1st August - The Feast of Saint Peter ad Vincula or 'Petersfinger Day'

Saint Peter in Chains Pietr ad Vincula Petersfinger

August the 1st is the Feast of Peter in Chains. The village of Petersfinger is named after the feast. The reason why the village comes to be named after the feast is rather complicated.

The feast of Saint Peter in Chains commemorates this passage in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’:

12:1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.

12:2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

12:3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) 12:4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

12:5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

12:6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.

12:7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands[1].

‘Peter in Chains’ is rendered in Latin as ‘Saint Peter ad Vincula’. There are a number of churches and chapels dedicated to ‘Saint Peter ad Vincula’ across the country[2], the most famous being the Chapel in the Tower of London[3].

‘Saint Peter ad Vincula’ is corrupted elsewhere in England to ‘Petersfinger’[4]. However there is no church of Saint Peter ad Vincula in the area. This is because the name isn’t a reference to a place of worship but to the land itself and to the religious festival.

The land in the Petersfinger area came under a now-vanished system of ownership. For part of the year it was in private hands, but for the rest it was opened for public use. This seems to have been more commonly known as ‘Lammas Land’. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that:

A relic of the old “open-field” system of agriculture survives in the so-called “Lammas Lands.” These were lands enclosed and held in severalty during the growing of corn and grass and thrown open to pasturage during the rest of the year for those who had common rights. These commoners might be the several owners, the inhabitants of a parish, freemen of a borough, tenants of a manor, &c. The opening of the fields by throwing down the fences took place on Lammas Day (12th of August) for corn-lands and on Old Midsummer Day (6th of July) for grass. They remained open until the following Lady Day. (Baylis v. Tyssen-Amherst, 1877, 6 Ch. D., 50).[5]

This is what applied at Petersfinger.

The ancient forest of Clarendon was of great extent, and was doubtless the chief attraction. The boundary was at Peter’s Finger (corruption of St Peter ad Vincula), where were certain Lammas lands[6].

For some reason, the land around Petersfinger became common land on ‘Saint Peter in Chains’ day (1st August) rather than ‘Lammas’ day (6th or 12the August).

A previous vicar of Alderbury shared this opinion:

1 I am indebted for these notes on Clarendon to my uncle, the Rev. Canon R. S. Hutchings, so long vicar of Alderbury. He interprets " Petersfinger " as St. Peter-ad- Vincula, these being Lammas lands.[7]

Image Credit

By MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons


[1] The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Old Testament Of The King James Version Of The Bible., URL: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10/10-h/10-h.htm#The_Acts_of_the_Apostles

[2] St. Peter ad Vincula - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter_ad_Vincula#United_Kingdom

[3] Discover The History Of The Chapel Royal Of St Peter Ad Vincula, URL: http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/Sightsandstories/Prisoners/Towers/ChapelRoyalofStPeter

[4] The St Peters Finger, Lytchett Minster,… © John Lamper :: Geograph Britain and Ireland, URL: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/81963

[5] The Project Gutenberg eBook of Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume XVI Slice II - Lamennais, Robert de to Latini, Brunetto., URL: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/41773/41773-h/41773-h.htm

[6] Wiltshire, Frank Heath, , URL: https://archive.org/stream/wiltshire00heat#page/110/mode/2up

[7] Full text of “Memorials of old Wiltshire”, URL: http://www.archive.org/stream/memorialsofoldwi00dryd/memorialsofoldwi00dryd_djvu.txt