Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mothering Sunday

Until the mid-17th century, the fourth Sunday in Lent was known as Refreshment Sunday or Laetare Sunday. (Roughly translated, laetare means "delight" or "joyful.") For that one day, the Church relaxed its Lenten fasting rules in honor of the biblical story about the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Miracle of the Five Loaves and Fishes).

During the Middles Ages, the Church required that, at least once a year, people returned to their local or "mother" churches -- the one in which they were baptized. The fourth Sunday in Lent became the date upon which this was commonly done and the pilgrimage was referred to as going "a-mothering."

Gradually, the secular habit of honoring mothers was grafted onto the religious observance. It began as a region custom in the western counties, and slowly spread to the rest of Britain.

The first known reference to Mothering Sunday is found in the 1644 diary of Richard Symonds:

"Every mid-Lent Sunday is a great day in Worcester, when all the children and god-children meet at the head and chief of the family and have a feast. They call it the Mothering-day."

Mothering Sunday became the one day a year that people "in service" were allowed to return home for a visit. Children would bring their mothers small gifts, flowers, and a simnel cake.

According to Rebecca Edridge in 1822 --

“…members of the same family go to visit the oldest female of their line…The venerable matron on that day sits enthroned, the Queen of the festival.”

Old family stories were told and games played before the cowslip wine and cake were passed out.

Simnel Cakes
Simnellus was a kind of fine wheaten bread the Romans ate during their spring fertility rites. Since at least the time of Edward the Confessor, bakery goods were made on specially occasions from simnel. It was so highly prized that the canon, David de Aqua, willed land in Hertfordshire for its cultivation when he died in the late 12th century.

There are several legends about the origins of simnel cakes. According to one, a married couple -- Simon and Nell -- argued about whether to boil or bake the cake. (They did both.) In another, it was said the cake was invented by Henry VII's baker, Lambert Simnel. The later story is unlikely because Robert Herrick mentions simnel cake in his 1648 poem, To Dianeme: A Ceremony at Gloucester:

I'll to thee a simnel bring
'Gainst thou go'st a mothering
So that, when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou'lt give to me.

Mothering Sunday by G.D. Rosenthal; Project Canterbury
Mothering Sunday; The Gentleman’s Magazine Library 1731-1868; p. 31
Mothering Sunday, The Scrinium by Rebecca Edridge Vol II; 1822; p.17
Recipe for Cowslip Wine, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management; Chapter 37: Beverage Receipes; p.1817
The Outfit for the Profession of an Austin Canoness at Lacock, Wilts. in the Year 1395, and Other Memorabilia, By the Rev. W.G. Clark Maxwell, M.A., F.S.A.;The Archaeological Journal Vol LXIX No. 273 Second Series Vol. XIX No. 1;By British Archaeological Association, Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland; March, 1912; p. 122 -->
Diary of the Marches of the Royal Army During the Great Civil War kept by Richard Symonds; Edited by Charles Edward Long, Trinity College, Cambridge; 1859; p. 27
Hesperides #684: To Dianeme: A Ceremony in Gloucester by Robert Herrick; The Hesperides & Noble Numbers Vol II; Edited by Alfred Plllard; Aberdeen University Press; 1898

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