DECEMBER 4TH – A WINTER’S POEM

When icicles hang by the wall,
    And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
    And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
                Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
    And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
    And Marion’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
                Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare - Love's Labours Lost

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

DECEMBER – THE MONTH OF ADVENT OF ‘EXPECTANT WAITING’ LOOKING FORWARD TO CHRISTMAS, YULE, SATURNALIA SOLSTICE

Advent begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. This year it was Sunday 28th November but it can be as last as 3rd December.

Advent divides the world into those who love to plan; who love to anticipate and people like me who buy all my presents in a mad flurry on Christmas Eve. Surely, my nephew will like the Arsenal Yearbook, my father ‘The History of the Spitfire’ and my brother the remastered version of the early Fleetwood Mac LP that I have, he tells me, already bought him three times. (In my defence, not the middle-of-the -road Fleetwood Mac but the one with Peter Green in it and capable of the Green Manalishi).

In my mind, people should be heavily fined for mentioning the C-word before December, and whipped, for mentioning the X word at all. So, not sure advent is my favourite time of the year.

NOVEMBER 23RD – NOVEMBER 30TH – Saints Clements, St Catherine , St Andrews & Sagittarius

23rd November St Clements Day the Blacksmith’s Holiday

Clemens I, the Pope of Rome. Mosaic from St. Sophia of Kyiv, 11th c. In places of loss (lower part of the composition) — oil painting of the 18th c. (Wikipedia)

St Clement was martyred by drowning, tied to an iron anchor. He was a very early Bishop of Rome, and his mode of death (AD99) means he is particularly venerated by Blacksmiths and Sailors.

24th November – the dawning of Sagittarius

According to the Kalendar of Shepheardes 1604, women born on this day should marry at age 13, shall have many sons and live to 72 years old. Men will be merciful, far-travelled, prosperous after early dangers and live to 72 years and 8 months.

25th November St Catherine’s Day Patroness of the Catherine Wheel.

In the pantheon of horror that is the Saints’ Calendar, St Catherine suffered by being broken on the wheel, although the wheel broke and she was beheaded. The princess was very studious and disputed with pagan learned men and confounded them. She refused to marry a pagan Emperor. She is the patron of Philosophers, Theologians and Royal women but also of students, spinsters, and anyone who lives by a wheel – carter, potters etc.

26th November Thanksgiving Day in the USA

Plate 1 of The Birds of America by John James Audubon, depicting a wild turkey (Wikipedia)

Thanksgiving is a festival given over to celebrating God’s Bounty. There are unanswerable debates about which was the ‘First’ Thanksgiving but the date of the 4th Thursday in November was set by Abraham Lincoln.

27th November – Eels now in Season.

Eel Pie Island . Ordnance Survey In 1871 to 1882 map series (OS, 1st series at 1:10560: Surrey (Wikipedia)

Sad loss of a East End Jellied Eels outlet (author's copyright)
photo of sold sign on Pie and Mashshop F Cooke in Broadway market
Sad loss of a East End Jellied Eels outlet (author’s copyright)

28th November – Time to Wed before Advent

Traditionally, you could not marry after Advent and before 12th Night. So now might be the last chance to marry before that bump gets too big!

19th Century Illustration (Author’s Copyright)

Wedding dresses were traditionally whatever really pretty dress you had. White only became de rigueur once Queen Victoria worn one, and the costs of material reduced because of mass production.

29th November To make a Dish of Snow

Thanks to Zdenek Machacek -unsplash

Snow is increasingly possible, and if you are keen to see some – try this medieval recipe:

To make a dish of Snowe / Take a potte of sweete thicke creme and the white of eight egges and beate them altogether with a spoone then putte them into your creame with a dish full of Rose Water and a dishfull of Sugar withall then take a sticke and make it cleane and then cutt it in the ende fowre square and therewith beate all the aforesayd thinges together and ever as it ariseth take it of and putte it into a Cullander thys done take a platter and set an aple in the middest of it and sticke a thicke bush of Rosemarye in the apple then cast your snowe upon the rosemarye and fill your platter therewith and if you have wafers cast some withall and thus serve them forth

From Medieval Manuscripts Blog. https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/medieval-history/page/2/

30th November St Andrew’s Day

One of the first Apostles. It seems all Christian martyrs have to be killed in a different grizzly way and Andrew was martyred on a X-shaped cross. As he was formerly a simple fisherman so patron of fishermen.

Celebrate with a Haggis and a Whisky!

In Kent and Sussex Andrewtide gave the right to hunt squirrels, and in Hasted’s History of Kent (1782) it allowed the ‘lower kind’ to form a lawless rabble hunting any manner of hares, partridges and pheasants.

The sort of squirrel that might deserve hunting? Cheeky devil.

NOVEMBER 22ND – MARTINMAS OLD STYLE – HIRING FAIRS

Three men for hire (wikipedia)

In the East Riding of Yorkshire hiring fairs were held around this time. It was also called Pack-Rag Day as servants carried their clothes to their new place of work.

A hiring fair is how Gabriel Oak is hired by Batheseba Everdene in ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Harding. They were often also held at Michaelmas.

NOVEMBER 21st – BEGINNING OF THE MONTH OF FRIMAIRE

The frosty month of the French revolutionary calendar.

The rational calendar (which we will deal with later in another post) divided the year into 12 30 day months, plus 5 days for end of year festivities. Leap year every 4 years.

Weeks were 10 days long, 3 per month. Days were named first day, second day up to tenth day. There were ten hours in a day, 100 minutes per hour, and 100 seconds per minute. But this last part didn’t last very long, french people really objected to their day being mucked up.

Revolutionary period pocket watch

The Revolutionary Year was adopted in 1793  but began retrospectively from September 22nd, 1792 when the Republic was proclaimed.

My French correspondent tells me that, therefore, the First Republic started on: Le premier Vendémiaire de l’an 1.

Napoleon gave it up in 1806.

NOVEMBER 17TH – 20TH ACCESSION OF QUEEN ELIZABETH I

Black and white drawing of Queen Elizabeth I with a copy of her signature below it
Queen Elizabeth

November 17th Accession of QEI

was celebrated with bonfires and bell-ringing. In London lighted fire-barrels were rolled along Cheapside. It was, in a way, the precursor to Guy Fawkes Day. Protestants celebrated it with such joy as it was the end of the reign of her sister Queen Mary I who had over 250 Protestants burnt at the stake.

November 18th Time for sausages!

Good time to make sausages as the slaughter of cattle before winter meant there was a lot of meat and guts around. (A Random Fact: it took 200,000 cattle guts to make gasbags for the Zeppelins that bombed London in World War 1.

November 19th Night Fowling

Night-fowling in season. Gervase Markham’s Hunger’s Prevention tells you to go to a stubble field when the air is mild and the moon not shining. Take a dolorous low bell, and net.

Spread the net over the stubble where there may be fowl, ring the bell, light fires of dry straw, and the fowl will fly and become entangled in the net.

November 20th – Feast of St Edmund of East Anglia.

He was killed with an arrow by Vikings in 869 and became a saint. Well, in fact he was tied to a tree, shot full of arrows and then beheaded. The head was found and still talking and he was, with St Edward the Confession, the saint of the monarchy. They could explain to St Peter why the King had to undertake actions which might be strictly against the Ten Commandments.

St Edmund Lombard Street (church at bottom left)

Also the day to grow garlic

Set garlic and beans, at St Edmund the King.

Garlic with soft cheese ‘stauncheth’ catarrh and so is good against hoarseness.

NOVEMBER 13 – 16TH – TIME TO LAY IN STOCK OF FIREWOOD; CLEAN PRIVIES SWEEP CHIMNEY

Yarrow – image by CongerDesign

Nov 13th – Time to gather yarrow which is often still flowering. It was used for wounds, inflammations, hair lose, tooth-ache and good for those who cannot hold their water.

November 14th Firewood

Beechwood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs be kept a year
Oaken Logs if dry and old
Keep away the winter’s cold
Chestnut’s only good they say
If for years ’tis laid away
But ash-wood green or ash-wood brown
Are fit for a King with a golden Crown
Elm she burns like the churchyard mould
Even the flames are cold
Birch and pine-wood burn too fast
Blaze too bright and do not last
But ash wet of ash dry
A Queen may warm her slippers by.

November 15th Exercise

Leaping is an exercise very commendable and healthful for the body.

The Compleat Gentleman 1634

November 16th

Foul privies are now to be cleaned.

The chimney all sooty would now be made clearn.

Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry. 1573

NOVEMBER 12 EPULUM JOVIS THE CAPITOLINE CULT

Capitoline Triad – Museum of Guidonia (Wikipedia)

This was the second festival in the year dedicated to the three most important deities in the Roman pantheon. Jupiter the Sky God, God of Justice, God of Rome. His wife and sister, ‘Queen’ Juno protector of women. Minerva, Daughter of Jupiter. Goddess of Wisdom and Craft.

The main Temple was in Rome on the Capitoline Hill known as aedes Iovis Optimi Maximi Capitolini (“Temple of Jupiter Best and Greatest on the Capitoline”). Similar temples spread throughout the Roman world, normally with a triple cella (inner sanctum) to allow separation of worship.

In London a temple was discovered to the west of the first Forum (built AD 75). There is no clue as to its dedication but the Capitoline Cult has been suggested as well as for the Cult of the Emperor.

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.