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House blessings (also known as house healings, house clearings, house cleansings and space clearing) are rites intended to protect the inhabitants of a house or apartment from misfortune, whether before moving into it or to "heal" it after an occurrence. Many religions have house blessings of one form or another.
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A Christmas wreath adorning a home, with the top left hand corner of the front door chalked for Epiphanytide and the wreath hanger bearing a placard of the Angel Gabriel
In Christianity, house blessing is an ancient tradition, that can be found in Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and some branches of Protestantism. In Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Methodism and Orthodoxy, they are usually performed by a pastor who may sprinkle holy water (depending on denominational tradition) as he walks through every room of the house, accompanied by the occupants of the house, whilst praying for the occupants.
House blessings date back to the early days of Christianity, and in Catholicism, the rite takes the form of a prayer, with intercessions and several benedictions. Blessed salt and incense may also be used. Matthew 2:11 says:
"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh."
Consequently, Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and Orthodox Christians often have their homes blessed at Epiphany, on January 6; this blessing often starts with the Christian custom of chalking the door and prayer at the home altar. The custom of the Epiphanytide house blessing commemorates the visitation of the Magi to the child Jesus. The rite may also be accompanied by a home enthronement, although this is a separate ceremony and is more focused on the consecration of the occupants of the home.
House blessings in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country take the form of printed cards, framed and hung on the walls of the sitting room, and trace their origins to similar practices in The Netherlands and Belgium. Blessings, employed by Catholics and Protestants alike, usually incorporate a picture of Christ's crucifixion and a prayer "to the Sweet Name of Jesus and His dear saints". Many of these were printed in Belgium, and Turnhout.
In Alsace, such blessings have origins in the Pestbriefe (pestilence letters) of the Middle Ages, sold at fairs to those wishing to protect themselves from disease, and the Feuerbriefe (fire letters) brought back by pilgrims from Cologne and containing prayers to the Three Kings (usually with the letters "CMB", for Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar, incorporated somewhere into the design) for protecting their homes from fire and disaster. Other blessings, found in Alsace and brought to Pennsylvania, include blessings of the entranceway to a house, stable blessings invoking Saint Leonard or Saint Blasius, blessings against Feuer und Brand addressed to Saint Agatha, and even blessings for house pets addressed to Saint Florentius.
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