Maundy money, silver penny, two-penny, three-penny, and four-penny pieces, was struck as gifts for the King's poor men.

The Evening Service was “Tenebrae”, which means Darkness. The lights were extinguished one by one as the Service proceeded, till the whole Church was in darkness.

On Good Friday the bells were silent, and people were summoned to church by a wooden rattle. The chief Morning Service was the Creeping to the Cross. A large crucifix lay on the chancel floor, and everyone crept on his knees to kiss the feet of the Christ.

One old writer says:-"As on Good Friday Christ was the most despised of mankind, Holy Church hath ordered that on Good Friday mankind shall do Him this reverence." The special evening ceremony was the burial of a consecrated wafer in the Easter Sepulchre.

In France and England this was often a recess in the chancel wall: but in Jersey it was an oaken cupboard brought in for the occasion. Here the wafer was laid to rest with much ceremony, to be taken out again triumphantly early on Easter morning. There was no three hours service. This is a comparatively modern innovation, started by a Jesuit missionary in Peru in 1687.

Several strange superstitions clung to Good Friday. Iron was in disgrace, because of the nails driven through the hands of Christ. Poker and tongs were hidden away, lest they should forgetfully be used. To shoe a horse was to court certain disaster. And the only way to get double wall-flowers was to take the seed to church and shake it during the Good Friday Service.

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