The Church of the Assumption in Germantown is set to bring back an ancient Catholic tradition to Nashville this month – “the Beating of the Bounds.”
Assumption is one of the oldest and most historically notable churches in the Diocese of Nashville, dedicated in 1859. It is well known for leading the charge of preserving traditional worship forms and practices in Nashville, such as the Latin Mass, street processions, and vespers, and offering an Assumption Novena in the leadup to the Feast of the Assumption.
“We’re certainly all about tradition at Assumption. That’s something we prize very highly,” said Assumption Pastor Father S.B. Price.
On Saturday, May 20, Assumption will bring back a medieval tradition, the “Beating of the Bounds.” The tradition began as an ancient practice that served as a way of teaching and enforcing the external boundaries between different Catholic parishes, which allowed citizens to know which churches they were required to pay their taxes to. Parishioners would walk along the boundary of a parish to familiarize themselves with it. Along the way, they would beat boundary markers with rods.
But in today’s world, Father Price sees the ceremony as a tool for community building and evangelism.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to get the parish together,” Father Price said. “Most of our parishioners do not live in Germantown, in the boundaries. They drive in and do not have a connection to the place so much as a connection to the church.
“But it is important to understand that parishes are places that work for the care of souls and that priests are responsible for the people within these boundaries,” he added.
Father Price describes the ceremony as a combination of religious and fitness event. Members of the church were given the opportunity to sign up early. However, members of the public are more than welcome to join the greater than 75-person procession, which will meet at the church gazebo at 8 a.m. and walk the eight-mile boundary for roughly two to three hours before returning for a picnic.
The procession will be an excellent opportunity for parishioners to gain a close connection to the area. Many notable Nashville landmarks exist within the boundaries of Assumption’s parish, including the state library, the Tennessee State Museum, the Bicentennial Mall, the Farmers Market, the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, the Nashville Sounds stadium, the Tennessee Titans practice field, and even Nashville’s oldest Jewish cemetery.
Father Price sees the ceremony as an important opportunity to evangelize to the growing and changing communities in North Nashville.
He grew up in Tennessee before leaving for college and serving in St. Louis for several decades. He returned to Nashville in 2018, in time to watch the city deal with rapid changes as thousands of people have flocked here and with multiple crises, from tornados and the Christmas Day bombing to COVID.
Despite the many challenges, the growing needs of the community are creating an opportunity for Assumption to do greater outreach to new residents, teaching them the history of the church and showing them the good that the parish does for Germantown, according to Father Price.
Father Price first observed the tradition of the Beating of the Bounds while studying at Oxford University in England. He watched a procession of clergy from St. Michael in Cornmarket observe the tradition throughout the surrounding city.
“Most Catholics in Tennessee probably do not realize that a parish is not a church, it is a geographical boundary appointed by the diocese,” Father Price said. “The diocese is divided into parishes, many are quite large. All of Cheatham County is one parish. It was only in the 1960s that parish boundaries were canonically established in the diocese.”
“The city of Nashville is split like an onion, there are different layers historically,” he said. Beginning with the original downtown parishes, such as St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows, Assumption and St. Patrick, additional rings of parishes were added and new parish boundaries were established as the city grew and evolved.
“The city has changed so much; it’s unbelievable. There were only three tall buildings downtown when I was young,” Father Price said.
“We’re seeing all these people moving into the parish. There are enormous amounts of construction going on, largely along the Cumberland River Greenway,” Father Price said. “We have all these new people, and that’s worth noticing. Nashville is changing, and people are moving here.
“The parish is revitalizing in a noticeable way, and people who drive in aren’t going to notice that,” he said. “This ceremony and further outreach will help the community know we’re here.”