Go back 1,200 years to eighth-century Francia – the setting for The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar – and you will find Christians took Lent seriously. No meat. No eggs. No dairy. Only one meal a day around 3 p.m., and that was a relaxation of not eating until evening. Sort of like being a vegan with the exception of fish.
Lent might not have made that much of a difference in what commoners had on their tables. They could not afford to eat meat every day anyway, and food stores likely were running low at this time of year. Yet the folk found a few loopholes. The term fish also covered frogs, beaver tails, and barnacle geese (believed to have hatched from barnacles).
If you were young, old, sick, or pregnant, you were not required to fast. One does wonder whether claims of illness rose during Lent.
And the self-denial did not affect only your diet. You were supposed to abstain from sex, even with your spouse (although the penance for the act was less if you were drunk).
Most of the faithful followed the dietary rituals because that is what the priests told them to do to avoid any more days in purgatory or worse spend eternity in hell. Yet these rituals must have also made Easter all the more joyous.
Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, Pierre Riche, translated by Jo Ann McNamara
Charlemagne: Translate Sources, P.D. King