Ash Wednesday February 14th

Ash Wednesday Forehead Ash Cross.  Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

This is the First Day of Lent, the solemn time which runs up to Easter, and is symbolic of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.

February means the ‘Month of Purification’ in Latin, and in Anglo Saxon the name for Spring was ‘lencthen’ thought to derive from the idea of lengthening days. So strictly Lent means Spring. In the Romance languages the term used derives from the Latin ‘Quadragesima’ which means the 40 days of Fast. Spanish (Cuaresma), French (Carême), and Italian Quaresima). In German it is the fasting time: fastenzeit. In England, Lent became a specialised word for the fast period, and Spring took over as the name of the season.

A time of fasting, or at least, a time when we are supposed to give something up – a bit like Dry January? Ash Wednesday gets its name as ashes used to be smeared on the heads of worshippers to remind them that we are dust. My footballing friend Andrew, is a Vicar and missed this week’s game as he was in Church marking people’s foreheads with ash crosses. The ashes were traditionally made from palms from Palm Sunday which is indeed what Andrew did.

In the midst of life we are in death, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.

Thomas Cranmer

On the subject we go to dust on death Joni Mitchell reminds us that:

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Woodstock by Joni Mitchell

Shrove Tuesday – Pancake Day – Mardi Gras – End of the Carnival February 13th

Les_Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry February (Detail)  The people inside are warming their legs and their hands in front of a roaring fire.
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry February (Detail) The people inside are warming their legs and their hands in front of a roaring fire.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, this day is the end of the Carnival.

Carnival

1540s, “time of merrymaking before Lent,” from French carnaval, from Italian carnevale “Shrove Tuesday,” from older Italian forms such as Milanese *carnelevale, Old Pisan carnelevare “to remove meat,” literally “raising flesh,” from Latin caro “flesh” (originally “a piece of flesh,” from PIE root *sker- (1) “to cut”) + levare “lighten, raise, remove” (from PIE root *legwh- “not heavy, having little weight”).

Folk etymology has it from Medieval Latin carne vale ” ‘flesh, farewell!’ ” Attested from 1590s in the figurative sense of “feasting or revelry in general.” The meaning “a circus or amusement fair” is attested by 1926 in American English.Related entries & more 

www.etymonline.com

Pancake Day is the day we eat up all our surplus food so that we can begin our lenten fast and turn out mind to repentance. Traditionally, in Britain it is a simple pancake with lemon and sugar (here is a recipe from the BBC) but it can also be a day of excess before the 40 days of restraint. As we saw before on ‘Lardy Thursday’ the Carnival period might be up to a week. Shrovetide was normally three days from the Sunday before Lent to Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent.

In France, it’s called Mardi Gras which means Fatty Tuesday, in Italy Martedi Grasso. In New Orleans it stretches from Twelfth Night to Shrove Tuesday, in most other places it is a week or three days. In Anglo-Saxon times there was ‘Cheese Week’, ‘Butter Week’, ‘Cheesefare Sunday’ and ‘Collop Monday’.

Shrove Tuesday is the day we should be ‘shriven’ which means to make confession. The point is that the Church has been leading up to Easter since Advent – before Christmas. Easter is the date of the conception and, also, the date of the execution and apotheosis of Jesus Christ. So the pious should confess their sins, then undertake their lenten fast before entering the Holy Week purged and sin-free.

In the Anglo-Saxon Church, there was a custom called ‘locking the Alleluia.’ The Church stopped using the word Alleluia from 70 days before Easter. Alleluia represented the return from exile in Babylon, and with the approach of the death of Christ it was not felt appropriate to be celebratory.

The sombre nature of this block of time was highlighted by Ælfric of Eynsham (c. 955 – c. 1010)

Now a pure and holy time draws near, in which we should atone for our neglect. Every Christian, therefore, should come to his confession and confess his hidden sins, and make amends according to the guidance of his teachers; and let everyone encourage each other to do good by good example.

Ælfric, Catholic Homilies Text Ed. Peter Clemoes quoted in ‘Winters in the World’ Eleanor Parker

Shrove Tuesday was traditional for football games in the days before football had any rules to speak of. It was a wild game in which teams tried to get a bladder from one end of town to the other, or one side of a field to the other. In Chester, the traditional football game on the Roodee island which was held on Shrove Tuesday was so rowdy that the Mayor created the Chester Races specifically to provide a more sedate alterative to the violence of the ‘beautiful game.’

Here is a youtube video of Shrovetide Football.

Royal Asbourne Shrovetide Football

In London, John Stowe quotes Henry Fitzstephen who was a contemporary of Thomas Becket and is writing about London in the late 12th Century:

‘Every year also at Shrove Tuesday, that we may begin with children’s sport, seeing we all have been children, the school boys do bring cocks of the game to their master, and all the forenoon they delight themselves in cockfighting. After dinner all the youths go into the fields to play at the ball. The scholars of every school have their ball, or baston in their hands. The ancient and wealthy men of the City come forth on horseback to see the sport of the young men and to take part of the pleasure in beholding their agility.’

I have just found a video of the pancake race at the Guildhall Yard in the City of London. It is an inter-livery company pancake race competition. The competitors, representing the medieval Guilds, have to run across the Guildhall while holding a frying pan and pancake. There is a zone where they have to toss the pancake. There is also a novelty costume race. Here is a youtube video of the 2023 race.

First published on February 21st, 2023 republished on February 13th 2024

Winter’s End February 7th

Photo of the cover of Winter's in the World by Eleanor Parker
Winter’s in the World by Eleanor Parker

I have long had an interest in Almanacs and Calendars in different cultures, whether it be Egyptian, Greek, Julian or Gregorian, Roman, Christian, Celtic, Jewish, Chinese, French Revolutionary, or Legal, Mayoral, Academic, Theatrical, etc. But, for some reason, I never got very far into the Anglo-Saxon year, only delving a little into Norse legends but not with any confidence.

So, when I saw the front cover above appear on an Anglo-Saxon Facebook page, I bought the book immediately. When it arrived a couple of days ago, I was initially disappointed as I had hopes of a day by day almanac-type presentation which I could mine, conveniently, for this, my Almanac of the Past.

However, reading it properly, I think it is an excellent book. What I like it is that it has a poetry about it, and, for a non-Old- English speaker, it really gives some understanding of the language.

Anyway, the point of this post is that, for the Anglo-Saxons, winter was over on the 7th February, and we are now in the season of ‘lencten’ which probably comes from ‘lenghtening days’ and which is Spring as we call it. The word eventually got absorbed into the Christian calendar, giving us the name of the fasting season which is ‘Lent’.

So Winter began on 7th October and ended on the 7th February. January was ‘Gēola‘ the month of Yule and February ‘Sol-mōnaþ‘ Mud month which Bede calls the ‘month of cakes’ which they offered to their gods in that month’.

The Venerable Bede says that before conversion to Christianity the Anglo-Saxons had two seasons of Winter and Summer. Winter began on the first full moon of October which they called Winterfylleth. The summer was called ‘sumor’ or ‘gear’ (which developed into our word ‘year’.

manuscript drawing possibly of the Venerable Bede
Thought to be the Venerable Bede, the first historian of the English

There is some sense in this as by February 7th, lambs are being born and many buds and shoot are appearing on branches and poking up from the cold earth. So, their winter is essentially, the time when nothing is growing, while ours is more aligned to the coldest period. Similarly, the Celtic year begins on Halloween, and the spring begins with Imbolc on the 1st February.

Marcus Terentius Varro wrote about the Roman year, dividing it into 8 phrases and his spring began also on 7th February. This is when the west winds began to blow warmer weather and so farmers ‘purged’ the fields, readying them for planting. They would be cleared of old growth and debris, blessed, weeded, pruned with particular attention given to preparing the grain fields, the vineyards, olive trees and fruit trees.

In the section on Winter Eleanor Parker gives a poetic description of winter. What seems particularly interesting about it is that the harshness of winter is often paired with what seems to be descriptions of the ruins of Roman Civilisation. So, the despair of winter, the barren soil, the fight for survival is made more melancholic by the comparison to failed civilisation and nature battering away at the useless ruins, and the destruction of people’s dreams.

Here, is a flavour of the juxtaposition of the bleakness of winter and the sadness of lost society, from ‘The Wanderer’ an alliterative poem from the Exeter Book, dating from the late 10th century. I have presumed to change a couple of words to make it a little more accessible.

Who’s wise must see how ghostly it has been
when the world and its things stand wasted —
like you find, here and there, in this middle space now —
there walls totter, wailed around by winds,
gnashed by frost, the buildings snow-lapt.
The winehalls molder, their Lord lies
washed clean of joys, his people all perished,
proud by the wall. War ravaged a bunch
ferried along the forth-way, others a raptor ravished
over lofty seas, this one the hoary wolf
broke in its banes, the last a brother
graveled in the ground, tears as war-mask.

“That’s the way it goes—
the Shaper mills middle-earth to waste
until they stand empty, the giants’ work and ancient,
drained of the dreams and joys of its dwellers.”

Translation Dr. Aaron K. Hostetter.

As I read this I wonder if it is a tradition that began in the cold of Scandinavia as England, at least Southern England, is more often mild than ferocious?

However, there is also an idea about the circularity of life and the interconnectedness of everything. There are 4 Seasons, 4 Ages of Man, and the cycle was from childhood to old age, from Spring to Winter. We start young, and become vigorous, and then we decline and eventually die. And so does the world of the Anglo-Saxons. The world of Adam was young, restored to vigour by the coming of Jesus, and was now in its old age awaiting the Apocalypse, before the Day of Judgement. So Winter was connected with Old Age and Death.

Parker recounts a beautiful image of Bede’s. The King of Northumberland is thinking of taking his wife’s religion, and has invited the Christian, Paulinus to his court. Inclined to convert, he asks the opinion of one of his pagan advisers, who answers to the effect.

‘We are in the Great Hall, gathered warm with friends and family around the roaring fire, with Winter raging outside. A sparrow comes in from a hole in the end wall, flies through the warm of the Hall, and flies out through the other side. Such is life. The Hall is this world, we are the Sparrow, and as pagans we have no idea what happens before we enter the Hall, nor what happens after we leave. How much better it is to embrace a religion that can give us certainty as to what happens when we leave the hall.’

We have also seen that the Kalendar of Shepherds also takes this idea of the year mirroring life. The Kalendar takes the span of Man to be 72 years, divided into 12 ages of 6 years. January represents unproductive childhood from years 0 – 6. February represents the time when children begin to learn and become able to be productive, 6 -12. And so on.

First published in February 2023, republished on 7th February 2024

St Agatha and Motor Cycling in Inferno

Procession of female saints leaving Classis (bottom left) behind the Three Kings heading to the Virgin Mary (bottom right between four angels). Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (pic. Wikipedia)

Today, I have revised February 5th’s entry on Saint Agatha (link below), whose Feast Day it was. My entry seemed quite comprehensive enough, but I decided to get an early image of Agatha because she is a martyr whose cult spread early on, and therefore, likely to be genuine.

As I started to track down her image I was led, with some joy, to one of the most amazing Churches in the wonderful town of Ravenna, a place I visited with some wonderment when working as an archaeologist at Ferrara, in Emilia-Romagna. As I found the picture of the wall upon which St Agatha appeared, I had to find out which one of the 22 female Saints was St. Agatha. I discovered a pretty comprehensive description and as I looked at it, I found the record was made by, or involved, Professor Bryan Ward-Perkins who was the Director of the site my friends and I worked on in Ferrara!

Medieval Excavation in Ferrara. The author is in the centre of the photo,

I’m guessing Bryan suggested we visit Ravenna on one of our trips to the beach at Rimini. Ravenna was just awesome because the City became the capital of the Roman Empire in the west for a while after Rome fell, then part of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, then of the Byzantine Empire. And so, it was provided with some of the great glories of 5th and 6th Century Architecture. — the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Neronian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Church of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe and spanned the period when the Arian heresy was in full flow. Its hard to overestimate the impact on a young British archaeologist of seeing 5th Century buildings with roofs and astonishingly detailed mosaics still intact. Please visit!

Detail showing the first four female saints behind the Three Kings. Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo wikipedia

Bryan Ward-Perkins description says All the saints are haloed, bear crowns and are dressed in elaborate court dress. Unlike the men …., all have essentially the same youthful features. The only saint with a distinguishing attribute is Agnes, who is accompanied by a lamb ‘ St Agatha, the list says, is the Saint next to Agnes with her lamb; the third in precedent.

St Agatha
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo wikipedia

Enough of the sublime! Now for the ridiculous. Whether on this visit or another, we decided to have a day at the beach at Rimini. After the day on the beach a collective decision to stay over was made so we could go to one of the big clubs (did we call them discos?) probably to dance to ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’.

Archaeologists, Italian and English, on the beach at Rimini

However, the hotels were all full up and so I decided, late at night to go back to Ferrara, on my own on my 175 cc Yamaha motor bike.

My Yamaha 175cc bike looked something like this but was red. A thing of underpowered beauty.

Thing was, I had started the day in Ferrara in the blazing Italian summer heat and hopped onto my bike dressed in shorts and t-shirt. Ferrara was 77 miles away (says google). One hour into the trip back I was getting pretty cold, and really not enjoying driving through the lonely countryside. So I decided to pull off the main road to see if I could find a rural hostelry to stay the rest of the night.

Now, I remember this very vividly – the only likely road I could find was signposted to ‘Inferno’. I shrugged my shoulders, wondering what that was about, and drove towards it on a very deserted road. Eventually, I came to a sign which told me I was about to enter ‘Inferno’.

There was something very surreal about the situation and my state of frozen mind and my courage failed me! I was not going to stay in a ‘motel’ in a place called ‘inferno’! I had seen too many horror films. So, I turned round and continued my cold journey to Ferrara.

Whenever I tell this story, I have some doubt about whether I really saw a place called ‘Inferno’ But I have, for the first time, checked Google which tells me that the road off the Rimini to Ferrara road on the way to Bologna goes through somewhere called: Vicolo Inferno, 40026 Imola BO, Italy. I have not heard of any serial killers based there.

Below is the updated page about St Agatha of Sicily who has a most interesting story.

Written in 2023 and updated in 2024

St Blaise’s Day & The Tadpole Revels February 3rd

19th Century illustration of St Blaise’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey

The Blessing of St Blaise helps protect the throat. The way it is done is that blessed candles are made into a cross, and then these are touched against the throat of the afflicted one. Why? Because a story was told that Blaise, on his way to martyrdom, cured a boy who had a fish bone stuck in his throat. So, he is the patron Saint of sores throats.

Blaise is thought to have been an Armenian Bishop of Sebaste, martyred (316AD) in the persecution of the Emperor Licinius.

Sage Advice for Sore Throats:

In the spirit of St Blaise, here is advice for care of your throats.

Sage Tea is excellent for many things including dental hygiene and alleviating sore throats. The Kalendar of Shepherds tells us how to treat our throats:

Good for the throat honey, sugar, butter with a little salt, liquorice, to sup soft eggs, hyssop, a mean manner of eating and drinking and sugar candy. Evil for the throat: mustard, much lying on the breast, pepper, anger, things roasted, lechery, much working, too much rest, much drink, smoke of incense, old cheese and all sour things are naughty for the throat.

The Kalendar of Shepherds 1604

The Martyrdom of St Blaise

So far, an uplifting, healing story, but the Medieval Church’s propensity for the gruesome, and its peculiar need to allocate a unique method of martyrdom to each early saint leads us to Blaise being pulled apart by wool-combers irons, before being beheaded.

Hence, he is also the patron saint of wool-combers, and by extension, sheep.

Wool combs black and white illustration
Internet Archive book illustrations collection on Flickr. (from wovember see below)

Wikipedia tells me that Combing was a regular form of torture.

Combing, sometimes known as carding (despite carding being a completely different process) is a sometimes-fatal form of torture in which iron combs designed to prepare wool and other fibres for woollen spinning are used to scrape, tear, and flay the victim’s flesh.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combing_(torture)

I am horrified by the goriness of these martyrdoms, and it needs some explanation. If we believe in Richard Dawkins idea of the meme we can find an explanation. Allocating a different and gory death to each and every saint has advantages for the survival of the cult. It brings a uniqueness to the story of the Saint, particular details of death suggests authenticity; the extreme death creates an example of stoicism in the face of challenge to faith, and provokes empathy and piety. There is, also, we have to accept, a very human attraction in the bloodthirstiness of stories.

But, there is, I suspect, a financial interest too. In order for these cults to survive, they need adherents, worshippers, donors, patrons. They need income streams that can help support the expensive clergy and the fabric of the Church. One source is from the wealthy, but in the medieval town, urban wealth was held within the booming guild structure. If your martyred Saint, could attract a particular Guild then you (the sponsoring Priests, or Church) were quids in.

Wool was one of the mainstays of industry in the medieval period, particularly in Britain. A martyr like St Blaise would prosper wherever there were people working with wool, cloth or sheep. So, is it too cynical to suggest some one with an eye for the main chance added the detail of the wool combing death to attract donations from rich wool merchants? As a successful meme it spread throughout Europe.

Also, there were any number of endemic diseases and occupational hazards for which there was no clear cure. So if your Saint can become the Saint of ‘popular’, preferably incurably, illnesses, you can attract all those who suffer from that or similar diseases.

Of course, it may not always be a cynical drive for more income because, in exchange, the Church offered the sufferer comfort of a quality that would have maximised the placebo effect. This has been scientifically measured and was likely to be as effective a cure as the available, often bizarre, medieval remedies.

Blaise’s hagiography suggests he was a physician so he was able to grow into being not only the Saint for Sore Throats and Sheep but one of the go-to saints for diseases in both humans and animals.

Blaise in Britain

His cult came to Britain when King Richard I was ship wrecked on Crusade. Richard was helped by Bishop Bernard of Ragusa where Richard was washed up. When the Bishop was deposed he sought sanctuary in Britain and was made Bishop of Carlisle where he promoted the cult of Blaise. Several churches in the UK founded churches named for him.

St Blazey in Cornwall is named after his Church and celebrates him by a procession of a ram and a wicker effigy of the Saint. Milton, in Berkshire, dedicated its Church to St Blaise, probably because the village’s wealth depended on sheep. The village held a feast on the third Sunday after Trinity, and the day after held the Tadpole Revels at Milton Hall. Tadpole is thought to be a corruption from the word ‘Tod’ which means cleaned wool.

Blaise in London

Westminster Abbey has a chapel dedicated to Blaise (see image at top of page). In the Bishop’s Palace at Bromley is St Blaise’s Well. It is thought to have begun as a spring when the Palace ‘was granted to Bishop Eardwulf by King Ethelbert II of Kent around 750 AD.’ A well near the spring became a place of pilgrimage and an Oratory to St Blaise was set up. In the 18th Century the chalybeate waters of the well were considered to be useful for health. It still exists to day.

On February 3rd St Etheldreda’s Church in London holds the Blessing of the Throats ceremony. It was a Catholic Church in the medieval period, then, in Reformation was used for various purposes until returned to the Catholic Church in 1876. It has memorials for Catholic Martyrs killed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I

Elisa Rolle – Own work
CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikipedia St Etheldreda’s Church

One of London’s oldest guilds is the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, first mentioned in 1180, when fined, for operating without a license, by Richard 1’s dad, Henry II.

Sources: The Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly, Woolly Saints, Britannica, Wovember, wikipedia

Festival of Imbolc, St. Bridget’s Day February 1st

Today is Imbolc, one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals. It corresponds with St Bridget’s Day, which is a Christian festival for the Irish Saint, and is the eve of Candlemas. Bridget is the patron saint of all things to do with brides, marriage, fertility, and midwifery (amongst many other things, see above). And in Ireland, this year (2024) is the very first St Bridget’s/ Imbolc Day Bank Holiday!

St Bride,s Statue St Bride's Church. Fleet Street
St Bride’s Statue, St Bride’s Church. Fleet Street from K.Flude’s virtual tour on Imbolc

St Bridget, aka Briddy or Bride, converted the Irish to Christianity along with St Patrick in the 5th Century AD. She appears to have taken on the attributes of a Celtic fertility Goddess, called Bridget or Brigantia, so some doubt she was a real person. There are Roman altars dedicated to Brigantia, and it is thought that the Brigantes tribe in Yorkshire and the North were named after the Goddess. The Brigantes were on the front line against the invading Romans in the 1st Century AD, and led by Queen Cartimandua, It is interesting that two of the British leaders facing the Roman invasion were women. Cartimandua tried to keep her independence by cooperating with the Romans, while, a few years later, Boudica took the opposite strategy. But both women appear to have had agency as leaders of their tribes and show a great contrast with Roman misogyny.

altar to Brigantia
Altar to Brigantia from K Flude’s virtual tour on Imbolc

There are many wells dedicated to St Bride. They were often used in rituals and dances concerned with fertility and healthy babies. And perhaps, the most famous, was near Fleet Street. Henry VIII’s Palace of Bridewell, later an infamous prison, was named after the Well. St Bride’s Church has long been a candidate as an early Christian Church, and although the post World War Two excavations found nothing to suggest an early Church, they did find an early well near the site of the later altar of the Church, and by the remains of a Roman building, possibly a mausoleum. Therefore, it is possible that the Church was built on the site of an ancient, arguably holy, well.

St Bridget's Well Glastonbury
St Bridget’s Well, Glastonbury

The steeple of St Brides is said to be the origin of the tiered Wedding Cake, which, in 1812, inspired a local baker to bake for his daughter’s wedding.

Steeple of St Brides Fleet Street
Steeple of St Brides Fleet Street

Imbolc and St Bridget’s Day are the time to celebrate the return of fertility to the earth as spring approaches. In my garden and my local park, the first snowdrops, violets, and daffodils are coming out, and below the bare earth, there is a frenzy of bulbs and seeds budding, and beginning to poke their shoots up above the earth, ready for the Spring. In the meadows, ewes are lactating, and the first lambs are being born.

Violets, bulbs, and my first Daffodil of the year. Hackney (2022), London by K Flude

I, occasionally, do walks about Imbolc and other Celtic festivals, in conjunction with the Myths and Legends of London, and at May Eve, the Solstices, Halloween and Christmas (when I have time). See the walks page of this blog

https://www.chr.org.uk/anddidthosefeet/walks

And let’s end with the Saint Brigid Hearth Keeper Prayer Courtesy of SaintBrigids.org

Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.
Mothers of our mother, Foremothers strong.
Guide our hands in yours,
Remind us how to kindle the hearth.
To keep it bright, to preserve the flame.
Your hands upon ours, Our hands within yours,
To kindle the light, Both day and night.
The Mantle of Brigid about us,
The Memory of Brigid within us,
The Protection of Brigid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness.
This day and night,
From dawn till dark, From dark till dawn.

For more about St Bridget.

First published in 2023, revised and republished Feb 2024

I have republished my post of the Chinese New Year which you can see here:

St Cadoc’s Day January 24th

S Cadoc of Llancarfan

St Cadoc was born in 497 AD, a Saint, and Martyr, who founded a monastery at Llancarfan, near Cowbridge, Glamorgan, Wales. He also has associations with Scotland, Brittany, and England. His story is not written down until the 11th Century, but it is fascinating and, in its own way, a charming story. The gentle son of a savage, robber King, he was educated in Latin under an Irish priest, and refused to fight on his father’s orders. But lived to convert his parents eventually. He is known as Cattwg Ddoeth, “the Wise”, although his sayings are mired in the forgeries of Iolo Morganwg.

His story brings Cadoc into conflict with King Arthur. In Welsh literature, King Arthur is a brave but wilful King who demanded Cadoc give him compensation after the Saint sheltered a man who had killed three of Arthur’s men. The compensation was delivered as a herd of cows, but as soon as Arthur took charge of them they turned into ferns.

Cadoc was forced out of Britain by the pagan Anglo-Saxons, but eventually, he felt he had to return despite the grave danger he would return to. He wanted to obey his own maxim:

Would you find glory? Then march to the grave.

He therefore moved to the Saxon settlements to give spiritual succour to the native British Christians who had survived the massacres of the Saxons. He met his martyrdom at Weedon in Northamptonshire, where he was celebrating a service when it was interrupted by Saxon horsemen, and Cadoc was slain as he served the Eucharist.

The Catholic Church celebrates him in September, elsewhere on the 24th January.

For more, look at https://celticsaints.org or Wikipedia.

First published in January 2023, republished in January 2024

Queen Elizabeth 1 Coronation January 15th

Queen Elizabeth’s litter at her royal entry, accompanied by footmen and Gentlemen Pensioners. Unidentified engraver. (Wikipedia)

Today is the most depressing day of the year, so called Blue Monday. It was only a marketing stunt but seems to have stuck. So, ‘officially’ Blue Monday is the third Monday of the year – in 2024 156 January. It was worked out using this ‘equation’:

[W + (D-d)] x TQ
M x NA

(W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels and (NA) the need to take action. (https://news.sky.com )

Queen Elizabeth 1’s Coronation

Queen Elizabeth 1 ascended the throne on 17 Nov 1558. Her courtiers immediately began work on the Coronation, scheduled for January 15th 1559. In terms of Coronations, this was rushed. The precise date was, in fact, chosen by the Royal Astrologer, John Dee on a date that the celestial bodies deemed propitious, and which was sooner rather than later because Elizabeth’s position was not secure.

Her accession was certainly greeted with an outbreak of joy by the Protestant population. But the supporters of her dead sister Mary 1 did not want a Protestant monarch. On hearing the news of the death of her sister, Elizabeth rushed to occupy the Tower of London, even shooting London Bridge, such was her haste. She consulted lawyers about the legal position. Elizabeth, and her sister Mary, had been declared bastards by two Succession Acts passed during Henry VIII’s ‘troubled’ married life. The Third Succession Act of 1543/44, following Henry’s marriage to Katherine Parr, had restored Mary and Elizabeth to the Royal line but did not restore their legitimacy. Rather than tackle the complex legislation, Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, advised:

“the English laws have long since pronounced, that the Crowne once worn quite taketh away all Defects whatsoever“.

(Wikipedia)

Which, when you think about it, basically legitimises successful any ‘Coup’! And, from a legal perspective, she was still, arguably, illegitimate.

The Coronation began with a procession from the Whitehall Palace in Westminster back to the Tower of London for the Vigil, then a Royal Procession through the City of London to Westminster Abbey for the Coronation service, followed by the traditional Coronation Banquet at Westminster Hall.

The Vigil Procession was on the Thames where she was escorted to the Tower by ‘ships, galleys, brigantines‘ sumptuously decorated. The Royal Entry consisted of 5 Pageants and 11 Triumphal Arches.

The first pageant showed the Queen’s descent from Henry VII and his marriage to Elizabeth of York. This marriage effectively ended the Wars of the Roses by linking the House of York and the House of Lancaster. The pageant also emphasised her ‘Englishness’ as opposed to the Spanish affiliations of Mary. The second pageant demonstrated that the Queen would rule by the four virtues of True Religion, Love of Subjects, Wisdom and Justice, while trampling on Superstition, Ignorance and other vices.

The third pageant, at the upper end of Cheapside near the Guildhall, provided the opportunity for the City to give Elizabeth a handsome crimson purse with 1000 marks of gold, showing the closeness of the City and the Crown. The fourth pageant, contrasted a decaying country during the time of Mary with a thriving one under Elizabeth. It featured the figure of Truth, who was carrying a Bible written in English and entitled ‘the Word of Truth’. The Bible was lowered on a silken thread to the Queen, who kissed it and laid it on her breast to the cheers of the crowd. She promised to read it diligently. The final pageant was Elizabeth portrayed as Deborah, the Old Testament prophet, who by rescuing Israel and ruling for 40 years was an ideal role model for Elizabeth. (https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/queen-elizabeth-coronation)

‘All the houses in Cheapside were dressed with banners and streamers, and the richest carpets, stuffs and cloth of gold tapestried the streets’.

British History.ac.uk Vol 1 pp315 -332.

The Coronation was traditional – in Latin and presided by a Catholic Bishop, but there were significant innovations. Important passages were read both in Latin and in English, and the Queen added to the Coronation Oath that she would rule according to the ‘true profession of the Gospel established in this Kingdom.’ This showed the way forward, introducing innovation gradually into tradition, but emphasizing that the fundamentals had indeed changed. This was going to be a Protestant reign.

Please do remember, I wrote a best-selling book on the Kings and Queens of Britain which k has been reprinted several times and is available below.

First published in January 2023, republished January 2024

St Hilary’s Day – the Coldest Day of the Year? January 13th

Hackney Marshes, Jan 2022, Chris Sansom

St Hilary’s Day is traditionally the coldest day in the year. Of course the coldest day varies but it is normally in January, or February but sometimes in December and occasionally in November, or March.

In 2023 it was;

-16.0C, recorded at Altnaharra on the 9th of March.

At the bottom of the post are the coldest days in the UK since 2000.

Hilary & the Arians

St Hilary (born 315) was the Bishop of Poitiers in France where he died around 367 AD. He was a vigorous opponent of the Arian Heresy which swept through the Catholic world in the late Roman period. Catholic doctrine was that God – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost was a Trinity. Arius took the view that: “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not.” So Jesus was not equal with God. A question at the time was, ‘Was Jesus divine?’

Eventually the ecumenical First Council of Nicaea of 325, declared Arianism to be a heresy during the reign of Constantine the Great. It was very strong in the East and was accepted by Constantine’s son and continued as a major influence especially among the Goths and Vandals.

The Church takes the position on the Trinity which is one God existing in three coequal, coeternal, consubstantial divine persons (wikipedia). Its sobering to think how many people were martyred over these arcane attempts to maintain what they considered a coherent monotheism despite this difficult idea of three entities being one God.

Hilary Term

Hilary was a scholar and is one of those rare early Saints not to be horrifically martyred. We remember him in the UK with the dedication of a few Churches, particularly in Wales but he has also given his name to one of the terms of the academic year. At least for Oxford, Hilary Term is their name for the ‘spring term’ and this year Hilary begins on the 14th January.

The legal establishment also uses ‘Hilary.’ This year the legal year is:

Hilary: Thursday 11 January to Wednesday 27 March 2024
Easter: Tuesday 9 April to Friday 24 May 2024
Trinity: Tuesday 4 June to Wednesday 31 July 2024
Michaelmas: Tuesday 1 October to Friday 20 December 2024

Oxford shares the nomenclature of Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity. Cambridge and London School of Economics share Michaelmas but call the next term ‘Lent term’ and then ‘Summer Term’ Most other universities split the academic year into three terms (autumn, spring and summer) across two academic semesters. 

The legal term is quite interesting in so far as for most of us ‘terms’ are a thing of our youth. We then participate in the hard slog of what might be called ‘real life’ or work, work, work, separated by a few short breaks. But not for the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Too much like hard work, and not enough time off!

As I travel around Britain I find a lot of ‘Stately Homes’ which were bought by eminent Judges or lawyers. At the same time the legal establishment in London is based at the four Inns of Court: Lincoln’s Inn, Grey’s Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple. These were founded in the medieval period and one of the reasons they have stayed as important institutions is that they provided homes and well as offices for the lawyers who would only come to London during the three terms, about 30 weeks out of the 52 available. Then they would go off to their country estates to recuperate and enjoy the fruits of their privileged position.

Coldest days in the UK (according to https://www.trevorharley.com/coldest-days-of-each-year-from-1875.html and in centigrade.)

2000 -15.0 Dalmally (Argyll) 30 December

2001 -21.7 Kinbrace (Sutherland) 3 March

2002 -16.1 Grantown 2 January

2003 -18.3 Aviemore 7 January

2004 -15.2 Kinbrace (Sutherland) 19 December

2005 -13.2 Ravensworth (North Yorks.) 29 December

2006 -16.4 Altnaharra 2 March

2007 -13.0 Aboyne 22 December

2008 -12.9 Aviemore 30 December

2009 -18.4 Aviemore 9 February, Braemar 29 December

2010 -22.3 Altnaharra 8 January

2011 -13.0 Althnaharra 8 January

2012 -18.3 Chesham (Bucks.) 11 February

2013 -13.4 Marham (near Norwich, Norfolk) 16 January

2014 -9.0 Cromdale (Morayshire) 27 December

2015 -12.5 Tulloch Bridge, Glascarnoch 19 January

2016 -14.1 Braemar 14 February

2017 -13.0 Shawbury (Shropshire) 12 December

2018 -14.2 Faversham (Kent) 28 February

2019 -15.4 Braemar 1 February

2020 -10.2 Braemar 13 February and Dalwhinnie (30 December)

2021 -23.0 Braemar 11 February

2022 -17.3 Braemar 13 December

If you look at the long list you will see that Braemar is, far and away, the most common place to host the coldest day in the UK.

St Distaff’s Day & the Triple Goddesses, January 7th

Spinning
Spinning—showing the distaff in the left hand and the spindle or rock in the right hand

I’m not sure what the Three Kings were doing on the day after Epiphany, but, the shepherds, if they were like English farmworkers, would still be on holiday until next Monday, which is Plough Monday. By contrast, the women, according to folk customs, went back to work on the 7th, St. Distaff’s Day, the day after Epiphany.

A distaff is ‘a stick or spindle on to which wool or flax is wound for spinning’ and because of its importance in the medieval and early modern economy it became a synecdoche for women. St Distaff is a ‘canonisation’ of this use of the word. So, a day to celebrate women.

Robert Herrick (1591–1674), born in Cheapside, a Goldsmith, priest, Royalist and Poet wrote in ‘Hesperides’

Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaff’s Day:
From the plough, soon free your team;
Then come home and fother them;
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right;
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.

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In London, the Fraternity of St Anne and St Agnes used to meet at the Church in London with that name. It is near to the (now closed) Museum of London on the junction of Gresham Street and Noble Street, by a corner of the Roman Wall. St Agnes is the patron saint of young girls, abused women and Girl Scouts. St Anne is the mother of the mother of the Son of God, and, thereby, the three generations of women are represented: maidens, mothers, and grandmothers.

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The Three Mother Goddesses (and someone else) “Limestone relief depicting four female figures sitting on a bench holding bread and fruit, a suckling baby, a dog and a basket of fruit’ the Museum of London

Archaeologists discovered the sculpture while investigating the Roman Wall at Blackfriars, City of London. Scholars believe it depicts the Celtic Three Mother Goddesses, worshipped in Roman London. The fourth person is a mystery, maybe the patron of the temple(?) where the relief sculpture was displayed before it was used as rubble and became part of the defences of London.

The idea of triple goddesses is a common one. In Folklore and History they have been referred to as Maiden, Mother, and Crone, or even Maiden, Mother and Hag. They come in Roman, Greek, Celtic, Irish, and Germanic forms with names like the Norns, the Three Fates, the Weird Sisters, the Mórrígan and many more. The Three Fates, the Goddess Book of Days says, were celebrated during the Gamelia, the Greco/Roman January Festival to the marriage of Zeus and Juno. The Festival also gives its name to the Athenian month of January.

Natural History Museum, Oxford, K Flude photo.

There was a theory widely held that the original Deities, dating before the spread of farming, were mother goddesses (perhaps as depicted by the Venus of Willendorf) who were overthrown by the coming of farmers who worshipped the male gods which destroyed the ancient Matriarchy and replaced it with the current Patriarchy. Jane Ellen Harrison proposed an ancient matriarchal civilization. Robert Graves wrote some interesting, but no longer thought to be very scientific studies, on the idea. Neopaganism has taken these ideas forward.

Whatever the truth of the origins of the Three Mother Goddesses, the use of the terms Hag and Crone for the third is a great disservice to the Grandmother figure. These Goddesses represent the importance of the female for human society. The three phases of womanhood are equally as important in the continuation of the species, providing love, support, and experience through the generations. Compare these three generations of supportive deities with Ouranos (Uranus), Cronus (Saturn) and Zeus (Jupiter). Saturn castrated and deposed his father, Uranus. Later, he tried to eat his son, Jupiter. And then Jupiter is nobody’s idea of an ideal father.

Recent work on human evolution has suggested that the role of the Grandmother might be crucial to our species’ ability to live beyond the age of fertility. Because, in evolutionary terms, once an individual cannot procreate their usefulness for the survival of the genes is finished. So what’s the point of putting resources into their survival? The theory is that, particularly with women, the Grandmother has such an impact on the survival of the next generation, that longevity beyond fertility makes evolutionary sense, and is selected for.

Have a look at this site for more information.

More information on St Agnes in this post below:

Yesterday was dedicated to Joan of Arc, and today is the anniversary of the breaking of the fabulous Portland Vase in 1845 by a drunken visitor to the British Museum. It looks immaculate despite being smashed into myriad pieces, a wonder of the conservator’s art. To see the vase and read its story, go to the BM web site here:

wedgwood catalogue of its copy of the portland vase

In the orthodox church, дед Мороз  (Ded Moroz= father of frost), accompanied by Cнегурочка (Snieguroshka= fairy of the snow) brings gifts on New year’s eve, (which is on January 7th). He travels with a horse drawn troika.

First Published in 2022, and revised in January 2024