Reviving Rogationtide

by Christine Sine

by Catherine Knights and David Pott

Sunday May 14th is Rogation Sunday. Sixty years ago if you asked people what Rogation Sunday was, many people here in the UK would be able to give an answer, but nowadays few people know about. The origins of Rogationtide are very interesting…

Right back in the 5th century, during the time of Bishop Mamertus of Vienne in Gaul, Vienne suffered a series of natural disasters: there was an earthquake, a fire burned down the town hall, and wild deer made an incursion into the town. In response to these disasters, St. Mamertus ordered the faithful of Vienne to make three successive processions on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the feast of the Ascension, in which they were to say sorry for their sins and to ask God for deliverance from their troubles. As they processed, they sang psalms and responses and stopped to pray at various points on their route. And these particular processions became renowned in the Church of the time because of two things: they were highly effective (the natural disasters ceased) and the people of Vienne took them seriously – unlike previous attempts at prayer walking that had been luke-warm, half-hearted supplications for rain or fair weather.

Of course, most people in most years over the centuries that followed didn’t suffer the especially frightening disasters first experienced by the people of Vienne, so they did not feel an urgent need to ask God specifically for an end to earthquakes or beast-incursions. But still, the majority of folk before our modern, industrial era, were well aware of the deadly power of nature and their dependence upon successful harvests, good weather and a balanced amount of rain. So, as time passed, the Rogationtide tradition of saying sorry to God for sin, in order to avert natural disasters and to bring in good harvests, took hold. Indeed, it became a valuable reminder to the faithful of man’s extreme smallness and vulnerability before the powers of nature, not letting them forget that their very lives depended upon God’s forbearance and generosity in doing good. On the Rogation Days, the faithful acknowledged the truth that God is a just judge who holds all of us (and our fruitfulness) in the palm of his hand.

One particularly valuable aspect of Rogationtide processions, right from the beginning, (and it’s the same of all religious processions) was their communal ethos. In them, the faithful moved together as one body, and thus identified themselves, in a very public and conspicuous way, as members of the Christian community. As the community sought to avert God’s anger by its prayers, the faithful gained a powerful sense that they were engaged in an urgent, unified work for the common good. And the visible, purposeful movement of the processing faithful helped to give each individual the courage to acknowledge his own sins – something that’s often easier to do when you’re not doing it on your own.

Over the course of history, the way people practiced Rogationtide changed. Rogation Sundays were associated with “beating the pounds” which meant walking and praying around parish boundaries. Rather than the three days before Ascension, walks started to take place on the Sunday before Ascension Day.

Of course, western cultures of the 1960s, in the light of scientific developments, may have imagined that their heirs would gain ever greater control over nature, and so would have little motivation to pray to God for the aversion of natural disasters. Perhaps that is why churches tended to stop the practice. But we now know that this vision has not come true. Our recent experience of Covid and our knowledge of natural disasters in every corner of the world has taught us that life remains very fragile. Plagues still kill; hurricanes lay waste; droughts parch the land; storms imperil sailors; torrents destroy crops; Covid causes lockdowns. Rogationtide taught the faithful that it is always right, in times good and bad, to turn to God in humble prayer, not only for spiritual graces but also to ask for nature to be kind. The thing is that we are sinners who deserve nothing of God – yet he, who governs all things, is ever merciful.

At Rogationtide, it’s so important for the faithful to be mindful of both the justice and the mercy of God; to remember that Christ is both our judge and our Saviour. Rightly, the Church never talks of the judgement of God without also mentioning His mercy – but it’s also all too easy to marginalise the judgement of God to the point that we forget that we’ve committed real offences and that God’s mercy is not automatic: we do at least need to ask for it, and with some sense of sorrow for what we’ve done wrong. Rogationtide reminds us of this basic truth.


We live in the town of Bishop Auckland in North East England and we are reviving this excellent practice to bear witness to God together in praise, to acknowledge the ways in which we have let Him down here in Bishop Auckland and to ask for His mercy for our town. This is how we plan to do it…

It’s about 12 miles to walk around Bishop Auckland and the adjacent West Auckland. We are going to meet together at a car park by the River Wear on the north side of town and then split into two groups. Catherine will lead a group clockwise to the east and David will lead the other group anti-clockwise to the west. Both groups will be circulating round and praying at significant sites before we meet about 3 hours later at a farm shop on the south side of the town.





Newton Cap viaduct – a site of many suicides where we will pause to pray

We will be praying in different ways including using some walking prayers including this Irish prayer which is good for health and safety before we set off! –

May God make safe for us each step

May God make us one on our journey

May God make clear the path ahead

And may He take us in the clasp of his own two hands.

We will be saying the first and last few verses of Psalm 136, but have then inserted verses which are locally relevant in this way:

Who made the Rivers Wear and Gaunless to flow through this area;

  for his love endures for ever;

Who caused King Canute to give Auckland – additional land – here to the Bishop of Durham;

for his love endures for ever.

Who led the Bishops of Durham to establish a residence here;

for his love endures for ever;

Who brought the Canons from Durham here to establish St Andrew’s Church

for his love endures for ever;

Who led this town of Bishop Auckland to grow up around the Castle and the Church
   for his love endures for ever;

Who protected Auckland Castle during the Commonwealth and enabled it to become the Bishop of Durham’s residence again at the Restoration;

for his love endures for ever;

It is he who enabled the railways to be developed in the nineteenth century;

for his love endures for ever;

And then allowed the mining of coal to flourish;

for his love endures for ever.

Who has brought new life to this town through the Auckland Project and other initiatives;

for his love endures for ever.

Who has brought us here to be his people in this town;

for his love endures for ever.

NB Here are two sources we have used for some of the above information: 

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