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Good Friday

( Originally Published 1884 )


Yesterday being Good Friday, the ancient dames of this place were especially careful to lay up a sufficient stock of Cross Buns (which will keep without growing mouldy !), as a panacea for all disorders during the succeeding twelve-month.

This superstition is evidently the relic of a Roman Catholic practice, founded on the doctrine of Transubstantiation; though the practice (and with it the doctrine itself) was reprobated by the Church in the time of our Saxon ancestors, nearly 800 years ago. "Here followeth the wordes of AElfricke, Abbot of S. Albones, and also of Malmesberye, taken out of his Epistle written to Wulfsine, Byshop of Scyrburne* : 'Some Pristes keepe the Housell (i.e., the Sacramental Wafer) that is hallowed on Easter Day, all the yere for syke men. But they doe greatlye amysse, by cause it waxeth horye. That Housell is Christe's bodye, not bodylye, but ghostly.' " (A Testimonie of Antiquitie ; sheawing the auncient Fayth in the Church of England, 1567, p. 63.)

AElfrick also uses similar language in an Epistle to Wulfstan, Arch bishop of York (ut sup. p. 66).

The following story (given, with another nearly as wonderful, by Butler in his " Feminin' Monarchi," 1634, p. 18, from Bozius, de Signis Ecclesiae, lib. xiv., c. 3) will shew to what an extent the belief of a real presence has been carried ; and that the architectural skill of bees is not confined to their waxen cells, but has displayed itself in the erection of a complete religious edifice !

"Cum mulier quaedam simplicis ingenij nonnulla apum alvearia possideret, neq. illae redderent expetitum fructum, sed lue quatdam tabescentes morerentur ; de consilio alterius foeminae simplicioris, accessit ad Sacerdotem perceptura Eucharistiam : quam sumptam tamen ore continuit, domumq. reversa extractam collocavit in uno ex alvearijs. Lues cessavit : mella affluebant. Itaq. suo tempore mulier, apertis, ut mel educeret, alvearijs, vidit (miranda res !) exdificatum ab apibus sacellum, constructum altare, parietes miro Architecturae artificio suis fenestris apposite suis locis ornatos, ostium, turrim, cum suis tintinabulis: Eucharistiam verņ in altari repositam, circumvolabant soavi susurro perstrepentes apes."

Mr. Bryant, in his Antient Mythology, vol. i., p. 371, informs us that the offerings which people in antient times used to present to the Gods, were generally purchased at the entrance of the Temple, especially every piece of consecrated bread, which was denominated accordingly. Those sacred to the God of light, Peon, were called Piones, etc., etc., etc. One species of sacred bread, which used to be offered to the Gods, was of great antiquity, and called Bonn. Hesychius speaks of the Boun, and describes it as a kind of cake with a representation of two horns. Diogenes Laertius, speaking of the same offering, describes the chief ingredients of which it was composed. "He offered one of the sacred cakes called a Boun, which was made of fine flour and honey." The Prophet Jeremiah takes notice of this kind of offering when he is speaking of the Jewish women at Pathros in Egypt, and of their base idolatry. " When we burnt incense to the Queen of Heaven, and poured out drink-offerings to her, did we make cakes to worship her," Jer. xliv. The Prophet in another place takes notice of the same idolatry : " The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough to make cakes to the Queen of Heaven," Jer. vii.

Can there be any doubt that the English word Bun is derived from the cake Bonn ; and that the Cross-bun, which is baked on Good Friday, was a substitute for the cakes used in the worship of idols, in the same manner as many of our Christian Festivals were adopted instead of Heathen Feriae or Holy Days ? :Perhaps, Mr. Urban, I am only stating what might to Antiquaries have been known before ; but Mr. Bryant himself does not make the remark which appears so obviously to have presented itself; and Dr. Johnson, in his Dictionary, seems to have had no conception of the kind, as he derives Bun from the Spanish word Bunelo. I have been very concise in the extract from Bryant; and therefore refer the Reader, if he wishes to see a fuller account of these CAKES, Or Bouns, to his work, vol. i., p. 371. The etymology of the word, and the curious custom of marking the symbol of our faith in opposition to idolatrous symbols, mutually confirm my conjecture.

I take this opportunity of remarking another curious coincidence, which lay at the feet of Mr. Bryant, though he did not see it, or perhaps would not condescend to pick it up. See vol. i., p. 59.

Mr. B. tells us that the symbolical worship of the Serpent was of the most remote antiquity, and very extensive, and that the Greek Python is the same as Opis, Oupis, Oub, and Ob. The woman at Endor who had a familiar spirit is called Oub or Ob; and it is interpreted Pythonissa. This idolatry is also alluded to by Moses (Deut. xviii. II), who forbids the Israelites ever to inquire of those demons Ob and Idcone, whose worshippers are called charmers, consulters with evil spirits, or wizards, or necromancers. The curious coincidence which I mean to remark is, that the witchcraft practised by the Blacks in the West Indies at this day is called Ob, or Obi ; the ignorant Negroes are under the most superstitious dread of those who profess the art.

" Obi, or Three-fingered Jack," is the title of a Dramatic Piece founded on the above circumstance.


" The ordre of the Kinge on Good-Friday touchinge the cominge to service, hallowinge of the Crampe Rings, and offering and Creepinge to the Crosse. (From a MS. belonging to the late Mr. Anstis, now to the Duke of Northumberland.)

"Firste, the Kinge to come to the chappell or closet, withe the Lords and Noblemen waytinge upon him, without any sword borne before hime as that day, and ther to tarrie in his travers until the Byshope and the Deane have brought in the crucifixe out of the vestrie, and layd it upon the cushion before the highe Alter. And then the Usher to lay a Carpet for the Kinge to creepe to the crosse upon : and that done, ther shall be a forme sett upon the carpett before the crucifix, and a cushion laid upon it for the Kinge to kneale upon. And the Master of the Jewell house ther to be ready with the crampe rings in a bason of silver, and the Kinge to kneele upon the cushion before the forme. And then the Clerke of the Closett be redie with the booke concerninge the halowinge of the crampe rings, and the Aumer muste kneele on the right hand of the Kinge, holdinge the sayd booke. When that is done, the Kinge shall rise and go to the Alter, wheare a Gent. Usher shall be redie with a cushion for the Kinge to kneale upon ; and then the greatest Lords that shall be ther, to take the bason with the rings, and beare them after the King to offer. And thus done, the Queene shall come downe out of her closset or traverse into the chappell, with ladyes and gentlewomen waitinge upon her, and creepe to the crosse, and then goe agayne to her clossett or traverse. And then the ladyes to creepe to the crosse likewise, and the Lords and Noblemen likewise."

Dr. Percy, who has printed this curious extract at the end of his notes on Northumberland Household-book, observes that our ancient Kings, even in the dark times of superstition, do not seem to have affected to cure the King's Evil; at least, this MS. gives no hint of any such power. This miraculous gift was left to be claimed by the Stuarts ; our antient Plantagenets were humbly content to cure the cramp. The Doctor adds that, in 1536, when the Convocation under Henry VIII. abolished some of the old superstitious practices, this of creeping to the cross on Good Friday, etc., was ordered to be retained as a laudable and edifying custom. See Herbert's " Life of Henry VIII." It appears in Northumberland Household-book to have been observed in the Earl's family, the value of the offerings then made by himself, his lady, and his sons, being there severally ascertained.

There is also specified a candle to be offered by each of the above persons on St. Blays-day; on which the learned editor observes that "the anniversary of St. Blasius is the 3rd of February, when it is still the custom, in many parts of England, to light up fires on the hills on St. Blayse night, a custom antiently taken up, perhaps for no better reason than the jingling resemblance of his name to the word ` Blaze.' "

" The order of the King on Good Friday, touching his coming to service, hallowing of the Cramp Rings, and offering and creeping to the crosse.

" First the King to come to the closett, or to the chappell, with the Lords and noblemen wayting on him, without any sword to bee borne before him on that day and there to tarry in his travers till the Bishop and Deane have brought forth the crucifix out of the vestry (the Almoner reading the service of the cramp rings) layd upon a cushion before the high altar, and then the huishers shall lay a carpet before yt for the King to creep to the crosse upon, and yt done there shall be a fourme set upon the carpet before the crucifix, and a cushion layd before it for the King to kneele on ; and the master of the jewell house shal be ther ready with the cramp rings in a basin or basins of silver ; the King shall kneele upon the sayd cushion before the fourme and then must the Clerk of the closett bee ready with the booke conteyninge ye service of the hallowing of the sayd rings, and the Almoner must kneel upon the right hand of the King, holding of the sayd booke, and when yt is done the King shall rise and go to the high altar, where an huisher must be ready with a cushion to lay for his grace to kneele upon, and the greatest Lord or Lords being then present shall take the basin or basins with the rings, and bear them after the King, and then deliver them to the King to offer ; and this done the Queen shall come down out of her closett or travers into the Chappell, with ladies and gentlewomen wayters on her, and creepe to the crosse ; and that done, she shall returne againe into her closett or travers, and then the ladies shall come downe and creepe to the crosse, and when they have done, the Lords and noblemen shall in likewise."

The custom which prevailed in England during the middle ages of hallowing Rings upon Easter Day and Good Friday, which rings, in consequence of the benediction thus bestowed, were supposed to possess the power of securing the wearer from the falling sickness and cramp, has already received illustration from Brand and Ellis. Some few interesting particulars having presented themselves in addition to the facts collected by those learned writers, they are here presented to the reader.

We learn from Hospinian, as cited by Brand, that the Kings of England had a custom of hallowing rings upon Good Friday, and that the custom originated in a ring which was long preserved with especial veneration in Westminster Abbey, supposed to have been brought from Jerusalem by some pilgrims, and which ring, it was discovered, Edward the Confessor had given to a mendicant who had solicited charity in the name of St. John the Evangelist.

Polydore Vergil repeats the same story of the ring given to the mendicant at Jerusalem, and adds :

" Iste annulus in eodem tempio (scil. Westmonasterii), multa veneratione perdiu est servatus, quod salutaris esset membris stupentibus valeretque adversus comitialem morbum, cum tangeretur ab illis, qui ejusmodi tentarentur morbis. Hinc natum, ut reges postea Angliae consueverint in die Parasceues, multa ccerimonia sacrare annulos, quos qui induunt, hisce in morbis omnino nunquam sunt." p. 143, edit. 1546.

More explicit and authentic information regarding the manner in which this offering was made, is to be collected from the Wardrobe Accounts of Edward III., a manuscript in the Cottonian Library. Amongst the alms with which the royal household is debited are the following entries :

"Anno ix. In oblationibus Domini Regis ad crucem de Gneythet die Paraceues in capella sua infra manerium ,de Clipstone, in precio duorum Florencium xiiij. die Aprilis vjs. viijd. et in denariis quos posuit pro dictis Florenciis reasumptis pro anulis inde faciendis ibidem eodem die vjs. Summa xijs. viijd.

" Anno x. In oblationibus Domini Regis ad crucem de Gneythe die Paraceues in capella sua apud Eltham xxix. die Marcii vs. et pro eisdem denariis reasumptis pro anulis inde faciendis per manus Domini Johannis de Crokeford eodem die v.

Summa xs."

From these two entries it appears that certain coins were offered at the High Altar, that they were afterwards redeemed by an equivalent sum being substituted, and that the money so consecrated was converted into rings. It is true that these entries do not state explicitly for what purpose these rings were to be made, or why they were formed from consecrated metal, but the fact already advanced by Hospinian prevents us from doubting the object to which they were applied. Two circumstances in these entries are rather singular ; in the first place, the offering made is a trifling one, and in the second place, we see that the consecrated coin was redeemed in one instance by a ransom which was not equivalent in intrinsic value to the money originally offered.

Cramp Rings must, therefore, have been very scarce articles if they were formed by no more easy process than that here described. Our ancestors were too fond of charms to tolerate such a monopoly, and rings, possessing equal efficacy against cramps with those mentioned above, were manufactured in no small numbers. This is proved beyond a doubt by the following extract from a medical treatise written in the 14th century. It is the medicine against the Cramp, and is given as it stands in the original.

" For the Crampe. Tak and ger gedir* on Gude Friday, at fyfe parische kirkes, fife of the first penyes that is offerd at the crosse, of ilk a kirk the first penye ; than tak them al and ga befor the crosse and say v. pater nosters in the worschip of fife wondes, and bere thaim on the v. dais, and say ilk a day als mekil on the same wyse; and then gar mak a ryng thar of with owten alay of other metel, and writ with in Jasper, Batasar, Altrapa,§ and writ with outen Ih'c nazarenus ; and sithen tak it fra the goldsmyth upon a Fridai, and say v. pater nosters als thu did be fore and vse it alway afterward."

Some of the rings formed according to these instructions may still be in existence; and, perhaps, the passage quoted may be the means of explaining what has hitherto been misunderstood, or identifying the use of what has been uncertain.

Lord Berners, the translator of Froissart, when at the Court of the Emperor Charles V. as ambassadour from Henry VIII., in a letter dated 21 June, 1518, says to Wolsey, " If your grace remember me with some crampe-rynges ye shall do a thing much looked for, and I trust to bestow thaym well, with Godd's grace."

A letter from Dr. Magnus to Cardinal Wolsey, written in 1526, contains the following curious passage :

" Pleas it your Grace to wete that M. Wiat of his goodnes sent vnto me for a present certaine Cramp Ringges which I distributed and gave to sondery myne acquaintaunce at Edinburghe, amonges other to M. Adame Otterbourne, who, with oone of thayme, releved a mann lying in the falling sekenes, in the sight of myche people ; sethenne whiche tyme many requestes have been made unto me for Cramp Ringges at my departing there, and also sethenne my comyng frome thennes. May it pleas your grace, therefore, to shew your gracious pleasure to the said M. Wyat that some Ringges may be kept and sent into Scottelande ; whiche, after my poore oppynnyoun shulde be a good dede, remembering the power and operacion of thaym is knowne and proved in Edinburgh, and that they be gretly required for the same cause booth by grete persounages and other."*

Andrew Boorde, in his " Breviary of Health," speaking of the Cramp, has an allusion to the supposed power of the King to expel it. He says that " the Kynges Majestie hath a great helpe in this matter in hallowing Crampe Ringes, and so geven without money or petition."

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