King Umbrella.

Umbrellas in Religious Ceremonies

Umbrellas in Religious Ceremonies

In the 21st century Britain we largely view umbrellas as wholly practical items that protect us from the rain. They are also very disposable things in the modern age, with a depressing 1.1 billion umbrellas thrown away worldwide each year.

It wasn’t always this way though. The umbrella has a very noble past, starting out like a parasol to protect people from the sun in Ancient Egypt. The earliest known are seen in Egyptian art dating back to the Fifth Dynasty, around 2450 BC. The Egyptians used umbrellas both for practical and ornamental purposes, with many temple wall paintings and reliefs showing a servant holding a parasol over a god during a procession.

Due to the expense and expertise needed to manufacture them in ancient times, umbrellas and parasols became objects of power and status, and were used to protect important people such as gods, royalty and religious leaders (a world away from their current ubiquity). This led to many religions adopting parasols and umbrellas as part of their ceremonies.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at how the different religions have used umbrellas in the past and right up to the present day.

Ancient Greece

The people of Ancient Greece believed in multiple deities (polytheism), and umbrellas featured in ceremonies devoted to several different gods and goddesses.

During the festival of the Skirophoria, which marked the end of the old year in May or June, a white parasol was carried from the Acropolis to the Temple of Phalerus by the priestesses of goddess Athena. White parasols were also associated with gods Demeter and Persephone, who represented the harvest, and they were also used when praying to the gods of fertility.

Brightly coloured umbrellas were carried by followers of Dionysus, god of wine and pleasure, in festivals and processions. This may have led to their popularity with women as tools for mating rituals – to either flirt with or ward off men – and then as a fashion accessory. Umbrellas that could open and close were mentioned in the writings of comic playwright Aristophanes who lived during the 5th century BC.

Oriental Orthodox Churches

The Oriental Orthodox Churches are a group of Christian churches that have between 60 and 70 million members worldwide. They are some of the oldest churches in the world and have played a part in shaping the history and culture of countries including Armenia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Middle East. In some of these churches, umbrellas are carried as part of their public worship to show honor to an important person, such as a bishop, or a holy object.