Easter in Tudor Times

Posted By on April 2, 2010

A Good Friday Cross in a Greek monastery

I love Easter here in rural Spain because I feel they celebrate the true meaning of Easter. I love Easter eggs as much as the next person, but I really enjoy the processions here and the way that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are remembered. Before I dash out to see the Good Friday procession, I thought it would be good to write a quick post about how Easter was celebrated in Tudor times.

Holy Week

Here in Spain, with it being a Catholic country, our children have Semana Santa (Holy Week) off school and there are all sorts of services and processions throughout the week, and it was the same in Tudor England. On the first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, the priest would read out the story of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and branches of greenery were blessed by the priest so that they could be used in processions. In many countries today, we celebrate Palm Sunday with palm leaves or crosses made out of palm leaves but these leaves were hard to come by in Tudor England so they would use local greenery to make crosses.

Alison Sim, in her book “Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England”, writes of how a special shrine would also be prepared for Palm Sunday. This shrine would contain the blessed Sacrament to represent Jesus Christ and would also contain the church’s own relics. The clergy would then carry this special shrine around the outside of the church as the laiety processed around the church in the opposite direction, with the two processions meeting at the church door. The Lent veil (a veil hiding the chancel from the nave during Lent) would be drawn up and then dropped down again as they passed.

On the Wednesday of Holy Week, the priest would read out the passage from the Bible concerning the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem. As this passage was read aloud, the Lent veil separating the chancel and the nave would be dropped and put away until next year’s Lent.

On Maundy Thursday, the church was prepared for Easter with water and wine being used to wash the altars. It was also traditional for people to go to confession on this day.

Good Friday

On Good Friday in Tudor times, people would attend the ceremony known as “Creeping to the Cross”. Christ’s suffering and crucifixion, and what it meant to people, were commemorated by the clergy creeping up to a crucifix held up before the altar on their hands and knees. When they got to the crucifix, they would kiss the feet of Christ. The crucifix was then taken down into the church for the congregation to do the same.

Good Friday was also the day for the preparation of the Easter Sepulchre. The sepulchre consisted of a stone or wooden niche, to represent Christ’s sealed tomb, which was filled with the consecrated host and an image of Christ. Once this was “sealed”, by covering it with a cloth, candles would be lit around it and members of the church would guard it, just as the Roman soldiers had done when the body of Christ was sealed in the cave.

Easter Sunday

On Easter Sunday, the candles in the church and around the sepulchre would be extinguished and then the church lights re-lit by the priest from a fire. The sepulchre would be opened and Christ’s resurrection would be celebrated with a special mass.

The Easter Sunday mass marked the end of Lent, a period where people’s diets were restricted, so it was only natural to celebrate it with good food. Dairy products and meat were back on the menu and people would enjoy roasted meats like chicken, lamb and veal.

Hot cross buns - not enjoyed in Tudor times but enjoyed at Easter today

Easter and the Reformation

The English Reformation led to many of the Easter rituals and celebrations being banned. Alison Sim writes of how the blessing of the greenery on Palm Sunday, the Creeping to the Cross ceremony and the Easter Sepulchre tradition are all rituals that did not survive the Reformation.

If I was in England this weekend, I would be going to my local parish church for the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services, and enjoying goodies like hot cross buns, Easter eggs and simnel cake, but here I am in Spain watching processions and listening to bands and choirs – quite different.

P.S. Check out our new products – Anne Boleyn Wine Stopper, Princess Elizabeth Paperweight and the new Traditional Anne Boleyn Tudor Gown – gorgeous! Plus Kris can now make the Pembroke Dress in 8 different colours of velvet.

Happy Easter and do let me know how you celebrate/commemorate Easter where you are.

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