29 December 2011

29 December - Saint Thomas Becket; 5th Day of Christmas

Weather: the weather today foretells the weather of May.

If the sun shines on the 5th day of Christmas, there shall be a great bloom of fruit that year.

To foretell the weather of summer and fall, place a branch of elder in a jug of water today.  If the buds develop and open freely, summer will be fruitful; if they don't, then expect a bad harvest.


At Canterbury, in England, the birthday of St. Thomas, bishop and martyr, who, for the defence of justice and ecclesiastical immunities, was struck with the sword in his own basilica by a faction of impious men, and thus went to Christ.

Today is the feast of Saint Thomas Becket - Thomas of Canterbury – the most popular and venerated of the English saints (until he was stricken from the prayer book and his shrine despoiled by Henry VIII).  

His story is well known: a boon companion and Lord Chancellor of Henry II who loaded him with honors, including the Archbishopric of Canterbury, the premier position in the prelature of England.  King Henry had certain plans for the ‘reform’ of the church, and naturally, he could rely on his good friend Thomas to support him.

Except that he couldn’t.  Thomas pointed out that he knew what the king was planning, and as Archbishop, he couldn’t and wouldn’t agree, so maybe it would be better if his good friend the king found someone else for the position, eh?  And they could go back to enjoying life.

You know how the story goes: Henry needed someone in the archiepiscopal chair that he could trust to bring the other bishops in line with his reforms.  Thomas was duly consecrated – and the battle of wills began which lasted for the next eight years.  From being a loyal servant of the king, Thomas became a champion of the Church (well, he had warned Henry).

A subsequent author saw in him an early champion of English liberty:
"We need no longer look at the great prelate through the spectacles of his posthumous Protestant opponents.  With all its faults, the Church of Becket's day was the only possible helper of the people.  The Bishop of Rome was just then a less dangerous shepherd than Henry, the Angevin king.  Becket may not have become consciously a champion of the people when he turned an opponent of the king, nevertheless he proved a mighty agent in winning that long battle for English liberty..." Walsh, William S., Curiosities of Popular Customs and of Rites, Ceremonies, Observances, and Miscellaneous Antiquities, p. 926.

"Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"
Heads of state don't like to be reminded where they stand in the true hierarchy, and Henry was no different – any more than his namesake six Henrys later, who had his own former friend and Lord Chancellor, Thomas More, judicially murdered for not falling in with his wishes concerning the Church.  Supposedly, in a fit of pique, he ranted about the people around him, who let their king be treated with contempt by a low-born cleric; four knights took that to mean that Henry wouldn’t mind if Becket were dead.

They obliged.

You can read a detailed account of Becket's murder here.

Saint Thomas was a Shepherd of the Church, one who defended his flock with his life.  So today is a good day to make SHEPHERD'S PIE.

I like to make mine with ground beef - there is usually some on hand - but purists will tell you that it is made with ground or cut-up lamb ("well, it's a SHEPHERD'S pie, d'uh!").  So it is, but I have never understood the economics of eating one's profits.  Makes better sense to dine off someone else's animal.  Of course, paying for that animal when you already have a meat-pie-on-the-hoof in your own flock is probably not good economic sense either.  Well, you make the choice.  Here is a recipe with ground beef.

Boil 3 - 4 large potatoes (or however many are needed to make 3 cups of mashed potatoes.) Mash and season as desired (I always mash them with milk and butter and stir in a teaspoon or two of Seasoning Salt).

Chop 1 onion to make ¾ of a cup.  If you have fresh carrots, thinly slice enough for 1 cup.  Thaw a 10-ounce package of frozen peas (or a box of mixed vegetables).

Preheat oven to 400° F.
In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter; add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Crumble 1½ pounds of ground beef into the skillet, and sauté for 5 minutes more.  Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ cup of water, and if you have the carrots, add them now. (If you haven't thawed the frozen veg, just add them now as well.)

Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Blend 1 tablespoon of flour with 1½ tablespoons of Worcestershire; stir this into meat mixture.  Add the thawed peas (if you haven't already), cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Pour mixture into a 2-quart casserole.  Cover with the mashed potatoes, making lengthwise and crosswise markings on top with a fork.  Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.