31 March 2012

31 March

"All Fools Day tomorrow - an occasion which most of us have a natural right to celebrate."

30 March 2012

The Borrowing Days

"The worst blast comes on the Borrowing Days."

The Borrowing Days (or Borrowed Days) are the last three days of March (and sometimes the first three of April, making in all six days).  Traditionally, these days are cold and stormy, at a time when we are looking forward to “that April with his showers sweet” and the gentle west wind “Zephyrus, also with his sweet breath”.  While March is many-weathered, it has hopefully been dry and increasingly warmer, so this period of cold and storm called for an explanation.

March borrows of April three days, and they are ill;
April borrows of March again three days of wind and rain.

One of the legends is that a shepherd once promised March a lamb if the month would guarantee good weather.  March did so, but when he went to get his promised payment, the shepherd, seeing that there were only three days left in the month and his flock was flourishing, reneged on the agreement.  March, in disgust, took his last three days, borrowed three from April, and for the six days sent such terrible weather that the entire flock perished.

March borrows from April
Three days and they are ill;
April returns them back again,
Three days and they are rain.

March does from April gain
Three days and they’re in rain,
Returned by April in ‘s bad kind,
Three days and they’re in wind.

“These days being generally stormy, our forefathers have endeavored to account for this circumstance, by pretending that March borrowed them from April, that he might extend his power so much longer.  Those who are much addicted to superstition will neither borrow nor lend on any of these days.”  Dr. Jamieson, Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808).

On the other hand:

"Beware the blackthorn winter.”

'Blackthorn winter' is the traditional name for a period of warm days at the end of March or beginning of April – which fools the blackthorn (and other trees) into blooming – followed by a period of cold weather.   If the cold is severe enough, the blossoms are liable to be blasted then and there, and for fruit-bearing trees, this would be a catastrophe.

Not to mention sweet-breathed Zephyrus tempting us to put away our winter woolies and get out the shorts and sandals (with the ensuing colds and sniffles thereby).

Well, here in the Smallest State, we’ve had both.  A period of exceptionally warm days last week brought out a profusion of blossoming trees and shrubs – and the Borrowing Days have been cold.  Yesterday was cold and overcast (the day preceding was cold and rainy), today is cold and clear, and tomorrow, snow showers are predicted.

Oh bother.

26 March 2012

Annunciation; Waffles; Pope Ladies

Weather -   Is't on St. Mary's bright and clear, fertile is said to be the year.

Lady Day clear, expect a fertile year.

If the sky is clear and the stars shine brightly in the hour before sunrise on Lady Day, the year will be fruitful.

An east wind on Lady Day, will keep in till the end of May. 

If it rains on Lady Day, it will rain on all her feasts throughout the year.

If there is hoar-frost on the morning of the Annunciation, it will do no harm.

If the sun does not shine on Lady Day, there will be forty more days of winter.


Gardening - Any seed sown today will prosper and anything transplanted today will easily take root.

photo by Tim Green
"Then comes the Daffodil beside
Our Lady’s Smock at our Lady-tide,"

Our Lady’s Smock, or Cardamine Pratensis, a perennial which blooms from about now through May, would be a nice addition for your Mary Garden.


Mary blows out the candle; Michael lights it again.

At Our Lady in March we put them [candles] by; at Our Lady in September, we take them up again.

As there was now some 12 hours of daylight, it was traditional to leave off the use of candles in the evening, especially by the servants; this would last until September, either the Nativity of Our Lady (September 8) or St. Michael's Day (September 29).


Today we commemorate the message of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin full of grace that the Word was made flesh, and Mary's reply: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  Be it done to me according to thy word."  Ordinarily this is celebrated on the 25th of March, but this year the 25th fell on a Sunday, and so Annunciation is celebrated on the 26th instead.

Roger Campin, "Merode Triptych" (c1425)
[yes, I know I used the same illustration last 
year, but I love the symbolism here]

THIS great festival takes its name from the happy tidings brought by the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, concerning the incarnation of the Son of God.  It commemorates the most important embassy that was ever known: an embassy sent by the King of kings, performed by one of the chief princes of his heavenly court; directed, not to the kings or emperors of the earth, but to a poor, unknown, retired virgin, who, being endowed with the most angelic purity of soul and body, being withal perfectly humble and devoted to God, was greater in his eyes than all the sceptres in the world could make an universal monarch.  Indeed, God, by the choice which he is pleased to make of a poor virgin, for the accomplishment of the greatest of all mysteries and graces, clearly demonstrates that earthly diadems, dignities, and treasures are of no consideration with him; and that perfect humility and sanctity alone constitute true greatness.

The medieval Golden Legend believed that other incidences in the Bible occurred today as well:
This blessed Annunciation happened the twentyfifth day of the month of March, on which day happened also, as well tofore as after, these things that hereafter be named. On that same day Adam, the first man, was created and fell into original sin by inobedience, and was put out of paradise terrestrial. After, the angel showed the conception of our Lord to the glorious Virgin Mary. Also that same day of the month Cain slew Abel his brother. Also Melchisedech made offering to God of bread and wine in the presence of Abraham. Also on the same day Abraham offered Isaac his son. That same day S. John Baptist was beheaded, and S. Peter was that day delivered out of prison, and S. James the more, that day beheaded of Herod. And our Lord Jesu Christ was on that day crucified, wherefore that is a day of great reverence. 

That’s quite a bit for one day.   Thankfully, we can celebrate St. James on 25 July, St. Peter in (and out of) Chains on 1 August, and the Decollation of St. John the Baptist on 29 August.


Today was known by several names in various calendars and uses, among them: Our Lord’s Annunciation; the Feast of the Incarnation of the Word; the Annunciation of Mary; and Our Lady Day the Annunciation, which was shortened down to Lady Day.  To distinguish it from all of the other festivals of Mary in the year (also properly called Lady Days), today’s was referred to as “Lady Day in Lent” or "Lady Day in March".  In the calendar of the medieval Grandes Heures, it is merely noted (albeit grandly in gold leaf) as “Notre Dame”.

It was also known as the Festum Campanarum – the feast of bells – perhaps because of the numerous changes rung for so important a feast, or because at the ringing of the bell, all Christians saluted the Virgin with the Hail Mary, in which prayer they were joined by the angels in Heaven.

Until the 18th century, this was the first day of the civil or legal year in Great Britain (and its colonies), but in 1752, it was enacted that the legal year should start on January 1, which had long been the popular or historical first day of the year.  [Among other things, this causes no end of headaches for the genealogist trying to figure out if a person died in 1729 (as it says on his gravestone) or 1730 (as it says in his probate papers).]

Annunciation or Lady Day was the first of the quarter days, when bills and rents came due and salaries were paid.  In some places, servants who contracted to serve for a year, made or renewed their year’s agreement with their employer today, and it was generally felt that if a servant did not give notice that they were leaving their position on March 25, they would, barring accidents, continue for another year in the same place.


An odd superstition connected with today is that an egg laid on Lady Day is an effective remedy for all kinds of wounds.  The egg, to effect its healing power, must be hidden in a dark place, and kept there until the end of the year, before being put to use.

[And the Widow holds her nose.  Pewwwweee!  I suppose it might be useful on the same premise that ether is useful – you’re not going to feel anything when you’re knocked out. … In any case, if the rest of the senses are mightily assaulted, who’s going to be concerned about a minor little owee-booboo?]


In Sweden, this is Våffeldagen or Waffle Day, said to be from a mistake in pronunciation of Lady Day, but who cares?  If you are Swedish, or have Swede somewhere in your ancestry, or merely live within calling distance of either one, why not celebrate the day with Waffles, like these cardamom-flavored treasures (although fresh fruit is well in the future for me, so it is canned apples on my waffles).

A traditional treat for today is "Pope Ladies" (also called "Pop Ladies"), a yeast bread in the (rough) shape of a female figure.  Curiosities of Popular Customs (1897) offers the following explanation of its origins:
Pope Ladies. A species of buns sold in Hertfordshire, England, on the feast of the Annunciation. This is a custom that dates from a remote antiquity. A legend thus accounts for their origin. A noble lady and her attendants were benighted while traveling on the road to St. Albans.  Lights in the clock tower at the top of the hill guided their steps to the monastery, and the grateful lady gave a sum of money to provide an annual distribution to the poor on Annunciation or Lady Day of cakes baked in the form of ladies.  As this bounty was distributed by the monks, the Pope Ladies probably thus acquired their name.  At the time of the Reformation the dole came to an end, but the local bakers continued to bake and sell buns made on the same pattern.

Other sites call them "pop ladies" (as in lollipop); they are said to be a favorite addition to the New Year's Day table.  Well, at one time, Annunciation Day was considered the first day of the year, so it makes sense that once that was forgotten, the tradition would be moved to the 1st of January.

Catholic Culture has a recipe here or use your own favorite sweet yeast-bread recipe and add a little cinnamon or nutmeg to your dough.


This is a yeast-bread and needs time to rise twice.

Heat 3/4 cup of water to about 110° F.  Sprinkle 1 package of active dry yeast into the water, let it stand for a few minutes, and then stir until dissolved.

Meanwhile lightly beat 2 eggs.  In a large bowl, mix together eggs, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter.   Stir in the yeast.  In a medium bowl, mix together 3-1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 2 teaspoons of nutmeg or cinnamon.  Add 2 cups of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and and beat well until smooth. Stir in the remaining flour and beat again until smooth.  Cover bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Punch down dough (or stir it down by beating it with 25 strokes).  Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface and roll to coat (this makes it easier to handle).  Now comes the fun.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (more or less).  You can roll the pieces into balls if it will make life easier. Take one piece/ball and divide it in half.  Flatten one of the halves and shape into an oval (or a body shape) for the body.  Take the other half and divide it in half again.  Roll one of the halves into a ball and attach it to the body for a head.  Pinch off a tiny bit of the remaining half and roll into a ball to make a nose (attach it to the face).  Roll the remaining half into a cylinder about 4 inches long (these are the arms); cut in half and attach to the body, then cross the arms over the body.

Repeat with the remaining pieces.

Place about 3 inches apart on greased cookie sheets and let rise until doubled, about 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Decorate buns with currants for eyes (I don't know if Our Lady had buttons, but you could add them down the front of her dress if you like.  Or decorate the hem).  Brush with egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water).  Bake in the preheated hot oven until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

20 March 2012

20 March - Vernal Equinox

Astronomically speaking, winter turned into spring at 1:14 this morning, at least for those in the northern hemisphere.  The days are getting warmer and longer, the sun is moving higher in the sky.  We are out in our yards cleaning up the debris left by winter and planning this year's gardens.  The last couple of days have been warm enough that I can open the windows and let some 'real air' circulate throughout the house.

And soon, the voice of the mower will be heard in the land...

If the weather is agreeable and you have a burn permit, why not gather all the fallen branches, dead wood, and garden clearings into a pile and have a vernal bonfire (the ashes can be worked back into your garden again).


Weather particular to the Equinox –  

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

If the wind is northeast or north at noon of the equinox, there will be no fine weather until midsummer. If the wind is southwest or south, there will be fine weather until midsummer.

A southwest wind at the equinox indicates rain.

If the wind is northeast at the equinox, it will be a good season for wheat and bad for other kinds of grain.  If south or south-west, it will be a good season for other kinds of grain and bad for wheat.

The vernal equinoctial gales are stronger than the autumnal.

Easterly gales without rain during the spring equinox foretell a dry summer.

If a storm comes from the east today (or in the next week), the summer will be dry; if from the southwest, the summer will be wet.

As the equinoctial storms clear, so will all storms clear for the six months.

If near the time of the equinox it blows in the day, it generally hushes towards evening.

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

Weather particular to Spring –

A mild winter, a dry spring.
A severe winter, a rainy spring.

Lightning in spring indicates a good fruit year.

Thunder in spring,
cold will bring.

Listen for the direction of the first thunder in spring.  If it is from the south, it indicates a wet season; if from the north, a dry season.

The thunderstorms of the season will come from the same quarter as the first one of the season.

Early thunder, early spring.

A rainy spring means a serene summer.

A dry spring, a rainy summer.
A wet, spring, a dry harvest.

A rainbow in spring indicates fair weather for twenty-four hours.

Cold weather in spring makes the ass shiver [yes indeed. And the rest of me as well]

A late spring
Is a great blessing  
 (because plants that come up too early in the season have every opportunity of being killed by frost or cold weather)
A late spring never deceives 
(doesn’t tempt you to put away your winter woolies or set out the tomato plants, only to see them fall victim to the last snow of the season – in April)

If the spring is cold and wet, then the autumn will be hot and dry.

When the dandelions bloom early in spring, there will be a short season.  When they bloom late, expect a dry summer.

Spring has not arrived till you can set your foot on twelve daisies [will twelve dandelions do?]

17 March 2012

17 March - Saint Gertrude; Champ

If Saint Joseph’s day is clear,
we shall get a fertile year
[A Somerset rhyme which refers to Saint Joseph of Arimathea, a popular saint in that county, whose feast is today]

If the cow does not walk in clover on Saint Gertrude’s day, then will she yet walk in snow.

If it is fine weather on St. Gertrude’s day, it is time to begin spring planting.

Sow the seeds of the Sweet Pea flower before sunrise on St. Patrick’s day, for larger and more fragrant blossoms.


“At Nivelle in Brabant, St. Gertrude, a virgin of noble birth.  Because she despised the world, and during her whole life practiced all kinds of good works, she deserved to have Christ for her spouse in heaven.”

Today is the feast of Saint Gertrude, Abbess of Nivelles, born in 626 to Pepin of Landen (Belgium), Mayor of the Palace, and Saint Itta; her elder sister was Saint Begga of Andenne (ancestress of the Carolingians), her younger brother was Saint Bavo of Ghent, and her god-daughter was Saint Gudule of Brabant.

With a family like that, what else can you do but establish religious foundations and be an abbess?

She did, and she was, and was very good at both.

After the death of her father when she was 13, her mother erected a Benedictine double monastery (both men and women, separated of course) at Nivelles, and eventually appointed her daughter as abbess.  Young Gertrude ruled the monastery capably and well, but her first love was study, especially that of the Holy Scriptures, and after her mother’s death, entrusted the management of temporal things to a group of competent monks and nuns and gave herself to study and to building churches and hospices for travelers.  She died in an odor of sanctity on 17 March 659, at the age of 33, worn out by her many austerities.

According to William Jones, in his Credulities Past and Present (1898), “St. Gertrude of Nivelles is the patroness of rat-catchers, and in the Ardennes, when rats become unusually troublesome in a house, it is sufficient to write the following words on morsels of paper, which must afterwards be well buttered: “Rats et rates, vous qui avez mangé le cœur de Sainte Gertrude, je vous conjure, en son nom, de vous en aller dans la plaine de Rocroi.  There are other forms, but all that is essential is to adjure the rats, or the great king of the rats, to “remember” St. Gertrude… It is necessary to name a place to which the rats who are to be expelled can retire, and to take care that, if there be any running water in the way, there is a bridge over which they may pass.”

[Of course, the current occupants of the place to which we adjure the rats to retire might not have charitable thoughts about us, as they go about buttering their own pieces of paper]

The Dictionary of Christian Biography (1880) says that she is “patron saint of travelers, pilgrims, cats, of several towns in the Netherlands, against fever and against damage by rats and mice, especially the out of door sorts [field mice].  She is represented with rats and mice at her feet, or running up her pastoral staff, or on her dress.”

[She is also said to be the patroness of the souls of the recently deceased and of those in Purgatory, which I have only been able to trace back to the writings of Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould (1870s).  I keep a salt-shaker handy when reading Rev. Sabine.  He wasn’t overly scrupulous at times in his ‘facts’.]

Ah, but this is the Great Day of the Irish, is it not?  Well, then, let us give the life of Belgian Saint Gertrude a bit of Irish flavor.  In the article “St. Fursey’s Life and Visions” (The Irish Monthly, Volume 12, 1884), the anonymous author writes:

“During his mission in Austrasia St. Fursey became acquainted with one of the most remarkable and saintly personages of the time, Gertrude, daughter of Pepin of Landen, and Abbess of Nivelles.  After the death of Pepin (variously stated as having occurred between 640 and 649), his widow, St. Itta, founded the monastery just named, and retired to it with her daughter, whom, though young in years, she soon appointed abbess.  Gertrude held large territorial possessions in her own right, and being closely connected with magnates of the day, exercised a wide personal influence.  Simple and mortified in her manner of life, as became a religious, she was deeply versed in the Sacred Scriptures, munificent in her charities, and great in all her undertakings.

Under her rule, Nivelles was constituted as a double monastery, with an order of canons to perform priestly functions, instruct the nuns in spiritual matters, and manage the temporal affairs of the establishment.  Asylums for widows and orphans, and houses for the reception of pilgrims and travellers, were supported by the monastery and entrusted to the discipline of the canons and canonesses of the institute.  In a word, the monastery of Nivelles became the centre of an immense field of religious work, extending throughout Brabant and the neighbouring countries; and the saintly abbess exercised over the mother-house and its dependencies a regal sway, directed by singular wisdom and prudence.  It is easy to imagine the veneration in which St. Gertrude held the Irish abbot and his band of missioners, so rigidly austere in their life, so magnificent in their self devotion, so marvellously successful in spreading the light of faith.  She consulted St. Fursey in weighty matters, and aided him in the work of his apostolate.

After the death of St. Fursey the abbess sent to England to invite his brothers, St. Foillan and St. Ultan, to come over and instruct her community in sacred psalmody.  "For," says Frederick Ozanam, "the Irish excelled in the ecclesiastical chant, and it was among them that the Frankish princesses sought masters to teach the nuns of their monasteries to sing in a becoming manner the praises of God.  The invitation was accepted. Foillan remained at Nivelle, but Ultan after some time was appointed Abbot of Fosses, a monastery which St. Gertrude had built and endowed for Irish monks.  When the abbess felt that her last hour was approaching, she sent one of the canons of her monastery to Fosses to ask St. Ultan when she must die.  "Then," to quote the Rev. S. Baring-Gould, '' the saint replied to the messenger, ‘To-morrow, during the celebration of the Holy Mass, Gertrude, the spouse of Jesus Christ, will depart this life, to enjoy that which is eternal.  Tell her not to fear, for St. Patrick, accompanied by blessed angels, will receive her soul into glory.'  And it was so, that after she had received extreme unction, and while the priest was reciting the prayers before the preface in the Holy Sacrifice, on the morrow, the second Sunday in Lent, she breathed forth her pure soul."   Fosses long maintained its character as an Irish monastery, and was much resorted to by pilgrims from Erin.”

Which brings us back to that other saint whose feast is today.  The traditional meal in his honor is corned beef and cabbage, also known as New England Boiled Dinner, but since that creates the Battle of the Boyne in my midsection, I shall content myself with CHAMP:

Prepare and boil 6 – 8 potatoes.  Drain and mash them slightly.

Chop enough spring onions or scallions to equal 1 cup and cook them until soft in 2/3 cup of milk.

Melt 1 stick of butter, and keep warm. Add the onions to the potatoes, with salt and pepper to taste, and beat well, adding enough of the milk to make the dish creamy [since I always have very mealy potatoes, I use up all of the milk and sometimes more]

Pile the potatoes in individual bowls and make a well in the center of each serving to hold the melted butter.  It is eaten from the outside, with each spoonful dipped in the butter.

If that is too much straight butter and your own insides are liable to mount a protest, melt half of it in the warmed milk and mix it into the mashed potatoes… and use the remainder at your discretion.

And for the patron saint of cats and those owned by them:


10 March 2012

10 March - Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste

Weather – As the weather is on the day of the Forty Martyrs, so it will be for forty days.

As on Forty Martyrs, so on St. Peter’s (June 29).

If it doesn't freeze on the 10th, a fertile year may be expected.
                            On the other hand
Mists or hoar-frosts on the 10th of March betoken a plentiful year, but not without some diseases.


“At Sebaste, in Armenia, under the governor Agricolaus, in the time of the emperor Licinius, the birthday of forty holy soldiers of Cappadocia.  After being loaded with chains and confined in foul dungeons, after having their faces brused with stones, and being condemned to spend the night naked, during the coldest part of winter, on a frozen lake, where their bodies were benumbed and laid open by the frost, they ended their martyrdom by having their limbs crushed.  The noblest of them were Cyrion and Candidus.  Their glorious triumph has been celebrated by St. Basil and other Fathers in their writings.”
Roman Martyrology

“The celebrated forty martyrs suffered at Sebaste in Lesser Armenia in 320. They all belonged to the thundering Legion so famous under the guidance of Marcus Aurelius for the miraculous rain and the victory said to be obtained by their prayers.  They suffered for refusing to comply with a general order to sacrifice to the heathen gods, issued by the Emperor Licinius.”
Circle of the Seasons, Thomas Ignatius M. Forster (1828)

"According to St. Basil the forty heroes were soldiers, born in different parts of the world, all young and brave. Upon the promulgation of the edict of persecution, they went before the governor and proclaimed themselves Christians. The governor was lavish of promises and threats in his efforts to win them over. He was unsuccessful. They answered with spirit that they held in equal contempt the transient joys and ills of this mortal life, and were ready to die for their God.

The furious governor invented a novel torture for these courageous Christians. The climate of that country is extremely severe, the north wind blowing with great violence. He ordered the forty confessors of the Faith to be exposed naked to the chilly blasts, in the middle of the city. The cruel sentence was heard with exultation. With mutual exhortations to constancy, the martyrs divested themselves of their garments, and calmly awaited the approach of death. They sent up this common prayer to God: "Lord, to the number of forty have we entered the arena, grant to all forty the crown. May no unit be lacking to a number which Thou hast chosen for a special purpose."

A warm bath had been prepared near by for those who should wish to save themselves by renouncing Christ. One of the soldiers, losing heart, sought relief in the proffered bath; but no sooner had the hapless man touched the warm water than he expired. One of the guards, however, was favored with a vision: angels descended from heaven distributing crowns to all, except the renegade. Moved by the sight, he declared himself a Christian, and succeeded to the place and crown of the apostate.

At daybreak, they came to commit the bodies to the flames. One of the martyrs, younger and more vigorous than the others, was still breathing. He was left behind by the executioners, in the hope that he might be induced to change his views. But the mother of the youth, who was present at the scene, placed him with her own hands upon the cart with the others, exhorting him to persevere unto the end. He was burnt with his companions, and their remains were cast into the river.

We are indebted to St. Gregory of Nyssa for another interesting particular concerning our martyrs. They belonged to a legion which had already become famous in the Christian annals by saving the Roman army at a crucial moment, through the impetration of a miraculous rain. This was the Twelfth or Thundering Legion.”
The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Volume 24 (1899)

The Orthodox Church celebrates the Forty Martyrs on the 9th of March (yesterday) and I’ve found that those in the area of Romania and Moldavia have a traditional sweet for today only called “Mucenici” after their title for the day, “Mucenicii”.  These are forty pieces of dough formed in a figure-8 and either boiled in a sugar-cinnamon bath or baked and topped with honey and walnuts.

[Next year, I will find someone in the Smallest State who makes these delectable treats!]

Another tradition is that the men must take 40 or 44 drinks of wine in honor of the 40 martyrs [and not the women?  You make me sad.]

05 March 2012

St. Piran and the Visitation

This story comes from The Delectable Duchy: Stories, Studies, and Sketches, by ‘Q’ (Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch), 1893.


A full fifty years had St. Piran dwelt among the sandhills between Perranzabuloe and the sea before any big rush of saints began to pour into Cornwall: for 'twas not till the old man had discovered tin for us that they sprang up thick as blackberries all over the county; so that in a way St. Piran had only himself to blame when his idle ways grew to be a scandal by comparison with the push and bustle of the newcomers.

Never a notion had he that, from Rome to Land's End, all his holy brethren were holding up their hands over his case.  He sat in his cottage above the sands at Perranzabuloe and dozed to the hum of the breakers, in charity with all his parishioners, to whom his money was large as the salt wind; for his sleeping partnership in the tin-streaming business brought him a tidy income.  And the folk knew that if ever they wanted religion, they had only to knock and ask for it.

But one fine morning, an hour before noon, the whole parish sprang to its feet at the sound of a horn.  The blast was twice repeated, and came from the little cottage across the sands.  "Tis the blessed saint's cow-horn!" they told each other. "Sure the dear man must be in the article of death!"  And they hurried off to the cottage, man, woman, and child: for 'twas thirty years at least since the horn had last been sounded.

They pushed open the door, and there sat St. Piran in his arm-chair, looking good for another twenty years, but considerably flustered.  His cheeks were red, and his fingers clutched the cowhorn nervously.

"Andrew Penhaligon," said he to the first man that entered, "go you out and ring the church bell."  Off ran Andrew Penhaligon.  

"But, blessed father of us," said one or two, "we're all here!  There's no call to ring the church bell, seein' you're neither dead nor afire, blessamercy!"

"Oh, if you're all here, that alters the case, for 'tis only a proclamation I have to give out at present.  Tomorrow mornin' – Glory be to God! – I give warnin' that Divine service will take place in the parish church."

"You're sartin you hain't feelin' poorly, St. Piran dear?" asked one of the women.

"Thank you, Tidy Mennear, I'm enjoyin' health.  But, as I was sayin', the parish church'll be needed tomorrow, an' so you'd best set to and clean out the edifice: for I'm thinkin'," he added, "it'll be needin' that."

"To be sure, St. Piran dear, we'll humour ye."

"'Tisn' that at all," the saint answered; "but I've had a vision."

"Don't you often?"

"H'm! but this was a peculiar vision; or maybe a bit of a birdeen whispered it into my ear.  Anyway, 'twas revealed to me just now in a dream that I stood on the lawn at Bodmin Priory, and peeped in at the Priory window.  An' there in the long hall sat all the saints together at a big table covered with red baize, and plotted against us.  There was St. Petroc in the chair, with St. Guron by his side, an' St. Neot, St. Udy, St. Teath, St. Keverne, St. Wen, St. Probus, St. Enodar, St. Just, St. Fimbarrus, St. Clether, St. Germoe, St. Veryan, St. Winnock, St. Minver, St. Anthony, with the virgins Grace, and Sinara, and Iva – the whole passel of 'em.  An' they were agreein' there was no holiness left in this parish of mine; an' speakin' shame of me, my childer – of me, that have banked your consciences these fifty years, and always been able to pay on demand: the more by token that I kept a big reserve, an' you knew it.  Answer me: when was there ever a panic in Perranzabuloe?'  'Twas all very well,' said St. Neot, when his turn came to speak, 'but this state o' things ought to be exposed.'  He's as big as bull's beef, is St. Neot, ever since he worked that miracle over the fishes, an' reckons he can disparage an old man who was makin' millstones to float when he was suckin' a coral.  But the upshot is, they're goin' to pay us a Visitation tomorrow, by surprise.  And, if only for the parish credit, we'll be even wid um, by dad!"

(St. Piran still lapsed into his native brogue when strongly excited.)

But he had hardly done when Andrew Penhaligon came running in – "St. Piran, honey, I've searched everywhere; an' be hanged to me if I can find the church at all!"

"Fwhat's become av ut?" cried the saint, sitting up sharply.

"How should I know?  But devil a trace can I see!"

"Now, look here," St. Piran said; "the church was there, right enough."

"That's a true word," spoke up an old man, "for I mind it well. An elegant tower it had, an' a shingle roof."

"Spake up, now," said the saint, glaring around; "fwich av ye's gone an' misbestowed me parush church?  For I won't believe," he said, "that it's any worse than carelussness— at laste, not yet-a-bit."

Some remembered the church, and some did not: but the faces of all were clear of guilt.  They trooped out on the sands to search.

Now, the sands by Perranzabuloe are forever shifting and driving before the northerly and nor'-westerly gales; and in time had heaped themselves up and covered the building out of sight.  To guess this took the saint less time than you can wink your eye in; but the bother was that no one remembered exactly where the church had stood, and as there were two score at least of tall mounds along the shore, and all of pretty equal height, there was no knowing where to dig.  To uncover them all was a job to last till doomsday.

"Blur-an'-agurs, but it's ruined I am!" cried St. Piran. "An' the Visitashun no further away than to-morra at tin a.m.!"  He wrung his hands, then caught up a spade, and began digging like a madman.

They searched all day, and with lanterns all the night through: they searched from Ligger Point to Porth Towan: but came on never a sign of the missing church.

"If it only had a spire," one said, "there'd be some chance."  But as far as could be recollected, the building had a dumpy tower.

"Once caught, twice shy," said another; "let us find it this once, an' next time we'll have landmarks to dig it out by."

It was at sunrise that St. Piran, worn-out and heart-sick, let fall his spade and spoke from one of the tall mounds, where he had been digging for an hour.  "My children," he began, and the men uncovered their heads, "my children, we are going to be disgraced this day, and the best we can do is to pray that we may take it like men.  Let us pray."

He knelt down on the great sand-hill, and the men and women around dropped on their knees also.  And then St. Piran put up the prayer that has made his name famous all the world over.

Hear us, 0 Lord, and be debonair: for ours is a particular case.  We are not like the men of St. Neot or the men of St. Udy, who are for ever importuning Thee upon the least occasion, praying at all hours and every day of the week.  Thou knowest it is only with extreme cause that we bring ourselves to trouble Thee.  Therefore regard our moderation in time past, and be forward to help us now. Amen.

There was silence for a full minute as he ceased; and then the kneeling parishioners lifted their eyes towards the top of the mound.

St. Piran was nowhere to be seen!

They stared into each other's faces. For a while not a sound was uttered. Then a woman began to sob – "We've lost 'en! We've lost 'en!"

"Like Enoch, he's been taken!"

"Taken up in a chariot an' horses o' fire.  Did any see 'en go?"

"An' what'll we do without 'en?  Holy St. Piran, come back to us!"

"Hullo! hush a bit an' hearken!" cried Andrew Penhaligon, lifting a hand.  They were silent, and listening as he commanded, heard a muffled voice and a faint calling as it were from the bowels of the earth.

"Fetch a ladder !" it said: "fetch a ladder!  It's meself that's found ut, glory be to God!  Holy queen av Heaven! but me mouth is full av sand, an' it's burstin' I'll be if ye don't fetch a ladder quick!"

They brought a ladder and set it against the mound. Three of the men climbed up.  At the top they found a big round hole, from the lip of which they scraped the sand away, discovering a patch of shingle roof, through which St. Piran – whose weight had increased of late – had broken and tumbled heels over head into his own church.


Three hours later there appeared on the eastern sky-line, against the yellow blaze of the morning, a large cavalcade that slowly pricked its way over the edge and descended the slopes of Newlyn Downs.  It was the Visitation.  In the midst rode St. Petroc, his crozier tucked under his arm, astride a white mule with scarlet ear-tassels and bells and a saddle of scarlet leather.  He gazed across the sands to the sea, and turned to St. Neot, who towered at his side upon a flea-bitten grey.

"The parish seems to be deserted," said he: "not a man nor woman can I see, nor a trace of smoke above the chimneys."

St. Neot tightened his thin lips. In his secret heart he was mightily pleased. "Eight in the morning," he answered, with a glance back at the sun. "They'll be all abed, I'll warrant you."

St. Petroc muttered a threat.

They entered the village street.  Not a soul turned out at their coming.  Every cottage door was fast closed, nor could any amount of knocking elicit an answer or entice a face to a window.  In gathering wrath the visiting saints rode along the sea-shore to St. Piran's small hut.  Here the door stood open: but the hut was empty.  A meagre breakfast of herbs was set out on the table, and a brand new scourge lay somewhat ostentatiously beside the platter.  The visitors stood nonplussed; looked at each other; then eyed the landscape.  Between barren sea and barren downs the beach stretched away, with not a human shape in sight.  St. Petroc, choking with impotent wrath, appeared to study the hollow green breakers from between the long ears of his mule, but with quick sidelong glances right and left, ready to jump down the throat of the first saint that dared to smile.

After a minute or so St. Enodar suddenly turned his face inland, and held up a finger.  "Hark!" he shouted above the roar of the sea.

"What is it?"

"It sounds to me," said St. Petroc, after listening for some moments with his head on one side, " it sounds to me like a hymn."

"To be sure 'tis a hymn," said St. Enodar, "and the tune is ' Mullyon,' for a crown." And he pursed up his lips and followed the chant, beating time with his forefinger

When, like a thief, the Midianite
Shall steal upon the camp,
O, let him find our armour bright,
And oil within our lamp!

"But where in the world does it come from ?" asked St. Neot.

This could not be answered for the moment, but the saints turned their horses' heads from the sea, and moved slowly on the track of the sound, which at every step grew louder and more distinct.

It is at no appointed hours,
It is not by the clock,
That Satan, grisly wolf, devours
The unprotected flock.”

The visitors found themselves at the foot of an enormous sand-hill, from the top of which the chant was pouring as lava from a crater.  They set their ears to the sandy wall.  They walked round it, and listened again.

But ever prowls th’ insidious foe,
And listens round the fold.

This was too much.  St. Petroc smote twice upon the sand-hill with his crozier, and shouted—"Hi, there!"

The chant ceased.  For at least a couple of minutes nothing happened; and then St. Piran's bald head was thrust cautiously forward over the summit.

"Holy St. Petroc!  Was it only you, after all?  And St. Neot – and St. Udy!  O, glory be!"

"Why, who did you imagine we were?"  St. Petroc asked, still in amazement.

"Why, throat-cutting Danes, to be sure, by the way you were comin' over the hills when we spied you, three hours back.  An' the trouble we've had to cover up our blessed church out o' sight of thim marautherin' thieves!  An' the intire parish gathered inside here an' singin' holy songs in expectation of imminent death!  An' to think 'twas you holy men, all the while!  But why didn't ye send word ye was comin', St. Petroc, darlint?  For it's little but sand ye'll find in your mouths for breakfast, I'm thinkin'."

04 March 2012

5 March - Saint Piran

Weather – There will be heavy rains on the first Monday in March.


This is the feast of Saint Piran or Peran, patron of tinners and tin-miners, and one of the patron saints of Cornwall.  Like St. David’s day for the Welsh, this is a day when Cornish the world over celebrate their heritage.

Flag of St. Piran

Tradition says that St. Piran was an Irishman, who, after feeding ten chieftains and their armies and restoring many of the fallen warriors to life, was rewarded as follows:

“On a boisterous day, a crowd of the lawless Irish assembled on the brow of a beetling cliff, with Piran in chains.  By great labour they had rolled a huge millstone to the top of the hill, and Piran was chained to it.  At a signal from one of the kings, the stone and the saint were rolled to the edge of, and suddenly over, the cliff into the Atlantic.  The winds were blowing tempestuously, the heavens were dark with clouds, and the waves white with crested foam.  No sooner was Piran and the millstone launched into space, than the sun shone out brightly, casting the full luster of its beams on the holy man, who sat tranquilly on the descending stone.  The winds died away, and the waves became smooth as a mirror.  The moment the millstone touched the water, hundreds were converted to Christianity who saw this miracle. “

The millstone, instead of sinking, acted as a flotation device, and on this St. Piran cruised to the northwestern coast of Cornwall, where he established an oratory and preached amongst the Cornish people for many years.

He is said to have rediscovered the lost art of tin-smelting (when the ore in his overheated black hearthstone leaked out and rose to the top in the form of a cross) and to have passed on this knowledge to his neighbors as a way for them to make a living.  For this, he was much esteemed and venerated by the tinners and miners, and his day celebrated with such gusto that subsequently anyone unable to keep between the ditches (as it were) on the way home was labeled a ‘Perraner’.

The webpage An-Daras lists events that are being held in Cornwall for St. Piran-tide, if you a lucky enough to be there.  Here in the US, Grass Valley in California holds a St. Piran’s Day celebration.  The Southwest Wisconsin Cornish Society wisely holds their festival in August (right about now, there is usually a goodly amount of snow).

And today, one should enjoy a bottle of Skinner's St. Piran's Ale and a good Cornish pasty (which should weigh a couple of pounds; no wimpy turnovers here).  There are other recipes on that page, if a pasty doesn't float your millstone, like the Star Gazy Pie with the fish heads sticking out.  The Leeky Pie looks much more appetizing.

Omlowen dha bos!

03 March 2012

3 March - Saint Winwaloe; Shrimp Chowder

WeatherEmber Day – The weather today foretells the weather of June.

Thunder on St. Cunigunda’s day foretells a second winter.


Today is the feast of Saint Winwallus, aka Winwaloe, abbot, the third person in the weather-rhyme:

First comes David, next come Chad
Then comes Winnal roaring mad *
White or black,
Or old house thack (i.e. bringing snow, rain, or heavy winds)
*(or, “roaring like mad”, or “as if he was mad”, or “as though he was mad”, or “blowing mad”)

A good Celtic name transplanted from one Celtic country (Wales) to another (Brittany) and back again (Cornwall, and points north), it is variously rendered as Bennoc, Guénolé, Onolaus, Valois, Winwalloe, Winwalve, and several other variations, and in the above weather-rhyme, “Winnold”, “Winneral”, “Whinwall”, “Winnel” and “Winnol”

His father was a Welsh noble who fled with his family across the Channel to the western coast of Brittany during a threatened Saxon invasion in the latter part of the 5th century.  Winwaloe, as the third son, was destined for the Church, and at an early age was sent to study under the tutelage of St. Budoc.   Obeying a vision of the recently deceased Saint Patrick, Winwaloe and eleven companions established a monastery on the small island of Tibidy in the Celtic Sea, where they could maintain a truly eremitical existence.  However, the soil there was too poor for agriculture, and the island was so constantly visited by violent winds and storms, that the monastery was abandoned after three years.

[All jokes about jolly fat friars aside, the monastic saints were, as a rule, not easily turned by a little suffering.  In fact, they welcomed it, and their stories are replete with the original ways that they found to add a little suffering to their already sacrificial lives – living on top of a column, rolling in a bed of nettles, repeating the psalms while submerged to the neck in a pool of freezing water – and these on top of the usual hair-shirts, rock mattresses, and starvation diets.

In Winwaloe’s monastery, the monks ate no wheat bread or drank wine, except in the sacrifice of the Mass.  They ate coarse barley-bread and boiled herbs and roots [which doesn’t sound so bad if you think of it as cooked spinach and boiled carrots] and drank water or a weak herbal tea (“water boiled with a small decoction of certain wild herbs”).  On Sundays, they were allowed a treat in the form of cheese and shellfish.  Winwaloe, himself, ate only barley-bread mixed with ashes (more ashes added on feast days), wore an outfit composed of goatskin with a hair-shirt beneath, and slept on a pile of bark with a stone pillow.

With such a routinely miserable existence, the storms must have been great indeed to make the monks abandon the island for a more protected location.]

The new foundation was at Landévennec to the southwest, about fifteen miles by land around the Celtic Sea, but only about a mile over the water.  Winwaloe took the short route and walked across from Tibidy.  This monastery, where he died in 530, flourished until its destruction during the raids of the Norsemen in 914.  Prior to that, it had established daughter houses, notably in Cornwall and in East Anglia, where the destructive storms coming off the North Sea were called “Whinwall storms”.


There is a delicious Breton fish soup/stew called Cotriade, which looks like something that the less saintly of Winwaloe’s monks might have thoroughly enjoyed on a festival day.  Two recipes can be found here and here, and there are dozens of others. Some of the recipes declare that shellfish must never be used, and others suggest [and act on the suggestion] that shellfish would make the soup even more excellent.

[The use of shellfish in Cotriade probably incites as many heated discussions as does the rivalry between New England and Manhattan Clam Chowders.  Trust me.  Do not even hint of tomatoes when the New England chowder is cooking.  Memories are long here.]

Well, since the monks enjoyed shellfish and cheese, and it is a cold day, let us honor them with SHRIMP CHOWDER, which likely would have sent them to confession and penance for the rest of their days:

Rinse 2 pounds of shrimp, but do not shell.

Start with enough salted water to cover; heat to boiling and drop the shrimp into the water.  Simmer, covered, until the shrimp are pink, about 2 to 5 minutes.  Drain, reserving broth.  Shell and devein shrimp [and the voice of experience suggests that you let them cool first].

Meanwhile, mince a small onion to equal ½ cup, and dice 2-3 potatoes (more or less, depending on size) to equal 2 cups.  Shred cheddar or other favorite shreddable cheese to equal ½ cup [this is optional].

If you are using the traditional salt pork, dice ¼ pound and cook it in a large pot or saucepan until it is brown and crisp.  Remove crisp bits and set aside.  Otherwise, you can use 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil.

In the chosen fat, cook the onion until it is soft.  Add 2 cups of the strained shrimp broth and the diced potatoes to the pot and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, heat 3 cups of mixed milk and light cream [half of each or whatever you’ve got] to just simmering.  Remove from heat.  Stir in shredded cheese until melted, and keep warm.

When potatoes are tender, add the shrimps and milk/cream (and the pork bits if you’ve got ‘em), and heat through.

Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of parsley on each.  A nice crusty bread is a good accompaniment, and if you didn’t add cheese to the chowder [or even if you did], a plate of fromage and fruit will end the repast nicely.

02 March 2012

Spring Ember Days

WeatherEmber Day.  The weather today foretells the weather in May


The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following Ash Wednesday are the Lenten or Spring Ember Days - days of fasting and abstinence in which we ask God for a blessing on the newly tilled and planted fields and pray that no frost or blight destroys the crop.  Our prayers also should be for the help and grace to moderate our pride and to remove our tendencies to lust.

The Golden Legend says why we fast during the Spring or Printemps Ember Days:

Let us fast in March which is printemps for to repress the heat of the flesh boiling, and to quench luxury or to temper it.

[We should fast] for these fastings here begin in March in the first week of the Lent, to the end that vices wax dry in us, for they may not all be quenched; or because that we cast them away, and the boughs and herbs of virtues may grow in us.

In March and in printemps the blood* grows and augments, Then we fast in March for to attemper and depress the blood of concupiscence disordinate, for sanguine of his nature is full of fleshly concupiscence.

Printemps is likened to the air. [We fast] that the air of pride be attempered [moderated] to us.

March is reported to infancy. [We fast] in March that we may be in the infancy of innocency.

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! 

01 March 2012

1 March - Seth the Patriarch

Weather – If it snows on the first day of March, there will be snow for thirty days.

Wherever the wind lies on St. Eudoxia’s day, there it will remain during the spring and summer.

First comes David, next comes Chad,
Then comes Winnall as if he was mad.  (March coming in like a lion)


Gardening – Upon St. David’s day
                         Put oats and barley in the clay.

David and Chad
Sow peas, good or bad.

Sow the seeds of the Sweet Pea flower between St. David and St. Benedict [21 March]

Today is, of course, the feast of Saint David of Wales, and I shall enjoy Cawl Cennin (Leek Broth – must have leeks!) and Glamorgan Sausages.

Today is also dedicated to Seth the Patriarch, third son of Adam and Eve, and an ancestor of our Lord.  Not much is given in Genesis about him:

“Adam also knew his wife again: and she brought forth a son, and called his name Seth, saying: God hath given me another seed, for Abel whom Cain slew.  But to Seth also was born a son, whom he called Enos; this man began to call upon the name of the Lord…. And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begot a son to his own image and likeness, and called his name Seth…Seth also lived a hundred and five years, and begot Enos.  And Seth lived after he begot Enos, eight hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters.  And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died.”  Genesis 4:25, 26. 5:3, 6-8.

Of course, a paucity of material never bothered medieval man.  Perhaps Seth’s name, which means placed or planted, engendered the traditions from which a legend emerged tying his father and him to the Cross on which our Savior died.  As there were several traditions, there were also a few differences here and there, but the story goes something like this:

When Adam came to the end of his 930 years and desired to die, he sent his son Seth to fetch the oil of mercy from Paradise, which he had been promised when he was thrust out of Eden.  Seth followed the footsteps of Adam and Eve back to Paradise and found an angel bearing a sword of fire guarding the gate, who barred his way, but permitted him “a glimpse of the Paradise lost by his father's transgression.  Seth beheld a crystal fountain whose sands were of silver, through which the water rolled in four mighty rivers.  Before the fountain was a gigantic tree, but bare of fruit and foliage; around its trunk a terrible serpent had writhed himself and had burned the bark and devoured the leaves.  Beneath the tree was an awful precipice, for its roots reached to the depths of Hell. The only human inhabitant there was Cain [Seth’s older brother], who strove to climb the tree to re-enter Paradise, but the roots, as if instinct with life, twined around and entangled the murderer, even penetrating his flesh.  Appalled, Seth raised his eyes to implore mercy, and gazed at the top of the tree.  Its head reached unto Heaven, and its branches were covered with foliage, flowers, and fruit, and what was most beautiful of all, a little babe was listening to the songs of seven white doves circling around him, and a woman more glorious and lovely than the moon bore the child in her arms.

The angel refused to give Seth the oil of mercy, but gave him instead, as a token of future grace and pardon, either three seeds from the Tree of Life or one of its branches, to be buried with his father.  Seth returned and told his father what the angel had said, whereupon Adam laughed for the first time since his transgression and happily died.  Seth placed the seeds/branch in Adam’s mouth and buried him in the Valley of Hebron.

As time passed, the seeds/branch grew into a sapling (some versions say three saplings which grew into one) as seen here.  Now the histories of this sapling diverge slightly.  It is said that Noah took the tree and Adam’s remains into the ark; afterward, the skull (with the sapling still growing out of it) was reburied where, many centuries hence, it would be called ‘Golgotha’, the place of the skull.  Moses uprooted the sapling and used it as his rod, but not being allowed to carry it into the Promised Land, he planted it in Moab.  King David, following a vision, found it and transplanted it in his private garden in Jerusalem.  It grew to gigantic size and King Solomon had it cut down to form one of the columns for the Temple, but no matter how it was measured, it was either too long or too short for the purpose.  A prophecy by the Queen of Sheba and/or a prophetess of Jerusalem – that the kingdom would come to its end upon that wood – caused the Jews to bury the log in the ground (another version says that Solomon’s greedy grandson stole the gold and jewels with which the king had adorned the wood, and buried the log to hide his thievery).  Where it was buried, a pool of healing water emerged, called Bethesda.

At the appointed time, the log floated to the surface of the pool, and from it the Cross of our Lord – the Tree of Life – was formed.

Well done, Seth.

Artwork: Hours of Catherine of Cleves