These buns are made especially for Easter and are documented to have existed before the advent of Christian Easter celebrations. These were made as cakes from wheat which was used in Pagan Spring festivals. The buns were traditionally made on Good Friday in the Christian church with the dough kneaded for the Host and therefore marked with a cross to indicate this. These buns/cakes were also believed to have many special properties including the curing of certain illnesses (See also Mystical WWW Mystical Plants). They were also believed to last twelve months without turning mouldy which was of great use during Pagan times when the storage of food was imperative for survival. It was believed that they would protect against evil forces and fire if hung in the kitchen. Sailors believed that hot cross buns would protect against shipwreck if taken to sea. Farmers in certain parts of England (UK) also believed that they would protect the granary against rats.
The ancient Greeks made a similar type of bun called a ‘bous’ with horns dedicated to Apollo, Diana, the Moon and Hecate. It too was said to never go mouldy and to have mystical powers. The shape of the bun was said to represent the moon whilst the four quarters divided on the top of the bun represented the four quarters of the year.
Good Friday comes this month : the old woman runs.
With one a penny, two a penny ‘hot cross buns’,
Whose virtue is, if you believe what’s said,
They’ll not grow mouldy like the common bread.’
Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1733.