Beavers’ Tails and Butter Towers

Pulling a fast one: How about a beaver’s tail as a Lenten fare?!

Giving up meat during Lent has been a long held Lenten tradition because it meant giving up a luxury item.  Perhaps, with cheap meat and factory farming, we have rather lost the sense that meat is a luxury.  And yet it is still a good tradition to have, particularly considering the environmental impact of consuming too much meat!

In Medieval Times there were all kinds of strange ways in which some people tried to ‘pull a fast one’ on the Lenten Fast. 

Gerald of Wales, in the 12th century, reported that in Germany and the Arctic regions ‘great and religious persons’ eat the tails of beavers because of its superficial resemblance to fish.

A similar thing occurred among some catholics at the time when they discovered puffins – believing they were ‘half fish!’

Some people also sought to pay a dispensation to eat such things as eggs, butter and dairy products which were forbidden during Lent.

Many churches have been built from these funds, perhaps the most famous being the ‘Butter Tower’ of Rouen Cathedral.

Rouen Cathedral

Activities like fasting and eating frugally through Lent and on Fridays may have receded somewhat in years gone by but they are now beginning to be adopted again by the faithful. 

Such ‘external markers’ and ‘expressions’ of our faith are important.  They subtly distinguish us from others and can even serve as discreet witness in the workplace or among friends and family, and provide a good talking point!

Today, of course, we aren’t encouraged to ‘pull a fast one’ when it comes to fasting, and  neither do we need to  pay a dispensation to build our own Butter Towers!  However, our Lenten Fast can make a difference to other people’s lives.

The fasts of the rich are the feast of the poor

St Anselm

If we are making sacrifices during Lent, the money we would have spent can be given to others in need.  This year, our Lenten Charity is Christian Aid who are working with those who feel the impact of the Climate Crisis and experiencing drought which impacts their ability to grow food, people like Faith and her husband Steven who live in Kenya.

“But now Faith grows crops that are lush and green thanks to a nearby dam,” says the Christian Aid website. “Her local community got together to build the sand dam with the support of Christian Aid’s partner ADSE. The dam gives Faith’s community resilience in times of drought. A water source like this gives people like Faith a chance to not just survive, but thrive.”

“While the rains remain irregular, a dam means that when the rain does fall the community can collect every last drop. Because there is now water in Faith’s community, there is life. Faith’s hard work and determination has transformed this resource into a future for her family.” You can find out more here

Our Lenten offerings are presented at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday.  During that celebration we receive the command by Jesus to love one another as he has loved us, a command he illustrated by washing his disciples’ feet.  And so it’s appropriate, on that night, to bring our offerings for the poor and needy. 

Whatever you’re giving up for Lent, or however you’ll be sharing charity, just imagine what figurative ‘butter towers’ will be built from the sacrifices you make, as we seek through the likes of Christian Aid and others to rebuild lives and whole communities, supporting others in their need, and enabling them to stand tall!

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