Jewish law stated that women were under taboo after childbirth, because of pollution by blood, until ritually cleansed by a priest (Leviticus 12: 1-8); Mary obeyed this rule after the birth of Jesus (Luke 2: 22-4). Modern liturgies stress thanksgiving, but medieval symbolism still implied impurity, for the women came to church veiled, 'without looking at the sun or sky', or other people, till they had been blessed with holy water, and given a candle. Traces of this attitude remained in the refusal of some Anglican clergy, even as late as the 1950s, to let a woman take Communion before she had been churched (Sutton, 1992:).
   In popular belief, a woman who went out of her own house before being churched would bring bad luck on anyone she met, or any house she entered, and often on herself too. It was still common in many areas in the 1950s for vicars to be asked to perform the rite for a non-churchgoing woman, so that she would be free to go shopping or visit friends (Radford, Radford, and Hole, 1961: 100). In other places, 'being churched' did not refer to a special ritual but to the first time a woman attended a normal Sunday service after giving birth; in Yorkshire in the 1980s, women who never normally went to church or chapel would slip in for a few minutes during a service as soon as they were fit to walk, for otherwise nobody would let them into their houses - it would be 'asking for trouble'
   ■ Clark, 1982: 115, 122-4; Gill, 1993: 26-7).

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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  • churching — church·ing …   English syllables

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