Excerpt of Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt
(Page 5 of 9)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
When I was twelve, they finished building the New Church of St.
Marys in Goldshaw to replace the old crumbling chapel of ease where
Id been christened. Bishop from Chester came to consecrate it just in
time for All Souls when we rang the bells the whole night through to
give comfort to our dead.
Back then we still had our holidays. Christmas lasted twelve
days and nights with mummers and guizers in animal masks, dancing by torchlight.
The Lord of Misrule, some low born man, lorded it over the gentry to make poor
folk laugh. The Towneleys of Carr Hall used to invite all their neighbours,
rich and poor alike, to join their festivities. Upon Palm Sunday everyone in
the parish gathered for the processions round the fields to make them fertile.
After dark, the young folk would go out to bless the land in their own private
fashion. Everyone knew what went on, but none stood in our way. If a lass and
her young man had to rush to the altar afterward, nobody thought the worse
of them for it. I went along with the other girls, arm in arm with my best
friend Anne Whittle, both of us wearing green garlands and singing. Cherry-lipped
Anne loved to have her sport with the boys, but mindful of my own mothers
fate, I did nowt but kiss and dance and flirt in those days. Only went astray
much later in life, when I was a married woman and sore unsatisfied, seeking
my pleasures elsewhere.
In my youth, upon May morning, we arose before dawn to gather
hawthorn and woodruff. Wed dance round the Maypole and drink elderflower
wine till the very sky reeled. At Midsummers, upon the eve of the feast
of John the Baptist, we carried birch boughs into the church till our chapel
looked like a woodland grove. Bonfires blazed the whole night through. Some
folk burned fires of bone, not wood, so that the stench might drive away evil
wights from the growing crops. Most of us gathered round the wake fire of sweet
apple wood where we danced all night, collapsing upon the grass at sunrise.
At Lammas the reapers crowned the Harvest Queen and one year, by Our Lady,
it was me, a lass of fifteen, crowned in roses and barley, the lads begging
me for a kiss.
Old King Henry was dead by then and we lived in hope that the
old ways would live again. Crowned in roses, I led the procession of maidens
on the Feast of the Assumption, each of us bearing flowers and fruits to lay
upon the altar of the Queen of Heaven. Only weeks later, Edward the Boy King
sent his men to smash every statue in our church, even that of the Blessed
Mother herself, whilst we clutched ourselves, full aghast. They tore down the
crucifix over the high altar and burned it as though it was some heathen idol.
They destroyed our roodscreen, outlawed our processions, and forbade us to
deck the church with greenery upon Midsummer or to bring red roses and poppies
to the altar on Corpus Christi. They set fire to our Maypole, forbade us to
pray for the dead or celebrate the saints feast days.
Six years on, weakling Edward wasted away and his sister Mary
Tudor promised to bring back the old religion. For the five years of her reign
we had our holidays again, our processions, our mass with swirling incense
and the sea of candles lit for the saints. The Towneleys, the Nutters, and
the Shuttleworths paid for the new roodscreen, the new statues, altar cloths
and vestments. We had our Maypole and rang the church bells for our ancestors
on All Souls Night. But our joys soured when the news came of the heretics
Mary burned alive, near three hundred of them, their only hope to end their
agony being the sachets of gunpowder concealed beneath their clothes. Our Catholic
queen was nowt but a tyrant. Before long Mary herself died, despised by her
own husband, so the story went.
With Queen Elizabeth came the new religion once more to replace
the old. The Queens agents stormed in to hack apart our brand new roodscreen.
But they could not demolish the statues or the crucifix this time round, for
the Towneleys, Shuttleworths, and Nutters had divided the holy images between
them and taken them into hiding, in secret chapels inside their great houses.
In those early days, some said Elizabeths reign couldnt last
long. Anne Boleyns bastard, she was, and it seemed half of England wanted
her dead. On top of that, she refused to marry and produce an heir of her own
religion. Yet the Queens religion had endured.
Excerpted from Daughters of the Witching Hill
by Mary Sharratt. Copyright © 2010 by Mary Sharratt.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.