From ‘Little Gidding’ by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
The origins of this Church practice are very ancient and definitely non-Christian. The word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin ‘to ask’ and the practice on Rogation Days was to ask for a blessing on the growing crops. Professor Ronald Hutton in ‘Stations of the Sun’ believes Rogation developed from the Roman practice of ‘Ambarvalia’ which may have been practiced during the Roman occupation of Britain and which is exactly the same – priest and people processing round the fields of a given area, praying for a good harvest.
The processions had a practical use in a time before maps, because they reinforced the boundaries of a parish and the agricultural holdings within it, in the community consciousness. ‘Beating the Bounds’ as it came to be known, is mentioned by Alfred the Great and by Athelstan, but by the reformation the practice had become a target of official opprobrium because of the raucous behaviour which supposedly accompanied it. These boundary walks were also known as ‘gang days’ from the Anglo Saxon word ‘gangen’- to go.
What is unusual and strange though is the practice of beating not only the boundaries and markers, but also beating the young boys in the procession! They were sometimes whipped with willow branches or deliberately bumped against the boundary stones or trees which marked the way. This was supposedly to imprint the boundary on their young minds. I have an image of a rather nasty church warden beating up the local youth as a punishment for sins not yet committed, so I hope the beatings were notional rather than real.
Poor child! I hope the will wasn’t a long one. Processions to beat the bounds are still made in some parishes such St Ives in Cornwall where the harvest of the sea is also blessed.
Seriously Inauthentic Rammalation Cake
I have made this up - truly. I wonder how long before it appears across cyber space as an authentic traditional English Rammalation Cake? – lets hope it starts a sort of culinary Chinese whispers. The spiral shape symbolises the circuit of the parish boundary, the icing dots are the boundary markers and the prunes are as required by Edward Wilkes’ will.
I made a sweet enriched bread dough with:
500g strong white flour,
I tsp salt
I tsp vanilla extract
1½ tsp dried yeast
500ml pitted prunes
Mix the dough ingredients together and knead well, leave to rise in a warm place for about 90 minutes. Soak 500g dried prunes then simmer until soft and add 75 g sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Mash it or blitz it to a smoothish puree. Roll out the dough quite thinly until it is about 24 inches long and 8 inches wide. Spread on the puree leaving the edges clear. Dampen these and then roll it up into a big sausage with the seam underneath. Form into a circle or spiral and put on a baking tray. Brush with beaten egg and leave to rise for another hour. Bake for 40 minutes, initially at 200c, turning the oven down to 180c after the first 10 minutes. Leave to cool then decorate.
'There is a joy in every spot, made known by times of old
New to the feet, although the tale a hundred times be told.'
John Keats (1795-1821) ‘Lines Written in the Highlands’
Many thanks to my wonderful niece Millie, who is promising to be as thoughtful and creative in the kitchen as everywhere else, and who helped a lot with both design and implementation of this cake.