Friday, April 10, 2009

Medieval Easter Eggs

In today's world, most Christians celebrate Christmas as the most important of the religious festivals in the year. After that comes Easter. However, it was not always the case for in medieval times people treated Easter with equal importance. In fact, they positively relished the coming of Easter because it followed 6 weeks of fasting (Lent), going without what were deemed pleasures such as eggs and meat.

So what happened to the eggs that were laid during Lent? Were they thrown away? No, they were boiled and preserved until Easter came; then children would be set the task of finding them (their parents having hidden them to represent the apostles who found Christ risen). Egg rolling competitions were also commonplace. Both traditions continue today of course - my own son at primary school used to look forward to egg rolling every Easter, even though he never won!

What medieval people did on East Sunday was, however, very different to today. When the day finally arrived, many would get up before dawn in order to watch the sun rise - literally bearing witness to the dawning of Easter Day itself. Then they would go to church, singing hymns in celebration on the way. Sometimes the local priest would lead them a group and village and town churches would toll their bells in celebration. Those who could afford it would also dress up in new clothes to mark the special celebration and after church, people would look forward to enjoying a day of no work and once again tucking into a hearty meal.

Wealthy landowners, usually the owners of medieval castles, were often happy to lay on a special feast for their friends, families and also their servants. Whether people were rich or poor, Easter was a time that everyone looked forward to and enjoyed in some way or other.

Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire holds an annual Easter Egg hunt within the castle grounds. Open to the general public, this year the hunt is called 'The Eggs Factor'. The challenge? To find the elusive Eastnor Easter Bunnies and Chickens who have escaped. Not only that but they have dressed up as their favourite pop stars. Sounds great fun!

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