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: another marzipan ball sometimes appears in the middle to represent Jesus, though in this case He seems to have been replaced by three fluffy chicks.
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.