Feast Day Of Lucius – First Christian King Of Britain? December 3rd

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. The Venerable Bede (died 735 AD) got this from the Liber Pontificalis of c 590. There is also a tradition that St Peter’s Cornhill in London was set up by King Lucius, and that St Peter’s is the oldest Church in London.

13th Pope

What to make of this? Bede is considered to be a reliable historian and got his information, in this case, from the Vatican. But the tradition has been written off as a legend. Indeed, there are questions to be answered, but there is, arguably, more to it than a legend but, unfortunately, not enough to make it an established fact.

Not the least of the questions to ask is: ‘What does it mean to be called the King of Britain in the middle of the Roman occupation?’

As to the early origin of St Peters, archaeologists have 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?

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

But the balance of possibilities, arguably, changed in the 1980s, when archaeologists led by Gustav Milne showed that the Basilica of the Forum was pulled down in about 300AD. So from being practically an impossibility, there is now a possibility that this became the site of a Roman Church. 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. And a site, here, at the prestigious centre of the Capital at Londinium, is plausible.

In AD306, Constantine was acclaimed Emperor on the death of his Father, Constantius Chlorus whose wife was Helena, a Christian. He and his mother were in York when his father died. He was recognised as Caesar, (but not Augustus) by Emperor Galerius a ruled the province for a while before moving to Trier, then Rome, where he accepted the Christian God’s help in becoming the ruler of Rome. This might give a context for the demolition of the Basilica and its replacement by a Church. There is no archaeological evidence for it other than the demolition of the Basilica and the legends.

Where does that leave King Lucius? There are well attested Christian traditions that Britain was an early convert to Christianity. (The following quotes are from my book ‘In Their Own Words – A Literary Companion To The Origins Of London‘ D A Horizons, 2009 by Kevin Flude and available here.)

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

So, an early date for an active Christian community is likely. A Church, replacing the Basilica, is plausible, particularly, after Constantine the Great probably passed through London on his way to seize the Roman Empire. But such an early date as the late 2nd Century? And could anyone, claim to be the ‘King of Britain’ at this date? We do know that King Togidubnus was called Great King of Britain in a Roman Temple inscription in Chichester in the First Century.

Altar Dedication, Chichester

To Neptune and Minerva, for the welfare of the Divine House by the authority of Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus, Great King of Britain, the Guild of Smiths and those therein gave this Temple from their resources, Pudens, son of Pudentinus, presenting the site.

https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/91

Togidubnos seems to have been placed in control of a large part of Southern England, centred around Chichester, after the invasion of 43AD. He is thought to have been the successor to Verica, who was exiled and called on the Romans to restore his throne. Tactitus says that he remained loyal until late in the 1st Century. So he presumably held the line for the Romans against the Boudiccan revolt in 60AD. The Romans had used Verica’s fall as their excuse for invasion, and so an honorific of Great King to him and his successors makes sense. It is assumed that after Togidubnos’s death after 80AD, the title lapsed. But it might have stayed with the family as an empty honour? Furthermore, we know that Britain had a lot of Kings and Queens before the Roman period, and, as the Romans, never conquered the whole of Britain, there were British Kings all the way through the period of Roman control, at least beyond Hadrian’s Wall.

So, it is possible there was someone in Britain who had, or made, a claim to be ‘King’ whether ‘a’ or ‘the’ or merely descended from one, we don’t know. And that that someone, perhaps converted to Christianity, possibly in the time of Pope Eleutherius.

It has been suggested that Lucius of Britain was confused with Lucius of Edessa, but this is not very convincing.

The link to London and St Peters, need not be a contemporary one, it might be two traditions that are linked together at a later period. But, of course, there is a faint possibility that the Basilica shrine room, above which St Peter’s is built, was converted for Christian use at the earlier time necessary to make sense of the King Lucius story.

King Lucius may not be a proper saint, but he has a feast day because of his connections to Chur in Switzerland, which saw him enter the Roman Martyrology. David Knight proposes 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. If true, this would base the story of Lucius in the North rather than London.

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

John Stow in the 16th Century records the tradition, which comes with a list of early British Bishops of London, which are recorded in Jocelin of Furness ‘Book of British Bishops’. This book is discussed by Helen Birkett ‘Plausible Fictions: John Stow, Jocelin of Furness and the Book of British Bishops’. In Downham C (ed) /Medieval Furness: Texts and Contexts/, Stamford: Paul Watkins, 2013.

Her analysis concludes that the book is a ’12th-century confection in support of moving the archbishopric from Canterbury ‘back’ to London.’ (This information was included in a comment to the original post by John Clark, Emeritus Curator of the Museum of London.)

To sum up. We can’t bring King Lucius out of legend, nor link him with St Peters Cornhill, but the site of St Peters is a plausible, though unproven, location for a Roman Church from the 4th Century onwards.

First Published on December 3rd, 2022. Revised in December, 2023.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women November 25th

Poster from the UN promoting #noexcuse campaign, 'protecting women and girls isn't an expense. It's an investment.'
#noexcuse

Almost ‘one in three women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their life.’ says the UN on its page Ending Violence Against Women Day.

In writing my Almanac of the Past, I have been struck by how violent are most of the stories of the Saints of the early Catholic Church. At the bottom of this post, you will find an essay touching upon this thorny subject.

But before you read this, today is St Catherine of Alexandria’s Day, which makes an appropriate Saint for the UN Day. So I have updated this very interesting story and republished it today. Have a read.

Also, buffed up and republished are the following seasonal posts:

Finally, St Margaret is the Saint who suffered probably the most torture in her convoluted route to Martyrdom, and here is a pertinent reflection on the subject, illustrated by a reredos on display at the V&A, in Kensington, London.

St Catherine’s Day, Torture Victim & Patroness of the Catherine Wheel, November 25th

Icon of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with scenes from her martyrdom (Wikipedia)

In the pantheon of horror that is the Saints’ martyrs’ calendar, St Catherine of Alexandria is very appropriate for, today, the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Catherine was high-born, beautiful and learned. She disputed with pagan learned men against the worship of idols. She wiped the floor with them, and Emperor Maxentius had 50 of the learned men burnt alive for their failure to answer adequately.

Catherine was imprisoned where many people came to visit her and were converted to Christianity. The most illustrious visitor was the Emperor’s wife, Valeria Maximilla who was, herself, martyred. Then, the Emperor offered to marry Catherine, but she refused to abandon her faith, so he had her tortured. In prison, she was fed by the holy dove and had visions of Christ.

Her gaolers then tried to break her on a wheel, although the wheel broke, killing spectators with the splinters, she stood steadfast. Two hundred soldiers were converted to the faith on the spot. They were then beheaded, followed by Catherine herself. Milk, not blood, flowed from her severed veins.

The persecution in the early 4th Century was real, but it wasn’t driven by Maxentius, who came to power promising religious tolerance. But, following the accession of Constantine the Great, Maxentius’s reputation was blackened. There is no contemporary evidence for the events of Catherine’s life. There is a modern theory that her tale was conflated with the remarkable story of Hypatia of Alexandria (d. 415), a pagan and a real learned woman; The first female Mathematician we know any facts about. She was murdered by a rampaging mob of xenophobic Christians.

Catherine is remembered by the firework: the Catherine Wheel and is, of course, the patron of Philosophers, Theologians, and Royal women; young women, students, spinsters, and anyone who lives by a wheel: carters, potters, wheelwrights, spinners, millers. And, I imagine, Formula 1 drivers.

St Catherine in London

St Catherine Coleman
(Wikipedia: Robert William Billings and John Le Keux: The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839))

There are several Churches in London dedicated to St Catherine or St Katherine, dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria. The one in Coleman Street, rebuilt by Christopher Wren and his team, was demolished in the 1920s. There was a Chapel to St Catherine at Westminster Abbey (c1160), the ruins of which are visible in St Catherine’s Garden. I would guess that St Katherine’s Dock and St Katherine’s Cree Church are also so dedicated, but cannot as yet find a dedication for either.

Ruins of Chapel of St Catherine, Westminster Abbey

First published on 25th November 2022. Revised and republished 25th November 2023

St Cecilia’s Day, Henry Wood and the BBC Proms, 17th November

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, Musician’s Chapel, St Cecilia window. 17 August 2022, Andy Scott

Today, I’m publishing the stories of two Saints with London connections.

The first is for November 23rd, and I have extensively rewritten it. It is all about St Clements of Oranges and Lemons fame.

The second is from November 17th and is about St Cecilia and the London Proms, which you will find below:

St. Cecilia

St Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians.  She was martyred in Rome in the Second or Third Century AD. The story goes that she was married to a non-believer, and during her marriage ceremony she sang to God in her heart (hence her affiliation with musicians). She then told her husband, that she was a professed Virgin, and that if he violated her, he would be punished. She said she was being protected by an Angel of the Lord who was watching over her. Valerian, her husband, asked to see the Angel. So Cecilia told him to go to the Third Milestone along the Appian Way, where he would be baptised by Pope Urban 1 and would then see the Angel. He followed her advice, was converted and he and his wife were, later on, martyred.

The Church in Rome, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, is said to be built on the site of her house, and has 5th Century origins. My friend, Derek Gadd, recently visited and let me use these photographs:

St Cecilia in London

There is a window dedicated to her in the Holy Sepulchre Church-without-Newgate, In London, opposite the site of the infamous Newgate Prison.  Henry Wood, one of our most famous conductors and the founder of the Promenade Concerts, played organ here when he was 14. In 1944, his ashes were placed beneath the window dedicated to St Cecilia and, later, the Church became the National Musician’s Church.

The memorial to Henry Wood at St Sepulchre is engraved:

This window is dedicated to the memory of
Sir Henry Wood, C.H.,
Founder and for fifty years Conductor of
THE PROMENADE CONCERTS
1895-1944.
He opened the door to a new world
Of sense and feeling to millions of
his fellows. He gave life to Music
and he brought Music to the People.
His ashes rest beneath.

The Concerts are now called the BBC Proms and continue an 18th and 19th Century tradition of, originally, outdoor concerts, and then indoor promenade concerts. At the end of the 19th Century, the inexpensive Promenade Concerts were put on to help broaden the interest in classical music. Henry Wood was the sole conductor.

Wikipedia reports :

Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek described the Proms as “the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival”.

The Eight-week Festival is held at the Royal Albert Hall. It moved here during World War 2 after the original venue, the Queen’s Hall, was destroyed in the Blitz in May 1941.

Saints’ Day for the Four Crowned Martyrs – November 9th

The Four Crowned Martyrs.

Crowned Martyrs

Sculptors Claudius, Castorius, Symphorian, and Nicostratus refused to carve a ‘graven image’ of Aesculapius (the Greco-Roman god of Medicine). They were condemned in the reign of Diocletian (AD 284-305), placed in lead barrels, and drowned in the Danube.  

Their story is more confused than most, there are a total of 9 Crowned martyrs in a group of five and a group of four. Four soldiers were killed for refusing to worship Aesculapius, and five sculptors refused to carve a statue. Or vice versa, or its all a mix up. To cap it all their Saint’s Day has been changed from November 8th to the 9th. I’ll let you look it up!

Patrons of sculptors, stonemasons, stonecutters; against fever; and for a reason, I have not been able to find out: cattle.

First published 8 November 2021

Preparing for Guy Fawkes Day & the Horned God – November 4th

London picture Collecting for the Guy

I haven’t seen children asking for ‘a penny for the Guy’ for a while. But it was part of my childhood. We would create a ‘Guy’ out of old clothes and take it into the streets to raise money. The Guy is named after Guy Fawkes, who was discovered on 5th November 1605 in a cellar under Parliament by a pile of barrels of gunpowder. He had a slow match and the plan was to blow up King and Parliament, on the occasion of the Opening of Parliament on the 5th of November. Once the plot had been broken and the plotters hanged, drawn and quartered, the King ordered that November 5th should be commemorated throughout the Country. Bonfires were a part of the seasonal celebrations at the time, used at Halloween, but this aspect was transferred to November 5th and continues as a major British event every year.

The money we raised, we spent exclusively on ‘bangers’ not pretty fountains and Roman candles nor rockets. The bangers just made a horrendously loud bang. One stunt we experimented with was to cycle through the streets and to put a lit banger into the handle bars, which would act as a rocket launcher! Don’t try this at home.

Meanwhile, we would collect wood for the village bonfire:

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.

English Folk Verse (c.1870)
medieval monks seat showing carving of a Horned man (with Ram's Horn) at Stratford on Avon Holy Trinity Church) Photo: K Flude
Horned man (with Ram’s Horn) at Stratford on Avon Holy Trinity Church) Photo: K Flude. Carving of a dolphin to the left (symbol of Christ) a goat to the right (symbol of the damned – as Christ divides the sheep from the goats who are going to hell)

November 4th 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.)

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.

First published 4th November 2021

All Souls’ Day – November 2nd

Picture of window sill with skulls, Chrysanthemums  and pictures of remembrance
El Dia de los Muertos.

Mexican Day of the Dead, in fact, the second day of El Dia de Muertos. Here is a video from Mexico, which you will enjoy for its Latin song and images of the Day of the Dead in Mexico. (It’s on Facebook, so may not work unless you have a login).

Today is the day to celebrate all those loved ones who have passed away. To keep them in mind, to remind you still care about them. It is the third day of the season of Allhallowstide, following All Hallows Evening (Halloween), and All Saint’s Day.

Beata, who comes from Poland, tells me that, November the 1st is a happy day when relatives visit the cemeteries of the dead loved ones bringing chrysanthemums to decorate the graves. It’s a happy day for the dead because they are being remembered and visited by their loved ones. Today, November 2nd, is a more sombre day – a day to stay at home and think of the loved one’s perhaps looking through albums of photographs.

In England it was the time of year in which ‘Souling’ used to take place. Households made soul-cakes, children or people in need of food come to visit and are given soul cakes in exchange for praying for the dead.

Soul, soul, for a souling cake.
I pray good Missus for a souling cake.
Apple or pear, plum or cherry.
Anything good to make us merry.

Traditional rhyme from Shropshire and Cheshire

This is based upon the idea of Purgatory, and the belief that intervention on Earth can influence the amount of time an ancestor spends in purgatory for their sins.

John Aubrey (1626 – 1697), antiquarian, collector of folklore and writer, mentions a custom in Hereford which shows a variant of the idea.

In the County of Hereford was an old Custom at Funerals, to hire poor people, who were to take upon them all the Sins of the part deceased. One of them I remember (he was a long, lean, lamentable poor rascal). The manner was that when a Corpse was brought out of the house and laid on the Bier; a Loaf of bread was brought out and delivered to the Sin-eater over the corps, as also a Mazer-bowl full of beer, which he was to drink up, and sixpence in money, in consideration whereof he took upon him all the Sins of the Defunct, and freed him (or her) from Walking after they were dead.v

John Aubrey, Remains of Gentilism 1688

John Aubrey (Wikipedia)

This belief in the power of action in the Here and Now to lubricate passage through Purgatory to the Ever After was a major part of fund-raising for Catholic Institutions before the Reformation. For example, in the records of St Thomas Hospital, Southwark, a wealthy widow called Alice (de Bregerake – if I remember the spelling correctly) left her wealth to the hospital in return for an annual Rose rent; lifetime accommodation in the Hospital in Southwark, and for the monks and nuns to pray for her soul and the souls of her ancestors.

Ludovico Carracci: English: An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory (Wikipedia)
Ludovico Carracci: English: An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory 1610 (Wikipedia)

Revised 2nd Nov 2023. First published 2nd Nov 2021

All Hallows Day – November 1st

(first published Nov 1 2021)

 chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums Flowers for the Dead (K Flude’s back garden!)

How the Celtic festival that marked the beginning of Winter became All Hallows is not clear. Some say the Church set up its own festival independent of the Northern European traditions, but it is as likely that the Church adopted existing pagan festivals, and gave them a Christian spin.

Samhain, on October 31st, was, for Celtic religions, not only the beginning of Winter but also the beginning of the Year. The Festivities began on the evening before the day because Celtic and Germanic traditions began their day at Dusk. So Halloween is not, in fact, the evening before, it is the start of the day of the festival.

Facebook Image

The Church adopted the Roman tradition of the day beginning not at Dusk but at Midnight. So the festival of All Hallows is on November 1st not October 31st. But the Church mimicked the old ways of doing things by celebrating the evening before as the Vigil of All Hallows’ Day which was called All Hallows Evening or Halloween.

For the Celts, Samhain is an uncanny day when all the sprites and spirits are alive and in the world. The Church took that, and span in on its heads, so it became a ‘hallowed’ holy day when all Saints are celebrated and alive to us, and celebrated on October 31st and November 1st.

A celebration of All Saints was originally in May in the Church but was changed to the 1st November in the 7th Century by Pope Boniface, later swapped back to May, and in the 9th Century fixed on the 1st November. It is followed on the 2nd by All Souls’ Day.

So on the 1st November, those celebrating the pagan festival would be in full swing after a hard night of celebration. The embers of the Fire would be still burning, stones left around the fire would be inspected for the prophecy they told of the future. Each person had a stone, and if it was still intact it was good luck, if it had disappeared the future was not good.

In France, All Hallows or All Saints is called La Toussaint, and flowers such as Chrysanthemums which blossom in late October, were put on the graves.

In Spain, it is Dia de Todo Los Santos and is a national holiday upon which people put flowers on the graves of the dead.

In Mexico Dia de los Muertos celebrates Holy Innocents on the 1st – Dia de los Inocentes. People create altars to the lost ones, with their favourite flowers, toys, food stuffs,, photographs. People argue about the pre-colombian aspects of the festival as there are similarities to European All Saints Days celebrations but Quecholli, was a celebration of the dead that honored Mixcóatl – the god of war. It was celebrated between October 20th and November 8th.

My correspondent in Mexico has sent back these pictures of the festivities in Mexico.

The female figure to the left is La Catrina. This image was popularised by an early 20th Century design by José Guadalupe Posada and developed in a mural by Diego Rivera. For more details click here.

The End of Hardy’s tree (Revised)

From the Guardian Article

I published the following post about Hardy’s Tree on 28th December 2022. Here, follows the original post and an update which suggests the tree and the gravestones were not erected by Thomas Hardy.

This is the day that Herod ordered the slaughter of the Innocents, or Childermas, and I am glad to see that my Grandson is now older than Herod’s prescription.

Hardy’s Tree in St Pancras Church, Camden, London has fallen down. Hardy was an architect and worked in London for a while, where one of his jobs was to supervise the clearance of the graveyard. Several poems of Hardy refer to the removal of graves from their original positions and in this case, the gravestones were set around an Ash tree that inspires many, including my Central St Martin’s students who used it in a project recently. So, I was shocked to read a Guardian article (since deleted) which noted the sad demise of the Tree.

Extracts from one of several Hardy Poems about moving graves and gravestones follow, but I need to update the post about the connection to Hardy. The Guardian has now got an article which suggests the connection with Hardy is a more recent one than previously thought (Guardian article).

I (and I think the Guardian) were alerted to this by the work of Lester Hillman, who wrote a Churchyard Guide and a recent pamphlet about the Tree, which is reported in ‘Context ISSN 1462-7574’. This is the Journal of the City of London Archaeological Society. Evidence proves that the Ash Tree dates to the 1930s, and that the mound of gravestones is from burials relocated from St Giles in the Fields, and therefore unlikely to have been in St Pancras at the time Hardy was responsible for clearing it.

So it is not ‘the’ Hardy Tree, but then nor was the tree at Sycamore Gap anything to do with Robin Hood. What it was, was a beautiful piece of nature, in a poignant setting. May she rest in peace.

The Levelled Churchyard
Thomas Hardy

O Passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!

We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaimed in fear,
I know not which I am.

Where we are huddled none can trace,
And if our names remain,
They pave some path or porch or place
Where we have never lain!

Reconstruction of Dark age London

For details of the next walk

Click here:

Edinburgh. What a City!

Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat. Castle to the left, St Giles the ’rounded’ spire in the middle, and Salisbury Crags to the right

This is a poem which is ‘printed’ on the side of the Scottish Parliament.

by Hugh MacDiarmid

But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream
Fitful and dark,
Unseizable in Leith
And wildered by the Forth,
But irresistibly at last
Cleaving to sombre heights
Of passionate imagining
Till stonily,
From soaring battlements,
Earth eyes Eternity

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978)

Poem by Hugh MacDiarmid about Edinburgh
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