History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2019-05-21

Absolution of Women after Childbirth - Churching of women

A woman was considered ritually impure after childbirth. The period of impurity lasted for 6 weeks after giving birth. Thereafter the woman was resumed into the church community via a church rite. This rite was called “kyrktagning” or absolution in Sweden. In English it is known as Churching of Women. Absolution is a traditional theological term for the forgiveness experienced in the Sacrament of Penance.

Absolution/Churching

The rite of resumption into religious and social life after childbirth was traditionally considered a ceremonial purification rite even if the ceremony itself contained no elements of ritual purification. The 6 weeks of impurity after childbirth is recalled from directions in the Old Testament regarding 40 days of impurity (3 Mos. 12). In Christian tradition the Churching of Women is the ceremony wherein a blessing is given to mothers after recovery from childbirth. The ceremony includes thanksgiving for the woman's survival of childbirth. Recent mothers were not allowed to work outdoors or to attend church service between childbirth and churching. In a way the period of impurity was a confinement of the women. This was a problem for poor families where the women couldn't afford to wait 6 weeks to regain work. In 1866 the period of impurity was reduced to 4 weeks. A notice of churching had to be filed to the parish registrar's office in advance. The notice was to be delivered by the woman's husband. Churching were normally officiated just before the regular Sunday service. In the beginning churching was conducted at the church gateway. It was a sense of shame to undergo churching at the gateway since this was also the place where the impenitent and condemned were chained to atone for their sins. Besides, it was cold and draughty by the gateway which wasn't healthy for a woman who recently given birth to a child. The churching rite was therefore later in time moved into the church and was conducted by the altar. If there were several women to undergo churching it was the more prominent women that received churching first, women of small means had to wait in line. During the rite the woman had to bend down on her knees on a special absolution stool. The reverend then said a special thanksgiving prayer, took the woman by her hand and gave her a blessing. Before the 1870's the women had to pay a special fee for churching ceremony. Unmarried mothers weren't allowed churching. Instead they had to confess their sins (skriftades) in a rite. This rite wasn't normally performed at Sunday Service but during a weekday. The reverend didn't take these women by their hands either. These women also had to bend down on their knees during the rite but not on the absolution stool. Instead they had to kneel down onto the cold stone floor in the church or onto an undressed stool. At first churching of women after childbirth was a Purification rite. However, after the Reformation in the 1500's churching of women became a ceremony wherein a blessing was given to mothers after recovery from childbirth. The ceremony includes thanksgiving for the woman's survival of childbirth. However, the perception of the ceremony as a purification ritual existed for a very long time among country people. In the 1870's and 1880's churching of women began to abate. However, it was still in practice on the Swedish West coast in the 1940's and 1950's.

The Church Records

You will normally find notes about churching of women in the Swedish birth books (födelseböcker) but sometimes also in the in the household examination rolls (husförhörslängder) or the moving records (flyttlängder). You will then see notations such as "Abs." or just "Ab." sometimes followed by a date. "Abs." or "Ab" is short for "absolution". Extract from the household examination roll (husförhörslängden) Strängsered (P) AI:4 (1838-1847) bild 6 / sid 113 (AID: v44451.b6.s113, NAD: SE/GLA/13507). Here we have the notation "abs. 46", i.e. absolution 1846.

Churching, Absolution - Kyrktagning,

Sweden

Extract from the household examination roll (husförhörslängden) Gustav Adolf AI:7 (1867-1875) bild 138 / sid 133 (AID: v20046.b138.s133, NAD: SE/VALA/03255). Here we have the notation "ab. 3/2 70", i.e. absolution on February 3, 1870 (3/2 1870). To the right there is a banns notation (lysning).

Christening

A child was to be baptized within 8 days after birth. It was a church rule (common law). This means that the mother wasn't able to be present at the Christening of her child since she then still was impure and not yet churched. Children was always baptized in church unless it was a baptism in an emergency. For some reason it wasn't suitable for the father either to be present at the Christening ceremony. Instead the child was carried by one of the godparents during the baptism ceremony. The godparents/sponsors were morally responsible for the child's wellbeing if something happened to the parents. Normally there was a close relative among the godparents. It could be an older brother/sister, siblings to the child's parents or even the grandparents. It was common that the first born child was carried by one of the grandmothers at the Christening ceremony. If they weren’t alive it could be an aunt. In 1864 the regulation regarding when a child had to be baptized was changed. Now the time period after birth when a child had to be baptized was extended to 6 weeks. So, a child, from 1864, had be baptized within 6 weeks as opposite of the former 8 days. So, after 1864 it became common to have the churching and the baptism at the same church service. Thereby the mother could be present at the christening of her child. The churching rite took place in seclusion and after the rite the mother could join her family and the guests for the Christening ceremony.

Christian Names - Traditions

The Christian name given to a first born child was normally the Christian name of one the grandparents. It is difficult to say how rooted this naming practice was. The following was however not uncommon: the first son was called after his paternal grandfather, the second son after his maternal grandfather, while the first daughter was named after her maternal grandmother, the second after her paternal grandmother. There are however numerous examples of other factors coming into play and it is not at all uncommon to see names that are neither in the immediate family nor among the sponsors (godparents). Very common – not to say mandatory – was naming children after a sibling who had died.

Source References

The Swedish National Encyclopaedia, NE Demografiska databasen, Umeå universitet Släktforskning för alla, Börje Furtenbach, 1986. Namn i Sverige, etnolog Ingela Martenius Livets högtider i Sverige, etnolog Ingela Martenius Top of page
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History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2019-05-21

Absolution of Women after

Childbirth - Churching of women

A woman was considered ritually impure after childbirth. The period of impurity lasted for 6 weeks after giving birth. Thereafter the woman was resumed into the church community via a church rite. This rite was called “kyrktagning” or absolution in Sweden. In English it is known as Churching of Women. Absolution is a traditional theological term for the forgiveness experienced in the Sacrament of Penance.

Absolution/Churching

The rite of resumption into religious and social life after childbirth was traditionally considered a ceremonial purification rite even if the ceremony itself contained no elements of ritual purification. The 6 weeks of impurity after childbirth is recalled from directions in the Old Testament regarding 40 days of impurity (3 Mos. 12). In Christian tradition the Churching of Women is the ceremony wherein a blessing is given to mothers after recovery from childbirth. The ceremony includes thanksgiving for the woman's survival of childbirth. Recent mothers were not allowed to work outdoors or to attend church service between childbirth and churching. In a way the period of impurity was a confinement of the women. This was a problem for poor families where the women couldn't afford to wait 6 weeks to regain work. In 1866 the period of impurity was reduced to 4 weeks. A notice of churching had to be filed to the parish registrar's office in advance. The notice was to be delivered by the woman's husband. Churching were normally officiated just before the regular Sunday service. In the beginning churching was conducted at the church gateway. It was a sense of shame to undergo churching at the gateway since this was also the place where the impenitent and condemned were chained to atone for their sins. Besides, it was cold and draughty by the gateway which wasn't healthy for a woman who recently given birth to a child. The churching rite was therefore later in time moved into the church and was conducted by the altar. If there were several women to undergo churching it was the more prominent women that received churching first, women of small means had to wait in line. During the rite the woman had to bend down on her knees on a special absolution stool. The reverend then said a special thanksgiving prayer, took the woman by her hand and gave her a blessing. Before the 1870's the women had to pay a special fee for churching ceremony. Unmarried mothers weren't allowed churching. Instead they had to confess their sins (skriftades) in a rite. This rite wasn't normally performed at Sunday Service but during a weekday. The reverend didn't take these women by their hands either. These women also had to bend down on their knees during the rite but not on the absolution stool. Instead they had to kneel down onto the cold stone floor in the church or onto an undressed stool. At first churching of women after childbirth was a Purification rite. However, after the Reformation in the 1500's churching of women became a ceremony wherein a blessing was given to mothers after recovery from childbirth. The ceremony includes thanksgiving for the woman's survival of childbirth. However, the perception of the ceremony as a purification ritual existed for a very long time among country people. In the 1870's and 1880's churching of women began to abate. However, it was still in practice on the Swedish West coast in the 1940's and 1950's.

The Church Records

You will normally find notes about churching of women in the Swedish birth books (födelseböcker) but sometimes also in the in the household examination rolls (husförhörslängder) or the moving records (flyttlängder). You will then see notations such as "Abs." or just "Ab." sometimes followed by a date. "Abs." or "Ab" is short for "absolution". Extract from the household examination roll (husförhörslängden) Strängsered (P) AI:4 (1838-1847) bild 6 / sid 113 (AID: v44451.b6.s113, NAD: SE/GLA/13507). Here we have the notation "abs. 46", i.e. absolution 1846.

Churching, Absolution

- Kyrktagning, Sweden

Extract from the household examination roll (husförhörslängden) Gustav Adolf AI:7 (1867-1875) bild 138 / sid 133 (AID: v20046.b138.s133, NAD: SE/VALA/03255). Here we have the notation "ab. 3/2 70", i.e. absolution on February 3, 1870 (3/2 1870). To the right there is a banns notation (lysning).

Christening

A child was to be baptized within 8 days after birth. It was a church rule (common law). This means that the mother wasn't able to be present at the Christening of her child since she then still was impure and not yet churched. Children was always baptized in church unless it was a baptism in an emergency. For some reason it wasn't suitable for the father either to be present at the Christening ceremony. Instead the child was carried by one of the godparents during the baptism ceremony. The godparents/sponsors were morally responsible for the child's wellbeing if something happened to the parents. Normally there was a close relative among the godparents. It could be an older brother/sister, siblings to the child's parents or even the grandparents. It was common that the first born child was carried by one of the grandmothers at the Christening ceremony. If they weren’t alive it could be an aunt. In 1864 the regulation regarding when a child had to be baptized was changed. Now the time period after birth when a child had to be baptized was extended to 6 weeks. So, a child, from 1864, had be baptized within 6 weeks as opposite of the former 8 days. So, after 1864 it became common to have the churching and the baptism at the same church service. Thereby the mother could be present at the christening of her child. The churching rite took place in seclusion and after the rite the mother could join her family and the guests for the Christening ceremony.

Christian Names - Traditions

The Christian name given to a first born child was normally the Christian name of one the grandparents. It is difficult to say how rooted this naming practice was. The following was however not uncommon: the first son was called after his paternal grandfather, the second son after his maternal grandfather, while the first daughter was named after her maternal grandmother, the second after her paternal grandmother. There are however numerous examples of other factors coming into play and it is not at all uncommon to see names that are neither in the immediate family nor among the sponsors (godparents). Very common – not to say mandatory – was naming children after a sibling who had died.

Source References

The Swedish National Encyclopaedia, NE Demografiska databasen, Umeå universitet Släktforskning för alla, Börje Furtenbach, 1986. Namn i Sverige, etnolog Ingela Martenius