We tend to think they are just associated with Good Friday but these are cakes which pre-date Christian times. Something similar were in fact made by the Greeks and Romans and were eaten in the celebrations for festivals in praise of their gods.
As well as celebrating Diana the ancient Greeks marked these cakes with a horned symbol in offerings to Astarte. Petrified cakes were found in the ruins outside Naples amidst the deposits from the volcano, Vesuvius, in 79AD.
The early Saxons had similar buns to those mentioned above at their March ceremony of sun worship.
We do not know exactly when these cakes became associated with Christianity but very similar ones were given to the poor at St Alban’s Abbey in the mid 14th Century and this custom spread to other places so that by the 18th Century the eating of hot cross buns had become customary throughout the land.
The buns represented the unleavened bread eaten at The Last Supper and the cross was the sign made by Christ over each piece of bread before it was eaten.
As might have been expected the hot cross bun has given rise to its own folklore and it has been claimed that they were a cure for various ailments, especially of the stomach, one of which was dysentery, but they were also said to cure whooping cough.
At one time folk used to hang them on buildings in the belief that they offered protection from bad luck.
The making of these buns seems to be very much an English custom now for they were little mentioned in Scotland or Wales. Time was when the ladies got up early on Good Friday to make these buns and in the towns bakers worked all night to have their products ready and then they would walk out with their loaded trays to shout, ‘Hot Cross Buns’ etc – in fact the words of the ditty mentioned above.
These cakes seem to to be available all round the year now but there is still an emphasis put on their significance at Easter time.
It is nice to see our old customs remaining and long live our enjoyment of our hot cross buns.
l Next week in Part 37 – Admiration for Paper Lads and Lasses.