vol II date / index
Holiday at the Public Offices, except Excise, Stamps, and Customs.
The Purification. St. Laurence, Archbishop of Canterbury, A.D. 619[.]
This being the festival which catholics call the Purification of the virgin, they observe it with great pomp. It stands as a holiday in the calendar of the church of England. Naogeorgus thus introduces the day; or rather Barnaby Googe, in his translation of that author's, "Popish Kingdom:"
"Then comes the Day wherein the Virgin offred Christ unto
The Father chiefe, as Moyses law commaunded hir to do.
Then numbers great of Tapers large, both men and women beare
To Church, being halowed there with pomp, and dreadful words to heare.
This done, eche man his Candell lightes where chiefest seemeth hee,
Whose Taper greatest may be seene and fortunate to bee;
Whose Candell burneth cleare and bright, a wondrous force and might
Doth in these Candels lie, which if at any time they light,
They sure beleve that neyther storme or tempest dare abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard, nor any Devil's spide,
Nor fearefull sprites that walke by night, nor hurts of frost or haile." —
According to "The Posey of Prayers, or the Key of Heaven," it is called Candlemas, because before mass is said this day, the church blesses her candles for the whole year, and makes a procession with hallowed or blessed candles in the hands of the faithful."
From catholic service-books, quoted in "Pagano Papismus," some particulars are collected concerning the blessing of the candles. Being at the altar, the priest says over them several prayers; one of which commences thus: "O Lord Jesu Christ, who enlightenest every one that cometh into the world, pour out thy benediction upon these Candles, and sanctifie them with the light of thy grace," &c. Another begins: "Holy Lord, Father Almighty, Everlasting God, who hast created all things of nothing, and by the labour of bees caused this liquor to come to the perfection of a wax candles; we humbly beseech thee, that by the invocation of thy most holy name, and by the intercession of the blessed virgin, ever a virgin, whose festivals are this day devoutly celebrated, and by the prayers of all thy saints, thou wouldst vouchsafe to bless and sanctifie these candles," &c. Then the priest sprinkles the candles thrice with holy water, saying "Sprinkle me with," &c. and perfumes them thrice with incense. One of the consecratory prayers begins: "O Lord Jesu Christ, bless this creature of wax to us thy suppliants; and infuse into it, by the virtue of the holy cross, thy heavenly benediction; that in whatsoever places it shall be lighted, or put, the devil may depart, and tremble, and fly away, with all his ministers, from those habitations, and not presume any more to disturb them," &c. There is likewise this benediction: "I bless thee, O wax, in the name of the holy trinity, that thou may'st be in every place the ejection of Satan, and subversion of all his companions," &c. During the saying of these prayers, various bowings and crossings are interjected; and when the ceremonies of consecration are over, the chiefest priest goes to the altar, and he that officiates receives a candle from him; afterwards, that priest, standing before the altar towards the people, distributes the candles, first to the priest from whom he received a candle, then to others in order, all kneeling (except bishops) and kissing the candle, and also kissing the hand of the priest who delivers it. When he begins to distribute the candles, they sing, "A light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." After the candles are distributed, a solemn procession is made; in which one carries a censer, another a crucifix, and the rest burning candles in their hands.
The practice is treated of by Butler in his notice of the festival under this head, "On blessing of Candles and the Procession." It is to be gathered from him that "St. Bernard says the procession was first made by St. Joseph, Simeon, and Anne, as an example to be followed by all the earth, walking two and two, holding in their hands candles, lighted from fire, first blessed by the priests, and singing." The candle-bearing has reference to Simeon's declaration in the temple when he took Jesus in his arms, and affirmed that he was a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of Israel. This was deemed sufficient ground by the Romish church, whereon to adopt the torch-bearing of the pagans in honour of their own deities, as a ceremony in honour of the presentation of Jesus in the temple. The pagans used lights in their worship, and Constantine, and other emperors, endowed churches with land and various possessions, for the maintenance of lights in catholic churches, and frequently presented the ecclesiastics with coffers full of candles and tapers. Mr. Fosbroke shows, from catholic authorities, that light-bearing on Candlemas day is an old Pagan ceremony; and from Du Cange, that it was substituted by pope Gelasius for the candles, which in February the Roman people used to carry in the Lupercalia.
Pope Innocent, in a sermon on this festival, quoted in "Pagano Papismus," inquires, "Why do we (the catholics) in this feast carry candles?" and then he explains the matter by way of answer. "Because," says he, "the gentiles dedicated the month of February to the infernal gods, and as, at the beginning of it, Pluto stole Proserpine, and her mother, Ceres, sought her in the night with lighted candles, so they, at the beginning of this month, walked about the city with lighted candles; because the holy fathers could not utterly extirpate this custom, they ordained that Christians should carry about candles in honour of the blessed virgin Mary: and thus," says the pope, "what was done before to the honour of Ceres is now done to the honour of the Virgin."
Polydore Vergil, observing on the pagan processions and the custom of publicly carrying about images of the gods with relics, says, "Our priests do the same thing. We observe all these ceremonies, but I know not whether the custom is as good as it is showy; I fear, I fear, I say, that in these things, we rather please the gods of the heathen than Jesus Christ, for they were desirous that their worshippers should be magnificent in their processions, as Sallust says; but Christ hates nothing more than this, telling us, When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door pray to thy Father. What will then become of us, if we act contrary to his commandment? Surely, Whatever may become of us, we do act contrary to it."
Brand shows, from "Dunstan's Concord of Monastic Rules," that the monks went in surplices to the church for candles, which were to be consecrated, sprinkled with holy water, and censed by the abbot. Every monk took a candle from the sacrist, and lighted it. A procession was made, thirds and mass were celebrated, and the candles, after the offering, were offered to the priest. The monks' candles signified the use of those in the parable of the wise virgins.
In catholic countries the people joined the priests in their public processions to the churches, every individual bearing a burning candle, and the churches themselves blazed with supernumerary illuminations at mid-day.
It is to be noted, that from Candlemas the use of tapers at vespers and litanies, which prevailed throughout the winter, ceased until the ensuing ALL HALLOW MASS; and hence the origin of an old English proverb in Ray's Collection—
Throw candle and candlestick away."
Candlemas candle-carrying remained in England till its abolition by an order in council, in the second year of king Edward VI.
The "Golden Legend" relates, that a lady who had given her mantle to a poor man for the love or our lady, would not go to church on Candlemas-day, but went into her own private chapel, and kneeling before the altar, fell asleep, and had a miraculous vision, wherein she saw herself at church. Into this visionary church she imagined that a troop of virgins came, with a noble virgin at their head, "crowned ryght precyously," and seated themselves in order; then a troop of young men, who seated themselves in like order; then one, with a proper number of candles, gave to each a candle, and to the lady herself he gave a candle of wax; then came St. Laurence as a deacon, and St. Vincent as a sub-deacon, and Jesus Christ as the priest, and two angels bearing candles; then the two angels began the Introit of the mass, and the virgins sung the mass; then the virgins went and each offered the candle to the priest, and the priest waited for the lady to offer her candle; then "the glorious quene of virgyns" sent to her to say that she was not courteous to make the priest tarry so long for her, and the lady answered that the priest might go on with the mass, for she should keep her candle herself, and not offer it; and the virgin sent a second time, and the lady said she would not offer the candle; then "the quene of virgyns" said to the messenger, "Pray her to offer the candle, and if she will not, take it from her by force;" still she would not offer the candle, and therefore the messenger seized it; but the lady held so fast and long, and the messenger drew and pulled so hard, that the candle broke, and the lady kept half. Then the lady awoke, and found the piece of candle in her hand; whereat she marvelled, and returned thanks to the glorious virgin, who had not suffered her to be without a mass on Candlemas-day, and all her life kept the piece of candle for a relic; and all they that were touched therewith were healed of their maladies and sicknesses.
Poetry is the history of ancient times. We know little of the times sung by Homer but from his verses. To Herrick we must confess our obligation for acquaintance with some of the manners pertaining to this "great day in the calendar." Perhaps, had he not written, we should be ignorant that our forefathers fared more daintily during the Christmas holidays than at other season; be unaware of the rule for setting out the due quantum of time, and orderly succession, to Christmas ever-greens; and live, as most of us have lived, but ought not to live longer, without being informed, that the Christmas-log may be burnt until this day, and must be quenched this night till Christmas comes again.
End now the white-loafe and the pye,
And let all sports with Christmas dye.
* * *
Kindle the Christmas Brand, and then
Till sunne-set let it burne,
Which quencht, then lay it up agen,
Till Christmas next returne.
Part must be kept wherewith to teend
The Christmas Log next yeare;
And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischiefe there.
How severely he enjoins the removal of the last greens of the old year, and yet how essential is his reason for their displacement:
Down with the Rosemary, and so
Down with the Baies and Misletoe;
Down with the Holly, Ivie, all
Wherewith ye drest the Christmas Hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least Branch there left behind:
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.
Hearken to the gay old man again, and participate in his joyous anticipations of pleasure from the natural products of the new year. His next little poem is a collyrium for the mind's eye:
Ceremonies for Candlemasse Eve.
Down with the Rosemary and Bayes,
Down with the Misletoe;
Instead of Holly, now up-raise
The greener Box (for show.)
The Holly hitherto did sway;
Let Box now domineere,
Untill the dancing Easter-day,
On Easter's Eve appeare.
Then youthful Box, which now hath grace,
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped Yew.
When Yew is out, then Birch comes in,
And many Flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kinne,
To honour Whitsontide.
Green Bushes then, and sweetest Bents,
With cooler Oken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turne do's hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.
Brand cites a curious anecdote concerning John Cosin, bishop of Durham, on this day, from a rare tract, entitled "The Vanitie and Downefall of superstitious Popish Ceremonies, preached in the Cathedral Church of Durham, by one Peter Smart, a prebend there, July 27, 1628," Edinborough, 4to. 1628. The story is, that "on Candlemass-day last past, Mr. Cozens, in renuing that popish ceremonie of burning Candles to the honour of our lady, busied himself from two of the clocke in the afternoon till foure, in climbing long ladders to stick up wax candles in the said Cathedral Church: the number of all the Candles burnt that evening was two hundred and twenty, besides sixteen torches; sixty of those burning tapers and torches standing upon, and near, the high Altar, (as he calls it,) where no man came nigh."
A contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine informs Mr. Urban, in 1790, that having visited Harrowgate for his health a few years before, he resided for some time at that pleasant market-town Ripon, where, on the Sunday before Candlemas-day, he observed that the collegiate church, a fine ancient building, was one continued blaze of light all the afternoon from an immense number of candles.
Brand observes, that in the north of England this day is called the "Wives' Feast Day;" and he quotes a singular old custom from Martin's book on the Western Islands, to this effect:—"The mistress and servants of each family dress a sheaf of oats in women's apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call Brüd's Bed; and the mistress and servants cry three times, 'Brüd is come, Brüd is welcome!' This they do just before going to bed. In the morning they look among the ashes, and if they see the impression of Brüd's club there, they reckon it a presage of a good crop, and prosperous year; if not, they take it as an ill omen."
A Dorsetshire gentleman communicates a custom which he witnessed at Lyme Regis in his juvenile days; to what extent it prevailed he is unable to say, his knowledge being limited to the domestic circle wherein he was included. The wood-ashes of the family being sold throughout the year as they were made, the person who purchased them annually sent a present on Candlemas-day of a large candle. When night came, this candle was lighted, and, assisted by its illumination, the inmates regaled themselves with cheering draughts of ale, and sippings of punch, or some other animating beverage, until the candle had burnt out. The coming of the Candlemas candle was looked forward to by the young ones as an event of some consequence; for, of usage, they had a sort of right to sit up that night, and partake of the refreshment, till all retired to rest, the signal for which was the self-extinction of the Candlemas candle.
Bishop Hall, in a Sermon on Candlemas-day, remarks, that "it hath been an old (I say not how true) note, that hath been wont to be set on this day, that if it be clear and sun-shiny, it portends a hard weather to come; if cloudy and louring, a mild and gentle season ensuing." This agrees with one of Ray[']s proverbs:
"The hind had as lief see his wife on the bier,
As that Candlemas-day should be pleasant and clear."
So also Browne, in his "Vulgar Errors," affirms, that "there is a general tradition in most parts of Europe, that inferreth the coldness of succeeding winter from the shining of the sun on Candlemas-day, according to the proverbial distich:
'Si Sol splendescat MariA purificante,
Major erit glacies post festum quam fuit ante.'" [sic]
The "Country Almanac" for 1676, in the month of February, versifies to the same effect:
"Foul weather is no news; hail, rain, and snow,
Are now expected, and esteem'd no woe;
Nay, 'tis an omen bad, [t]he yeomen say,
If Phœbus shows his face the second day."
Country Almanac, (Feb.) 1676.
Other almanacs prophesy to the like purport:
"If Candle-mas day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if Candlemas-day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again."
The next old saw is nearer the truth than either of the preceding:
"When Candlemas-day is come and gone,
The snow lies on a hot stone."
Snowdrop. Galanthus Nivalis
Dedicated to the Purification of the Virgin Mary.