Maidens' Funeral Garlands in Holy Trinity Church - Ashford

Compiled by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2003

Holy Trinity is one of very few Churches known to retain Maidens' Funeral Garlands also known as ‘Crowns’ or ‘Crantz’ (‘Crants’). Four now remain in Ashford church, out of seven known to exist originally. They were carried before the coffin at the funeral service of young girls who were unfortunate enough to die as maidens, and - traditionally - by a girl of a similar age to the deceased. They were composed of rosettes made of white paper, and fixed to a wooden (circular) frame. A paper glove, or handkerchief was draped on the crown, with the name, age and date of death of the girl written on it, often with a verse of poetry included. The white glove, or handkerchief was a symbol of the Maiden's purity - having its origins perhaps in the tradition that at an Assize Court, a visiting Judge would sometimes be handed a pair of white gloves as an indication that no crimes had been committed since his last visit.

After the funeral, the garlands would be hung above the family pew. The oldest garland in the church is believed to be in memory of Anne HOWARD who died on April 12th 1747, aged 21. The last one belonged to Elizabeth BLACKWELL who died in 1801 - tradition says she was drowned in the river [1]. It is not known for whom the other two were created. Naturally over the years, the paper has become yellowed and the garlands are fragile, but this does not detract in the least from their beauty and pathos as reminders of this poignant old custom.

It has been suggested the custom originated in Scandinavia, or amongst the Germanic Races; indeed the practice was mentioned in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark following the death of Ophelia:-

Yet here she is allow'd her virgin crants,
Her maiden strewments, and the bringing home
Of bell and burial.

Although this custom may have been practised in many parishes, there are only two other churches I am aware of in Derbyshire where garlands have survived. There are six Funeral Garlands in Matlock Church, one of which has been restored, and is on display inside a glass case. The other church which has surviving crantz is at Trusley. All of them are at least 150 years old, as the practice is known to have died out during the 1830s.

Reference

[1] The possibility of her drowning seems a real one. The Holy Trinity parish register contains a baptism of Elizabeth daughter of John and Mary Blackwell of Bridge Foot on 9th January 1785, and a burial of Elizabeth Blackwell, daughter of John and Mary, on 12th November 1801 - so obviously living by the river, and she would have been aged just 16. There appears to have been no similar record of Ann Howard's burial.

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URL of this page: http://places.wishful-thinking.org.uk/DBY/Ashford/Crantz.html
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