Sunday, May 6 is Rogation Sunday (the Sixth Sunday of Easter). At the 10 am service, the Chapel will also make our annual trek to the Morrow Plots to bless them.
Rogation Sunday is the day when the Church has traditionally offered prayer for God’s blessings on the fruits of the earth and the labors of those who produce our food. The word “rogation” is from the Latin rogare, “to ask.” Historically, the Rogation Days (the three days before Ascension Day) were a period of fasting and abstinence, beseeching God’s blessing on the crops for a bountiful harvest.
Beating the Bounds
In medieval England the Rogation Days were observed with processions that began in the local church and proceeded to outline the boundaries of the parish, pausing occasionally for the recitation of prayers. Priests and cross-bearers led these long walks in the countryside. Accordingly, the English sometimes called the Rogation Days the “Walking Days” from the Old Anglo-Saxon name for the observance, Gang Daegas, meaning approximately “Day of Going About.” People tended to turn the event into an expression of pride in their parish. On occasion, an excess of “team spirit” led some parish groups to attack others that they encountered.
In England, Rogation processions served an important social as well as religious function by teaching youth the parish boundary lines in an era when maps were not in common circulation. The name likely comes from the common custom of beating the boundary markers with wooden wands so as to impress their location upon the memory. In some parish processions, adults and children who took part in these excursions were rewarded with coins, sweets, fruit, nuts, bread, cheese, or ale along the way.
Although modern surveying techniques therefore make the ceremony completely obsolete in any practical sense, many English parishes still carry out a regular beating of the bounds, as a way of strengthening the community and giving it a sense of place.
The Chapel of Saint John the Divine has long observed Rogation Sunday by asking for God’s blessings upon the Morrow Plots. The Morrow Plots is an experimental agricultural field at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the oldest example of such in the United States. We treat it as a joyous celebration and we invite you to join us!