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04/17/2003 Archived Entry: "Easter"
Today is a glorious, sunny day, more like June than mid-April and we have a promise of a fine Easter weekend.
For many of us, this remains a spiritual time in spite of the modern attitude of regarding it as a temporal holiday. For lots of Britons, Easter has no links with religion or the church, being merely a long and very welcome Bank Holiday, a means of relaxing during the early months of the working year. Some of us will venture overseas, others will be content to explore England or other parts of our charming island, while yet more will either remain at home or honour the weekend for its ancient links with the crucifixion of Christ and the beginnings of the Christian church. For lots of us, the harrowing story of Good Friday continues to be relevant.
With this in mind, I was interested to discover that some of our older churches contain what are known as Easter sepulchres. In general, these can be found on the north side of the chancel and are shaped in the design of a stone tomb. Before the Reformation, it was the custom, on Good Friday, for the congregation to process to these sepulchres carrying a crucifix and a Sacred Host. The procession was accompanied by lighted candles and upon arrival at the sepulchre, the Sacred Host and the crucifix were placed inside with due solemnity. They remained within the sepulchre until the dawn of Easter Sunday when they were removed and taken to the altar, this time amid signs of joy and praise to mark the Resurrection.
The purpose of this ceremony was to enact the death and resurrection of Christ in a way that the people could understand. One example of this ancient custom was undertaken in Durham Cathedral, with the ceremony of the resurrection occurring between 3am and 4am on Easter Sunday. It was a most impressive event with a gold crucifix being used and carried by monks, and on Easter Sunday, it was carried to the High Alter by two monks singing Christus Resurgens. For this occasion, the sepulcre was made of wood and it was adorned with silk hangings.
Many of these religious artefacts were lost with the destruction of churches at the Reformation, but they can still be found in churches throughout Britain. There is one in a beautiful building at Patrington near Hull; dating from Roman times, it is widely known as The Queen of Holderness. One such sepulchre was erected over the tomb of Christopher Columbus in Seville.
Whatever you may be doing this Easter, I wish you well and I send my greetings.
PS. I saw my first house martin yesterday.