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 formalized over time into an annual festival, when churchgoers would gather rushes to bring to church – it was a beautiful procession that invited all members of the church community to participate in caring for their worship space.
To bring the tradition of rushbearing to our own domestic church at home, we harvested our local equivalent (which I think is broadfruit bur-reed, Sparganium eurycarpum?), which dry wonderfully for plaiting. We spread ours on our front door-mat with fresh flowers and herbs – a lovely reminder of parish, community, and the seasonal rhythms of the calendar.
In the delightful BBC series Tudor Monastery Farm, you can see traditional rush-harvesting in action! 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.
In our own modern lives, I like to think about what the fruits of this tradition can be – a reminder to lean into intentionality, into soulful participation and service, in our own local context…in our homes, our church family, our wider community, and our local ecology.
Do you have rushes, or another similar plant, in your locale (available to be ethically harvested)? If you do, perhaps you could harvest some with your family and fold this into an afternoon of service for your parish.