"Abbotts Ann remains the only parish in England which perpetuates this Medieval Custom of awarding Virgins Crowns.
The ceremony of this ancient burial rite takes place at the funeral of an unmarried person who was born, baptised, confirmed and died in the Parish of Abbotts Ann, and was a regular Communicant. Such persons must also be of unblemished reputation.
The Virgins Crown is made of Hazelwood and is ornamented with paper rosettes, with five white gauntlets attached to it. The gauntlets represent a challenge thrown down to anyone to asperse the character of the deceased.
The Crown suspended from a rod is borne by two young girls habited in white with white hoods, at the head of the funeral procession. After the funeral the Crown is carried to the Church and is suspended from the gallery near the West Door, so that all who enter the Church on the following Sunday will pass under it. Here it remains for three weeks. If during that time no one has challenged or disputed the right of the deceased to the Crown, it is hung in the roof of the Church with a small scutcheon bearing the name and age of the person concerned, and the date of her funeral, and there the Crown remains until it decays and falls with age.
Most of the Crowns are awarded to women, but men are not excluded, provided that they fulfil the same conditions.
The present Church was built in the year 1716 and the oldest Virgins Crown still in existence approaches that date."
The Abbotts Ann Virgins Crowns hang high on the nave wall around the Church and each one bears the name, age and date of death of a parishioner who died as a virgin. Given the height at which the garlands are hung, and faded lettering on some of the scutcheons, it is hard to read names and ages of all the people commemorated with Virgins Crowns.
The oldest Crown is dedicated to John Morrant who died in 1740. John Morrant’s Crown has now entirely decayed and all that remains of it is the string from which it once hung.
The newest crown dates from 1973 and is dedicated to Lily Myra Annetts who died aged 73. As the newest Crown, Lily Myra Annetts’ Crown seems to be wholly intact with all five gauntlets still hanging in place. The Crown is still white in colour. The majority of the rest of the Crowns are in various stages of decay, most with their gauntlets missing and most now blackened by the passage of time.
St Mary’s Church was purchased as part of the Abbotts Ann Estate in 1710 by Thomas “Diamond” Pitt (the grandfather of Prime Minister Pitt the Elder), and in 1716 Thomas Pitt paid for the demolition of the Church and the construction of a new Church, the one that remains today. Presumably any Virgins Crowns pre-dating 1716 were lost during the demolition of the old Church.
Today the St Mary's Church is home to a total of 49 Virgins Crowns and the names of those honoured can be found on the “Southern Life” website. The Crowns honour 15 men and 34 women. Presumably no new Crowns have been added since 1973, because the local populace are either less likely to spend their whole life living in the same Parish, or they are far less virtuous than they used to be!
|The Virgins Crowns explained.|
|The hanging Crowns inside the Church.|
|Florence Jane Wisewell who died at the age of 72 in 1953 (left).|
|Martha Ann Tapp died aged 12 in 1837. Sarah Maslin died aged 22 in 1837, Elizabeth Annie Edmunds died aged 45 in 1915, Louisa Poore died aged 16 in 1835 and Ann Fennell died aged 17 in 1837 (left to right).|
|St Mary's Church.|
Pictures, Hampshire (July 2014).
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