Mothering Sunday : a word from Robert Herrick

Today is Mothering Sunday, and I couldn’t let it go by without a quick word from Robert Herrick. 

 (I discovered the other day – parenthetically – that the codename for our current adventure in Afghanistan is Operation Herrick.  Why?)

Anyway, the precise origins of Mothering Sunday are disputed.  Many claim that it was originally celebrated in pre-Reformation England as a celebration of Mother Church.  Some, inevitably and plausibly, believe that this was an adaptation of an earlier pagan fertility festival.  Post-Reformation it became a day in the mid-point of Lent when those in service, in particular, were allowed a day off to visit their Mothers, and dietary restrictions were lifted to allow the baking of a Simnel Cake, which would often be presented to the Mother as a present.

Here is a picture of a Simnel Cake, that I pinched off Wikipedia  made earlier.  The eleven marzipan balls around the edge apparently represent the eleven true disciples : another marzipan ball  sometimes appears in the middle to represent Jesus, though in this case He seems to have been replaced by three fluffy chicks.  

A Simnel Cake

Herrick’s poem is of particular interest to folklorists, being one of the earliest references to the Post-Reformation celebration of this festival, which is thought to have had its origins in the West Country.  And here it is –

To Dianeme.  A Ceremonie in Glocester.

I’le to thee a Simnell bring,
Gainst thou go’st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou’lt give me. 
Customs today are, of course, slightly different, and often involve the child making gifts to the Mother of costly oils and unguents …

A Simnel Cake!!! Do the words Jo Malone mean nothing to you?

One thought on “Mothering Sunday : a word from Robert Herrick

  1. It’s interesting how things change. Simnel Cake is now usually baked at Easter and I always make it with 11 marzipan balls but with one conspicuously missing to represent Judas Iscariot. But you are absolutely right that it was formerly a Mothers’ Day cake and was an indication of the maidservant’s skill at baking, that it would still be fresh and juicy at Easter.

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