A good example of a Crants or maiden’s garland is displayed in a glass case in the choir vestry and several others are held in storage. Each consists of a crown-shaped wooden frame wrapped in paper, adorned with paper rosettes and holding a variety of paper tokens or emblems: a fan, ribbons or a handkerchief. There are traces of polychrome decoration. Before the church was ‘restored’ in the mid-nineteenth century, it is said that ‘well over thirty’ were suspended from the old galleries.
Although many garlands remain at Abbot’s Ann in Hampshire where garlands were still being made and used as late as 1974, few historic specimens survive in other English churches. Local examples may be found also at Ashford-in-the-Water, Trusley and at Ilam in Dovedale.
The custom of carrying garlands before the corpses of unmarried females on their way to the grave was of ancient origin. St Augustine, St Jerome and other early writers allude to the practice of placing crowns at the head of deceased virgins. Ophelia in Hamlet was allowed her virgin crants (the reading is that of the Second and Third Quartos) despite her suicide. The crantses, or garlands, were hung up after the funeral in some conspicuous situation in the church in memory of the departed.
From William Adam, whose Gem of the Peak first appeared in 1838, we learn that the custom was then obsolete in Matlock. The remaining specimens must therefore date, at the latest, from the early nineteenth century and may well be older. Unlike examples elsewhere, the Matlock crantses are not identified by commemorative inscriptions.
Thank you to Richard Bradley for the pictures.