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Churching of Women in Medieval Times

By: Andrea Moss **

This Wiki page is a review of the ritual of "churching of women" in medieval times. My research will include the process of purification for women after childbirth and how it relates to the church. Research will include the process of "Churching of Women", the ceremony, the prayer, and its history through mid15th century. It will conclude with defining if they purification ritual was really done to purify women or for financial/political gain of the church.

Article Analysis

Precis 1:
Article Analysis - Purification and the Churching of Women in Post Reformation England

The author David Cressy attempts to define the purification or churching of women in medieval times (1100 - 1500) and the complications in the region of France. The article attempts to define purification, churching of women or thanksgiving as a ritual to women after childbirth. Cressy explores the political and the spiritual complications involved in performing the ritual and how the ritual as it related to these topics sparked controversy over time.

The role of the woman
The role of the church

The ceremony of "Churching of women"
Purification of wed and unwed mother was required of woman. The woman should have the purification performed within 1 month after child birth. The woman attended the service with her mid-wives, and other women that were involved with the actual birth of the child. Expectation was to be in the proper attire. Were blessed with holy water kneeling at the alter by the Priest. The Church priest and the act were considered a rite of passage for women to clean them of impurities and giving thanks for surviving childbirth.
The woman was not pure after childbirth until she completed the ceremony of "Churching" or "Thanksgiving' To ensure the ceremony was properly performed and within the guidelines of the church. Blessed the impure woman before she entered the church and ceremonial pray read. Did not allow the woman back into the church after childbirth unless they completed their purification ceremony.
Wearing of the veil
An Essex woman in 1614 protested wearing the veil stating that whores wore veils and the harlot that invented it was a whore, Some women felt the veil was a custom/tradition. Against tradition or law many women still refused to wear the veil.
Elizabethian and Early Jacobean bishops felt that issue of wearing the veil was a matter of the woman option and not worthy of debate. Puritans felt the veil was of importance within the ceremony Others felt the veil should be worn because it distinguished the woman being churched from the women that were required to accompany her to the ceremony. In 1620 Samuel Harsnett insisted that all candidates wear veils to their churching and threatened action against them if they did not
The churching ceremony
Were required to give offering of their Included feasting and drinking Socialization for women and gossiping Women of social status wore lavish clothing and fashionable hats Woman did not see themselves as being impure after childbirth, but did like the attention and blessing after childbirth.
Ministers ensured guidelines were in place to control provocative behavior, exceed gaiety and laughter. Due to excessive spending on feast priest were forced to ensure limitations on certain food items The churching provided for the end of the woman’s privileged month and the end of the man month of gander.
Political Aspects
Women displayed numerous acts of rebellion against the ritual of churching Women were allowed to attend church within the month after childbirth but were to abstain from household chores and relations with the husband. It was argued was Churching "done to women" or was it "done for woman". Salisbury between 1569 and 1592 church wives has to pay for churching’s or offer their Chrisom used on the child during childbirth or they were indebted to the church.
Priest brought action against women who did not perform the ceremony or refused churching. Women were refused Churching by certain Priests if they did not wear a veil. If the woman did not have the proper offering they were fined and priests made an abundance of money off of churching. There was not much uniformity with the ceremony or its requirements which caused a lot of the charges against the church.
Cressy details the importance of churching for religious order and how the church made money from churching. Cressy also explains how women favored churching because it was seen as an opportunity to socialize/gossip with other women, feast, drink, and be the center of attention for the moment. As with many of our other class readings the church experienced many mis-understandings of this rite. The ceremony in its self was always challenged due to the different viewpoints, authority, and due to many people not understanding it there was often times of rejection.

Precis 2:
Article Analysis- Reconsidering an Obsolete Rite: The Churching of Women and Feminist Liturgical Theology

The author Natalie Knodel gives a history of churching and its implications to medieval religious beliefs. The article will define the importance of purification of the women into the church and the significance of churching after childbirth for women. She will also explain how these beliefs and values began to change over time for women and for the church.

Before the 15th century
After the 15th century
Reintroduction of the woman into the church
Women were not allowed to enter the church until their "churching ceremony" Women were required to wear a veil for their churching ceremony.

Women who gave birth was regarded to as unclean. Menstruating women was forbid to enter the church, which is the case with women after giving birth.
Women were allowed to enter the church and go to the alter or a special area designed for women after childbirth. Women who gave birth was no longer as seen as unclean. Menstruating women was still forbid to enter the church.
The need for Churching
The prayers used in the ceremony were prayers for Thanksgiving and not necessarily for the woman. The unchurched woman was thought to defile other women of the community. The prayers are required to purify the women and re-introduce her into society and into the church.
1552 Prayer book removed the notion of purification renaming the ceremony "The Thanksgiving of women after childbirth"- a.k.a "Churchynge of Women" The woman no longer understood the ritual as unclean. Unwed women would repent in front of the entire church for their sin, and then the priest could perform the ceremony of churching.
The reconsideration of churching
How long should a woman stay away from the church after child birth? Should women.
Should women who died during child birth therefore remained un-churched be permitted to be buried in the church grave yard?
Wearing the veil or not wearing the veil.
Requiring women to stay out of the church for longer periods of time if they gave birth to a daughter and a shorter time if they gave birth to a son.
The significance of the veil during the churching ceremony- did it distinguish the mother who just gave birth from the other women, was it part of proper attire for such a main event in a woman's life, was it something reflective of the Jewish religion.
Many saw the ritual of churching as Jewish in nature an began to question whether or not the ceremony should still be performed
Women began to start taking a more active part in writing liturgy therefore moving the focus on purification of the women to that of prayers for the child, the mother and the father.
Knodel and Cressy (Churching of Women in Post Reform England) attest to many of the Same beliefs on Churching of Women. Cressy focused on the aspect of whether or not it was a spiritual ritual or issue of church politics. Knodel instead focused on the history of churching and how it changed from an issue of purification of women to more focus on blessing for the family as a whole. She also emphasized on how women started to incorporate more feminist ideas into the ceremony around the mid 15th century.

Intro- Thesis / Argument
I. Churching of women –
II. Politics of the ceremony
III. Implication that the ceremony was of Jewish religion
IV. History of change over time 1100 – 1500


Churching of women was ritually performed on women after giving childbirth and was especially prevalently in medieval times. The religious order thought the act of “churching” as purification was required of all women regardless of their social status. According to Cressy, after giving childbirth women in the medieval time period was considered n unclean and defile. According to Cressy 2011, to the secular clergy Churching was considered purification for the medieval woman, and an act that would integrate her back into the church, and into society. The idea that the woman was regarded as clean after childbirth exemplifies the misogynistic views of the Catholic Church. This is more so evident because priest that performed the churching also charged fees, and anyone unable to pay was indebted to the church. According to dictionary.com purification means to make clean and churching mean to perform a church service of thanksgiving for a woman after childbirth (Cressy, 107). Cressy details the act of churching during the churching ritual why was the new mother considered unclean. It is my argument that churching was more a ceremony of politics for medieval Catholics than is spiritual cleaning for a woman after childbirth. I will detail the inconsistencies requirements of the ceremony, how priest and some women refused churching, and the confusion of its origin and/or need to perform the service.
The reformation period which is roughly around 1345-1425 the Catholic church performed ceremonies on women after childbirth; “churching marked the end of the woman’s privileged month, and marked the end of what contemporaries sometimes called their “gander” month” (Cressy. 115). The ceremony required the mother to be in attendance with her midwifes, two married women, all who assisted with delivering the baby; the mother was also required to wear a veil to distinguish her from the other women (Cressy, 134). Once outside the church the mother would kneel in front of the church holding a candle waiting for the priest deliver her prayer; she was required to lay wait because the mother was forbidden from entering the church until after her purification. The priest would then sprinkle her with holy water after which she was lead into the church (Knodel, 111). An example of the ceremonial prayer, “Thou shalt purge me O Lord, with hyssop” (Cressy, 118), after sprinkling her with holy water, and before leading her into the main part of the church (Cressy, 114).
Many catholic clergy in the medieval times debated performing the ritual ceremony because they felt the ceremony seemed more like a “Jewish purification rather than a Christian thanksgiving” (Cressy, 123). Because the Catholic priests felt that ceremony had too much of a Jewish feel; therefore, in 1549 Edward IV required the change from purification to “Thanksgiving of women after giving childbirth” with was also known as “Churching of women” (Cressy, 118). There was also further implication of the from the Puritans raised concern as to whether or not churching was a Jewish purification. Henry Barrow sent out a pamphlet in 1601 stating that churching contained “no one word, matter or form of thanksgiving, but was rather a Jewish or popish purifying shadowed and varnished over and continued under the pretense and colour of a service of God” (Cressy, 122). Also, Thomas Cartwright raised issue of concern regarding the Jewish feel of the ceremony. He spoke out saying that churching was a way of hiding corruption and insisted that the word churching was thought to “suggest a ritualistic end to banishment and excommunication, implying that the ceremony operation as a purification” (Cressy, 123) Cartwright and Barrow, shows the controversy that churching had within the catholic church during medieval times; thus showing it created mixed concern as to whether or not the ceremony should be referred to as a purification, churching or a thanksgiving.
Over time from 1100 to 1600 the ritual of churching proved to change consistently over time and now the ceremony is more of a family affair rather than a woman’s issue (knode1, 123). Pre-reformation the woman that recently had a child had to be set apart from society and re-introduced into the church, and could not even enter the church until her purification; in 1552 Post-reform the version of the rite of women changed and the mother was allowed to enter the church for her purification. The issue of wearing the veil also was removed during the post-reform period and Elizabethan and early Jacobean bishops thought the issue was longer worth debating and referred to it as a” trifling matter” (Cressy, 134). As women liturgy became more acceptable the most significant change that happened Post reform; the churching of women was no longer considered as process to cleanse polluted mother, it was not seen a giving pray and thanks to the mother, child and father who had initially been excluded from the prayer process. The change and inconsistencies of churching over time shows the gradual decline for this popular ceremony.
During the medieval time period mothers did at least enjoy one aspect of the churching ceremony; the ceremony included an opportunity to dress up, socialize, gossip with women, and plenty of food and alcohol as Cressy explains (Cressy, 112-113). The pray involved after childbirth was also appreciated by the new mother as with the at least 30 days she was allowed as her husband took over household duties (Cressy, 115). However, the idea that a woman after child birth was unclean and polluted never was favorable and with women liturgy and changes to idealism post reformation was replaced with giving prayers for the family. In addition, with the implications of the ceremony being Jewish in nature brought further concern for many clergy which more than likely caused the gradual decline in the popularity of this ritual. I conclusion, churching of women was done because of the negative connotations that men felt against women since the beginning of time. This ceremony was just another misogynistic stipulation that was placed on women to make them feel inferior to men. The fact that conceiving a child and giving birth today is considered the most amazing act that only a woman can do; which is more significant in society today men even respect woman experiencing pregnancy and childbirth. The churching of women was definitely an act that was unnecessary and without valid merit; it was an act instead enforced by clergy to further degrade women.
Critique by Religion and Courtly Love: Your agument was well thought out, and you had good claims to support them.Your paper was straight to th point, and you never swayed from your topics or arguments. Your in text citations seem to be strategically placed into you paper, as oppose to being used a fillers I did notice a few grammatical errors, but we all are inclined to one or two! I wish there was a little more details about the purification process or the "spiritual" aspect of churching. Having that would have made it easier to decipher whether or not the ceremony was more socially based, another way to demean women, or an true spiritual encounter. Overall, I think you did a great job. Your topic is very interesting, and I look forward to learing more about the churging of women.


Cressy, David. "Purification, Thanksgiving and the Churching of Women in Post-Reformation England." Past and Present Society 141. (1993): 106-146.

Knodel, Natalie. "Reconsidering an Obsolete Rite: The Churching of Women and Feminist Liturgical Theology." Feminist Theology: The Journal of the Britain & Ireland School of Feminist Theology 14