…The green rush, the green rush, we bear it along,Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838), “The Rush-Bearing at Ambleside”
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.
HISTORY & LEGEND
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”
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Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. Oxford Companion to the Year. Oxford University Press, 1999.
Roud, Steve. The English Year. Penguin, 2008.