John Speller's Web Pages Holy Innocents

John Speller's Web Pages

Holy Innocents
The Feast of the Holy Innocents, otherwise known as Childermas, is the Fourth Day of Christmas, celebrated on December 28 (December 29 in the Eastern Orthodox Church, except the Syrian Orthodox which keeps it on December 27). Childermas was considered an inauspicious day and it was believed to be unwise to begin any new journey or undertaking on this day - or, indeed, upon the day of the week that Childermas fell in the whole of the ensuing year. King Edward IV delayed his coronation to avoid this. Muffled peals of bells were traditionally rung in certain parish churches, including Churchdown, Woodchester, Dursley, Great Risington and Ampney Crucis in the Diocese of Gloucester; Wells Cathedral, Leigh-upon-Mendip, Luccombe, and Selworthy in the Diocese of Bath & Wells; Weobley, Dilwyn and Ross in the Diocese of Hereford; and at Magdalen College and Burton-on-the-Water in the Diocese of Oxford. Another of the customs of Childermas Day among the lawyers of the Middle Temple in London was to elect a "King of the Cockneys" who presided over the feast together with his officers -- a marshal, constable and butler. Elsewhere a Boy Bishop was elected to preside over the feast.

It has recently become customary for some churches to hold a "Blue Christmas" service around midwinter for the benefit of those for whom Christmas holds tragic or painful memories and associations. The traditional way of dealing with this however -- and a way that I think is still very helpful to many -- is by celebrating the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28. The Feast of the Holy Innocents was particularly popular among nineteenth-century parents whose children had died in infancy. For example here in St. Louis, Charles and Mary Russell, who were local entrepreneurs with interests in clay mining and brick making, and the parents of Charles S. Russell the famous painter of the Wild West, lost two children in infancy before they could be baptized. The couple found particular comfort in the story of the Holy Innocents, and when they founded an Episcopal Church in the Oak Hill neighborhood of south St. Louis in 1871, it was dedicated to the Holy Innocents. The cathartic nature of the symbolism of this festival suits it to people who have bad feelings about Christmas, particularly those who have lost children under tragic circumstances.

A template for such a service may be found here.

Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents, Oak Hill, St. Louis, 1871-1937. Mr. Russell, one of the founders of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, played the reed organ for many years. The reed organ appears to be a "Model 501" built by Mason & Hamlin of Boston, Massachusetts
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