St Columba’s (St Colmcille’s) Day June 9th

St Columba st margarets chapel by Graham van der Wielen  Edinburgh  Lead glass
St Columba Stained Glass window in St Margaret’s Chapel Edinburgh Castle by Graham van der Wielen Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

St Columba, or Colmcille is one of the most important saints for the early transmission of Christianity. He was born in 521 and said to be a descendent of the possibly legendary Irish King Niall of the Nine Hostages. (The Hostages were a token of Niall’s power as they came from the five provinces of Ireland, which are Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Meath. The other four represented Scotland, the Saxons, the Britons, and the Franks). Columba was sent at an early age to be brought up as a Monk, and went on to set up Monasteries in Ireland at Derry and Durrow.

In 563, he left Ireland, possibly because he got involved in a dispute that had a deadly outcome. He went into exile to Scotland and set up the famous Monastery on the island of Iona, Inner Hebrides, off the coast of what would one day be called Scotland. At the time, it was under the control of the Kingdom of Dál Riata, which was nominally Christian and controlled parts of Ulster and Western Scotland.

From Iona, Columba led the conversion of the Picts to Christianity, which helped towards the unification of the Gaels, the Picts and the Britons, eventually into the Kingdom of Alba which became Scotland. Iona became the traditional burial place of early Scottish Kings such as Macbeth (Mac Bethad mac Findlaích). Kings who were crowned at Scone and buried in Iona.

Much of the events of this part of Columba’s life are recorded by St. Adamnan in The Life of Saint Columba written in the 7th Century, much of which is apocryphal. One notable story tells how he came across a group of Pagan Picts who were mourning a child killed by a monster in the River Ness. St Columba revived the child. He then sent one of the Brothers to swim across the Loch to fetch a boat. The “water beast” pursued the Monk and was about to attack him when St Columba told the monster to stop, and so it did, retreating to the depths of Loch Ness. Thus began the legend of the Loch Ness monster.

St Columba died in 597AD. Iona continued to prosper and in, 634AD sent St Aidan from Iona to found the Monastery at Lindisfarne, which is on the Eastern coast of Britain in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, which was one of the most powerful at the time. Lindisfarne was instrumental in the conversion of the Kingdom of Northumbria. This tradition of evangelism took hold in the British Isles, and it was from here that much of the German-speaking world was converted to Christianity.

This is St Columba’s legacy.

There is a developing understanding among scholars that this Irish inspired form of Christianity took a leading role in ritual, art, scholarship in the Roman Catholic world at this time. Just stop and think about that sentence for a moment. The north-western extreme of the Islands off the coast of Europe took a leading role in the development of Western Christianity. This was highlighted in a recent exhibition of Anglo-Saxon art at the British Library.

British Library with Poster for Anglo-Saxons Kingdoms Exhibition, Photo K Flude
British Library with Poster for Anglo-Saxons Kingdoms Exhibition, Photo K Flude

A look at the Lindisfarne Gospel and the Book of Kells showcases the amazing art of this period. For a real treat, look through this scrollable virtual copy of the Lindisfarne Gospel. (Currently this is unavailable, I suspect since the BL was hacked) The Book itself has been missing from the displays of the British Museum for a couple of years, and was on display in Northumberland in 2022. I’m not sure whether it is yet back on display at the British Museum. I hope so, but the scrollable version almost compensates for its absence. You can see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, Dublin or look at their online offering here: Not quite as joyous an experience as the online Lindisfarne but beautiful enough.

Carpet Page from the Lindisfarne Gospel
Carpet Page from the Lindisfarne Gospel Photo Wikiepedia Eadfrith –
Lindisfarne evangeliarium, tapijtbladzijde op f26v, Matteüsevangelie

Here is a virtual tour of Iona

Here is a 360-degree panoramic photo tour of Lindisfarne Abbey

The most important weather forecast in History D Day June 6th

North Atlantic chart of weather for June 6th 1944.  Showing occupied Europe with observations obtained from the enigma machine

In 2014 or thereabouts I went to a play by David Haig which was based on the true story of weather forecaster James Stagg’s advice that the weather on June 6th 1944 would be the best day to go ahead.

The play was called Pressure and was great because it really conveyed the enormity of the decision that Ike, Churchill and others had to make.  To go ahead in bad weather risked enormous casualties and the failure of the Landings.  To postpone, might mean Hitler discovered the location of the invasions and disaster.

Major characters portrayed in the play included Ike and his driver, Kay Summersby with whom he was very close, and an American forecaster who disagreed with the British meteorologist James Stagg.  How much of the play was for dramatic effect and how much is true, I’m not entirely sure but it is a fascinating D Day story.

The maps were hand drawn and partially based on intercepted data decoded by the enigma machine.  Stagg recommended postponing the landings one day from the 5th to the 6th of June, when it was hoped the ideal combination of calm seas, low water at first light and a full moon would occur.

Maps used to present the data have recently been  up for sale and are discussed here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-68845546

I was reminded of the play by this article on the weather on D DAY on the BBC website https://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/articles/c2995n9wgz8o.

Please have a read.

June 3rd.  St Kevin’s Day

St Kevin of Glendalough (Wikipedia)

Thank you very much to my subscriber for alerting me to my Saint’s Day. I was aware of St Kev and that the name meant ‘of noble birth’ but that’s was the extent of my knowledge.

But a little research on Wikipedia while on the train to visit my Dad, has revealed that Kev lived to the grand old age of 120, born in 498 and died in 628.  As my Dad is 96 and still going strong, maybe he and St Kevin will inspire my longevity!

Briefly, St Kevin met the great St. Columba; had a poem written about him by the marvelous Seamus Heaney (https://poetryarchive.org/poem/st-kevin-and-blackbird/); a song by the Dubliners; several mentions by James Joyce and a long distance path, part of the Camino de Santiago network, the St Kevin’s Way, named after him. The weather for all of June can be predicted: ‘The weather on St Kevin Day will last all month’

Live recording of Dubliners’ Song about St Kevin

Coemgen, as he is known in Irish, was a hermit, living in a cave-like ledge above a lake.  His piety attracted followers and a monastic settlement.  He was known for his ascetic life and love for nature.  So, a role model for us Kevins?

His hagiography was written very late so little of it can be confirmed. But, like other saintly hermits, he is associated with being tempted by women or the devil disguised as a woman.  (St. Anthony the Great, St. Benedict of Nursia, Saint Chrysanthus, St. Vitus,  St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Hilary etc.)  Unfortunately, rather than just resisting his temptress, Coemgen is said to have drowned her.

On the other hand, my sister sent me this photo of a souvenir from a shop in Northumberland.

So, not a role model for modern times, but clearly we, handsome, clever, positive, analytical Kevins have a lot going for us, despite the name.

For more on the Temptations of Hermits:

Nechita, Andrea.“Offering Body, Pleasure, and Wealth: The Visual Representation of Women Tempting Saints (Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century).” Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU, 20 (2014): 96-112. For a summary, and some tempting illustrations, look here.

First written in 2023. revised June 2024

June & Juno, Queen of Goddesses

Black and white engraving for June from Kalendar of Shepherds.
Kalendar of Shepherds. Title page for June

June is, probably, named after Juno, the leading lady of Olympus, sister and brother to the Great God Jupiter (Jove). In Welsh, it’s ‘Mehefin’ – Midsummer. In Gaelic, ‘An t’Og mhios’ – the Young Month. In Anglo-Saxon, ‘Litha’, the month of the Midsummer Moon.

The picture above is from the Kalendar of Shepherds, with its 15th Century French Illustration. It shows shearing as the main occupation for the month but set within a flowery summer scene. In the roundels are the Gemini twins and the Cancer Crab, the star signs of June.

The text of the Kalendar of Shepherds gives a lyrical view of the joys of June:

From Kalendar of Shepherds, 17th Century Text Wellcome Library
From Kalendar of Shepherds, 17th Century Text Wellcome Library

June might come, not from Juno’s name, but from an Indo-European word for youth or vital energy. Ovid in Fasti, his poem about the Roman Year, lets Juno make her own case:

O poet, singer of the Roman year,
Who dares to tell great things in slender measures,
You’ve won the right to view a celestial power,
By choosing to celebrate the festivals in your verse.
But so you’re not ignorant or led astray by error.
June in fact takes its name from mine.
It’s something to have wed Jove, and to be Jove’s sister:
I’m not sure if I’m prouder of brother or husband.
If you consider lineage, I was first to call Saturn
Father, I was the first child fate granted to him.
Rome was once named Saturnia, after my father:
This was the first place he came to, exiled from heaven.
If the marriage bed counts at all, I’m called the
Thunderer’s Wife, and my shrine’s joined to that of Tarpeian Jove.
If his mistress could give her name to the month of May,
Shall a similar honour be begrudged to me?
Or why am I called queen and chief of goddesses?
Why did they place a golden sceptre in my hand?’

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved

In the previous Book (on May), Ovid told another story that June was named for young men.

‘So I deduce that the elders gave their own title
To the month of May: and looked after their own interests.
Numitor too may have said: ‘Romulus, grant this month
To the old men’ and his grandson may have yielded.
The following month, June, named for young men’
Gives no slight proof of the honour intended.’

The Latin for ‘Young men’ comes from the Latin iuvenis, “youth”)

But let’s not go into Indo-European roots, and let’s simply accept the most wonderful month is named after Juno, the Queen of Goddesses, the deity of marriage and women. Probably most famous for hating the Trojans – she had a grudge against Paris, as he ruled against her in that famous divine beauty competition. And more seriously, what other reaction can the Deity of Marriage, have to the man who showed such disregard for the sanctity of marriage that he ran away with the already spoken for Helen.

The Judgment of Paris 1700 by Daniel Purcell. Houghton Museum (Paris, Venus, Juno, Minerva)

‘A sweet season, the senses perfume and the spirits comfort.’

First Written in June 2023 and revised June 2024

There were some spelling and image errors in the email for my past (re)post so have a look at the revised page here, and spare my blushes.

May: Dandelions, Hinder Fallings and Bed Wetting

Dandelion Photo by Nick Nice on Unsplash

May has gone and, and just like last year not so many May posts. I have been leading a study tour for Road Scholar called ‘Quintessential Britain’ which visits: London, Oxford, Stonehenge, Bath, the Cotswolds, Ironbridge, Chester, Wales, York, Edinburgh. Great to see all those places in the company of a lovely group. In between, I have been moving my boat, Mrs Towser and looking after my grandson. Last year we went down the Lee Navigation to East London, but this year I am moored outside the golden gates of Hampton Court, in West London, at the beginning of an epic journey to Bath.

My boat is just where Henry VIII would have landed with Anne Boleyn on a visit from Westminster. The picture of the Gate wasn’t worth taking, sadly as they have erected some awful modern metal fending in front of it. But here is one I took a few years ago.

Mrs towser at Hampton court
Mrs towser at Hampton Court, you can just see the Gates behind the moored Narrowboat. Gates are, I think, by the great Jean Tijou

Indeed they are by Tijou and below is a video about the the restoration of the Tijou gates. Well worth five minutes of your time to watch.

And, I have a photo of the Gates taken on Friday just after Mrs Towser was moored.

The Tijou Gates (May 24). I’m not sure what the function is of the horrible modern fence in front of it. I guess to protect it, but it also obscures it.

Last year I wrote about looking after my grandson who was just making that huge transition from nappies to no nappies but is now so much grown up and joined by a brother. But, the post sprang from something that he said to me in the middle of the park. He was curious as to why I was concerned that the park toilets were out of action. He told me I could, like him, just pull down my trousers and wee, right here, right then, up against the tree in the park. My attempt at explanation drew a perplexed, ‘What?’ ‘What?’ is his new word. After an explanation, his next word is invariable another ‘What?’.

Is this relevant, you are asking yourself? May and June are the most prolific months for dandelions, which used to be known as ‘piss-a-beds’. They are diuretic and were often eaten, and so might well have consequences for the young trainee child.

John Hollybush in his 1561 ‘The Homish Apothecary’ says:

‘When a young body does piss in his bed either oft or seldom: if ye will help him take the bladder of a goat and dry it to powder, and get him to drink with wine, or else take the beans or hinder fallings of a goat, and give him of the powder in his meat morning and evening, a quarter ounce at every time.’

(quoted in ‘The Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightley)

Hinder fallings are what falls out of the hind-quarters of a goat. I’m not sure even an indulgent Grandparent is allowed to give droppings and wine to the little ones. Nor can I find any mention of goat products in modern medical recommendations. So I won’t be recommending this as a practical aid.

Medically, dandelions were very well regarded. Mrs Grieve’s ‘Modern Herbal’ reports that it are diuretic and a general stimulant to the system but particularly the urinary system. They were good for liver and kidney complaints; gall-stones; and piles. They were considered excellent to eat and drink. Particularly, dandelion sandwiches using young leaves, with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. They were also taken in salads, teas, and beers.

We used to blow the seeds from the dandelion seed head saying ‘She loves me. She loves me not’ at each blow, until the truth was revealed.

Here is a poem based on the rhyme:

First written in June 2023, revised june 2024.

Oak apple day May 29th

Charles II from an old illustration
Charles II from an old illustration

Oak Apple Day was set up by Parliament in 1660 as “An Act for a Perpetual Anniversary Thanksgiving'” for the restoration of Charles II to the throne in May of 1660. It was abolished in 1859, but a few places continue to celebrate the day. The Oak was chosen partly as a symbol of England but particularly because after Cromwell’s Parliamentary Army defeated the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester (September 3rd 1651), Charles hid in an Oak Tree near Boscobel House in Shropshire on his epic journey to the South Coast and the safety of France.

People wore oak apples (or shick-shacks) which are a type of ‘plant-gall‘. This is an abnormal growth from a point of irritation on a plant. Or they were used sprigs of Oak leaves.

The text of the Parliamentary Bill said:

That in all succeeding ages, the 29th of May be celebrated in every parish Church and Chapel in England and the Dominions thereof, by rendering thanks to God for the Kings (Charles II’s) restoration to actual possession and exercise of his legal authority over his subjects’

Church Services for the Restoration; for the preservation from the Gunpowder Plot and the death of Charles the First were kept up until the year 1859.

You might like to look at my post:

and I posted on John Evelyn’s reaction to the Restoration

St Pancras May 12th

St Pancras, Old Church (Photo: Kevin Flude)

Pancras means ‘all-powerful’ in Greek. St Pancras was a 14 year old who refused to give up his Christian Faith during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian. He was beheaded on the Via Aurelia, traditionally, on 12 May 303 AD. His youth makes him the Patron Saint of children, but he is also the patron saint of jobs and health, and ‘invoked’ against cramps, false witnesses, headaches, and perjury. His body was buried in the Catacombs, but his head is kept in a reliquary in the Church of Saint Pancras in Rome, where he was buried.

Pope Gregory is said to have given St Augustine relics from St Pancras when his mission came to Kent in 597AD. They built a church dedicated to St Pancras, ruins of which can be found in the grounds of what is now St Augustine’s. Canterbury.

This story is partly responsible for the claims that St Pancras Old Church (pictured above) is a very old foundation. The idea being that there was a late Roman place of worship here. But there is very little solid evidence for this. It is also argued that, if it isn’t late Roman, then it dates to just after 604AD when St Mellitus, sent by St Augustine, established St Pauls Cathedral, and St Pancras Church. St Pancras’ Church was a Prebend of St Pauls Cathedral, but this is not evidence it was established as early as the Cathedral was. (a Prebend provides the stipend (pay) to support a Canon of a Cathedral).

When the Church was restored, the architects said it was mostly Tudor work with traces of Norman architecture. However, the suggested finding of a Roman tile or two, reused in the fabric, is used as evidence to keep the legend going.

If you read the Wikipedia page you will see evidence of two strands to the contributions, one trying to play down the legends of its early foundation, and, another trying to keep hold of its place as among the ‘earliest sites of Christian worship’.

Read the wikipedia page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Pancras_Old_Church

It is a lovely Church, on an impressive site, with links to Thomas Hardy, and Sir John Soane whose tomb is the design inspiration for the iconic Red Telephone Box.

May Posts & Medieval Royal Horses

Medieval illumination of a medieval tournament

I’ve been taking groups around Britain from London to Edinburgh and have fallen behind on my postings.

So, I am going to post a few posts today to put them on my Almanac of the Past. They will be brief, and will be worked up for a re-publication in greater length next year.

Archaeological Discoveries at Elverton St. Westminster

Near the site of the medieval jousting arena in Westminster, London at Elverton St, archaeologists, nearly 30 years ago, excavated a Cemetery which contained the remains of horses. The University of Exeter has recently revealed the results of their analysis of the horses’ bones. The 15 animals studied were found to be above average in height, and marked by a life where they had been worked hard. Analysis of their teeth suggested they came from as far afield as Scandinavia, the Alps, Spain, and Italy.

Three of the animals are the largest found in England at the time. The findings suggest they might be from a Royal Stud farm, providing war, jousting or hunting animals for the elite.

For more details read: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-68632099

Titus Oakes flogged from Aldgate to Newgate  May 20th 1685

Popish Plot playing cards c1679 after a design by Francis Barlow

Titus Oakes was a con-man who accused leading Catholics, including the Queen, and the King’s Brother’s wife of participating in a plot to kill King Charles II and restore a Catholic monarchy. 

It is thought that 22 people were executed, some Hanged, Drawn and Quartered because of Oates’ baseless accusations.  Diarist, Samuel Pepys, was caught up in the controversy and the entire country was swept up in the anti-Catholic frenzy called the Popish Plot.

It was only with the accession of James II that the climate of opinion changed, and Oates was found guilty of perjury.  Perjury was not punishable with death, so Oakes’ punishment was a long-drawn-out affair instead. He was sentenced to be imprisoned for life, and ‘whipped through the streets of London for five days a year for the remainder of his life.’

Oates was put in the pillory at Westminster Hall where passers-by pelted him with eggs. He was again pilloried the next day in the City.  On the third day, stripped, tied to a cart, and whipped from Aldgate to Newgate. The following day he was whipped from Newgate to Tyburn. (Source Wikipedia)

However, when James II was deposed and replaced by the joint Protestants monarchs William and Mary in 1689, he was released and given a pension.  He died in 1705.

Beheading of Anne Boleyn May 19th 1536

Old Print showing the execution by Sword of Anne Boleyn

8am

Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it.

I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the King and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord.

And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.’

She was blindfolded. She knelt down putting her neck on the block and repeated:

To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul.’

Recorded by Edward Hall (spelling modernized)

https://www.hevercastle.co.uk/news/19th-may-anniversary-of-anne-boleyns-execution