Bedstraws do exactly what it says on the tin. Before modern mattresses, most people slept on a pallisasse filled with straw of one sort or another. Beyond wheat and barley there were the wild flowers we still call hedge, marsh, heath and Lady’s bedstraws.
The story goes that on the night that Jesus was born, Mary’s mattress was filled this dried , sweet smelling herb. It became the the custom to fill the mattresses of expectant mum’s with Lady’s Bedstraw – an act of solidarity that reveals another dimension to Jesus words, “In as much as you did it to any of these little ones you did it to me.” (Matthew 25)
Cue Chrstmas carols: ” See him lying on a bed of straw” followed by Sydney Carter’s “Every Star shall sing a carol”, stopping to reflect on the line ,” When the King of all Creation had a cradle on the earth, holy was the human body, holy was the human birth.”
St. Margaret’s was the go to saint for women in childbirth, the stories told how she had miraculously been brought forth from inside a dragon that had consumed her. Mortal danger for babe and mother in childbirth were once the norm in Europe and remains so in many places still.
Here in a country churchyard, Walsingham bound pilgrims find an opportunity to consider messy practicalities of incarnation – life and death.