British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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46                                     ST. AGNES' EVE.                         [JAN. 20.
manner of a coffin, passed through the choir, and went howling to the cloister as far as the place of interment; and then having sprinkled the water and censed the place, returned by the same road.—Fosbroke's Br1sth Monachism 1843, p. 56.
Jan. 20.]                  ST. AGNES' EVE.
This night was formerly much venerated by young maiden3 who wished to know when and whom they should marry. It was required that on this day they should not eat, which was called "fasting St. Agnes' fast." Keats has made this custom the subject of one of his poems. The following are a few stanzas from it:
" St. Agnes's Eve ! Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold; The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass, And silent was the flock in woolly fold.
*****           *
They told me how, upon St. Agnes's Eve Young virgins might have visions of delight; And soft adorings from their loves receive, Upon the honey'd middle of the night, If ceremonies due they did aright; As supper] ess to bed they must retire, And couch supine their beauties, lily white; Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require Of Heaven, with upward eyes, for all that they desire. ******
Her vespers done, Of all its wretched pearls her hair she frees; TJnclasp'd her warmed jewels one by one; Loosens her fragrant bodice; by degrees Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees: Half hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed, Pensive awhile she dreams awake, aud sees, In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed, But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled."
Formerly on the eve of St. Agnes' Day the following custom was, and perchance still is observed in the northern
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