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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.

12 thoughts on “Easter in Tudor Times”

  1. That sounds interesting. I’m not a religious person, but it sounds fun.

    I love the new Anne Boleyn dress. I can’t decide which one I want!!!

  2. Angelina says:

    I enjoyed this blog, Claire. Like all you’re others it had me going from the start and I am very envious of the way you spend Easter in Spain. Sounds wounderful and such an experience. The dress looks beautiful! btw

    <3 Ang

  3. Hannah says:

    I love Easter, and I have a feeling that Anne did too 🙂

  4. Bella says:

    Thanks Claire for a wonderful post – it must be amazing to see how other countries celebrate Easter! Here in NZ we don’t really seem to do much, most people seemed to be more concerned with not being able to go shopping on Good Friday and with overloading on chocolate eggs rather than reflecting on what the occasion truly means. I’m not particularly religious myself but sometimes it feels like the whole season has been taken over by Cadburys et al as some kind of marketing stunt so its nice to see some people still remember its true meaning! Anyway, enough of my ramblings – I hope everyone at the AB Files has a happy and restful Easter, however you celebrate it!

  5. Eliza says:

    Great article! I love learning more about Holidays in Tudor Times!
    Happy Easter to everybody!!

  6. Sharon says:

    Great article Claire. I love learning how other countrys celebrate holidays.
    I was brought up in the Byzantine Catholic faith and the Holy Week traditions are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
    Easter is one of the holiest of holidays and should be celebrated as such.
    We take our Easter baskets, filled with real food, maybe a candy rabbit, to Church and have it blessed on Easter Sunday. We never received other gifts.
    In America these days, Easter is more about the Easter bunny than it is about Jesus.

  7. Fiz says:

    I got to hear the following comment this Good Friday (I am an Anglican), ” I can’t imagine why this shop was closed, it’s only Friday after all!”. This shocked me on two counts – I am in my early 50’s and can remember when no shops opened at all on a Good Friday, and this woman was older than me! Secondly, I was dismayed, because what did she think Good Friday is all about? She was English and white and older than me so she must have been brought up in a Christian fashion – all ordinary schools taught Christianity in the fitfties and sixties!

  8. Jenny says:

    Hi Fiz,

    I could be wrong but I seem to remember certain shops such as fishmongers and places to buy hotcross buns being allowed to open for a few hours on Good Friday – I could be wrong though.

    Most shops are closed in Spain on the festive days (depends on what part of the country one lives in because some have Maundy Thursday whilst others take the Monday as in Britain) However, in the capital, Madrid, quite a lot of small shops remain open these days.

    And Claire is right – Kids have the whole week off, which means so do the teachers, and some people store up a few days in any case to take the whole week off.

    One thing that did surprise me at first (but now I am used to it) is that in Norway, a very Lutheran country, hardly anything works on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And night trains do not run anywhere in the country on saturday nights because it means that they would arrive on a Sunday morning when officially one goes to church. There are trains later in the day on Sundays, but that
    Saturday night one is out. Also you will find in many of the islands in The Hebrides that nothing is open on Sundays (Free Chruch of Scotland) so I would imagine that Easter holidays would be the same.

  9. Claire says:

    The Good Fridat procession here was very moving, following Jesus in the coffin along with a statue of the mourning Virgin Mary. Then on Easter Sunday a big “tree” (a telegraph pole built up with branches and packed with bangers) was burned in our village square. Also at midnight on Easter Saturday/Sunday the church bells and fireworks went off. Love it!

  10. Claire says:

    The Good Friday procession here was very moving, following Jesus in the coffin along with a statue of the mourning Virgin Mary. Then on Easter Sunday a big “tree” (a telegraph pole built up with branches and packed with bangers) was burned in our village square. Also at midnight on Easter Saturday/Sunday the church bells and fireworks went off. Love it!

  11. sylvia says:

    I spent my Easter after long years of absence on the island of Malta. Wonderful! Traditional, religious, and deep devotion was all around. Stally also with hot cross buns and the tradional maltese easter cake called figolla which the maltese confectionary shops bake in different shapes and sizes and then they havr a chocalate egg stuck on top! Yum!! And I lit a candle on Easter day in memory of Anne in my local village church. On Good Friday when many villages and towns were having their processions the island suffered a total black out . No electricity to light the streets. The island was in darkness for 6 hours, but the maltese carried on with their processions and then went home with torches or candles to show them the way! Anne would have adored that kind of spirit!and commitment!

  12. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Claire and all AB Friends,a very Happy Easter,also a very happy,Happy Pass Over.

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