May 222017
 

Today is the beginning of the Rogation Days which run from Monday to Wednesday up to Ascension Thursday which is 40 days after Easter. Rogation Days were originally days of prayer and fasting in Western Christianity but in England became associated with two distinct ancient customs: going out into the fields to bless the new crop, and beating the bounds. The word “rogation” comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning “to ask”, which reflects the ancient practice of beseeching of God for the appeasement of his anger and for protection from calamities, particularly in relation to the crops. Nowadays the Rogation Days are a minor part of the church year, although some practices are enjoying a renaissance.

The Rogation Days were introduced around 470 by Mamertus, bishop of Vienne, in France because of a particularly bad Spring that year which threatened the crops, and were eventually adopted elsewhere. Their observance was ordered by the Council of Orleans in 511, and though the practice was spreading in Gaul during the 7th century, it was not officially adopted into the Roman rite until the reign of Pope Leo III (pope from 795 to 816). The faithful typically observed the Rogation Days by fasting and abstinence in preparation for the feast of the Ascension, and farmers often had their crops blessed by a priest at this time. Violet vestments are worn at the rogation litany and its associated Mass.

In England it was also common on the Rogation Days for the priest, churchwardens, choirboys, and parishioners to process around the parish boundary, stopping at marker stones, and praying for the protection of the parish in the forthcoming year. This was also known as ‘Gang-day’, after the Old English word for going or walking.

The Rogation Day ceremonies are thought to have arrived in the British Isles in the 7th century. The oldest known Sarum text regarding Rogation Days is dated from around 1173 to 1220. In it, celebrations in the south of England are described, in which processions were led by members of the congregation carrying banners which represented various biblical characters. At the head of the procession was the dragon, representing Pontius Pilate, which would be followed by a lion, representing Christ. After this there would be images of saints carried by the rest of the congregation. Sarum texts from the 13th and 15th  centuries show that the dragon was eventually moved to the rear of the procession on the vigil of the Ascension, with the lion taking the place at the front. Illustrations of the procession from the early 16th century show that the arrangements had been changed yet again, this time also showing bearers of reliquaries and incense.

During the reign of King Henry VIII, Rogation processions were thought to assist crop yields, with a notable number of the celebrations taking place in 1543 when there were prolonged rains. During the reign of Edward VI, after the Crown had taken much of the Church’s holdings within the country, Rogation processions were not officially condoned or even recognized as an official part of worship. However, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the celebrations were explicitly mentioned in the royal reformation, allowing them to resume as public processions.

Rogation processions continued in the post-Reformation Church of England much as they had before, and Anglican priests were encouraged to bring their congregations together for inter-parish processions. At specific intervals, clerics were to remind their congregations to be thankful for their harvests. Psalms 103 and 104 were sung, and people were reminded of the curses the Bible ascribed to those who violated agricultural boundaries. The processions were not mandatory, but were at the discretion of the local minister, and were also ascribed more importance when a public right of way needed to be protected from agricultural or other expansion.

Roman Catholic imagery or icons were banned from the processions. The Archdeacon of Essex, Grindal of London, beseeched the church to explicitly label the tradition as a perambulation, to further distance it from Italian liturgy. In the book Second Tome of Homelys, a volume containing officially sanctioned homilies of the Elizabethan church, it was made clear that the English Rogation was to remember town and other communal boundaries in a social and historical context, with extra emphasis on the stability gained from lawful boundary lines.

In England the Rogation Day processions got blended with the old custom of beating the bounds which dates from Anglo-Saxon times. The custom is mentioned in laws of Alfred the Great and Æthelstan. It may have been derived from the Roman Terminalia, a festival celebrated on February 22 in honor of Terminus, the god of landmarks, to whom cakes and wine were offered while sports and dancing took place at the boundaries. See: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/boundary-day/

At one time, before modern surveying techniques, making sure that everyone knew the boundary lines was very important to avoid disputes between parishes (and farm land). It was also a way of strengthening the community and giving it a sense of place. In 1865–66 William Robert Hicks was mayor of Bodmin in Cornwall, when he revived the custom of beating the bounds of the town concluded the event with a game of Cornish hurling. Hurling survives as a traditional part of beating the bounds at Bodmin, commencing at the close of the ‘Beat’. The game is organised by the Rotary club of Bodmin and was last played in 2016. The game is started by the Mayor of Bodmin by throwing a silver ball into a body of water known as the “Salting Pool”. There are no teams and the hurl follows a set route. The aim is to carry the ball from the “Salting Pool” via the old A30, along Callywith Road, then through Castle Street, Church Square and Honey Street to finish at the Turret Clock in Fore Street. The participant carrying the ball when it reaches the turret clock receives a £10 reward from the Mayor.  Here’s an idea of Cornish hurling from St Columb (which takes place on Shrove Tuesday, not Rogation Days).

Both Ganging beer and Rammalation biscuits are mentioned in old texts as part of the festivities of Rogation beating the bounds, but both are a complete mystery. It’s possible that Ganging beer was just the regular parish beer given the name “Ganging” because of the day, rather than being a special recipe. Before the Reformation churches often had their own breweries, and brewed huge batches of beer to sell at various festivals as a prime money maker. The Reformation killed the festivities and the church breweries because the church authorities deemed them to be unseemly and unchristian. This is where the term “pagan” caught hold in relation to these festivities, leading to a lot of misunderstanding. By “pagan” the authors meant that such revels were Roman, that is, Catholic, not that they stemmed from a pre-Christian era.

Rammalation biscuits are a total mystery. Neither a recipe or even a glimmer of an idea remains despite much historical digging.  Well, no matter.  Let’s go with ratafias. The word starts with the same letters, and they are one of my all-time favorites. Mrs Beeton to the rescue. If you cannot find bitter almonds use almond extract.

RATAFIAS.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1/2 lb. of sweet almonds, 1/4 lb. of bitter ones, 3/4 lb. of sifted loaf sugar, the whites of 4 eggs.

Mode.—Blanch, skin, and dry the almonds, and pound them in a mortar with the white of an egg; stir in the sugar, and gradually add the remaining whites of eggs, taking care that they are very thoroughly whisked. Drop the mixture through a small biscuit-syringe on to cartridge paper, and bake the cakes from 10 to 12 minutes in rather a quicker oven than for macaroons. A very small quantity should be dropped on the paper to form one cake, as, when baked, the ratafias should be about the size of a large button.

Time.—10 to 12 minutes. Average cost, 1s. 8d. per lb.

 

Feb 232016
 

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Today was once celebrated in ancient Rome as the Terminalia, a festival in honor of the god Terminus, who presided over boundaries. His “statue” was typically a stone or post stuck in the ground to mark property boundaries. His worship is reputed to have been instituted by Numa Pompilius (753–673 BCE), legendary successor to Romulus, who was credited with having instituted a number of important Roman civil and religious institutions.

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According to legend, Numa ordered that every landowner should mark the boundaries of his property by stones to be consecrated to Jupiter Terminalis, and at which, every year, sacrifices were to be offered at the festival of the Terminalia. On the festival the two owners of adjacent property crowned the “statue” with garlands and raised a crude altar, on which they offered up some corn, honeycombs, and wine, and sacrificed a lamb or a suckling pig. They concluded with singing the praises of the god. The public festival in honor of this god was celebrated at the sixth milestone on the road towards Laurentum, presumably because this was originally the extent of Roman territory in that direction.

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One of Numa’s first acts was the construction of a temple to Janus (also god of boundaries) as a symbol of peace and war. The temple was constructed at the foot of the Argiletum, a major road in the city. After securing peace with Rome’s neighbors, the doors of the temples were shut and remained so for all the duration of Numa’s reign, a unique case in Roman history. Closing the temple doors as a sign of peace remained important throughout the Roman Republic and Empire.

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Numa reportedly sought to instill in Romans respect of lawful property and non-violent relationships with neighbors. The cult of Terminus involved rejection of violence and murder. The god was a testament to justice and a keeper of peace. In a somehow comparable, more moral rather than legal fashion, Numa sought to associate himself with one of the roles of Vegoia, from the religious system of the neighboring Etruscans by deciding to set the official boundaries of the territory of Rome, which Romulus had never wanted, presumably with the same concern of preserving peace. This act is reminiscent of the proverb, “good fences make good neighbors.”

The festival of the Terminalia was celebrated in the Roman calendar as a. d. VII. Kal. Mart., that is, the 23d of February, or, the day before the Regifugium (“king’s flight”) whose precise nature is obscure. During a short period, Terminalia was the last day of the year in Rome, and Regifugium was the first of the new year. Thus, Terminalia signified both spatial and temporal boundaries.

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The central Terminus of Rome (the place to which all roads led) was the god’s ancient shrine on the Capitoline Hill. The temple of Jupiter, king of the gods, had to be built around it (with a hole in the ceiling since Terminus demanded open-air sacrifices) by the city’s last king, Tarquinius Superbus, who had closed down other shrines on the site to make room for his prestigious project. But the augurs had read into the flight patterns of birds that the god Terminus refused to be moved, which was taken as a sign of stability for the city.

Terminalia may have descendants in later customs, such as beating the bounds. In times past in Britain, especially because for centuries precise maps were unusual, it was common to make a formal perambulation of the parish boundaries on Ascension Day or during Rogation week. Knowledge of the limits of each parish needed to be handed down so that such matters as liability to contribute to the repair of the church, and the right to be buried within the churchyard were not disputed. The priest of the parish with the churchwardens and the parochial officials headed a crowd of boys who, armed with green boughs, usually birch or willow, beat the parish boundary markers with them. Sometimes the boys were themselves whipped or even violently bumped on the boundary-stones to make them remember. The object of taking boys along was supposedly to ensure that witnesses to the boundaries should survive as long as possible. Priests would pray for the parish’s protection in the forthcoming year and often Psalms 103 and 104 were recited, and the priest would say such sentences as “Cursed is he who transgresseth the bounds or doles of his neighbour.”

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The ceremony had an important practical purpose. Checking the boundaries was a way of preventing encroachment by neighbors; sometimes boundary markers would be moved, or lines obscured, and a folk memory of the true extent of the parish was necessary to maintain integrity of borders by embedding knowledge in oral traditions.

In England the custom dates from Anglo-Saxon times, as it is mentioned in laws of Alfred the Great and Æthelstan. In England a parish-ale, or feast, was always held after the perambulation, which assured its popularity, and in Henry VIII’s reign the occasion had become an excuse for so much revelry that it attracted the condemnation of a preacher who declared “these solemne and accustomable processions and supplications be nowe growen into a right foule and detestable abuse.”

Beating the bounds had a religious side in the practice which originated the term Rogation, the accompanying clergy being supposed to beseech (rogare) the divine blessing upon the parish lands for the ensuing harvest. This feature originated in the 5th century, when Mamertus, Archbishop of Vienne, instituted special prayers and fasting and processions on these days. This clerical side of the parish bounds-beating was one of the religious functions prohibited by the Royal Injunctions of Elizabeth I in 1559; but it was then ordered that the perambulation should continue to be performed as a quasi-secular function, so that evidence of the boundaries of parishes, etc., might be preserved.

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Some locations have maintained traditions of beating the bounds, although now they are merely a quaint holdover with vague religious overtones.

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For me as an anthropologist this is a highly significant holiday. It emphasizes physical boundaries (city limits, property lines etc.) and temporal boundaries (year’s end and beginning). Anthropologist Victor Turner used the term “liminal” for such boundaries – from the Latin, “limen,” a threshold. These are places and times of immense power and danger in all cultures, because on the cusp of them you are capable of mixing things up, and, thereby destroying the order of the world. Are dawn and dusk, day or night? They are both and neither. Which side are you on when you are “sitting on the fence”? Why is a bride in the West traditionally carried over the threshold? Boundaries are of immense importance to ALL cultures – although what counts as a boundary varies enormously.

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Chief offerings on Terminalia were bread, honey, wine, and lamb or suckling pig. This gives you abundant choice for a contemporary recipe. Apicius in De Re Coquinaria gives us this:

Porcellum assum tractomelinum: porcellum curatum a gutture extenteras, siccas. teres piperis unciam, mel, vinum, impones ut ferveat, tractam siccatam confringes et partibus caccabo permisces. agitabis surculo lauri viridis, tam diu coques, donec lenis fiat et impinguet. hac impensa porcellum imples, surculas, obduras charta, in furnum mittes, exornas et inferes.

The title, porcellum assum tractomelinum, means suckling pig “treated with honey” but there’s wine and bread involved as well. Loosely the text says:

Clean the pig through the neck and dry it. Crush pepper with honey and wine, and put it on the heat. Break up some toast and mix it with the sauce. Add bay leaves and mix until the paste is smooth and cooked. Fill the pig with this dressing and put it in the oven. Garnish and serve.

You’ll have to make of this what you will. There’s no indication of proportions of ingredients. For my tastes I’d use a lot of toast and just moisten it with wine and honey, mixed, seasoned with pepper and bay laurel.