A good friend of mine in the village I live had an idea that he wanted me to join him with: To Beat the Bounds of our village to mark Rogationtide… does it sound like I’m writing gibberish?! It was certainly the first I had heard of Rogationtide and the proposal sounded fascinating when my friend described it… he wanted me to join in an old tradition dating back to the UK from the 740′ and where the origin dates from France in the 4th century! ‘It will be fun,’ he reassured me. Well, it was fun, and a wonderful tonic after a few days of late nights, too many cooked breakfasts and lots of meetings being away with our Baptist Union General Assembly in Blackpool. 

Beating the bounds

Here is some history and information that I dug up from  a useful web site: click here for more info but here is the cream of the info from the web-site:  


The Rogation Days, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day, originated in Vienne, France in 470 after a series of natural disasters had caused much suffering among the people. Archbishop Mamertus proclaimed a fast and ordered that special litanies and prayers be said as the population processed around their fields, asking God’s protection and blessing on the crops that were just beginning to sprout. The Latin word rogare means “to ask”, thus these were “rogation” processions. In an agricultural society, closely connected with the soil and highly vulnerable to the uncertainties of nature, this was an idea that took root quickly, and the custom spread around Europe and over to Britain. The Sunday before the Rogation Days came to be considered a part of Rogationtide (or “Rogantide”) and was known as Rogation Sunday. The Gospel formerly appointed for that day was from John 16, where Jesus tells his disciples to ask, and you shall receive.

While technically they were days of fasting, for which they were

Rogation procession in Bedford
Rogation procession in Bedford

also known as “Grass Days,” for the meatless meals that were enjoined, the Rogation Days developed into a popular festival, celebrating the arrival of spring and serving other purposes, as well. Other names for these days include “Gang Days,” from the Anglo-Saxongangen, “to go,” and “Cross Days,” both titles signifying the processions with crosses and banners around the countryside. In some parishes, the procession took more than one day and the whole business became an occasion for several days of picnics and revels of all sorts, particularly among those who trooped along at the fringes of the religious aspects of the procession.

The route of the walk was around the boundaries of the parish, which was a civil as well as a religious unit. Thus, the processions were useful in teaching people, particularly the young, their parish boundaries. Known as “beating the bounds,” the processions customarily stopped at boundary marks and other significant landmarks of the parish, such as a venerable tree, or a great rock, or perhaps a pond. The priest would read the Gospel and perhaps affix a cross to the landmark. Then the boys of the parish would suffer some indignity intended to help them remember the spot. Boys were bumped about against rocks and trees, thrown into the water, held upside-down over fences, thrown into bramble patches, or beaten with willow wands–and then given a treat in compensation. In later times, the marchers beat the boundary marker with the willow wands, beating the bounds, rather than the boys!


For my walk with my friend I took a small bottle of oil with me and on various points of the walk I made a symbol of the cross as a silent prayer for blessing the land. It was for me a powerful prayer walk as well as a great opportunity to spend time with a good friend outside our usual meeting place of the local pub. 

On the walk we saw many things, like where ancient woodland used to be and clues of Oxslips and blue bells indicated the old boundaries of woodland where now arable farming takes place. We also spotted Fallow Deer, lots of birds like the Yellow Wagtale and a number of butterfly too. A sacred part of the walk for me was noticing the wildlife around us… I learnt much and caught hold of an ancient tradition of blessing the crops and land. 

Great Gransden

2 thoughts on “I’ve just been Beating the Bounds… no really, I have!

  1. You must have been hiding in the Baptist church and not encountered old Anglican traditions before. There are some traditions that it is a good idea to retain and update. Walking around the edge of the parish has the benefit of helping people realise which parish they live in. However it is easy to adapt the idea into a prayer walk and they can be incredibly powerful.

    One of the things my ex-husband told our daughter shortly after I had moved out of what had became his house was there were little crosses all over the place. Walls doors, door frames furniture and more had discrete little crosses. There was a few months when we shared a house but life was not easy because he had made himself into my enemy. I coped by praying around the house with a bottle of water I had blessed. It was the best way I knew to change the atmosphere in the house after he had left it under the influence of a negative mood. At the time it was my house as well so I could do with it what I wanted and did! Not standard Baptist practice but definitely not unChristian.

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