By Gill King of St Edburg's Church

TODAY is Ascension Day, the 40th day of Easter which commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven.

As Easter Day always falls on a Sunday, so the Feast of the Ascension Day must be on a Thursday. But the Ascension can be celebrated every day in St Edburg’s Church because it is the subject of our glorious, colourful east window above the high altar.

Installed as part of the 1863 refurbishment of St Edburg's Church, headed by Revd. John William Watts, it is in memory of Sir Gregory Osborne Page-Turner (d. 6 March 1843) and his wife Helen Eliza (d. 12 November 1858).

Made by Messrs. Cox and Son of Southampton, the 'Bicester Advertiser' on April 2, 1863, said, "As a work of art, it is an achievement of great merit."

Flowers played a big part in the celebrations. The ‘Bicester Advertiser’ of May 6, 1910, reported: The feast of the Ascension was observed at the Parish Church in a befitting manner yesterday.

The sacred edifice was as usual tastefully adorned with flowers and plants, Mrs. O’Reilly and Mrs. Hunt being responsible for the altar and reredos, Mrs. Watts and Miss Coleman for the pulpit, and the Misses French for the font.

There were celebrations of the Holy Eucharist at 7, 8 and 11 a.m., the latter being choral. At this service the customary offerings were made by the children, and, as usual, despite the earliness of the season, the flowers were most beautiful and plentiful.

At the conclusion of the service a large proportion of flowers were sent to the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, the remainder being distributed among the sick of the parish.

While the Ascension has been celebrated by churches (and many schools) for centuries, other customs and traditions also existed. The best known, ‘beating the bounds’, was widely practised, either on Ascension Day itself or on one of the three Rogation days which precede it – ‘a ‘ceremony of great antiquity and importance.’

Following a church service, the priest, with church and local dignitaries, would lead the residents on a walk around all the boundaries of the parish, stopping to pray for protection and blessing for the land.

The boys would beat the boundary stones or markers with sticks, usually from the birch or willow trees.

This could get quite violent, with some of the boys being whipped or violently bumped on the stones, in an attempt to mark on their memories where the boundary was.

It was important that they remembered and passed it on to the next generation, to ensure the continuation of the tradition and for administration purposes, being aware of the area which was the responsibility of that parish.

Refreshments would follow to celebrate the completion of the task for another year. Many parishes kept a ‘Boundary Book’ in which they recorded each year’s perambulation.

‘The Bicester Advertiser’ stated in one of its history columns in 1928: At Bicester, as elsewhere, it was the old custom to beat the parish bounds. Each year the clergy, churchwardens and others went in procession, carrying white wands, to beat every stone, building or other object which marked the limits of the parish. A good deal of merriment generally accompanied these perambulations, a common amusement being to bump the boys against the boundary stones to impress their position on their memories.

This wonderful old tradition is still kept alive in many places, including Oxford, where it begins at the city church, St Michael at the North Gate.

Their annual Ascension Day procession takes them to 29 boundary stones, many of which are situated in the shops and businesses which are now there.

At each stone they stop to pray for those who live and work in the city.

There will be a service at St Edburg’s Church at 7.30 this evening to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. All are welcome.