Today is Good Friday, the day when Christians like me remember Christ’s sacrifice in dying for our sins on the cross.
On Good Friday in Tudor times, people attended the ceremony known as “Creeping to the Cross”. Christ’s suffering and crucifixion, and what it meant, 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 were 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.
We have a record of Mary I’s Easter rituals from 1556. Marco Antionio Faitta, the Venetian Ambassador, recorded Mary I washing the feet of 41 poor women on Maundy Thursday (the number equalling her age), giving alms and gifts and then, on Good Friday, creeping to the cross before blessing those afflicted with scrofula, a type of Tuberculosis:
“But she chose to perform this act privately in a gallery where there were not above twenty persons. She caused one of the infirm women to be brought to her, when she knelt and pressed with her hands on the spot where the sore was. This she did to a man and three women. She then made the sick people come up to her again, and taking a gold coin – viz. an angel – she touched the place where the evil showed itself, signed it with the Cross and passed a ribbon through the hole which had been pierced in it, placing one of them round the neck of each of the patients, and making them promise never to part with that coin, save in case of extreme need.”
Faitta then goes on to describe Mary’s “humility and love of religion” as she carried out these traditional Easter rituals.
Here is a passage from John’s Gospel about Christ’s crucifixion:
“So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Notes and Sources
- Ridgway, Claire (2012) On This Day in Tudor History
- “Would I Could Give You Help and Succour”: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Touch, Carole Levin, University of Nebraska, 1989, Published in ALBION: A QUARTERLY JOURNAL CONCERNED WITH BRITISH STUDIES, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Summer, 1989), p197
- Sim, Alison (2011) Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England
- John 19: 17-30, New International Version, taken from BibleGateway.com