July 19: Flitch Day

baconA flitch is a side of bacon (in other words, about half a pig), but this is so much more than a holiday about bacon! The Flitch Day tradition, sometimes called the flitch of bacon custom, has to do with happiness in marriage.

The story (which could be part legend) is that in 1104, Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife, the lord and lady of the manor, disguised themselves as commoners, and begged the prior for a blessing on their marriage. The prior was so impressed by their faithfulness and devotion to each other, that he gave the couple an entire flitch of bacon.

LittleDunmowPrioryFitzwalter, in turn, was quite impressed by the prior’s kindness, and decided to give him land in thanks, on one condition: in return for the land, the prior and his heirs must give a flitch of bacon to any married couple who could claim the same devotion.

judge's gavelThat much bacon is no mean gift, and a large trial process quickly rose up to determine who deserved a flitch. Claimants must have been married for at least a year and a day, and must kneel on sharp stones and swear their devotion. It’s my understanding that they also bring witnesses to corroborate their story, while others take on the role of prosecuting attorney to try and poke holes in their story. The oath is as follows:

“You do swear by custom of confession
That you ne’er made nuptual transgression
Nor since you were married man and wife
By household brawls or contentious strife
Or otherwise in bed or at board
Offended each other in deed or in word
Or in a twelve months time and a day
Repented not in thought in any way
Or since the church clerk said amen
Wish’t yourselves unmarried again
But continue true and desire
As when you joined hands in holy quire.”

wedding rings [image credit http://www.clker.com/]

This is another one of those holiday’s whose date is quite debatable. When the tradition was begun back in 1104, it seems the claim could be made at any point after a couple had been married a year and a day. Then, for a time, they were held every July, presumably on the 19th. Since World War II, the official Filch Day trials are only held once every four years, in July of leap year. The next official Dunmow Flitch Trials will be held Saturday, July 9, 2016. For more information, both on the custom’s origin and the modern trials, visit the Dunmow Flitch Trials website.

“As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.”

Isaiah 62:5

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