Commons and Medieval Identity

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* Article: Beating the Bounds of the Parish: Order, Memory, and Identity in the English Local Community, c. 1500–1700. By Steve Hindle.



“It was customary to perambulate the parish bounds at Rogationtide, the penitential phase of the Easter cycle that included the fifth Sunday after Easter and the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day. These perambulations, known as “gang days” or “cross days,” had been performed since before the Norman Conquest, and were by the late medieval period firmly entrenched in the culture of corporate Christianity. Their purpose was to expel from the community those evil spirits thought to be responsible for both contention and sickness; and to propitiate good weather. Those who processed behind the parish cross held aloft by the priest carried hand-bells and banners; chanted passages from the psalms and gospels; stopped at wayside crosses to say prayers for the crops; and sang the litany of the saints. Even in the late medieval period, however, this was not merely a ritual of incorporation, uniting the living and the dead through the authority of intercessory prayer. It also implied exclusion, for the demons which infested earth and air were banished by the objective power of holy words and gestures. Rogationtide perambulation was, furthermore, a ritual of demarcation in which the identity of the parish was defined over against its neighbors and the solidarity of the parishioners was symbolized.”