Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Churching

The author, at a church but not being churched.

The author, at a church but not being churched.

I love Renaissance Faires and hanging out in fake Medieval Times as much as the next person (erm, except for Jaya who does not like it), but outside of awesome turkey legs and jousting, there were a lot of not-so-fun parts. And life especially sucked if you were a woman.

Take for instance, the concept of churching.

Due to some Levitican nonsense about women being impure after childbirth (Leviticus 12:2-8and some Virgin Mary copy-catting (Luke 2:22-40), the thing to do in Medieval Times was to stay at home for 40 days after giving birth and then head to the church to be blessed and become pure again.

When it was time to be churched, a woman would go to the Church with her midwife and the other women who had attended the birth. The new mother would have to wear a special veil to show her impure state. Then they would have to wait OUTSIDE for the priest to come perform the ceremony before the new mother was able to enter the Church.

During the 16th century, the Church began to worry that churching was based on Jewish rather than Christian beliefs and in 1549, Edward IV declared that the service must change from a purification to a Thanksgiving (Medieval Times had both misogyny and anti-Semitism, so fun!). Thereafter, the ceremony was more of a blessing of the woman and about being thankful that she had survived giving birth. The most controversial part became the difference in wording to use if the child had or had not survived the birth.

Technically the service still exists in the Catholic Church (and other more orthodox churches too!), but it isn’t commonly practiced. However, apparently, it was still a common practice in parts of Ireland well into the 1970s and was still making women feel ashamed or dirty because of their post-partum state.

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