Saturday, 16 May 2020

Beating the bounds

I was listening to the radio this morning and the speaker mentioned that tomorrow is Rogation Sunday.

This is the day when the Church  offered prayer for God’s blessings on the fruits of the earth and the labours of those who produce our food.

The word “rogation” is from the Latin rogare, “to ask.” Historically, the Rogation Days, the three days before Ascension Day, were a period of fasting and abstinence, asking for God’s blessing on the crops for a bountiful harvest.

Traditionally a common feature of Rogation days was the ceremony of beating the bounds, in which a procession of parishioners, led by the minister and churchwardens and the choir would proceed around the boundary of their parish and pray for its protection in the forthcoming year.

Different parishes had different customs which ranged from choir boys beating the  parish boundary posts with willow wands, choir boys themselves being beaten with willow wands at every marker so that they remembered where the boundaries were, choir boys' heads being  knocked against the markers for the same reason and in Goole, where the boundary was in the river, being dunked.

In May 1948 for example there was the following  newspaper report:

CHOIRBOYS DUCKED. The ceremony was instituted to impress on the minds of the youngest parishioners the extent of the parish boundaries in order to prevent encroachment by neighbouring landowners, and this " impression included some physical chastisement, which at Goole last night took the form of immersion in the river. Choirboys vied for the honour of being ducked in the river at Goole last night, when, for the first time in the history of the parish, the choir of the parish church carried out the ancient ceremony of beating the bounds.

But it is a very ancient ceremony and in Howden there is a footpath called Paternoster Bank off Station Road. This bank was the original boundary of the parish of Howden and was where the parish met with Howden Common and, further along, with the deer park. In the 18th century it was owned by the town and rented out. In 1815 when it was decided to pave the Market Place part of the money was raised by selling the timber growing on the bank.

It takes its name from the first two words of the Lord's Prayer Pater Noster [Our Father] as this prayer would have been said at each boundary marker on Rogation Day.

Local churches do still hold Rogation Day walks and services but unfortunately not this year. We are all still gardening and baking and discussing whether our sour dough has worked or whether the pigeons have eaten our cabbage plants.

Howden church choir

Howden church choir - Rev Graham and music director Andrew Leach

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