Ryde Social Heritage Group research the social history of the citizens of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Documenting their lives, businesses and burial transcriptions.
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Saints, Souls and Servicemen


Images of cemeteries, graves and wreaths, (particularly poppies), are prominent in November and at Ryde Cemetery poppy crosses will be placed on war memorials by families and friends in memory of lost loved ones.

However November has been associated with remembrance and death for thousands of years, not just since Armistice Day at the end of the First World War in 1918.

In the Christian Church All Saints’ Day (officially the Solemnity of All Saints and also called All Hallows), is celebrated on the 1st November in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. The next day, All Souls’ Day, commemorates all of the departed faithful. The Eve of All Hallows (Hallowe’en), on 31st October, since ancient times has been associated with the spirits of the ancestors being in closest contact with mortals on the earth. This date links to the old Celtic calendar and Samhain, an end of harvest and death of summer celebration, with elements of a ‘Festival of Death’ and the lighting of bonfires, believed to be a cleansing ritual. With the Roman conquest of Celtic lands in the first century, Roman festivals of Feralia (a celebration of the dead) and Pomona (goddess of fruit and trees) were incorporated around the date of Samhain.

As well as November 1st being a time of remembrance for All Saints, the month celebrates three other specific saints’ days:


St Martin’s (Martinmas), on the 11th has been the feast day of St Martin of Tours since the 7th century. Martin was a Roman foot soldier who became a monk and the most famous tale about him tells of him sharing his cloak with a starving beggar one snowy night. This gave rise to the expression ‘a St Martin’s Summer’, meaning an unseasonable mild spell of weather in winter. For many generations Martinmas was also one of the Quarter Days when debts, rents and land tenacies were due and hiring fairs took place. Martin is the patron saint of wine growers and French wine makers traditionally celebrated on Martinmas with the release of their ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ wines. After 1918 when Martinmas coincided with Armistice Day, as a mark of respect for the fallen, the release of ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ was changed to a date later in the month.


November the 20th is St Edmund’s Day, Edmund being King of East Anglia in Anglo-Saxon times. He unfortunately met his death at the hands of rampaging Vikings. Not surprisingly he is buried in Bury-St Edmunds!St Andrew


November the 30th is the feast day of St Andrew who Christians believe was one of the disciples of Jesus. He is the patron saint of many countries including Scotland, Greece, Romania and Russia. In some European countries traditions link the Eve of St Andrew with magic revelations on future husbands! For example in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, young women would write down the names of potential marriage partners on scraps of paper and stick these into pieces of dough, called Halusky. When cooked, the first one to float to the surface of the water would reveal the name of their future husband. In Poland, some women put pieces of paper (on which they have written potential husbands) under the pillow and first thing in the morning they take one out, which allegedly reveals THE one!

Image of St Andrew from Wikipedia


Many centuries after the establishment of all these saints’ days, with the discovery of ‘The Gunpowder Plot’ in 1605, the Fifth of November became another remembrance occasion for Britain. This celebrates the avoidance of the death of King James I and many people in and surrounding Westminster and is a perfect opportunity to incorporate the bonfire tradition.


grave with wreath


Finally in most recent times we have remembrance for Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, marking the end of World War I. In 1945 at the end of World War II, this became Remembrance Day (or Remembrance Sunday), to include both wars and was fixed to the nearest Sunday to the 11 November. The poppy is traditionally worn for Remembrance Day in memory of members of the armed forces who lost their lives in both World Wars and subsequent conflicts up to the present day. Red poppies represent those that grew in Flanders fields in World War I where many thousands lost their lives. In USA the date is known as Veterans Day.





Sources: Wikipedia & extracts from ‘Curious Country Customs’ (Jeremy Hobson 2007)