What is Rushbearing? St Edith's and St Mary's
Few Rushbearing festivals are still celebrated. That in Tilston gave rise to the modern Wakes.
When the floors of most churches were simply earth, parishioners brought rushes and flowers, such as meadowsweet and honeysuckle, to ‘strew’ within the Church, to purify the air and help to insulate the worshippers from the cold. The festivity gained the name ‘Rushbearing’ and was usually on the week-end of the patronal saint’s festival. There are two possible candidates to be our ‘St Edith: one has her feast day on 15 July, the other on 14 August. St Edith’s Church at Shocklach seems to have chosen a date between the two: hedging their bets! St Mary’s Church, named after the mother of Jesus, had its festival in late August.
Rushbearing is a very old practice recorded widely, such as in 1493 in the churchwarden's accounts for St Mary-at-Hill, London: a payment of 3d. ‘For three burdens of rushes for new pews’. It was one of the pastimes specifically permitted on Sundays by order of King James I's Book of Sports (1618) as ‘…leave to carry rushes to the church for the decoring of it, according to their old custom’.