23rd March 2008. When Does Easter Fall?
The first Sunday after the first full (Paschal) moon) occurring on or after the Vernal Equinox: Easter Sunday.
In 2008 Easter Sunday fell on March 23rd, the earliest since 1913: the next time it will be this early will be 2160.(1)
Tomes have been written on the horrendous complexities involved in the early Christian era in an attempt to compute Easter, combining theological and astronomical considerations.
The early northern and western Celtic Church were unaware of wider changes introduced by the Council of Nicea 325, which established Sunday as Easter Day. Not until when Columbanus (543-615) the Irish monk scholar travelled to Europe did the variation become apparent.
The Northumbrian, King Oswy kept to the calendar of the monks of Lindisfarne, whilst his wife Eanfled of Kent stayed true to the tradition of Rome.
The King thus had ended the Lenten fast and was keeping Easter, whilst the Queen was still fasting and keeping Palm Sunday.(2)
All was confusion and a dispute which troubled many minds who ‘feared that they might have received the name of Christian in vain’.
The Synod of Whitby 664 was to adjudicate in favour of Rome, rejecting the dating of Columban Iona and thus bringing the Northumbria Church into line with the rest of Europe.
Then in the 8thc the influential Venerable Bede, monk of Jarrow, decided to finally reconcile matters and his 725 seminal work, De Temporum Ratione. ‘On the reckoning of Time’, adopted the tables conceived in 525 by the Egyptian monk, Dionysius Exiguous (Denis the Little).(3)
These tables were designed according to a 19 year lunar cycle after which cycle the same Easter dates would occur. It also settled any arguments between Rome and Alexandria: the western and eastern capitals of Christendom.
However it was not until the 10th century that all churches and monasteries were brought into line so all were singing to the same hymn sheets on Easter.
(1) The earliest it can be is 22nd March, last in 1818 and next in 2285.
(2) W & R. Chambers’ Book of Days (1864): ‘The strictness with which our ancestors observed Lent and fast-days led to a prodigious consumption of fish…. the choice vianders (meat-eaters) of the fourteenth century paid epicurean prices for delicious morsels of whale, porpoise, grampus and the sea-wolf, ironic in that these are all mammalian, not fish and how much sin (though unmindful), was occasioned can only be conjectured’.
The close adherence to dietary dictates was due to tight enforcement by the Church and even eating flesh in Lent up to the Reformation was rewarded with the pillory or worse. The Countess of Leicester’s household at Dover Castle consumed over 1,000 herrings a day in Lent in 1265.
(3) It was the Venerable Bede monk of Jarrow in his Historia Ecclesiastia, who saw the confusion that Easter was sometimes kept twice in one year.
Bede also adopted the use of Anno Domini (AD) in our dating system.