Rectors Reflections

Beating the Bounds

Have you ever taken part in the tradition of “beating the bounds”? In case you’re not sure what this tradition involves, it refers to going on a walk around the parish boundaries. These walks were often held on or around the Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday immediately preceding Ascension Day. Ascension Day is celebrated 40 days after Easter, and as Easter Day is always celebrated on a Sunday, Ascension is always celebrated on a Thursday. The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day are called the Rogation Days.

This year, Ascension Day falls on 13th May, and this is why I am writing about it in this issue of the magazine.

The days before Ascension are called “Rogation” Days from the Latin rogare, which means “to ask”. During the Rogation Days, it was traditional to offer up prayers to God, asking for a blessing on the crops growing in the fields. It was a good opportunity to walk around the parish boundaries, and in the days before the widespread use of maps, these walks helped to keep the boundaries in people’s memories.

The tradition of “beating the bounds” has largely, but not completely, died out. Nowadays, the idea of asking God to bless the crops might seem quaint, perhaps even a little pagan. Are these traditions simply hangovers from the past?

Interestingly, in recent years there has been a revival of interest in Rogationtide. People have become increasingly interested in matters relating to farming and sustainable agriculture. Our farmers play a key role in looking after our natural environment.

And our farmers certainly deserve our prayers. The fact that we have food on our plates doesn’t just happen by chance. Our farmers still play a central role in helping to feed our nation.

So, I think there’s a lot to be said for the old traditions of Rogationtide, including the walk around the parish boundaries. As we walk around the parish boundaries, let us offer up our prayers of thankfulness to God. There is so much to be thankful for – not least for the beauty all around us, and for the fact that we have food to eat. And in our thankfulness, let us think how we can share God’s bounty so that no one goes hungry, in this country or around the world. 

Fr Jason