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:

Searchlight
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.

Walks 2023 – February – June

I am working on a new season, and these are the walks for the first six months – but more to come.

The Archaeology Of London Walk Sunday 2nd April 2023 11:15 Exit 3 Bank Underground Station To book
Jane Austen’s London Sat 2.30 pm 2nd April 2023 Green Park underground station, London (north exit, on the corner). To book
Chaucer’s Medieval London Guided Walk Aldgate Tube Sunday 16 April 2023 11.30pm To book
Chaucer’s London To Canterbury Virtual Pilgrimage Sunday 16th April 2023 7.30pm To book
The Peasants Revolt Anniversary Guided Walk Aldgate Underground Sunday 11th June 2023 10.45am. To book
The Peasants Revolt Anniversary Virtual Tour Sunday 11th June 2023 7.30pm To book

For a complete list of my walks in 2023 look here

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

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

Upcoming December 2022 Virtual Tours

I have began to prepare my next set of tours both virtual and real. But here are the first two virtual tours, both with a seasonal theme.

The London Winter Solstice Virtual Tour

Wed, 21 Dec 2022 19:30

The Sun & the Solar System


We explore London’s History through its celebrations, festivals, calendars and almanacs of the Winter Solstice


Winter Solstice festivals have been a time of review, renewal and anticipation of the future from time immemorial. The Ancient Britons saw the Solstice as a symbol of a promise of renewal as the world entered bleak mid winter. The Roman season was presided over by Janus, a two headed God who looked both backwards and forwards, and Dickens based his second great Christmas Book on the renewal that the New Year encouraged.

We look at London’s past to see where and how the Solstice might be celebrated. We also explore the different Calendars – the Pagan year, the Christian year, the Roman year, the Jewish year, the Financial year, the Academic year and we reveal how these began. We look at folk traditions, Medieval Christmas Festivals, Boy Bishops, Distaff Sunday and Plough Monday, and other London winter traditions and folklore.

At the end we use ancient methods to divine what is in store for us in 2022.

To Book:

CHRISTMAS WITH JANE AUSTEN VIRTUAL LONDON TOUR

Friday 23 December 2022 7.30pm

We look at how Jane Austen spent Christmas and at Georgian Christmas traditions and amusements.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Jane Austen devotee in possession of the good fortune of a couple of free hours must be in want of this virtual walk.”

This is a special walk, which looks at the traditions of Christmas during the Regency period and how Jane Austen might have celebrated it. It will give some background to Jane Austen’s life and her knowledge of London. We used her novels and her letters to find out what she might have done at Christmas, but also at how Christmas was kept in this period, and the range of ‘Curiosities, Amusements, Exhibitions, Public Establishments, and Remarkable Objects in and near London available to enjoy.

This is a London Walks Guided Walk by Kevin Flude, Museum Curator and Lecturer.

Review: ‘Thanks, again, Kevin. These talks are magnificent!’

To Book:

28th October St Simon and St Jude’s Day

A day when it is ‘certain to rain heavily’. But it didn’t really did it? I experienced it as a nice warm sunny day.

Image by Christian Wöhrl from Pixabay

On this day you, supposing you are someone who wants to find out who your true lover is, must:

Carefully peel an apple in one piece.
Turn round three times with the peel in your right hand
The peel will fall in the shape of your the first letter of your true love’s name.
Drop the peel over your left shoulder
See what shape letter it forms on the ground and this will be the first letter of your true love’s name.

And if it breaks into pieces you are doomed, probably, to never finding your true love.
To make this work you have to repeat:

St Simon and St Jude, on your I intrude
By this paring I hold to discover
Without any delay, to tell me this day
The first letter of my own true love.

Jude is the Saint of:

Lost Causes
Desperate causes
Hopeless causes
The Hopeless and the Despaired.

So maybe the apple peel isn’t going to work for you (although he is also the Patron Saint of the Impossible).

Simon the Zealous was martyred by being sawn in half, and is, of course, the patron saint of woodcutters and lumberjacks. Jude aka Thaddeus was martyred with an axe. They are linked by the same Saint’s day because they went to Syria together to preach where they were met their fates.

WikipediaBy Bruce Andersen – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1855844

There are at least four Judes who may or may not be different people. One of them, who may have been Jesus’ brother, wrote the Epistle of St. Jude. This letter, on slim foundations, is a possible explanation of why he is the Saint of Lost Causes because he warns of the dangers of the wicked working against salvation. But if this is true than the Lost Cause is Christianity so I think not. His real name was Judas and the identification with Judas Iscariot is given as another reason for the Lost Causes association but why?

More on St Simon and St Jude

Walks coming up this Weekend!

ROMAN LONDON – A LITERARY & ARCHAEOLOGICAL WALK

Reconstruction View of Roman Riverside Wall being built
Reconstruction View of Roman Riverside Wall being built

Saturday 30 October 20/22 11.30 am Monument Underground Station

This is a walking tour features the amazing archaeological discoveries of Roman London, and looks at life in the provincial Roman capital of Londinium.

To book

Myths, Legends & Halloween Walk

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower
Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower

Sunday 30th October 2022 2.30pm Tower Hill Tube

The walk tells the story of London’s myths and legends and the celtic origins of Halloween

To book

Myths, Legends & Halloween Virtual Tour

MONDAY 31st October 2022 7.30pm

The tour tells the story of London’s myths and legends and the celtic origins of Halloween

To book

Dame Leonora Bennet (d. 1636), Uxbridge

Dame Leonora Bennet d.1636

Love this monument in St Margaret’s Uxbridge to Dame Leonora Bennet.

She lies there resting on her arm with an insouciant air. She had three husbands before spending the rest of her life on good works. And the sculptors John and Matthew Christmas seem to me portray her as an attractive woman.

Love the contrast with the glimpse into the Charnel House below with the jumbled bones almost fighting to get out.

The Tomb of Leonora Benet. St Margaret’s Church, Uxbridge.
The scene from the charnel house at the bottom of the tomb of Leonora Benet. St Margaret’s Church, Uxbridge.

Summer Solstice

Hark! hark! The lark at heaven’s gate sings, And Phoebus ‘gins arise, His steeds to water at those springs On chalic’d flowers that lies; And winking Mary-buds begin To ope their golden eyes; With everything that pretty is, My lady sweet, arise: Arise, arise. Cloten Scene III Cymberline

Arise, O Sun!
Let the Darkness of Night
Fade before the beams of your glorious Radiance

Midsummer, astronomically is here, and summer has started. Meteorologically speaking it has been here since the beginning of June. In Christian London celebrations were at their height on the Church’s Midsummer’s Day, 24th June, on the Vigil and Day of St John the Baptist (23rd, 24th June). Stow points the way:

‘every mans doore being shadowed with greene Birch, long Fennel, Saint John wort, Orpin, white Lillies, and such like, garnished upon with Garlands of beautiful flowers, had also Lampes of glasse, with oyle burning in them all the night, some hung out braunches of yron curiously wrought, contayning hundreds of Lampes, light at once, which made a goodly shew, namely in new Fishstreet, Thames Streets, &c’

Survey of London, John Stow

Bonfires from the night before were smouldering, where the ‘wealthier sort’ set out tables, furnished with ‘sweete beade and drinks plentifully’ where ordinary people could rub shoulders with the rich and ‘be merrie with them in great familiaritie’. There were large processions of ‘Captains, Lieutenants, Sergeants, Corporals, &c Wilfers, Drummers, and Fifes, ….Ensign bearers, Sword Players, Trumpeters on horseback, … Gunners, …. Archers, …Pike Men, ….Pageants, and, poor people in straw hats holding cresset lamps to make a show in exchange for a wage. All accompanying the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs each with their own Giants, Henchmen and Pageants from the Little Conduit in Cheape to Aldgate, and back via Fenchurch Street.

Midsummer was a mix of May Day, Halloween and a street festival with ‘Robin Hood games’, bale fires, the ‘summer pole’ dancing, merriment and pervading sense of he uncanny.

The London Equinox and Solstice Walk

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower
Druids at All Hallows by the Tower


Tuesday June 21st 2022 7.30 pm Tower Hill Underground Station
(meet by the Tower Hill Tram coffee stand) |


We explore London’s History through its celebrations, festivals, calendars, almanacs and its myths and legends.


As the Sun and Moon move around our skies we look at how Londoners organised and celebrated their year throughout history.

The tour is led by Kevin Flude, a former archaeologist at the Museum of London, Curator and Lecturer

One of the most popular forms of publication in London was the Almanac. It was full of seasonal advice, of prophecy, traditional wisdom, and important events past and future. Different cultures, religions and institutions had their own methods of organisation and celebrations. We explore the varied calendars that ruled people’s lives from the prehistoric period to the present.

On the way we look at customs, and folklore of the Celts, Romans, Saxons, and into the Medieval and Modern period. We look at different calendars such as the Pagan year, the Egyptian year, the Roman, Christian, Jewish, Church and Financial years. On the route we discover the people who lived in London and walk through fascinating areas with their deep histories.

This is a London Walks Guided Walk. Look at their web site for a list of other of their amazing walks

To Book: click here