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Shenington is thought to be the UK’s only church to still lay down fresh grass in its aisles; Whitsun tradition will see the grass in place for three weeks
– and he still uses the same scythe!
Christopher Hawtin has, for the 38th year, partaken in the annual tradition of grass-strewing in Shenington church. On Saturday May 14th, he cut fresh grass from an area within Shenington’s churchyard and laid it on the aisles and around the font of the church, following a tradition that probably dates back to the Middles Ages and is timed to coincide with Whitsun (Sunday May 15th) and the Trinity period.
Christopher Hawtin and his forefathers have been strewing the grass by hand since the 1800s (and maybe even longer!) using the very same scythe. The first record of grass strewing in Shenington is 1720. Village records prior to that were burned in a significant fire and it is highly likely that the practice has never stopped. It is thought that Shenington is the only church in the country that still strews grass, although rush-bearing is practiced in a few churches.
“The Hawtin family, that’s my father Donald and I, have been strewing grass in Shenington Church for 38 years. Before that, it was Donald’s uncle, Percy Cook and his father Walker Cook. We use the same scythe to cut the grass by hand that has been used by generations before. Probably no one else knows how to use it! The grass comes from an area within the churchyard itself, which is why it’s kept so long before May. Longer grass works better.
“People often come from afar at this time of year to experience the sight and smell of a very old English tradition. We know of couples that specifically ask to get married when the grass is laid, and some that ask for it to be taken out for their wedding day because they have hay fever! I replace the grass after the first Sunday. There is nothing like the smell of fresh grass in the church.”
Putting a layer of fresh grass on the aisles and around the font of the church probably dates back to the Middle Ages when the earthern floor would have been covered with rushes. These would have been changed once a year and certainly in the spring.
The grass-strewing always takes place prior to Whit Sunday (or Pentecost), which marks the festival of the Holy Trinity. The grass stays in place for a further three Sundays after Pentecost. Grass-strewing is thought to be less of a religious observation and more about giving the church a spring clean.
The Hawtin family has many local history books referencing old English, and Shenington in particular, village traditions. From one of them, shown below is an image of Percy Cook and his brother Sidney Cook, Christopher’s relatives strewing the grass at Shenington Church in 1967.
Although the grass was laid on May 14th, it will be in place until the end of the month if you want to visit.
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