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Events | Lore & Legend | Rather Interesting | Cultural Britain

Boars Head Feast, Oxfordshire

No medieval banquet on film or television is complete without a boar's head on a gold or silver platter, indeed even after that period great winter feasts lack something if the boar's head is missing.
The reasons for this abound: some would have it dating back to the Norse invaders who were legendary for their carousing; rather more prosaically a slaughtered pig or hunted boar would see a family through the winter, and nothing went to waste - some still enjoy Bath Chaps, the meat from the cheek and jawbone of the pig; brawn made use of the brain; and pigs ears cooked long and slowly (after the hair is singed off) become gelatinously chewy morsels. For some the killing of the boar is a sacrifice to Freyr. For others it shows the triumph of good over evil as symbolised by the unarguably ugly boar's head.
But one place, Queen's College Oxford , has a special claim on the boar's head feast, carrying on the tradition today as it has since the 14th century. There is a legend surrounding the origin of the feast at Queen's: a scholar there, making his way to midnight mass through the woods of Shotover, was confronted by a wild boar. The boar is aggressive, and with teeth and tusks that could make a mess (and a meal) of an unarmed man as this student was. The scholar though was carrying a copy of Aristotle, with metal binding. As the beast opened its jaws to attack he shoved the book into its throat and choked it to death. On Christmas Day that year (possibly the year the college was founded, 1341) the boar was part of the feast, its head displayed with requisite fruit in mouth - Apple, Orange or Lemon.
These days the ceremony at Queen's College is held before Christmas Day, but the singing of the Boar's Head song, the gathering of the senior members of the college, and the sounding of trumpets in the college quadrangles to call the members to dinner is done now as it has been for half a millennium. The solo singer of the Boar's Head song is presented with the orange from its mouth. The traditional bay and rosemary which adorn the head on the silver platter presented for the occasion by Sir Joseph Williamson in 1668 are distributed to various onlookers. And the celebratory meal proceeds.
Others have taken up the tradition, especially in the USA: Reed College in Oregon; Oglethrope University in Atlanta; Queen's University, Charlotte, North Carolina; and most notably Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati.

More British Folk Customs?

1 Response to Boars Head Feast

From P.J.Morlock on 5th October 2009
This is also performed by The Worshipful Company of Cutlers in Cutlers Hall in The City of London when entertaining the Lord Mayor Almost exactly as described, with an oration explaining its origins, mentioning Freyer,the winter solstice,and the incident in Shotover. For more info contact The Clerk, Cutlers Hall, London EC4M 7 BR

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