Churching in Northern Ireland records - important genealogical information for research
Churching records are important for the recording of mothers names. Presently there is no category available when doing indexing for churching records. Churching is being omitted because it doesn't fit in any category. Please add this category for indexing.
Perhaps you’re familiar with a few of the common documents used for ancestry research, like marriage, baptism, burial, and electoral registers. But sometimes, hidden at the end of a register, you may find an unexpected piece of social history. One example of a source that may provide surprising clues about your Irish family tree is churchings.
Churchings were a traditional ritual in Catholicism that involved blessing mothers after recovery from childbirth. Around four to six weeks after having her baby, a mother would go to the church for a ceremony of purification and thanks for the safe delivery of her child.
In your family history search, you may find evidence of the practice of churching at the end of a church’s baptismal records. Let’s take a deeper look at this traditional ritual and its role in Irish history.
What Is Churching in the Catholic Church?
Dating from the early Christian ages, the Catholic Church practised the rite of churching, commonly called the churching of women, as an act of purification and thanksgiving of women after the birth of a child.
The ceremony marked the end of the ‘green month’ of the woman’s confinement. It represented her resumption of normal domestic life and sexual relations with her husband.
At the time, churching was considered a pious and praiseworthy custom by members of the Catholic Church. Additionally, childbirth was seen as dangerous for both mother and child during the period when this tradition was in practice.
So, the churching of women was seen as a way to give thanks for a successful delivery. It was also considered a process of cleansing the mother’s body of any impurities contracted during childbirth.
At the Reformation, Non-Conformists rejected churching. But remarkably, the Catholic and Anglican churches continued the practice into the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
For generations, the practice was universal at all social levels. In fact, even Queen Victoria was churches.
How Did Churching Work?
The churching of women usually took place around forty days after the delivery of a baby, when the mother had taken the time she needed for recovery from childbirth. On that fortieth day, the mother dressed in her best clothes and wore a white veil for a ceremony at the church.
She was presented to the officiating priest in front of the whole congregation. Then, he sprinkled her with holy water in the shape of a cross. The mother brought an ‘accustomed offering’, originally a length of cloth known as a chrisom.
The chrisom was a piece of white cloth placed over the child’s head at baptism to stop the consecrated oil (chrism) from rubbing off. Later, the chrisom became the child’s christening robe. If the child died within a month of baptism, the cloth was used as a burial shroud.