Dicing for Bibles, CambridgeshireSome folk customs are just impossible to understand, and the dicing for bibles that has gone on in St Ives since 1678 is one of them. It is not the process that defeats comprehension; it is the reasoning behind it.
Dr Robert Wilde, poet and Puritan clergyman, died of an asthma attack in 1678, though he had lived into his sixties, not a bad age for the time. In his will he bequeathed £50 to the town, which was invested in land. The revenue from what came to be known as Bible Orchard was to be used for the purchase of twelve bibles, six to be given to girls, six boys, all of whom must be local and literate.
So far so good. But the way the children are chosen is by dicing of all things, and at Pentecost too. Strange enough for a Puritan , but stranger still in that it was to be done on the altar! It is suggested that Wilde was poking fun at the pomp that had become fashionable again in the Restoration Church after the simpler days of the Commonwealth. Or that it was the bible itself that was key in Christian worship, and how people came to know 'the word' was irrelevant. Alternatively Wilde may have been what the British like to refer to as 'an eccentric', or one prophet short of a book. A Puritan promoting gambling? In the church? The Vicar and his churchwardens get to feast well and wash the meal down with good wine into the bargain as part of the day, which makes it even stranger coming from a strict Puritan. But the strangeness of the event has possibly ensured its survival, the lasting fame of Robert Wilde, and the continuation of his charity, which may have been another reason for the weird happenings.
In the late Victorian era a horrified Vicar succeeded in moving the dicing off the altar and onto a table in the church, and eventually it exited the church for the local school, but happily it is now carried out again in the church, though finding enough children to receive the books, let alone have a competition for them, is supposedly becoming difficult.
More British Folk Customs?