Shrove Tuesday

By Pieter Aertsen, The Pancake Bakery

Day before Ash Wednesday

Shrove Tuesday marks the last day before Lent. Following Jesus’ period of fasting in the desert, tradition holds that Lent is a period of forty days of fasting, which often means sacrificing luxuries and rich foods. As such, Shrove Tuesday is the final day in which treats can be consumed, leading to it being colloquially known as Pancake Day.

Historically, Shrove Tuesday would mark the last day of Shrovetide, which began on Septuagesima. The palm leaves kept from the previous year’s Palm Sunday would be burned and the ashes collected for the following day, Ash Wednesday, which began the Lenten season. The word Shrove comes from the medieval word ‘shrive’, which meant ‘to absolve’ and was linked to confession. At midday, churches would ring the shriving bell, signalling the local parish to come to receive absolution before Lent.

In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do.

Ælfric of Eynsham, Ecclesiastical Institutes

In Britain, certain foods were prohibited during Lent, including butter, eggs, and fats. Shrove Tuesday would therefore be the last day these items could be used, and pancakes presented a simple and tasty way of cooking them. In British historical legend, a woman from Olney in Buckinghamshire was making pancakes when she heard the shriving bell, so she ran to church wearing her apron and holding her frying pan. The shriving bell came to signify the time from which people could begin frying, and so pancakes could not be cooked until after midday.

Shrove Tuesday remains a popular celebration, though it is arguably better known as Pancake Day. As language and customs have changed, the ringing of the shriving bell and use of the word ‘shrive’ are rare, and Lent has become associated secularly with self-improvement instead of divine sacrifice. Pancakes, however, continue to be cooked on Shrove Tuesday, and the superstition of waiting until after midday is still prevalent throughout the United Kingdom.

Pieter Aertsen, The Pancake Bakery
Pieter Aertsen, The Pancake Bakery, Public Domain
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