Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V06, Page 348 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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CHURCHING OF WOMEN, the Christian ceremony of thanks-giving on the part of mothers shortly after the birth of their children. It no doubt originated in the Mosaic regulation as to purification (Lev. xii. 6). In ancient times the ceremony was usual but not obligatory in England. In the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches to-day it is imperative. The custom is first mentioned in the pseudo-Nicene Arabic canons. No ancient form' of service exists, and that which figures in the English prayer-book of to-day dates only from the middle ages. Custom differs, but the usual date of churching was the fortieth day after confinement, in accordance with the Biblical date of the presentment of the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus at the Temple. It was formerly regarded as unlucky for a woman to leave her house to go out at all after confinement till she went to be churched. It was not unusual for the churching service to be said in private houses. In Herefordshire it was not considered proper for the husband to appear in church at the service, or at all events in the same pew. In some parishes there was a special pew known as " the churching seat." The words in the rubric requiring the woman to come " decently apparelled " refer to the times when it was thought unbecoming for a woman to come to the service with the elaborate head-dress then the fashion. A veil was usually worn, and in some parishes this was provided by the church, for an inventory of goods belonging to St Benet's, Gracechurch Street, in 1560, includes " A churching cloth, fringed, white damask." The " convenient place," which, according to the rubric, the woman must occupy, was in pre-Reformation times the church-door. In the first prayer-book of Edward VI., she was to be " nigh unto the quire door." In the second of his books, she was to be " nigh unto the place where the Table standeth." Bishop Wren's orders for the diocese of Norwich in 1636 are " That women to be churched come and kneel at a side near the Communion Table without the rail, being veiled according to custom, and not covered with a hat." In Devonshire churching was sometimes called " being uprose." Churchings were formerly registered in some parishes. In pre-Reformation days it was the custom in England for women to carry lighted tapers when being churched, in allusion to the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin (February 2nd), the day chosen by the Roman Catholic church for the blessing of the candles for the whole year (see CANDLEMAS). At her churching a woman was expected to make some offering to the church, such as the chrisom or alb thrown over the child at christening.

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