Possibly the Weirdest Easter Egg Scripture Linkages. Ever.

There are a fair number of early modern books of sermons that mention Easter eggs during Eastertide.

One of the funnier ones is a guy who rewords Song of Songs.

There’s a bit in Songs 7:13 that says, “Within our gates are all the fruits. I have saved the old and the new for you, my beloved.”

In Hebrew and Latin back then, there was no punctuation, or very little. So a fair number of Scripture scholars (Bede, for example) quote this verse as “All the fruits, old and new, I have saved for you, my beloved.” (“Omnia poma nova et vetera servavi vobis, dilecte mi.”) This could be taken as referring to making fruit into preserves, so sometimes the preachers talked a little about home cooking at this point.

In one of the early modern sermon books, Father turns this into: “All the” [eggs,] “old and new, I have saved for you, my beloved,” and makes it the verse reference for his whole Eastertide sermon series! I’m pretty sure this is a joke; but the logic is this.

1. Back when everybody fasted from eggs during Lent, hardboiling eggs was a way to save the “old” eggs until they could be eaten. (And the eggs were often saved in containers of brine, oil, or butter, which kept them even longer.)

2. Back then, people in love gave their loved ones elaborate Easter eggs, much as we give Valentine presents today to our sweethearts. So it was a romance thing, and fit in well with the Song of Songs.

Another fun Easter egg in these early modern sermon books is linked to the risen Christ being mistaken for a gardener. Maybe Christ was carrying flowers, to represent all the Fathers and saints whom He had plucked out of Hell when He was harrowing it! (And so on.)

Later in the year, one gathered flowers in baskets. So in Europe in places where flowers aren’t up at Easter, a basket of colored eggs is supposed to be like a basket of flowers.

Flowers represent the Church’s various kinds of saints, in an ancient analogy that we see in St. Ambrose and other authors. The martyrs are like roses, the virgins are like lilies or violets, and the angels are also like lilies. So red eggs represent Christ’s wounds and blood and the blood of the martyrs, and thus the roses. Other colors of eggs must represent other kinds of saints.

Easter egg pattern books were also a thing. You could trace, “prick,” or copy an elaborate picture onto an egg, and then color it for your beloved or your family. Some books had explanatory didactic religious texts, like the one I linked elsewhere on this blog. (Didactic pictures of kids egging someone’s house really needed an explanation.)

I think this kind of stuff is fun. Unfortunately a lot of this Easter egg stuff is in German, and I don’t read German.


UPDATE: Hello, Instapundit readers! A cool chick seems to have given me an Instalanche. What a nest thing to do! After brooding over it, I have added a few things to this post to make it more readable and useful to a wider audience.

If you click on the “Easter eggs” tag, you will find several other posts on this topic from previous years.

I do not guarantee the usefulness of any links to Google Books, as public domain texts all have been  grayed out for me since Christmas Day. I can’t even read them through other countries’ Google Books, except by direct links to pages.




Filed under Humor

10 responses to “Possibly the Weirdest Easter Egg Scripture Linkages. Ever.

  1. Mary

    sometimes the Easter egg they hide is — an Easter egg!

  2. Lloyd Martin Hendaye

    Hm! If reading German is a problem, just run quasi-sophisticated translations by any of numerous online programs. Ambiguities are readily apparent, and you as Editor are fully entitled to apply English language expertise to resolve discrepancies.

  3. Leigh Harris

    Hens don’t lay in cold weather and begin laying again once the weather turns warm again – so saving eggs would not have been a problem during usually-chilly Lent. Moreover, eggs are traditionally preserved and stored raw in the shell, not cooked – in a solution of sodium silicate or unslaked lime and water, or just burying them in salt, or rubbing the shells with butter or suet (not putting the eggs *into* butter). Pickled eggs are the only ones I know of that are preserved hard-boiled, and if you’ve ever made them you know that they are best fresh-pickled; they get seriously rubbery over time.

    • I guess that applies if you have unheated coops or free range chickens. A lot of medieval Europeans kept chickens in barn areas (heated by livestock bodies), lean-tos, or even in the house. (Obviously a cleaning problem. Also a lot of feed needed.)

      Also, thanks for the butter explanation! I’ve never done it, just heard it mentioned.

      • Okay, there is an interesting article online by Philip Slavin, entitled “Chicken Husbandry in Late Medieval Eastern England: c. 1250-1400,” which talks incidentally about egg consumption. According to accounting records, monasteries were using a lot of eggs every week, at least through December, so obviously some hens kept laying in cold weather. (Unless those were pickled eggs.)

        But the spring mating/laying season actually started as early as January in England (which of course is warmer than most of the U.S. or Canada, thanks to currents) and continued until June, and a lot of people were raising meat chickens during the summer. Obviously some parts of Europe are warmer or colder than Britain, so agriculture would differ there in timing.

        So if you let hens in the Spring mate, and sit on fertilized eggs, and hatch and raise chicks for meat and replacement livestock, there would be a lot fewer early springtime eggs to need saving or using. So yup, Lent prohibitions on egg use would work out.

        But (not mentioned in article) there were also industrial uses for eggs, and eggs for sick people were sometimes used during Lent, so some egg farms must have kept some of their hens away from the rooster. Or maybe there were just enough fertility failures naturally to keep business going on that smaller scale.

        Thank you for making me look this up! Medieval chicken use and economics – who knew it would be so nifty!

  4. John

    Hen’s egg laying is not dependent on temperature, but rather the number of hours of light they are exposed to. 13 hours of light will keep them laying like they do in summer. Easy to do now, but not so easy in Solomon’s day. Although, modern breeds have been selected and reinforced for more egg production, it is still centered around light not heat.

  5. Okay… My dude Columella, in Book 8 of De re rustica, does indeed have a lot to say about chickens. He says chickens start mating in Rome on about Jan. 1, and on about Jan. 15 “in colder countries.” (And adjusting farm manuals to places was one of his bugaboos — he yaks about it at the start of the book.) The hens start wanting to sit on eggs, instead of letting them be collected, on or about Jan. 13. (So that would make it almost the end of January, “in colder countries.”)

    Even if you set that back a few days to put it onto the Gregorian calendar (which would make chickens start mid-January in Rome, or the end of January “in colder countries”), and even if you consider that he lived in Italy, Columella seems to have thought that he could get eggs when the sun’s latitude was pretty low, and pretty much all year round. He did say you have to give the hens more food and nourishing herbs, and especially high calorie food like barley, and that chicks would probably die if it was really cold.

    Columella is very concerned with keeping the trough and henhouse clean and disease-free, and he goes into great detail on the proper chicken environment, including good light. But he also worried about chicks dying from snake breath. (Literally. It was something Romans worried about. You burned herbs to keep snakes from breathing on your chickens.)

    Obviously Columella’s hens were all heirloom breeds! Maybe that made a difference in winter laying?

    (And Slavin’s article says that medieval English chickens were five-toed Dorking chickens.)

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