Why chalk ?

In my youth in Austria it was a custom on 6th January to mark in chalk the doorposts of churches and houses with the year and the following letters and numerals. 20 K + M + B 20
I knew that this was a custom in Germany also, but I only learned fairly recently that it is a custom in many Central and Eastern European countries such as Poland and Czech Republic.
K M B stand for Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar the names traditionally given to the Three Kings or Wise men. They stand also for Christus Mansionem Benedicat (May Christ bless this house) I was speaking this morning to a Polish lady who confirmed that this is a widespread custom in Poland also where the chalk is blessed by the priest at Mass and the sign put on the doors. In Austria it is often man dressed as the Three Kings who will do this while collecting money for good works.
I have heard of people talking about this on these boards at various times.My question is,however : why is it white chalk which is used ?


  • Because it’s removed easily?

  • But easily read whilst in situ?
  • And inexpensive? And widely available in 17th century Poland?
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Or quite likely, all of these.
  • Or because the bishop who ordered it done had a brother in the chalk business.
  • Now that explanation I can believe!
  • Heh. A more boring explanation is that chalk washes/wears off, and so you have a clean slate, so to speak, for the next year.
  • Depends on the bricks: the ones on the front of our house are a quite rough texture that was apparently in vogue in the 30s, although the side is smooth, so last year's marks are still visible.
  • You have brick doorposts?
  • We don't really have doorposts.

    The porch looks a bit like the top picture here, except it doesn't stick out and the doors are flush with the house front, and the frame is made of some now slightly past its sell-by date wood, so we had to put it on the wall next to the door.
  • Thanks for the various answers which have given me some amusement.Strangely enough I was in Durham two days ago. On our way to the cathedral we stopped to visit a small church dedicated to St Mary the Less. It seemed to me a low church from inside which served as a chapel to one of the university colleges. There on the outer door post was something which I have never seen in England - marked in chalk was 20 C + M + B 20.
    Amazing ! well so I thought.

    Inside Durham Castle we visited the Tunstall chapel. Tunstall was the last Catholic Prince Bishop of Durham who kept his see throughout the various changes of the English Reformation. There is a portrait of the bishop with his hands in an unusual position. The guide explained that in the beginning the bishop had in his hands rosary beads. Towards the end of Henry's reforms and during the reign of his more Protestant son Edward the rosary beads were simply painted out. When Mary Tudor came to the throne the rosary beads were painted in again, only to be painted out again when Queen Elisabeth came to the throne. So, it is not only chalk which can be easily removed.
  • I think that would be the chapel of Cranmer Hall, an Anglican training college.

    And one of my churches currently has the same chalk inscription that you describe, put there by the Bishop on a recent visit. My impression is that it's an old tradition that is being revived.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    It is the church which is used as the chapel for St. John’s College of which Cranmer Hall is a constituent part.
  • It's certainly being revived in the Diocese of Lichfield; our bishop introduced the idea at his first Epiphany here two years ago, and now we get blessed chalk (and leaflets telling us how to do it) handed out every Epiphany.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    I just changed the 19 by our door to a 20. The 20 + C + B + M is from 2017 and still perfectly legible after three years of Edinburgh weather. (Not as bad as Glasgow weather admittedly.)
    (I go to a rather high up the candle Scottish Episcopal Church.)
  • kmannkmann Shipmate
    Forthview wrote: »
    On our way to the cathedral we stopped to visit a small church dedicated to St Mary the Less.
    Just a side note: as a current member of St. John's College, Durham, I can inform you that while the chapel is called 'the Church of St Mary the Less,' it is not dedicated to 'St Mary the Less.' It is simply dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The 'less' refers to the chapel itself, as the Cathedral is, as far as I have been told, also dedicated to the Virgin Mary (amongst others). The full name is 'the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham.'
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