Anyone who has seen the mysterious numbers and letters ’20 + C + M + B + 21′ scrawled above the doors of homes in recent days may fear that something mischievous is afoot.
Perhaps it is burglars marking their next target? Or workmen marking up a property for demolition?
The ‘code’ in fact marks the return of a centuries-old Christian practice of scrawling ‘holy graffiti’ to celebrate the festival of the Epiphany – the three Wise Men’s visit to Baby Jesus in Bethlehem which many Britons know through the traditional Christmas nativity story.
The trend, known as ‘chalking the door’, has seen a sudden revival in Britain in 2021 as Christians hit hard by the coronavirus crisis seek to lift community spirits.
It is believed to have originated in Central Europe at the end of the Middle Ages before spreading to Britain.
The centuries-old Christian tradition of ‘chalking the door’ has seen a revival among worshippers seeking to lift spirits amid the coronavirus crisis. Pictured: The front door of the Reverend Ben Norton
The Reverend Arwen Folkes, the rector of St Peters Church in East Blatchington, Seaford, East Sussex, told The Telegraph that this year’s tradition is particularly meaningful because of the Covid-19 pandemic
The initials in the code – C, M and B – commemorate the kings who are said to have visited Jesus – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
The initials also stand for the Latin prayer Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which translates as: ‘May Christ bless this house’.
The ’20’ and ’21’ numbers in the code mark the numerals of the New Year.
The Reverend Arwen Folkes, the rector of St Peters Church in East Blatchington, Seaford, East Sussex, told The Telegraph that this year’s tradition is particularly meaningful because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said she offered it last year to locals but some were ‘bemused’ by it. Since the pandemic struck at the start of last year, ‘I can’t tell you the comfort this has brought to people’, she added.
The initials in the code – C, M and B – commemorate the kings who are said to have visited Jesus – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Pictured: The code above the door of St Bartholomew The Great church in Smithfield, Central London
On Twitter yesterday, Jonathan Livingstone, the Hospitaller at St Bartholomew The Great, posted pictures of him ‘chalking the door’ at the church
The church was founded in the 12th-Century and is the oldest parish church in London
What is ‘Chalking the door’?
Chalking the door is one of the practices which takes place to mark the feast of the Ephiphany – a Christian feast day to celebrate the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.
It traditionally takes place either on the Twelfth Night (January 5) – which is the twelfth day and final day of Christmas – or on Epiphany Day (January 6).
Christians will write on their doors with chalk the initials of the three kings, or magi, who are said to have visited Jesus after his birth.
This year’s code is 20 + C + M + B + 21, with the numbers marking the year and the letters representing Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.
The letters are also seen as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase Christus mansionem benedicat, which means ‘May Christ bless this house’.
The four crosses in between the numbers and letters mark north, south, east and west.
Families will often say a prayer before chalking their door.
‘In January 2020 none of us knew how profoundly important reviving the tradition of blessing and chalking one’s home would prove to be,’ Rev Folkes said.
‘Those little numbers and letters on the entrance became a reminder of faith and strength for the year that was about to unfold on us.’
One of the preacher’s parishioners said it was a ‘lovely idea’ to bless their home.
The woman, Kay Blackburn, added: ‘It also gives you an opportunity to think about the role of the Three Kings and that they followed a star, and how we all have to follow our own star. It’s quite a deep thing.’
Chalking the door is performed on or near the feast of the Epiphany, which comes on January 6.
The day itself celebrates the moment when God became man in the form of Jesus Christ.
Worshippers will take chalk away from the Epiphany church service to mark their doors at home in commemoration of the journey made by the three Wise Men to visit Jesus after he had been born to the Virgin Mary.
On Twitter yesterday, Jonathan Livingstone, the Hospitaller at St Bartholomew The Great Church in Smithfield, Central London, celebrated the Epiphany.
He posted pictures of him chalking the doors of the place of worship, which was founded in the 12th-Century and is the oldest parish church in London.
He also wrote: ‘It is an ancient tradition of the church that people take chalk away from the Epiphany service and mark their home and pray over it, remembering the journey of the Wise Men.
‘The Wise Men, traditionally called Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, followed the star to find God’s Son, who became man 2021 years ago.
‘May Christ bless this house of prayer. God is love & those who abide in love abide in God & God abides in them. Christ is present in the love & care we manifest to each other in our daily lives together. Amen. @StBartholomews.’
Other priests took to social media to share their photos.
Reverend Alison Thomas, the curate at St Paul’s, Forebridge and St Thomas & St Andrew, in Doxey, Stafford, wrote: ‘Chalking the door #Epiphany God of heaven and earth, you revealed your Son to all nations by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it.
‘Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. Amen’.
Reverend Alison Thomas, the curate at St Paul’s, Forebridge and St Thomas & St Andrew, in Doxey, Stafford, posted her own photo and wrote: ‘Chalking the door #Epiphany God of heaven and earth, you revealed your Son to all nations by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it’
The front door of the Reverend Dan Scott, the vicar of a Church in London
Another, the Reverend Dan Scott, the vicar of a Church in London, posted photos of his door as well as of his daughter after she had chalked the slabs in his garden.
He wrote: ‘Chalking of the door, and the pavement! 20 + C + M + B + 21 Asking Christ’s blessing at Epiphany for this year on this house and wonderful neighbourhood.
‘It’s been a long time coming but will be sad to move on when we do in a few weeks We have been so blessed by this place.’