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COUNTRY WAKES :1
CALLED ALSO FEASTS OF DEDICATION, REVELLINGS, RUSH
BEARINGS, AND, IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND, HOPPINGS.
As in the times of Paganism annual festivals were celebrated in honour and memory of their gods, goddesses, and heroes,
Spelman, in his Glossary, o. Wak, derives the word Wake from the Saxon Wak, signifying drunkenness. His words are, “ Sunt celebritates bacchanales sub fructuum temporibus, ab occidulis et borealibus Anglis pagatim habitæ. Bacchanales dixi ex nomine : nam Wak, Sax, est temulentia." With all deference to so great a name, I think Spelman is evi. dently mistaken, and that he even contradicts himself, when he tells us that on the Sunday after the Encania, or Feast of the Dedication of the Church, a great multitude both of grown and young persons were wont to meet about break of day, shouting Holy Wakes! Holy Wakes! “Die dominica post Enceniam seu Festum Dedicationis Ecclesiæ cujusvis villæ convenire solet in aurorâ magna hominum juvenumque multitudo, et canora voce Holy Wakes! Holy Wakes! exclamando designare," &c. (Gloss. 1664, p. 562.) Strutt gives us a quotation on this subject from Dugdale's Warwickshire, from an old MS. legend of St. John the Baptist, which entirely overthrows the etymology of wake given by Spelman: “And ye shal understond and know how the coyns were furst found in old time. In the begynning of holy Chirche, it was so that the pepul cam to the chirche with candellys brennyng, and wold wake and coome with light toward to the chirche in their devocions; and after they fell to lecherie and songs, dannces, harping, piping, and also to glotony and sinne, and so turned the holinesse to cursydnees : wherfore holy Faders ordenned the pepul to leve that Waking and to fast the Evyn. But it is called Vigilia, that is waking in English, and it is called Evyn, for at evyn they were wont to come to chirche."
when the people resorted together at their temples and tombs; and as the Jews constantly kept their anniversary feast of Dedication, in remembrance of Judas Maccabæus, their deliverer, so it hath been an ancient custom among the Christians of this island to keep a feast every year, upon a certain week or day, in remembrance of the finishing of the building of their parish church, and of the first solemn dedicating of it to the service of God, and committing it to the protection of some guardian saint or angel.2
At the conversion of the Saxons, says Bourne, by Austin, the monk, the heathen Paganalia were continued among the converts, with some regulations, by an order of Pope Gregory the Great, to Mellitus, the abbot, who accompanied Austin in his mission to this island. His words are to this effect : on the day of dedication, or the birthday of holy martyrs, whose relics are there placed, let the people make to themselves booths of the boughs of trees, round about those very churches which had been the temples of idols, and, in a religious way, to observe a feast; that beasts may no longer be slaughtered by way of sacrifice to the devil, but for their own eating and the glory of God; and that when they are satisfied, they may return thanks to Him who is the giver of all good things.3 Such are the foundations of the country Wake.
Bishop Hall, in his Triumphs of Rome, alludes as follows to these convivial entertainments : “ What should I speak of our merry Wakes, and May games, and Christmas triumphs, which you have once seen here, and may see still in those under the Roman dition : in all which, put together, you may well say no Greek can be merrier than they.” (Triumph of Pleasure, p. 23.) I have a curious sermon, entitled the Religious Revel, preached at Atsuch, a country revel, dedicated to Mr. William Ekins, of the parish of St. Thomas, near Exon, by H. Rosewell, 1711. It is a defence and vindication of
I The Paganalia, or country feasts of the Heathens, were of the same stamp with this of the wake. Spelman says: “ Hæc eadem sunt quæ apud Ethnicos Paganalia dicebantur."
? St. Michael, for instance. Of saints it has been observed by antiquaries that few churches or none are anywhere found honoured with the name of St. Barnabas, except one at Rome.
3 « Ut die dedicationis, vel natalitiis sanctorum Martyrum, quorum illic reliquiæ ponuntur, tabernacula siba circa easdem ecclesias, que es fanis commutatæ sunt de ramis arborum faciant," &c. (Bed. i. 30.)
keeping the annual feast of the dedication, finishing, and consecration of our churches (constantly kept, and called in the country a Wake or Revel), still supposing and asserting the very great impiety of revellings, properly so called ; i. e. lewd and disorderly Rerellings, upon any account or occasion. In Collinson's History of Somersetshire, i. 64, speaking of Stocklinch, St. Magdalen parish, the author says: “A Revel is held here on St. Mary Magdalen's day.” In Bridge's History of Northamptonshire many instances are recorded of the Wake being still kept on or near to the day of the saint to which the church was dedicated. In Tusser's Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, under the head of “The Wake Day," are the following lines :
“ Fil oven ful of flawnes, Ginnie passe not for sleepe,
To-morrow thy father his wake day will keepe:
Both Tomkin with Tomlin, and Jankin with Gil.” Thus explained in Tusser Redivivus, 1744, p. 81: “The Wake day is the day on which the parish church was dedicated, called so because the night before it they were used to watch till morning in the church, and feasted all the next day. Waking in the church was left off, because of some abuses, and we see here it was converted to waking at the oven. The other continued down to our author's days, and in a great many places continues still to be observed with all sorts of rural merriments, such as dancing, wrestling, cudgel-playing, &c.
“This feast was at first regularly kept on that day in every week on which the church was dedicated ; but it being observed and complained of, that the number of holidays was excessively increased, to the detriment of civil government and secular affairs; and also that the great irregularities and licentiousness which had crept into these festivities by degrees, especially in the churches, chapels, and churchyards, were found highly injurious to piety, virtue, and good manners ; there were therefore both statutes and canons made to regulate and restrain them: and by an act of convocation, passed by Henry VIII. 1536, their number was in some measure lessened.
1 This injunction, says Borlase, in his Account of Cornwall. was never universally complied with, custom in this case prevailing against the law of the land.