29 June 2011

29 June - Saints Peter and Paul; Flaked Haddock Newburg

Today we honor Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Some traditions say that this was the day on which they were martyred in Rome - Saint Paul by beheading, Saint Peter by being crucified upside-down.  Others claim that the feast honors the translation of their relics from the catacombs to their churches - Saint Peter to the Basilica of his name, Saint Paul to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.  Whatever the reason, this feast has been around at least since the 4th century.

Because of their status in the hierarchy of saints, they received separate Masses on the same day.  In Rome, the Pope would first celebrate Mass at St. Peter's and then go in state and celebrate Mass at St. Paul's.  This became rather cumbersome, and at some point, Pope Gregory the Great decided that the Masses could be split between two days - Saint Peter on the 29th of June, followed by the Commemoration of Saint Paul on the 30th.  This was not followed in all the liturgies, but at least into the 19th century, Catholic almanacs in the United States noted separate days for this feast. The Octave of Saints Peter and Paul ended on July 6.

Peter was a fisherman, and today is a high festival for fishermen and those who take their living from the waters.  On his feast, or the Sunday following, many places observe the Blessing of the Sea or Blessing of the Boats.  These ceremonies done, it is time for the festivities to begin, including the use of 'good liquor' to christen the boats (and probably to marinate the mariners, as well).

Dinner tonight should include fish to honor St. Peter.  Fish and chips - always good, broiled or pan-fried fillets, poached steaks (and we haven't even got into the different sauces).  Yes, even Tuna Casserole.

Traditionally, the fish associated with St. Peter are the John Dory and the Haddock, as they sport black 'spots' on their sides, known as the 'thumb-marks' or 'fingerprints' of Saint Peter.  These indicate where he held the fish and opened its mouth to find the coin needed to pay the Temple tax.

But that we may not scandalize them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and that fish which shall first come up, take: and when thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee.  Matthew 17:27

Nowadays the tilapia is called "St. Peter's fish", because the above scene took place in the freshwater Sea of Galilee, and both the John Dory and the Haddock are saltwater fish (and the fishing grounds of the Haddock are nowhere near the Sea of Galilee).  Our ancestors didn't bother with such nice distinctions - they saw the thumb-marks of St. Peter and drew their conclusions accordingly.

So dress the table with Gladiolus (the sword flower) to honor Saint Paul and serve an elegant FLAKED HADDOCK NEWBURG

First cook 1-1/2 pounds of haddock fillets: pour about 2 cups of water into a large skillet and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, add the fish, cover, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until the fish flakes easily.  Cool and flake.

Separate 2 eggs.  This recipe only uses the yolks; reserve the whites for another use.

In a saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter.  Blend in 1-1/2 tablespoons of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and a dash of cayenne.

Slowly stir in 3/4 cup of light cream and 1/3 cup of milk; cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly.  Gently stir in the flaked fish.

Lightly mix 3 tablespoons of sherry with the 2 egg-yolks.  Add this to the sauce and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer.  Serve at once on hot toast.

To drink?  Follow Saint Paul's advice and "take a little wine for thy stomach's sake".

Artwork: The Apostles Peter and Paul. Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco) 1587-92. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

28 June 2011

28 June - Eve of Saints Peter and Paul

The Eve or Vigil of the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is celebrated in much the same ways as was St. John's Eve, with bonfires and festivities.  Fishing boats are cleaned and painted today, in preparation for the celebration tomorrow.

For young ladies to find out who they will marry, they should knock at nine different doors without uttering a word [good luck with that!].  If they have managed to maintain silence throughout the ceremony, then the first man they see from their window the next morning will be their intended.


Tie a small key on each wrist, and go to bed.  Before falling asleep, fold your hands in prayer and repeat - nine times - the 16th and 17th verses of the first chapter of Ruth:

She answered: Be not against me, to desire that I should leave thee and depart: for whithersoever thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. 

The land that shall receive thee dying, in the same will I die: and there will I be buried. The Lord do so and so to me, and add more also, if aught but death part me and thee.

In a dream, the future husband should appear, and the keys will fall off your wrists.  If the keys stay tied, you will not be married this year.

27 June 2011

27 June - Saint Ladislaus of Hungary

Weather: If it rains today, it will rain for seven weeks.


Saint Ladislaus, King of Hungary (born circa 1040, died 29 July 1095), eldest son of Duke Bela (later King Bela I) of Hungary and his wife, Adelaide (or Richeza) of Poland.  For most of his life, he was involved in the intermittent civil wars caused by rival claimants to the crown of Hungary, first by his father who, in accordance with Hungarian tradition, claimed the throne as the eldest member of the royal family after the death of his brother Andrew I, setting aside the claims of Andrew's son, Solomon.  However, as Solomon had already been crowned and maintained control of most of Hungary, Bela and his sons had to flee the country on several occasions.

After the deaths of his father (1063) and his elder brother Geza (1077), Ladislaus was chosen by the Hungarian nobles to be their king.  More battles followed until 1087 when Solomon died without an heir.  He was chosen Commander-in-Chief of First Crusade, but died in 1095, before he could he could lead the armies against the Saracen.

Ladislaus was a very popular  ruler with his subjects, and if half the encomiums heaped on him by Reverend Alban Butler are true, he is fully deserving of that popularity:

By the pertinacious importunity of the people he was compelled, much against his own inclination, to ascend the throne in 1080, the kingdom being then elective. He restored the good laws and discipline which St. Stephen had established, and which seem to have been obliterated by the confusion of the times.  Chastity, meekness, gravity, charity, and piety were from his infancy the distinguishing parts of his character; avarice and ambition were his sovereign aversion, so perfectly had the maxims of the gospel extinguished in him all propensity to those base passions. 

His life in the palace was most austere: he was frugal and abstemious, but most liberal to the Church and poor. Vanity, pleasure, or idle amusements had no share in his actions or time, because all his moments were consecrated to the exercises of religion and the duties of his station, in which he had only the divine will in view, and sought only God’s greater honour. He watched over a strict and impartial administration of justice, was generous and merciful to his enemies, and vigorous in the defence of his country and the Church.

24 June 2011

24 June - Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Weather:  If it rains on St. John's Day, nuts will go bad and wicked women will thrive [that takes care of three-quarters of the population.  What about the rest of us?], however, apples, pears and plums will not be hurt.

Midsummer rain spoils hay and grain.

If it rains on St. John's Day, we may expect a wet harvest

"Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist;"  Matthew 11:11

"Birth of St. John the Baptist", Turin-Milan Hours, c1385, Museo Civico, Turin

Today is the Solemnity of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, the Precursor, the Voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!"

"... and thou shalt call his name John: and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity.  For he shall be great before the Lord; and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.  And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people."  Luke 1:13-17.

Most saints are celebrated on their death-day, their "birthday" into heaven.  John the Baptist is celebrated both on the day of his martyrdom (August 29) and today, the day of his physical birth, six months before the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  The reason for this signal honor is that he, unlike the rest of us poor sinners, was filled with the Holy Ghost in his mother's womb. He started out 'full of grace'.

"And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways:
     To give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins: Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us:
     To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: to direct our feet into the way of peace."
And the child grew, and was strengthened in spirit; and was in the deserts until the day of his manifestation to Israel.   Luke 1:76-80

For a fuller explanation, please see The Catholic Encyclopedia: St. John the BaptistCatholic Culture: June 24 has more information and several activities and recipes for celebrating this feast.   Fisheaters beautifully ties together the story of John and the customs surrounding his day, including a blessing for St. John's Bonfire.

He is the patron of tailors, perhaps because all he could afford was a suit of camel hair (which he sewed himself).

He is also the patron of the dumb, in reference to his father being struck dumb at the announcement of John's conception.

For an extensive list of his patronages, please see his entry at Saints.SQPN.com.

Superstitions of Saint John's Day:

If you wish to find out how long before you are married, make a wreath of nine different kinds of flowers.  Walking backwards, endeavor to throw the garland on a tree limb.  The number of times it falls to the ground are the number of years you will remain unwed.
This requires the use of one of your hairs, a wedding ring, a glass of water, and a clock which strikes the hour.  At noon, tie the ring to the strand of hair and suspend it in the glass of water.  Count the number of times that the ring tinkles against the glass before the clock finishes striking twelve.  That is the number of years before you will marry.

If you lop a tree on St. John's day, it will wither.

For protection against afflictions in cows, give it a drink of Holy Water on Midsummer day and sing the Athanasian Creed in Latin over it [or see the vet].

23 June 2011

23 June - Midsummer Night Traditions

This is Midsummer Night or Saint John's Eve. This is a night to have bonfires.

[A word from the Widow.  If you have a bonfire, get the correct permits, alert the fire department where and when this bonfire will take place, and take all precautions, including all ways to put out a fire if it starts to get out of hand. And somebody keep the fire department's phone number handy]

Jumping over the bonfire is considered an antidote against stomach problems.  Some are more generous and say that you will be free from fever and all illnesses for a year.

Jump nine times over the embers to ensure a prosperous year.

Rake out some of the (cooled and extinguished) embers from Saint John's fires to protect home and barn from fire during the coming year.  Scatter the ashes over the fields with a prayer for a good harvest. [And I am serious about the cooled and extinguished part.  Our firemen have enough fires to attend - let's not overwork them with our stupidity!]


Water on Saint John's Eve has great healing powers.  Before dawn, wash in a river or the morning dew for health and strength.  Bathing your face in spring water or dew will ensure beauty in the coming year.

Drink the water from seven different springs today for good luck and health.


St. John's Wort growing around a house will prevent it from being invaded either by witches or the devil.

Gather St. John's Wort today and hang it up in your house as a preservative against thunder and evil spirits.

Cover your door with birch, long fennel, St. John's Wort, Orpine, and White Lilies to avert evil.

Dig up St. John's Wort at midnight, and the roots will be efficacious in driving evil away.


One tradition says that tonight the soul of every person leaves his or her body and finds the place where death will occur.  The soul then returns to its owner.

Like Saint Mark's Eve, this is a night to fast all day and then watch at the church door at midnight to see the wraiths of those who are doomed to illness or death in the coming year.  Those that will be ill will come out of the church again; those that will die will stay inside.

To be cured of fits, go to the parish church at midnight and walk three times through each aisle.  Then crawl three times from north to south under the Communion table as the clock strikes twelve. [And if there is anyone watching for the wraiths of those who will die in the coming year, you are likely to give them fits, instead.]


Stand under an elder tree tonight at midnight, and you will see the king of the elves going by with his train. [of what use that is, I don't know, but since elves are supposed to be the guardians of treasure, perhaps you can get a few hints as to its whereabouts.]


According to legend, the fern blooms and seeds only at midnight tonight.  Fern seed – so tiny as to almost be invisible – is supposed to render those who carry it equally invisible.  To procure it, the seeker after invisibility must go at midnight tonight to the place where the fern grows  
    1. barefoot,
    2. in his shirt,
    3. thinking holy thoughts. 
Place twelve stacked pewter plates under a likely fern.  The seed is said to pass through eleven of the plates and remain on the twelfth.

A more involved ceremony requires the person to carry a white napkin, a cross [make it a large cross, and one without a Corpus on it], a Testament [Old or New isn’t specified], a glass of water, and a watch to the place in the forest where the fern grows.  With the cross, trace a large circle.  Place the napkin within the circle, the cross on the napkin, and the Testament and the glass of water on the cross.  Keep an eye on your watch; at the precise stroke of midnight, the fern will bloom and drop its seed.  If you see this, you will have the gift of knowing all that is happening in the world, and all that is going to happen.

Other traditions state that he who finds the fern-seed tonight will be happy, have the strength of twenty men, be able to discover precious metals in the earth, and foretell the future.  But be careful!  Demons are also abroad watching to convey away the seed before anyone can possess themselves of it, and they will expend much effort in getting your attention so that they can snatch your horde away from you.

The fern plant itself has good and bad properties.  While finding it on Midsummer night is lucky, if you pass it by without noticing it, you will lose your way, no matter how well you know the road.  Plucking a fern will produce a violent thunderstorm, and by wearing it, you risk being pursued by serpents until you throw it away.

On the other hand, it protects the wearer from sorcery and the Evil Eye, and a frond or two placed in the cows’ trough with their water will protect them against witches and evil spirits, and ensure good luck.

23 June - Midsummer Night Love Charms

This is Midsummer Eve or Night.  Be wary of sleeping in the woods.  A person could end up looking like an ass.

"Methought I was enamored of an ass"

Put a bowl of water outside the window and break an egg into the water at the stroke of midnight, or pour melted lead into a bowl of water at noon.  The shape seen will indicate the occupation of the future spouse.

Boil an egg hard and, walking backwards, take it upstairs with a glass of water.  Place both on a chair or table next to your bed.  Get into bed backwards, saying,
It's not this egg I mean to eat, 
but my true love's heart I mean to seek
In his apparel and array
as he wears it every day.
If this is done properly, your lover should come in and drink the water [the egg, I suppose, is for you].

Make a dumb cake tonight with an equally inquisitive friend.  In total silence, mix and bake a cake, then break it in two, and each put a piece under her pillow.  You should dream of your future husband.

A little more involved recipe says that the party of girls must number three.  Mix and bake the cake in total silence, as usual.  At midnight, each girl eats a portion of the cake; then taking another portion in her hand, each walks backward to bed, places the bit of cake under her pillow, and goes to sleep.  The results are the same.

[Explain to Mom that the bay leaves in January didn't work, so you were trying again.  Admit that you are fully aware that cake in bed brings ants and and makes a mess.  Wash bed linens and sweep up crumbs]

Fast all day on Midsummer Eve.  At midnight, lay a cloth on the table, with bread and cheese, and a cup of the best beer.  Leave the door to the room open and sit down at the table as though you were going to eat [and if you have been fasting all day, you won't need urging twice].  You should see the person whom you will marry come into the room and drink to you. [Then explain to Dad what you are doing with a cup of his beer.]

Another form of this says that as midnight chimes, a shadowy figure will come in and (with very unspiritual appetite) attack the supper and disappear [it's likely Dad looking for a midnight snack].

This one takes a bit of courage.  Try drinking that cup of beer first.
Take a handful of hempseed, then go to the churchyard and scatter it around saying,
Hempseed I scatter, hempseed I sow
He that is my true love, come after me and mow.
Then look behind you.  Your true love should be standing there, scythe in hand.  Do not look again, but take off running for home.  If you turn around, or stop for an instant, the phantom will overtake you and cut your legs with his scythe.

At Eve last Midsummer no Sleep I sought,
But to the Field a Bag of Hemp-seed brought,
I scatter'd round the Seed on ev'ry side,
And three times in a trembling Accent cry'd,
This Hempseed with my Virgin Hands I sow,
Who shall my True-love be, the Crop shall mow.
I strait look'd back, and if my Eyes speak Truth
With his keen Scythe behind me came the Youth.
John Gay, The Shepherd's Week

For this charm, you will need a garter (a very long one), a bedpost, and bed-curtains:
Tie your garter nine times around the bed-post and tie nine knots in it, saying to yourself,
This knot I knit, this knot I tie
To see my love as he goes by
In his apparel and array,
As he walks in every day.
Your intended spouse will come in and tuck the bed-clothes around your feet and draw the bed-curtains.

If you wet a clean shift  and turn it wrong side out and hang it on the back of a chair before the fire, your lover will make an appearance [updated, that would be a slip or undershirt hung up in front of the radiator].

Place beneath your bed a basin filled with water, where float the letters of the alphabet face downwards.  If the fates be propitious, the morning light will reveal two or three letters which have turned over during the night, being the initials of those who are interested in you.

Put a snail on a pewter plate and watch to see the letter he marks out in his travels.  That is the initial of your future spouse's name.

Walk backward into the garden on Midsummer Eve or Day, pluck a rose, and keep it folded in a clean sheet of paper until Christmas Day (without looking at it).  You should find it as fresh as when you plucked it, and if you wear it in your corsage, the man who is to become your husband will come and pluck it out [sounds like a set-up, to me].

Sleep with nine different kinds of flowers under your pillow and you will dream of your future spouse.

Or sleep with three beans under your pillow for the same result.

While on the subject of beans, take three broad beans (also called 'fava') - one whole, one without the eye (the little black line at the top), and one without the shell - and place them in a bag.  Shake the bag, then draw out a bean.  The whole bean signifies a rich husband; the eyeless bean signifies a sickly husband; and the bean without a rind means a husband without a - bean.

Sow some grain in a pot, then put the pot in a place where the sun doesn't enter [like a closet].  In eight days, check the pot.  The grain should have sprouted, and if it is green and healthy, you will have a rich and handsome husband.  If it is yellow or white, the man will be the opposite of rich and handsome, and you might want to consider a life of single bliss.

Go out alone and fill a cup with running water [a spigot will probably do, if no creek is handy], saying,
Water, water, running free
May my love run swift to me.
Then gather red and white roses, arrange them in a heart shape on a table before an open window, and go to bed.  In the morning, if they are still fresh, your lover is true; if faded, not; and if disarranged, you will have a new sweetheart.  Shut your eyes and choose a rose.  If it is red, you will marry a rich man; if it is white, he will be poor.

Gather buds of house-leek tonight and name each after a possible suitor.  In the morning, the bud which has bloomed most indicates the future husband.

Pluck a flower of St. John's Wort tonight and carry it to the church door.  Your future spouse will be seen to pass into the church. [Hopefully not one of those who will die or become ill in the coming year.  See Midsummer Night Traditions.]

Sleep with a sprig of St. John's Wort under your pillow to dream of your future husband.

Set Orpine (also known as 'Midsummer Man') in pieces of clay or potsherd, water it, and place it in the house.  In the morning, look to see if the stalk inclines to the left or right.  If right, your lover is true; if left, not.

Another charm with orpine is learned by planting two slips of it in a pot (naming one slip for the person in whom you are interested) and watching to see which way they grow.  If they lean towards each other, you and Interesting will eventually marry; if one withers, the person represented will die within the year.

Wives also used this charm to determine if their husbands were true to them - if the plants leaned together, the answer was yes; if they leaned apart... well, I'm sure that if the one representing the husband wasn't already withered, it soon would be.

Rev. Francis Kilvert wrote in his diary for June 11, 1873: "...we saw in the banks some of the 'Midsummer Men' plants which my Mother remembers the servant maids and cottage girls sticking up in their houses and bedrooms on Midsummer Eve, for the purpose of divining about their sweethearts."

Artwork above: Henry Fuseli, Titania, Bottom, and the Fairies, c1794, Kunsthaus, Zurich

22 June 2011

Corpus Christi

Weather: Corpus Christi clear, gives a good year.

This is a good day to start the Novena to the Sacred Heart, which Feast is celebrated Friday week after Corpus Christi:

O most holy Heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore Thee, I love Thee and with a lively sorrow for my sins, I offer Thee this poor heart of mine.  Make me humble, patient, pure and wholly obedient to Thy will.  Grant, good Jesus, that I may live in Thee and for Thee.  Protect me in the midst of danger; comfort me in my afflictions; give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, Thy blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death.  Within Thy Heart I place my every care. In every need let me come to Thee with humble trust saying, Heart of Jesus help me. 

In some parts of Wales, the Eve of Corpus Christi was considered the best time for those who had any kind of ailment to kneel in church before the altar and pray fervently for healing.


The Feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) was established in 1264 by Pope Urban IV to honor and celebrate the Body of Our Lord and commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.  It is held on the Thursday after the Octave of Pentecost (Trinity Sunday), although in many places it has been moved to the Sunday following Trinity.  In 1316, it was honored with its own octave, during which the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the churches.

The Institution of the Eucharist properly belongs to the Thursday in Holy Week - Maundy Thursday - but at that most solemn time in our calendar, there is no room for the unrestrained rejoicing which accompanied this Holy Day.  At one time this was a high festival, celebrated with processions, flowers, music, and mystery plays - those theatrical performances which taught the stories of the Bible and the lives of the saints.

The processions were the highlight of the day.  Houses were decorated with green boughs, flowers, and rich hangings, while more flowers covered the streets over which the The Host would pass.  Lighted torches and incense bearers led the way, followed by choirs singing the hymns written for this festival and young people carrying garlands of flowers.  Then came the Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance, carried beneath a richly embroidered canopy and surrounded by candles, at which the throngs in the streets fell reverently to their knees.  More clerics and priests followed, accompanied by town officials and the companies, guilds, and fraternities of the various crafts and occupations, either in their best liveries or dressed as the Biblical figures and saints which they would later portray in the day's pageants and plays, with banners showing the patron saint of their guild borne before them.

Some examples of these portrayals are listed by Harris in his History of Dublin (1766):
"We are told that there was a grand procession, in which the glovers were to represent Adam and Eve, with an angel bearing a sword before them.
The corrisees (perhaps the curriers) were to represent Cain and Abel, with an altar and their offering.
Mariners and vintners, Noah and the persons in his Ark, apparelled in the habit of carpenters and salmon takers.
The weavers personated Abraham and Isaac, with their offering and altar.
The smiths represented Pharaoh, with his host.
The skinners, the camell with the children of Israel, &c."

And old killjoy Naogeorgus, who couldn't stand to see anybody having a good time, described the costumed participants:
"Faire Ursley [Ursula]with hir maydens all, doth passe amid the wayes:
And, valiant George, with speare thou killest the dreadfull dragon here,
The Devil's house is drawne about, wherein there doth appere
A wondrous sort of damned sprites, with foule and fearefull looke,
Great Christopher doth wade and passe with Christ amid the brooke:
Sebastian full of feathred shafts. the dint of dart doth feele,
There walketh Kathren
[Katherine] with hir sworde in hande, and cruel wheele:
The Challis and the singing Cake with Barbara is led,
And sundrie other pageants playde, in worship of this bred,
That please the foolish people well : what should I stand upon
Their Banners, Crosses, Candlestickes, and reliques many on,
Their Cuppes, and carved Images, that priestes, with count'nance hie
Or rude and common people, beare about full solemlie?
Saint John before the bread doth go, and poynting towards him,
Doth shew the same to be the Lambe that takes away our sinne:
On whome two clad in angels shape do sundrie flowres fling,
A number great of Sacring Belles with pleasant sound doe ring.
The common wayes with bowes are strawde, and every streete beside,
And to the walles and windowes all, are boughes and braunches tide."

On Corpus Christi of 1605, Philip III of Spain "went in a procession with all the Apostles very richly, and eight giants, foure men and foure women, and the chief as named Gog-magog".  The feast was described then as "the greatest day of account in Spaine in all the yeare".  The week-long festivities, for which much preparation is required, may have a more secular flavor today, but the Monstrance is still carried in solemn and magnificent procession through the streets, and the gegantes are still in evidence at the Corpus Christi parades of Granada, Toledo, Barcelona, and other parts of Spain.  Part of the festivities in Sitges is their Flower Carpet competition which grew out of the custom of strewing the processional streets with flowers and sweet herbs.

Of the pageants following the processions, there were plays produced and performed by members of the craft guilds and companies, as well as large cloth hangings which depicted such topics as the "History of Our Savior", explained to the people by the monks and friars.  Dugdale (Antiquities of Warwickshire) described those of Coventry as: "being acted with mighty state and reverence by the Friars of this house, (The Gray Friars) had theaters for the severall scenes, very large and high, placed upon wheels, and drawn to all the eminent parts of the city for the better advantage of spectators; and contained the story of the (Old and) New Testament, composed into English rithme, as appeareth by an antient MS. entitled Ludus Corporis Christ, or Ludus Coventriae".  Popular subjects included "The Deluge", "Adam and Eve", "The Baptizing of Christ",  and "The Offering of Abraham and Isaac".

For a fuller explanation of this Feast, please see the entries at Fisheaters and The Catholic Encyclopedia.

22 June - Fort Caroline

The Building of Fort Caroline, Le Moyne

In 1564, two hundred French soldiers and settlers (including several women) under the command of René de Goulaine de Laudonnière established Fort Caroline (or La Carolyne as it is called on a 17th century French map) near the mouth of the St. Johns River in what is now northern Florida.   De Laudonnière had been second-in-command of the previous expedition in 1562 under Jean Ribault, who had attempted to make a foot-hold in the New World at the ill-fated Charles Fort, named, like Fort Caroline, for King Charles IX of France.

France, like most of Europe, envied the Spanish treasure ships which carried gold, silver, and jewels from Spanish-held lands in Central and South America, and naturally wanted to get a piece of the action.  A further impetus was the French religious wars of the time - it was proposed that the persecuted Huguenots (Protestants) could find sanctuary in a New World settlement, at the same time establishing a French presence.

The fort was far enough inland to escape detection from passing ships of the Spanish treasure fleet which followed the Gulf Stream from the Caribbean along the Florida coast before striking off across the Atlantic.  At this point, the Spanish had not done anything in the settlement of Florida, not deeming it worthwhile.  Could the little colony strengthen and hold its position, the French would have a very strong hold over the area and a firm base from which to operate.

But while the local Timucuan Indians has been friendly at the start, relations between them and the French soured, and before they had been there a year, the settlers of La Carolyne were in danger of starving.  Also, and equally dangerous, their position was now known to the Spanish, who learned of the location of the fort from captured mutineers who had set out to rob the passing treasure ships.

Before they could pack up and return to France, however, Ribault sailed in with a large fleet and six hundred more soldiers and settlers - and even more important, supplies. 

Philip II of Spain - advised that his treasure fleets would be in danger from French raiders based at the fort - sent Pedro Menendez d'Aviles to remove the French presence from the coast of Florida.  This he did rather thoroughly, with the aid of a hurricane.  Ribault had taken most of the soldiers and male settlers south in ships for a preemptive strike against the Spanish at St. Augustine.  After an overland march, the Spanish troops surprised the lightly guarded fort at dawn on September 20th.  While Laudonnière and between 40-50 men escaped, the remaining men of the fort were killed, and the women and children taken prisoner.

Meanwhile, a hurricane scattered and sank most of the French ships; Ribault and nearly four hundred of his surviving men found themselves cast ashore near modern Daytona.  They were captured by the Spanish, who executed most of them, including Ribault, as heretics, in an area near Matanzas Inlet.  Only a few professing Catholics and musicians were left alive.

This put an end to the French presence in the southeastern part of North America.

Fort Caroline was subsequently renamed San Mateo.  In 1568, another Frenchman, Dominique de Gourges, captured Fort San Mateo and massacred all of the Spanish there, in retaliation for the slaughter of Ribault and his men three years previous.  He then sailed away.  The Spanish rebuilt the fort, but abandoned it the following year.

While the actual location of La Carolyne is not known, you can visit the approximate site at Fort Caroline National Memorial, part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic National Preserve near Jacksonville, Florida.

Artwork: "The Building of Fort Caroline" by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, 1564.  Clipart from Florida Center for Instructional Technology.

21 June 2011

21 June - Summer Solstice

Astronomy: Solstice at 13:16 (aka 1:16 pm) for those of us on Eastern Daylight Time.  Check Earthsky for the time in your neck of the woods.

Now the sun standeth at its northernmost point, and beginneth its long journey south again.  The days in the northern hemisphere slowly grow shorter.

Weather: As the wind and weather at the equinoxes and solstices, so will they be for the next three months.

The first three days of any season rule the weather for that season.

19 June 2011

Trinity Sunday

The Sunday after Pentecost is devoted to the commemoration of the mystery of the Holy Trinity in Unity.  It was another great, late-spring festival which began on Trinity Even (Saturday) and continued through Trinity Tuesday with splendid processions and ceremonies.

Today, especially, we should say and meditate on the Athanasian Creed:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. 

And the Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father Uncreate, the Son Uncreate, and the Holy Ghost Uncreate. The Father Incomprehensible, the Son Incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost Incomprehensible. The Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the Holy Ghost Eternal and yet they are not Three Eternals but One Eternal. As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Uncomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not Three Almighties but One Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not Three Lords but One Lord. For, like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say, there be Three Gods or Three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father, and of the Son neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another, but the whole Three Persons are Co-eternal together, and Co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting Salvation, that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man.

God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the substance of His mother, born into the world. Perfect God and Perfect Man, of a reasonable Soul and human Flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood. Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but One Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into Flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by Unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one Man, so God and Man is one Christ. 

Who suffered for our salvation, descended into Hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into Heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

19 June - Saints Gervase and Protase

Weather: If it rains on St. Gervase and Protase day, it will rain for forty days after.

Saints Gervasius and Protasius were twin brothers, sons of Saints Vitalis and Valeria.  After their parents were martyred, the youths gave away their inheritance for the use of the poor, causing a lot of hate and discontent among the pagans.  Their legend says that the heathen priests concocted a story to make the local ruler of Mediolanum (Milan) believe that he would not be successful in war unless Gervasius and Protasius denied Christ and sacrificed to the gods.  Hauled one at a time before the ruler, the brothers ably defended their faith, at the same time taunting him with being afraid of them.  For this, Gervasius was scourged to death with lead-tipped whips and Protasius was beaten and beheaded "on the thirteenth of the kalends of July", sometime in the second century.

"Therefore, dear Saints, may He perchance vouchsafe to raise up, through your intercession, mankind and our present society from the degradation of a fatal servility; to banish error, to save the Church who cannot indeed perish, but whom He loves to deliver by means of her Saints."  
The Liturgical Year, Dom Prosper Guéranger.

At one time, they were considered so important, that their day was a solemn feast, preceded by a vigil.  Churches were dedicated to them throughout Europe.  Their names are still found in the litany of Saints, although the calendar reform removed their feast day.

Considered the first martyrs of Milan, they are patrons of that city.  They are also patrons of haymakers.   As this is haymaking time, and continual dry weather is very important to that activity, it is little wonder that farmers would look anxiously at the sky today, and pray to the saints to keep the rain clouds away.

18 June 2011

18 June - Ember Day; Battle of Waterloo

Weather: EMBER DAY - weather today foretells the weather of September

Today in 1815, on open farmland about 8 miles south-southeast of Brussels, the Allied Army under Wellington, combined with Blucher's Prussian troops, fought the decisive battle against Napoleon's Grande Armée of France - and in spite of the odds against them, won.  Field Marshal Prince Blucher called it "La Belle Alliance".  The Duke of Wellington named it after the hamlet nearby where he had spent the night before the battle - Waterloo.

This important battle is far too involved for a five-minute condensed version, so I shall send you to:
British Battles.com, with maps of troop movements, lists of the British Regiments involved, and some nice depictions of the uniforms (although not my favorite jack-a-dandy Green Jackets).
Napoleon Battles.com, for a virtual tour of the battle site.
The Waterloo Interactive Battle Simulator courtesy of PBS - who knows? Napoleon might win this time.
Famous Historical Events and Wikipedia, for lengthy overviews

and, if it seems like these are all biased in favor of the British, read:
Napoleonic Literature (the author attempts to counteract the bias)

So does anyone else remember Mr. Peabody taking the Wayback Machine and finding Wellington sitting in a spa breaking bones?

"My orders were to come  to Waterloo and take bone apart."

17 June 2011

17 June - Ember Day; Whit Embertide

Weather: Ember Day: The weather today foretells the weather of August.

The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday in Whitsun-week (following Pentecost) are the Summer Ember Days - days of fasting and abstinence in which we thank God for the blessing of growing crops and pray for a bountiful harvest.  Our prayers now should also be for the help and grace to moderate our tempers, to soften our unrighteous wrath, and to remove our tendencies to greed.

The Golden Legend says why we fast during the Summer Ember Days:

In summer we ought to fast to the end that we chastise the burning and ardor of avarice.

[We should fast] in summer also, in the Whitsun-week, for then cometh the Holy Ghost, and therefore we ought to be fervent and esprised [passionate] in the love of the Holy Ghost.

In summer we fast because that coler [choler]* should be lessened and refrained, of which cometh wrath.  And then is he [mankind] full naturally of ire.

Summer is likened to fire. [We fast] that the fire of concupiscence and avarice be attempered [moderated] to us.

Summer is reported to youth. [We fast] in summer for to be young by virtue and constancy.

And we fast to the end that we make amends for all we have failed in the preceding three months.

This is also a time to pray for the souls in Purgatory, who, legend has it, are allowed to appear to those who pray for them during Ember days.

*Check out this page at Fisheaters about the four humors of the body - blood (sanguine); yellow bile (choleric); phlegm (phlegmatic); and black bile (melancholic).  There is also a test you can take to determine your dominant classic temperament.

For the record, the Widow's Medieval Personality Type is Melancholic - a nervous Melancholic at that.  Well, at least I am in good company:

"Famous Melancholics include St. John of the Cross, St. John the Divine, St. Francis, and St. Catherine of Siena."

"If you were living in the Age of Faith, perfect career choices for you would be contemplative religious, theologian, artist, or writer."

Yes and Amen! 

15 June 2011

15 June - Saint Vitus; Ember Day

Weather: If Saint Vitus Day be rainy weather, it will rain for thirty days together.

EMBER DAY: The weather today foretells the weather of July.

Astronomy:  Total lunar eclipse (and one of the longest this century) tonight (see EarthSky for details).  Visible from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and southern and eastern South America.
[For the rest of us, not this time]

Today is the feast of Saints Vitus, Modestus, and Crescentia, martyrs (died c. 303). 

"In Basilicata, near the river Silaro, the birthday of the holy martyrs Vitus, Modestus, and Crescentia, who were brought thither from Sicily, in the reign of Diocletian, and after being plunged into a vessel of melted lead, after being exposed to the beasts, and on the pillory, from which torments they escaped uninjured through the power of God, they ended their religious combats."

According to his legend, St. Vitus (French "Guy"; Italian "Vito" and "Guido") was a youth of twelve who was converted to Christianity by his tutor, Modestus, and his nurse, Crescentia.  His father, taking exception to this, had all three scourged and thrown in prison by the local magistrate.  They escaped and fled to Rome, where they were denounced as Christians and suffered martyrdom under Diocletian.

He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a protector of domestic animals, and invoked against epilepsy and against over-sleeping.  He is the patron of dancers and entertainers in general.

He was also an exceptionally brave young man.  We don't think of 12-year-old children being steadfast in anything [except dislike of vegetables] - the first hint of punishment and most of them knuckle under.  Vitus was tortured repeatedly, and still would not apostatize.

Why he is pictured with a rooster, I don't know.  Neither did Naogeorgus in his description of Saint Vitus:
"The next is Vitus, sod in oil, before whose image fair,
Both men and women bringing hens for off'ring do repair:
The cause whereof I do not know, I think for some disease,
Which he is thought to drive away from such as him do please."

An old bit of Latin might allude to the sacrifice of chickens, possibly because their jerky movements while scratching or while fighting reminded the sufferers of their own torments:
Ne nimium saltet, saliens formidine gallum
Mactat mortifero salsa puella pede.

His name is given to Sydenham's Chorea (known for centuries as Saint Vitus' Dance), a malady which causes sufferers to jerk uncontrollably.  Why he is associated with it, or with dancers, is disputed [to me, there is a lot of chicken vs egg here - which came first?]  But here are a couple of reasons for it (and you can find a little more discussion at Catholic Culture).

In his legend, Vitus cured the child of the Emperor Diocletian from demonic possession (Diocletian showed his gratitude by throwing Vitus to the lions, among other things.)  As epilepsy and other spasm-inducing illnesses were thought to be caused by the Devil, sufferers prayed that Vitus would cure them, as well.

A belief grew up in Germany that anyone who danced before the statue of St. Vitus on his feast day would have good health for a year.  The manic dancing resembled the movements of chorea sufferers, ergo, association with same.

One story about him is that while he was in prison, his father looked through the keyhole and saw Vitus dancing with angels (or that angels danced for him).  This is why he is a patron of dancers.

So, did he become a patron of dancers because he was invoked by those who suffered from involuntary spasms?  Or did he become the saint of epileptics because their movements resembled those of the dancers already under his patronage?  Who knows.

14 June 2011

14 June - Flag Day

Today is Flag Day in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Stars and Stripes on June 14, 1777.

"Resolved, That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."

Fly it proudly!

13 June 2011

13 June - Saint Anthony of Padua; Sweet Bread

Today is the feast of Saint Anthony of Lisbon and Padua, Franciscan and Doctor of the Church, and one of the most beloved of saints.

He was born in 1195, the son of a noble family of Lisbon, and baptized 'Ferdinand'.  Very early, he discerned a vocation and joined the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, who sent him to their famed Monastery of Holy Cross for further schooling in theology.  When not quite 26, he transferred to the Franciscans and took the name 'Anthony'.

His desire was to be sent to preach to the Muslims (where martyrdom was a safe bet); instead, he was called to Italy, where he gained fame as a powerful preacher. The Catholic Encyclopedia says of him:

"It was as an orator, however, rather than as professor, that Anthony reaped his richest harvest. He possessed in an eminent degree all the good qualities that characterize an eloquent preacher: a loud and clear voice, a winning countenance, wonderful memory, and profound learning, to which were added from on high the spirit of prophecy and an extraordinary gift of miracles. With the zeal of an apostle he undertook to reform the morality of his time by combating in an especial manner the vices of luxury, avarice, and tyranny. The fruit of his sermons was, therefore, as admirable as his eloquence itself."

Numerous miracles were attributed to him in his lifetime, for which he was called "Wonder-worker".  He died in 1231 at the age of 36, was canonized a year later, and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1946. 

Mostly today, he is known as the finder of lost things:

Dear Saint Anthony, please come round,
Something's lost and can't be found

(or a bit more raffish)
Tony, Tony, please come round,
Something's lost that can't be found!

[And if he has helped you find whatever is lost, please remember to thank God.  See St. Anthony's bread, below]

A tradition in Italy and the Balearic Islands was to bless the family's horses, donkeys, and mules today, along with their harness and trappings, in the belief that this would keep the devil out of the animals for at least a year.  The priest would stand in or near a doorway, with a table set up next to him holding the Holy Water and a dish for the offerings.  Each animal was ridden to the spot and reined in to receive the blessing and the sprinkling of Holy Water.  The rider then placed a coin in the offering bowl, and made way for the next recipient.

In the spirit of this tradition, perhaps we should have our cars blessed today.  Maybe a good dose of Holy Water and a blessing will keep the road rage out of the vehicle for at least a year!

Lilies were blessed today, and handed out to the people of the parish (much like the palm fronds of Palm Sunday)

For a girl to find out the name of her future husband on St. Anthony's Day, she must fill her mouth with water and hold it there until she hears a boy's name mentioned.  She can pretty well expect to marry someone of that same name. [And I think that superstition was thought up by someone who felt that the girl's voice (and his own ears) needed a rest]

St. Anthony's Bread is the offering given in return for a favors asked and blessings received of God through St. Anthony's intercession.  The tradition comes from two stories in which the petitioners to St. Anthony promised to provide bread to the poor in return for his help.  If Saint Anthony has helped you, consider returning the favor with a donation to your local food pantry, or to any charity which helps the poor, especially those charities run by Anthony's brothers, the Franciscans.

The Portuguese here make a lovely slice of Heaven called 'SWEET BREAD' [not to be confused with sweetbreads, which have never been (and will never be) found in the Widow's kitchen], and since Anthony was born in Lisbon and is a patron saint of Portugal, it seems appropriate for the day. 

In a large, warm, bowl, dissolve 2 packages of yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water. 

Heat 3/4 cup of milk and 3/4 cup of butter in a saucepan over low heat until warm.  Lightly beat 3 eggs.

In the bowl with the yeast, combine 3/4 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 cup of flour.  Add the warm milk/butter mixture.  Mix well, then beat for 2 minutes.  Beat in eggs and another 1-1/2 cups of flour.  Beat for about 2 minutes, then stir in a further 2-1/2 cups of flour (more or less) to make a very soft dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, kneading in another 1/2 cup of flour.  Shape dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, turning the greased side up.  Cover the bowl with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1-2 hours.

Punch down dough.  Knead, shape into loaves, and place into greased loaf pans.  Cover and let rise in a warm place, about 1 hour.

Beat 1 egg lightly and brush over the tops of the loaves.  Sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake at 325° F for 35 minutes or until golden brown.

12 June 2011

Pentecost - Whitsunday; Whitpot

A dry Whitsun and fine brings a good corn harvest
- and -
 Whitsunday bright and clear, will bring a fertile year

- on the other hand -

If Whitsunday bring rain, expect many a plague
- and -
 Rain on Pentecost forebodes evil.

Still, there is hope, for a Whitsun rain is a blessing for wine [which will come in handy when dealing with plagues and evil]

Strawberries at Whitsun time, indicate good wine. [Hoorah!]

Duccio de Buoninsegna, 1308-11, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

Today is Pentecost, the annual commemoration of the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room, and 3,000 were baptized, as recorded in the 2nd chapter of The Acts of the Apostles:

1 And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire: and it sat upon every one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost: and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. 5 Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6 And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue. 
12 And they were all astonished, and wondered, saying one to another: What meaneth this? 13 But others mocking, said: These men are full of new wine. 14 But Peter standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke to them: Ye men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you and with your ears receive my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day: 16 But this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: 17 And it shall come to pass, in the last days, (saith the Lord), I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy: and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 And upon my servants indeed and upon my handmaids will I pour out in those days of my spirit: and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will shew wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath: blood and fire, and vapour of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and manifest day of the Lord to come. 21 And it shalt come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 

37 Now when they had heard these things, they had compunction in their heart and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren? 38 But Peter said to them: Do penance: and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with very many other words did he testify and exhort them, saying: Save yourselves from this perverse generation. 41 They therefore that received his word were baptized: and there were added in that day about three thousand souls.  

Pentecost, which means 'the fiftieth day' occurs 50 days after Easter, and ten days after the Ascension of Our Lord.

Whitsunday, by which Pentecost was known in England, may have taken its name from the practice of those newly baptized at Easter and during Pascaltide wearing their white garments or albs, although the original "White Sunday", when this custom took place, was the first Sunday after Easter.  Other sources suggest that the proper word is Witsonday, commemorating the Holy Spirit's enlightenment of man's 'wit' or understanding.

Whitsuntide, which included the preceding Saturday (Whitsun Eve) and the following Monday (Whit Monday) and Tuesday (Whit Tuesday), was considered a holiday time, when sports, games, and jollity predominated and servile work was forbidden.  Men's clubs processed to the church for special services, followed by a huge feast and dancing, while children would form into small bands and parade around to sing before houses, hoping to receive a little money or food with which to regale themselves afterward. The same amusements of May-Day prevailed, including dancing and gamboling around flower-decorated poles, and as it was considered lucky to be married during Whitsuntide, romantic attachments which might have begun in the May revels found their logical conclusion here.

This is the time of the Whitsun-ale, a high festival which also served to collect money for repairs to the church or to ease the parish rates.  Something of a picnic feast, in which every person brought what victuals they could, was set up in a large barn or out-of-doors.  The ale, which had been brewed especially strong, was sold by the churchwardens to those who came to eat, drink, and enjoy themselves and the profits kept for the uses above or as alms for the poor.

For the dancing afterward, two people would be chosen as the "Lord" and "Lady" of the ale, while others took the parts of courtiers, including a treasurer or purse-bearer, and jester, everyone dressing for their parts to the best of their ability.  Certain silly rules were in place, and those who broke the rules paid a monetary forfeit.  An additional charge for the honor of attending the court of the Lord and Lady, wherein the jester kept everyone in merriment with ribald jests and cleared the way for the dancing, helped to fill the treasurer's money box, and the profits thus accumulated were used for the benefit of the parish.

One superstition is that, as on Easter morning, the sun danced the instant it arose, and a prayer to God at that moment was sure to be granted.

Another, once prevalent in Ireland, is that, before morning, the wraiths of those who drowned at sea ride over the waves on white horses to hold their revels on the sands.  Don't stand around waiting for them, however, for if they find someone, they will capture him and take him back with them to the vasty deep.

In Wales, people were expected to be up early on Whit Monday between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning.  Young men and boys (who are always ready for this sort of thing) went around the village, waking people up with as much noise as they could manage.  Sluggards had bunches of nettles tied to their door-latches, and were liable to spend some time in the village stocks.


The traditional cuisine for today includes WHITPOT, a kind of pudding, which as its name suggests, is white or light in color.  You can find a 1796 receipt for it here [you'll have to decide how much rose-water and nutmeg to use, and what constitutes a slow oven].

A contributor to Good Housekeeping magazine for May 1, 1886 offered ingredient amounts, but not much more in the way of directions:

"Whit-pot.—Two quarts milk, one cup of Indian meal, two-thirds of a cup of molasses, two eggs and a pinch of salt. Put the milk on to boil, leaving out enough to stir the meal as a thickening. Then put it all together on the milk when hot, but not boiling. Rub the molasses and eggs together and add to the milk. Allow it all to come to the boiling point and take it up carefully."

This one is easier, and serves 3-4; it was adapted from a recipe found in The Old Farmer's Almanac Colonial Cookbook:

Wet 2-1/2 tablespoons of corn meal (white if you can find it, yellow otherwise) with 2 tablespoons of cold milk.  Let it stand while you scald 2 cups of milk.  Put the hot milk in the top part of a double boiler, and add the cornmeal, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.  Cover the pot and cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly thickened.

Beat 1 egg lightly and mix it with 1/4 cup of cold milk.  Slowly stir this into the cornmeal mixture.

Remove from heat and serve in individual bowls.  The original recipe says to top each bowl with a dot of butter.

11 June 2011

11 June - Saint Barnabas

Weather: If it rains on St. Barnabas Day, it is good for grapes.

On St. Barnabas Day, it is time to cut your hay.

St. Barnabas oft times brings a tempest [for which the good saint is invoked against hailstorms, not least of which is a prayer to leave the growing grain standing]

Saint Barnabas, Apostle and Martyr (died c. 61)
A Jew born in Cyprus, who received the Holy Spirit, sold all he had, and gave it to the Twelve.  He introduced Paul (formerly Saul the Persecutor) to Peter, and accompanied him on many of his travels, preaching the Gospel and converting many.  Tradition says that he carried the Gospel to Milan, and was stoned (or burned) to death by a mob in Cyprus.

As summarized in the Catholic Encyclopedia: "With the exception of St. Paul and certain of the Twelve, Barnabas appears to have been the most esteemed man of the first Christian generation.  St. Luke, breaking his habit of reserve, speaks of him with affection, "for he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of Faith".  His title to glory comes not only from his kindliness of heart, his personal sanctity, and his missionary labours, but also from his readiness to lay aside his Jewish prejudices, in this anticipating certain of the Twelve; from his large-hearted welcome of the Gentiles, and from his early perception of Paul's worth, to which the Christian Church is indebted, in large part at least, for its great Apostle.  His tenderness towards John Mark seems to have had its reward in the valuable service later rendered by him to the Church."

[One thing that strikes me about Saint Barnabas is his courage.  Saul of Tarsus was a zealous persecutor of Christians in his day - had he a blog, I'm sure it would have been filled with righteous calls to exterminate this so-called Jewish sect, these followers of an executed criminal, who refused to follow the Law has handed down through the ages.  Successful efforts would have been highlighted ("We found the whole family at prayer... that's the best time to strike"), and the stoning of that pipsqueak Stephen would likely have garnered the most hits and combox traffic ("Oh, yes, I agree." "Stone the lot of them!" "Should be beheaded!" "Crucify them all - only do it upside down!" "We can't wait for these people to die of old age; get rid of them now!" "Rumor says he was asking for forgiveness. Is that what you heard?...)

If the persecutors of our day - Osama, Pol Pot, Mao, Hitler, Stalin, fill in the blank - were to have a sudden conversion on the road to Damascus, would you sponsor them, as Barnabas did Saul?  Would you take them to meet the Holy Father, expecting him to accept these men (who, let's face it, have bloody hands)?  Would you stand by them, join them in their missionary efforts, protect them, call them your friends and fellow apostles?

Barnabas was a brave man.  He trusted the Holy Spirit to the utmost. I don't know that I have that courage.]

St. Barnabas' Day was at one time considered the day of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, when the sun, after its long march north, seems to stand and then start its journey south again.  As such, it became a day of high festival.

From this came the rhyme:
Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright
The longest day and the shortest night

Traditionally, Midsummer begins now, and continues until the 2nd of July.

From an old churchwarden's account of disbursements for his church, some claim that it was customary for priests and clerks of English churches to wear garlands of roses and woodruff today, while other say that the garlands were used to decorate the churches, not the priests.  Be that as it may, I get great enjoyment imagining our pastor, Father G., wearing a garland of roses, like a Derby winner.

08 June 2011

8 June - Saint Medard

Weather: If it rains on Saint Medard's day, there will be rain for forty days after, unless Saint Barnabas' day is dry, or (as I have also heard it) it will rain until at least St. Barnabas' day.

If it rains on the 8th of June, it foretells a wet harvest.

Saint Medard is to northern France what Saint Swithin is to England - a marker for either continuing wet or continuing fine weather.  The biblical 'forty days' comes into play for both, and the only difference (besides the month and the legends) is that St. Swithin doesn't have a caveat to fall back on - no "St. Barnabas" to hold accountable if the tradition doesn't follow through.

Saint Medard was, according to his legend, a very pious boy, who gave away everything he could to the poor and needy, even if it wasn't his to give.  On one of these occasions, a heavy rain fell, drenching everyone in the vicinity - except Medard.  An eagle hovered over his head, sheltering him from the rain, a sign of Heaven's approbation.  From this, farmers in northern France prayed to him for good weather and to protect their harvests, especially the haymaking, from rain.

As an adult, Medard was consecrated bishop of Vermand, but found it expedient to move his See about 25 miles southeast to Noyon.  This was a time of concerted attacks by barbarians (as well as infighting among the Merovingian heirs of Clovis); Noyon had a strong wall and defenses, Vermand did not.

Medard seems to have been an exemplary bishop, continuing his good works while devoting himself to his heavy duties.  He was a good friend and advisor to King Clotaire; when he died in 545, the king ordered a magnificent funeral for him and buried him at his own manor of Crouy near the Merovingian royal city of Soissons.  Some twelve years later, Clotaire erected the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Medard over his tomb, where he, himself, was buried in 561.

07 June 2011

7 June - Festival of Fishermen

Ovid says that today is a festival of the Tiber River for fishermen:

"The day's a festival for those who tug at dripping lines
And hide their bronze hooks under little strands of bait."

Myself, I never used bait.  Jes' don't see the need for any catching to interfere with my fishing.

06 June 2011

6 June - Mast

Weather: If it rains on the 6th of June, there will be no mast.

"November" by Jean Colombe. Tres Riches Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry, c. 1413

"Mast" as used here, is the fruit of forest trees, such as acorns (from oaks), beechnuts, and chestnuts; a mast year is one in which the trees produce and drop an abundant crop, which litters the forest floor almost ankle deep.  It may seem odd that the farmer would so worry about the likelihood of a crop of acorns or beechnuts that he would watch the weather for it, but for centuries, mast has been an important food source for animals which supply meat for the table - not only domestic hogs and cattle, but also game animals such as deer, wild boar, and grouse.  A year of little or no mast would mean lean hogs and scarce game.

Because of the plentiful supply in a mast year - more than could be eaten - some of the nuts and acorns would have a chance to germinate and become trees, equally important at a time when the fuel supply was mainly wood.

In the picture above, a peasant is engaged in one of the activities of late autumn - knocking down such nuts as remain in the trees, while his hogs gorge themselves on the fallen fruit.  The hogs would have been turned out of their pens in late summer to forage in the forest throughout the autumn months; once fattened, they would be rounded up and either driven to market or slaughtered for future consumption.

Pioneer farmers of the New World put up fences to protect growing crops from animals - wild or domestic - and let their hogs roam free, sent out with the injunction "Root, hog, or die" (the hogs rooted).  As had their forebears, the farmers rounded up their fattened hogs in the late fall, and then it would be time to turn some of them into smoked ham and other good things.

For those who depended on acorns as a staple of their diet, like the Indians of North America, a mast year would be hailed in much the same light as a year of bumper crops to the farmer.  Not only would they have sufficient meal for the coming year, but game would be plentiful as well.

How it was determined that rain today forewarned the farmer that food for his hogs would have to come out of his own store rather than the forest is anybody's guess.  I'm sure that the years in which the prognostication was proved false were filled with great rejoicing.

Mast as food for hogs is making a (slow) comeback; this article contends that feeding hogs on mast is not only more humane, but produces healthier meat.

If you are interested in how acorns are turned into meal (with a couple of recipes), read "Acorns: from Mush to Candy".

04 June 2011

4 June - George III

"Augusta, Princess of Wales, with her family" by Jean Baptiste Van Loo. 1739.  George is the bouncing baby on the left.
Born today in 1738 at Norfolk House in London, George William Frederick, second child and eldest son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his wife Augusta of Saxe-Gotha.  Since he was two months premature and not likely to live, he was immediately baptized, but when he showed a more tenacious hold on life, he was given a ceremonial baptism a month later, his godparents being Frederick, King of Sweden; Augusta's brother, Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Gotha; and his grand-aunt, George II's hated sister Sophia, Queen of Prussia.

Already in the nursery was his sister Augusta who had been born the year before under the most trying circumstances for her mother.  The Prince of Wales and his father, George II of Great Britain, had been at loggerheads for years.  While on a visit to the king's country residence of Hampton Court, the Princess of Wales went into labor, and Frederick - determined that his child would not be born anywhere near his parents - bundled his wife into a carriage and headed back to St. James Palace in London.   In rapid succession there followed George (1738), Edward (1739), Elizabeth (1740), William (1743), Henry (1745), Louisa (1749), Frederick (1750), and Caroline Matilda (1751).

George was fairly well educated, although said to be lazy and backward.  His mother described him at the age of 17 as "...shy and backward; not a wild, dissipated boy, but good-natured and cheerful, with a serious cast upon the whole... that he was not quick, but with those he was acquainted, applicable and intelligent... his book-learning she was no judge of, though she supposed it small or useless; but she hoped he might have been instructed in the general understanding of things."

Still, he was described by Lord Chesterfield as "a most hopeful boy; gentle and good-natured, with good sound sense", and when he succeeded his grandfather in 1760, his graceful bearing, good nature, and love of simplicity endeared him to his new subjects.

You know the rest of the story, and if you don't, read more about him here.

To celebrate his birthday.... TEA, of course!

Especially if you can find the same tea that certain Americans in fancy dress tossed into Boston Harbor.  The East India Company, modern descendant of the company which sent over that ill-fated tea, has a fine selection of bagged and loose tea for sale.

Refresher course on making tea [I'm using black tea, here]:

1. Fill the teapot with scalding hot water (pottery or china teapots are best)

2. Bring cold, fresh water to a full rolling boil in a kettle.

3. Empty out the hot water from the teapot and put 1 teaspoon of loose tea leaves (or 1 teabag) per cup of boiling water into the teapot (if you don't know how much water your teapot holds, empty the hot water into a large measuring glass).  Some people [like me] add "1 teaspoon for the pot".

4. Pour the boiling water over the tea, put the lid on the pot, and let the tea steep for 3 - 5 minutes.

5. Place or hold a tea strainer over each cup and pour tea through the strainer [unless, of course, you are into reading tea leaves; if so, no strainer, just pour].

Every time I enjoy the cup that cheers, I have to wonder - what were those Bostonians thinking?