The 24th April was St Mark’s Eve and I completely missed it for two reasons. One, I’d never heard of it. Two, it’s my sister’s birthday so that is the importance of the date for me – and I’ve celebrated that all her life!
St Mark’s Eve, is the day before the special day for St Mark the evangelist and supposed writer of the second of the four gospels. He was possibly born in the first years AD – he was not a disciple of Jesus who was already dead when he was born, but followed St Peter… I’m not sure if I knew that and had forgotten or whether that is news to me! he died when he was in his sixties. The particular traditions and superstitions about St Mark’s Eve are an English thing, particularly in the north of England, and as far as I can find out on a quick whizz through google, that these traditions and superstitions started about four hundred or so years ago.
Apparently people would keep watch in their local churchyard, sometimes sitting in the actual porch, in silence between the two transition hours from the 24th to the 25th, 11 p.m. – 1 a.m – the time was marked by the church bell ringing, as although ‘pocket’ watches had been invented no ordinary person would have had one – not until the nineteenth century. Some of the watchers walked round the church first (no doubt clockwise not widdershins!) .and in other places the watchers had to be fasting. In some places they had to watch on three nights,
What was the purpose of this? Was it accompanied by other traditions/superstitions of eating or drinking or saying certain things? It was thought the on the third night vigil the ghosts of those due to die in the forthcoming year would appear – although if the people weren’t yet dead then it would be a vision rather than a ghost, wouldn’t it? It sounds to me a horrible custom, who would want to know in advance when their relations, acquaintances and maybe even themselves would die? No thanks!
I’m sure lots of writers are thinking what a gift of an idea it is, I know I have a few thoughts on the matter! If you want to know more, there’s plenty of sites you can look at, including these two: