Rushbearing at Grasmere in the English Lake District

by Veronica

Rushbearing at Grasmere is based at St Oswald's Church and is a very old custom. The ceremony is an annual event. Pagan origins or recent charming custom?

The old custom of rushbearing dates back to when rushes were picked and strewn across the floors of a church to cover the earth floor but now even though the floors are tiled or made of stone, in the English Lake District the custom survives.

At Ambleside the children process through the village on the Saturday nearest to the Visitation of Mary feast day on July 2nd.

In Grasmere the ceremony takes place on a Saturday near St Oswald's Day on August 5th. I was very lucky to be there one year at Rushbearing time.

The entrance to the church
The entrance to the church
Veronica's photo

The church entrance is decorated with rushes.

You can see the rushes on the floor in the porch.

The custom was first recorded in 1680, when there is a record of a shilling being given for ale for those who brought rushes and repaired the church. So maybe, it was an annual church maintenance event!

People of Grasmere  decorate the inside and entrances in St Oswald's Church Grasmere with sheaves of reeds, rushes and flowers.   

While the procession round the village takes place, the floors of the church are covered in rushes . A church service and gingerbread afternoon tea are held afterwards.

The rushes remain in place for a week.

 

 

Rushes inside the church
Rushes inside the church
Veronica's photo

What happens ?

I suppose the origins of this are pagan but if they were they aren't now. The event is symbolic now . The rushes are carried on a sheet, held by six  Rush Maidens who are dressed in green.  A young man with a  yellow cross leads the procession. Other rushes are made into shapes and called bearings and carried to church. Shapes for the rushbearings include harps, crosses, maypoles and St Oswald's crown. Some of these shapes can be seen below in the church pictures.

The fact that the event combines crosses and also the "girls in green" suggests to me that this may be based on an ancient  fertility rite and was combined with Christianity at some point. Many pagan customs were  combined with Christian ones.

Decorations in the church
Decorations in the church
Veronica's photo

So much hard work goes into this event.

The rushes on the aisle floor
The rushes on the aisle floor
Veronica's photo

The aisle is literally covered with rushes.

To the right you can see a traditional harp shaped rushbearing as mentioned above.

How beautiful is that!

Rushes and flowers
Rushes and flowers
Veronica's photo
the pews
the pews
Veronica's photo
inside the church
inside the church
Veronica's photo

Regardless of what the custom may have been based on originally, it is now a charming custom and a tourist attraction.

Each year Grasmere attracts many visitors but especially at  The Rushbearing time.

Updated: 03/01/2022, Veronica
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 03/11/2022

That's great news! I've been fascinated by rushes ever since my childhood, what with Biblical stories and sunken gardens in the downtown center.

frankbeswick on 03/11/2022

I have begun working on the article on rushes. How soon it comes out I am unsure.

Veronica on 03/11/2022

xx

DerdriuMarriner on 03/11/2022

You both are impressive. But I must say that what Big Bro does for his Little Sis goes way back in their lives, and it's so heart-warming.

Veronica on 03/11/2022

Good evening Derdriu,
The difference in rushes, here in England would define social status I would think.
maybe my much adored, most Beloved Big Bro will do that one. I am working running a small business, being a carer, grandma and a student . He is a star .

When I was very young and scared of the dark, if he heard me upset in the dark, he would get up and sit by the bed, holding my hand until I went back off to sleep. He is my star! He took us to the Library every Saturday morning while mum cleaned up the house. Frank is our hero!

DerdriuMarriner on 03/11/2022

This is the article where I meant to put my latest comment on Christmas Food for the Tudor Rich and Poor.

In regard to what you said 10 days ago, four comments down, it would be so great if big bro or little sis wrote about the history of rushes. I'd be so interested, particularly since in watching The Last Duel a second time I noticed that some floors indeed had some messed-up rushes, others had what looked like very nice rushes and still others were either bare, beautiful stone or bare, beautiful stone with area rugs.

frankbeswick on 03/01/2022

Thanks. It is probably a wire harp. I love the clarsach. I have cds and tapes of its music.

Veronica on 03/01/2022

Frank, I am not an expert but as far as i am aware, a clarsach, bows down in the centre at the top but this bows upwards.

frankbeswick on 03/01/2022

The harp in the picture looks like an Irish or Scottish clarsach [harp.] Am I right? If it is wire-strung it is Irish; if gut-strung it is Scottish.

Veronica on 03/01/2022

Morning Big Bro,
Great comments and input TY. It looks as though the history of Rushes could be an article all to itself.


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