Roodmas, the True Cross and the Coronation May 3rd

Rood screen in St. Helen’s church, Ranworth, Norfolk by Maria CC BY-SA 3.0

Roodmas is celebrated on May 3rd and September 14th, although the Church of England aligned itself with the Catholic Church’s main celebration on September 14th.

Rood is another word for the Cross. Parish Churches used to have a Rood Screen separating the holy Choir from the more secular Nave. This screen was topped with a statue of the Crucified Jesus nailed to a Rood.

The two dates of Roodmas reflects that it commemorates two events:

The Discovery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in 326 by Queen Helena, wife of Constantius Chlorus and mother of Constantine the Great. In Jerusalem, Queen Helena found the Cross with the nails, and the crown of thorns. She authenticated the Cross by placing it in contact with a deathly sick woman who was revived by the touch of Cross. She had most of the Cross sent back to the care of her son, Constantine the Great.

The part of the Holy Cross that was left behind in Jerusalem was taken by Persians but recovered by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628 in a peace treaty.

Over the years, the Cross was shivered into ever smaller pieces as Emperors, Kings, Queens, Dukes, Counts, Popes, Bishops, Abbots, and Abbesses swapped relics with each other. The fragments were cased in beautiful reliquaries and had enormous power for those of faith and those who could be helped by healing by faith.

The Duke of Buckingham had a piece in his collection, which he kept at York House in the early 17th Century. How he got it, I don’t know, but I think he must have acquired it from the aftermath of the destruction of the Reformation. John Tradescant, who looked after the Duke’s collection (before Buckingham was murdered), had a wonderful collection of curiosities which he kept in the UK’s first Museum in Lambeth. Tradescant’s Ark, as his museum was called, also had a piece of the True Cross. Again, I suspect (without any evidence) that he got it from Buckingham. Did he acquire it after the murder? Or shiver off a timber fragment hoping no one would notice?

The Chapel that Shakespeare’s Father controlled as Bailiff of Stratford on Avon, was dedicated to the Legend of the True Cross, to find out more click here:

cutting from the Shropshire News article on the True Cross and the Coronation
Shropshire News article on the True Cross and the Coronation

Last year, I was just finishing this piece when I came across this astonishing story in the Shropshire News!

It seems two pieces of the True Cross were given to Charles III by the Pope! They have been put into a cross called the Welsh Cross which took part in the Coronation Procession, and then the King is giving the Cross (I assume with the pieces of the Holy Cross) to the Church in Wales. Let the Shropshire News tell the story:

Shropshire News article on the True Cross and the Coronation
Part 2 Shropshire News article on the True Cross and the Coronation

This is quite extraordinarily medieval, and fits in with the news that we were encouraged to take an oath of allegiance to the new King.

I, (Insert full name), do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles, his heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/royals/swearing-allegiance-king-charles-its-29861318

It is a clear reminder that we are subjects not citizens and news, as a nation, we still set store by superstitions.

First Written on May 3rd 2023, revised May 3rd 2024

Floralia. Old Goats and an extraordinary Elephant April 28th

Flora on a gold aureus of 43–39 BC Wikipedia photot by АНО Международный нумизматический клуб

On the 28th of April until the Kalends (15th) of May the Romans, according to Ovid in the ‘Fasti’ Book IV, celebrated the Florialia dedicated to Flora, the Goddess of Spring, flowering, blossoming, budding, planting and fertility. She was one of the 15 Roman Deities offered a state-financed Priest. Her home in Rome, was on the lower slopes of the Aventine Hill near the Circus Maximus.

The Circus Maximus is the large long arena in the middle of Rome. Model Musee Arte et Histoire, Brussels, photo Kevin Flude

Celebrations began with theatrical performances, at the end of which the audience were pelted with beans and lupins. Then there were competitive games, and spectacles. The latter, in the reign of Galba, including a tight-rope walking – wait for it – elephant!

Incidently, Galba only survived for 7 months as Emperor – a little longer than Liz Truss’s 44 days but then she was not murdered by a rampaging mob at the end of her reign. It was the year known to history as the year of the 4 Emperors. (great description by Tacitus here:)

Juvenal records that prostitutes were included in the celebration of Flora by dancing naked, and fighting in mock gladiatorial battles. (there is a raging debate about the existence of female gladiators: a burial in Southwark has been said to be one such and Natalie Haynes has her say on the subject here🙂

Hares and goats were released as part of the ceremonies, presumably because they are very fertile and have a ‘salacious’ reputation! (Satyrs were, famously, obsessed with sex and were half man half goat. A man can still be referred to, normally behind his back, as an ‘old goat’).

Written in 2023 revised April 2024

Francis Drake Knighted at Deptford April 4th

Sketch from an old print. In fact, the Queen delegated the dubbing to a French Diplomat

The Queen’s half share in the profits of the Golden Hind’s circumnavigation of the world, amounted to more than her normal annual income. So it is no wonder she knighted the Captain, Sir Frances Drake, in the dock in what is now South East London at Deptford. The Spanish were furious that a Pirate should be so honoured. The Queen may have given a French man the honour of dubbing Sir Francis to align the French more with the English against the Spanish.

Drake was one of the British heroes I read about as a child. I had a thick book with stories about people like Hereward the Wake, Drake, Charles II, Bonny Prince Charlie, and David Livingstone. Drake was remembered for being the first English person to sail around the world, and his exploits in ‘singeing the beard of the King of Spain’ and his piratical raids on the Spanish Main. In these books, the Spanish were the bad guys and we were the good ones. Drake was one of a brand of swash-buckling heroes who turned Britain from a not very important country on the edge of Europe, to one of the World’s Great Powers.

Portrait of Francis Drake with Drake Jewel given to his by Queen Elizabeth I

On the other hand, he was also a pioneer in the Slave Trade, was involved in atrocities in Ireland and in the Spanish Territories, and had one of his crew executed in dubious circumstances. Perhaps more significantly, his contemporaries did not entirely trust him.

On the first days of contact between the British Navy and the Spanish Armada, he was tasked with leading the nightime pursuit of the Armada up the Channel. The idea was to stop them landing and to drive them away and into the North Sea. Drake in the Revenge was leading the pursuit, and the other ships were told to follow  a single lantern kept alight in the stern of Drake’s ship. The light went out, and the British pursuit was disrupted. The next morning Drake comes back having captured the disabled Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora del Rosario, flagship of Admiral Pedro de Valdés, and substantial gold to pay the Spanish Armada.

In the end, the lantern incident did not stop the British forcing the Spanish to flee around the North of Scotland, upon which perilous voyage only about 60 of their ships returned to Spain out of about 130. Britain was saved.

The Nuestra Señora del Rosario and its crew were taken to Torre Abbey, Torbay and imprisoned. The Abbey is now a lovely museum with an Agatha Christie Poison Garden amidst the ruins of the Premonstratensian Abbey. Its tithe barn was used to hold 397 prisoners of war from the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The Spanish Bar, Torre Abbey. Photo 2012 Kevin Flude
The Spanish Bar, Torre Abbey. Photo 2012 Kevin Flude

Sir John Gilbert, who was Sheriff of Devon at the time also used 160 Spanish Prisoners of War to develop his estate above the River Dart which is now enjoyed by those millions of visitors to what became the summer home of Agatha Christie (Greenway).

Queen Elizabeth I decided that the Golden Hind should be permanently docked in Deptford, and the ship was placed in a ‘dry’ dock filled with soil until the ship decayed slowly with time, and by about 1660 nothing much was left. 

I remember as a young archaeologist that some of our team took time out to work with Peter Marsden, one of the great experts in Naval archaeology, leading a search to find Drake’s ship.  There was a huge fanfare in the London newspapers, but, rather embarrassingly, given the build up, they failed to find anything of significance. Another attempt was made in 2012, but the prize of the discovery of a largely intact Elizabethan Galleon was not made.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada 1588 showing July22nd Start Point Devon with English ships pursuing the Spanish
From an old history book

The Keeper of the Naval Stores at Deptford made chairs from the ruins of Drakes ship, and one of the three said to have been made is on display at the Divinity Hall, Oxford.

Chair made from the ruins of the Golden Hinde

Stone of Destiny on display in Perth March 30th

Old Photograph of the Stone of Destiny beneath the Coronation Chair.
Old Photograph of the Stone of Destiny beneath the Coronation Chair.

The Stone of Destiny is, today, on display again at the reopening of the redeveloped Perth Museum, in Scotland. This is near to its ‘original’ home at the Palace of Scone.

The Museums Association reports that it is a ‘£27m development project ….funded by £10m UK government investment from the £700m Tay Cities Deal and by Perth & Kinross Council, the museum is a transformation of Perth’s former city hall by architects Mecanoo.’

As well as the Stone of Destiny, the Museum has Bonnie Prince Charlie’s sword and a rare Jacobite wine glass, which are on public display for the first time. This is the first time the sword has been in Scotland since it was made in Perth in 1739. https://perthmuseum.co.uk/the-stone-of-destiny/

Webpage of the Perth Museum show a photo of the Stone of Destiny
Webpage of the Perth Museum show a photo of the Stone of Destiny

Before Perth, the Stone was in London under the Coronation Chair for the Coronation of King Charles III (6 May 2023) . Before that, it was on display at Edinburgh Castle after being sent back to Scotland by Blair’s Labour Government as a symbol of the devolution of power from Westminster to the restored Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in November 1996. Before that, it was under the Coronation Chair from the time Edward I stole it (1296) from Scone as part of his attempted subjection of Scotland in the late 13th Century. So, virtual every English and British King has been crowned upon the Stone of Scone.

However, the Stone had a brief holiday in Scotland in 1950/51 after four Scottish students removed it from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1950. After thee months, it turned up at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey. It was briefly in a Prison Cell, then returned to Westminster for the Coronation of Elizabeth II.

I’m guessing the-would-be liberators of the Stone, thought Arbroath was suitable, as the Declaration of Arbroath is the supreme declaration of Scottish Independence from England. Following the Battle of Bannockburn, and Robert Bruce’s leadership, the Scots wrote to the Pope of their commitment to Scotland as an independent nation. They said:

“As long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself”

The Pope agreed and Scotland remained independent until voluntarily joining England in the United Kingdom in 1714.

Poor photograph of a press cutting on display at the Palace of Scone (Photo by me!)
Poor photograph of a press cutting on display at the Palace of Scone (Photo by me!)

Before Edward 1 stole the Stone, it was at Scone Palace, upon which the Kings of Scotland were crowned, including Macbeth (August 14, 1040).

Moot or Boot Hill where Scottish Kings were crowned. Palace of Scone Photo Kevin Flude)
Moot or Boot Hill where Scottish Kings were crowned. Palace of Scone Photo Kevin Flude)

Those who attended the coronation traditionally shook their feet of all the earth they had brought from their homelands, and this over the centuries grew into Boot Hill, aka Moot Hill. So the mound represents the sacred land of Scotland. 42 Kings were crowned upon its soil on its Stone.

Before Scone, it was, possibly, in Argyllshire where the Gaelic Kings were crowned, Their most famous King was Kenneth MacAlpine and he united the Scots, Gaelic people originally from Ireland, the Picts, and the British into a new Kingdom which was called Alba, which became Scotland.

MacAlpine was the first king to be crowned on the Stone at Scone in 841 or so. He made Scone the capital of his new Kingdom because it was a famous Monastery associated with the Culdees who followed St Columba to Scotland. MacAlpine brought sacred relics from Iona to sanctify the new capital. And Scottish Kings were by tradition crowned at Scone and buried on the holy Island of Iona.

Before that, legend has it that the Scots bought the Stone from Ireland when they began to settle in Western Scotland (c500AD). The Scots, it is said, got the Stone from the Holy Land where Jacob lay his head on it and had a dream of Angels ascending and descending a ladder to Heaven. Jacob used the stone as a memorial, which was called Jacob’s Pillow (c1652 years BC).

But, questions about the Stone remain. Firstly, an angry Edward 1 failing to conquer the Scots makes a spiteful raid on Scone, but would the Monks meekly hand over the stone, or do they hide it and give him a fake?

Secondly, was the Stone brought to Scone from Western Scotland in the 9th Century?

These questions of doubt are based on the assumption that the Stone is made of the local Scone sandstone. If it were brought to Scone from somewhere else, it would be in a different type of stone, surely? So, either it was made in Scone, possibly for MacAlpine’s Coronation or the Monks fooled the English into taking a copy. So the English would then have been crowning their Monarchs on a forgery.

Ha! Silly English but then the Scots have spent £27m on the same forgery.

Historic Environment Scotland have recently undertaken a new analysis of the stone, which confirms: ‘the Stone as being indistinguishable from sandstones of the Scone Sandstone Formation, which outcrop in the area around Scone Palace, near Perth‘. It also found that different stone workers had worked on the stone in the past; that it bore traces of a plaster cast being made; that it had markings which have not yet been deciphered and had copper staining suggesting something copper or bronze was put on the top of it at some point in its history.

So it seems the Stone of Destiny was made in Scone.

 

The Wandering Cardinal Points & Digital Heritage March 21st

Photo  by Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash of a weather vane showing the cardinal points
Photo by Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash

This post was originally part of the Equinox Post but it was too long and I have moved the section on the cardinal points of the compass to here.

So, Spring has sprung. At the Equinox the sun now rises due East, and sets due West. The rising and setting points vary throughout the year, further North each day as we move to Summer Solstice, and further South as Winter Solstice approaches. Dawn and Dusk vary accordingly. The only fixed point in the Sun’s journey (as seen from Earth) is Noon. Every day, the Sun is at it highest point at Noon. And this is the definition of South, something that can be seen and measured. The Sun never strays into the North so the North is cold, remote, more mysterious, unknowable almost, except that it is defined by the opposite direction to South.

To my mind, it makes South/Noon very special. At Stonehenge, there are two exits. The biggest is aligned to the Midsummer Sunrise and Midwinter Sunset direction, but there is a smaller second entrance and this aligned due South. There is also a uniquely small standing stone in the main circle of Sarsens, and there was some sort of corridor heading South through the mysterious wooden phase which precedent the stone Stonehenge. So, we can be sure Noon\South was important at Stonehenge.

Sketch of Stonehenge showing the smallest Sarsen stone to the North of the Southern Entrance

Noon, derived from ‘nona hora’ in Latin and is ‘one of the seven fixed prayer times in traditional Christian denominations.’ (Wikipedia)

Strangely, North, somehow, has come to be the principal direction, the one that is shown on all decent maps, and the one that people of my generation and hemisphere think of as being ‘up’. The Google generation sees things differently. You have to fight with Google Maps to get it to put North at the top of the map, and all over Britain, tourist maps on walls or plinths, increasingly show up as being the way you are looking and nothing to do with North. My children mock me when I say ‘You come out of the Tube station and you turn up the High street Northwards.’ Their view of maps is completely relational – you turn left out of the tube station, you walk past the M&S. you cross the road and walk along the park. They do not see any reason to know where the cardinal points are. Although I see this as being part of the Decline of the West, and ‘things were better in my day’, it is simply returning to the way maps were produced in the past.

Representation of a Roman Map with the top being roughly East.
Representation of a Roman Map with the top being roughly East.

The four points of the Compass are called the cardinal points: “chief, pivotal,” early 14c., from Latin cardinalis “principal, chief, essential,” (online etymological dictionary).

Of course, there is another version of the cardinal points: the magnetic cardinal points. The magnetic cardinal points wanders over time and does not coincide with geographic north. In recent times they are close enough, but in the past there have been huge variations and occasionally the earth has had geomagnetic reversals when the north pole has pointed in different directions, including southwards. The last one was 780,000 years ago, and they take place on average very roughly every 500,000 years. The magnetic pole is caused by the molten iron in the earth’s core and mantle, which creates a dipole. Fluctuations in the dynamo flow of the molten iron cause occasional reverses. The science is very complicated and, even now, not entirely understood. Is it a random consequence of flow dynamics? Or do external events, like sinking continents, or meteor strikes cause the reversal? Of course, since the first use of compasses for navigation in the 11th/12th Centuries,  the magnetic pole hasn’t wandered enough to be of concern to navigation. It has wondered a few hundred miles of over the last 500 years but is speeding up, from 9km a year to 52km (since 1970).

Cavit – Own work Observed pole positions taken from Newitt et al., “Location of the North Magnetic Pole in April 2007“, Earth Planets Space, 61, 703–710, 2009 Modelled pole positions taken from the National Geophysical Data Center, “Wandering of the Geomagnetic Poles” Map created with GMT Wiipedia CC BY 4.0

My first proper job after university was as a technician then research assistant at Oxford University studying these phenomena. I say ‘proper’ because when I left University, I became an itinerant archaeologist, digging in Switzerland, Northampton, East Anglia and Nottingham before I got the job at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, Keble College, Oxford.

I worked for Dr. Mike Barbetti who was an expert on the wanderings of the Magnetic Pole. His interest was firstly in the pure science of the subject, but he was keen to explore the applied uses of the science to Archaeology as well. So, after being appointed as a Research Fellow at Oxford, he set up an epic journey from his native Australia to Oxford that went via some of the iconic sites of Palaeolithic Archaeology, such as Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, site of excavations by Mary and Louis Leakey.

In order to plot the movements of the magnetic north, scientists needed dated samples, and early human sites provided dated sites over a long timespan. Also, archaeomagnetism, as the discipline became known, offered the possibility of dating sites. Another application was to determine whether deposits were fired or not. One of the sites Mike sampled was a candidate for the first evidence of fire in human existence. But was the scorched earth actually scorched rather than just discoloured?

As I said, Mike’s interest was discovering how the magnetic field of the earth changed over time, and, more importantly, what was the mechanism. He shipped back to Oxford samples of soil cast in Plaster of Paris. My job was to cut the samples up and to measure the strength and direction of the magnetic field in the samples. I cut them up with an electric saw in a shed in the backyard of the Laboratory, and then we used a mini-computer to measure the direction and intensity of the magnetic field in the samples.

Soil contains particles of iron, and they align randomly, so a sample of soil has a low magnetic intensity and a random direction of magnetic field. But once heated up, the iron particles align to the current direction of the magnetic pole and its intensity is proportional to the intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field. These measurements provide a method of plotting the changes of the magnetic field over time. And from these data, models could be constructed explaining how the iron in the earth’s core worked as a giant magnet.

We could, therefore, tell if a sample of soil had been heated by fire. Once we had built a reference curve for the movements of the direction of the magnetic pole and the changing intensity of the magnetic pole we might be able to develop another dating method to rival radio carbon, thermoluminescence, and tree ring dating, all of which were being developed at the Research Laboratory in Oxford.

Having got the results, I then typed them up onto machine-readable cards, took them to the Oxford University Computer Centre with a copy on cards of the programme written in Fortran, and gave them to the Computing Staff. They were run through the Centre’s mainframe computer which was probably an IBM or ICL computer, and 24 hours later I received a print-out to proofread. When I located mistakes, I ran an editing run of punched cards, essentially instructing the computer: ‘on card two replace 2.5 with 2.6, and run the programme again’. I would pick up the results 24 hour hours later. It seems extraordinarily primitive now, but then it was an enormous saving of time.

And that, patient reader, was my early contribution to Digital Heritage and pure science. We published at least three articles in the prestigious Science Journal Nature. And it is slightly annoying that my citations in the groves of academia are still dominated by articles I co-wrote in the late 1970s!

The work was important in the development of the study of the earth’s magnetic field. However, the use of archaeomagnetism in archaeology has never risen above strictly limited. Occasionally, in specific circumstances, it can be useful, but those circumstances tend to be times when no other methods came up with the goods and most often in attempting to date kilns.

These are the papers:

Barbetti. M and K. Flude, ‘Palaeomagnetic Field Strengths from Sediments baked by Lava flows of the Chaine des Puys, France.’ Nature, Vol. 278 No 5700. 1979

Barbetti. M and K. Flude, ‘Geomagnetic Variation during the Late Pleistocene Period and changes in the radiocarbon time scale.’ Nature, Vol. 279 No 5710. 1979

Barbetti M., Y. Taborin, B. Schmider and K. Flude ‘Archaeomagnetic Results from Late Pleistocene Hearths at Etoilles and Marsangy, France’. Archaeometry 22. 1980

First written March 2023, revised 21st March 2024

The Spring Equinox March 20th

Video by Heike Herbert of Druids at the Spring Equinox at Tower Hill, London

So, Spring has sprung, not only meteorologically speaking but also astronomically. We are 20 days into the meteorological Spring which started on 1 March and now starting the astronomical or solar Spring. The 20th of March is the Spring Equinox, or Vernal Equinox, halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice. The sun has been rising further north each day since December 21st, and it now rises due East, and sets due West, The day and night are roughly equal in length although by no means exactly. At 3.30pm today, the Sun was directly overhead at the Equator.

The term vernal comes from the Latin for Spring, and today is the primavera, the first day of Spring. The Anglo-Saxons originally used the word lencthen (Lent) for Spring, but later adopted the idea of the ‘springing’ of the year when the plants bud. In Middle English, the word Spring was also used for sunrise, the waxing of the moon, the rising tides (spring tides) as well as the sprouting of the beard and the first appearance of pubic hair! Happy Spring Time!

Up to the 15th Century, the English also used the French term ‘prime-temps’ in the sense of ‘first times’. This follows the idea that the year is young, while Winter represents old age. As we shall see, on March 25th, there was also a belief that the world was created in Spring at what became the Equinox (after God created it!), and Jesus was also conceived at this point of the annual cycle.

Zodiacally, if that is a word, Spring is Aries (brave and impulsive); Taurus (sensual and stubborn), and Gemini (dynamic and talented).

Druids at the Spring Equinox Tower Hill London, Photo by Heike Herbert
Druids at the Spring Equinox Tower Hill London, Photo by Heike Herbert

The modern druids have been out at their annual Spring Equinox festival at Tower Hill already today (or so the Daily Mail, but I will not give you a link to that perfidious rag). I have a picture of the ceremony from when I attended many years ago, but, Heike Herbert, who seems to be always travelling around the world, was in the UK for long enough to attend the Druid Festival last year and has kindly let me use photos for this post.

When I last went to the ceremony I remember noting, with some distaste, that the druid costumes seemed to be made with nylon sheets, and their footware was mostly plimsolls. I see the nylon has at least been replaced with cotton, and the plimsolls with trainers. Not quite sure what that pair of black trainers are doing in the picture! Photos of this year’s ceremony suggest a better sartorial turn out.

I say modern druids because there is no convincing evidence that the modern fellowships of Druids can trace their origins back to prehistory. Druidry was reinvented in the 18th Century — for example, the Ancient Order of Druids was formed in 1781. They were set up as societies in the tradition of the Freemasons and with a belief in the fundamental importance of nature. However, the British Circle of the Universal Bond, claim descent from a group persecuted by the Bishop of Oxford in 1166. Look at their website for more details and for an idea of their beliefs.

As to when the Equinox first had importance for human society, the answer is, probably, at least as long as we have been reasoning creatures. On January 24th, I draw attention to a recent discovery suggesting evidence for a Palaeolithic Calendar. This is what I wrote:

But recently, evidence of a Palaeolithic Calendar has been uncovered by an ‘amateur’ studying markings in cave paintings at Lascaux, Altamira and other caves. Furniture maker Ben Bacon has collaborated with Professors at UCL and Durham and interpreted markings which suggest the use of a lunar calendar to mark the time of the year when particular animals gave birth. A Y shaped mark is interpreted as meaning ‘giving birth’ and the number of dots or dashes drawn by or in the outline of the animal or fish has been shown to coincide with the time of the year that the wild creature gives birth. For further details, follow this link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/

At Stonehenge, in the old Car Park, they found three huge Pine post-holes in a line, erected in the Mesolithic period. They align to the direction of the Mid-Summer Sunrise and Mid-Winter Sunset (NNE/SSW) IF, and it’s a big IF, you were sighting from Stonehenge itself, which was built some 5000 years in the future.

Imaginary reconstruction of the Carpark Postholes

It is a bit of a stretch using two pieces of evidence so far apart in time but recent excavations have revealed that there are, on the site of Stonehenge, natural periglacial striations in the soft chalk bedrock which themselves point to the Solstices. These not only predate Stonehenge but also the three post holes, and may well have been visible from the time they were created when the glaciers melted.

Around 12,000 years ago (date from my memory so approximate), the climate changed and the glaciers melted. This left a lot of water rushing around the landscape. At Stonehenge, it gouged out striations in the chalk. By chance, or as ordered by the Gods/Goddesses/Divine Nature, the striations pointed to the Solstice Axis, just at a place where the Gods/Goddesses/Divine Nature provided super-abundance in the guise of herds of Aurochs, which are huge wild cows. Richard Jacques excavations in the vicinity of Stonehenge have revealed that the aurochs came to the Stonehenge area for grazing and water. Each one had enough meat on them to feed 200 people. So, by 8,000 BC we have what might constitute proof of recognition of the significance of the major movements of the Sun.

Foreground shows the periglacial striations aligned on the Solstice. Source Current Archaeology?

This is confirmed by the alignment of many megalithic monuments dating from 3,600 BC onwards, including, of course, Stonehenge. Also, all around the UK are long barrows and other burial mounds, many of which are indeed sighted/sited E-W to the Equinoxes. Many are fairly approximate, but at Loughcrew, County Meath in Ireland the Vernal Equinox shines right into the burial chamber, onto a stone marked by stone carvings. Similar alignments are recorded at Knowth and Dowth in the Boyne Valley.

The Equinox also has another role, which is to be the anchor of the cardinal points – North, South, East, West, when there is a harmony, a balance in the world, and therefore a fortunate, a lucky time, a time to fall in love or undertake notable undertakings. Of course, as the Christian world awaits the commemoration of the death of the Messiah, marriage has to wait a little longer.

First Written in March 2023, and revised in March 2024

St. Patrick’s Day, St Albans, Nicholas Fuentes, & Cats March 17th

Stained Glass window depicting St Patrick with a  crock and a castle
Stained Glass window depicting St Patrick (source of image, lost in the mists of time!)

St. Patrick has a very interesting autobiography (Confession).  He was captured by Irish pirates while living in a Romano-British Town.  He says his father was a Decurion and a Deacon which suggests elements of Roman political organisation continued.  No one knows the dates of St Patrick’s life but these titles suggested an early date perhaps just after the end of Roman rule.

The town he lived in was called Bannavem Taburniae.  Many places have been proposed for it.  The closest linguistically is Bannaventa in Northamptonshire but this seems a very unlikely place for Irish raiders to land, being about as far away from the sea as it is possible to get in Britain!

Scholars have suggested South Wales and the Scottish borders most commonly.  But my favourite suggestion is Battersea in London.  This was made in the pages of the London Archaeologist by editor Nicolas Fuentes. 

Fuentes was one of a pioneering group of archaeologists when Rescue Archaeology first began a campaign to record the archaeology, being destroyed by massive redevelopment of town centres in the 70s.

He changed his name from the anglicised Nicholas Farrant back to its original Fuentes and wrote a magnificent series of papers which located St. Patrick in Battersea; St Alban’s execution in London and all 12 battles of King Arthur around Greater London.

All were well argued, but as a set they do raise an eyebrow, being unsupported by any clear evidence, and, as far as I know, without scholarly support.  The one I really like is St Alban being martyred in London because it reminds everyone that the first reference to St Alban, which is by Gildas in the 6th Century, places the execution of the Saint firmly in London. It makes sense of the story that Alban, keen for martyrdom, gets God to part the River so he can get quickly to the execution spot. In Gildas’s case, the Amphitheatre is in Roman London, and the river needing parting – the mighty Thames. Anglo-Saxon historian, the Venerable Bede places St Alban’s death firmly in St Albans, but the river that God needs to part – the River Ver, is a piddle, and Alban could have crossed it easily, hardly requiring anything more than wellington boots.

To my, unscholarly mind, when we worship people we venerate them, chiefly, at their birthplace and death place. So to me, it makes sense that St Alban’s main shrine was at Verulamium where he was born (now known as St Albans) and London where he died. The hagiography of St Germanus of Auxerre tells us that Germanus came to an amphitheatre for a religious debate about 15 years after the end of the Roman occupation of Britain, and then went to a nearby shrine dedicated to St Alban. Unfortunately, the writer of the memoir is not really interested in post-Roman Britain, so does not tell us whether it was in London or St Albans. But there is an early church dedicated to St Alban just by the Roman Amphitheatre in London, although archaeology does not reveal any evidence early enough to suggest the Church is that early. Fuentes, argued that London as the Capital was likely to have been the place where capital punishments were carried out, particularly in the case of a Roman Citizen like Alban. I must note that in placing any credibility to Fuentes theory, I am standing largely alone.

stained glass window from Gloucester Cathedral of St Patrick being taught by St Germanus

I’m not so convinced by the 12 Battles of King Arthur, for which there is just never going to be enough evidence to locate, and they are more likely to have been spread throughout Britannia.

So, to the point – St Patrick in Battersea?  The evidence, as I remember it, was really only the suggestion that Battersea was derived from Batrick’s Island or originally Patrick’s Island.  The word ‘sea’ being used in that sense along the River Thames as in Chelsea, Thorney, Putney derived from ey which is short for eyot (island).

St Patrick lived as a teenage slave for 6 years, then escaped from captivity in Ireland and returned home. Trained as a priest, in perhaps Auxerre (home to St. Germanus who is another crucial witness to post Roman Britain) and returned to Ireland to begin the conversion to Christianity. He is the Patron Saint of Ireland, with St. Brigitte and St. Colomba.

Another candidate for Bannavem Taburniae’ comes from Andrew Breeze FSA. I read about this in Salon IFA, the newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries, and it is also discussed in this History First article. Breeze has revived a theory that the Saint comes from the West Country, and that the ‘Bannavem Taburniae’ is Banwell, near Weston-super-Mare in North Somerset. He suggests that ‘Bannaventa was a Latinisation of a Brittonic name that included banna, for a bend’, crook or peak. Venta is a well known word for an area of local administration or marketplace (for example, Venta Bulgarum, was the name for Winchester in the Roman period.) . He suggests that these ‘elements, as well as the Berniae element of ‘Taburniae’, can be found in the name Banwell, itself a compound name of the Brittonic ‘Banna’ and the Old English wylle, both meaning pool, or in the names of surrounding villages.’

mage credit: Looking south from Winthill, near Banwell, Somerset, Colin S Pearson; Banwell in Somerset, Google Street View
Image credit: Looking south from Winthill, near Banwell, Somerset, Colin S Pearson; Banwell in Somerset, Google Street View

What it has over the London theory is that it is more likely to have been subject to Irish Raiders than London. But, for me, it is just another theory based on placename evidence that might or might not be true.

And least we forget, today is also St Gertrude’s Day, patron saint of Cats.

comical post from facebook of St Gertrude Patron saint of cats
Facebook Post by a friend

St Gregory.  Punster Extraordinary March 12th

Gregorius I is known as Saint Gregory the Great. Pope from 3 September 590 to his death on 12th March 604. So 12th March is traditionally his feast day but this was changed to September 3rd, the date of his elevation to Pope, because 12th March was often in Lent.

He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers, because it is traditionally believed he instituted the form of plainsong known as Gregorian Chant. He was also a formidable organiser and reformer and made changes that helped the Catholic tradition survive Arian and Donatist challenges.

In the UK he is venerated with St Augustine for bringing Christianity to the largely pagan Anglo-Saxons. The caption to the illustration above tells the story of how he came to send a mission to the pagan Angles in Briton and tells the story of his two most famous puns, riffing on the similarity of the words Angles/Angels and Aella/Alleluia. But in between these two he also punned on the name of Aella’s kingdom – Deira in Northumberland, saying he would save them from the wroth of God which is ‘de ira’ in Latin.

After this incident he sent St Augustine to Canterbury to convert the Germanic peoples of the former Roman Province of Britannia. Canterbury was chosen because its King was the ‘Bretwalda’ of Britain – the most powerful King and he, Ethelbert, was married to Bertha, a French Princess already a Christian. This established a safe haven for St Augustine’s mission. And the King was baptised, shortly, after in Canterbury.

Stained glass window showing Baptism of King Ethelbert of Kent by St Augustine watched by Queen Bertha. In St Martins Church, Canterbury
Stained glass window showing the Baptism of King Ethelbert of Kent by St Augustine watched by Queen Bertha. In St Martins Church, Canterbury

The mission came with a plan to recreate the ecclesiastical arrangements set up in the Roman period, with archbishops in the two main capitals at London and York. After Kent was converted, St Ethelbert’s nephew, Sæberht, King of Essex, received a mission from St Mellitus who established St Pauls Cathedral in London. St Paulinus was sent to convert Northumbria and established a Cathedral in York. Unfortunately, for the plan, when Sæberht died his sons returned to paganism and Mellitus was kicked out, returned to Canterbury, and ever since we have had an Archbishop of Canterbury and York and never had an Archbishop of London.

Photo of St Martin's Church - where the Church of England began. showing Roman tiles in the wall.
St Martin’s Church, Canterbury – where the Church of England began. Note the Roman tiles in the wall.

It is possible to argue that Gregory’s encounter is why we are called English, because St Augustine was sent to set up the Church of the Angles, not the Church of the Saxons. Saxon was the normal name used by the Romans for Germanic barbarians. As the name of the Church, the term Anglish/English became a relatively neutral term that the various shades of Germanic peoples in Britain could unite under in the face of the later Viking threat.

The mission was sent in AD 597 and Pope Gregory died in AD 604.

I am just returning to the UK after a visit to Amsterdam.  I’ve spent the last two days largely in the Rijksmuseum where I came across this painting which features Pope Gregory the Great on the left hand part of the Triptych. It shows Utrecht in the background.

Triptych of the Crucifixion.  Showing the vision of the Crucifixion that St Gregory had while celebrating Mass (left). Crucifixion centre.  St Christopher (right)

St Gregory is in green kneeling down. What is fascinating is all the paraphernalia of the Crucification above Gregory’s head.  You’ll see 30 pieces of silver, dice to decide who gets Jesus’  robes, flails and torture devices, sponge and spear etc.

Detail

St Perpetua, Felicitas and Companions March 7th

Many martyrdom stories seem made up, often too extreme to take seriously.  But Vivia Perpetua of Carthage told her own story in her own words and it has a ring of authenticity.  In 203AD, the educated, noble 22 year old, against her father’s advice, decided to become a Christian.  He beat her up and she was glad that her arrest as a Christian, kept her safe from him.  She was arrested with her group of converts and teacher: two slaves, Felicity and Revocatus, Saturninus and Secundulus and instructor, Saturus, who chose to share death with his flock.

Prison conditions were atrocious, crowded and stifling hot particularly for the women.  Perpetua was separated from her breast feeding baby, and the slave was pregnant.

Her father came to beg his daughter to recant but she refused.  They were, however, treated better after bribing the jailors she was allowed to have her baby with her. She prevailed on her jailors to allow the condemned to be cleaned up and dressed in their own clothes suggesting that this was better for the honour of the Emperor Severus, whose birthday the Games celebrated.  She acted with immense dignity during the proceedings of the Games in the Amphitheatre where she encouraged the crowd to adopt Christianity. 

When they were taken out to face the wild animals she told her fellows to stand calmly.  The men had to face bears, leopards, and wild boars, while the women were stripped to face a rabid heifer.  The crowd reacted against their treatment, and they were allowed to be dressed and to meet their ends at the hand of the gladiator’s swords.

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity are the patron saints of mothers and  expectant mothers.  Presumably because of the heifer in the story they are also the patron saints of ranchers and butchers!  Their feast day is celebrated on March 7

https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=48

First Bank of England £1 Note 26th February 1797

 First £1 note,1797 Bank of England Museum source Joy_of_Museums Public Domain cc by sa 4.0
First £1 note of the Bank of England Museum 1797
Source Joy_of_Museums Public Domain (CC by sa 4.0)

On this day, the Bank of England issued its first ever one pound note (although some sources say March 1797). The Bank had been issuing paper notes since the late 17th Century, but this was the first £1 note. They still had to be signed by hand and allocated to a specific person. The hand signed white paper notes were withdrawn in 1820, and the pound note was, finally, withdrawn in 1988. The £1 in 1797 was worth the equivalent of £157.46 today, so quite a big note! (see here for the calculator.)

Interesting Archaeology discoveries.

The following discoveries were reported in Salon IFA the newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries of London in Salon: Issue 526  7 February 2024, which you can see here:

Pliny the Elder’s Villa found near Vesuvius?

The 1st Century seafront villa, with views of the Bay of Naples and of Mount Vesuvius, has been excavated at the town of Bacoli, which was the port of Misenum. Pliny commanded the fleet as ‘Praefectus classis Misenensis’. Pliny tried to rescue his friends and family, ignoring warnings saying ‘Fortune favours the brave’, ‘Audentes Fortuna luvat’. It didn’t and he died, at Stabiae, by toxic fumes. Read more about the villa here:

Face Reconstructed for a Victim of Roman Crucifixion

A male skeleton found, 4 years ago, in a Roman cemetery in Fenstaton in Cambridgeshire was found with a 2-inch nail through his heel bone. BBC 4 has made a documentary about the recent reconstruction of the man’s face by, as Salon reports it:

‘US forensic artist Joe Mullins, of George Mason University, Virginia. He usually works with law enforcement agencies, reconstructing the faces of modern-day crime victims. ‘

To follow the details, read more here, or watch the BBC documentary, ‘The Cambridgeshire Crucifixion’, which can be viewed on BBC iPlayer.

Sketch of a Roman skull of a man who was crucified.
The Image is a sketch of the ‘Facial Reconstruction, Impossible Factual/BBC’