DECEMBER 3RD – FEAST DAY OF LUCIUS – FIRST CHRISTIAN KING OF BRITAIN

King Lucius York Minster Window

The Venerable Bede tells us that King Lucius converted to Christianity in around 180AD. He says that the King asked Pope Eleutherius to send teachers to instruct him. Bede got this from Liber Pontificalis of c 590. There is also a tradition that St Peter’s Cornhill in London was set up by King Lucius.

13th Pope

Bede is considered to be a reliable historian but the tradition has been written off as a legend. Indeed there are questions to be answered, but it is more than a legend and perhaps less than an established fact.

Not the least of the questions to ask is: ‘ what does it mean to be King in the context of Roman occupation?’ But of course, you could ask the same question of King Togidubnus who is called Great King of Britain in a Roman Temple inscription in Chichester.

As to the early origin of St Peters archaeologists have mostly written off the tradition as St Peter’s is built over the Roman Forum and so how can it have been the site of a Christian Church at this early time?

St. Peters seen from Cornhill in a rarely seen view as there is normally a building in the way. (Author’s copyright)

But the position of St Peter’s right on the centre of the Forum’s Basilica is intriguing. This is where a municipal shrine room was likely to be. The East wall of the Church is only 2 degrees out of alignment with the Forum (although the rest is more skew-wiff.) And the clincher is that recent archaeology shows that the Basilica of the Forum was pulled down in about 300AD. So there is a real possibility that this was the site of Britain’s Roman period Cathedral. We know London sent at least one Bishop to Constantine the Great’s Council of Arles in 314AD so a Christian community in London must have predated this time. There is a fainter possibility that the shrine room was converted for Christian use in Lucius’ time.

Where does that leave King Lucius? There are well attested Christian traditions that Britain was an early convert to Christianity. (See my book ‘In Their Own Words – A Literary Companion To The Origins Of London‘ D A Horizons, 2009.  Kevin Flude and available here. Extract below) It has been suggested that Lucius of Britain was confused with Lucius of Edessa but this is not very convincing. The possibility is that someone, either descended perhaps from Togidubnus, or a King from an area of Britain not under direct Roman control (Silures? Brigantes?) converted to Christianity in the time of Pope Eleutherius.

For further reading, see ‘King Lucius of Britain by David J Knight.

King Lucius may not be a saint, but he has a feast day because of his connections to Chur in Switzerland which saw him enter the Roman Martyrology. Knight suggests that the tradition of the martyrdom of Lucius in Chur comes from the transplanting of rebellious Brigantes to the Raetia frontier in the 2nd Century AD bringing with them the story of Lucius and that possibly at the end of the King’s life he travelled to join the exiles in Switzerland where he met his unknown end.

In Their Own Words – A Literary Companion To The Origins Of London‘ D A Horizons, 2009

NOVEMBER 11TH MARTINMAS – FESTIVAL OF WINTER’S BEGINNING

Statue of St Martin at Ligugé

So, this is All Saints Day, Old style also known as St Martin’s Day.

Father Francis Weiser in the Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (quoted at https://onepeterfive.com/forgotten-customs-of-martinmas-and-st-martins-lent/) suggests this was the thanksgiving of Medieval Europe.

It was a holiday in Germany, France, Holland, England and in central Europe. People first went to Mass and observed the rest of the day with games, dances, parades, and a festive dinner, the main feature of the meal being the traditional roast goose (Martin’s goose). With the goose dinner they drank “Saint Martin’s wine,” which was the first lot of wine made from the grapes of the recent harvest. Martinmas was the festival commemorating filled barns and stocked larders.

It was also the time of year when lime plaster was renewed, because lime needs to be kept moist when renewed. It takes three to four days to form the calcite crystals that make it waterproof.

Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Roman Army who would not fight because of his Christian belief. When he met a beggar he cut in half his cloak and gave half to the beggar. He rose in the hierarchy of the Gallic Church and became Bishop of Tours. He is one of the very few early saints not to be martyred. He is the saint of soldiers, beggars and the oppressed. He stands for upholding your beliefs and helping those in need.

According to legend his barge on the River Loire was accompanied by flowers and birds and a late warm patch is called a St Martin Summer. It can also be called a Halloween Summer. Normally, though this is when it begins to feel really wintry.

Early 20th Century Image of Trafalgar Sq. St Martin’s is in top right hand corner

St Martin was very famous in London and there are two famous Churches dedicated to him with possible early origins. St Martin’s in the Fields, near Trafalgar Sq has been the site of excavations and finds which show a very early settlement there, with early sarcophagi. It is the one place where a convincing case can be made for continuity between the Roman and the Anglo-Saxon period. It is likely, or at least possible, that the Church was founded soon after St Martin’s death. A settlement grew up near it, and this expanded to become Lundenwic, the successor settlement to Londinium.

Old Print of London c1540 showing St Pauls, with St Martin's by the wall to the left of the photo
Old Print of London c1540 showing St Pauls, with St Martin’s by the wall to the left of the photo

St Martins Within, is just inside the Roman Gate at Ludgate, many early churches are found at or indeed above Gates, But this one has legendary links to burial places for King Lud, and for King Cadwallo, (Cadwallon ap Cadfan,) one of the last British Kings to have any chance of recovering Britain from the Anglo Saxons. He was said to have been buried here in a statue of a Bronze Horseman, and to protect London.

St Martin was also the saint of Travellers and this might explain the location of the Church near the gate. Although there is nothing but legendary ‘evidence’. It would make sense for an early church to be built near Ludgate, as St Pauls was founded in 604AD. Although the City might have been mostly empty, the presence of St Pauls means that Ludgate was most likely still in use or at least restored around this period.

NOVEMBER 10TH – MARTINMAS EVE – HALLOWEEN OLD STYLE

Skating on thin ice

St Martin was one of the most important in the Medieval Calendar of Saints. We will have a look at him tomorrow on his Saint’s Day.

But it is also Halloween or it would be if the Calendar had not been change in 1752. So for traditionalists this is the actual Halloween. It gives another chance to look into the future and to celebrate Halloween traditions.

If Martinmas ice will bear a duck
Then look for a winter of slush and muck.

i.e. it will be a mild winter. From my experience this will only have any validity if used in the North.

Today is also for Kali, Indian destroyer of Evil, and also for the Fate, the Norns, the Furies, the Morrigan and Persephone.

NOVEMBER 4TH – PREPARING FOR GUY FAWKES DAY & AND THE HORNED GOD.

Felicity Cloake The Guardian

Ginger cake is the traditional accompaniment to a cold night watching the Fireworks. There is a good recipe in Markham’s The English Housewife of 1683. But I’m suggesting you use this recipe from the Guardian for Parkin Cake. Traditional in Yorkshire.

Collecting for the Bonfire would continue:

A stick and a stake
For King George’s sake
Will you please to give us a faggot
If you won’t give us one, we’ll steal you two
The better for we and the worse for you.

Children create a ‘Guy’ named after Guy Fawkes who was discovered on 5th November in a cellar under Parliament by a pile of barrels of gunpowder. The children take the guys around collecting money to buy fireworks. When I was young we spent our money exclusively on ‘bangers’ not pretty fountains and candles nor rockets. One stunt was to cycle through the streets and to put a banger into the handle bars which would act as a rocket launcher.

London picture Collecting for the Guy

Today is dedicated to hunting gods such as Herne, the Horned God, Cernunnos and Pan.

Herne the Hunter first appears in Shakespeare:

There is an old tale goes, that Herne the
Hunter
(sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest)
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv’d, and did deliver to our age
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.

William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 4, scene 4

But he is linked to the Forest God, the Horned One, the Green Man and the Celtic God Cernunnos. This name Cernunnos comes from karnon which means “horn” or “antler”, and may be the source of the name ‘Cerne’. (note that the Cerne Abbas Giant has just been redated from the Celtic to 17th Century.)

31st October 2021 HALLOWEEN

From the Perpetual Almanack of Folklore by Charles Knightly

This blog is to celebrate the Year. I will post, hopefully, once a day so we can follow the seasons, as they happen naturally, and as people in Britain and Ireland have responded to the changes in the year.

I start today because Samhain (pronouced Sow-in) was the beginning of the year for the Gaelic world. It may mean Summer’s End. In Wales it is Calan Gaeaf (first day of winter) and Kala Goafiv (beginning of November in Brittany.

When Venus and Adonis meet the world flourishes and is bright and warm. Adonis is injured hurting a wild boar, against his lover’s advice, and descends to the underworld, and nature withers and dies until he comes back again on May Day. There is a similar story in Babylon of Ishtah and Tammuz.

Julius Caesar says the Gauls venerated the Dis Pater God on this day – the Roman one was an aspect of Pluto the God of the Underworld, ruler of the Dead. There was a Roman Festival on calends of November dedicated to Pomona, the goddess of the fruit of trees. This may influence the use of Apples which are prominent on Halloween festivals.