Rushbearing

…The green rush, the green rush, we bear it along,

To the church of our village with triumph and song,

We strew the cold chancel and kneel on it there,

While its fresh odours rise with our voices in prayer.

Hark the peal from the old tower in praise of it rings,

Let us seek the green rush by the green woodland springs.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838), “The Rush-Bearing at Ambleside”

Welcome, and happy August! It’s been over a year (!) since I’ve shared some thoughts on my little blog, but I’m aiming to change that. As social media continues to change, and as the algorithms encourage artists to focus on being “content creators,” I find that keeping pace with it can feel a bit like running on a treadmill…and that leaves me feeling deflated. I’d rather use it more deliberately and mindfully, which, for me, means more sparingly. Can you relate?

So, though I’ll still be hopping onto Instagram to share and connect with you lovely friends, my time spent there will be more limited – instead, I’ll be sharing art primarily on my blog and through my newsletter, the Hearthstone Post. If you have a blog, newsletter, or Etsy shop, please be sure to let me know, so I can follow your work there, too!

Now, onto a recent rabbit hole I dove into…

Rushbearing!

You know how much I love liturgical celebrations of yesteryear…all these lovely little traditions and celebrations dotted throughout the calendar, filled with so much meaning & symbolism, and so beautifully embodying the sacramental principle. I’d love to bring them all back! So many, like the tradition of rushbearing, have long fallen by the wayside – though there are still a handful of rushbearing festivals active today!

Historically, Churches and other buildings had hard, cold dirt floors. To provide some warmth and comfort to parishioners in a time before pews were used, rushes (Acorus calamus), mixed with aromatic flowers & herbs, were strewn on the church floor. The flowers added both a fresh, wonderful scent, as well as some natural insect-repellent.

This tradition was steadily more formalized & adopted by the Church in the form of an annual festival, usually held near the feast day of the parish’s patron saint. Townsfolk would harvest rushes (or purchase them), and bring them to the church in the form of a lovely, flower-bedecked procession.

As often happens with church-based events, the annual rush-strewing took on a celebratory aspect, giving a devotional spin to a practical occasion, and bringing the rushes to the church, or ‘rush-bearing’, became a major festival in which the whole community could join.

Steve Roud, The English Year

Some parishes later used a rushcart – a wooden cart stacked high with rush bundles, and tinkling with trinkets like cups – and these celebrations had an even livelier atmosphere.

She who leads the procession is styled the Queen, and carries in her hand a large garland, and the rest usually have nosegays. The Queen then goes and places her garland upon the pulpit, where it remains till after next Sunday, the rest then strew their rushes upon the bottom of the pews, and at the church door they are met by a fiddler, who plays before them to the public house, where the evening is spent in all kinds of rustic merriment.

From an 18th century description of Grasmere, as quoted in Steve Roud’s “The English Year”
THE RUSH-BEARING AT AMBLESIDE, WESTMORLAND (1835; Artist: T. Allom – engraved by: J. Redaway)

In delving into this beautiful tradition, I found the anecdotes in these books to be so helpful in setting the scene of rushbearing. When I mentioned to my friend Heather that I was doing a deep-dive into this now-obscure festival, she pointed me in the direction of an absolutely delightful BBC series (and its accompanying book) called Tudor Monastery Farm. Have you seen this show yet? If not, if you’re in for a treat!! It’s become a favorite of mine. Historian Ruth Goodman, along with archaeologists Peter Ginn & Tom Pinfold, step into the life of Tudor-era farmers. With all the inspiring skills & traditions they explored and shared, harvesting rushes was among them!

Painting rushes while enjoying Tudor Monastery Farm

I created a few little Vignette drawings inspired by this sweet festival, and I also painted a rush-bearing elk, his antlers bedecked in heather. I was inspired by Medieval illuminations, as well as stained glass windows. Here are a few pictures of the process:

Besides giving the Church a fresh strewing every feast day, it was in olden times customary to deck it with boughs and flowers; and as the flowers used at festivals were originally selected because they happened to be in bloom then, so in time they came to be associated therewith.

Richard Folkard, “Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics”

I decided to get a sense of what rush-harvesting was like, so for a fun project with the kids, we harvested a few stalks of our local equivalent (which I think is broadfruit bur-reed, Sparganium eurycarpum?), which are drying & waiting to be plaited.

Closing the sacred Book which long has fed
Our meditations, give we to a day
Of annual joy one tributary lay;
This day, when, forth by rustic music led,
The village Children, while the sky is red
With evening lights, advance in long array
Through the still churchyard, each with garland gay,
That, carried sceptre-like, o’ertops the head
Of the proud Bearer. To the wide church-door,
Charged with these offerings which their fathers bore
For decoration in the Papal time,
The innocent procession softly moves:–
The spirit of Laud is pleased in heaven’s pure clime,
And Hooker’s voice the spectacle approves!

William Wordsworth, “Rural Ceremony”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey into rushbearing! I’ll shortly be re-opening my Etsy shop, and you’ll find some festive rushbearing art in it.

If you’d like me to keep you posted on when the shop re-opens (and other musings & news), please subscribe to my blog by entering your email address (to the right, if you’re on a desktop, or scroll down if you’re on a phone!)

You can also subscribe to my newsletter, the Hearthstone Post, which is where I’ll also be sharing musings, as well as upcoming free printables.

Thanks so much for joining me here as I wake this little ol’ blog up from hibernation!

Best wishes,
Kristin

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