Sacred Texts  Sagas & Legends  England  Index  Previous  Next 


The fourth Sunday in Lent is in most Lancashire towns called Simnel Sunday, and Simnel cakes--ornamental and rich cakes like those made at 'Xmas time--are eaten. A writer in The Gentleman's Magazine (1867) informs us that "from time beyond memory thousands of persons come from all parts to that town (Bury) to eat Simnels. Formerly, nearly every shop was open, with all the public-houses, quite in defiance of the law respecting the closing during 'service'; but of late years, through the improved state of public opinion, the disorderly scenes to which the custom gave rise have been partially amended. Efforts have been made to put a stop to the practice altogether, but in vain." This was forty years ago, and the trade in Bury "Simnels," owing to quick and cheap transit, has practically put an end to the local celebrations. The origin of the word Simnel is in doubt. In Wright's Vocabularies it appears thus: "Hic arlaecopus=symnelle." This form was in use during the fifteenth century. In the Dictionarius of John de Garlande, completed in Paris in the thirteenth century, it appears thus:--"Simeneus=placentae=simnels." Such cakes were stamped with the figure of Christ or of the Virgin. We can only conclude that as cakes--witness the shewbread of the Hebrews--have always occupied an important place in early forms of worship, there was a successful effort in the north to localise a Christianised form of celebration; for the mixture of joviality and religious austerity which characterised Simnel Sunday in past centuries is in keeping with the same display on other occasions in countries further south.

Next: (4) Maunday Thursday (Or Shere Thursday)