The Agricultural Year

I’ve been wondering what it would have been like to live in Summertown 100 years ago or even earlier. When Alderman Twyning purchased the land to build what was to become St Michael’s at the very beginning of the 20th century, the emerging parish was mainly composed of farmland, orchards and dwellings running up and down the Banbury Road. How things have changed!

The area now known as Summertown would have been filled with orchard meadows and farmland.


The agricultural year would have shaped church life and worship. Parishioners would have been all too aware of the vagaries of weather, of pestilence and disease. They would pray for God’s blessing at seedtime and harvest. So, there developed a seasonal honouring of the beauty and fragility of God’s nature.

The Church would witness the agricultural year in prayer and devotion: In chronological order, Plough Sunday came first. It was observed on the First Sunday of Epiphany and refers back to Victorian times, but behind it there is a much older observance. In medieval times some ploughs were kept in the parish church for care and safety!

Next came rogationtide, from the Latin, rogare meaning to ask, taking place on the weekdays before Ascention Day. It is the seasonal observance asking God for a new springtime. Processions started to be organised around the parish. The poet George Herbert interpreted the procession as a means of asking for God’s blessing on the land, of preserving boundaries, of encouraging fellowship between neighbours with the reconciling of differences, and of charitable giving to the poor. This developed into the tradition of ‘beating the bounds.’ 

Next in our order, we have Lammastide, from the Anglo Saxon meaning Loaf Mass! Held on 1st August as a thanksgiving for the first-fruits of the wheat harvest. Traditionally, a newly baked loaf from the wheat harvest was presented before God within the mass of that day. And finally, we have Harvest Thanksgiving which is the most modern addition to the church calendar. By the late 19thcentury, the first Sunday in October became the chosen date for a Christian response to the largely secular ‘harvest home’ celebration. 

Purple crocuses are a special feature in our garden this year, witnessing to those in Africa still suffering from Malaria.

On Sunday at 6.30pm, at a special service of Choral Evensong, we will be celebrating the agricultural year God’s beauty in nature. We are inviting everybody in the parish and beyond to come.

Learn more about God’s care for creation this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am, 10am and 6.30pm.

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! See what’s going on by clicking here which will transport you to our website.