27 May 2012

Pentecost; Whitsunday; Baked Custard


The quarter in which the wind is found on the eve of Pentecost, there it will remain for six weeks.

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 brings 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]

A wet Pentecost, a prosperous Christmas.
A bright Pentecost, Christmas in drought.

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

If it rains on Whit-Monday, it will rain for seven Sundays.


Today is Pentecost, Dies Pentecostes, 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.

Wear red today.

Sundays, Easter, and Pentecost are said to have been the only feasts celebrated by the early church.  Formerly it had a Lent of forty days following, with the usual fasting and abstinence; this became an octave, and now is reduced to a few days at most, and no fasting or abstinence in sight.

Whitsunday, by which Pentecost was known in England, may have taken its name from the practice of those newly baptized at Easter and during Paschaltide wearing their white garments or albs.  The octave following both Easter and Pentecost was known as albae (white) or Hebdomada in Albis in early medieval times.  Other sources suggest that the proper word is Witsonday, commemorating the Holy Spirit's enlightenment of man's 'wit' or understanding.  Still another argues that it has come down through different Germanic dialects as a corruption of the old Saxon Whingsten and Whinstun, which in modern German is Pfingsten (Pentecost).

Another name for Whitsunday is Pascha Rosarum – Rose Easter – either because the Queen of Flowers is blooming about now or because red rose petals would be scattered from the church roof or upper sections on the congregants below, in emulation of the tongues of flame which fell on Mary and the Apostles and those gathered with them.  In some churches, white doves or pigeons were let fly through the church, representing the Holy Spirit (usually pictured as a white dove).

Naogeorgus naturally sneered at the local customs:
“On Whitsunday, white Pigeons tame, in strings from heaven fly,
And one that framed is of wood, still hangeth in the sky.
You see how they with Idols play, and teach the people to,
None otherwise than little girls with puppets used to do.”

Two hundred years later, Henry Kirke White (1785-1806) found Whitsuntide (Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday) to be an enjoyable event of music and dancing and ghost stories:

     Hark, how merrily, from distant tower,
     Ring round the village bells; now on the gale
     They rise with gradual swell, distinct and loud;
     Anon they die upon the pensive ear,
     Melting in faintest music. They bespeak
     A day of jubilee, and oft they bear,
     Commixt along the unfrequented shore,
     The sound of village dance and tabor loud,
     Startling the musing ear of solitude.

     Such is the jocund wake of Whitsuntide,
     When happy superstition, gabbling eld,
     Holds her unhurtful gambols. All the day
     The rustic revellers ply the mazy dance
     On the smooth-shaven green, and then at eve
     Commence the harmless rites and auguries;
     And many a tale of ancient days goes round.

     They tell of wizard seer, whose potent spells
     Could hold in dreadful thrall the labouring moon,
     Or draw the fix’d stars from their eminence,
     And still the midnight tempest; then, anon,
     Tell of uncharnelled spectres, seen to glide
     Along the lone wood's unfrequented path,
     Startling the nighted traveller; while the sound
     Of undistinguished murmurs, heard to come
     From the dark centre of the deepening glen,
     Struck on his frozen ear…

This weekend is the Festspiel of Rothenburg, an annual festival celebrated in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany, in honor of the liberation of the town after its capture by General Tilly during the Thirty Years' War, of which the main feature is Der Meistertrunk or "The Master Draught".  Rothenburg re-creates these stirring times with hundreds of citizens dressed in 17th century costume, processions, encampments, and performances of the play “Der Meistertrunk”.

The basis for this festival is described in Curiosities of Popular Customs:  “At that time, and indeed until 1803, Rothenburg was a free city. It took an active part in the Peasants' War of 1525, and in the Thirty Years' War of the following century. It was in the course of the latter, in 1631, that the celebrated Tilly appeared before Rothenburg and demanded its capitulation. This the citizens refused, with the result that the gallant little town was besieged and taken. Tilly and his generals proceeded to the Rathhaus, and demanded the municipal keys of the burgomaster. At the same time Tilly imposed a fine of thirty thousand thalers, and garrisoned the town with his soldiers.

“The burgomaster pleaded in vain for some mitigation of the penalty, until the victorious general, after remaining for some time unmoved by his entreaties, conceived the extraordinary idea of offering to restore the freedom of the town on condition that one of the inhabitants should come forward and empty at one draught an immense beaker of wine, containing about three and a half litres (over three quarts). This was an unheard-of feat even in those hard-drinking days, and for some time his offer remained unaccepted. The opportunity of freeing the town from a foreign yoke seemed, however, too important to be lost, and accordingly a patriotic citizen named Nusch resolved to attempt the difficult task imposed by the conqueror. As a matter of fact, he drained the beaker at one draught, and, although tradition relates that a severe illness followed the feat, still he saved the town, for Tilly kept his word, and restored the independence of Rothenburg.”                                            William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), p. 425.

[Can you imagine how long it took him to dry out?  I'm guessing that wine was not his tipple of choice for many moons.]

Well, if you cannot make it to Rothenberg, raise a glass of wine where you are to the memory of brave Herr Nusch.


Last year I posted a recipe for Whitpot; other traditional foods for today and the octave following are cheesecake, gooseberry pie, and BAKED CUSTARD.

For a simple baked custard, preheat your oven to 325° F.
You will need a deep baking dish which will hold the custard cups and allow hot water to come halfway up them.
Heat water for the baking dish [I use my teakettle]
Butter 6 custard cups.
Separate 2 eggs.  Reserve the yolks and use the whites for something else (like meringue cookies).  This recipe calls for 4 eggs total.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 cups of milk over low heat to just scalding (i.e., when tiny bubbles appear around the edge of the pan).

Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together until just blended the 2 egg yolks, 2 eggs, 3 tablespoons of sugar or honey, ½ teaspoon of vanilla, and a pinch of salt.

When the milk is near scalding, carefully pour part of it into the bowl and mix until well blended, then pour the contents of the bowl back into the remaining hot milk in the saucepan and mix again.

Place the custard cups in the baking pan and carefully pour the custard into them.  Sprinkle with a little ground mace or nutmeg. 

Put the pan in the oven and carefully (no splashing!) pour hot water into the baking dish so that the water comes halfway up the cups.

Bake for about 30 minutes and check.  If the custards are wiggly, bake for another 5 minutes.  If they look set, check by inserting a knife in the center of one.  If it comes out clean, they are done [if not, give them another 5 minutes and try the knife test again].

When done, remove the pan from the oven and carefully remove the cups from the water.  Cool to room temperature or chill, whichever you like.

Artwork: Pentecost. Unknown Miniaturist, French (active 12th century in Limoges). Illumination on parchment. Bibliothèque nationale de France. (swiped from Wikipedia)

17 May 2012

Beating the Bounds

While Catholics went about the parish on the Minor Rogation Days, reciting prayers and litanies, after the Reformation the parish perambulations often took place on Ascension Day and were called “The Beating of the Bounds”.  By the time the Rev. Francis Kilvert wrote of his experience at Oxford in 1876, it had become an enjoyable excursion (especially for the boys) in which prayer and supplication had little or no part:

“We suddenly became aware that the peace of this paradise was being disturbed by the voices and laughter and trampling of a company of people and immediately there came into sight a master and a bachelor of arts in caps and gowns carrying a ladder on their shoulders assisted by several men, and attended by a number of parish boys.  Every member of the company bore in his hand a long white peeled willow wand with which they were noisily beating and thrashing the old City walls and the Terrace Walk… The ladder was let down over the city walls at two places where the walls were crossed by the parish bounds and at certain important points which it was desired that the boys should keep in mind they were made to scramble for sweetmeats… It seemed to be an ancient custom here that those who beat the bounds should be regaled with bread, cheese and ale from the private buttery of the President of Corpus.  Accordingly we gathered under an old archway while the customary dole was handed out to us… Here Knox took occasion to remark with a sidelong look at Mayhew and myself that all those who beat the bounds were expected to contribute towards the expenses of the Church. The proposed offertory however produced nothing… Here there was a grand uproar in the quadrangle, the men threw out to the boys old hats (which were immediately used as footballs), biscuits were also thrown out and hot coppers, and the quadrangle echoed with shouting and laughter and the whole place was filled with uproar, scramble, and generally licence and confusion…”
William Plomer, editor. Kilvert’s Diary, 1870-1879. (1947) pp. 363-365.

Robert Chambers in his 1863 Book of Days discusses the tradition in more depth under the topic “Parochial Perambulations”:
“The Gange Days are the same as the three Rogation Days, and were so called from the ancient custom of perambulating the boundaries of the parish on those days, the name being derived from the Saxon word gangen, to go.  In Roman Catholic times, this perambulation was a matter of great ceremony, attended with feastings and various superstitious practices.  Banners, which the parish was bound to provide, hand bells, and lights enlivened the procession.  At one place the perambulators would stop to feast; and at another assemble round a cross to be edified with some godly admonition, or the legend of some saint or martyr, and so complete the circuit of the parish."

"The ancient custom of perambulating parishes in Rogation week had a two-fold object.  It was designed to supplicate the Divine blessing on the fruits of the earth; and to preserve in all classes of the community a correct knowledge of, and due respect for, the bounds of parochial and individual property. … It was appointed to be observed on one of the Rogation days which were the three days next before Ascension Day.  These days were so called from having been appropriated in the fifth century by Mamercus, Bishop of Vienne, to special prayer and fasting on account of the frequent earthquakes which had destroyed, or greatly injured vegetation.  Before the Reformation, parochial perambulations were conducted with great ceremony.  The lord of the manor, with a large banner, priests in surplices and with crosses, and other persons with hand-bells, banners and staves, followed by most of the parishioners, walked in procession round the parish, stopping at crosses, forming crosses on the ground, 'saying or singing gospels to the corn,' and allowing ‘drinkings and good cheer’; which was remarkable, as the Rogation days were appointed fasts."

"At the Reformation, the ceremonies and practices deemed objectionable were abolished, and only ‘the useful and harmless part of the custom retained.’  Yet its observance was considered so desirable, that a homily was prepared for the occasion; and injunctions were issued requiring that for ‘the perambulation of the circuits of parishes, the people should once in the year, at the time accustomed, with the rector, vicar, or curate, and the substantial men of the parish, walk about the parishes, as they were accustomed, and at their return to the church make their common prayer.  And the curate, in their said common perambulations, was at certain convenient places to admonish the people to give thanks to God (while beholding of His benefits), and for the increase and abundance of His fruits upon the face of the earth, with the saying of the 104th Psalm.  At which time also the said minister was required to inculcate these, or such like sentences, ‘Cursed be he which translateth the bounds and doles of his neighbour’; or such other order of prayers as should be lawfully appointed.'"

[A ‘holy oak’ in Herrick’s “To Anthea” is one such convenient place:
…Dearest, bury me
Under that holy-oak or gospel-tree;
Where, though thou see’st not, thou may’st think upon
Me, when thou yearly goest procession;]

"This necessity or determination to perambulate along the old track often occasioned curious incidents.  If a canal had been cut through the boundary of a parish, it was deemed necessary that some of the parishioners should pass through the water.  Where a river formed part of the boundary line, the procession either passed along it in boats, or some of the party stripped and swam along it, or boys were thrown into it at customary places.  If a house had been erected on the boundary line, the procession claimed the right to pass through it."

"A more ludicrous scene occurred in London about the beginning of the present [19th] century.  As the procession of churchwardens, parish officers, &c, followed by a concourse of cads, were perambulating the parish of St George's, Hanover-Square, they came to the part of a street where a nobleman's coach was standing just across the boundary line.  The carriage was empty, waiting for the owner, who was in the opposite house.  The principal churchwarden, therefore, himself a nobleman, desired the coachman to drive out of their way.  “I won't!” said the sturdy coachman; “my lord told me to wait here, and here I'll wait, till his lordship tells me to move!”  The churchwarden coolly opened the carriage door, entered it, passed out through the opposite door, and was followed by the whole procession, cads, sweeps, and scavengers."

"The writer recollects one of these perambulations in his earlier days.  The vicar of the parish was there; so were the ‘substantial men,’ and a goodly number of juveniles too; but the admonitions, the psalm, and the sentences, were certainly not.  It was a merry two days' ramble through all sorts of odd places.  At one time we entered a house by the door, and left it by a window on the opposite side; at another, men threw off their clothes to cross a canal at a certain point; then we climbed high walls, dived through the thickest part of a wood, and left everywhere in our track the conspicuous capitals, R. P..  Buns and beer were served out to those who were lucky enough, or strong enough, to get them."

"The custom of perambulating parishes continued in some parts of the kingdom to a late period, but the religious portion of it was generally, if not universally, omitted.  The custom has, however, of late years been revived in its integrity in many parishes, and certainly such a perambulation among the bounties of creation affords a Christian minister a most favourable opportunity for awakening in his parishioners a due sense of gratitude towards Him who maketh the ‘sun to shine, and the rains to descend upon the earth, so that it may bring forth its fruit in due season.’ "
Robert Chambers, The Book of Days (1863), Vol. 1, pp. 582 - 585.

Beating the Bounds in London, found in Robert Chambers, The Book of Days (1863), Vol. 1, p. 584.


Weather: As the weather is on Ascension, so may be the weather of autumn.

If it rains on Ascension, there will be a scarcity that year and sickness among cattle.

If it is fine on Ascension, it will be wet on Whit-Monday;
If it is wet on Ascension, it will be fine on Whit-Monday.


As described by the Catholic Encyclopedia, today we celebrate "the elevation of Christ into heaven by His own power, in the presence of His disciples, the fortieth day after His Resurrection".  "...the day is meant to celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and His entry into heaven with our human nature glorified."

Ascension always seems to get passed over.  There are no Ascension bunnies, no colored Ascension eggs; Catholics, for whom it is a Holy Day of Obligation, are put out because they must go to church AGAIN, and so to spare their busy lives, the celebration of the day is often moved to the following Sunday and becomes just another Sunday Mass.  But it is more than that.  It is “the completion of the work of our salvation”.  Celebrating Easter and neglecting Ascension is like reading up to the most exciting part of the book, and then never reading the closing chapters.

At one time, this was a major festival in the Church, with all the brilliant ceremonies and customs which brought light and color to ordinarily drab lives, including a form of play-acting (if you will) that established the meaning of the day in the minds of the mostly illiterate parishioners.  Birds were released to fly up and through an opening in the church’s roof, signifying the ascent of Christ to Heaven; a figure of Satan was thrown down from that same opening, and beat up by the youth of the parish (Satan’s downfall and defeat); small cakes wrapped in paper and Holy Water also rained down on the parishioners, as blessings from Heaven.

Naogeorgus reviled this popish mummery.  First the licentiousness of the Rogation Days, and now this! More Eating!  More Drinking!  More Silly Ceremonies!  And Laughter!  How Dare They Enjoy Themselves!

Then comes the day when Christ ascended to his father’s seat
Which day they also celebrate, with store of drink and meat,
Then every mans some bird must eat, I know not to what end,
And after dinner all to church they come, and there attend
The block that on the altar still till then was seen to stand,
Is drawn up high above the roof by ropes and force of hand;
The Priests about it round do stand, and chant it to the sky,
For all these men’s religion great in singing most doth lie.
Then out of hand the dreadful shape of Satan down they throw,
Oft times, with fire burning bright, and dashed asunder though,
The boys with greedy eyes do watch and on him straight they fall,
And beat him sore with rods, and break him into pieces small.
This done, they wafers down do cast, and singing Cakes the while,
With papers round amongst them put, the children to beguile.
With laughter great are all things done, and from the beams they let
Great streams of water down to fall, on whom they mean to wet.
And thus their solemn holiday, and high renowned feast,
And all their whole devotion here, is ended with a jest.


Bees show the way to church on Ascension Day.

If an egg which has been laid on Ascension Day is placed in the roof of a house, the building will be preserved from fire and other calamities.

It is unlucky to work today. [therefore, consider doing the following, instead]

If you fish from dawn to nightfall today, you will learn the hour for the best fishing, and will be a lucky angler for the next twelve months.

Bathing the eyes in rain-water caught on Ascension Day is beneficial for sore eyes.


Beans and grapes are blessed today.

Master-gardeners gave their workers a dish of baked white and grey peas with bacon for dinner.

A fowl of some kind – chicken, turkey, squab, game hen – should be on the menu today.

Villagers in the Mansfeld district of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt were commanded to drink beer today in honor of a medieval countess who “relieved them from paying their tithes”.  Hopefully, they still quaff their Ascension Beer. [Now there’s a tradition I can get behind.  Pass me my stein!]

In Germany, the day is called Himmelfahrstag.  It was customarily a "boys' day out" when the men would get together and go off into the countryside for an enjoyable day of merrymaking. "Hearty refreshments of food, beer, and wine are features of the excursions; and even if husbands return home at night a little the worse for wear, wives are not expected to complain.”

[I digress for a moment.  Wives are mostly intelligent creatures; they don't complain when it is obvious that the object in their cross-hairs cannot hear or see them, much less comprehend that trouble awaits.  Much better to wait until the following morning, when we can be the Ministering Angels from Hell, fetching aspirin and water and turning pillows and removing blankets and putting blankets back on and every five minutes asking if they are okay and if there is anything we can get for them, no really, dear, it's no trouble, I'll be right back, are you sure there isn't anything else you'd like, maybe some breakfast, I'm sure you'll feel better once you've got some eggs and bacon inside you, oh you are looking a little green, dear...]

In Venice, the Doge in his state galley, the Bucentaur, with the Venetian nobility and others in an accompanying fleet of boats, would go with great solemnity to the Adriatic Sea.  Here he would cast into the water a gold ring of great value, saying "Desponsamus te, Mare, in signum veri perpetuique dominii" ("We espouse the, O Sea, in token of real and perpetual dominion over thee").  This custom is said to have started from a grant of Pope Alexander III, who gave the Venetians power over the Adriatic as a man has power over his wife.  While there is no longer a Doge (or a Bucentaur) [and we won't even touch the bit about power over the wife], the ceremony is still repeated in Venice on the first Sunday after Ascension.

While Catholics went about the parish on the preceding days, reciting prayers and litanies, after the Reformation the parish perambulations in England often took place on Ascension Day and were called "The Beating of the Bounds", during which the parish boundaries were noted and the boundary markers replaced (if they had been moved).
Benjamin West, PRA, 1801. The Ascension.  The Berger Collection, Denver Art Museum.  Swiped from Wikipedia.  [I like this one – it has movement and strength.]

16 May 2012

16 May - St. Honoratus of Amiens; French Doughnuts

Honoratus (in French, Honoré) was the eighth Bishop of Amiens, known for his sanctity and very little else.  The Bakers Guild of Paris took him for their patron, and covered their banners with a representation of the bishop in his robes, with the crosier in his left hand and in his right an oven-peel bearing three loaves of bread.

His association with bakers may have come from the legend that his nursemaid (who obviously had graduated to the position of cook in the meantime), when told that Honoratus had been ordained a bishop, scoffed that he had as much chance of becoming a bishop as her bread peel had of taking root and becoming a tree.  Well, she was right in a way – the peel did become a tree.

oven peel before taking root
The proper dessert for celebrating his feast day would be a Gateau St. Honoré, but since it is composed of puff pastry, choux pastry, cream puffs, and other things which take an inordinate amount of time to make – order one from your nearest French bakery.

Since my culinary skills are on a much simpler order, I will enjoy FRENCH DOUGHNUTS for tea today.  These are baked, not fried like beignets.

Heat the oven to 350°.
Grease 12 muffin cups.
Beat 1 egg lightly.

In a large bowl, cream together 5 tablespoons of butter and ½ cup of sugar.  Add the egg and mix well.  Set aside.

In another bowl, mix together 1½ cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of nutmeg.

To the butter mixture, add the flour mixture alternately with ½ cup of milk.  Mix well.

Fill the muffin cups half full.  Bake for 20 minutes or until done.

While they are baking, melt 6 tablespoons of butter (and keep warm).  In a small bowl or on a sheet of waxed paper, mix together ¾ cup of sugar and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.

When the muffins are finished baking, remove them from the pan, and while they are still hot, roll them first in the melted butter and then in the cinnamon-sugar.

I have never known them to get cold.

Artwork: Saint Honoratus, swiped from Wikipedia.  The little figures are bakers with loaves of fresh baked goods.

Baking bread, found on the Medieval Pastry page.

15 May 2012

15 May - Saint Dymphna

In Brabant, St. Dympna, virgin and martyr, daughter of an Irish king.  By order of her father, she was beheaded for the faith of Christ and the preservation of her virginity.

I’ve always had a special fondness for Saint Dymphna, ever since I found a statue of her labeled “Patron of the Insane”.  Seemed to me that she would be a perfect patron of the world, which we all know is insane.

Her story is one that still fills the newspapers today – a beautiful daughter and a depraved father, and you know what happens next.  Her mother having died, the 14-year-old girl came under the "notice" of her father, and to avoid his incestuous advances (or as Rev. Alban Butler coyly says “to avoid the snares to which she saw herself exposed at home”), she ran far away in company with her confessor Gerebert.  They found refuge in a forest oratory dedicated to St. Martin near Geel, a town in northern Belgium.

Her father sent men to find her; when they did, he followed. “The king came to her and renewed his solicitations.  He offered that she should be enrolled among the goddesses of his nation and have a marble temple erected in her honor.  Gerebert interfered and was immediately put to death by the king’s orders”
Sir Leslie Stephen, Dictionary of National Biography (1888), Vol XVI, p. 297.

“Dympna was inflexible, and reproaching him with the wickedness of his proceeding declared, that she detested his gods and goddesses, and that nothing should induce her to offend her true lover Jesus Christ.  On this the king became outrageous, and gave orders that she should be beheaded.  As all his attendants declined to obey this command, he became the executioner himself and murdered his own daughter.”
John Lanigan, An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland (1829) Vol II, p. 475.

Of her patronage of the insane, one story relates that the cruelty of her martyrdom greatly frightened a group of lunatics in the vicinity, which strong feelings immediately reversed their maladies.  More miracles were reported at her shrine, in which those suffering from mental afflictions (anything from depression to dementia) or neurological disorders (epilepsy) – all grouped together under the umbrella of Insanity – regained their mental or physical health.  Gheel became a place of pilgrimage, to which lunatics were brought for healing by her intercession, and from it, a cottage industry caring for the insane grew up in the area which exists to this day.

Lord, our God,
You graciously chose St. Dymphna as patroness of those afflicted with mental and nervous disorders.  She is thus an inspiration and a symbol of charity to the thousands who ask her intercession.

Please grant, Lord, through the prayers of this pure youthful martyr, relief and consolation to all suffering such trials, and especially those for whom we pray.

We beg You, Lord, to hear the prayers of St. Dymphna on our behalf.  Grant all those for whom we pray patience in their sufferings and resignation to Your Divine Will.  Please fill them with hope, and grant them the relief and cure they so much desire.

We ask this through Christ our Lord, Who suffered agony in the garden.  Amen.

[and especially for our world, Lord, where the lunatics have taken over the asylum.  Amen.]

13 May 2012

Rogation Days

The fifth Sunday after Easter – Domenica Rogationum, or Rogation Sunday – begins Rogation Week; the following three days - Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension - are called the Rogation Days, and referred to as the "Minor Rogation".  The name comes from the Latin  rogare, which means "to ask" or "to beseech".   On these three days, it was customary for priest and parishioners to fast and then go in procession, praying first for God's mercy and forgiveness, next for a blessing on the newly planted seed and flowering plants, and finally for a bountiful harvest (sparing them from what the insurance companies refer to as "Acts of God": tornadoes, hurricanes, gales, and floods, along with the banes of farmers: killing frosts, blight, and similar calamities).

The days were also known as “Gang” (walking) days, from the processions, and  “Cross” days, from the crosses which led them; “Green” days was another name, from the restriction of foods to salads and green vegetables.

With time, these processions included "beating the bounds", in which the perambulations covered the boundaries of the parish.  English pastors were instructed that "In going, [they] shall stop at certain convenient places and admonish the people to give thanks to God, in the beholding of God's benefits, for the increase and abundance of His fruits upon the face of the earth, with the saying Psalm 104, Benedic anima mea..."; occasionally the pastor would add the warning "cursed be he which translateth the bounds and dales of his neighbor".  By walking the bounds in this way, the boundary markers, which may have been moved for any reason, could be replaced and their positions again fixed in the minds of the parishioners.

The prayers always included the Litany of Saints, and psalms and other prayers as time allowed.  Litany is another word of much the same meaning as rogare, for it comes from the Greek litaneia - to supplicate - and with each "have mercy on us", "deliver us", and "we beseech Thee, hear us", we are begging God to avert His wrath from us.

To Naogeorgus, the whole thing led to licentious behavior and unseemly drinking:
“Now comes the day wherein they gad abroad, with cross in hand,
To bounds of every field, and round about their neighbor’s land,
And as they go they sing and pray to every saint above,
But to our Lady specially, whom most of all they love.
When as they to the town are come, the Church they enter in,
And look what saint that church doth guide, they humbly pray to him,
That he preserve both corn and fruits from storm and tempest great
And them defend from harm, and send them store of drinks and meat.
This done, they to the tavern go, or in the fields they dine,
Where down they sit and feed apace, and fill themselves with wine,
So much that oftentimes without the Cross they come away,
And miserably they reel, still as their stomach up they lay.
These things three days continually are done, with solemn sport,
With many Crosses often they unto some church resort,
Whereas they all do chant aloud, whereby there straight does spring
A bawling noise, while every man seeks highest for to sing.
The Priests give ear, this madness them does most of all content,
And wine to them that pass the rest, is from the Parson sent.”

The Rogation Days were removed from the new calendar - with an army of appraisers, surveyors, and property maps, there is not much call for determining the boundaries by walking them.  However, there is much call for prayers asking forgiveness and blessing.

So, on these three days, walk the boundaries of your own property, saying the Litany of the Saints (you can find a copy of it here at EWTN, and remember to add your family's patron saints), or at least asking a blessing and protection for all contained therein.  Do the same with your neighborhood, as you walk the dog.  And don't forget to pray for a good harvest.

 To ensure a heavy harvest, repeat this charm to the fruit trees each day:

Stand fast, root; bear well, top;
God send us a yowling sop!
Every twig, apple big,
Every bough, apple enow,
Hats full, caps full,
Fill quarter sacks full.

[My only charm is to point to the woodpile and say, "Produce or else!"  It has worked so far.]

As stated above, one of the names for the Rogation Days was “Green Days”, from the restrictions of foods to salads and green vegetables.  Does this suggest that they were not only fast days, but abstinence as well?  Or were the first greens of the year finally available?  After a winter of increasingly desiccated vegetables, I can well imagine that a fresh juicy salad would be eagerly consumed.

Well, for at least one of these three days, make a “green” dinner, with as many green items as your fertile imagination can concoct: Green peas and cream in patty shells, lime jello, pistachio ice cream, fish poached in Court Bouillon and sprinkled with parsley, and my favorite: GREEN GODDESS DRESSING for the salad.

Finely mince together 8 – 10 anchovy fillets and 1 green onion. 
Mince chives to equal ¼ cup.
Mince parsley to equal ¼ cup.
Mince fresh tarragon to equal 2 tablespoons (or soak 1 tablespoon of dried tarragon in a little vinegar. Strain)

Mix all of the above lightly but thoroughly with 3 cups of mayonnaise and ¼ cup of tarragon vinegar [if no tarragon vinegar handy, use white wine vinegar, or distilled white vinegar.  And see recipe below for making your own tarragon vinegar.]  This makes about a quart of dressing – you can cut the recipe in half if you don’t need quite that much.  Store any unused dressing in the refrigerator.

Heat 1 pint of white wine vinegar.  Slightly crush 1 pint of fresh tarragon leaves with your hands.  Put the tarragon in a container (I have a large jar) with 2 cloves, and 1 garlic clove, halved.  Pour in the heated vinegar, cover, and let stand for 24 hours.  After that, remove the garlic, then let the vinegar stand another two weeks.  Strain through a cloth, bottle, and cork tightly (I like to put a sprig of tarragon in the bottle just for pretty, especially if I’m giving the vinegar as a gift).

And when you beat your own bounds, remember poor ol’ Naogeorgus, and dine in the fields (or the park) with a picnic lunch.  Singing loudly and off-key is allowed.

Artwork: Haven’t found the attribution yet.  Did you notice that the people in the background are throwing rocks at the procession?

Mother's Day

A.H. and Caroline Smith, 1868

For Mother’s Day this year, here is a Carte de visite (albumen process) from 1868 of my great-great-grandmother Caroline Daugherty Smith with her husband and first two children.

Caroline was two months from her fifteenth birthday when she married the German farmer next door.  Her 14th and last child was born in 1885 when she was 40.  In between, there was the War between the States, Reconstruction in Texas, Comanche raids, the great herds of longhorns going north out of Texas (her half-brother Charlie Goodnight gave his name to the Loving-Goodnight Trail), bank failures, depressions, railroads criss-crossing the land, and over it all the day-to-day struggle to raise a family.

God bless her, and all mothers today.

12 May 2012

12 May - Saint Pancras of Rome

[At Rome] on the Aurelian road, the holy martyr Pancratius, who, at fourteen years of age, endured martyrdom by decapitation under Diocletian.  Also, at Rome, St. Denis, uncle of the same blessed Pancratius.

Pancras, or Pancratius, was born in Phrygia to well-to-do Roman citizens.  By the time he was eight, both of his parents had died; he and his uncle Dionysius (Denis) then moved to Rome where they had rental properties.  Here they lived the good life with all that money could buy – nice house, servants, fashionable clothes, the latest in toys and gadgets, pizza every night... what more could a pre-teen want?

Tradition says that they both converted to Christianity in Rome. Dionysius died when Pancras was fourteen, and the young orphan, who may have given away his wealth for the care of the poor, came under the notice of the emperor (popularly supposed to be Diocletian, although one source says it was Valerian).   The emperor called Pancras “the son of my right dear friend” and urged him to give up the madness of his faith, promising wealth and honors if he did so, “that I may have thee with me as my son.”

Now, how many people of any age do you think would not leap at the chance to live in the White House, or in one of the multi-million dollar mansions of the rich and famous as a favored relative?  At no real cost to themselves, either, just a little matter of giving up their unpopular views and conforming to the status quo. 

Pancras wasn’t one of them.  He said, with all the severity of the young, that the so-called gods were lying, incestuous fornicators, and if the emperor wouldn’t have servants of such depravity in his household, why would he worship gods with the same proclivities?  In any case, the youth was sticking with the one True God and no other.  Being unable to persuade him otherwise, the emperor condemned him to death; as a Roman citizen, he was decapitated.

Tradition (and possibly St. Gregory of Tours) said that anyone swearing falsely either before the relics of St. Pancras or by his name would be struck immediately with madness or with death, therefore he is invoked against false witness and perjury.  He also protected the good faith of treaties.

Today, we are called upon to sacrifice to the gods of the culture – to say that abortion is not only a good thing but a necessary thing; that pregnancy is an illness or a punishment; that eugenics – the killing of those deemed undesirable – is the answer to overpopulation; that killing your elderly parents is okay, they are just a drain on society and your expectations; that marriage is really just a pretense which is used to enslave women; that marriage is just a form in which two people, or a person and his sheep, or a person and his baby daughter, or “Uncle” Tony next door and your eight-year-old son, can show their commitment to each other.  We are expected to worship the oracles of Capitol Hill, Hollywood, and major league sports, although their lies and fornications make daily blurbs in the newspapers.

Pancras, even at the age of fourteen, did not fall for their lies.  Do you?

In his honor, let your teens and sub-teens choose the menu for dinner.  It may require a digestion of iron, but do your best.

Artwork: Stained glass window in Saint Pancras New Church, London.

10 May 2012

10 May - Cartier Explores the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Today in 1534, Jacques Cartier, a Breton navigator sailing for King Francis of France, began exploring the coast of Newfoundland, the Canadian Maritimes, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Two ships carrying sixty men under his command left St. Malo on the 20th of April, and after twenty days of prosperous sailing weather, they sighed Cape Bonavista.  From there, it still being rather wintery conditions, they moved southeast where they took refuge in a harbor that they named St. Katherine.

For roughly three months, Cartier and his men explored the area seen in the map opposite, but in the first week of August, with the winds and tides making sailing difficult, they decided to head for home, resolving to come back the following year and continue their explorations.  After celebrating the feast of the Assumption on August 15, they set sail and arrived back in the port of St. Malo on the 5th of September.

Like many before and after him, Cartier was looking for a westward passage to the fabled riches of the East Indies.  Like many before and after him, he thought he had done so, or at least found one of the islands wherein great riches awaited.  He spent the winter in France getting more ships and men together, and sailed again the following May, when he moved up what he was certain was a northwest passage.  It was instead the St. Lawrence River, but after wintering over in the ice-bound St. Charles River, he persuaded the local chief to go back to France with him to tell King Francis personally of the fabulously wealthy Kingdom of Saguenay somewhere to the north. 

Due to the increasing strife between France and Spain, which came to a head in 1536, and the loss of influential friends at court, it would be five years before Cartier sailed again for the New World.  This time, his orders included the disparate duties of looking for that fabulously wealthy country and, at the same time, assisting in the permanent settlement of the lands along the St. Lawrence River.  The project was under the command of the new Viceroy of the lands in Canada, Jean-Francois de La Rocque, Sieur de Roberval, with Cartier as Captain-General. 

Finding settlers was not an easy task. As usual, giving one’s descendents the entrée to exclusive “First Settlers” organizations does not seem to have greatly influenced anyone to be one of those First Settlers.  The king finally had to issue instructions for Roberval and Cartier to search the prisons of Paris and other major cities of France, and fill their crews with those convicts under sentence of death, excluding those guilty of high treason, counterfeiting, and heresy. 

While Roberval stayed behind to get the last of his supplies, Cartier with five ships and provisions sufficient for two years sailed from France on 23 May 1541, arriving, after a stormy voyage, late in June.  Here he waited six weeks for Roberval’s arrival before finally losing patience and moving up the St. Lawrence River without him. On the 23rd of August the ships arrived at the site of modern Cap-Rouge, Quebec. Cartier and his advance team of about 400 settlers left the five ships on which they had spent the last three months and built a fortified settlement, which he called Charlesbourg-Royal.  That done, Cartier went exploring again.

What happened during that winter is a matter for conjecture. In spite of the ample provisions and the fortifications, the settlement did not flourish.  The winter was extremely long and bitter.  Relations with their Iroquoian neighbors were strained, especially when they learned that the chief who had accompanied Cartier to France in 1536 had died there. [Actually, of the ten natives who had gone to France with the promise that they would return to their homes within the year, only one little girl had survived.] To mitigate the hostility he knew would be aimed at the Frenchmen, Cartier said that the others had become great lords in France, and did not wish to return.  It didn’t work.  The natives remained hostile.  Roberval remained absent.

Under the circumstances, Cartier could not explore the lands on the Ottawa River where he thought the Kingdom of Saguenay lay, nor was his other job of establishing a permanent settlement looking successful.  Discouraged, he determined to return to France in the spring.  Gathering the colony into his remaining ships, he set sail and actually met Roberval’s supply ships as they moved up the Newfoundland coast.  Instead of turning back, however, he set his face for home and arrived there in October. Roberval continued to Charlesbourg-Royal, where his 200 colonists cleared land, refurbished the abandoned buildings, and endured his iron rule, but his efforts were too little, too late.  He was recalled to France the following year, and the first attempted European settlement in North America was abandoned.


Map of Cartier’s First Voyage and Explorations, from Wikipedia.

The Reception of Jacques Cartier at Hochelaga, from William Henry Atherton, Under the French regime, 1535-1760 (1914), p. 8.  (Future Montreal)

Cartier’s Ships in the St. Lawrence River, from Gilbert Parker and Claude G. Bryan, Old Quebec: The Fortress of New France (1908) p. 13.

09 May 2012

9 May - 1st Day of Summer; Mary's Herbs

Sumer is icumen in…

For farmers and gardeners, today is the first day of summer, which will continue until the 9th of August, when autumn and the harvest season begin.

Which is why we can refer to June 24 as Midsummer, even though all the world knows that summer starts on June 21 or 22.   The agricultural year runs on a different schedule from the solar year.

[Well, our first day of summer in the Smallest State is overcast and rainy.  Sigh.  Okay, so it’s good for the garden…]

And speaking of which, how does your garden grow?

And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat:
Genesis 1:29 (Douay-Rheims)

The perfect statue for my garden
If you are like me, you have found that herbs are not merely a nice addition to the garden, but necessary to its good growth.  Most of my herbs are culinary, and so take their places among the vegetables, but this year I have cleared a small corner for a combination pleasure and culinary garden, which will include the traditional ‘manger herbs’ for my Christmas crèche (not that I want to think about Christmas yet):

  • Our Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum), with its beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers.
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), and Woodruff, (galium oderatum) more herbs for Mary’s bed as well as the manger, whose refreshing scent is a natural pest repellent [although it doesn’t always work on nosey neighbors].
  • Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) and Basil (Ocimum basilicum) as air purifiers.  Basil, the king of herbs, is also associated with the Cross.  To be useful as cooking herbs, they should not be allowed to flower, but some of them jump the gun when I’m not looking, so this year I will pinch off the beautiful blue flower heads and dry them.  And perhaps have a bit of color for my crèche.

Then there are some other favorite herbs associated with Our Lady:

  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), said to have received its fragrance when Mary laid her baby Son’s clothes on the bush to dry.  For protection, hang a cross made of lavender in your house.  If nothing else, it might exorcise the grumpies.
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis), whose flowers were originally white, but when Mary threw her mantle over them, they turned blue.
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis), said to have sheltered the Holy Family on their flight into Egypt, for which it was rewarded with curative powers.
  • Spearmint (mentha spicata), in French Menthe de Notre Dame.  

(and we haven’t even started on the lesser known herbs and plants…)

For more on the background of plants suitable for gardens based on religious themes, see Mary Gardens: Flowers for Our Lady and Mary's Gardens.  The latter has extensive information for both the experienced and the new gardener (click on the "Gardening" box on the left of the page to get to a list of applicable pages). Very young gardeners might be interested in putting together an indoor dish garden.  On a day like today, that may be the best way to pass the time away, since we won't be writing love letters in the sand...

Artwork: Virgin and Child from Cologne Cathedral, swiped from Wikipedia.