24 June 2020

The Festival of St John the Baptist

A post on Spilalfields Life blog by Margaret Willes introduces her new book The Domestic Herbal, Plants for the Home in the Seventeenth Century to be published by the Bodleian Library on 26th June. It includes the following about today's festival.

There was also a floral tradition at the opposite part of the year, to celebrate the festival of St John the Baptist on 24th June. John Stow in his chronicles of London described how every door was garlanded with birch, fennel, orpine and lilies. Orpine, a sedum, has the alternative names of ‘livelong’ because of its lasting qualities, and ‘midsummer men’ because of its connections with the summer festival. Another herb connected with midsummer was mugwort, which Culpeper attributed to Venus, hastening delivery in childbirth. Along with St John’s Wort, the herb was burnt on St John’s Eve to purify communities, probably one of a series of examples of how a pagan practice was adopted by the Church.

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