Here is my latest article for the North American Anglican.
The Rogation Days will arrive as my small vegetable garden begins to look nice. I’ll be digging around in my raised beds, feeling like Wendell Berry may be modestly pleased with me and wondering if he knows about the Rogation Days (because I imagine he would approve).
A few years back, since it was not obvious to me what the Rogation Days were about from the name, I started mentally subtitling them “The Wendell Berry Days.” Now Rogationtide is tangled up in my mind with quotes about the importance of agriculture and of preserving (seemingly) anachronistic traditions tied to the order of the world.
What are the Rogation Days?
Dating back to 470 AD, Archbishop Mamertus instituted the Rogation Days – the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day – after a period of natural disasters had ravaged the people of Vienne, France. He proclaimed days of fasting and processions of prayer around the freshly-sprouted fields, asking God for mercy in the growth of the crops. “Rogation” comes from the Latin ‘Rogare,” “to ask,” and the Gospel lesson for the Sunday before (which came to be added onto the days of Rogationtide) was from John 16 – “Ask and ye shall receive.”
Since these were pre-industrial days, everyone realized that they lived or died based upon agriculture and so the Rogation Days quickly spread. Gradually, they also became a time of festival to celebrate the coming of spring, renew parish boundaries, and settle neighborly disputes.
In England, the church would “beat the bounds,” processing around the parish borders, carrying crosses and flags. At key landmarks such as a huge tree or pond, young boys were boisterously recruited to suffer indignities – held upside down over fences, thrown into brambles, beat with willow switches, etc. This fixed parish boundaries into the minds of all participants, especially the young (“Ah yes, that was where young Adam was cast into the pond”). Gradually, the willow switches were hit upon the boundary markers instead of the boys – hence, “beating the bounds.” In terms of food, these traditions were accompanied by “rammalation biscuits” (a baking mystery) and ganging beer.