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

The Beginning of the Universe as We Know It; Birthdays of Adam, Lilith, & Eve; Conception of Jesus, Start of the Year March 25th

Lilith is shown coming her hair and looking in a mirror
Study for Lady Lilith, by Rossetti. 1866, in red chalk. Now in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Wikipedia
Study for Lady Lilith, by Rossetti. 1866, in red chalk. Now in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Wikipedia)

March 25th is the Annunciation—the day that the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary she is pregnant. (to see some very fine paintings of this meeting, look at my other March 25th post here)

March 25th is also the anniversary of the birth of Adam and Eve (and presumably Lilith); the death of Jesus Christ; the anniversary of the Immolation of Isaac; the Parting of the Red Sea; the Fall of Lucifer; and, (until 1752 in the UK) the beginning of the Year.

Of course, it isn’t or to put it another way, no one can, or ever could, prove any of these dates except the last one. So what they speak to is the way the Church saw the world as logically structured by God. Christian thinking about the year, the world, the universe, creation, developed over many years and took influences from many cultures. It is also very complicated to work out the sequence, so I’m going to summarise from what I know (or at least what I think I know).

Christians chose Christmas Day as the Birthdate of Jesus probably because it was a prominent birthday already shared with several Gods, but particularly Mithras and Saturn. It was approximately at Solstice, the beginning of the Solar Year, and close to one of the main festivals of the Roman World, the Saturnalia. December 25th might have been chosen by the pagan religions because it is the time when the Sun begins to rise, to the naked eye, further north each day, lengthening the day, increasing light and the promise of warmer weather.

So, Jesus was born on/or around the Solstice, so he must have been conceived approx. 9 months earlier, which would be around the Spring Equinox. I have always thought that the 4 or 5 days difference between the Solstice, the Equinox and the Christian festivals was down to the fact that the Calendars were not well coordinated with the actual movements of the Sun (because the Sun does not circle the earth in 365 days, or in 365 and a quarter days, but 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes which makes Calendars hard to align with the Sun). But I have just realised the importance of something I discovered yesterday when preparing my two posts on March 25th. And since writing that sentence I have had another revelation. But be patient.

So, God sends his Son to save the human race. God is a logical being, so she would send the Son at an appropriate time. If the Child is born at or near the Solstice, which is an appropriate time for the Son of the Creator, then 9 months earlier, March 25th, is near the Equinox, which is the beginning of Spring. For many people, Spring is a new beginning, for example, the Anglo-Saxons saw Winter as the death of the year, and Spring as the young Year.

So to the Creation. God, having a free choice, would have created the world at the beginning of Spring. In fact, if you think about it, God creates everything necessary for life at the creation in 6 days, and it is going to immediately spring into new life, and the first season must, therefore, be Spring? Right? So March 25th.

This gives a nice symmetry with Jesus’s Life. Conceived on March 25th, born December 25th, and died 30-40 years later, according to the Church, on March 25th. (the only other famous person I know born and died on the same day is William Shakespeare).

Easter, when Jesus is martyred, isn’t March 25th I hear you saying. But remember, Easter is a lunar festival, so its date varies each year. Births and deaths, on the other hand, are fixed to the Solar Calendar and the Church chooses March 25th as the most appropriate day to pin the death of Jesus, on the anniversary of his conception and the anniversary of the creation of the Earth, and I am guessing that this is also the preferred date for the Day of Judgement.

It is also the Birthday of Adam, and his first wife Lilith (or so some say), and Eve. More about Lilith below. I thought this date was just one of the parallels that the Church liked, Jesus and Adam born on the same day but, I have just worked out why Adam is born on March 25th, and why these dates are not the Equinox, March 20th but March 25th, which has been bugging me.

Let’s go back to the Beginning of Creation. According to the Anno Munda‘s arrangement of the Year, the world was created 5500 years plus 2023 years ago so 7523 Before the Present. And it was supposed to have ended in 600AD, 6000 years after the Creation. So, they got that wrong.

The Creation, as described in Genesis, has the following sequence of Seven Days. As the Creation began at the Equinox March 20th. I have added dates to the 6/7 day sequence of Creation:

  • Day 1: Light – March 20th
  • Day 2: Atmosphere / Firmament – March 21st
  • Day 3: Dry ground & plants – March 22nd
  • Day 4: Sun, moon & stars – March 23rd
  • Day 5: Birds & sea creatures – March 24th
  • Day 6: Land animals & humans – March 25th
  • Day 7: The Sabbath of rest – March 26th
  • For more information www.bibleinfo.com

So there you have it! Adam, Lilith, and Eve were created on Day 6 with the Land Animals – March 25th. Jesus conceived, also on this date, and so 9 months later is born on December 25th. It all makes sense, and aligns the Christian year fully with the Solar Year.

And that, dear Reader, is the very first time anyone has been able to explain to me why Christmas is not at the Solstice, and why the Annunciation was not at the Equinox. Maybe you all know this, but it is very exciting to work this out for myself. And believe me, I have done a lot of reading about calendars and not spotted an explanation.

So that was yesterday’s revelation. What about the revelation I had about 45 minutes ago? (now about 5 hours). When writing items like this, there are numerous things that are interconnected, and I begin writing them before realising I am interrupting the story I am trying to tell. This is often to the detriment of the story arc, or to understanding (although often, I think, adds to the joy of this blog – after all ChatGBT couldn’t write this stuff – could it?).

So I began to write about Dionysius Exiguus and his invention of the AD/BC system and about eras, cycles, and ages. (He replaced the Anno Mundo year with the AD/BC system in the 6th Century AD).

I was thinking about the beginning of the year. The Celts chose October 31st, Julius Caesar chose January 1st, other cultures have other dates, and the Spring Equinox is another choice sometimes made. The Church and Dionysius Exiguus choose March 25th, although secular society also recognised the claims of January 1st. Britain kept to March 25th until 1752 when we adopted the Gregorian Calendar. But people like Samuel Pepys celebrated New Year’s Eve on 31st December. So January 1st was the New Year, but the year number did not change until March 25th. So King Charles I thought his head was being cut off on January 30th 1648; while history books will tell you it was cut off on January 30th 1649. Same day, different reckonings.

December 31st/January 1st is essentially a Solstice New Year Festival. And I have, previously, used the difficulty of keeping calendars as to why these days has slipped out of alignment with the Solstice. But, today I realised that it is as likely that the reason is the Solar/Lunar nature of our time keeping. The year, and its festivals, is largely arranged around the Solar Cycle. But our weekly and monthly cycles are derived from the Moon. So, I think that January 1st (or the Kalends of January as the Romans would have called it) would originally have been the First New Moon after the Winter Solstice. Keeping the Moon months and the Sun years in sync is very, very difficult, and so Roman and Christian cultures gave up and fixed the moon months, completely abandoning any attempt to keep the months to the actual lunar cycle. This is our current system, in which only Easter remains a true to the moon festival, much to our perennial confusion.

Maybe you all know this, but I’ve learnt a lot in writing these two posts.

Lilith

The April 2023 Issue of ‘History Today’ has a short piece called ‘The Liberation of Lilith’ which suggests that the story of Lilith, a figure from Jewish Folklore, is first attested in a Medieval satirical text called ‘The Alphabet of Ben Sira’. The story goes that Lilith is created using the same clay as Adam. Adam then demands she lies below him during sex. She refuses, saying that they are both made from the same stuff and, therefore, equal. Adam refuses to accept this, and so Lilith leaves the Garden of Eden. So the story goes.

The story of Lilith, Sarah Clegg suggests, is one of a series of similar stories found around Europe and Asia. And Clegg assumes that it is gradually modified to make Lilith a demon who will kill babies unless the names of three angels are spoken out loud. So, the story survives as a charm to keep babies safe, and perhaps to remind people of equality among the sexes. But this causes problems for, OK, let’s call them out, the Patriarchy. Lilith cannot be equal to Adam so she becomes a monster, not made from the same clay as Adam but from the scum and waste left over from Adam’s creation. I imagine the story then went on to propose that God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, and so she is created from Adam, and is, therefore nor equal, but subservient to him. Lilith is now a significant figure in feminist folklore circles.

I wrote about more about eras and ages in my post which you can see her: Greater Cycles and the Six or Seven Ages

Attached to the watercolour of Lilith by Rossetti (at the top of the page), was a label with a verse from Goethe‘s Faust as translated by Shelley. (Wikipedia)

“Beware of her fair hair, for she excells
All women in the magic of her locks,
And when she twines them round a young man’s neck
she will not ever set him free again.”

The model is Fanny Cornforth, Rossetti’s mistress. He painted another version a few years later, but the model in that is Alexa Wilding. His models are arguably more interesting than the man himself and include: Elizabeth Siddall, Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth. Christina Rossetti, his poet sister, modelled for Rossetti’s painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini which you can see here.

I think I might have enough material to begin my own Cult.

For more on the Annunciation, look at my other March 25th post here.

Yew Sunday Palm Sunday March 24

Giotto. Entry into Jerusalem from the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padova (sent to me by Lucia Granatella)

Yew Sunday (Domhnach an Iúir in Irish) is the medieval name for Palm Sunday – this is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph on a donkey, with palm leaves being laid in front of him. It has always been very curious to me this so-short-lived triumph preceding such heavy and heart breaking tragedy. It is the Sunday before the Betrayal, which leads to the Crucifixion on Good Friday and the Resurrection on Sunday. A busy week for the Church.

Palm Sunday can be celebrated by making crosses out of palms, or with processions bearing palm branches or eating special cakes (there is always room in any ritual for cakes). But in the North where do you get your Palms from? So, it was often substituted by Box, or Olive or Willow and particularly, in Britain and Ireland, by Yew. Yew is evergreen and is so long lived as to be a symbol of everlasting life (I wrote more about the Yew here).

Giotto Bondone was a Florentine painter of the 14th Century of whom Giorgio Vasari, in his essential guide to the artists of the Renaissance, ‘The Lives of the Artists‘ said of the 10 year old:

One day Cimabue, going on business from Florence to Vespignano, found Giotto, while his sheep were feeding, drawing a sheep from nature upon a smooth and solid rock with a pointed stone, having never learnt from any one but nature. Cimabue, marvelling at him, stopped and asked him if he would go and be with him. And the boy answered that if his father were content he would gladly go. Then Cimabue asked Bondone for him, and he gave him up to him, and was content that he should take him to Florence.

There in a little time, by the aid of nature and the teaching of Cimabue, the boy not only equalled his master, but freed himself from the rude manner of the Greeks, and brought back to life the true art of painting, introducing the drawing from nature of living persons, which had not been practised for two hundred years; or at least if some had tried it, they had not succeeded very happily.

Written in 1550.

If you look at the painting, you will see, even more than his contemporary Duccio, the faces of the people are rounded and, and at least somewhat, individual. The crowd scene, particularly, to the right, has some depth and the people further away seem to recede from the viewer, rather than, as they often do in Byzantine style paintings, either float or seem to stand on or support themselves on each other’s shoulders. The Gate into Jerusalem has been rendered by someone who has seen something that he believes has the key to realistic scenes. One day it will be rediscovered, and named single-point perspective. Yes, Giotto doesn’t know the secret but he is working to find out what the trick is. The people in the trees are also in the distance. These are the giant strides that Vasari is referring to in the quotation above. Realistic people, in spaces with depth. The donkey is quite sweet too! Cimabue was particularly good at painting Crucifix scenes.

The Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padova is a World Heritage Site and Giotto and his team covered all the walls and ceiling with frescos, depicting the Life of Jesus, the Life of Mary, and the Last Judgement.

Giotto, The Last Judgement. Cappella degli Scrovegni, In Padova. Wikipedia

Here is a real Digital Heritage treat – a 360 Degree tour of the Chapel! Follow the link below. If it seems to be taking a long time to load there is an information button which, once pressed will allow the panorama to load immediately.

https://www.haltadefinizione.com/en/image-bank/giotto-di-bondone-scrovegni-chapel-360-view/

St. Walburga and St. Ethelbert of Kent’s Day February 25th

engraving of St Walburga
St Walburga
(public domain)

Yesterday, was the Feast day of two very important Saints. Walpurga was the Abbess of Heidenheim in Germany. She was a nun at Wimborne in Dorset who, with her brothers St Willibald and St Winebald accompanied St Boniface of Crediton (in Devon) on his mission to convert the Germans to Christianity. They all became leading figures in the new German Church. Willibald set up the Monastery at Heidenheim, which was a duel monastery housing both Monks and Nuns, and his sister became Abbess of the Monastery in 761.

In 870, St. Walpurga remains were ‘translated’ to Eichstätt, which St Willibald had set up as the Diocesan centre of this part of Bavaria. This was done on the night of April 30th/May 1st and is now notorious as Walpurgis Night. This is the night of May Eve when witches are abroad up to all sorts of mischief, May Day being one of the main pagan festival days.

Walpurgis is the Saint for battling pest, rabies, whooping cough, and witchcraft. She was moved again in 1035 when she was enshrined at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga which was named after her and which ‘which continues to this day.[4][5]’ Terrible things happen on Walpurgis Night in Dracula by Bram Stoker and the night has now become a trope for Heavy Metal Bands, doyens of horror stories and the Satanic. More about this on April 30th perhaps?

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

St Ethelbert is responsible for welcoming the Augustinian Mission to the Angles sent by the Pope, St Gregory. This re-established Christianity in Easter Britain, and set up the Anglican Church or the Church of England as it became known.

I tell this story in this post:

Feralia – the Roman Festival of the Dead February 21st

To illustrate rainwear in the Roman period and to illustrate winter showing Philu from Cirencester
Tombstone of Philus from Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum) showing his rain cloak

Feralia is the last day of Parentalia a 9-Day Festival for the spirits of the Dead described in some detail by the Roman Poet, Ovid, in his Almanac of the year called the ‘Fasti’. Here, he describes how to honour a parent:

And the grave must be honoured. Appease your father’s
Spirits, and bring little gifts to the tombs you built.
Their shades ask little, piety they prefer to costly
Offerings: no greedy deities haunt the Stygian depths.
A tile wreathed round with garlands offered is enough,
A scattering of meal, and a few grains of salt,
And bread soaked in wine, and loose violets:
Set them on a brick left in the middle of the path.
Not that I veto larger gifts, but these please the shades:
Add prayers and proper words to the fixed fires.

There is much more Ovid says about Feralia, and you can read it for free, in translation by A. S. Kline (which I used above, at www.poetryintranslation.com)

For more about Parentalia look at my earlier post about the February festivals of the Romans:

In London, archaeologists have found many cemeteries around the City of London. The Romans forbade burial inside the City limits, so the dead were buried alongside the main roads out of the City Gates: Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Holborn, along Fleet Street, outside Ludgate, and along the main road South from London Bridge in Southwark.

Map of Roman Cemetaries from Museum of London exhibition on the Roman Dead
Map of Roman Cemeteries from the Museum of London exhibition on the Roman Dead, showing the River Thames and River Fleet. Holborn is to the left, marked ‘Western Cemetery’.

Various rites have been observed. Both inhumation and cremation practised. I remember excavating a Roman mortaria with a hole in the bottom with the ashes of the dead in it. These large bowls were used as a mortar for grinding foodstuffs. The bottom was deliberated gritted, but they often wore through, and sometimes found reused to hold cremation ashes. I like to imagine, granny being buried in her favourite cooking vessel (or grandad).

Many bodies were covered in chalk, perhaps to help preserve the body. A surprising number of bodies are found with the head by the knees. The large number of cases helps speculation that this was a burial rite, of whom only a percentage were beheaded as a punishment. Some graves shown signs of a funeral pyre.

Author’s photograph of a skeleton displayed at the Roman Dead Exhibition, Museum of London, She was between 26 and 35 years old, who lived a hard life, and possibly had anaemia. Her head was severed either: before and causing death, or shortly after death, and placed between her legs as shown.

The rich and powerful were remembered with huge monuments, prominently sited along the main roads. Perhaps the most famous are the burial stones found at Tower Hill of the Procurator Classicianus. This is famous as he is mentioned in Roman accounts of the Boudiccan Revolt of AD 60-61. He suggested to Nero that the Province could only be saved if the revenge against the British was de-escalated. Nero wisely withdrew the vengeful Roman Governor Suetonius Paulinus and replaced him with someone ready to conciliate. We, clearly, have lessons to learn from the Romans.

Reconstruction drawing of two stones found while building Tower Hill Underground Station. They read, something like, ‘To the Spirits of the Dear Departed Fabius Alpini Classicianius, Procurator of the Province of Britannia.Julia, Indi (his wife) Daughter of Pacata of the Indiana voting tribe. Had This Set up.

A beautiful carved eagle which adorned a tombstone was found in the Cemetery in Tower Hamlets. But recently a very grand mausoleum was found in Southwark. To find out more, have a look at the BBC website here:

Finally, a week or two ago, an excavation ran by MOLA discovered a ‘funerary bed’ in an just outside Newgate in Holborn. It was on the banks of the River Fleet, a tributary to the River Thames, that gives its name to the street of shame: Fleet Street. The fluvial location meant that there were extraordinary levels of preservation, which included this bed. It was dismantled and buried in the grave and may have been either/or or both a bed used as a grave good, perhaps for use in the hereafter, or the bed upon which the deceased was carried to the funeral.

sketch of Roman 'Funerary' Bed found dismantled in Holborn, London
Reconstruction of a Roman ‘Funerary’ Bed found dismantled in Holborn, London (Sketch from a MOLA reconstruction drawing)

They found other grave goods, including an olive oil lamp decorated with an image of a gladiator; jet and amber beads and a glass phial.

Sketch of Roman burial goods from Holborn 2024
Sketch of Roman burial goods from Holborn, London

For more look at www.mola.org.uk/discoveries

Constellation of Gemini overhead February 10th

Photo  of consteltion of gemini with connecting lines to show it better
Till Credner – Own work, http://www.AlltheSky.com from wikipedia

Gemini should be almost overhead in the Northern Hemisphere, and can be picked out by its two brightest starts, Castor and Pollux. Gemini can be seen from September to May. But between September to November it is only visible in the morning before sunrise. It is best viewed from January to March. For evening viewing it is possible from December to May In February it should best visible at 9.00pm.

I will follow this post up with another one about the Twins on July 15th but here are the basic details from that post:

The Divine Twins, the Dioscuri, were horsemen, patrons of calvary, athletes, and sailors. Pollux is the son of Zeus and Leda (raped by Zeus in the guise of a swan). His twin brother has a different and mortal father, the King of Sparta and the same mother, Leda. So they are examples of heteropaternal superfecundation.

One is therefore immortal and the other isn’t. They had many adventures including sailing with Jason as Arganauts.

According to some version of the story, Castor was mortally wounded, and Zeus gave his twin brother the option of letting Castor die while Pollux spends eternity on Mount Olympus, or sharing his immortality with his brother. He agreed to the latter, and the twins spend half their year as the Constellation of Gemini and the rest, immortal, on Mount Olympus. Thus, they are the epitome of brotherly love.

Their sisters were, no less than Helen of Troy, and Clytemnestra. But more about them in July.

Diagram of H. A. Rey‘s alternative way to connect the stars of the constellation Gemini. Twins are shown holding hands. Wikipedia AugPi CC BY-SA 3.0

See Also Almanac of the Past on Gemini.

Charles I’s Martyrdom & ‘Get Back’ January 30th

Banqueting Hall and Execution of Charles I
Banqueting Hall and Execution of Charles I

January 30th is the anniversary of the day King Charles I was beheaded as a murderer and traitor, or, on the other hand, a martyr to the Church of England.

Samuel Pepys observed the funeral, as did thousands of others. They crowded around the scaffold outside a window of Inigo Jones’s magnificent Banqueting Hall, in Whitehall, London. Whether Charles appreciated the irony of his last walk, which was below the magnificent Peter Paul Reubens’ ceiling depicting the Apotheosis of his father, James I, we can’t say. But it is, perhaps, more likely he thought he was soon on his way to meet his father in heaven in glory as a Martyr to his religion. He walked outside, through the window, into the cold January air. He seems to have been wearing 2 shirts, perhaps to stop him shivering, which would have been misinterpreted by his many enemies. Then, he made a short speech exonerating himself. All the Rooftops around were lined with spectators and, as the executioner axe fell, there was a dull grown from the crowd.

This was on January 30th, 1648. But, if you look at a history book, it will tell you it was in 1649. This was before our conversation to the Gregorian calendar. In those days, the year number changed not as we do on January 1st but on March 25th when the archangel Gabriel revealed to the Virgin Mary that she was pregnant. For more on the importance of March 25th look at my Almanac entry:

On the same day, twelve years later, in 1660 Oliver Cromwell’s and his chief henchmen were dug up from their splendid Westminster Abbey tombs and their bodies abused by official command. Cromwell’s head was stuck on the top of Westminster Hall, where it remained for many years.

The Royalist, John Evelyn, said in his diary:

This day (oh the stupendous, and inscrutable Judgements of God) were the Carkasses of that arch-rebel Cromwel1, Bradshaw, the Judge who condemned his Majestie and Ireton, sonn in law to the usurper, dragged out of their superb Tombs (in Westminster among the Kings) to Tybourne, and hanged on the Gallows there from 9 in the morning till 6 at night, and then buried under that fatal and ignominious Monument in a deep pit. Thousands of people (who had seen them in all their pride and pompous insults) being spectators .

Samuel Pepys records by contrast:

…do trouble me that a man of so great courage as he was should have that dishonour, though otherwise he might deserve it enough…

Pepys served the Parliamentary side before the restoration of Charles II, when he adroitly, swapped over to the Royalist side.

Get Back To Where you Once Belonged.

This is also the anniversary (1969) of the rooftop concert in Saville Row where the Beatles played ‘Get Back’.

YouTube Clip with scenes from the Roof Top Concert

First published in 2023, revised on January 29th 2024

Concordia January 29th

Roman coin, showing both sides, of the Goddess Concordia
A patera is a sacrificial bowl, and a cornucopia is a horn of plenty (Image from Wikipedia)

She is the Goddess of agreement in marriage and in civic society. Harmonia is the Greek equivalent. Concordia had her first Temple by the Forum in Rome.

Today is also the birthday of Pax and her Greek equivalent, Irene. She is the Goddess of Peace and the daughter of Jupiter and the Justitia, Goddess of Justice. This suggests that a lasting peace can only be assured by strength and justice. Pax had her festival on the 30th January. Ovid in Fasti writes:

Book I: January 30
My song has led to the altar of Peace itself.
This day is the second from the month’s end.
Come, Peace, your graceful tresses wreathed
With laurel of Actium: stay gently in this world.
While we lack enemies, or cause for triumphs:
You’ll be a greater glory to our leaders than war.
May the soldier be armed to defend against arms,
And the trumpet blare only for processions.
May the world far and near fear the sons of Aeneas,
And let any land that feared Rome too little, love her.
Priests, add incense to the peaceful flames,
Let a shining sacrifice fall, brow wet with wine,
And ask the gods who favour pious prayer
That the house that brings peace, may so endure.
Now the first part of my labour is complete,
And as its month ends, so does this book.

Translated by A. S. Kline 2004 (Tony has a lovely site here: where he makes his translations freely available.)

Elagabalus

The coin above is of Julia Aquilia Severa. She was a vestal virgin, who married the Emperor Elagabalus (c. 204 – 11/12 March 222). She was his 2nd and also his 4th wife, despite the fact a vestal virgin was normally buried alive, if found having lost her virginity.

But I probably should say ‘her 2nd and 4th wife’ as some sources suggest he wanted to be known as a woman. The Wikipedia page of his wife has Elagabalus with the pronoun, ‘Her’ while her own web page, ‘Elagabalus’ calls her ‘him’ throughout. Clear? She married several women and was said by some to be married to several men and to have prostituted herself in Taverns and Brothels. Wikipedia says:

‘In November 2023, the North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin, United Kingdom, announced that Elagabalus would be considered as transgender and hence referred to with female pronouns in its exhibits due to claims that the emperor had said “call me not Lord, for I am a Lady”‘

Elagabalus was born Sextus Varius Avitus Bassianus, and adopted the name of Elagabalus as he sought to raise the religion of the Syrian Sun God Elagabal to the top of the Roman Pantheon of Gods. He himself was from Syrian. Varius rose to power partly because of his strong Grandmother, Julia Maesa, who was the sister of Julia Domna, the wife of Septimus Severus, (who lived for some time in York). His rule was fairly chaotic, and he lost power, when his Grandmother transferred support to his cousin, Alexander, and Elagabalus and his mother were assassinated.

Here, is a fascinating article in the Guardian about the kind of peace the Romans brought to Europe. ‘Their heads were nailed to trees.’

Pax & Tagging

Posh boys in England, playing tagging games, used to shout ‘Pax’ to claim immunity or to call a temporary halt in the contest. I remember we used to use the word ‘vainites’ as well as pax. Others use ‘barley’. Wikipedia has a list of other terms used as ‘truce’ words in tagging games.

January 23rd Hawthorn and Planting for Hedges

 Photo by Timo C. Dinger on Unsplash
photo of hawthorn flowers
Photo by Timo C. Dinger on Unsplash

Many plants can be used for hedges, but hawthorn is the most common. It can be planted as bare-root from Autumn to Spring, so January is as good a time as any. It can also be grown from the seeds from its red berries. But this takes 18 months to achieve. Interspersed along the hedge should be trees—either trees for timber, or crab-apples or pear-stocks. Trees were also useful as markers. Before modern surveys, property would be delineated by ancient trees. Hedges could be quickly moved, and perhaps not noticed. Trees couldn’t.

Hawthorn is an oasis for insects, mammals and migrating birds (who eat the berries). It is a lovely plant for May, and it is often called May, or the May Flower or May Tree and also whitethorn. The berries are called ‘haws’ hence hawthorn. For more on this, look at https://whisperingearth.co.uk.

Hawthorn produces white flowers in Spring, and it is one of the great pagan fertility plants, its flowers forming the garlands on May Eve. One of the chemicals in the plant is the same as one given out in decay of flesh, so it has been, in folklore, also associated with death. So, is not to be brought into the house.

It was also said to be the thorn in the Crown of Thorns, so sacred. A crown from the helmet of the dead King Richard III was found on a hawthorn at Bosworth Field, and so adopted as a device by the victorious Henry VII. For more on the plant, https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

a triangle of stained glass on a black background.
A 'Quarry' of Stained Glass showing the Crown, a hawthorn Bush and initials representing Henry VII and his, Queen, Elizabeth of York.  Possibly from Surrey. Early 16th Century and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain).
A ‘Quarry’ of Stained Glass showing the Crown, a hawthorn Bush and initials representing Henry VII and his, Queen, Elizabeth of York. Possibly from Surrey. Early 16th Century and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain).

John Worlidge, wrote in 1697

‘And first, the White-thorn is esteemed the best for fencing; it is raised either of Seeds or Plants; by Plants is the speediest way, but by Seeds where the place will admit of delay, is less charge, and as succesful, though it require longer time, they being till the Spring come twelvemonth ere they spring out of the Earth; but when they have past two or three years, they flourish to admiration.’

Systema Agriculturae 1697

Hawthorn is an excellent wood for burning, better than oak, having the hottest fire so that its charcoal could melt pig-iron without the need of a blast. It is also good for making small objects such as boxes, combs, and tool-handles. It takes a fine polish, so also used for veneers and cabinets.

This is the time, according to Moon Gardeners, to plant and sow plants that develop below ground. So rhubarb and garlic, fruit trees, bushes, bare-root plants and hedging plants.

Hawthorn has many medicinal benefits according to herbalists. Mrs Grieve suggests it was used as a cardiac tonic, to cure sore throats and as a diuretic. But don’t try any of these ancient remedies without medical advice!

First Published in January 2023, revised in January 2024

St Lucy’s Festival of Light December 13th

Saint Lucy, by Francesco del Cossa (c. 1430 – c. 1477) (Wikipedia User:Postdlf)

The name Lucy is from the same Latin origin (Lucidus) as lucent, lux, and lucid. It means to be bright, or to shine. It is similar to the Ancient Greek λευκός (leukós, “white, blank, light, bright, clear”. Luke has the same origins (bright one, bringer of light and light of the sacred flame) and is very appropriate for the most literate of the evangelists. At this time of the year, we are in need of a festival with bright lights to cheer us up!

And St Lucy’s Day is the beginning of the winter festival that culminates with the Solstice, where the old sun dies, and the new one is born. December the 13th was the Solstice until Pope Gregory reformed the Calendar in the 16th Century, as nine days were lopped off the year of transition.

The festival of Sankta Lucia is particularly popular in Sweden, where Dec 13th is thought to be the darkest night. Every year, the Swedish community in the UK has a service to Lucia in St Pauls. I have several times tried to get tickets, but so far, have failed miserably. But if you look lower down, you will see a link to the beautiful procession and service at St Pauls.

I found out about Sankta Lucia from a Swedish choir who hired me to do a tour of the City of London some years ago. I took them into Christopher Wren’s marvellous St Stephen’s Church and, under the magnificent Dome, they fancied the acoustics and spontaneously sang. I recorded a snatch of it.

Swedish Choir singing in St Stephen’s London

Sankta Lucia at St Paul’s Cathedral (2011)

Recent medical research has shown the importance of light, not only to our mental health but to our sleep health, and recommends that work places need to have a decent light level with ‘blue light’ as a component of the lighting. It is also an excellent idea to help your circadian rhymes by going for a morning walk, or morning sun bathing, even on cloudy days.

St Lucy is from Syracuse in Sicily, said to be a victim of the Diocletian Persecution of Christians in the early 4th Century. She is an authentic early martyr, although details of her story cannot be relied upon as true. She was said to be a virgin, who was denounced as a Christian by her rejected suitor, miraculously saved from serving in a brothel, then, destruction by fire, but did not escape having her eyes gouged out. Finally, her throat was cut with a sword. Her connection to light (and the eye gouging) makes her the protectress against eye disease, and she is often shown holding two eyes in a dish.

St. Aldhelm (English, died in 709) puts St Lucy in the list of the main venerated saints of the early English Church, confirmed by the Venerable Bede (English, died in 735). Her festival was an important one in England ‘as a holy day of the second rank in which no work but tillage or the like was allowed’.[1]

Roman Hoodie ~Part two – the Sequani

Roman tombstone to Philus from Cirencester.

Yesterday I made a long digression which began with a discussion of Roman Winter clothing. Our picture of the hoodie from a tombstone in Cirencester, said it was of

Philus, son of Cassavus, a Sequanian, aged 45, lies buried here.

Roman Inscriptions of Britain.org

One of our readers from France alerted me to the Wikipedia page on the Sequani which explains that the name comes from the Goddess Sequana who is a water goddess. The centre of the territory is Besançon which is on the Doubs River part of the Haute Saône Doubs and near to the springs that are the source of the Seine (west of Dijon). Here, the Fontes Sequanae (“The Springs of Sequana”) gave her name to the River Seine, and a healing spring was established in the 2nd/1st BC. Enlarged by the Romans, it became a significant health centre. as Wikipedia explains in the clip below:

Image of Sequana in a duck boat by Wikipedia FULBERT • CC BY-SA 4.0

‘Many dedications were made to Sequana at her temple, including a large pot inscribed with her name and filled with bronze and silver models of parts of human bodies to be cured by her. Wooden and stone images of limbs, internal organs, heads, and complete bodies were offered to her in the hope of a cure, as well as numerous coins and items of jewellery. Respiratory illnesses and eye diseases were common. Pilgrims were frequently depicted as carrying offerings to the goddess, including money, fruit, or a favourite pet dog or bird.’

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequana

First Posted on December 13th, 2022, updated on December 13th 2023