Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Delightful English Tradition of Beating Parish Boundaries With Sticks

Or, why you may have seen 40 branch-wielding people in Oxford shouting “Mark, mark!”

At the back of the women’s shoe section of the Marks and Spencer department store in Oxford, England, behind a rack of summer sandals, next to the elevator, you’ll find an odd thing. It’s out of place, doesn’t belong among this season’s pumps and slingbacks. Shoppers pass by oblivious, not noticing there’s a relic of ancient Oxford right under their noses. The mysterious object is a carved stone, protected by a glass panel set into the wall. It reads; St Peter le Baily, St Martin, All Saints and St Aldate. The stone used to stand in an alleyway that was later engulfed by the store. It marked the boundary between three ancient church parishes, its original position shown by a metal plaque in the floor nearby. May 25 is Ascension Day in the Christian calendar. On this day a priest with a white beard, robes flowing behind him, strides past a display of sunglasses followed by 40 people all carrying long willow wands, taller than themselves. Store staff stand aside, shoppers pause to stare. The group gathers around the metal plaque. The priest kneels and writes on it with chalk, steps back and the crowd shout “Mark! Mark! Mark!”, beating the plaque with their willow wands. “We’ve got to pick up the pace!” shouts the priest, dashing out of the doors and crossing the street into a shopping mall, followed closely by his motley congregation. Read More

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Beating the bounds
It was customary to whip all of the boys of the parish with switches at each boundary marker or to bump their heads against the marker or where the marker was a body of water, to dunk them in the water. The boys received this rough treatment in order that they did not forget the boundary of the parish.
Photo credit: Emily Cleaver, Atlas Obscura

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