England's first Easter Bunny?

Published: Wednesday, March 31, 2021


Where is the oldest Bunny found in a church?

With Easter just around the corner a new book from the National Churches Trust  - 'The Treasures of English Churches' - features photographs of what may be the earliest 'Easter Bunnies' to be found in England's churches.

Although rabbits were brought to England by the Romans, according to legend the Easter Bunny came to the UK from Germany in the 1600s. Originally an Easter Hare, it was believed to lay a nest of colourful eggs for children who were good.

The oldest Bunnies in England appear occasionally – and endearingly – in medieval church stonework.

A charming Bunny was certainly there for all to see at Easter time inside St Mary's Church in the village of Elmley Castle in Worcestershire  in medieval times. And he can be still be seen today, a charmingly naïve fourteenth- century lone rabbit built into a wall inside the porch.

Another vintage Bunny is the one featured at St Mary's church, Beverley, East Yorkshire. This early fourteenth-century carving of an upright-walking rabbit carries a satchel over his shoulder. It is thought to be the model for John Tenniel's picture of the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

The third contender is in the church of St Nicholas in Barfreystone, Kent. It's part of a Norman wall frieze that shows a donkey and a monkey carrying a rabbit in a hod while a crouching man looks on.

The rabbits are featured in 'The Treasures of English Churches: Witnesses to the History of a Nation' by leading church photographer Matthew Byrne.

Church treasures

Releasing in May, the new book charts the history of England through its unique church furnishings, decorations and artwork, many of which have survived the upheavals of war, plague and reformation. From stunning Saxon sculpture to masterpieces of medieval woodcarving, polychrome brilliance of Victorian interiors to the moving memorial legacies of two world wars, the book is a new and remarkable window into English history.

Matthew who has been exploring, studying and photographing English churches for nearly 40 years, said: "I hope this book will help encourage readers to venture out and discover for themselves England's wonderful churches. Getting more people to visit churches is one way in which these magnificent buildings can be safeguarded for the future, as it helps to show those responsible for funding church buildings that they remain an important and loved part of our heritage."

Claire Walker, CEO of the National Churches Trust said: "With many church buildings under threat due to the ravages of time and with fewer worshippers to look after them, this book shows the importance of their art and architecture and why this needs to be preserved for future generations".

The book will be published in May 2021 by Shire/Bloomsbury with the support of CCLA Investment Management. Find out how to reserve your copy.