St Mark’s Eve
24 April – The feast day of St Mark the Evangelist (founder of the Church of Alexandria) falls on 25th April, but there are some interesting folk customs that fall on the eve of the feast.
Divining Who Is To Die
Between the 17th and 19th century it was thought that holding a vigil in a church porch during the hours of 11.00pm through to 1.00am on three successive years would reveal the identities of those due to die and be buried in the churchyard over the coming year as their apparitions (or coffins or headless corpses depending on the source) entered the church in procession. This was a tradition throughout Britain though probably more popular in the North and West. It is no wonder then that there are variations on the tradition. Some accounts say this vigil must be repeated each year of your live instead of just three. Others say the exterior of church had to walked around before the vigil begins and some say that those undertaking the task had to be fasting.
‘Tis now, replied the village belle,
St. Mark’s mysterious eve,
And all that old traditions tell
I tremblingly believe;
How, when the midnight signal tolls,
Along the churchyard green,
A mournful train of sentenced souls
In winding-sheets are seen.
The ghosts of all whom death shall doom
Within the coming year,
In pale procession walk the gloom,
Amid the silence drear.’
Divining For Future Husbands
St Marks Eve was also the time when young maids would try to use divination to discover the identity of their true love and husband to be. One method was to hang their smock before the fireplace and await for the arrival of an apparition of the man your due to marry to come in and turn it for you.
On St. Mark’s eve, at twelve o’clock,
The fair maid will watch her smock,
To find her husband in the dark,
By praying unto good St. Mark.’
In North Kelsey, Lincolnshire young women would visit the Maiden Well on St Marks Eve. ‘Girls coming to the spring with the view of divination must walk towards it backwards, and go round it three times in the same manner, each girl, meanwhile, wishing the wish that she may see her destined sweetheart. After the third circle is complete, the inquirer must kneel down and gaze into the spring, in which she will see her lover looking up out of the depths.’
(County Folk-Lore by Gutch and Peacock,1908)
Another method of employed by young women was to place a nut by the heath and whisper the name of the man they believe may be their true love. If the nut jumped from the fire then the love was meant to be.