Maidens' Garlands


Maidens' Garlands
(Virgins' Garlands, Virgins' Crowns)
   These were formerly constructed to mark the death of a local person, usually but not exclusively female, who had led an unblemished life and had died unmarried. The *garland was carried over the coffin at the funeral and then hung in the church, where it stayed until it rotted away. Methods of construction and exact details of the custom varied from place to place, but the following description is a reasonable synopsis:
   They are made of variegated coloured paper, representing flowers, fastened to small sticks crossing each other at the top, and fixed at the bottom by a circular hoop. From the centre is suspended the form of a woman's glove cut in white paper, on which the name and age of the deceased are sometimes written. (Brockett, 1825: 225)
   Earlier references mention fresh flowers and real gloves, but in later examples paper rosettes and glove shapes were more common. The custom was clearly very widespread in England, but changing fashions in religion and local church life gradually wiped it out. Old garlands were often swept away when a local church was rebuilt or 'renovated'. Examples can still be seen in churches and museums (listed by Spriggs), and the church of St Mary the Virgin, Abbotts Ann, Hampshire, is the one parish which still continues the custom.
   Aubrey, 1686: 109; Gareth M. Spriggs, Folk Life 21 (1982/3) 21-35; Chambers, 1878: i. 271-4; Brears, 1989: 178-203; N&Q172 (1937), 30, 156, 231, 302-3; 181 (1941), 91, 1234, 148, 166, 223, 277.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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