Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Reading the Banns

In the days when weddings could only take place in church, they used to announce the coming marriages for three weeks in a row. It was called Reading the Banns. It meant there was time for someone to raise an objection ( as happens in Jane Eyre).

There are a surprising number of superstitions about this. Some thought it was unlucky for the engaged couple to hear the banns -their future children would be cursed- so people would go to another church for those three weeks.

Up till the 1850s or so the Parish Clerk or the oldest man in the village would stand up after the last reading  and call out 'God speed them well'. The rest of the congregation had to say 'Amen' loudly to ward off bad luck .

In Perthshire they thought if the Banns were published in one Quarter but the marriage took place in another, it would be ill-fated. (The year was divided up by Quarter Days for things like paying rent)

 Quarter Days

  • Lady Day (25 March)
  • Midsummer Day (24 June)
  • Michaelmas (29 September)
  • Christmas (25 December)
It was very, very unlucky if a bell tolled for the death of someone on the same day as the Banns were read - especially if the corpse had been a married woman. They predicted the bride would not live longer than a year.

In the North of England ( where I come from)  folk would say the engaged couple had been 'asked', or in some places, 'shouted' when all three readings had taken place. In times past, there would be a great peal of bells to drive away any evil spirits. It was called the Spur-peal ( see Scots  spier or speer - to ask).

I suppose it comes down to the old idea of tempting fate - if you announce a celebration, some evil spirit might try to spoil it.
The Unlucky Bride

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