Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Whit branches in Berlin, 2017

Posted on by royvickery |

An earlier post on this website enquired whether birch (Betula) branches, which decorate in the church of St John in Frome, Somerset, for Pentecost (also known as Whitsun), are also used in German churches, and, if they are, how is custom explained.

On Pentecost, 4 June 2017, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church in Berlin was visited and found to be decorated with two large bunches of birch, one on either side of the altar.  When he was asked for information about the birch, the preacher at the church’s evening service explained that it was an old German custom, the explanation for which could be found in Psalm 118.  However, on consulting this psalm, no explanation could be found.

On Monday 5 June, the Zionskirche in Berlin was visited.  Here a vase of containing a small birch branch was placed in the entrance area, and birch twigs were incorporated in the flower arrangements elsewhere.

On the following day a visit was made to the Berlin Lutheran Cathedral, where, again, large bunches of birch were placed on each side of the altar.

It is noteworthy that most the birch observed was placed in containers of water, so that they did not dry out.  In the British Isles, where the birch is not provided with water, it is said that the leaves quiver as they dry out, and are thus symbolic of the movement of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Images:  top, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church, 4 June; middle, Zionskirche, 5 June; bottom, Berlin Cathedral, 6 June, 2017.



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