Ascension Day

By Gustave Doré, L'Ascension

Forty Days after Easter

According to Biblical accounts, the posthumous Christ first appeared to be risen from the dead forty days prior to his ascension into heaven. As such, forty days after Easter marks Ascension Day, which was the day after Rogationtide, a period of three days which included a procession to the parish borders where the landmarks would be beaten and blessed in a tradition known as Beating the Bounds. The customs acknowledged during Rogationtide would be set out on Gang Day on 25 April each year, and Ascension Day would be their conclusion.

In some parts of historic Britain, and also in mainland Europe, it was customary to hold an Ascension service where a hole would be cut into the church roof and an effigy of Christ would be hoisted up before the congregation until it disappeared beyond the ceiling. Then Satan would be lowered in, followed by coals and stones. The locals would watch this spectacle and cheer, then traditionally eat roast chicken before drinking heavily, as the day was one of merriment.

To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.

Acts 1:3–4, KJV

There were various superstitions associated with Ascension Day, many of which were linked to the weather. A sunny Ascension Day would signal a forthcoming hot Summer, whereas raining would mean the year would be filled with disease for crops and livestock, reducing the annual yields. Clouds were said to form images of lambs, or even Biblical scenes, and it was perceived in some areas to be unlucky to work on Ascension Day, particularly in Wales. Eggs laid on the day were said to never rot or go bad, and good fortune could be brought to a house by placing an Ascension Day egg upon the roof.

Ascension Day is still noted in the church calendar, but it holds little sway over modern Britain, and the traditions of luck and weather divination have long gone from the day.

Gustave Doré, L'Ascension
Gustave Doré, L’Ascension, Public Domain
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