In medieval times, May Day was often celebrated by young men and women dancing on the village green around a specially-decorated tree called a maypole.
Before the dancing began there was also a procession led by a woman appointed May Queen for the day. Sometimes she was accompanied by a May King, who dressed in green to symbolise springtime and fertility.
In Germany, it was the tradition that a fir tree was cut down on May Eve by young unmarried men. The branches were removed and it was decorated and set up in village square. The tree was guarded all night to prevent it being stolen by the men of a neighbouring village. If the guard was foolish enough to fall asleep the going ransom rate for a maypole was a good meal and a barrel of beer.
A similar festival existed in ancient Rome called Floralia, which took place at around the end of April and was dedicated to the Flower Goddess Flora. On May 1, offerings were made the goddess Maia, after which the month of May is named.
Pagan groups call the fertility festival by its Celtic name of Beltane.
The church in the middle ages tolerated the May Day celebrations but the Protestant Reformation of the 17th century soon put a stop to them. The Puritans were outraged at the immorality that often accompanied the drinking and dancing – and Parliament banned maypoles altogether in 1644.
But when Charles II was restored to the throne a few years later, people all over the country put up maypoles as a celebration and a sign of loyalty to the crown.
May Day had a boost in popularity again in the 19th century when the Victorians seized on it as a “rustic delight”. But many of the significant pagan aspects of the day were ignored by our strait-laced ancestors and instead of a fertility rite, dancing around the maypole became a children’s game.
For traditionalists other things to do on May Day include getting up before dawn and going outside to wash your face in dew – according to folklore this keeps the complexion beautiful.
“Bringing in the May” also involves getting up very early, gathering flowers, making them into garlands and then giving them to your friends to wear. If you are feeling particularly charitable, folklore advises that it is good time to make up a “May basket” of flowers to take to someone who needs cheering up.
May Day Bank Holiday Events in Wiltshire.
May Day celebrations in Ansty (1st May)
MAY Day celebrations in Ansty will feature dancing round the maypole, a whole range of stalls, the White Horse Morris and a bar run by the villagers. The Morris Men will then be at the excellent nearby 14th Century Compasses’s Inn from 7.30pm (Great food and Ale)
May Day Fun at Old Wardour Castle. Join English Heritage for some May Day fun this Bank Holiday weekend. Watch Morris dancing, take part in hands-on activities and games and relax in the beautiful surrounds of Old Wardour Castle.
Please visit http://www.english-heritage.org.uk for details
Siege at Old Sarum Castle: Sun 03 & Mon 04 May
Old Sarum is under siege! Experience a 12th century siege as it springs to life in the castle grounds and witness the forces prepare for battle.
With living history encampments, tales of clashes from days gone by, fun and games activities for young time travellers and an awe-inspiring showdown – this will be a great way for the whole family to discover Old Sarum’s bloodthirsty past.
Please visit http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/whats-on/siege-OldSa-03-05-2015/ for details
Visit the excellent Visit Wiltshire website for full details
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
Did you know today (April 18th) is World Heritage Day? Celebrate it with a visit to Stonehenge or Avebury.
World Heritage is the shared wealth of humankind. Protecting and preserving this valuable asset demands the collective efforts of the international community. This special day offers an opportunity to raise the public’s awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability.
On 18th April 1982 on the occasion of a symposium organised by ICOMOS in Tunisia, the holding of the “International Day for Monuments and Sites” to be celebrated simultaneously throughout the world was suggested. This project was approved by the Executive Committee who provided practical suggestions to the National Committees on how to organise this day.
The idea was also approved by the UNESCO General Conference who passed a resolution at its 22nd session in November 1983 recommending that Member States examine the possibility of declaring 18th April each year “International Monuments…
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The story of a dragon-slaying hero is legendary, but how much do we really know about the man behind the myth?
The Real St.George.
Much of St George’s life remains shrouded in mystery and mingled with myths and legend, so it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction.
◾It is thought that St George came from Cappodocia in Asia Minor, and lived at the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (AD 245 – 313), and became a high-ranking cavalry officer in the Army of Rome
◾To Christians, George is a historical figure who was beheaded in Lydda, Palestine (in AD 303) for refusing to carry out Diocletian’s orders for Christian persecution
◾He was canonised in AD 494, with Pope Gelasius proclaiming that he was one of those “whose names are justly revered among men but whose acts are known only to God”
So Where Did the Dragon Come From?
The dragon-slaying hero we celebrate every year didn’t actually become well-known until the 14th century, during the reign of Edward III. The story goes that St George rode into the city of Silene (modern day Libya), to find the people terrorised by a dragon which was fed daily with one of the citizens. St George rose out, slew the dragon and freed the people from their oppressor.
It is highly unlikely that St George ever visited England, but he was known here from as early as the eighth century. His reputation for virtue and chivalry became the spiritual inspiration for the Crusaders, and by 14th century the story had gained widespread popularity.
Did You Know?
◾St George is also the Patron Saint of Bavaria, Beirut, Portugal and Hungary, to name but a few. He’s also patron saint of soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry, farmers and field workers, riders and saddlers, and sufferers of leprosy, the plague and syphilis.
◾Baden Powell also named St George is also the patron saint of Scouts, as “St George was typical of what a scout should be.”
◾At the Synod of Oxford in 1222, St George’s Day was declared a public holiday.
◾Shakespeare died on St George’s Day 1616, and if the story is to be believed, was born on St George’s Day, 1564
English Heritage Events
Calling all knights, dragons and jesters… come and cheer on St George this April as he battles his dastardly fire breathing foe at a historic place near you.
Immerse your family in the action as you learn about England’s heroic patron saint and enjoy the range of fun and games on offer. History hunters of every age will enjoy getting hands-on and cheering our champion as he battles a mighty dragon in a quest to save the fair maiden.
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
26-space coach park is set to be built at Stonehenge and will operate for two years, councillors in Wiltshire have agreed.
English Heritage will convert farmland next to the existing coach park and will include walkways for pedestrians.
Concerns had been raised over increased traffic, landscape impact and what would happen after the two-year period.
Wiltshire Council’s conditions include ensuring the land can easily be returned to its original state.
Last month, the council rejected plans to resurface an overflow car park on the grounds of visual impact on the landscape.
More than 1.3 million people have visited the prehistoric monument since the opening of a new visitor centre in December 2013.
Seven councillors approved the vote, with three against and one abstaining
Full story on the BBC news website
The Stonehenge Travel Company
Guided Tours of Stonehenge from Salisbury