Grasmere rushbearing

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A rushbearing custom which has survived in symbolic form in Grasmere, Cumbria, even though the church was paved in 1840. Token rushes are carried on a special linen sheet, held by six girls (the Rush Maidens), dressed in green, while others are made into elaborate shapes (called rush-bearings), some as large as four or five feet tall, and carried in procession to the church. Traditional shapes for the rushbearings include harps, crosses, maypoles, and St Oswald's crown and hand. The latter is the patron saint of the parish church, and he was so good to the poor in his lifetime that St Aidan blessed his hand and prayed that it might never perish. The custom formerly took place in July, but was moved in 1885 to bring it in line with St Oswald's Day (5 August). After the procession round the village, and a church service, the rushes and rushbearings are placed on shelves in the church, and there they stay for a few days until collected by their owners. Children are given pieces of gingerbread stamped with St Oswald's name. The earliest mention of a rush custom at Grasmere is a payment of 1s. in 1680, ‘For ale bestowed on those who brought rushes and repaired the church’.

Hole, 1975: 86–7;Shuel, 1985: 86–7;E. F. Rawnsley, The Rushbearing in Grasmere and Ambleside (1953);Gertrude M. Simpson, The Rushbearing in Grasmere and Ambleside (1931).

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