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February 14, 2012


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Jemmy Hope

On the subject of women being deemed 'unclean' pre-churching, there were, in my boyhood some taboos around this.
Women who had given birth but not been churched were denied entry to some relatives' and neighbours' houses.
My wife, who was brought up in a fishing community where such matters weighed heavily, tells me that some households allowed a compromise. An unchurched mother could enter a house if she held a roof tile on the top of her head. In this way she was deemed to be under another roof.


Sue, Jemmy,

Have either of you ever seen any reference to that practice in the US? I cover the latter half of the 20th Century and never heard of it until now.

Virtual Linguist

Thanks for those anecdotes, Jemmy. Interestingly, the speaker yesterday mentioned about women not being allowed out of the house until they'd been churched. Apparently such women were thought to bring bad luck on anyone they came into contact with (which shows, I suppose, the pagan origins of the rite - I don't suppose the Church said that).

John, you might find the practice went on until recently, and may still go on, in the Eastern Church (Orthodoxy, eg). Or, if you know any elderly rural women, ask them if they remember any of their contemporaries undergoing the ceremony. Here's a piece from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington in which a priest talks of the practice and says it was "intact until recent times" http://blog.adw.org/2010/02/lost-liturgies-file-the-churching-of-women/


My maternal grandmother, a very devout Roman Catholic, was raised in turn of the century somewhat rural western Massachusetts. Especially after reading the article you linked above, I remain surprised that I'd not heard the term, but, thinking about it, the reason might lie in her Victorian (mother, too) approach to what one did or did not discuss with men and certainly younger boys.

Great post - thanks.

Jemmy Hope

Another thing that occurs to me, which may for all I know have been confined to my (Catholic)family.
Baptisms were women's business. No men attended the ceremony. The recipients of the sacrament only had godmothers, not godfathers.
There may be a simpler explanation for this; that males tended not to enter churches once they'd left school, except for their wedding and their funeral.
On the other hand it may have had something to do with the then prevalent attitude that childbirth and child rearing were exclusively the work of the female partner (helped and advised by 'gossips').
I know that in some (rural?)communities women were not permitted to attend funerals, even the funeral of a woman. So maybe there was some sort of division of labour at work.

Virtual Linguist

Thanks again. Yes, I think you're both right - it was very much a women's thing. Mothers and grandmothers would put pressure on the young women. Matriarchy can be frighteningly powerful!


I would say my mother who is not a church person and never attended church, spoilt the birth of my son having such a go at me for not being churched I didn't know what it was as some 41 years later, now she has dementia I still remember the way she went on at me

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