wandering the moorlands
September 14: Roodmas
September’s Roodmas1 feast (one of two historic celebrations known as ‘Roodmas’ - the other being on May 3 & celebrating the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross) is a harvest celebration known more commonly today as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Commemorating the finding of a piece of the Cross by St. Helena (Constantine’s mother), as well as its recovery after it had been taken, this harvest aspect of the twin Roodmas feasts2 is fixed at a pinnacle time in the agricultural year - fitting, as both the agricultural harvest and the the liturgical feast celebrate a fulfillment, a fullness of time made manifest.
Naturally, the harvest season’s weather on this date loomed large in Roodmas celebration & folklore:
If dry by the buck’s horn
On Holyrood morn,
‘Tis worth a kist of gold;
But if wet it be seen
Ere Holyrood e’en,
Bad harvest is foretold.3
Legend says that St. Helena, searching for the Cross for weeks, happened upon a fragrant basil plant growing in an otherwise desolate hillside; when they began to dig at that spot, the True Cross was found. Packing basil pesto into jars to preserve this beautiful herb for colder months, & thinking about these old legends, I imagined the “buck…On Holyrood morn” happening upon the humble basil - a harvest emblem marking a place of holiness & completion.
Many thanks to my friend Sally for joining me in this imagining - she’s offered up a lovely Roodmas poem for us all:
The Belling - A Prayer For Roodmas
by S. E. Reid
we search high and low
for a glimpse of the True Cross,
its pieces scattered here and there
living and dead;
and all the while,
Christ alone knows the secret.
but He is wandering the moorlands
and the mountains
among the belling
of the deer;
the September fields
where a farmer waits to see
if Roodmas be fine or no.
Christ speaks, sings,
that the harvest is secure,
and in the berried hedgerow
a doe twitches
her softly listening ear.
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“Rood” is from the Old English rōd, meaning a pole or cross. Be sure to read the Dream of the Rood, an Old English poem (dating back perhaps to even the 8th century), in which the narrator has a vision that he is speaking to Jesus’ cross.
The Liturgical Calendar has never been static; feast days have shifted over time, and in some cases - as with Roodmas - combinations occur. Today, the Western calendar places the celebration of both the “invention” (finding) of the Cross (previously held on May 3) as well as its recovery & exaltation on September 14.
Yorkshire saying from Weather Lore, compiled by Richard Inwards, 1898