By the 16th century, it was clear that the traditional English calendar, the Julian, needed reform. Rome’s Gregorian Calendar of 1582 ironed out the flaws, but the urge to fix what wasn’t broken proved too strong, and in Church matters it created more problems than it solved.
FOR some, the objections were political. In 1534, the Act of Supremacy had declared that the Pope could no longer claim any legal authority in England, and Westminster stubbornly refused to sign into law any calendar or Easter maths issued by her former master.
For others, the objections were more personal. When Parliament finally relented in 1752, September 2nd that year was immediately followed by September 14th, giving labourers less time to find the rent for Michaelmas Quarter Day. Long after, the ‘English style’ calendar was remembered with fondness, and much country lore remained tied to it.*
Rome also made changes that were not strictly necessary, redefining the first day of Spring, and allowing Easter to fall a day early, something the Church Fathers had always agreed obscured Christ’s crucifixion.* To this day, the Russian Church rejects these changes, keeping Easter and all her feasts according to the old Calendar – that is, she keeps them ‘English style’.*
* For some examples, see ‘Fragments Of Orthodoxy In English Popular Tradition’, by Archpriest Andrew Phillips. He quotes a popular doggerel rhyme:
IN seventeen hundred two and fifty,
Our style was changed to Popery,
But that it is liked we don’t agree.
* The Church’s conventional first day of Spring has been March 21st ever since the fourth-century; Rome now allows it to be March 20th if that more nearly matches the astronomical northern vernal equinox. Allowing Easter to fall too early was one of the criticisms of the Irish tradition at the Synod of Whitby in 664. See our post Bede and the Paschal Controversy.
* A Pan-Orthodox Congress in Constantinople in May 1923 proposed a Revised Julian Calendar that smoothed out the flaws but, like Rome, also introduced a new first day of Spring – nobody, it appears, can resist the temptation to do more than is necessary. Almost all Eastern churches still calculate Easter the old way, and many (notably Russia) keep the whole church year on the unrevised Julian calendar.