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Olney Hymnal a unique and cherished race prize

KSCB News - January 29, 2016 8:09 am

The International Pancake Day Race is famous, but some lesser known traditions are also an important part of the day.

Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is the day before Lent, and each year after the race, the community attends a shriving service. In fact, a shriving service is how Pancake Day racing started.

In Olney, the Pancake Race tradition dates back more than 500 years to 1445. A woman engrossed in using up cooking fats (forbidden during Lent) was making pancakes. Hearing the church bells ring calling everyone to the shriving service, she grabbed her head scarf (required in church) and ran to the church, skillet and pancake in hand and still apron-clad. In following years, neighbors got into the act and it became a race to see who could reach the church first.

The verb shrive (shrove, shriven) comes from the Old English verb scrifan, “to decree, decree after judgment, impose a penance upon (the penitent), hear the confession of," according to the American Heritage Dictionary. Shrove Tuesday is the day to reflect, to seek penance and get ready for Lent, and so we have the shriving service, the religious component of the holiday.

One hymn that is always sung during the shriving service in Liberal is “Amazing Grace,” a song that is especially meaningful to the Pancake Day Race winner each year. Among the array of prizes she receives— the tiara, the trophy, the silver tray, the medal, and the roses— is a small book, bound in green cloth and imprinted on the front with a gold silhouette of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Olney, England.

This is the Olney Hymnal, the traditional gift to the race winner each year from Olney. The most famous hymn in the book is “Amazing Grace,” penned by John Newton when he was the curate of the church in Olney between 1765-1780. The Olney Hymns were first published in February 1779, and are the combined work of Newton (1725–1807) and his poet friend, William Cowper (1731–1800).


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