The Tudors never missed a possible chance to enjoy themselves, and church festivals, weddings, and christenings provided occasions for them to socialize and enrich their lives. The medieval traditions of tournaments and pageantry lived on and many of the Tudors were literate. They read, attended the theater, and enjoyed dancing and music. Hunting and fighting were also considered enjoyable recreational activities for the Tudors.
However the Easter religious season was also a time for serious consideration of sins and prayer as it had been during the medieval times.
The first day of Holy Week was Palm Sunday when the priest would read the story of Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey. He blessed branches of greenery so that the parishioners could fashion crosses from them to carry in processions.
The clergy prepared a shrine for Palm Sunday which contained the blessed sacrament and any relics that the church might possess. Before the service, the clergy and the parishioners met outside the church and then the clergy carried the shrine around the building in one direction while the laiety walked in procession going in the opposite direction.
When they met in front of the church door, the priest would pull up the Lenten veil which hid the chancel from the nave during Lent and then release it again once the procession had passed.
On Wednesday the priest always read passages from the Bible which concerned the veil in the main Temple in Jerusalem. Afterwards the Lenten veil would be removed and packed away until the following year’s celebration.
Maundy Thursday was the day when the clergy prepared the church for the grand Easter celebration by washing the altars with water and wine. They also heard confessions during the day.
The medieval tradition of “Creeping to the Cross” was still a popular practice on Good Friday. The clergy commemorated the suffering and the crucifixion by crawling up to a crucifix before the altar on their hands and knees. On reaching the crucifix, they kissed the feet of their savior. Then the parishioners followed suit as they crept up on the crucifix and repeated the clergy’s actions.
The Easter sepulchre was a stone or wooden niche which represented the sealed tomb. The clergy filled it with the consecrated host and a crucifix. Then they sealed it by covering the entrance with a cloth and lit candles around it. Members of the congregation then took turns guarding it until Easter Sunday.
On this day the clergy extinguished the candles in the church and then re-lit the candles before opening the sepulchre. A special high mass was said to celebrate the resurrection. Now Lent was over and everyone could feast on dairy products and meat. Chicken, veal and lamb were favorites for breaking the Lenten fast. Easter eggs were also a favorite.
When the English Reformation came upon the land, many of the Easter rituals were banned. The blessing of the greenery on Palm Sunday, the tradition of Creeping to the Cross, and the Easter sepulchre rituals were banned at that time.
Hot Cross Buns
Now the buns are eaten throughout the Easter festivities, but they were first served only on Good Friday. They are delicious, small, sweet yeast buns containing raisins and currants and maybe even candied fruit. Before baking, the cook slashes a cross across the top of the bun and after the baking is complete a confectioners’ sugar icing is applied to fill in the indention of the cross.
An old nursery rhyme celebrates this favorite English treat:
“Hot cross buns,
Hot cross buns,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns.
If you do not like them,
Give them to your sons,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns.”
Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England by Alison Sim; The History Press, 2009