Maidens’ Garlands are a funerary memento for the death of a young chaste woman . They are also known as Virgin’s Crowns or Crants. The word Crant deriving from the German “ kranz”, meaning wreath, garland or chaplet.
The custom of hanging maidens’ garlands up in churches seems to have been common in the seventeenth, eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries. It is even mentioned in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet where at the burial of Ophelia
“…. She is allowed her virgin crants, her maiden strewments”.
They were usually made on to a wicker work frame and appeared to be similar to, and reference, floral bridal wreaths. They could be decorated with gold and silver filigree work , blown birds’ eggs , shells and with ribbons,, silk and paper flowers and rosettes.. Sometimes the flowers were made from paper which might be folded and crimped and then painted. In some places circular white parchment flowers are painted with black crosses. There was usually a center piece made from paper such as a collar or handkerchief or a glove. Sometimes there is text present – an epitaph which might have been chosen by the maiden herself.
The garlands were carried before the corpses of young unmarried women at their funerals or placed on the top of the coffin. By the 17th century it was customary for the garland to be hung over the dead girl’s pew or in the chancel of the church till it disintergrated. The paper gloves which are commonly incorporated into the design of the garland are thought to represent the metaphorical gauntlet ready to be thrown down to defend the dead girl’s honour should anyone dare to question her reputation or virginity.
These lines written by the poet Anna Seward in 1792 refer to the custom;
“The gloves suspended by the garland’s side
White as its snowy flowers with ribbon tied
Dear village! Long may these wreaths funeral spread,
Simple memorials of thy early dead”