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St Mary the Virgin, Abbots Ann

The Virgins’ Crowns

Candles Candles

Abbotts Ann is one of the very few parishes in which the medieval custom of awarding Virgins’ Crowns has survived. In the early days of Christianity, funeral garlands were emblems of Virgin Martyrs and the practice of making maidens’ garlands presumably derives from that. Shakespeare, in referring to the burial of Ophelia, says “she is allowed her virgin crants (crown)”. A crown may he requested by the relatives of the deceased person, who must have been born, baptised, confirmed and have died, unmar-ried, in the parish, and must have been of unblemished reputation. The crown must be made of freshly cut hazelwood (virgin wood), and is decorated with black and white paper rosettes. Five parchment gauntlets hang from the frame. On one of these are written the name, age and year of death of the deceased, and on each of the other four a verse of a hymn is inscribed. At the funeral service the crown is suspended from a white rod and carried in procession by two young girls dressed in white. After the funeral the crown is hung from the front of the gallery for three weeks, and if it is not challenged it is then hung from a bracket near the ceiling of the church, with a scutcheon bearing the name and date.

No crowns survive from the earlier church, hut since the rebuilding forty-nine crowns have been hung, thirteen of them for young boys and the rest for girls and women. Tradition has it that when a crown deteriorates and falls it is not re-hung. The daughter of headmaster Monty Dance remembered her grand-mother, on Sunday mornings sailing into church and turning right to bow to the Virgin’s crown which commemorated Sarah Jane Dance. The last two of these funerals took place in 1953 and 1973. Miss Florence Jane Wisewell, aged 72, who lived in Little Ann, was buried with due ceremony in Sept. 1953. The burial was widely reported, indeed a cutting sent from an American paper referred to “England’s Answer to the Kinsey Report”. (This was a well-publicised document on sexual behaviour.) The last burial was that of Miss Lily Myra Annetts aged 73′ of Church Lane. Among the crowns already hanging in the church is one for her young brother, William George Annetts, who died in 1918 aged 15. With today’s increasingly mobile population very few people are likely to spend all their lives in one parish and this ancient custom may disappear.

The following information kindly supplied by Tim Tayler - 

  1. Lily Myra Annetts - Aged 73 (1973)
  2. Mary Jane Baker - Aged 45 (1921)
  3. William George Annetts - Aged 15 (1919)
  4. George Cook - Aged 18 (1839)
  5. J C Best - Aged 29 (1840)
  6. Elizabeth Seaward - Aged 15 (1884)
  7. Margaret Guyatt - Aged 7 (1841)
  8. Robert Perrett - Aged 30 (1842)
  9. James Perrett - Aged 33 (1842)
  10. Catherine Martin - Aged 15 (1842)
  11. Charlotte Allen - Aged 77 (1911)
  12. Florence Jane Wisewell - Aged 72 (1953)
  13. Louisa Cripps - Aged 10 (1842)
  14. Mary Lansly - Aged 29 (1843)
  15. Elizabeth Tredgold Ray - Aged 24 (1847)
  16. Thomas Byam Martin - Aged 19 (1847)
  17. Betsy Wells - Aged 6 (1850)
  18. William Downton - Aged 27 (1852)
  19. Sarah May - Aged 14 (1854)
  20. Ann Sugg - Aged 42 (1906)
  21. James Annetts - Aged 31 (1855)
  22. Henry T(Homas) W Wise - Aged 15 (1870)
  23. William Mundy Tamlyn - Aged 16? (1855)?
  24. Mary Fennell - Aged 24 (1811)
  25. Ellen Bantam - Died Feb 13th 1861
  26. Mary Dear - Aged 46 (1871)
  27. John Morrant (1740)
  28. Lucy May Tapp - Aged 22 (1855)
  29. Mary Hickson - Aged 16 (1812)
  30. Fanny Asher - Aged 18 (1856)
  31. Marianne Geraldine Fenwick - Aged 43 (1919)
  32. Martha Andrews - Aged 12 (1812)
  33. Alexander Clark (1816)
  34. Hannah Redman - Aged 11 (1821)
  35. Rosa Ann Hardy - Aged 15 (1874)
  36. George Stone Aged 19 (1823)
  37. John Redman - Aged 19 (1823)
  38. Charles Hopgood - Aged 28 (1824)
  39. Sarah Meads - Aged 16 (1824)
  40. Louisa May Rumsey - Aged 27 (1890)
  41. Mary Maud Fennell - Aged 25 (1892)
  42. Hannah Orchard - Aged 36 (1826)
  43. Frances Fennell - Aged 25 (1831)
  44. Sarah Jane Dance - Aged 25 (1897)
  45. M(Artha) A(Nn)Tapp - Aged 12 (1837)
  46. Sarah Maslin - Aged 22 (1837)
  47. Elizabeth Annie Edmunds - Aged 45 (1915)
  48. Louisa Poore - Aged 16 (1835)
  49. Ann Fennell - Aged 17 (1837)