Seven hundred year old buns

How and where did hot cross buns come to symbolize Easter? And for whom? I know that, growing up, hot cross buns weren’t something we regularly had, but my mother in law makes them every year and they were an important part of Lisa’s traditions.

This site claims, variously, that they date back to pagan times or only 150 years or so. Neither claim cites supporting evidence. A Gannett news service article cites Sister Schubert’s cookbook Secret Bread Recipes in claiming a medieval origin for the buns (incidentally, “Sister” Schubert is not a nun). The Wikipedia agrees and points to another article which gives the most detailed origin for the buns, fixing a year (1361), a place (St. Albans), and a name (Father Thomas Rocliffe, also spelled Rockliffe) to the story—meaning that the origin is almost certainly fabricated. Other sources agree with the pagan origin claim; this one cites Charles Kightly’s The Customs and Ceremonies of Britain. Yet the earliest reference the OED finds for “cross-buns” is a 1733 mention in Poor Robin’s Almanac.

Oh well. At least they’re healthy.