From the Archives: Easter traditions

POST BY RSomerset

Pencil sketch of a woman playing a lyre under banner 'Resurrexit'
Juvenilia 1912-1913 Resurrexit sketch

It has been some time since the archives have turned to the wonderful resource that is the Blandyke Papers for a blog post. These mostly manuscript volumes, were the journal founded by the philosophers at St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, and cover a vast array of topics.

In searching for material relating to the celebration of Easter two short paragraphs appearing in the Blandyke Papers in May 1892 and April 1893 respectively were particularly intriguing. The earlier report by an unknown author began by relating a tradition associated with Pancake Tuesday in the Lancashire area.

I dare say a good many of the customs connected with Shrovetide & Easter are pretty familiar. But, as in many other things I daresay they are to be found in their most primitive form in the Fylde country. Shrove, or Pancake Tuesday is of course always a holiday, & a great day for all village children. In the early morning they all provide themselves with bags or satchels, & set out on long expeditions. During the course of the day they visit all the houses of gentlemen or well-to-do farmers in the neighbourhood, & with a curtsey or pull at their caps, repeat at every door the formula “Please a pancake”. Pancakes of course are very rarely given, but something more handy, in the shape of oranges, apples, toffee cakes etc., is ready for them. On a fine day almost all the children from the neighbourhood will turn up in the course of the day, & the knocks at the door are incessant. In the houses which are visited, the distribution of the good things is generally entrusted to the children, who are quite as much pleased with their duty of giving as their poorer brethren are in receiving.
[BP, May 1892, pp289-290]

He continues:

At Easter the same tours are made, but this time the request is “Please a pace egg”. What a “pace egg” is I don’t know, nor even how the word is spelt, but it is pronounced as I have written it. However, it is not every house which will give so many eggs, so the bags do not get as well filled at Easter as at Shrovetide.
[BP, May 1892, pp290-291]

The following year Alban Goodier SJ (1869-1939), who was later to become the Archbishop of Bombay 1920-1925, also reports on this tradition:

The curious custom of connecting Easter with eggs is well known amongst us, especially among the poorer classes in the North of England. In many villages in Lancashire, during Shrove-tide and Easter, the children are accustomed to go from house to house in small parties, begging for ‘Pace-eggs’ (a word evidently corrupted from ‘Pasch-eggs’). Their request is usually answered by a gift of some sweat-meat; and if they are refused they seem to consider themselves entitled to call the occupant of the house by somewhat unbecoming names….
[BP, April 1893, p226]

Goodier also provide some background to the traditional link of eggs to Easter as follows:

The origin of the Easter-egg custom is very ancient:…traces it back to the early Egyptians. It is still widely in vogue in the Greek Church, and this speaks of its having been well known in the early days of Christianity. In those times eggs seem to have been blessed at Easter, just as candles on Candlemas Day, palms on Palm Sunday, etc. The meaning of the ceremony seems to have been: first, to remind the people that the time for adding eggs to the staple food had again come round; and secondly, to bring before them the thought of the resurrection of the body, of which the egg was from ancient times always received as a an emblem…
[BP, April 1893, p227]

He had also written the following ‘Easter Triumph’ poem the previous year. In 1892 when he wrote the poem he would have been a young man of 23, studying philosophy at St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst having been admitted to the Jesuits at the age of 18.

Easter triumph: Hosanna to our Easter King! So rings throughout the realm below the song, while outward, onward, flow the ranks of them that erst have proved how they in life have wholly loved "Hosanna to our Victor King who comes our liberty to bring!Hosanna to our victor king! [illegible] lift thine eyes and see the captive leads captivity. The thorns that pierced this very soul have blossomed to an aurole. Hosanna to our victor King who comes our liberty to bring! So triumph!

If you are interested in the material mentioned in this blog post, or in the work of the Jesuits in Britain Archives in general, please contact us.

Wishing you a Happy Easter!

Rebecca Somerset, Archivist