October 7


Our Lady of the Rosary

The 1571 Battle of Lepanto was the biggest oar-powered battle ever, pitting the forces of Islam and the Ottoman Empire against a Christian fleet composed of an alliance of Catholic powers. Hundreds of galleys and tens of thousands of sailors and infantry took part in an encounter that ended with a Christian victory. The Turks suffered 20,000 casualties and lost 187 ships, captured or sunk. 20,000 Christian slaves were freed from the oar-benches of the Turkish galleys.

Prompted by the numerous processions in Rome by the Rosary confraternity petitioning the aid of Mary, Pope Pius V atributed the triumph at Lepanto to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and created a new festival for Our Lady of Victory. Two years later Pope Gregory XIII changed the name to “Feast of the Holy Rosary” and in 1960 Pope Paul VI renamed it again to the “Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary”.

There are numerous churches dedicated to either Our Lady of Victory or Our Lady of the Rosary. Maria del Rosario is a common Spanish girl’s name while Rosario is a popular name for boys in the Catholic world.

October 6

A detail from an illustration of Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci is seen at the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies in this 2007 file photo. The sainthood cause of the 17th-century missionary to China has moved to the Vatican after the diocesan phase of the sainthood process closed May 10. Father Ricci was born in Macerata, Italy, in 1552 and died in Beijing May 11, 1610. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) (May 13, 2013) See RICCI-CAUSE May 13, 2013.

1552 Birth of Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was an Italian Jesuit missionary to China whose techniques of winning the confidence of the Chinese exemplify the Jesuit approach to foreign evangelism.

In the sixteenth century, China was ruled by the decadent and inward-looking Ming dynasty. Once Ming fleets had explored the southern seas all the way to Africa, but by the late 1500s ocean-going vessels were forbidden and contact with the outside world was discouraged. China considered itself literally the centre of the universe, feeling self-sufficient and superior to all other nations. It had a department of state to deal with barbarians along its borders and another to handle its neighbours such as Korea or Vietnam which were willing to acknowledge Chinese superiority and pay tribute, but it had no notion of dealing with technologically-advanced Western nations which were now starting to intrude into Asia. Christianity, in its Nestorian form, had reached China centuries before through an overland route but Catholic presence was found only in the Portuguese colony of Macau on the southern coast.

Ricci had joined the Society of Jesus in 1571 and volunteered himself as a missionary to Asia seven years later. He was sent to Macau where he studied the Chinese language to prepare for the evangelization of the interior of China. He mastered the script and the literary classics that formed the basis of high culture — this at least allowed him to communicate with the officials whose cooperation the Jesuits would need. But how to make themselves useful in the eyes of the Chinese state that regarded foreigners as inherently useless and inferior? Here Ricci employed mathematical and astronomical skills to great advantage, areas in which the West was forging ahead of Asia. The proper way of marking time was necessary for government and religious decision-making; Ricci’s ability to predict eclipses and regulate timepieces won him and his companions the esteem of the ruling class. Ricci’s geographical knowledge presented world maps to the Chinese for the first time.

Part of the Jesuit approach to Asian missions was to adopt appropriate dress for their clergy; in India they dressed as Buddhist priests; in China they went clothed as court mandarins. Ricci also attempted to explain Christianity in a way that was compatible with Confucianism; here he trod perilously close to heresy. The mendicant orders, the Dominicans and Franciscans, who saw themselves as missionary rivals to the Jesuits, complained to Rome about this alleged syncretism and a lengthy controversy erupted, one that hampered evangelism.

Ricci was eventually allowed to travel to the Ming capital in Beijing where established a Catholic cathedral and made some prominent converts. He died there in 1610 and his grave is now a tourist attraction. Efforts are being made to have Ricci named a saint.

October 5


1813 The death of Tecumseh

The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain was fought at sea and along the Canadian border. Allied with the British were many native tribes, resentful at American expansion into their traditional territories. A tribal confederacy under the Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his mystical brother known as The Prophet had consistently opposed yielding land to the Americans but had suffered a number of reversals.

In the autumn of 1813, the British and their native allies were being pushed back from positions below the Great Lakes. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry had won the Battle of Lake Erie capturing an entire British squadron, which prompted the famous phrase, “we have met the enemy and he is ours” and ashore the future president William Henry Harrison was also successful. He recaptured Detroit and launched an invasion of Upper Canada. On this day Harrison’s forces met a British army under Henry Procter backed by hundreds of Tecumseh’s warrior in what is now southern Ontario. The British wilted under an American charge but Tecumseh’s forces stood their ground. In the fighting Tecumseh was shot and killed.

The battle itself was of little significance as the victorious Americans were obliged to withdraw but the death of Tecumseh was a catastrophe for the native cause. Their confederacy collapsed and hopes of a pan-native resistance died.

October 4

St Francis of Assisi

The most remarkable man of the Middle Ages was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone to a prosperous merchant and his wife in central Italy in 1181. His father nicknamed him Francesco (”Frenchy”) and so the young man became known to history as Francis of Assisi.

After living the carefree life of a rich man’s son, Francis underwent a series of religious experiences that caused him to renounce his father’s wealth and to embrace a life of poverty and service. He begged for his keep, tended to lepers, and preached a message of love and repentance across the local countryside. (He also preached to the birds and fish, urging them to be grateful to God.) Francis travelled widely and even went on the Sixth Crusade where he preached to the politely attentive Sultan of Egypt. Despite his radical approach to property and the environment, Francis attracted large numbers of followers who were eventually organized in the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans, for men) and the Order of St Clare (for women).

The tender heart of Francis naturally found expression in his attitude toward Christmas. In 1220 in the town of Greccio, Francis set up the earliest living nativity scene. (From “Greccio” we get the word “crèche”.) It had been customary for centuries for churches to set up a model of a crib near the altar during the Christmas season but Francis was the first to use real animals, a donkey and an ox, a manger full of straw, and a tiny baby to bring home the long-ago events in Bethlehem and makie the Incarnation and humanity of Jesus real to the ordinary people.

Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem. A certain valiant and veracious soldier, Master John of Grecio, who, for the love of Christ, had left the warfare of this world, and become a dear friend of this holy man, affirmed that he beheld an Infant so marvelous sleeping in the manger, Whom the blessed Father Francis embraced with both his arms, as if he would awake Him from sleep.

The living Nativity scene is a long-enduring tradition that is still carried out 800 years later.

Another Christmastide example set by Francis that is still observed is the custom of giving animals a special feeding on December 25. He begged farmers to give their livestock extra food at Christmas in memory of the ox and ass between whom the Baby lay. “If I could see the Emperor,” he said, “I would implore him to issue a general decree that all people who are able to do so, shall throw grain and corn upon the streets, so that on this great feast day the birds might have enough to eat, especially our sisters, the larks.” To this day, Norwegians will set out a julenek, a sort of Bird’s Christmas Tree, to provide grain for our winged friends. English farmers may wassail their cattle with an anointing of cider and Polish farmers on Christmas Eve give their cattle an oplatek wafer and bless them with the sign of the cross.

The Franciscan brotherhood is also responsible for the idea of Christmas carols. Before the 1200s most songs celebrating Advent and the Nativity were solemn, theologically-dense hymns in Latin but members of the order took popular tunes – often dance music — and wrote lyrics in the local language. The carol we know as “Good Christian Men Rejoice” was written by Franciscan friar Henry Soso who, when he awoke from his dream of being invited by angels to join in a dance, wrote down the tune he had heard in his vision.



October 3

1925 Birth of Gore Vidal

Proof that only the good die young or, that more than the weight of years is necessary to keep a man from being a jerk, may be found in the career of Eugene Louis Gore Vidal. Born into a socially prominent family and given an expensive early education, Gore volunteered for military service after Pearl Harbour and spent an uneventful (if chilly) war in the Aleutian Islands.

Gore turned to novel writing after the war and caused a bit of a scandal with his third book Pillars of the City(1948) which treated male homosexuality in an nonjudgemental manner. That notoriety forced him for a time to write low-rent fiction under a pseudonym. He carved out a successful career out of plodding high-brow historical fiction, writing accounts of the careers of Julian the Apostate. Aaron Burr, Abraham Lincoln, and William Randolph Hearst. Gore’s transsexual tale Myra Breckinridge was made into a dreadful film flop with Raquel Welch and Mae West.

Gore was not one to shy away from a microphone and became known as much for his caustic commentary as his writing. In one famous encounter he provoked the normally-urbane William F. Buckley into exclaiming “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddam face, and you’ll stay plastered!” Gore’s jealousy of Truman Capote led to this remark:  “My first impression as I wasn’t wearing my glasses was that it was a colourful ottoman. When I sat down on it, it squealed. It was Truman.” Backstage at the Dick Cavett Show, Gore slapped Norman Mailer in the face and Mailer responded by head-butting Gore.

Gore died in 20102, leaving behind these provocative quotes:

• “We should stop going around babbling about how we’re the greatest democracy on earth, when we’re not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic.”

• “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people
would simply do as I advise.”

•”I never a miss a chance to have sex or appear on television.”

• “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

• “A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.”

“The four most beautiful words in our common language: ‘I told you so.'”

October 2

1528 The Obedience of a Christian Man

One of the greatest challenges that early Protestant reformers faced in persuading secular rulers of the value of the new religion was to assure kings that, despite their religious disobedience, they were perfectly harmless citizens. This was not always easy, given the way dissidents had claimed spiritual sanction for their violence in the German Peasant Rebellion.

Martin Luther wished to disassociate the evangelical cause from imputations of lawlessness and rebellion and return to the ideas held by the early Christians: obey superiors in all lawful commands but when ordered to perform any act against the will of God, refuse and suffer the legal consequences without murmur or complaint. Luther’s wish to deny the Catholic Church any coercive power tended to elevate the powers of the secular ruler; indeed Luther said that no one had spoken so highly of the magistracy since the days of the apostles as he had. The lot of Christians would ever be suffering and the cross; redress of oppression was to be sought only through prayer.

The early English reformers backed Luther on this point. William Tyndale, in his Obedience of a Christian Man, cited St. Paul’s words Romans 13 on obedience to the higher powers, castigated those who might suggest resistance and said that evil rulers were wholesome medicine, sent by God to chastise his people. In one remarkable passage he praises tyranny in comparison to the rule of a weak king:

It is better to pay the tenth than lose all. It is better to suffer one tyrant than many, and to suffer wrong of one man than of every man. Yea, and it is a better thing to have a tyrant unto thy king than a shadow; a passive king that doth nought himself, but suffereth others to do with him what they wi!, and to lead him whither they list. For a tyrant, though he do wrong unto the good, yet he punisheth the evil, and maketh all men obey, neither suffre any man to poll but himself only. A king that is soft as silk, and effeminate that is to say, turned into the nature of a woman,—what with his own lusts, which are the longing of a woman with child, so that he cannot resist them, and what with the wily tyranny of them that rule him, —shall be more grievous unto the realm than a right tyrant. Read the chronicles and thou shalt find it ever so. 

Kings, added Tyndale, were above the law; they might do right or wrong as they willed and were accountable to no one but God.

But, woe to poor obedient Tyndale. Despite fleeing religious persecution in England for his translation of the Latin Bible into the vernacular, he was arrested and burnt at the stake in 1536. His last words were “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”


October 1

1947 Sarah Binks is born

Paul Hiebert (1892-1987) was a University of Manitoba chemist who revealed a sly humour and a talent for exquisitely awful verse in publishing Sarah Binks, a faux biography of the “Sweet Songstress of Saskatchewan”. Born in Russia to a Mennonite family who migrated to Canada, Hiebert took degrees in philosophy and Gothic and Teutonic philology before doing a Ph.D. in chemistry and launching an academic career. 

Hiebert imagined Willows, a Saskatchewan village of the early 20th century:

Half way between Oak Bluff and Quagmire in Saskatchewan lies the little town of North Willows. Its public buildings are unpretentious but pure in architectural style. A post office, two general stores, Charley Wong’s restaurant and billiard parlour, two United churches, the Commercial House (Lib.), the Clarendon Hotel (Cons.), a drug store, a consolidated school, and eighteen filling stations, make up the east side of Railroad Avenue, its chief commercial street. On the west side Railway Avenue is taken up by the depot, the lumber yard and four elevators. At right angles to Railway Avenue runs Post Office Street, so called because the post office was on this street before the last provincial election.

From Willows came Sarah Binks, spinster poetess whose hymns to the rural charms of her province live on in immortal ditties such as “Song to the Cow”, “Goose and “Up from the Magma and Back Again”. These stanzas won her the much-coveted Wheat Pool Medal but, alas, the accompanying prize was a horse thermometer. In a tragic mishap while taking her own temperature, she bit down hard on a Scotch mint, cracking the thermometer and swelling a fatal dose of mercury.

She was hailed at the unveiling of her monument with this tribute by the Honourable A.E. Windheaver:

“Despond not! I give you the words of your own great poetess, than whom there is no greater in this great Province of which I have the honour to be Minister of Grasshopper Control and Foreign Affairs. Despond not! Come drought, come rust, come high tariff and high freight rates and high cost of binder twine, I still say to you, as I have already said to the electors of Quagmire and Pelvis, that a Province that can produce a poet like your Sarah Binks under the type of government we have been having during the last four years, full of graft and maladministration and wasting the taxpayers’ money, and what about the roads, I want to say, that a Province that can produce such a poet may be down but it’s never out.”

September 30

1520 Accession of Suleiman the Magnificent

The longest-serving and probably greatest of the Ottoman emperors was Suleiman, known in the West as “the Magnificent” and to the Turks as “the Lawgiver”. Born in 1494 to Sultan Selim the Grim, he followed his father’s policy of aggressive expansion of his empire and Sunni Islam.

In 1521 Suleiman struck into Serbia and captured Belgrade. The next year he took the important fortress of Rhodes from which the Knights of St John had bedevilled Islamic shipping in the eastern Mediterranean. In 1526 he smashed the Hungarians at Mohács and killed their king, but in 1527 he received a setback in his war on Christian Europe — his forces were turned back after an unsuccessful siege of Vienna. Fortunes in the battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire would ebb and flow for centuries.

Next to face Suleiman’s armies were the Persians, recently made subject to the Shi’ite Safavid dynasty. A series of wars for the next three decades would advance the Turkish realm deeper into western Asia. 

At sea Ottoman navies battled the Portuguese in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean as far away as what is now Indonesia. In the Mediterranean Turkish fleets and their allies in the pirate states of North Africa had success against the ships of the Italian city states and Spain — a cynical alliance (is there any other kind?) with the French made that task easier.

In Turkey Suleiman was best known for codifying non-Sharia Islamic law and for sponsoring a flowering of arts and architecture. He himself was a poet of note.

Unlike previous Ottoman sultans, Suleiman married one of his concubines, a blonde Ukrainian beauty, daughter of an Orthodox priest, captured in a slaving raid and sold to the palace. Though their love affair was of epic proportions it did the empire no good. Under Roxelane’s influence, Suleiman killed two of his abler sons by other women in order to make her child, Selim, his heir. On his death in 1566 the apex of Ottoman grandeur had been reached, never again to be surpassed.

September 29

1902 Death of William Topaz McGonagall

Lovers of excruciatingly bad poetry have long honoured the shade of Irish-born Scottish poet William McGonagall, a compulsive weaver turned rhymester who to his dying day fancied himself among the greatest of his calling.

And, indeed, poetry was a calling. In 1877 when McGonagall was unemployed and in his 50s he had a vision: I seemed to feel as it were a strange kind of feeling stealing over me, and remained so for about five minutes. A flame, as Lord Byron has said, seemed to kindle up my entire frame, along with a strong desire to write poetry; and I felt so happy, so happy, that I was inclined to dance, then I began to pace backwards and forwards in the room, trying to shake off all thought of writing poetry; but the more I tried, the more strong the sensation became. It was so strong, I imagined that a pen was in my right hand, and a voice crying, “Write! Write!

For the next 25 years McGonagall proclaimed his creations on street-corners, in pubs, and in a circus where he was content, for fifteen shillings a night, to be pelted with refuse while he recited.  He died penniless and was buried in an unmarked Edinburgh grave but his memory lives on as long as poems like the one appended below, “The Death and Burial of Lord Tennyson”, are still treasured. His works are in print and, for their soporific qualities, make splendid bed-time reading.

Alas! England now mourns for her poet that's gone-
The late and the good Lord Tennyson.
I hope his soul has fled to heaven above,
Where there is everlasting joy and love.

He was a man that didn't care for company,
Because company interfered with his study,
And confused the bright ideas in his brain,
And for that reason from company he liked to abstain.

He has written some fine pieces of poetry in his time,
Especially the May Queen, which is really sublime;
Also the gallant charge of the Light Brigade-
A most heroic poem, and beautifully made.

He believed in the Bible, also in Shakspeare,
Which he advised young men to read without any fear;
And by following the advice of both works therein,
They would seldom or never commit any sin.

Lord Tennyson's works are full of the scenery of his boyhood,
And during his life all his actions were good;
And Lincolnshire was closely associated with his history,
And he has done what Wordsworth did for the Lake Country.

His remains now rest in Westminster Abbey,
And his funeral was very impressive to see;
It was a very touching sight, I must confess,
Every class, from the Queen, paying a tribute to the poet's greatness.

The pall-bearers on the right of the coffin were Mr W. E. H. Lecky,
And Professor Butler, Master of Trinity, and the Earl of Rosebery;
And on the left were Mr J. A. Froude and the Marquis of Salisbury,
Also Lord Selborne, which was an imposing sight to see.


September 28

The birthdays of screen sirens

1919 Doris Singleton

Singleton was a vocalist and radio star before getting the role she is best remembered for, playing Lucille Ball’s nemesis Carolyn Appleby on Love Lucy. 

1934 Brigitte Bardot

It is difficult to believe that Mademoiselle Bardot, who is still the epitome of the French “sex kitten”, was born the same year as Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down and the Dionne quintuplets dazzled the media. Bardot made 47 films before retiring in 1973 and becoming, first, an animal rights activist and then a critic of Muslim immigration.

1952 Sylvia Kristel

The Dutch model achieved soft-porn film immortality by starring in 1974’s Emmanuelle, Emmanuelle 2, Emmanuelle 3, Emmanuelle 4, Emmanuelle 7, Private Lessons, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. She did not have a happy life, was addicted to cocaine, and died of throat cancer in 2021.

1967 Mira Sorvino

Academy Awards for supporting actors and actresses go to the strangest people — Walter Brennan won three of the. Mira Sorvino was tabbed for the prize in 1995 for her role as a prostitute in Woody Allen’s The Mighty Aphrodite. She has also been honoured by entomologists: an excretion of the sunburst diving beetle has been named  “mirasorvone”.