Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the second annual Death Salon in London at the truly incredible Barts Pathology Museum. As part of the closing day event, we attended a walking tour led by Guided Walks in London and learned some of the more sinister history of Smithfield. Things we had been encountering on a daily basis on our way around Barts had remarkable tales to tell, all revealed by our wonderful tour guide.
One of them is a ceremony which occurs on Good Friday known as the Butterworth Charity at St. Bartholomew the Great church that dates back hundreds of years. Originally known as the “Widow’s Sixpence” to distribute charity to the poor, a trust was created in 1887 by Joshua Butterworth, which stated: “On Good Friday in each year to distribute in the churchyard of St. Bartholomew the Great the sum of 6d. to twenty-one poor widows, and to expend the remainder of such dividends in buns to be given to children attending such distribution, and he desired that the Charity intended to be thereby created should be called ‘the Butterworth Charity.’”
The tradition of distributing hot cross buns at St. Bartholomew the Great every Good Friday continues, decades later.
Hot cross buns are said to date back to the 12th century. The icing cross on top of the bun is intended to signify the manner in which Christ was crucified, the bread itself, his body and the spices, typically cinnamon and nutmeg symbolize the embalming preservatives his burial shroud was coated with following his death.
According to John Ayto, in An A-Z of Food & Drink, states “The English custom of eating spiced buns on Good Friday was perhaps institutionalized in Tudor times, when a London bylaw was introduced forbidding the sale of such buns except at Good Friday, at Christmas and at burials.”
At St. Bartholomew the buns are served off of this grave.
Of course, yesterday I spent the day making hot cross buns. If you’d like to try them yourself, I used The Pioneer Woman’s recipe, which you can find here. Mine certainly aren’t as pretty but they taste great. Just a warning the recipe makes far more than we could eat, so plan on sharing or storing the dough in the refrigerator to bake a second, fresh batch, for Easter Sunday.
Archive images courtesy of Bishopsgate Institute
All other photographs were taken by the author, Sarah Troop
John Ayto, An A-Z of Food & Drink, 2002