Yesterday was Palm Sunday so therefore Holy Week has officially begun. Here on my blog, I more or less started in on Easter-related topics last week with a 5-part series on the Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs. Please check those out as it truly is a remarkable series, if I say so myself, although all the credit goes to Mr. Fabergé.
Over the years, I have written several blogs about Easter topics. Not as many as I have about Christmas, which is my favorite holiday of them all, but those I’ve covered are linked below.
The days comprising Holy Week as observed by the Christian Church commemorate the Biblical events from Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, through to His death by crucifixion and then Resurrection three days later.
PALM SUNDAY — The Gospels tell us that Jesus rode into the city on a donkey, enacting the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, and in so doing emphasized the humility that was to characterize the Kingdom he proclaimed. The crowds waved palm branches and proclaimed him as the messianic king. An uplifting day of singing, it is also known as Passion Sunday as it denotes the beginning of Holy Week and Jesus’ final agonizing journey tot he cross.
HOLY MONDAY & HOLY TUESDAY — On these days Jesus preached to massive crowds in Jerusalem. In honor, both days are set aside for selected readings from the Old and New Testaments that relate to Jesus’s final week. Scriptures of prophesy abound in the Old Testament. The New Testament, especially the Gospels, recounts the final week of Christ’s human life in fine detail from different points-of-view.
MAUNDY THURSDAY — On this day Jesus and his disciples observed the Jewish Passover Seder. For Christians this is the “Last Supper” during which Christ instituted sharing of communion. In addition to the numerous significant moments occurring during the Last Supper (such as Jesus’ symbolic washing of the disciples’ feet), this day also including the betrayal by Judas and Jesus’ agonizing hours of prayer in Gethsemane.
GOOD FRIDAY — This Holy Day began with the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane (by Jewish custom of counting a day from sundown to sundown, the arrest late in the night would have been Friday even though not after midnight). All in the course of this one day occurred the sham trial, Jesus being beaten and mocked, His crucifixion, and burial. Indeed, it is a somber day observed with silence, prayer, and meditation.
HOLY SATURDAY — On this day Jesus lay in the tomb, and as it was the Jewish Sabbath since sundown on Friday, the critical customs for preparing a body for burial had been foregone. It was a dark day for the followers of Jesus, the early Christians. They did not fully comprehend the prophesies or the promises made by Jesus himself, so they mourned together and waited for the sunrise. For Christians today, it is a day for deep reflection of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. It is also a day of rising excitement as we now have the completed Scriptures revealing the drama of His defeating darkness and death.
EASTER SUNDAY — The glorious Day of Christ’s bodily Resurrection! AMEN!
In the course of my novels, Easter has taken place several times. However, the only novel in which I focused on the holiday was The Trouble With Mr. Darcy. Therefore, rather than dry narratives on the events of a typical Holy Week, below are excerpts from the chapter devoted to Easter. Not the entire chapter, although a good portion of it.
This Easter takes place in 1820 and in London. In my continuing saga, the Darcys now number four: Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth, and their two sons, Alexander (2 years old) and Michael (7 months old). Of course, the extended family is much larger!
The Trouble With Mr. Darcy
“Easter at Darcy House” ~ Chapter 15
Maundy Thursday dawned bright and sunny. The Holy Day set aside to commemorate the Last Supper of Christ with his apostles began the Easter events Darcy most enjoyed, his delight compounded now that Alexander was old enough to attend. Church bells resounded from a multitude of steeples as they rode to St. Marylebone Parish Church for the service. Alexander sat mesmerized throughout the foot-washing ceremony and adaptive Passover Seder, finally falling asleep in his father’s lap during the choral worship. He missed the ritualized stripping of the altar sacraments in symbolic preparation for the Good Friday mourning services, but Darcy was content to observe the solemn proceedings with his family close.
The weather for Good Friday reverted to cold and blustery with rain threatening. Lizzy opted to stay indoors with Michael rather than subjecting the infant to illness, but the ominous skies did not deter Darcy from taking a thickly coated Alexander to watch St. Sepulchre Church’s reenactment of the medieval Easter Sepulchre liturgy.
Carved sepulchers of stone and wood created for Easter commemorations were once a common fixture in ancient churches. Some were simple works of art depicting the burial place of Christ with sleeping soldiers or visiting women carved as a niche in the wall of the church. Other sepulchres, such as this one, were large, elaborate sculptures with the entire story of Christ’s burial and resurrection conveyed in detailed etchings surrounding and on the tombs. Steeped in history and a fair amount of mystery due to lost documents and the ritual being banned during the Reformation, this ceremony was a highlight whenever Darcy managed to be in London for Easter.
Darcy, Alexander, Georgiana, and George joined a large gathering observing the formal rite. Sacred hymns recounting the Passion were sung by the choir as four dark-robed, barefooted monks walked soberly down the aisle carrying a red velvet draped cushion upon which rested a plain wooden cross with an exquisite effigy of Christ in gold. Reverently, the cross was placed beside the candle-encircled sepulchre, the monks falling to their knees and bowing before the image with foreheads touching the floor. Lifting mere inches to bestow a kiss to the sculpted feet, they then crept backwards as the waiting monks lowered to their knees and in the same humble pose approached the cross to kiss.
The assembled clergy completed that part of the ceremony, forming a ring of kneeling worshippers around the cross. It was then that the priest rose from his seat, slowly descended the steps of the chancel and front of the nave until standing with his brothers directly before the cross. With calm deliberation he removed his traditional vestures to reveal an unadorned black cassock, his eyes never leaving the graven face of suffering as he handed the garments to a waiting monk, removed his shoes, and bent to his knees. Crawling forward, he too respectfully kissed the nailed feet of his Savior before rising and lifting the laden cross high above his head for all in the audience to see.
The heavy lid of the wooden tomb was opened and the crucifix placed inside with due pomp. Responsories were sung by the choir, sweet incense burned both inside and around the tomb, the lid closed and sealed with wax, and lastly covered with gold trimmed damask. The priest chose the first two sextons to be given the honor of guarding the sepulchre, a responsibility taken seriously and shared with other clergy in shifts until Easter morning.
“Papa, will Jesus be lonely inside the box?” Alexander asked as they left the church. It was the first words he had uttered since entering St. Sepulchre nearly an hour earlier, the boy studiously attentive to the ceremony throughout. The innocent query, asked with grave concern and a deep frown, brought instant laughter. The lighthearted response of the adults only increased Alexander’s worry and tears welled in his eyes.
“Not at all, sweetling. First off, this Jesus is pretend. It is a statue only, as the real Jesus is in Heaven, right?” Alexander nodded, although not totally convinced. Darcy hugged him tighter, kissing the crease between the toddler’s knitted brows.
Darcy tried to explain the concept of ceremony and symbolism with limited success, but Alexander’s fears were not fully allayed until George said, “Jesus is taking a nap in the box, Alexander. He is tired after being carried about. The nice men will keep him company and open the box in two days once He is rested.”
Darcy opened his mouth to refute that nonsensical explanation, but the cheery expression on Alexander’s face halted him. In the end, he realized there would be plenty of time in the future to give theological lectures!
Saturday saw Darcy House besieged, much to Mrs. Smyth’s horror. For some reason she never comprehended, the pristine dining room was converted into the official egg dyeing and painting chamber. The table was carefully draped with old linens and the fine furnishings removed to avoid damage or staining, but naturally there were a few mishaps that required harsh cleaning. Yet it was not the mess that peeved her as much as the ruckus caused by so many festive persons.
The boiling of eggs had occupied a portion of the kitchen staff’s time on Friday, those cooled eggs now added to the dozens brought by Jane Bingley, Lady Simone Fitzwilliam, Mary Daniels, Marilyn Hughes, Harriet Vernor, Julia Sitwell, Amelia Lathrop, Chloe Drury, and Alison Fitzherbert. The babies were taken to the nursery for age-appropriate play while the other children eagerly flocked the cluttered long table. Baskets of eggs sat among the bowls of paints, dye, and adhesive to decorate with the glass pieces, feathers, beads, seeds, ribbons, lace, and more. Adult supervision was essential, especially for the littler children. Artistry was encouraged, some eggs a masterpiece of precision adornment and painting while others were sadly lacking any finesse, but each an expression of individuality and definitely colorful. The fathers aided the procedure for a time, managing to decorate one or two eggs themselves, before retiring to Darcy’s billiard room and leaving the chaos to the women.
By late afternoon the last colorful egg was placed carefully into a basket awaiting Easter Day festivities and the exhausted children were returned to their respective homes. A purse-lipped Mrs. Smyth oversaw the dining room restoration, her abrupt manner noticeable to the maids and footman as indicative of her irritation, but the Darcys were unaware as they settled in for a quiet night alone.
On Easter Sunday Lizzy stood in the small dressing room attached to their bedchamber, staring out the wide window facing the backyard garden. She clipped the pearl necklace—which once belonged to her husband’s mother and was gifted to her on her first night at Pemberley as his wife—around her slender neck, followed with a pair of pearl and diamond earrings as she watched the glittering waves of water cascading over the marble rocks in the fountain. The sun was shining, bathing the grass and spring flowers with warmth and light. Fortunately the inclement weather on Good Friday had passed without a single drop of rain. Hopefully this meant the lawns and ground of Hyde Park would be relatively dry and free of fresh mud patches for naughty boys to discover.
She turned at the knock upon her door, pleased but not surprised when Darcy entered carrying an enormous bouquet of flowers.
“Happy Easter, my love,” he said, smiling as he bent for a kiss and handed her the white flowers.
“Happy Easter to you as well, dearest. Thank you. These are exquisite!” She pressed her face into the petals, breathing deeply. “So sweet,” she sighed, closing her eyes in delight. “I saw some of these at Covent Gardens earlier this week. They are quite unique.”
“The florist said they are Lilium longiflorum, a newly discovered lily bulb from a cluster of islands off the coast of China.” He shrugged. “That was all he knew and I have not had the time to delve into the topic further.”
Lizzy reached to stroke over his cheek, a gesture difficult to accomplish, as the bouquet was large and heavy for one arm. “Poor Mr. Darcy forced to smother his unquenchable curiosity! I am surprised you were able to sleep.”
“Indeed it was a struggle, but I was able to relax with the vision of your face amid the blooms. As always my imagination failed miserably as you are engaging beyond what my dreams prefigured.” Stepping back, he swept his gaze over her gowned body with appreciation evident. “White becomes you, Mrs. Darcy.”
“Mama! Papa! See my flowers for Jesus? Papa say we give flowers to God.”
Darcy scooped the toddler into his arms, flowers and all. “It is true, Son. We will pin the flowers onto the tall wooden cross we saw outside the church on Friday. Once everyone decorates the cross with fresh flowers, it will be beautiful, busting with color as a symbol of God’s life-giving nature.”
“And then they will open the box so Jesus go free?”
“The box will already be empty, Alexander,” George said, his voice dropping into a whisper. “It is like magic! The lid will be raised and, poof! Jesus will be gone!”
“Where?” Alexander asked, his eyes round with awe as George commenced a discourse on the Resurrection melding fact with fascinating hyperbole, keeping the youngster entertained during the carriage ride to church.
The fine weather held, to the delight of London’s populace. Churches were crowded, the faithful weekly worshippers vying for space amid those who only attended on Holy days. Traffic was amplified, carriages crawling at a snail’s pace as driver’s struggled to find a clearer route or one not barricaded for a parade. Traditional Easter entertainments were scattered throughout the city, one not required to travel far to find a parade or dance or egg hunt or religious ceremony to honor Christ’s resurrection.
For the sake of ease and proximity to Darcy House, the Bingleys and Darcys chose the Oxford Street parade. After the interminable trek to the church and back locked inside stuffy carriages, they were overjoyed to walk the short jaunt north to the home of Captain William Henry Percy on Portman Square. There they joined Lord and Lady Matlock, longtime friends of Captain Percy and his father, Lord Beverly, and others invited to observe the parade from the comfort and prime location of Captain Percy’s parlor or walkway and steps.
Alexander was unimpressed with the waving strangers wearing elaborately decorated garments and bonnets, although the ladies kept mental notes of designs. His eyes were riveted to the horses. Some were military with full regalia worn by cavalryman and beast, while others were prized ribbon and flower garlanded racehorses with proud jockeys atop. In the latter case Darcy, member of the Jockey Club and a horseracing fanatic, enlightened a rapt Alexander as to name, owner, racing statistics, and so on, all of which the child absorbed while Lizzy laughed.
Both boys squealed with glee at the antics of the Morris Dancers. The dancers were dressed in costumes Elizabethan in general style but garish and accented with varying sized bells, loose scarves in a multitude of colors, and large bracelets and rings. Aided by rollicking tunes on pipe, tabor drum, fiddle, and a bagpipe, the dancers leapt and skipped from one side of the street to the next in a constant flow of movement. The bells and jewelry served a purpose other than ornamentation as each flick of the wrist or twist of a leg created a ringing note, the dancers’ seemingly random antics in fact a precision choreography with music rising in the air. In addition to that, many of the dancers held swords that they whacked together as they twirled or struck against street poles or tapped onto the cobblestones, the metallic clangs blending with the rest.
“Let us pray it is not only for lively tunes most often found in pubs and disreputable dancehalls,” Darcy yelled back. “A taste for sophisticated music would be preferred.”
Lizzy shook her head, glancing to where George stood clapping his hands and dancing a jig. “The influence for unsophisticated music may be too intense!”
For the four-block walk to the Grosvenor Gate to Hyde Park, Alexander was carried on George’s shoulders while Darcy held a squirming Michael, the infant refusing to sit calmly in his pram. Crowds of families were already gathered throughout the enormous park, blankets and shading canopies or pavilions haphazardly dotting the areas not designated for games.
The recognizable blue canvases belonging to the Vernors stretched between tall poles, shading the rugs spread over the damp ground on a level field preselected at the base of a knoll near the lake. Some of their friends had already arrived, the adults busily setting out food and eating utensils while the children played and formed instant friendships with every other child in the near vicinity.
The antics of the children occupied the bulk of the afternoon. All jesting aside, the number of offspring just from the couples in some way related to Darcy and Elizabeth numbered over twenty! Oliver Pomeroy, the Earl of Fotherby, was the eldest at seventeen, and probably would not have been considered in the list of children if not for his frail, immature appearance and delight in playing the games right among them. The remainder ranged from ten years to infancy, all but the tiniest joining other children in the park to partake of the varied entertainments.
Every parent, relative, and nanny lent a hand in supervising the fun and controlling the army of younglings hunting, rolling, and cracking eggs in an assortment of games. Eventually the bunnies brought as a traditional part of Easter celebrations circulated to their section, the children freshly squealing in glee at the sight of rabbits jumping and frolicking in the grass. A few found new homes, including a fluffy grey one that Alexander fell in love with and who evoked a string of babbled ba-ba-bas from Michael. Darcy was not so sure about Lizzy’s insistence that he was trying to say “bunny,” but the animal was cute and the boys so enamored that he saw no reason to deny them another pet to add to the menagerie already at Pemberley.
As the sun crept toward the horizon, tired tempers flared and irritable cries grew more prevalent. Then Deborah Daniels stopped mid-step, crumpling into a heap onto the grass soundly asleep with thumb in mouth, leaving no doubt it was time to retire to Darcy House!