Churching of Women

Marie Heilbrunn

In December 1810, the new Governor of NSW, Lachlan Macquarie, issued orders that Chaplains and Assistant Chaplains keep exact Registers of Marriages, Christenings, Churching of Women and Funerals which they performed, and to make a correct Return thereof once in every quarter to the Secretary's Office at Sydney the said Registers were required to contain the Marriages, Christenings, Churchings, and Funerals, as of all Convicts and Prisoners as well as Free Persons.

Until recently I was unaware that Churching existed!

I was transcribing some births and baptisms on Reel of Early Church Records at Wyong Family History Group, when "Churchings" appeared. I asked the research room assistant who was on duty that day, what they were and she enlightened me, although she was unaware at the time that any had taken place in Australia. This led me to do some research at home: I found the following in Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia:

churched, church·ing, church·es
To conduct a church service for, especially to perform a religious service for (a woman after childbirth).

In Christian tradition churching of women was the ceremony wherein a blessing was given to mothers after recovery from childbirth. The ceremony included thanksgiving for the woman's survival of childbirth, and was performed even when the child had been stillborn, or died unbaptised. Although the ceremony itself contains no elements of purification, it has been attributed to Leviticus 12 2:8, where women are declared unclean after birth. It was formerly regarded as unlucky for a woman to leave her house to go out at all after confinement till she went to be churched.

My ancestors, Ann Griffin and Thomas Bates were married at St Philip's Church of England Church, Sydney by the Reverend Richard Johnson, on the 12th of May 1800, and had their eight children Baptised or Christened (depending on the Minister's Register) at St Philip's, although I could only find the three Churchings listed below:

Ann Bates Churching on the27th of September 1812, son William Bates, baptised the same day
Ann Bates Churching on the 10th of October 1814, James Bates, son was not baptised until 26th of February 1815
Ann Bates Churching on the 25th of May 1817, daughter Ann Bates was baptised the same day.

Interestingly, I also found the baptism entry for the following:

"Lachlan, Son of Major General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales, and Elizabeth Henrietta, his Wife: born at Sydney Monday 28th of March 1814, Privately Baptised 18th April and Publicly Christened Sunday 1st of May 1814."

"William Macquarie, son of Lt.Col. George Molle, Lt Governor of New South Wales and Catherine, his wife, born at sea 24th of December 1813, Privately Baptized 14th of February and Publicly Christened 1st of May 1814."

When Churchings were discussed at my U3A Creative Writing class, one of the participants remembered that she had the ceremony performed on her in a Catholic Church in London after the birth of her first child, but not for her subsequent children. However, it seems the practice is no longer carried out.