Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Abbotts Ann is one of the very few parishes in which the medieval custom of awarding Virgins' Crowns has survived. In the early days of Christianity, funeral garlands were emblems of Virgin Martyrs and the practice of making maidens' garlands presumably derives from that. Shakespeare, in referring to the burial of Ophelia, says "she is allowed her virgin crants (crown)". A crown may he requested by the relatives of the deceased person, who must have been born, baptised, confirmed and have died, unmar-ried, in the parish, and must have been of unblemished reputation. The crown must be made of freshly cut hazelwood (virgin wood), and is decorated with black and white paper rosettes. Five parchment gauntlets hang from the frame. On one of these are written the name, age and year of death of the deceased, and on each of the other four a verse of a hymn is inscribed. At the funeral service the crown is suspended from a white rod and carried in procession by two young girls dressed in white. After the funeral the crown is hung from the front of the gallery for three weeks, and if it is not challenged it is then hung from a bracket near the ceiling of the church, with a scutcheon bearing the name and date.