Rushbearing at Forest Chapel.
High up in the Macclesfield forest is a strange place to come across an isolated church, also to find that it has been built next to the even stranger Toot hill where the remains of an ancient earthworks can be found, and also where I found an unexplained alignment which I have followed for about fifteen miles and which took me out of Cheshire and over the border into Staffordshire, however that is another story which I have writtten about concerning the Dodd Man.
Returning to the subject of Forest Chapel as it is known locally, its official name being St Stephen’s, it can be found by following the road through Langley from the town of Macclesfield and following the Macclesfield forest sign posts, you will eventually come to the Leathers Smithy pub, you need to bear left here and follow the small road which climbs up through the forest, eventually after about a mile the road will lead you to the small church.
Apart from its isolated location what sets this church apart from others is the unusual custom of Rushbearing which takes place one Sunday in August. The ceremony which takes place here and the decorations made from the rushes are quite conservative compared to other Rushbearing ceremonies which take place at other churches in the country. Here at Forest Chapel the approach to the church is strewn with rushes as is the church floor and simple decorations are placed in the church. It is not known how long this custom has been celebrated for but written church records show that it has been carrying on here since at least the late eighteenth century and in other parts of the country it can be traced back to at least the fifteenth century.
As to the reason the ceremony takes place I initially thought it may have been symbolic and represented Jesus entering Jerusalem and palm fronds being spread on the ground before him, however this would have taken place before Easter and have been connected with Palm Sunday. The reason tends to be more mundane as churches years ago would have had earthen floors and the rushes were spread across the floor for cleanliness and to fill the church with a pleasant aroma.
Some churches have a floral procession in the Rushbearing ceremony and this may have had its origins from the Roman pageant in honour of the Goddess Flora or in even older Celtic Summer rituals.
Another unusual fact concerning Forest Chapel is that in the graveyard can be found a gravestone recording the death of a Forest Farmer by the name of George Goodwin who lived to be over 100years old and had the ability to recite any passage from the Bible from memory.