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

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.

 

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.

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

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

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

In writing my Almanac of the Past, I have been struck by how violent are most of the stories of the Saints of the early Catholic Church. At the bottom of this post, you will find an essay touching upon this thorny subject. And click here for research on violence against women. Their results are not good news countries that speak English. South Africa is the worst, the USA 7th, Australia 11th, UK 12th, and New Zealand 15th. They admit the figures are difficult to interpret as what is being counted is reported crimes. It is likely that the worst countries are those where women do not feel free to report sexual violence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Catherine in London

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

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

Ruins of Chapel of St Catherine, Westminster Abbey

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

April 10th Anglo-Saxon Easter

Lullingstone Mosaic representing Spring
Lullingstone Roman Mosaic representing Spring

Easter is a Germanic name, and, the only evidence for its derivation comes from the Venerable Bede, who was the first English Historian and a notable scholar. He says the pagan name for April was derived from the Goddess Eostra. The German name for Easter is Ostern probably with a similar derivation. But this is all the evidence there is for the Goddess, despite many claims for the deep history of Easter traditions.

Philip A. Shaw has proposed that the name of Eastry in Kent might derive from a local goddess, called Eostra and that the influence of Canterbury in the early Church in England and Germany led to the adoption of this local cult name for the Holy Week in these two countries. Otherwise, the name for Easter in Europe derives from Pascha which comes from the Hebrew Passover and Latin. In French it’s Pâques’ in Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua; Dutch Pasen, Swedish Påsk; Norwegian Påske and so on.

The timing of Easter is the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. I have already explained that Spring was the time the Church set for the Creation, the Crucifixion and Resurrection and other key points in the Christian Calendar. See march-25th-the-beginning-of-the-universe-as-we-know-it-birthday-of-adam-lilith-eve-conception-of-jesus-start-of-the-year.

Eleanor Parker in her lovely book ‘Winter in the World’ gives a lyrical insight into how the dates were chosen because of the belief that God would only choose the perfect time for the Creation and the events of Easter. The Creation began with the birth of the Sun and the Moon, so it was fixed to the Equinox, when the days were of equal length, and the fruits of the earth were stirring into life. But Holy Week also needed to be in harmony with the Moon and so was tied, like Passover, to the first full moon after the Equinox, which is also when the events take place in the Gospels.

The quotations Parker uses from early English religious writing and poetry shows a deep interest in nature and the universe which is very appealing. It seems to me that this is something the Church, to an extent, lost in later times, and replaced with fixation with dogma and ‘worship’ of the Holy Trinity.

At the time fixing the date of Easter was very controversial as the kingdoms in Britain had a different calendar to the Roman Catholic Church and therefore Easter fell on a different day. The King of Northumberland, for example, celebrated Easter on a different day to that of his wife. Oswiu was exiled to Ireland where he was influenced by Celtic Christianity while his wife, Eanflæd, while also being from Northumberland, had been baptised by the Roman Catholic missionary, Paulinus.

Oswiu, became the ‘Bretwalda’ of all Britain, and encouraged a reconciliation, culminating at the Synod of Whitby (664AD), between the two churches where the Celtic Church agreed to follow the Catholic calendar and other controversial customs. After her husband’s death Eanflaed became Abbess of Whitby.

King Alfred’s law code gave labourers the week before and after Easter off work, making it the main holiday of the year. Ælfric of Eynsham gives a powerful commentary on the rituals of the Church over Easter, which was full of drama and participation including Palm leaf processions on Palm Sunday, feet washing and giving offerings to the poor on Maundy Thursday. Then followed three ‘silent days’ with no preaching but rituals and services aiming to encourage empathy for the ordeal of Jesus. Thus the night time service of Tenebrae, when all lights were extinguished in the Church while the choir sang ‘Lord Have Mercy’. The darkness represented the darkness and despair that was said to cover the world after Jesus’ death. Good Friday was the day for the adoration of the Cross in which a Cross would be decorated with treasures and symbolised turning a disaster into a triumph.

It seemed to me that I saw a wondrous tree
Lifted up into the air, wrapped in light,
brightest of beams. All that beacon was
covered with gold; gems stood
beautiful at the surface of the earth,….

The Dream of the Rood quoted in Eleanor Parker’s ‘Winter in the World’

The days before Easter Sunday are known as the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ which was a very popular theme in the medieval period (featuring in Piers Plowman for example). Jesus went down to hell to free those, like John the Baptist, who had been trapped because the world had no saviour until the first Easter. The Clerk of Oxford Blog provides more information on the Harrowing of Hell on this page, including that the name ‘Harrowing’ comes from ‘Old English word hergian ‘to harry, pillage, plunder’ which underpins the way the event is depicted as a military raid on Hell.

I have just realised that the Clerk of Oxford Blog is by written by Eleanor Parker, and started in 2008, whilst an undergraduate student at Oxford. The blog won the 2015 Longman-History Today award for Digital History‘.

The above is but a very poor précis of Eleanor Parker’s use of Anglo-saxon poetry and literature to bring Easter to life. So if you are interested to know more or would like to have a different viewpoint on the Anglo-Saxons please get a copy of her book.