The Wardens Wands



I am a history geek with a sub-specialty of church history geekdom and as such I am interested in all things related to church and the history of worship.  This season, I have been hired by the Old North Church Foundation as a Church educator.  These are the folks that give tours to people and try to debunk many of the myths of history like “did Paul Revere hang the lanterns in the steeple.”    Like I said, I am a church geek and so the unusual things attract me and first up will be what are known as the Wardens Wands.  The wands at Old North are not as fancy as others, but the purpose is the same.

The role of the Church Warden varies not only by congregation but by country of origin.  Christ Church in Boston, Commonly known as Old North, began her life as a Congregation in the Anglican tradition.  After the War for Independence, the Church became Episcopal, but many of the traditions carried over.

The role of the Warden has changed since the 18th century.  Elected or appointed wardens had the responsibility to keep order in the church and the churchyard.  Wardens could remove unruly parishioners and fine them for their unsavory behavior.  They had powers of arrest on church property and would patrol the inside and outside of the church during services, and this is where the wand comes in.

The wand is usually a long wooden pole that is topped with a finial of some sort often silver or brass.  In the case of the wands at Old North, they are wooden.  The wand was a symbol of office and would be carried by the Wardens in process ahead of the bishop, and used for protection of the bishop

The wands were also used as a way to move large groups of people in and out of the church and for self-protection during the exercise of their duties.  The wand was also used to keep people awake during services, especially the sermon.  18th-century church services could last several hours, and sometimes the preacher was not very skilled in his oration so people might nod off a little.  The warden would come by and poke them with the end of their wand to bring them back to consciousness.  I have heard that there was an additional wand with a feather on it that was used on the ladies in the congregation.

I am not sure what would go on inside of the Church, but obviously, there must have been some unruly crowds if there was a need to arm the wardens for their protection.  There are historical accounts of clergy saying things that the congregation has disagreed with and even some historical accounts of clergy being rushed and taken out of the church by force.  But those accounts are left to history, I hope.

I Wardens Wands at Old North are primarily decorative now and can be seen in the first Box Pew as you enter the sanctuary.  A reminder of the past but also there to be pressed into service if necessary.

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