April - Easter, the season of rebirth
As we celebrate the coming of Easter to Chirk, we reflect on ways in which the season will have been celebrated over the castle’s seven hundred years’ existence: long before ‘Cadbury’s Egg Hunt’ attracted hordes of families seeking an instant sugar boost for temporarily quiet children, the castle witnessed other, ancient customs.
Shrove Tuesday, the day before the Lent fast begins, was once celebrated with merrymaking and feasting – anything which would not last for eating over the Lenten feast (such as meat) would be consumed . . . the eating of meat at this time leads to our word ‘carnival’ (meat in Latin).
Lent, which takes its name from the Saxon ‘Lenct’, was the traditional start of the forty day fast, in which Christians recalled Christ’s wandering in the wilderness. This may well have been a time of enforced fasting in agricultural communities, as Winter food stocks grew low.
Our modern word ‘Easter’ probably derives from ‘Eostre’, a northern European goddess of Spring: the sight of fresh greenery in the woodlands and the pastures would have been a sign that Spring was pushing back the long Winter and that it was a time for rejoicing in the pagan world.
Christ’s crucifixion and Resurrection took place at this time, and inevitably many primitive rites and rituals associated with ancient ‘regeneration’ myths were carried on into the Christian Festival.
On Good Friday in the medieval world, many people thought it was unlucky to use iron nails and tools, in remembrance of the crucifixion, and the day itself was considered unlucky. We believe that well into the Twentieth century, miners would refuse to work on Good Friday, and fishermen would not put to sea.
Our now traditional ‘Bank Holiday’ Monday was always a time kept for traditional games and community pastimes like Morris dancing. ‘Pace Egging’, the game of collecting as many brightly-coloured hard-boiled eggs as possible, was a pastime popular in the north west of Britain, and egg-rolling, common in southern England, was also quite popular in Shropshire.Eggs have always represented rebirth – for the pagans the return of the sun, for the Christians the Resurrection of Christ.
Incidentally, ‘Pace’ ‘Passion’ and ‘Pasg’ (the Welsh for Easter) all come from the same Latin root – once again, the Romans leave their legacy!
In Wales in particular, it was common to see people walking barefoot to church on Good Friday, to avoid disturbing the land, and locally, at Dinas Bran in Llangollen, it was still the custom in early Victorian times to walk up to the summit, possibly carrying a bucket of water to reflect the sunrise, and even to somersault three times as the sun rose!
Today, at Chirk, we celebrate the season and offer several activities to pass the school holidays in a top tourist attraction – why not follow our Easter Trail, and see how our tiny Nature Knight finds the cure for the magic spell which shrank him?
Yes, we have Easter Eggs too ….. Happy Easter everyone!