This notice is carved into St Mary Magdalen Bermondsey, an Anglican church in London. The name of the Rector dates it to the 1860s or thereabouts (though it did strike me as somewhat short-sighted to carve the name of the Rector into the very fabric of the building… surely they knew he wouldn’t be around forever? It’s been out of date for well over a century now!)
This sign intrigued me; I’m not embarrassed to confess that my ecclesiastical knowledge didn’t extend to understanding the word “churchings”. It turns out that a “churching” was a Church of England service for women who had recently given birth, thanking God for “the safe deliverance and preservation from the great dangers of childbirth”. It is no longer practised – presumably, people prefer to thank hygiene and medicine rather than God nowadays.
In the late 1800s, childbirth was a dangerous business in England: about 1 in 200 births ended in the mother’s death. These days, the figure is many, many times smaller: about 1 in 10,000. Yet, unbelievably, there are some countries, like Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, and Sierra Leone, where mothers giving birth today face a higher risk of death than those in England in the late 1800s. I wonder if they still practice “churchings”.