February 20th The Sun Enters the House of Pisces

Attributes of Pisceans selfless, mystical compassionate imaginative sensitive

pisces from the zodiac from kalendar of shepherds
From the zodiac from Kalendar of Shepherds

A man born on a Pisces shall be a great goer, a fornicator, a mocker and covetous.: he will say one thing and do another. He shall trust is his sapience, he shall have good fortune: He will be a defender of widows and orphans. He shall be fearful on water: he shall soon pass all adversities and live 72 years after nature.

The woman shall be delicious, familiar in jests, pleasant of courage, fervent, a great drinker. She shall have sickness of her eyes and be sorrowful by shame, needlessly. Her husband will leave her and she shall have much trouble with strangers. She shall travel much, have pain in his stomach and live seventy-seven years.

Both man and woman shall live faithfully.

Kalendar of Shepheardes, 1604 (from the Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly

What surprises me about the above is that it has to be nearly always wrong as the predictions are too specific.

Now, the Old Moore’s 2023 Almanac has a page on Liz Truss of all people, clearly written before she imploded as Prime Minister, and it is clear they think she has a real chance of being PM. They say she has ‘an almost steely determination and plenty of apparent ambition. …. She has every astrological requirement necessary to keep her nose clean and at this moment in time is certainly among the main contenders.‘. So yes they are right about her being among the main contenders but absolutely no hint of the disaster that her PMship was. Similarly the 2022 Old Moore’s Almanac had no hint of the Ukraine war.

British Recapture trenches near St Eloi February 15th 1915

The Ypres Salient. St Eloi is just behind the ‘line’ above HOLLEBEKE
. Downloaded from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15480 wikipedia

I wanted to find something about the winter as experienced in World War 1. Why? Because I watched a very moving film about World War 1 by Derek Jarman called ‘War Requiem’, which puts images to the music by Benjamin Britten. I also listened to a radio piece on ‘Spring Offensives’ to give a long view on what was happening in Ukraine.

I found this war poem which vividly sets a winter war scene:

F. S. Flint

There has been no sound of guns,
No roar of exploding bombs;
But the darkness has an edge
That grits the nerves of the sleeper.

He awakens;
Nothing disturbs the stillness,
Save perhaps the light, slow flap,
Once only, of the curtain
Dim in the darkness.

Yet there is something else
That drags him from his bed;
And he stands in the darkness
With his feet cold against the floor
And the cold air round his ankles.
He does not know why,
But he goes to the window and sees
A beam of light, miles high,
Dividing the night into two before him,
Still, stark and throbbing.

The houses and gardens beneath
Lie under the snow
Quiet and tinged with purple.

There has been no sound of guns,
No roar of exploding bombs;
Only that watchfulness hidden among the snow-covered houses,
And that great beam thrusting back into heaven
The light taken from it.

My search also showed that, on this day in 1915, the British retook trenches at St Eloi. St Eloi was just behind the Southern edge of the Ypres Salient, a bulge of allied territory surrounded on three sides by German forces and the site of the five battles of Ypres. Fighting continued here from 1914 through into 1918 when the Germans were finally pushed out of the Salient.

World War I destruction in Ypres (wikipedia)

St Eloi struck a bell as St Eloy, is mentioned in the Canterbury Tales as he was a very popular saint in the medieval period. The Saint was also responsible for converting Flanders to Christianity in the 7th Century. Properly called St. Eligius he is the patron saint of horses and cattle, farriers, blacksmiths, metalworkers, goldsmiths, and therefore of mechanics in general (including the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, forerunners of whom fought at Ypres).

According to legend Eligius was having trouble shoeing a horse, which he thought was possessed. So he cut the horse’s leg off, re-shoed the amputated leg and then reattached the leg back on the horse, which trotted off none the worse for the experience. St Eloy was noted for refusing to swear an oath, and it is ironic that the Prioress swears, according to Chaucer, by St Eloy. His Saints Day is 1 December.

February 13th The Miracle of the Testicles

Image from Facebook

St Artemios is the patron saint of male genital disorders, more specifically, hernias and ruptures. His Saint’s Day is October 20th but I hope you will forgive me for raising it early because of personal circumstances.

Yesterday, I did a Chaucer’s London Virtual Tour – one I first prepared during the dark days of Covid. As I was revising the presentation, I was surprised to discover that I had illustrated a piece on medieval health care (St Thomas Hospital, Chaucer’s Physician) with images of medieval hernia operations. Surprised, because I am currently recovering from an inguinal hernia operation and suffering a little so that the image (above) which, coincidently popped up in facebook made me laugh. Obviously, I was meant to write about testicles today.

St. Artemios was Governor of Egypt during the reign of Julian the Apostate (331 – 26 June 363). Julian was a philosopher. nephew to Constantine the Great, who tried to turn the tide and return to traditional Roman religious practices. Artemios was called to a military meeting with Julian where he witnessed and objected to abuse of Christians. He was tortured with red hot irons, and miraculously cured. Then he was taken to the Amphitheatre where there was a big stone broken in half, and was put on half stone and the other half was raised above him and released crushing Artemios. He was presumed dead, and left for a day. But he was still alive, broken boned, disembowelled, eyeless and remained unwilling to renounce his religion and Julian ordered his beheading.

A noble woman took his body to Constantinople where his shrine soon started attracting miracles. In the 7th Century an anonymous author compiled a record of the miracles. St Artemios had become known for healing hernias and genital disorders ‘mostly in men.’ I’m not sure entirely why. Perhaps because of the red-hot pokers? The disembowelling? Maybe the stone that crushed was round?

I first came across the Saint when my mother-in-law bought me a wonderful book called ‘A Medieval Miscellany selected by Judith Herrin and with an introduction by the great Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (see Jan 27th Post to read about Montaillou and Ladurie). It had a colourful spread called ‘The Miracle of the Testicles’ which was the story told by Stephen, a 7th Century deacon of St. Sophia in Constantinople who ‘suffered a rupture, whether from shouting acclamations or from a heavy weight, I cannot say.’

To cut a long story short, Stephen was very embarrassed by his condition and eventually tried many cures and finally undertook surgery, which was successful but very soon the condition reoccurred which left him to despair.

Scrotal Hernia Operation, italy
Scrotal Hernia Operation, italy

So he planned to visit the shrine of the great healer of testicles, but was too embarrassed to stand in the Church ashamed to be seen by friends. But passing by one day he nipped into the Tomb, descended to where the relics were and ‘cast’ some of the Saint’s holy oil on his testicles. He then found, much to his surprise, that the doors to the Coffin itself were open. Seeing this as a divine intervention he jumped onto the coffin, straddled it face down, so that the corner of the tomb was rubbing his testicles and prayed:

And with tears, I spoke again to the martyr: “St.Artemios, by God, Who has given you the gift of cures, no doctor on Earth will ever touch me again. So if you please, cure me. But if not, to your everlasting shame I will live thus without cure.

He was not cured immediately. Later he went to the Hot Baths and bathed, and on leaving the baths, thanks be to St Artemios, he was completely cured.

I have transcribed the translation of Stephen’s writings and place it here below as it has many fascinating aspects and remember it is a 7th Century account. But what an extraordinary tale: that it seems reasonable to steal into a tomb, take the holy oil, rub your genitals all over the shrine, and then tell the Saint that it will be to his everlasting shame if he does not make the cure!

For more on the Hospital of Sampson click here. Livanon is one of the Roman Baths in Constantinople and it is interesting that the cure follows bathing in them. The Oxeia is a neighbourhood in Constantinople connected with St Antemios. A cautery is a method to remove or close off a part of the body. It can be hot, cold or chemical.

At long last I disclosed the misfortune to my parents, and after many treatments, (how many!) had been performed on me. Finally, after taking counsel with them, I entrusted myself for surgery to the surgeons in the hospital Sampson, and I reclined in the hospital room near to the entrance to the area devoted to eyes.

After I had been treated all over for three days at night with cold cauteries, surgery was performed on the fourth day. I will omit to what horrible things I experienced while on my back.

To sum up everything, I state that I actually despaired of life itself at the hands of the physicians. After God, entreated by the tears of my parents, restored my life to me, and after the scar from the incision and the cautery had healed, and just as I was believing that I was healthy, a short time later, the same condition recurred and so I reverted to my former state…

I had a plan to approach the holy martyr, as I had heard of his many great miracles. Still, I was unwilling to wait in the venerable church feeling ashamed before friends and acquaintances to be seen by them in such condition. But I frequently used to pass by (for at that time, I was staying in the Oxeia). And so I descended to the holy tomb of his precious relics, and I cast some of his holy blessing, I. e. oil on my testicles, hoping to procure a cure in this manner. And frequently, I entreated him to deliver me from the troublesome condition…

After descending to the holy tomb, I found the doors in front open and I was astounded that they were opened at such an hour. This was the doing of the martyr, in his desire to pity me, Stretching out facedown on the holy coffin, I straddled it, and thus contrived to rub the corner of the same Holy tomb on the spot where I was ailing. And with tears, I spoke again to the martyr: “St.Artemios, by God, Who has given you the gift of cures, no doctor on earth will ever touch me again. So if you please, cure me. But if not, to your everlasting shame I will live thus without cure.’ And after some days I went to the bath in the court of Anthemios, the one called Livanon to bathe by myself at dawn in order not to be seen by anyone . And entering the hot chamber, I noticed that I still had the injury. But upon exiting, I had no injury, and recognising the act of kindness on the part of God and the martyr which is befallen me… in thanksgiving… I do now glorify them proclaiming their deeds of greatness throughout my whole life.

From Medieval Miscellany selected by Judith Herrin Pg 54 the Miracle of the Testicles

Viewing the latest version

Me. Im nown to be the world’s worse prooofreader. And I quiet often only spot errors after i have prest the ‘publish’ button.

So, if you are reading this via the email, click on the title and this will take you to the blog in the cloud, and you are likely to have a version where I have got rid of some of the most horrifiable, embrasing igregious erors. But only, some obvs.

Medlars – a Rude Fruit for Winter

Detail of photo from the American Viscountess showing a medlar (link to the site below:)

Medlars were a very common and useful fruit particularly in the Medieval and Early Modern period. They come out in December but can only be eaten when they are rotten and ‘bletted’. They also store well. They, therefore, provide a source of winter sweetness when there were few other fresh sources available.

They are from the Rosaceae family which includes apples, pears, rosehips and quinces. The English called them ‘open arses’ or ‘dog’s arses’ or ‘granny’s arses’ because of the way they looked until the more polite French name the Medlar caught on.

Shakespeare uses both words and uses their sexual connotations as they were thought also to look like female genitalia. A medlar was also a name for a prostitute. So in Romeo and Juliet this speech by Mercutio to Romeo and their mates contains some very bawdy thoughts:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.
O, Romeo, that she were, O that she were
An open-arse and thou a poppering pear!

RJ 2.1.33

I think you can also see how good Shakespeare was at making his allusions available to all classes. For the sophisticated he begins with the reference to the French medlar and in case the groundlings are missing out throws in the ‘open-arse’ so they know what he is alluding to.

Medlars fell out of favour in the 18th and 19th Centuries. For more on medlars have a look at British Food history https://britishfoodhistory.com/2017/11/12/forgotten-foods-7-openarses/

Or watch this video from ‘the American Viscountess’ from which I extracted the picture of the medlar above.

Video on Medlars

February 7th 1596 ‘Crack Me This Nut’ Play performed by the Admiral’s Men at the Rose in Southwark

List of plays performed in February 1596 by the Admiral’s Men

In the absence of anything else particularly 7th Februaryish my original thoughts were to add a few items of archaeological news while pointing readers at the revised February 7th post from last year on Selene, the Moon Goddess.

But as I read the Mosaic column in the London Archaeologist Magazine and came across notice of the completion of the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation project I remembered that I have long used information from the Archive which gives a list of plays Henslowe’s Admiral’s Men performed in February 1596 at the Rose, in Southwark.

Just look at the list above! Talk about hard working – imagine an actor in what was essentially a small repertory company remembering this many plays? Also at the new Globe the guides tell you the Shakespearian Playhouses were used in the Summer. No! This was deep winter 23 performances in an outdoor theatre! 14 different plays, if I count correctly! Exclamation Mark Exclamation Mark.

I’m sure I will return to this archive but, for the moment it is an immense bit of news in the Shakespeare industry. Henslowe’s records were stored in a locked trunk for 260 years. Now they have been digitised and made available. Also elements that had been separated from the original archive have been brought back so the greatest archive of information on the Shakespearean theatre is now unified and available.

‘Crack me this nut!’ was performed 16 times, sold by Alleyn, and no one knows what it was about. It might relate to the sense of our phrase ‘a tough nut to crack.’ Here for more.

A badly photocopied page of the archive.

Other news from Mosaic includes:

This year marks the 300th Anniversary of Christopher Wren’s Death who rebuilt 50 or so Churches and St Pauls Cathedral after the destruction of the Great Fire of London.

An early 7th Century burial of a girl aged 10 -11 has been excavated in Eastry in Kent. DNA shows she was 33% of West African ancestry and 67% Continental Northern European.


several photographs of the full moon on 5th February by Natalie Tobart
Full Moon by Natalie Tobart

I have just revised the February 7th Almanac entry on Selene the Moon Goddess which has a wonderful set of Full Moon pictures by a friend of mine called Natalie Tobart which you can see above or by reading about Selene below:

New Irish Bank Holiday for St Bridget/Imbolc! February 6th

The celtic year shown as a circle
The Celtic Year

The Irish have created a brand new Bank Holiday for St Bridget. The first one is today Monday 6th February 2023 and it follows a public holiday given last year for Health Workers in March. The timing of the Bank Holiday is explained by the Irish Post:

St Brigid’s Day itself falls on February 1 each year but going forward the Imbolc/St Brigid’s Day public holiday will fall on the first Monday in February, unless February 1st falls on a Friday.

This means that Ireland now has a public holiday on the 4 Celtic festivals of Samain (Halloween), Imbolc (St Bridget’s Day), Beltane (May Day) and Lughnasa (Lammas Day). These festivals are quarter-days, which mean they fall half way between the Solstices and Equinoxes.

The Independent wrote that ‘then-Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, said last year‘ ….“This will be the first Irish public holiday named after a woman,”  He also is quoted as saying:

“It marks the half-way point between the winter solstice and the equinox, the beginning of spring and the Celtic New Year.”

Extra Bank Holidays in the UK?

There are occasional calls for a new Bank Holiday in the UK. It’s often a Conservative MP calling for a National Day for the British and they often suggest a date like Trafalgar Day 21st October (commemorating the great Naval battle in 1805 in which Nelson was fatally wounded). It has several virtues in their eyes. Firstly, it is a day that confirmed Britain’s mastery of the Seas and thus is an ideal day for celebrating patriotism. Secondly, it is the school half term, and gives a much needed day off between summer and Christmas. Thirdly, they can suggest the day should be taken from May Day Bank holiday which coincides with the International Worker’s Day, which is obviously ‘a bad thing’.

For example, the Portsmouth MP’s supported a call for Trafalgar Day here: . The report says: ‘there are currently no bank holidays in the UK which celebrate battles or war victories’.

This, I think, leaves the rest of us thinking ‘What planet do these people live on?’ Yes, Trafalgar Day would have been a great day for a Bank Holiday IF this were 1839, maybe even 1939. But in 2023 it is just not on any ordinary person’s radar. We don’t think so very much about the Napoleonic War or Nelson, or nor do we often sing ‘Heart of Oaks, are our Men’ any more. In short, it is a reminder how distant from the rest of us Conservative MPs are, and how progressive Ireland has become by contrast.

Recently, we have been given a few Royal Bank Holidays, last year for the Queen, this year for the King. The Trade Union Congress proposed the need for more bank holidays because we only have the usual eight annual bank holidays for workers in England and Wales. Scotland has nine or ten; the average for the EU is ‘12.3 bank holidays a year. Finland and Romania get 15, while workers in Japan have 16 public holidays in total’.

A recent radio programme ‘The Bottom Line’ compared Britain with France and revealed that Britain is now 20% less productive than France, (up by 10% since Brexit) and that we make up the deficit by working longer hours. It appears that the French high tax. high worker’s protection regime, means they have to find ways of getting more out of the same hours, while we can just hire and fire, and are happy to make people work in a more inefficient way.

Here is my recent post about St Bridget’s Day

300th Post & a London Almanack of the Past

The Illustrated London Almanack
The Illustrated London Almanack

This is the 300th Post on this my ‘new’ blog. I thought I would mark it by a reminder of what I am trying to do with it.

Over the years I have given a lot of walks on special occasions: Christmas, New Year, Halloween,Easter, May Day etc. as well as my regular ‘Myths, Legends of the Archaeological Origins of London Walk’. I have always had an interest in the Celtic Year, and when researching for my New Year’s Walks I came across Almanacks, and the more I found out about them the more I plundered them for content! I found that one third of books sold in London in the early modern period were Almanacks. That is how important they were.

So, I decided to create an ‘Almanack of the Year’ which changed title to an ‘Almanack of the Past’. In particular, what I am hoping to do is to create a London Almanack of the Past, where each day is remembered by an interesting and relevant post with a view to enlightening our understanding of London’s past.

Content is around these ideas and themes:

Seasons & Nature
Measurement of Time
Anniversaries of Famous & Important events in the past
Historical & Archaeological news
News of my Walks

What I am aiming for is a really focussed London version of an Almanack of the Past. I need a good entry for every day of the year, and I’m hoping to do that over a three year period, and then get it published.

If on January 12th the sun shine, it foreshows much wind.’

Abney Park cemetary in winter
Abney Park Cemetery in Winter photo by Harriet Salisbury

Or so says the Shepherd’s Almanac for 1676. Until the 12th Night we were forecasting the weather on the presumption that the weather on one of the 12 days will match the month of the same number. But having past Twelfth Night we have to find other methods of refining our forecasts.

Weather lore seems convinced of the undesirability of a warm January

‘January warm, the Lord have mercy’.

January commits the fault and May bears the blame.’

If Birds begin to Whistle in January, frosts to come’

‘When gnats swarm in January, the peasant become a beggar’

Most of the sayings about January quoted in Richard Inwards ‘Weather Lore’ first published in 1893, have this as their main focus. And the contrary also generally holds:

‘When oak trees bend with snow in January, good crops may be expected.’

‘A cold January, a feverish February, a dusty March, a weeping April , and a windy May presage a good year and gay.’

So much for long range forecasts, lets see how Weather Lore helps us use animals to determine whether it will rain today.

If animals crowd together, rain will follow.’

When dogs eat grass it will be rainy

When a cat sneezes, it is a sign of rain

‘If young horses do rub their backs against the ground, if is a sign of great drops of rain to follow.’

The only weather lore in my family was that a herd of cattle sitting down meant rain was on the way. (and of course ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ etc).

A survey by the Met Office in 2017 found that a surprisingly large number of people (75%) use ‘folklore’ to predict weather and 55% think they are useful methods of predictions. Here is a quote from their post.

  • Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight – used by 70% of UK adults – CORRECT
  • It can be too cold to snow – used by 49% – PROBABLY NOT IN THE UK
  • Cows lie down when it is about to rain – used by 44% – NOT CORRECT
  • Pine cones open up when good weather is coming – used by 26% CORRECT
  • If it rains on St Swithin’s day, it will rain on each of the next 40 days – used by 22% SINCE RECORDS BEGAN IN 1861, THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A RECORD OF 40 DRY OR 40 WET DAYS IN A ROW FOLLOWING ST SWITHIN’S DAY.

Met Office 2017 https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2017/do-cows-really-lie-down-when-its-about-to-rain and BBC Newsround