Whitsun

Whitsun used to be known in Italy as Pasqua Rosata, or Pasqua della Rosa, because the festival is celebrated at the time when you would expect the roses to be in bloom (Dyer). Sometimes the Whitsuntide association is with flowers in general, as when Yorkshire milkmaids from Hornsea and Southrop at one time collected flowers to make garlands at the cowherd's house, ready for a Monday festival (M Baker. 1974). But, though the feast is a movable one, some flowers seem to be particularly associated with it, and it can only be because it would be reasonable to find them in flower whenever the day happens to fall. Peonies are called Pentecost Roses (Pfingstrose) in Germany, for example. The GUELDER ROSE, which actually is, or was, the ecclesiastical emblem for Whitsuntide, was called Whitsun Boss in Gloucestershire (boss here refers to the shape of the flower buds). WOOD SORREL is Whitsun Flower in Dorset (Grigson), though this would seem to be rather too early flowering to merit the name; but Whitsun Gilliflower, a Somerset and Dorset name for the double variety of Sweet Rocket (Britten & Holland), seems to be safe enough (though Gerard called the same plant Winter Gilliflower, surely a misunderstanding on his part). Greater Stitchwort was known as Whit Sunday, or White Sunday, in Devonshire (Friend. 1882), but the fact that one can find Easter Flower, or Easter Bell, for the same plant shows the length of flowering time to be expected of it. CHICKWEED, its close relative, will be found in bloom virtually the whole year through. A spray of BROOM flowers was a traditional feature of Whitsuntide decorations (A W Hatfield). LILIES-OF-THE-VALLEY are also associated with Whitsuntide, so churches are decorated with them at that time (J Addison).

The town gates of Dunbar were once dressed with flowers at Whitsuntide (Banks). Kentish windmills were also decorated, and a pail with a small tree in it was hung from one of the arms, with a basket of bread and butter from the other (the sails would be standing as a St Andrew's cross; a vertical cross meant the mill was being repaired (Igglesden)). Trees would be used too for decoration on this day. BIRCH branches in particular were used to decorate churches; they were also a favourite church ornament in Germany (Tyack). Burne mentions the custom in Shropshire, and it was known at Raydon St Mary, in Suffolk (Gurdon). From Staffordshire, the church accounts of Bilston provide further proof of the custom in the following entries:

1691 "For dressing ye chapel with birch, 6d" 1697 "For birch to dress ye chapel at Whitsuntide, 6d"

1702 "For dressing ye chapel, and to Ann Knowles for birch, and a rose, 10d" (Tyack), in spite of Herrick's implication, in:

When yew is out, then Birch comes in

And many flowers besides, Both of a fresh and fragrant kinne, To honour Whitsuntide.

YEW was certainly used to decorate the church at this time. At Winterslow, in Wiltshire, for instance, not only was it used on Whit Sunday, but it was kept in the church till the following Christmas (Vaux). Yew was also employed in the same way at many places in the West Midlands, e.g., at Kington, in Herefordshire, where it was fastened to the tops of the pews (Leather). MAPLE boughs were used for the decoration at Heybridge, near Maldon, in Essex (Vaux), where rushes were also strewn on Whit Sunday (Wright), as they were at Turley, and Haw, in Gloucestershire (Hartland). In the latter case, an acre of ground was given over to maintain the custom. At Tatton, in Somerset, John Lane left half an acre of ground, called the Groves, to the poor for ever, reserving a quantity of grass for strewing the church on Whit Sunday (Burton). St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, is specially decorated with flowers on this day, the custom being to lay posies on every seat (Hole. 1943), and it too was strewn with rushes, in accordance with the will of William Mede, who gave a tenement to defray the expenses, in 1497 (Burton). The graves were covered with rushes at Farndon, in Cheshire (Tyack)

Green GOOSEBERRY pie used to be a traditional Whit Sunday dish (Savage).

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