Easter Sepulchres

Christopher Herbert undertook a major programme of research for his Ph.D at the University of Leicester relating to Easter Sepulchres in English churches.

Easter Sepulchres were temporary structures of wood and cloth, designed to receive the cross or a host on Good Friday. An enactment of the resurrection scene from the Gospels then took place on Easter Day. Liturgical instructions concerning Easter Sepulchres and the associated Easter rite were issued as part of the Synod of Winchester in circa 973 AD, but the liturgies developed in various ways subsequently.

It has been believed since the late 18th and early 19th centuries that permanent Easter sepulchres were quite common in England. Christopher Herbert’s more recent and highly detailed research counters this view. In the course of his research he developed a database of almost 900 structures in churches across England, including that at Hawton, Notts, pictured right. He believes that many of the structures described as permanent Easter Sepulchres have been incorrectly defined, and that this has led to serious misunderstandings about religious life in late mediaeval England. The story of how the concept of permanent Easter Sepulchres entered the thinking of antiquarians and later historians is a fascinating one.

Christopher Herbert continues his research into rites and practices associated with Easter and with the Resurrection.

He would be delighted to hear from anyone concerning this area.