Category Archives: East Riding of Yorkshire

Custom survived: Chalking on Epiphany Eve

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At the local catholic church I noticed at the mass before Twelfth night that they would be blessing chalk and handing it out to the congregation. Why is this you may ask? Well the church as does many across the Christian world – Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox continue a curious custom which has its roots deep within the superstitious world of the medieval mind.

At the chalk face

The custom appears to have originated in central Europe at the end of the middle ages and spread. When it first arrived in Britain is unclear and indeed it is equally unclear how long as a custom it has been undertaken but a cursory check online would suggest it is fairly widespread from Paisley to Plymouth.

When and actually what is done varies in some places it would be done on New Year’s Day, but more commonly it would be done on the more traditional Feast of the Epiphany. Indeed, as noted in the introduction it would take place after the Epiphany Mass when blessed chalk would be taken home for it to be done at home by either a priest or more often the father of the family.

Chalk and talk

The chalking the doors follows the following formula for the ritual; over a door would be written for 2020 for example:

20 + C+M + B + 20.

The numbers refer to the year but what do the letters refer to? Like many religious activities it has two meanings. Firstly C M and B are the initials of the first names of the Magi who visited Jesus on Twelfth Night, Caspar, Malchior, and Balthazar. But also they mean:

Christus mansionem benedicat

A Latin phrase meaning:

 “May Christ bless the house.”

The “+” signs represent the cross.

The purpose of the chalking those is to request the house is blessed by Christ and this good will is taken for the rest of the year and secondly that it shows those passing of the family’s faith and welcoming nature. Sometimes the custom is simply chalking but it some causes holy water is used and prayers said

Chalk it up

What is particularly interesting is that the custom is a widespread survival of a much more curious lost custom; that of making ‘witch marks’ or ‘apotropaic’ marks to protect the house and its occupants from evil forces. The carving of sunwheels, Marian symbols, pentagrams, etc can be found on entrances or exits of old houses across Britain. By doing so it prevented the evil spirits from entering and protect and bless the house. Chalking the door is the only survival as far as can be ascertained of this custom and as such is of considerable interest.

Traditionally the blessing is done by either a priest or the father of the family. This blessing can be performed simply by just writing the inscription and offering a short prayer, or more elaborately, including songs, prayers, processions, the burning of incense, and the sprinkling of holy water. An example below being given:

Prayer:

On entering the home,

Leader(Priest, if present, or father of the family) : Peace be to this house.
All: And to all who dwell herein.

All: From the east came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures they offered precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial.

All Pray: The Magnificat. During the Magnificat, the room is sprinkled with holy water and incensed. After this is completed,

All: From the east came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures they offered precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial.

Leader: Our Father. . .
And lead us not into temptation

All: But deliver us from evil.
Leader: All they from Saba shall come
All: Bringing gold and frankincense.
Leader: O Lord, hear my prayer.
All: And let my cry come to You.

Leader: Let us pray. O God, who by the guidance of a star didst on this day manifest Thine only-begotten Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we who know Thee by faith may also attain the vision of Thy glorious majesty. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Leader: Be enlightened, be enlightened, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee—Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary.

All: And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light and kings in the splendor of thy rising, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee.

Leader: Let us pray.
Bless, + O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

After the prayers of the blessing are recited, each room of the home is sprinkled with Epiphany water and incensed. The initials of the Magi are inscribed upon the doors with the blessed chalk. (The initials, C, M, B, can also be interpreted as the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat” which means “Christ bless this house”.)

Example: 20 + C + M + B + 20 

Another possible prayer to say during your Chalking:

May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is your incarnate Word, now and forever. Amen.

God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten One to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Loving God, bless this household. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness, and abiding in your will. We ask this through Christ our Saviour. Amen.”

It appears that the custom is in some sort of revival of interest. It is described in St Asaphs, Wales,  St Paul’s Wokingham, St Giles Matlock and St Mary’s Hardwick, Derbyshire. An account from the COE website states how the custom can fall again into abeyance often to do with the views of the incumbent:

This used to be an annual feature of the Epiphany ceremonies conducted by the Revd Brian Brindley of Holy Trinity, Reading, who was something of a dramatist in liturgical matters.

The idea was that the members of the congregation took home a blessed piece of chalk, and also a piece of black paper, on which they were asked to write the traditional names of the three Wise Men. This was taken home and attached to the front door of one’s house in order be identified with the aim of the pilgrimage of the kings.”

Interestingly, in the 1800s custom appears to have become secularised if this account is any suggestion:

“At Skipsea, in Holderness, Yorkshire, the young men gather together at twelve o’clock on New Year’s Eve, and, after blackening their faces and otherwise disguising them- selves, they pass through the village, each having a piece of chalk. With this chalk they mark the gates, doors, shutters, and waggons with the date of the new year. It is considered lucky to have one’s house so dated, and no attempt is ever made to disturb the youths in the execution of their frolic.”

Such secular exuberance appears to have died out but its religious observance continues.

Custom contrived: Blessing St. John’s of Harpham’s Well

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“In days of old in country ways, In Yorkshire woods, John sang they praise. Each year on the springtime wold, he saw the primroses unfold, the bleating lambs, the breaking sea. God gift to man eternally. Mist-laden nights, the shepherd’s crook, he left for cloister and for book, Through psalm and vigil, fast and prayer he grew in soul and found the three. But as he served n land of Kent. His winging thoughts still northernly.”

St John of Beverley’s anthem

It is a quiet village. Bypassed by a major room which brings excited tourists from York to Bridlington. Harpham lies to the south perhaps sleeping, except on the Thursday nearest the 7th May when the village and nearby town Beverley celebrate the village’s famous son, Saint John of Beverley. Indeed apart from the fine pub named after the local landowners, it is the relics of the saint which draw people to the village – the fine church and down a lane his old holy well. Although the well is one of two ancient ones in the village, itself unusual, this one is dedicated to the saint. Indeed it is claimed that the saint who was born in the village is said to have struck the ground with his staff and this spring arose

Well established tradition

Despite a claim that the visits to the well go back a 1000 years, the current custom dates back to the 2nd of May 1929, when the Minster at Beverley decided it was time to celebrate their own saint once encased in a fine shrine in that church, by visiting the place of his birth and paying homage to the spring. The date now moving to the Thursday nearest to the Saint’s feast day, the 7th of May. John born in Harpham in AD 640, would become an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Hexham and York, being educated at St Hilda at Whitby and retiring back home at Beverley where he was buried and until the Reformation a fine shrine housed his relics. A number of posthumous miracles are associated with the saint in particular his ability to tame wild bulls brought into the church yard. As William of Malmesbury records in his Gesta Pontificum Anglorum:

“Savage bulls are brought up, tied fast, by strong men sweating profusely; but as soon as they enter the churchyard they lose all their ferocity and become, you might suppose, no more than innocent sheep. So they are untied and left to frolic in the yard, though previously they used to go for anything in their way with horns and hooves.”

Well dressed

St John’s Well, the very one said to have been made by his staff is the focus of the ceremony held on this evening. In the nineteenth century the spring was enclosed in its current stonework and surrounded by a circle of railings. During the afternoon St John’s Well is dressed. However, this is not one of those Derbyshire well dressings made of clay and petals, it is sometime for simpler but just as impressive and pleasing to the eye. Around the base of this well are placed primroses and on top of the railings

Blooming Hawthorn crowns the top of the railings, beneath the hawthorn, are three wreaths of mixed seasonal foliage and flowers mainly rosemary, gorse and forget-me-not on each side with another just above the small opening. In other years ivy and adorned with a cross and garlands of tulips and daffodils had been used but the year I went the simple adornment was most effective in the evening sunshine. Similarly in previous years had meant only a slight representation of primroses making the well dressing a little lacking in impact. The year I went it was a glorious attempt. Primroses were still a little short in number in May and so much of the yellow was provided by mimulus.

Well remembered

Inside the church people were gathering excitedly. Dark clouds had threatened all day but as soon as the choir appeared from the church the sun started to shine. This choir which come from Beverley Minster, consisted of 27 men and boys of all ages enthusiastically were gathered beneath the church tower. They were running hither and thither; it looked like getting them to be in an orderly row would be difficult – but the choir master called out and they arranged themselves ready to go. The crucifer appeared and clutching their hymnals they were off through the churchyard down the lane to the church and then across the main road. Unlike similar processions there were no police in their bright jackets obscuring the spectacle. No cars appeared in the time they processed, it is an obscure village after all or was it the miracle of John taming the bullish motorcar. Behind the choir were the rest of the congregation which was added to as the procession went as curious onlookers, photographers and locals who had not managed to get to the church joined in.

In such a small village such a procession was quite a spectacle: with its crucifer holding their cross up high and proud, snaking down the lanes to the well, with the white tunics of the choir shining in the evening sunshine.

Soon the choir reached St. John’s Well and they arranged themselves on the bank opposite and opened their hymnals ready to sing. The rest of the congregation arrived at the well and a silence descended as they prepared. Previous years one of the congregation, a young boy or girl, stooped down and placed a small pot of primroses at the base of the well to add to the others. As the well was fully decorated perhaps this was missed. Once the congregation was in position, appropriately the vicar started with John 7:

“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

The followed the Collect for St John of Beverley

Afterwards the choir sang St. John of Beverley’s Anthem:

“In days of old in country ways, In Yorkshire woods, John sang they praise. Each year on the springtime wold, he saw the primroses unfold, the bleating lambs, the breaking sea. God gift to man eternally.

Mist-laden nights, the shepherd’s crook, he left for cloister and for book, Through psalm and vigil, fast and prayer he grew in soul and found the three. But as he served in land of Kent. His winging thoughts still northernly.”

It was a short but evocative ceremony remembering this local Anglo-Saxon saint and the gift he gave to the village…once they had done their service they turned around and processed back to the church were a sung eucharist uplifted the spirits more. A delightful event which is nearing is 100 years and long may it be celebrated.

Custom survived: Samuel Jobson bread bequest and sermon

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Charity bequests were once common place in England. Each Parish church would have its own charity and many proudly announce these on Benefactor Boards on the walls. However, many of these died out. Some were lost due to the hyper inflations of the First World War, others survived either in an amalgamated form, usually with the gift bequests commuted to money. Samuel Jobson’s bread charity is thus a rare survival. It is similarly unusual because it is affixed to a special sermon, like the Hercules Clay sermon of Newark, which is delivered on the first Tuesday after Easter. Why it was after the first Tuesday is perhaps first unclear.

Bread and butter

Samuel Jobson was a local man, both being baptised in 1623 in All Saints Church, South Cave and buried in that church in 1687. His church survives him, as it has a fire and various rebuilds. Rebuilds appear to be the order of the day in this village. The castle, a grandiose mock castle sitting upon a real one and even the nearby holy well has been rebuilt into a wishing well! South Cave, an ancient Saxon settlement, now resembles a typical Georgian village, set mainly along its main Market Street but subsequently as the population has grown spread along side streets. Jobson being steward to the castle was no doubt a familiar man in the mid-1600s.

I arrived at the church just on time as the service was about to begin and was warmly welcomed by its small congregation huddled to hear this most unique of survivals, an endowed service. Indeed, a number of churches still give out their bread charities but few if any do it as fully instructed by their benefactors. The closest being the Hercules Clay service but that has now absorbed into the normal pattern of Sunday services.

As the curate Lynda Kelly noted in her service, Jobson stipulated that the service must include, the Collect, The Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon, all regular features of the fairly new Church of England and still pivotal today. Why was he so prescriptive? Perhaps he was wary to ensure that the clergy did their job properly, perhaps he had been disappointed by the services he had attended? The clergy were dependent on such endowed sermons and he may have thought as he was providing the money he wanted the full works!

A lot of dough?

Jobson is very prominent in the church. A brass plaque near the old font records his interment and in the church tower is a splendid benefactor board as noted with the usual figures of a women with two children and the words charity below.

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Rather than only leave a sum of money in his Will, he also left a cottage and 10 acres of land at Brantingham to the churchwardens unusually. The gift is recorded on a board in the Church as follows:

” The Gift of Mr. Samuel Jobson to the Churchwardens of South Cave and their successors for ever, commencing at Easter, 1697. Mr. Jobson, by his last will, gave to his beloved wife: “All that his Cottage in Brantinghan adjoining on the Church Garth during her natural life, and after her decease he gave the same premises to the Churchwardens of South Cave and their successors for ever upon condition that they and their successors for ever pay yearly, after his said wife’s decease, the sum of twenty shillings for an anniversary sermon to be preached every Easter Tuesday, and likewise, upon condition that on the same day yearly, immediately after the sermon, they distribute to the charity of twenty-five shillings in white Bread to the Poor. Daniel Garnons, Vicar, 1809, Samuel Ayre and Thomas Clegg, Churchwardens.”

A pound for flour?

So each year one pound would be paid each year for an anniversary sermon to be preached on the Tuesday after Easter and after this sermon white bread would be distributed to the poor. So every year the vicar would sermonise on the man and state how generous man.

Interestingly the Will also records how generous he indeed was. It is noted that 20s per annum would be given to the master of the workhouse towards providing a dinner for the poor people therein at Christmas and Cave fair and the remainder for providing white bread for widows and other necessitous poor on the last Sunday in every month by the churchwardens. Of course the workhouse is no more, but apparently gifts are still made at Christmas. Indeed the need for charity in the area was thought so necessary that in 1883 the Charity Commissioners who had took over its running decided to extend the charity to Flaxfleet and Broomfleet and give the running to 14 trustees who would meet quarterly.

In George Hall’s 1892 A History of South Cave it is noted that the cottage and land was sold to:

“Mr. Christopher Sykes, M.P., and the purchase money was invested in consols. In the scheme it is stated that the endowment consists of the sum of £29 17 12s. 8d., £1 a year to the Vicar of South Cave; the remainder of the income to be divided into three equal parts, two of such third parts to be applied for the benefit of deserving and necessitous persons resident in the original parish of South Cave, in any of the various ways therein described, as should be considered most advantageous to the recipients; and the remaining third part of the income to be applied towards the repair of the Parish church.”

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So the service, which begun with a hymn, then continued to the Collect, Lord’s Prayer and then the Sermon. Jobson’s aim with his endowment was to continue the preservation of name and his charitable acts associated with it, I think he would have been happy with the sermon. It did discuss his benefaction explaining why it was established on Easter Tuesday. This he had done because he would be aware that people would have been off work and would be available to listen. Perhaps not being prominent enough to have it associated with the main days of Easter this was the best thing. The Reverend Mike Proctor, the church’s vicar suggested that perhaps he secretly disliked vicars as having a service on this day after the busiest four days in the church was a good way of killing one off! The sermon continued to reflect upon being a Christian and parts of the Easter story referencing the fact that the women found Jesus first. This lead to a discussion of the increasing role of women in the church, a thought not lost upon its mainly female congregation and its female curate. Indeed, Jobson himself was considerate of his wife more than other benefactors, who only left portions of their money at death. An unusual stipulation which clearly was devised to ensure she lived in good comfort and explains the later date of the bequest starting which does not start until 1697, the year his wife died!

Our daily bread

After the sermon the basket of small white loaves, which had been centre of the raised dais, was revealed. The curate and churchwarden stood either side of it as the congregation lined up to collect their bread. With flattened hands as in offering, the bread was placed in the curate’s and ceremonially passed over. The churchwarden offered a plastic bag for practical purposes. Soon the bread was all gone and the spares packaged up for those of the congregation unable to attend that day. The final bread was kindly given to me, which provided a nice lunch! Today with wholegrains, spelt, organic and sourdough, we might turn our noses up at white bread. Yet of course in Jobson’s day, white bread was indeed a luxury compared to the dirt and rat dropping infested usual bread.

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Then the congregation returned to their pews and we finished off with a rousing Thine is the glory and the service was concluded – a short half an hour or so. A simple service, but one still of great importance, 300 odd years on remembering generosity and charity in a day it very easy to forget such things.

The Jobson Charity a little known charity – it is absent from all surveys – except Tony Foxworthy’s Customs of Yorkshire – but one despite its simplicity should be better known.