Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wisdom of the past: The rite of "churching" new mothers

It was with great interest that I read the article in Rachel Murphy's Irish Family History blog about the rite of churching. "Churching" refers to the visit to the church and corresponding priestly blessing conferred upon a married woman after the birth of her child. It seems that this was a religious tradition carried on in past centuries. A beautiful idea, yet unfortunately it may have collected some superstitious beliefs along the way.

I revisited this article recently after the birth of my baby. It read:

‘Churching’ refers to a blessing that mothers were given following recovery from childbirth. After remaining at home for 4-6 weeks after giving birth, the woman would go to church where she would thank God for the safe delivery of her child and receive a blessing from the priest. Only married women were eligible for the blessing. They were to be appropriately dressed, and would carry a lighted candle. The priest would then mark the woman with the sign of the cross in holy water.

What struck me when I read this now, after some time has passed following the birth of my new baby, were the words 4-6 weeks. Remain at home for four to six weeks? What a joy that would have been! By the time my baby had reached that age, I had (with baby along, of course) attended the wedding of one family member and was getting ready to take a trip for another family member's wedding, made my way through the hospital several times with one of my other children who had a broken leg, celebrated my little one's Baptism (complete with party afterwards), hosted a birthday party for another child, and begun many of the routine errand-running that life requires.

How I would have liked to have a church-sanctioned reason to stay home for four to six weeks! I have often wondered how mothers have navigated through motherhood throughout the centuries. Life did not slow down for this mother of several children living in today's world. It seems that new motherhood may have been a little bit different for mothers of new babies in previous generations. Our modern disposable diapers and other conveniences (like car seats, strollers and baby carriers) make it too easy to be mobile too soon.

Several times after the birth of my little one I have wished that the world would stop for a few weeks so that I could enjoy my new baby without all the distractions of the rest of life. Too late I've discovered the excuse I should have used: the long-ago tradition of churching. It would have allowed me to tell friends and family, "Sorry, but I can't leave the house yet. It's not yet time for me to be 'churched'. I'm staying home with my baby."

Painting: Berthe Morisot's The Cradle, 1872.

1 comment:

Apple said...

An interesting tradition. I did stay home four or five weeks after each of my children were born, except for our doctor visits. I look back now and know how special that time was. At the time though I just felt isolated and lonely.

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