03 September 2010

3 September - Saint Gregory the Great and things Gregorian

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church (c540 - 604, Pope from 590).

Just reading the articles (two of the many are here and here) on his accomplishments is tiring!  The man was a dynamo.  And as with all truly great men, lesser men must chip away at their image until nothing is left.

So he is credited with Gregorian chant (or not); with hearing angels singing "Regina Coeli" and ordering it to be recited as the antiphon during the Paschal season (or not); of being an "able and determined administrator, a skilled and clever diplomat, a leader of the greatest sophistication and vision" (Norman Cantor) - or superstitious and no great shakes as a theologian (Cantor, again).

Well, even if the chant and Regina Coeli didn't flourish under his patronage (and the jury is still out on that), he is fully deserving of his title of 'the Great'.  Why, even John Calvin, writing almost a thousand years later, said that he was the last good Pope, and that is high praise indeed!

While we are on the subject of things Gregorian,  let us cast our minds back to the year 1752.  That was the year that Great Britain and her colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, and famously "lost" eleven days.  So while yesterday was the 2nd of September, today (in 1752) was September 14. 

Can you imagine what losing 11 days would do to our accounting systems today?  Think of payroll and invoices and monthly bills.  And can you imagine what stories conspiracy theorists and doomsayers would promulgate throughout the blogosphere?  The Millenium-Oh-no!-All-the-computers-in-the-world-are-going-to-crash-and-we-won't-even-be-able-to-get-gas! scare of a decade ago would be nothing against "You're not getting paid for those 11 days!  The government is stealing from you!  Demand that you get paid!" with riots and marching on the country's capitol, and burning cars, and smashing store windows, and stealing whatever you could find, all the while some numbskull pontificates that the people have a right to show their displeasure in acts of violence, because they have been  repressed for centuries...

And then there are rent and utilities and mortgage payments.  Your rent usually covers 30 to 31 days - but this month, it only covers 19 to 20 days.  What now? Will your landlord prorate the payment?
Good luck.

The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 by another Pope Gregory - this one being Gregory XIII - after nearly two decades of theories and models and proposals to reform the Julian calendar currently in use and bring the vernal equinox (at that time occurring on the calendar date of March 10) back to March 21.  Well, the Pope can suggest, but countries had to adopt it on their own, and as you might guess, several Catholic countries adopted it right away, several Eastern Orthodox countries maintained use of the Julian calendar, with some revisions of their own, and several Protestant countries refused to even consider the new calendar, because it was all part of a plot to make them Catholic again.

Eventually, however, being 11 days behind the other European powers didn't look like such a good idea, and Great Britain adopted the Gregorian reformed calendar, implementing it in September 1752.

One of the things changed was that not every four years is a leap year.  Nope.  In a 400-year period, there are four years which are divisible by 100 - going backwards from today, the last four were 1700, 1800, 1900, and 2000.  Of those, only 2000 was also divisible by 400, and so it was a leap year.  Not so the other three.  1700, 1800, and 1900 lost their leap day - February 29 - as part of the reform.

All of this makes perfect sense, does it not?  I think those who maintain calendars and keep them in line with the cycles of the sun and moon certainly earn their keep.

For more fun with calendars, check out the Calendar Converter.  Not only can you convert any day into its equivalent in one of the other calendars in use throughout the world, but the author is not terribly complimentary (putting it mildly) with a certain spreadsheet manufacturer and its inability to grasp the concept of leap years as noted above.