December and Kalendar of Shepherds December 1st

French 15th Century ‘Kalendar of Shepherds’

December was originally the 10th Month of the unreformed Roman Calendar, now the 12th. For the Christian Church, it’s the period preparing for the arrival of the Messiah into the World. For the Anglo-Saxons it is the month of Yule, the midwinter festival. In Welsh, Rhafgyr, the month of preparation (for the shortest day). In Gaelic, An Mios (or Dudlach or an Dubhlachd) – the Darkness.

For a closer look at the month, I’m turning to the 15th Century Kalendar of Shepherds. Its illustration (see above) for December shows an indoor scene, and is full of warmth as the bakers bake pies and cakes for Christmas. Firewood has been collected, and the Goodwife is bringing something in from the Garden. The stars signs are Sagittarius and Capricorn.

The Venerable Bede has an interesting story (reported in ‘Winters in the World’ by Eleanor Parker) in which a Pagan, contemplating converting to Christianity, talks about a sparrow flying into a warm, convivial Great Hall, from the bitter cold winter landscape. The sparrow enjoys this warmth, but flies straight out, back into the cold Darkness. Human life is like this brief period in the light, warm hall, preceded and followed by cold, unknown darkness. If Christianity, can offer some certainty as to what happens in this darkness, then it’s worth considering.

This contrast between the warm inside and the cold exterior is mirrored in Neve’s Almanack of 1633 who sums up December thus:

This month, keep thy body and head from cold: let thy kitchen be thine Apothecary; warm clothing thy nurse; merry company thy keepers, and good hospitality, thine Exercise.

Quoted in ‘the Perpetual Almanack of Folklore’ by Charles Kightly

The Kaledar of Shepherds text below gives a vivid description of December weather and then elaborates on the last six years of a man’s life, with hair going white, body ‘crooked and feeble’. The conceit here is that there are twelve months of the year, and a man’s lot of ‘Six score years and ten’ is allocated six years to each month. So December is not just about the 12th Month of the Year but also the last six years of a person’s allotted span. The piece allows the option of living beyond 72, ‘and if he lives any more, it is by his good guiding and dieting in his youth.’ Good advice, as we now know. But living to 100 is open to but few.

Kalendar of Shepherds

The longer description of December (shown below) by Breton in 1626 gives a detailed look at the excesses of Christmas, who is on holiday, and who working particularly hard. But it concludes it is a costly month.

Nicholas Breton’s ‘Fantasticks of 1626 – December

The Kalendar was printed in 1493 in Paris and provided ‘Devices for the 12 Months.’ I’m using a modern (1908) reconstruction of it using wood cuts from the original 15th Century version and adding various text from 16th and 17th Century sources. (Couplets by Tusser ‘Five Hundred Parts of Good Husbandrie 1599, and text descriptions of the month from Nicholas Breton’s ‘Fantasticks of 1626. This provides an interesting view of what was going on in the countryside every month.

To see the full Kalendar, go here:

August – Sextilis, Lúnasa, Awst, Wēodmōnaþor

Kalendar of Shepherds, August
Kalendar of Shepherds, August

August was originally ‘sextilis’ or the 6th Month of the ten-month Roman Calendar. It became the 8th Month with the addition of January and February (by tradition during the reign of King Numa Pompilius). It was changed from a 29-day month to a 31-day month in the reforms of Julius Caesar and was renamed August by a sycophantic Senate trying to flatter the divine Octavian, Emperor Augustus. (more about the Roman Calendar here)

In modern Irish, it is Lúnasa, which means the month of the festival of Lughnasa. In Welsh, it is Awst which comes from the Latin. In Anglo-Saxon: the Venerable Bede, writing in the 8th Century, says August is Wēodmōnaþor the Weed Month, named, he says, because of the proliferation of weeds. Why does that seem such an unsatisfactory name for August? An early Kentish source calls the month Rugern – perhaps the month of the harvest of Rye? (Winters in the World by Eleanor Parker).

The 15th Century illustration in the Kalendar of Shepherds, above, shows that the Harvest is the main attribute of the Month, and the star signs, Leo and Virgo.

The 16th/17th Century text in the Kalendar of Shepherds gives an evocative insight into the month. (more about the Kalendar here)

For the Anglo-Saxons, August brings in the harvest period, the most important months of the year, where the bounty of the earth needs to be carefully collected, enjoyed but not wasted. It begins with the festival of Lammas, which derives from the English words for bread and mass, when bread made from the first fruits of the harvest is blessed.

In Ireland, it is one of the great Celtic quarter days, named Lughnasa, the festival of the God Lugh, celebrated with games, fairs, ceremonies. Called Calan Awst in Wales, it is the festival of August. The quarter days, are halfway between the Solstices and Equinoxes – Samhain (1 Nov) Imbolc (1 Feb), Beltane (1 May) and Lughnasa (1 Aug) and all are, or can be seen as, a turning point in the farming year.

The Gallic Coligny ‘Celtic’ Calendar records August as a ‘great festival month. The stone-carved Calendar was found near Lyon, whose Roman name was Lugodunum, named after the Gaulish God Lugos, to whom, the Irish Lugh and the Welsh Llew Llaw Gyffes are probably related. He has an unstoppable fiery spear, a sling stone, and a hound called Failinis. The Romans associate Lugos with Mercury, and the Church with St Michael.

Lughnasa, (meaning the festival of Lugh) was founded by the God himself to honour his foster mother Tailtiu at Brega Co. Meath. Tailtiu became one of Ireland’s greatest festivals, springing from the horse races and marital contests set up by Lugh. In Gaelic Scotland it is called Lunasuinn, and Laa Luanistyn in the Isle of Man.

The festival is a harvest festival, celebrating the ripening of wheat, barley, rye, and potatoes. It is 6 months after Imbolc and records the ending of lactation of lambs and the beginning of the tupping season. It can be celebrated by climbing hills, visiting springs, wells, lakes and eating bilberries. (Myths and Legends of the Celts. James MacKillop).

June 21st Midsummer

I have revised my Midsummer post which you can see below. Also shocking news from France.

Salon IF reported a shocking destruction in France – this is the report, verbatim from Salon IF issue 514.

Fury in France at Destruction of 7,000 Year-Old Standing Stones

Dozens of standing stones, erected over 7,000 years ag

o, have been demolished to make way for a DIY store near Carnac, in Brittany, in North West France. Some 37 stones, measuring between 0.5 – 1.5m tall, were removed despite the fact the site had long been on France’s National Archaeological Map. The stones, moreover, had been submitted to the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (although the application had not yet been approved).

The region of Carnac is famous for its ancient ‘menhir’ – heavy, raised standing stones. Indeed, the area is often described as ‘the French Stonehenge’, with over 3,000 stone megaliths at the two sites of Menec and Kermario. There, the stone columns are arranged in long, straight rows and, according to the Carnac Tourist Office, it is the largest gathering of this type of standing stone in the world.

The land at the centre of the recent controversy, along the Montauban activity zone, had been granted a building permit by the local mayor’s office in August 2022 and construction of the new store, ‘Mr Bricolage’, was already underway. According to local amateur archaeologist, Christian Obeltz, who had originally raised concerns about the ‘brutal developments’, a bulldozer destroyed the stones overnight.

The Regional Office of Cultural Affairs for Brittany, the body responsible for the protection of the monument, said ‘Given the uncertain and in any case non-major character of the remains, as revealed by

checks, damage to a site of archaeological value has not been established’, but Obeltz maintains that archaeological investigation into the area had not been sufficient.

‘The Chemin de Montauban site included two intersecting rows of small granite stelae, each spreading out over fifty meters in length. One had been exactly in its original place for 7,000 years,’ according to Obletz. ‘The small menhirs of the Chemin de Montauban were undoubtedly one of the oldest sets of stelae in the town of Carnac’ believed to date between 5480 and 5320 BC, ‘the highest dating obtained for a menhir in the west of France’.

June 18th the Great Broadway Paint off

Artist painting in the Broadway 'Great Paint off'
Artist painting in the ‘Great Broadway Paint off’

One of the joys of my Spring & Summer is revisiting places I know and love in my role as a Course Director for Road Scholar. Sunday, I was in Broadway, once considered the most beautiful village in Britain. It was also the model for Riseholme in the wonderful ‘Mapp and Lucia’ books by E. F. Benson (made into a TV series by the BBC starring Prunella Scales, Geraldine McEwan and Nigel Hawthorne).

This weekend was the:

The artists register in the morning and have their paper or canvas stamped, or given a block of Maltese stone. They then go off to create a work of art in the village. At 3pm or so, they are judged. At 5pm, the art works are exhibited and often on sale in the Marquee on the village green.

Artist painting in the Broadway 'Great Paint off'
Another artist participating Artist in the ‘Great Broadway Paint off’

It’s always a delight walking around Broadway in the sun, but with an artist and easel every 50 yards or so even more enjoyable. By the tent on the village green were about 10 sculptors chipping away at identical blocks of stone.

Sculptors at the Great Broadway Paint off.
Sculptors at the Great Broadway Paint off

I believe ceramic, textile, and artists in other media also are willing to have a go at making art in a sevely limited timescale.

The appellation of most beautiful village, came in the late 19th Century. Broadway, once made rich by selling wool and then as a stop off on the stage coach route from Aberystwyth to Worcester, Oxford and London, fell on hard times with the arrival of Brunel’s Great Western Railway to the Cotswolds. Half the village, the Broadway Museum says, moved away as their livelihood serving the coaching trade died.

Painting in Broadway
@dawnjordanart

But artists, led by Americans Frances Millet and Edwin Abbey, turned Broadway into a much sort-after country retreat. Visitors included Oscar Wilde, J. M. Barrie, Singer-Sargeant, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Gabriel Dante Rossetti, American actress, Mary Anderson, Edward Elgar, E. F, Benson. Mark Twain visited for Millet’s marriage.

J.M. Barrie being bowled by Mary de Navarro. (aka Mary Anderson, who played many roles including Juliette at Stratford-on-Avon)
J.M. Barrie being bowled by Mary de Navarro. (aka Mary Anderson, who played many roles including Juliette at Stratford-on-Avon)

What made the visit particularly interesting was the story told to me by the Volunteer at the Gordon Russell Museum in Broadway. (More about Gordon Russell in a future post) This is the story as I understood it:

The Russells restored the Lygon Arms in Broadway using Arts And Crafts architects. They also restored antique furniture. The son, Gordon Russell, became a leading designer of modernist Furniture and so advertised to passengers on the Cunard Line in order to attract the attention of rich American visitors. One, Henry T Ford, was interested, came to Broadway, staying at the Lygon arms. He asked for help to purchase a Cotswold Cottage. He was taken to nearby village Snowshill, where Ford bought a complete Blacksmith’s workshop, and shipped them back stone by numbered stone to Brentford on the Thames, then to the London Docks and across the Atlantic to set them up in a Museum in Michigan where they still are!

Research suggests it’s a little more complicated, in so far as he purchased his first Cottage before coming to Broadway, but it still leaves a delightful story about American ideas of Quintessential English village life. More on this story here:

By the way, Frances Millet planned to return to the States on the Titanic. He was one of the 1500 who drowned, but a letter he wrote while on the ship was posted, probably in France and is on display in the Broadway Museum.

April 1st All Fools Day

April from the Kalendar of Shepherds

The first unambiguous British reference to April Fools Day is by diarist John Aubrey’s “Fooles holy day” in 1686, although he might have been referring to Germany. (‘We observe it on ye first of April… And so it is kept in Germany everywhere.)” For more details read hoaxes.org

But there is a possible earlier reference in Chaucer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale which I find quite compelling but most Chaucer scholars don’t. This is the text:

When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two

So, if you have been keeping up with me, you will know that the first lines are referring to March 25th, when God made Adam and Eve, and when the Church started the New Year and the year number moved one on. This was a major Church festival, usually followed by a week of holiness. The Roman New Year, January 1st, ended with a light hearted festival called Saturnalia, and it is suggested that April 1st was, similarly, a day of release after the festival of the official Church ceremony of the New Year.

Chaucer’s last line says ‘Since March began thirty two days have passed.’ A foolish person would not realise this is a reference to April 1st. Hence this suggests a Fools Day already existed. Scholars tend to prefer to think that Chaucer was referring to May 2nd, counting the 32 days not from the beginning of March but from the end of March. I think they look at the second and third lines which read ‘That high March…. was complete’ and so add the 32 days to the end of March. Foolish in my opinion and not reading what Chaucer wrote.

I nearly always forget to honour April Fool’s Day (or April Fish Day as the French call it). But in Britain, we generally find that somewhere in our newspaper or TV station there is a April Fools Joke slipped in. The most remembered is the BBC piece showing film of Italian Farmers picking spaghetti from trees. This year Harry and Megan proved irresistible and the Guardian reported that:

The Sun published a piece announcing the launch of Prince Harry and Meghan’s new video game “Megxit: Call of Duke-y” in which the royal couple try to reach California while dodging obstacles, including rival royals and the media, along the way.

Generally, in Britain, we play a prank and say ‘April Fool’ with great delight. But we are not allowed to continue beyond midday. The Scots used to call it ‘Hunting the Gowk’ and the main prank was to give someone a letter to deliver, and the person who opened the letter would read:

Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile” and send the fool onto another leg of his or her’s fool’s errand. In Ireland the letter would read ‘send the fool further’.

April comes from Latin and it was Aperilis from aperio from ‘to open’ as this is the month when the Earth opens. In Anglo-Saxon the Venerable Bede mentioned that they called the month Eostremonath. But there really is no other evidence for the Goddess Eostre from where we get our word ‘Easter’. In Gaelic it’s the Cuckoo’s month ‘Ceitein na h-oinsich’. In Welsh it is Ebrill which comes from the Latin.

The image from the medieval Kalendar of Shepherds shows all the beautiful flowers blooming and a female sitting on the grass embroidering, and the star signs of Aries (a Fire sign, brave, independent and impulsive) and Taurus (an Earth Sign: stubborn, down to earth, sensual with good taste).

February 22nd Ash Wednesday

Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

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

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

A time of fasting, or at least, a time when we are supposed to give something up – a bit like Dry January? Ash Wednesday gets its name as ashes used to be smeared on the heads of worshippers to remind them that we are dust. The ashes were traditionally made from palms from Palm Sunday.

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

Thomas Cranmer

For Joni Mitchell

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

February 21st Shrove Tuesday – Pancake Day – Mardi Gras – End of the Carnival

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

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

Carnival (n.)

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

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

www.etymonline.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a youtube video of Shrovetide Football.

Royal Asbourne Shrovetide Football

In London, John Stowe quotes Henry Fitzstephen who is writing about Becket’s London in the late 12th Century:

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

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

February 17th The Festival of Fools Fornacalia and Fornication

Mosaic of a man taking a loaf of bread out of a bread oven
Mosaic of Roman Bread Oven France

Fornacalia was a corn festival that took place around February 7th to the 17th. It celebrated the Goddess Fornax who was the Goddess of the Oven – specifically the grain oven for drying grain. The word for oven is also Fornax, from which we derive furnace (probably). So the celebration was to ensure that Rome’s all important grain supply was kept intact. Rome had a population of one million people, free bread was given to the people, and the Roman government took on the responsibility of providing the grain in a system called the Annona. The Annona brought grain from Egypt. Dominic Perring in his recent book on Roman London (Londinium in the Roman Empire) speculates that the fluctuating fortunes of London was depended upon the routing of a northern annona through Londinium.

The Festivals in Rome were organised by the Curio Maximus who was a priest who supervised the curiae. In Rome the citizens were arranged into the 3 ancient tribes of Rome (founded in the 8th Century BC). These were then divided into 10 curiae each. So there were 30 curiae. Each Roman was supposed to be assigned to one of the curiae, which had a religious, social and voting function. The members of the curiae were known as curiales. Each curiae had their own priest, or curio, and assistant ‘flamen curialis‘. And they organised the religious ceremonies of the curiae. They met in a meeting place called the curia.

So the Curio Maximus would declare when a festival was to be held, and get the curiae to organise the celebrations at the curia. I hope you are still with me! They would chose a date, for example for the Fornacalia, between about the 7th Feb and the 17th of February. And the citizens would go to their curia where there would be a ceremonial roasting of the grain, and baking into bread which would be in honour of the Goddess Fornax.

Pliny the Elder says it was King Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC), who established Fornacalia, The Feast of Ovens.

Ovid who wrote his almanac poem on the Roman festivals (Fasti), reveals many of these details and makes it clear that a lot of people didn’t know which curiae they were in, and so they would celebrate on the last day of the Festival which therefore became known as the Feast of Fools.

Learn too why this day is called the Feast of Fools.
The reason for it is trivial but fitting.
The earth of old was farmed by ignorant men:
Fierce wars weakened their powerful bodies.
There was more glory in the sword than the plough:
And the neglected farm brought its owner little return.
Yet the ancients sowed corn, corn they reaped,
Offering the first fruits of the corn harvest to Ceres.
Taught by practice they parched it in the flames,
And incurred many losses through their own mistakes.
Sometimes they’d sweep up burnt ash and not corn,
Sometimes the flames took their huts themselves:
The oven was made a goddess, Fornax: the farmers
Pleased with her, prayed she’d regulate the grain’s heat.
Now the Curio Maximus, in a set form of words, declares
The shifting date of the Fornacalia, the Feast of Ovens:
And round the Forum hang many tablets,
On which every ward displays its particular sign.
Foolish people don’t know which is their ward,
So they hold the feast on the last possible day.

Book II: February 17

From: Fasti, Book 2. Translated by A.S Kline and available here

For more information: www.vindolanda.com/blog/celebrating-the-fornacalia wikipedia.org/wiki/Fornacalia

Fornication

I was told that the Roman word for someone who looked after a furnace was the fornicator. And as heat was a ’cause’ of lust, fornicators well, they fornicated.

However, others derive the word from the word Fornix, which is an arch, and which, it is said, was where the Brothels were, hence fornicator. Not sure I’m going with that idea that Brothels were always under arches. But here is the online etymology dictionary’s definition which might help you make up your own mind.:

from Late Latin fornicationem (nominative fornicatio), noun of action from past-participle stem of fornicari “to fornicate,” from Latin fornix (genitive fornicis) “brothel” (Juvenal, Horace), originally “arch, vaulted chamber, a vaulted opening, a covered way,” probably an extension, based on appearance, from a source akin to fornus “brick oven of arched or domed shape” (from PIE root *gwher- “to heat, warm”). Strictly, “voluntary sex between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman;” extended in the Bible to adultery. The sense extension in Latin is perhaps because Roman prostitutes commonly solicited from under the arches of certain buildings.

As you can see its a big mix up of arches, brothels, brick ovens, all quite unconvincing so I’m sticking with my over-heated stoker theory.

February 9th St Apollonia a Day to Cure the Toothache

Saint Apollonia. Woodcut. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark. She is shown with forceps and extracted tooth and the martyr’s palm.

The 9th of February is St Apollonia’s Day. She was martyred at Alexandria in 249 AD persecution of Decius. She was attacked during an anti-Christian riot and struck around the face knocking her teeth out. Then, she was taken to a bonfire and told they would throw her in if she did not renounce her faith. So, without waiting, she spoke a prayer and walked into the fire.

This information is recorded in a near-contemporary letter from St Dionysius of Alexandria and so is a rare well documented martyrdom. Because her teeth were knocked out prior to death she is, therefore, Saint of Toothache.

I can remember my Grandmother prescribing cloves for me when I had tooth ache. And this was, and is, a common remedy. In my case we would keep a clove or two in the mouth close to the site of the pain. According to Natural Ways to Sooth an Toothache cloves contain

‘eugenol, a natural form of anesthetic and antiseptic that helps get rid of germs. Eugenol is still used in dental materials today’

Dr John Hall, Shakespeare’s son-in-law, tended to use a pill to soothe sore gums, but also a oil from a wood called ‘Ol. Lig. Heraclei’ which may be oil from the Bay Tree. (John Hall and his Patients by Joan Lane). Most of his teeth cases seem to be sore gums which suggests to me Dr John Hall did not generally do dental work.

To get a tooth drawn you could go to a Barber Surgeon, a Blacksmiths or specialist (and probably with no formal training) Tooth Drawer. This would be terrifyingly painful and probably only done when the pain was unbearable, but just think what a premium could be demanded by a really competent drawer.

List of causes of death London during the plague of 1665. Teeth killed 11 people

‘Of the Teeth’ was a common cause of death – probably being from infection or an abscess. It is interesting that someone as erudite and educated as the 17th Century writer, John Aubrey tells us in a chapter on Magick of less formal ways of toothcare. He tells us, in places, that the person who told him the story is worthy of belief. So he seems to give some credence to the efficacy of these magickal ‘cures’.

To Cure the Tooth-ach.

Take a new Nail, and make the Gum bleed with it, and then drive it into an Oak. This did Cure William Neal, Sir William Neal’s Son, a very stout Gentleman, when he was almost Mad with the Pain, and had a mind to have Pistoll’d himself.

….

To Cure the Tooth-ach, out of Mr. Ashmole’s Manuscript Writ with his own Hand.

Mars, hur, abursa, aburse.
Iesu Christ for Marys sake,
Take away this Tooth-ach.

Write the words, Three times; and as you say the Words, let the Party burn one Paper, then another, and then the last.

He says, he saw it experimented, and the Party immediately Cured

John Aubrey’s Miscellanies 1695

May, Williams and Bishop at the Old Bailey accused of murder in pursuit of bodysnatching

In 1832, in London Bishop, Williams and May were accused of bodysnatching. After killing the Italian Boy ( wonderful book by Sarah Wise The Italian Boy) they jemmied out the teeth and took them to a South London Dentist. They ‘cheapened’ (I cheap, you cheap, we are cheapening: meaning to barter) with the Dentist to get a decent price for the teeth – which he wanted to use as false teeth. The teeth were evidence in the trial of the murderers, and once two of them had been hanged (other turned King’s Evidence), the teeth were released back to the Dentist who promptly put them in the window of his surgery as an advert for his professional skills!

One of the Borough Boys Resurrectionist gang toured the battle fields of the Penisular Wars and came back with hundreds of teeth extracted from dead soldiers to sell to dentists as false teeth – they became known as Waterloo Teeth.

February 6th New Irish Bank Holiday for St Bridget/Imbolc!

The celtic year shown as a circle
The Celtic Year

The Irish have created a brand new Bank Holiday for St Bridget. The first one is today Monday 6th February 2023 and it follows a public holiday given last year for Health Workers in March. The timing of the Bank Holiday is explained by the Irish Post:

St Brigid’s Day itself falls on February 1 each year but going forward the Imbolc/St Brigid’s Day public holiday will fall on the first Monday in February, unless February 1st falls on a Friday.

This means that Ireland now has a public holiday on the 4 Celtic festivals of Samain (Halloween), Imbolc (St Bridget’s Day), Beltane (May Day) and Lughnasa (Lammas Day). These festivals are quarter-days, which mean they fall half way between the Solstices and Equinoxes.

The Independent wrote that ‘then-Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, said last year‘ ….“This will be the first Irish public holiday named after a woman,”  He also is quoted as saying:

“It marks the half-way point between the winter solstice and the equinox, the beginning of spring and the Celtic New Year.”

Extra Bank Holidays in the UK?

There are occasional calls for a new Bank Holiday in the UK. It’s often a Conservative MP calling for a National Day for the British and they often suggest a date like Trafalgar Day 21st October (commemorating the great Naval battle in 1805 in which Nelson was fatally wounded). It has several virtues in their eyes. Firstly, it is a day that confirmed Britain’s mastery of the Seas and thus is an ideal day for celebrating patriotism. Secondly, it is the school half term, and gives a much needed day off between summer and Christmas. Thirdly, they can suggest the day should be taken from May Day Bank holiday which coincides with the International Worker’s Day, which is obviously ‘a bad thing’.

For example, the Portsmouth MP’s supported a call for Trafalgar Day here: . The report says: ‘there are currently no bank holidays in the UK which celebrate battles or war victories’.

This, I think, leaves the rest of us thinking ‘What planet do these people live on?’ Yes, Trafalgar Day would have been a great day for a Bank Holiday IF this were 1839, maybe even 1939. But in 2023 it is just not on any ordinary person’s radar. We don’t think so very much about the Napoleonic War or Nelson, or nor do we often sing ‘Heart of Oaks, are our Men’ any more. In short, it is a reminder how distant from the rest of us Conservative MPs are, and how progressive Ireland has become by contrast.

Recently, we have been given a few Royal Bank Holidays, last year for the Queen, this year for the King. The Trade Union Congress proposed the need for more bank holidays because we only have the usual eight annual bank holidays for workers in England and Wales. Scotland has nine or ten; the average for the EU is ‘12.3 bank holidays a year. Finland and Romania get 15, while workers in Japan have 16 public holidays in total’.

A recent radio programme ‘The Bottom Line’ compared Britain with France and revealed that Britain is now 20% less productive than France, (up by 10% since Brexit) and that we make up the deficit by working longer hours. It appears that the French high tax. high worker’s protection regime, means they have to find ways of getting more out of the same hours, while we can just hire and fire, and are happy to make people work in a more inefficient way.

Here is my recent post about St Bridget’s Day

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

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

For more about St Bridget.

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