From the Thorley Archives

Thorley's Rogation Day

On Sunday 25th May this year St James the Great hosted a Civic Service to celebrate the past 100 years in the life of the parish of Thorley.

The service launched a day of village events held in conjunction with the anticipated publication of a book entitled 'The Book of Thorley - Chronicles of a Century'. The highlight of the afternoon was a community fete and pageant organised on the cricket ground together with exhibitions in the old school building. The busy day was rounded off with a reception for the book's many contributors that evening in the St Barnabas Centre.

Rogation Sunday was chosen for this unique occasion as it reaffirmed the identity of the village of Thorley, even though much of the original village has been 'lost' to neighbouring Bishop's Stortford. Following the 11.15 church service, the ancient tradition of Beating of the Bounds was re-enacted by the choir and congregation, albeit along only a short half an hour stretch of the parish paths. Our Rector, Reverend Bob Payne, in his address to a packed church, interpreted the message from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 verses 1 to 14. 'For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven'. Whilst we were there to review and celebrate 100 years of village life, change was inevitable in human life and God expects and wants it. He has given us the desire to know the future - 'God has set eternity in the hearts of men'. Bob's choice of hymns reflected and reinforced these thoughts, 'Be Still, for the Presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here' and 'O Breath of Life, Come Sweeping Through Us'.

The congregation was then invited to follow the choir down the path from Thorley Hall farm to Fiddlers Brook where the hymn, 'Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided', was sung. After the Rector's prayers, the procession moved on through Brook Field to a second hymn stop near Mel Field. Protected by umbrellas from a sudden light shower and with the lead of Anna's Smith's treble recorder, the hymn, 'Now thank we all our God', followed by a blessing of the fields, concluded our short re-enactment of the ancient Beating of the Bounds ceremony.


  'Now thank we all our God'

As with so many Christian traditions, the folklore of 'beating of the bounds' derives from pagan customs of 2000 years ago. Processions took place at a time when map reading skills were limited. Regular walking and inspection of the bounds was undertaken to make sure those boundaries were intact and that land had not been acquired by a neighbouring tribe or, in later years, by a manorial landowner. Landmarks such as large stones were put in place and established features such as streams and roads formed the basis for agreed boundaries between estates. Even today ancient oak trees can be identified as boundary markers between parishes. The 'beating' of a parish boundary for both Christian and legal ceremonies became woven together as church jurisdiction succeeded that of the authority of manorial estates. Civil parish boundaries only came into being in the 1890s.

The name 'Rogationtide' derives from the Latin rogatio meaning to ask, beseech or intercede. Rogation days were the time of year when God's blessing was asked for the seeds sown in the Spring. During each pause at a boundary marker, the priest would give a blessing on the crops in the fields. Our own limited Rogation Day walk reminds us that all life is a gift from God.


Bill Hardy
July 2003

From the Archives