25 April 2013

25 April - Saint Mark

“At Alexandria, the birthday of blessed Mark, evangelist, disciple and interpreter of the Apostle St. Peter.  He wrote his gospel at the request of the faithful of Rome, and taking it with him, proceeded to Egypt and founded a church at Alexandria, where he was the first to announce Christ.  Afterwards, being arrested for the faith, he was bound, dragged over stones and endured great afflictions.  Finally he was confined to prison, where, being comforted by the visit of an angel, and even by an apparition of our Lord himself, he was called to the heavenly kingdom in the eighth year of the reign of Nero.”

The Golden Legend says that Mark was a Levite and a Jewish priest. “And when he was christened, he was godson of St. Peter the apostle, and therefore he went with him to Rome.  When St. Peter preached there the gospel, the good people of Rome prayed St. Mark that he would put the gospel in writing, like as St. Peter had preached.”

Peter sent Mark to Alexandria (Egypt) to preach, and such was his success, that Peter made him the city’s bishop, but Mark, not greatly enamored of the prospect, cut off his thumb so that he couldn’t be made a priest.  [It must have grown back, because he has both is thumbs in the picture.]  His self-mutilation didn’t work.  Bishop Mark went on to lead the church in Alexandria.

The usual suspects (idol worshippers) began to plot how they might kill him, whereupon Mark took advantage of the Witness Protection Program, left his Auxiliary Bishop in charge, and moved to another town for two years.  Figuring that they must have got over their ire and moved on with their lives (he was wrong), he returned to Alexandria.

“Now it happened on Easter day, when St. Mark sang Mass, they assembled all and put a cord about his neck, and drew him throughout the city…  And the blood ran upon the stones, and his flesh was torn piecemeal that it lay upon the pavement all bloody.  After this they put him in prison, where an angel came and comforted him, and after came our Lord to visit and comfort him, saying, ‘Peace be to you, Mark, my Evangelist!  Be not in doubt, for I am with you and shall deliver you.’

And on the morn they put the cord about his neck and drew him like they had done before… and when they had drawn, he thanked God and said: ‘Into Thy hands Lord, I commend my spirit’, and he thus saying died. “

He is a patron of notaries and lawyers, and from various miracles, the patron of glaziers, prisoners, and those suffering from neck swellings.  He is invoked against the danger of dying impenitent, skin diseases, and insect bites [keep a little statue of St. Mark on your picnic table this summer].

While St. Mark’s Eve is considered the optimum time for seeking otherworldly knowledge, if you chose not to trust your nerves last night there is a love charm available today.  It is a little early in the northern hemisphere for sage plants, but if you have one growing on your windowsill (and the theft of a few leaves won’t be noticed), wait until the clock begins to strike the noon hour, then pluck one sage leaf at each stroke of the bell.  You should dream of your future husband tonight, if you are to have one.

Limbourg frères, “Martyrdom of Saint Mark”, Très Riches Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry (15th century)

24 April 2013

24 April - Saint Mark's Eve

‘Twas St. Mark’s Eve,
and towards the midnight drear,
when their wailing ghosts are flitting about
who must die within the year.

When the churchyard walk is crowded,
as the spirits come and go,
gliding along through the closed gates,
and dim aisles to and fro…
                                                        From The Eve of St. Mark’s, a poem by W.S.G. (1871)

You can find instructions (and a warning) for watching tonight here, along with a couple of love charms.  Here are more for your collection:

Go to the barn before midnight, open the doors wide, and at the stroke of twelve, riddle the chaff. (To riddle is to separate the grains of wheat (or other cereal) from their dry, protective covering (chaff), using a sieve-like bowl called a ‘riddle’.)  If, as you riddle, you see two men carrying a coffin past the open doors, you will die within the year.

For matrimonial divination, make and eat a dumb-cake tonight from an eggshell-full each of salt, wheat meal, and barley meal.  The charm says to make this into a dough “without the aid of spring water”, but doesn’t say anything about any other liquid, so you could use milk or soda or even city water.  No more than three young ladies must meet to make the cake, and all must be done in silence (good luck with that).  At midnight, each participant must break off and eat a portion of the cake, then walk backwards to bed.  Those who will be married will see the shades of their intendeds hurrying after them, with the intention of catching hold, but wily girls will be ready to jump into bed before they are caught (the shades being too gentlemanly to jump in after, I guess).

If no pursuing likeness is seen, the future brides might hear a rustling in the house or a knocking at the door, but don’t leave your bed to investigate.  “Those that are to die unmarried neither see nor hear anything; but they have terrible dreams, which are sure to be of newly-made graves, winding-sheets, and churchyards, and of rings that will fit no finger, or which, if they do, crumble into dust as soon as put on.”  
William Shepard Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), p. 351.

23 April 2013

23 April - Saint George; Poke Cake

“The birthday of St. George, whose illustrious martyrdom is honored by the Church of God among the combats of other crowned martyrs.”

You can read the Golden Legend’s account of Saint George and the Dragon here.  The account below comes from an Old English Martyrology, a compilation of early medieval martyrologies, and doesn't mention the dragon:

“On the twenty-third of the month is the festival of the holy man St. George, whom the emperor Datianus tormented seven years with unspeakable tortures that he might forswear Christ, but he never could overcome him; and after seven years he ordered him to be beheaded.”

[George must have been relieved]

“When he was led to his execution, fire came from heaven and consumed the heathen emperor and all those who had formerly tortured the holy man.  St. George prayed to the Lord speaking thus: ‘Jesus Christ, receive my spirit: and I beg of Thee that which man soever keep my commemoration on earth, Thou remove all sickness from the house of this man: no enemy may hurt him, nor hunger nor pestilence; and if a man mentions my name in any danger either on sea or on a journey, then Thy mercy may attend upon him.’  There came a voice from heaven speaking to him: ‘Come, thou blessed one, whatever man invokes My Name by thee on any danger, I shall hear him.’  Since then, the powers of this holy man were often made widely known.  He who reads St. Arculfus’ book may perceive this, that the man was heavily punished who dishonoured St. George’s image, and he who sought it for the sake of intercession was protected against his foes in the midst of great peril.”

 The Reflection in John Gilmary Shea’s Lives of the Saints comes from Saint Bruno:
“What shall I say of fortitude, without which neither wisdom nor justice is of any worth?  Fortitude is not of the body, but is a constancy of soul; wherewith we are conquerors in righteousness, patiently bear all adversities, and in prosperity are not puffed up.  This fortitude he lacks who is overcome by pride, anger, greed, drunkenness, and the like.  Neither have they fortitude who, when in adversity, make shift to escape at their souls’ expense; wherefore the Lord says, ‘Fear not those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.’  In like manner, those who are puffed up in prosperity and abandon themselves to excessive joviality cannot be called strong.  For how can they be called strong who cannot hide and repress the heart’s emotion?  Fortitude is never conquered, or if conquered, is not fortitude.”

In Catalonia (Spain), the day is a celebrated by giving roses and books to loved ones. [Catalonia, as a former territory of the old Kingdom of Aragon, celebrates Sant Jordi as their patron.]  An enterprising 20th century bookseller saw a way to reduce his stock and promoted April 23rd as the “Day of the Book”, since Miguel de Cervantes died today (well, he was buried on this day in 1616).  And what better way to celebrate books than by giving one to each person you love?  In 1995, citing a few more authors who were either born or died on the 23rd (like William Shakespeare) the day was made universal by UNESCO as “World Book and Copyright Day”. 

[Not that the Widow has anything against a festival which honors books (in fact, when it comes to giving books to loved ones, she would remember that she loves herself a whole lot), but have you ever noticed that when reading about the history of holy days, the usual mantra is about how those mean ol’ Christians stole the days from the fun-loving pagans and then either absorbed or suppressed the pagan celebrations, but when secular entities turn our holy days into festivals honoring man’s achievements (or vices) nobody thinks, “Why, those mean ol’ secular entities! How dare they!” ?  You hadn’t noticed?  Never mind, then.]

The Catalan flag, four red bars on a field of gold, is everywhere, and besides the books and the roses, there are delicacies offered today, like pa de Sant Jordi, a savory bread striated in red and yellow, and, of course, cakes decorated either in the Catalan colors or, more fanciful, made to look like books.

So today, take a nod from the Catalans and make a cake to honor Saint George.  A POKE CAKE would be fun and easy.  If you need a recipe, try this one from Kraft.  Otherwise, the steps are simple, using a box of cake mix, a box of gelatin mix, and whatever you fancy for frosting.

For Saint George’s emblem (red cross on a white field) = white cake.  For the Catalan flag = yellow cake.

Make a sheet cake or cupcakes according to directions.  Allow cake to cool.

Poke holes in the cooled cake about ½ inch apart (three or four holes in cupcakes).  The recipes call for using a fork.  I use the handle of a wooden spoon, which produces a hole about 3/8” diameter.

Choose a flavored gelatin mix.  Both St. George’s cross and the Catalan flag would have red stripes, so use strawberry or raspberry gelatin (or another favorite red flavor).  Or, since it was once traditional in England to wear blue today (the color of the Order of the Garter, under the patronage of Saint George), use blueberry gelatin with white cake.  Dissolve a box of gelatin mix in 1 cup of boiling water.  Stir in ½ cup of cold water.  Pour this over the cake.  Put the cake in the refrigerator and let it chill for 3 – 4 hours.

When ready, frost and decorate as you like.  Whipped cream is always good.  White frosting with a red St. George Cross in decorating gel or even fruit (like strawberries).  Yellow frosting with four red bars in decorating gel for the Catalan flag.  If you are really creative, draw St. George on the top of the cake.  If you are more like me, color and cut out figures of St. George and the Dragon, attach them to wooden skewers or popsicle sticks and insert them into the cake.

And for dinner?  It has to be Dragon’s Breath Chili!  Be brave!  Remember, FORTITUDE!

‘Woodcut of St. George’, The Golden Legend, (Dutch, 1485)

“Saint George”, The Belles Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry, 15th century.

Flag of Catalonia, swiped from Wikipedia.

‘Saint George’, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 15th century

22 April 2013

22 April - St. George's Eve

"Witches were active on the eves of St. George’s day and Midsummer.  Then they were wont to go out and cut chips from doors and gates of the farmyard and boil them in a milk pail, and in that way charm the milk from that farm.  Their plans might be frustrated, however, by carefully smearing the newly chipped places with mud."

[and I think that superstition was invented by a canny farmer as a way to get his chipped doors repaired immediately by the hired hands]

There is another superstition that Evil Spirits are abroad at midnight on St. George’s Eve, but that seems to be connected with his festival day in May.

21 April 2013

21 April - Founding of Rome

According to tradition, this is the dies natalis of the city of Rome, future ruler of most of the known world, founded by Romulus in 753 B.C. on the left bank of the Tiber River.

You know already the story of Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Mars and grandsons of the exiled king Numitor; how the usurping king ordered the semi-divine infants drowned in the Anio River, and how instead their cradle drifted downstream until it was cast ashore on the banks of the Tiber; how they were suckled by a she-wolf until they were found and raised by shepherds on Palatine hill; how they learned of their true birth and avenged their grandfather by slaying the usurper and returning the rightful king to his throne.

If you don’t know it, you should.

This version of the founding of Rome is taken from “A Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography” (1891), by Sir William Smith:

“Romulus and Remus loved their old abode, and therefore left Alba to found a city on the banks of the Tiber.  A strife arose between the brothers where the city should be built, and after whose name it should be called.  Romulus wished to build it on the Palatine, Remus on the Aventine.  It was agreed that the question should be decided by augury; and each took his station on the top of his chosen hill. 

The night passed away, and as the day was dawning, Remus saw six vultures; but at sun-rise, when these tidings were brought to Romulus, 12 vultures flew by him.  Each claimed the augury in his own favor; but the shepherds decided for Romulus, and Remus was obliged to yield. 

Romulus now proceeded to mark out the pomœrium of his city, and to raise the wall.  Remus, who still resented the wrong he had suffered, leapt over the wall in scorn, whereupon he was slain by his brother. 

[The Pomœrium was a symbolical wall, marked by stones or stone pillars erected at intervals.  The custom when founding a new town was to yoke a bullock and a heifer to the plow, and draw a furrow, with the clods falling inward, around the place to be occupied.  The furrow represented the moat, and the little mound of clods formed the symbolical wall. The actual stone walls were built outside this furrow, but near to it. The original pomœrium probably ran around the foot of the Palatine hill.]

Map of Ancient Rome
Palatine Hill (Romulus) in red
Aventine Hill (Remus) in blue
Capitoline Hill and Quirinal Hill (Sabines) in green
Tiber River in brown.
As soon as the city was built, Romulus found his people too few in numbers.  He therefore set apart, on the Capitoline hill, an asylum, or a sanctuary, in which homicides and runaway slaves might take refuge.  The city thus became filled with men, but they wanted women.  Romulus, therefore, tried to form treaties with the neighboring tribes, in order to obtain connubium, or the right of legal marriage with their citizens, but his offers were treated with disdain, and he accordingly resolved to obtain by force what he could not gain by entreaty.

In the fourth month after the foundation of the city, he proclaimed that games were to be celebrated in honor of the god Consus, and invited his neighbors, the Latins and Sabines, to the festival.  Suspecting no treachery, they came in numbers, with their wives and children.  But the Roman youths rushed upon their guests, and carried off the virgins.  The parents of the virgins returned home and prepared for vengeance.”

[Battles ensue, first one side gaining, then the other.]

“At length, when both parties were exhausted with the struggle, the Sabine women rushed in between them, and prayed their husbands and fathers to be reconciled.  Their prayer was heard; the two people not only made peace, but agreed to form only one nation.  The Romans continued to dwell on the Palatine under their king Romulus; the Sabines built a new town on the Capitoline and Quirinal hills, where they lived under their king Titus Tatius.  The two kings and their senates met for deliberation n the valley between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, which was hence called comitium, or the place of meeting.”


In honor of Eternal Rome, fix a Roman banquet.  This website has several delightful recipes and a few extras to help give your dinner a Roman ambiance.  If you can’t manage all three courses or the ingredients are just too wild to try, fix something simple like Chilled Peas Vinaigrette or Carrots Sautéed in Peppered Wine Sauce from the Gustatio (1st course) and Pears Cooked with Cinnamon and Wine or Roman Custard from the Secundae Mensae (3rd course). 

Eating while reclining is optional.  A good centerpiece for the Christian table would include a lion or two.

Bonum Appetitionem!

SPQR by Piotr Michal Jaworski.  Swiped from Wikipedia

Map taken from Sir William Smith, “Map of Ancient Rome Showing the Walls of Servius and those of Aurelian”, from A Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography (1891) p. 646

Guercino, Hersilia Separating Romulus and Tatius, 1645, Louvre. Swiped from Wikipedia.

19 April 2013

19 April - St. Expeditus; Hasty Pudding

“At Melitine, in Armenia, the holy martyrs Hermogenes, Caius, Expeditus, Aristonicus, Rufus, and Galatas, crowned on the same day.”

And that’s all we get.  Nothing about how they were martyred, or by whom, or anything.  But around Expeditus grew a story of a young soldier who had converted to Christianity.  On the day he was to be received into the Church, the Devil in the form of a crow suggested that he wait a bit… think it over… do nothing in haste… after all, there’s always tomorrow… if you’re still of the same mind tomorrow…

Instead, Expeditus stamped on the crow, crying “Hodie!” (“Today!”)  For this, he is considered the patron saint of those who need fast answers or those who provide fast services (like delivery people).  He is also invoked against procrastination, something to which the Widow is much addicted.

“Dear Saint Expeditus,

Protect me from Delivery People,

Those who pull out in front of me with their big delivery trucks, which are never going as fast as I was before they pulled out in front of me,

Those who suddenly stop and double park, leaving no room to go around them, and backing up traffic for blocks, while they seek out someone to sign for the package,

Those who can’t see my house number because it is rather far back from the road, and who refuse to read the number on my mailbox, which is right next to the road, so they say they can’t deliver my package, which means I have to drive to their warehouse 40 miles away,

Those who open boxes and steal the contents, then inform me via email that the package was damaged and the contents lost due to my negligence – I neglected to chain and padlock the box – so they aren’t paying for it,

Those who don’t read that packages delivered to the office must – MUST – be signed for, so they leave a box clearly marked “NEW COMPUTER EQUIPMENT” in front of the door on the sidewalk, which disappears before I even get to work, but that’s not their fault, they delivered it, and they aren’t paying for it…

Oh, and thanks for the Good Ones.  Protect them and intercede for them.  Amen.”


In the spirit of the day, try HASTY PUDDING.

“The sweets of Hasty Pudding. Come, dear bowl,

Glide o'er my palate, and inspire my soul.”

                                                          Joel Barlow, “The Hasty Pudding” (1793)

In the U.S., this is made with cornmeal, and is something like polenta.  Other countries use wheat.  

Get out your double-boiler.  Fill the bottom pan with the usual amount of water and heat to boiling.    Meanwhile, put 4 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt in the top pan; bring this to a boil over direct heat (not over the bottom pan).  When boiling, sprinkle in 1 cup of cornmeal, stirring constantly until it is incorporated. 

Now put the top pan over the bottom pan and let the mixture cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.  Serve warm in bowls topped with maple syrup, or butter and cinnamon-sugar, or honey, or milk and sugar, or bits of fried bacon or salt pork…

“What is better for supper than milk and mush?” asks Mrs. A. M. Collins in her Great Western Cookbook” (1857).  Her recipe was called “Corn Meal Mush”:

“Fill an iron pot as full of water as you think will make mush enough for the occasion, salt it to your taste, sift the meal, and begin to stir it in as soon as the water boils, but not before.  Let the meal fall slowly and lightly through your fingers; after putting in two or three handfuls, let it boil a minute or two, still stirring; after it boils well, stir in more until it is thick enough.”

Joel Barlow took exception to that name for this glorious food to which he dedicated his epic poem:

“Ev'n in thy native regions, how I blush

To hear the Pennsylvanians call thee mush!”

You can read his paeon of praise to his ‘morning incense’ and his ‘evening meal’ here.

“Thy name is Hasty Pudding! thus our sires
Were wont to greet thee fuming from their fires;
And while they argued in thy just defence
With logic clear, they thus explained the sense:
'In haste the boiling cauldron, o'er the blaze,
Receives and cooks the ready-powdered maize;
In haste 'tis served, and then in equal haste,
With cooling milk, we make the sweet repast.”

18 April 2013

18 April - Lucrezia Borgia

“In Rome (or possibly Subiaco), to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and Vannozza Catanei, wife of Giorgio di Croce, a daughter, Lucrezia.”

That’s the way the announcement could have read in the local rag in 1480, if they had such things then.  The problem was that Rodrigo belonged to that cadre of men who weren’t supposed to sire children – not that that stopped him or any of his fellow fornicating men-of-the-cloth.  Everyone knew they did it, but for form’s sake, the polite world went along with the polite fiction that the children of popes, cardinals, bishops, et al, were (in public) ‘nieces’ and ‘nephews’.

[No, children.  Lucrezia and her siblings were not the first or only children of the highest Catholic prelates.  There were others, fore and aft.]

Rodrigo as pope
Lucrezia’s father, Roderigo Borgia, was born into the Catalan (Spain) family of Lanzol.  His mother’s brother, Alonso de Borja, Bishop of Valencia, had risen to power in the court of Alfonso V of Aragon (Spain).  When Alfonso finally ascended to the throne of Naples, his diplomatic bishop accompanied him, and by dint of reconciling his sovereign and his pope in a serious quarrel, received the cardinal’s hat.  Elected in 1455 as a compromise candidate for the Chair of Peter, the former cardinal –  now Callixtus III – raised two of his nephews to the position of cardinal – one of them being Roderigo, who by now had taken his uncle’s name of Borja (Borgia in Italy).

Twenty-six year-old Rodrigo was created a cardinal in 1456; a year later, he was made vice-chancellor of the Church of Rome.  Even after Uncle Callixtus’ death in 1458, when the jealous Italians drove out the Spaniards who had swarmed in on the heels of a Spanish pope, Rodrigo managed to maintained his wealth and position.  He built a handsome palace for himself and indulged his sensual nature – collecting art, holding orgies, setting out on romantic adventures… the usual leisure-time occupations of Cardinals.

So NOT in accordance with the life of a Christian prelate was his conduct, that he earned a written rebuke from Pope Pius II: “Our displeasure is beyond words, for your conduct has brought the holy state and office into disgrace… This is the reason the princes and the powers despise us and the laity mock us; this is why our own mode of living is thrown in our face when we reprove others.  Contempt is the lot of Christ’s vicar because he seems to tolerate these actions… We leave it to you whether it is becoming to our dignity to court young women, and to send those whom you love fruits and wine, and during the whole day to give no thought to anything but sensual pleasures… A cardinal should be above reproach and an example of right living before the eyes of all men… “ And, as Rodrigo no doubt yawned, ‘blah blah blah’.  He promised to amend his ways, but then a dark eye full of ‘come hither’ was flashed at him, and off the straight and narrow went the cardinal.

Looking at his picture, one might find it hard to believe that he could lead the life of Don Juan, but descriptions of him gave him an elegant figure and a serene countenance:  “He is handsome; of a most glad countenance and joyous aspect, gifted with honeyed and choice eloquence.  The beautiful women on whom his eyes are cast he lures to love him, and moves them in a wondrous way, more powerfully than the magnet influences iron.” “… tall and neither light nor dark; his eyes are black and his lips somewhat full.  His health is robust, and he is able to bear any pain or fatigue; he is wonderfully eloquent and a thorough man of the world.”

Vannozza in later years
Around 1466 or 67 (perhaps even earlier), Cardinal Borgia attracted a woman of Roman or possibly Mantuan family, Vannozza Catanei, age 24 or 25.  Rumor has it that she might have been the beautiful 17-year-old wife of a clueless husband in Mantua, who was seduced by a handsome but unnamed Cardinal when Pius II took his Court to Mantua in 1459.  Cardinal Borgia did assuage his boredom while in Mantua with parties and what could be coyly termed ‘romantic adventures’, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that this was the start of the liaison between the two.    Probably very beautiful, passionate, and intellectually vigorous, she was an excellent businesswoman and administrator, who owned and managed several properties including inns and a large-scale pawnbroking business, by which she amassed a tidy fortune – apart from the generosity of Rodrigo.  At the time of Lucrezia’s birth, she was 38, had possibly been widowed twice, was currently married to Giorgio di Croce, an apostolic secretary (thanks to his wife’s lover), and living in Rome in a house near the Cardinal’s palace on the Piazza Pizzo di Merlo.

Lucrezia had several siblings, beside the three brothers who were also children of Rodrigo and Vannozza.  By another woman, Rodrigo had sired a son, Pier Luigi and two daughters, Girolama and Isabella, all three at least a decade older than Lucrezia.  Her eldest full brother, Giovanni (from whom descended Saint Francis Borgia) was born in 1474, Cesare followed in 1476, and her youngest full brother, Giuffre, was born in 1481 or 1482.  Since Rodrigo didn’t give up his way of life, even after becoming Pope, there were at least a couple more half-siblings to follow.

Young Lucrezia
 How long Lucrezia lived with her mother is unknown, as is the age at which she was entrusted to her father’s cousin Adriana del Mila Orsini and went to live in the Orsini palazzo on Monte Giordano (near her father’s residence).  She was living with Madonna Adriana at age 9, when young Giulia Farnese (soon to be Rodrigo’s mistress) arrived to marry Adriana’s son Orsino.  Here, Lucrezia received a perfect education in style, manners, culture, religious piety, and all the social graces.  She learned to speak and write fluently in French, Spanish and Italian, less fluently in Greek and Latin, composed elegant poetry in these languages, took lessons in music, drawing, embroidering, and classic literature, and had access to the greatest philosophers and humanist thinkers who attended her father’s court.  With Giulia as her father’s mistress and Adriana promoting the liaison, Lucrezia also learned a few things about the seamier side of life.

Descriptions of Lucrezia always mentioned her beautiful golden hair and pleasant countenance: “She is of medium height and slender figure.  Her face is long, the nose well defined and beautiful; her hair a bright gold, and her eyes blue; her mouth is somewhat large, the teeth dazzlingly white; her neck white and slender, but at the same time well rounded.  She is always cheerful and good–humored.”

Rodrigo was always looking for ways to advance his family, legitimate or otherwise.  At age 11, Lucrezia was contracted to marry (the following year) Don Cherubino Juan de Centelles, a nobleman of Valencia in Spain, with a huge dowry in money, jewels, and other valuables.  At the exact same time, another betrothal contract with a different Valencian noble was signed.  Neither one was fulfilled.  Before she could be sent off to Spain as a bride to either of these men, Pope Innocent VIII died, and Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia was elected in his place (or, to quote Gregorovius, “To him, the highest bidder, the papacy had been sold”), taking the name Alexander VI. 

Lucrezia’s life changed rapidly.  For a start, Alexander acquired and furnished a residence for her near St. Peter’s called Santa Maria in Portico, where the 12-year-old girl held court, accompanied by her governess and preceptress, Adriana Orsini, and her good friend, Giulia Farnese Orsini.  And since the daughter of a pope could look much higher for a spouse than a mere nobleman, the previous marriage contracts were nullified, while scions of the ruling houses of Italy offered themselves or their relatives.  In June 1493, age 13, the Pope’s ‘niece’ (as she was referred to publicly) celebrated her first wedding, marrying the 26-year-old Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro – a relative of Lodovico il Moro of Milan – in the Vatican with all the ostentatious pomp and publicity that her father delighted in.

You know the rest of the story.  Or think you do.

Cristofano dell’Altissimo, [posthumous] Portrait of Pope Alexander VI, mid-16th c. Corridoio Vasariano Museum, Florence.  Swiped from Wikipedia.

Vannozza dei Catanei, a contemporary portrait, 16th century.

Pinturicchio, Lucrezia Borgia as Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1494, The Vatican.  Swiped from Wikipedia.

14 April 2013

14 April - St. Valerian and Companions

“At Rome, on the Appian way, the birthday of the holy martyrs Tiburtius, Valerian, and Maximus, who suffered in the time of the emperor Alexander and the prefect Almachius.   The first two – being converted to Christ by the exhortations of blessed Cecilia and baptized by pope St. Urban – were beaten with rods and decapitated for the true faith.  But Maximus, chamberlain of the prefect, moved by their constancy and encouraged by the vision of an angel, believed in Christ and was scourged with leaded whips until he expired.”

An Old English Martyrology is a tad more romantic: “On the fourteenth day of the month is the festival of the holy brothers St. Valerianus and St. Tiburtius.  They were urged under tortures by Almachius, prefect of Rome, to abjure Christ.  As they would not submit to this, he commanded them to be beheaded.  Then the man who was to see them beheaded said weeping and solemnly affirming that he had seen their souls go out of the bodies beautifully adorned, and that he had seen God’s angels as radiant as the sun, and they bore them to heaven with the flight of their wings.  The man believed in God, and he was scourged to death for Christ’s sake; his name was Maximus.”

Valerian was the husband of Saint Cecilia (November 22).  Tiburtius was his brother. 

The Golden Legend spends a good deal of time with Cecilia and Valerian’s wedding night:

“And when this blessed virgin should be espoused to a young man named Valerian, and the day of the wedding was come, she was clad in royal clothes of gold, but under she ware the hair. And she hearing the organs making melody, she sang in her heart, only to God, saying: “O Lord, I beseech thee that mine heart and body may be undefouled so that I be not confounded.” And every second and third day she fasted, commending herself unto our Lord whom she dreaded.”

“The night came that she should go to bed with her husband as the custom is, and when they were both in their chamber alone, she said to him in this manner: “O, my best beloved and sweet husband, I have a counsel to tell thee, if so be that thou wilt keep it secret and swear that ye shall bewray it to no man.”  To whom Valerian said that he would gladly promise and swear never to bewray it, and then she said to him: “I have an angel that loveth me, which ever keepeth my body whether I sleep or wake, and if he may find that ye touch my body by villainy, or foul and polluted love, certainly he shall anon slay you, and so should ye lose the flower of your youth. And if so be that thou love me in holy love and cleanness, he shall love thee as he loveth me and shall show to thee his grace.”

[At this point, Valerian is considering how to clip the wings of the ‘angel’]

Then Valerian, corrected by the will of God, having dread, said to her: “If thou wilt that I believe that thou sayest to me, show to me that angel that thou speakest of, and if I find veritable that he be the angel of God, I shall do that thou sayest, and if so be that thou love another man than me, I shall slay both him and thee with my sword.”

Cecilia sends him off to find Pope Urban on the Via Appia and request to be baptized by him.  After that (she says) he will see the angel.  Valerian did so, received instruction and baptism, and returned to Cecilia forthwith, “whom he found within her chamber speaking with an angel.  And this angel had two crowns of roses and lilies which he held in his hands, of which he gave one to Cecilia, and that other to Valerian, saying: Keep ye these crowns with an undefouled and clean body, for I have brought them to you from Paradise, and they shall never fade, nor wither, nor lose their savour, nor they may not be seen but of them to whom chastity pleaseth. And thou, Valerian, because thou hast used profitable counsel, demand what thou wilt.”

Valerian wilts that his dearly beloved brother Tibertius should also know the truth and be brought into the faith.  The angel grants this, and adds that both brothers will go to the Lord by the palm of martyrdom.  Tibertius then enters the chamber and smells the invisible rose-and-lily crowns.  Valerian and Cecilia instruct him in the faith and send him off to be baptized by St. Urban.

And from then on he had so much grace of God that every day he saw angels, and all that ever he required of our Lord he obtained.”

Enter Trouble.

 Almachius, provost of Rome, which put to death many Christian men, heard say that Tyburtius and Valerian buried Christian men that were martyred, and gave all their goods to poor people. He called them before him, and after long disputation he commanded that they should go to the statue or image of Jupiter for to do sacrifice, or else they should be beheaded. And as they were led, they so preached the faith of our Lord to one called Maximus that they converted him to the Christian faith, and they promised to him that if he had very repentance, and firm creance that he should see the glory of heaven which their souls should receive at the hour of their passions, and that he himself should have the same if he would believe.

That same night, Maximus was baptized, along with his household and several of his henchmen.  The following morning, Valerian and Tiburtius were led to the statue of Jupiter, but as they refused to sacrifice to the idol, they were then and there beheaded, and S. Cecilia took their bodies and buried them.

As foretold, Maximus saw their souls ascend into heaven, borne by angels.  The news that Maximus had also converted enraged the provost, and he ordered his erstwhile chamberlain to be scourged until he died.  Maximus was buried by Cecilia next to her husband and brother-in-law.

The relics of all four are buried under the high altar in the church of St. Cecilia in Trastavere.


In honor of these saints, plant Valerian and Sweet Cicely in your Mary Garden.

Valerian is a perennial plant with sweet-smelling flowers that bloom in summer.  The root stinks (cats love the smell for some reason.  Usually they are more fastidious).  Said to be useful as an aid to sleep, although I find sitting in the herb garden on a summer’s day to be sleep-inducing enough.

Sweet Cicely is a tall perennial with white flowers and feathery, fern-like leaves.  It is very attractive to bees. The seeds, roots, and leaves can be eaten and taste more-or–less like anise (black licorice).   Gerard said in his Herball that is is “… good for old people that are dull and without courage; it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increaseth their lust and strength.”  Well, other than an increase in lust, that is a plant I can use!

Artwork: Francesco Botticini, “Saints Valerian, Cecilia, and Tiburtius with female donor” (15th c.)  Swiped from Wikipedia.

“Valerian” from Kohler’s Medicinal Plants (1897). Swiped from Wikipedia.

“Sweet Cicely” from ''Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz'' by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885), Gera, Germany. Permission granted to use under GFDL by Kurt Stueber. Swiped from Wikipedia.

01 April 2013


‘From ancient texts I sing the days and seasons,
And the star-signs that rise and set, beneath the Earth.
I’ve reached the fourth month, where you’re most honored,
And you know, Venus, both month and poet are yours.’
The goddess, moved, touching my brow lightly
With Cytherean myrtle, said: ‘Finish what you’ve begun.’
                                                                                                     Ovid, Fasti, Book IV

“April – The fourth month of the modern year, and the first month of spring… The name has been a subject of considerable etymological guess-work.  It has been supposed to come for aperio, “I open,” as marking the time when buds of trees and flowers begin to open.  But, inasmuch as all the other months are named after divinities or suppositious demigods, and as the Romans always looked upon April as being under the peculiar tutelage of Venus, it seems not impossible that Aprilis was originally Aphrilis, for Aphrodite, the Greek name of Venus.” William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898) p. 58
Astronomy for April:
Full Pink Moon on the 25th. There will be a partial eclipse of the moon the same night, which will be visible everywhere except North America.

[“Pink” has nothing to do with the color of the moon, unless you have some interesting atmospheric conditions.  Pinks, a flower we know better as carnations, are said to start blooming now.  Their name comes from the jagged edges of the petals, which looked as if they had been cut with pinking scissors.]

Lyrid Meteor Shower, early morning on the 22nd. The waxing moon will drown out much of it, but EarthSky says to watch after the moon sets.  [Here the moon sets at 3:19 or thereabouts, while dawn breaks at 4:12 (well before sunrise) so there will be about an hour of chilly morning watching.]

April is dedicated to The Blessed Sacrament.

Liturgical Celebrations
The Octave of Easter, eight days (inclusive) from Easter Sunday to the following Sunday.
First Friday                             5 April
First Saturday                         6 April
Divine Mercy Sunday            7 April (fist Sunday after Easter)
Annunciation                          8 April (this year)

Novenas for March
Divine Mercy…………………… continues from 29 March (also here)
Annunciation……….…………… continues from 30 March (also here)
Blessed Margaret de Castello …... begins 4 April
Saint George ……………………. begins 14 April
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla ……... begins 19 April
Saint Catherine of Siena ………… begins 20 April (new calendar) or 21 April (old calendar) (also here)
Saint Peregrine ………………….. begins 22 April (also here)
Saint Walburga ………………….. begins 22 April
Saint Joseph the Worker ………… begins 22 April
Saint Monica …………………….. begins 25 April (old calendar)
Our Lady of Pompeii ……………. begins 29 April
Ascension ………………………... begins 30 April (also here)


April weather:
Rain and sunshine, both together.

Weather for April:
Based on the 12 Days of Christmas:  Bright sunshine and clear skies.
Based on the first 12 days of January: Clear skies and very cold.
Based on the Ember Days:  Mostly sunny and warm.
[Looks like a little of everything.]

Weather Lore for April

Rain in April will bring a good May.

Betwixt April and May if there be rain,
Tis worth more than oxen and wain [wagon].

April showers bring milk and meal.

April rains make large sheaves.

In April, each drop counts for a thousand.

If it rains in April, it will rain incessantly in May.

April rains for men, May rains for beasts (a wet April is good for wheat and corn, a wet May is good for grass)

A wet April makes a dry June.

A cold April will fill the barn.
on the other hand
Warm April, great blessing.

Cold April gives bread and wine [at least in France.  In Spain, however, "A cold April, much bread and little wine".  I prefer a French April.]

A cold April brings much fruit.

A cold and moist April fills the cellar and fattens the cow.

Moist April, clear June,
Cloudy April, dewy May.

Fogs in April foretell a failure of the wheat-crop next year [at least in Alabama]

When April blows his horn, it's good for both hay and corn.
April thunder indicates a good hay and corn crop.

Thunder in April signifieth that same year to be fruitful and merry (with the death of wicked men, says the Book of Knowledge)

Thunderstorm in April is the end of hoar-frost.

April wears a white hat [either frost or snow, especially at the beginning of the month]
It is not April without a frosty crown.
'Til April's dead, change not a thread [don't put your winter woolies away just yet]

Snow in April is manure.

4/1 – If it thunders on All Fools' Day, it brings good crops of corn and hay [and we had thunder in the Smallest State, presaging some very cold weather.  The corn had better be good this year!]

If it rains on the first day of April, there will be rain for fifteen successive days.

4/1-3 – If the first three days are foggy, rain in June will make the lanes boggy.

As the weather is on the first three days of April, so it will be for the next forty days.

4/3 – If St. Rosemund’s day brings storm and wind,
Then will St. Sibylle’s day (April 29) be mild.

4/7 – The first Sunday after Easter settles the weather for the whole summer

4/14 – If it rains on Pastor Sunday (second after Easter), it will rain every Sunday until Pentecost.

4/24 – If it rains on St. Mark’s eve, there will be an abundance of figs.

Gardening for April:

April brings the primrose sweet
Scatters daisies at our feet.

The wine of April is the wine of God
The wine of May is the wine of lackeys.

4/23 – When on St. George rye will hide a crow, a good harvest may be expected. 

Mary’s Garden:
According to legend, when Mary wept as she watched her Son carrying His Cross, a carnation grew where each tear landed.

Against St. George, when blue is worn,  
The blue Harebells the fields adorn,

Advice to the Gardener:
From the 1817 Almanac:
“With the Farmer and Gardener this is the busiest Month in the whole Year; for now whatsoever you have a mind to plant or sow, the Earth is fit to receive.  Hoe your Carrots, Radishes, Onions, &c.  Set French Beans, plant Asparagus, separate the Layers of Artichokes, and plant three of them in one Hole.  Plant Garden Beans, Rouncival, and other large Pease to succeed other Crops.  Plant Slips of Sage, Rude, Rosemary, Lavender, &c.  Sow all Sorts of Sallad Herbs and Spinach in moist Places for the last time.  Sow Turnips, and all Sorts of Cabbage-Lettuce, and transplant Cos and Silesia Lettuces which were sown last Month.

Cassell’s Illustrated almanac 1871 for April.
Flowers.—Plant out wallflowers, stocks, sweet-williams, &e . Complete the sowing of hardy annuals, and the half-hardy kinds may be sown towards the end of the month. Look carefully over your roses after curled leaves, which will be found to contain a grub that will prove destructive to the bloom if unmolested.

Vegetables.—Make a fresh sowing of beans and peas, for a succession of crops. Sow Brussels sprouts rather thinly. Get in your main crop of celery, and of onions, if not completed last month. Continue the sowing of lettuce, and water the young plants constantly in dry weather. Plant slips of herbs in shady places.

Fruit.—Grafting and trimming operations may be completed early in the month. The ground about gooseberry and currant trees should be frequently turned over with the hoe, and the stems and young leaves should be watched for the appearance of caterpillars. Clear away suckers from trees and bushes, digging toward the root for that purpose if necessary.

"It is now a good Time to Bleed and take Physic; abstain from much Wine, or other strong Liquors; as they will cause a ferment in your Blood, and ruin your Constitution."

April. Limbourg frères. Grandes Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry, Fifteenth century. [unfortunately, the page got wet at some point]
The calendar pages of the Grandes Heures carried more religious symbolism than that of the more famous Tres Riches Heures.  Each month was dedicated to a part of the Apostles Creed, with the relevant prophecy from the Old Testament and scripture from the New Testament.  April is dedicated to the article of the Creed which says “…He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried…” Here we see (left to right) Saint Paul instructing the Galatians (although the scripture “…for although He was crucified through weakness…” comes from II Corinthians 13:4); Our Lady stands above one of the gates of the New Jerusalem, holding a banner with a depiction of the Crucified Christ; Taurus, the Bull, astrological symbol of April, emerges from the gate; the sun has moved into the fourth of twelve divisions in the arc of the sky; and below it, budding trees stand next to well-grown grain.

Moses and Saint John the Evangelist Adore the Blessed Sacrament, from “The Hours of Catherine of Cleves” 15th century.
Moses holds a banderole which references Deuteronomy 8.3: “He afflicted thee with want, and gave thee manna for thy food, which neither thou nor thy fathers knew: to show that not in bread alone does man live, but in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”.  Saint John’s banderole comes from Revelations 2:17: “…to him that overcomes, I will give the hidden manna…”

April. Limbourg frères. Grandes Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry, Fifteenth century.
Depicted at the bottom of the calendar pages in the Grande Heures is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament by the articles of the Apostles Creed.  In each, a prophet (cloaked to show the obscurity of prophecy) takes a stone out of the building representing the Old Law and offers it to an apostle, who, by raising the cloak ‘uncovers’ the prophecy with an article of faith. Here the Prophet Zechariah pulls another brick out of the edifice, whose towers are beginning to fall, and holds a banderole which translates to “…and they shall look upon me (their God) whom they have pierced…” (Zechariah 12:10).   Saint John the Evangelist presents the relevant part of the Apostle’s Creed, “…He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried…”

April - Feasting. Engraving based on an 11th century manuscript. William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898) p. 58.  Easter falls in April (or very near in the last week of March), and after a month and a half of scant Lenten fare, our ancestors were quite ready to spread the table with good things and sit down to it with family and friends.