The origins of Rogation Sunday date back to the 5th Century AD when Bishop Memertus of Viennes, France, came up with the idea of setting aside the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Ascension Day as a time for fasting and prayer to ask for God’s blessing and also for His protection.
The word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin ‘rogare’, meaning ‘to ask or beseech’. At this time (461-475AD), France experienced an unusual number of natural disasters from earthquakes to plagues and so Bishop Memertus called the people to repent in the hope that these disasters would stop. He led processions in which the whole community took part, reciting prayers and asking God to bring them peace, good weather and an abundant harvest.
From 511, western Christians were observing Minor Rogations and in England, they were called ‘Gang’ or ‘Gange’ Days from the the Anglo-Saxon word ‘gangen’ meaning ‘to walk’ or ‘to go’.
As the centuries past, Rogationtide became the time to bless the field and crops, but was also used to reconfirm the existence of parish boundaries. No maps of course, but often a wall, tree, river and even dwellings marked the boundary and as the congregation processed the priest would sprinkle holy water on the site. To ensure that the younger members of the congregation, usually the choir boys, never forgot where the boundaries point were, they were ‘bumped’ or beaten against the boundaries and even thrown in to the boundary streams!
Until about 25 years ago , the Benefice used to beat the bounds with families riding on tractors and trailers all around the parish, but health and safety legislation stopped that very enjoyable family fun!
To mark Rogation Sunday on 10th May 2015, members of the benefice congregation at St. Hubert’s, Idsworth, carrying twigs re-enacted the beating of the bounds around the church yard with young members (being choir boys) marking each corner as they went. Don’t worry, no child was actually beaten!