September 20

1871 Martyrdom of a missionary bishop

On this date, churches of the Anglican communion celebrate the life of John Patteson (1827-71), the first Bishop of Melanesia. Patterson was the great-nephew of the poet Samuel Coleridge, educated at Oxford, and ordained a priest. He was a devoted student of languages and a country curate when he was recruited in 1854 to become a missionary in the Southern Pacific.

Based in New Zealand, Patteson sailed through the island chains of Melanesia trying to spread Christianity. To enable himself for this task he learned 23 native languages, wrote grammars for these tongues and translated parts of the Gospel. His job was made immeasurable harder by the presence in those areas of “blackbirders”, essentially kidnappers from British ships who would recruit islanders as indentured labourers and treat them as slaves on plantations. Patteson’s desire to offer a boarding-school education for native youth seemed to many of the locals as just another way of taking away their young men who would never return. Despite his opposition to this slave trade Patteson was attacked on more than one occasion. On this date in 1871 Patteson was killed on an island in the Solomons; his body was found floating at sea in a canoe with a palm leaf in his hand.

His death spurred a crack-down on black-birding and steps were taken to better protect islanders. Patteson is buried in Exeter Cathedral’s Martyrs’ Pulpit.

September 19

Saint Januarius

Should you happen to be in Naples on this date, or on December 16, or on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May, make it your business to drop in on the cathedral where you may be fortunate enough to see a miracle. At these times, the dried blood of St Januarius (or San Gennaro to the locals) will liquefy.

Januarius was the bishop of Naples during the time of the persecution of Christianity by the Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century. In 304, he was thrown to the bears and then beheaded. His relics were preserved and it was noted in 1389 that when the ampoule containing his blood was brought near the reliquary containing his head, liquefaction occurred. This miracle came to occur regularly on his saint’s day (today), the anniversary of the translation of his relics, and on the festival of his patronage of Naples.

On March 21, 2015, the blood in the vial appeared to liquify during a visit by Pope Francis. This was taken as a sign of the saint’s favour of the pope. The blood did not liquify when Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI visited nor when Naples elected a Communist mayor. Make of that what you will.

Januarius is the patron of Naples and blood banks and may be invoked against volcanic eruptions.

September 17


An account from Butler’s Book of Saints of the life of a churchman during the turbulent rule of the Merovingian Franks.

St Landebert, called in later ages Lambert, was a native of Maestricht, and born of a noble and wealthy family between the years 633 and 638. His father sent him to St Theodard to perfect his education. This holy bishop had such an esteem for his pupil that he spared no trouble in instructing and training him in learning and Christian virtue, and he was a credit to his master: his biographer, who was born soon after Lambert’s death, describes him as, “a prudent young man of pleasing looks, courteous and well behaved in his speech and manners; well built, strong, a good fighter, clear-headed, affectionate, pure and humble, and fond of reading”. When St Theodard, who was bishop of Tongres-Maestricht, was murdered, Lambert was chosen to succeed him; but the tyrannical Ebroin was reinstated as mayor of the palace when the Austrasian king, Childeric II, was slain in 674, and he at once began to revenge himself on those who had supported Childeric. This revolution affected St Lambert, who was expelled from his see. He retired to the monastery of Stavelot, and during the seven years that he continued there he obeyed the rule as strictly as the youngest novice could have done. One instance will suffice to show how he devoted his heart to serve God according to the perfection of his temporary state. One night in winter he let fall his shoe, so that it made a noise. This the abbot heard, and he ordered him who was responsible for that noise to go and pray before the great cross, which stood outside the church door. Lambert, without making any answer, went out as he was, barefoot and covered only with his shirt; and in this condition he prayed, kneeling before the cross, three or four hours. Whilst the monks were warming themselves after Matins, the abbot inquired if all were there. Answer was made that he had sent someone to the cross who had not yet come in. The abbot ordered that he should be called, and was surprised to find that the person was the Bishop of Maestricht, who made his appearance almost frozen. 

In 681 Ebroin was assassinated, and Pepin of Herstal, being made mayor of the palace, expelled the usurping bishops and, among other exiled prelates, restored St Lambert to Maestricht. The holy pastor returned to his flock animated with redoubled fervour, preaching and discharging his other duties with wonderful zeal and fruit. Finding there still remained many pagans in Kempenland and Brabant he applied himself to convert them to the faith, softened their barbarous temper by his patience, regenerated them in the water of baptism, and destroyed many superstitious observances. In the neighbourhood of his own see he founded with St Landrada the monastery of Munsterbilzen for nuns. 

Pepin of Herstal, after living many years in wedlock with St Plectrudis, entered into adulterous relations with her sister Alpais (of whom was born Charles Martel), and St Lambert expostulated with the guilty couple. Alpais complained to her brother Dodo, who with a party of his followers set upon St Lambert and murdered him as he knelt before the altar in the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian at Liege. That is the later story of the circumstances of St Lambert’s death, but his earliest biographers, writing in the eighth and tenth centuries, tell a quite different tale. According to them, two relatives of Lambert, Peter and Andolet, killed two men who were making themselves obnoxious to the bishop. When Dodo, a kinsman of the men thus slain, came with his followers to take revenge, Lambert told Peter and Andolet that they must expiate their crime. They were killed on the spot; and when the bishop’s room was found to be barred, one of Dodo’s men climbed to the window and cast a spear which killed Lambert too, as he knelt in prayer. This took place at a house where is now the city of Liege.

Lambert’s death, suffered with patience and meekness, joined with the eminent sanctity of his life, caused him to be venerated as a martyr. His body was conveyed to Maestricht. Several miracles which ensued excited the people to build a church where the house stood in which he was slain, and his successor, St Hubert, translated thither his relics. At the same time he removed to the same place the episcopal see of Tongres-Maestricht, and around the cathedral which enshrined the relics of 8t Lambert the city of Liege grew up. He is to this day the principal patron of that place.

September 14

1523 Death of a Dutch pope

Pope Adrian VI, born Adriaan Florensz in Utrecht, in the Netherlands in 1459, was the last non-Italian pope for over 450 years. He was born into a humble family but received an excellent education at a school run by the Brethren of the Common Life, who were pioneering humanist teaching for lay people. He went on to the University of Leuven on a scholarship provided by the Duchess of Burgundy. He became a teacher of theology and eventually taught that subject at the university where one of his students was Erasmus.

When the Habsburg princess Margaret of Austria became Governor of the Netherlands in 1506, she chose Adrian as an adviser. He soon became tutor to her nephew Charles, the son of Emperor Maximilian, a boy who would himself become Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. He was employed frequently by the Habsburgs, who ruled almost half of Europe, as a diplomat. He served for a time as Regent of Spain and as head of the Spanish Inquisition.

In January, 1522 he was elected pope in the midst of the burgeoning Protestant Reformation. He condemned Luther as a heretic but his own attempts at reform were viewed with suspicion and resistance from his conservative cardinals. He died in September 1523.

September 13

1592 The death of Michel de Montaigne

A celebration of that great and amiable man from Chambers’ Book of Days:

Montaigne was born in 1533, and died in 1592, his life of sixty years coinciding with one of the gloomiest eras in French history–a time of wide-spread and implacable dissensions, of civil war, massacre and murder.

The father of Montaigne was a baron of Perigord. Having found Latin a dreary and difficult study in his youth, he determined to make it an easy one for his son. He procured a tutor from Germany, ignorant of French, and gave orders that he should converse with the boy in nothing but Latin, and directed, moreover, that none of the household should address him otherwise than in that tongue. ‘They all became Latinised,’ says Montaigne; ‘and even the villagers in the neighbourhood learned words in that language, some of which took root in the country, and became of common use among the people.’ Greek he was taught by similar artifice, feeling it a pastime rather than a task.

At the age of six, he was sent to the College of Guienne, then reputed the best in France, and, strange as it seems, his biographers relate, that at thirteen he had run through the prescribed course of studies, and completed his education. He next turned his attention to law, and at twenty-one was made conseiller, or judge, in the parliament of Bordeaux. He visited Paris, and was received at court, enjoyed the favour of Henri II, saw Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and entered fully into the delights and dissipations of gay society. At thirty-three he was married though had he been left free to his choice, he ‘would not have wedded with Wisdom herself had she been willing. But ’tis not much to the purpose,’ he writes, ‘to resist custom, for the common usance of life will be so. Most of my actions are guided by example, not choice.’ Of women, indeed, he seldom speaks save in terms of easy contempt, and for the hardships of married life he has frequent jeers.

In 1571, in his thirty-eighth year, the death of his father enabled Montaigne to retire from the practice of law, and to settle on the patrimonial estate. It was predicted he would soon exhaust his fortune, but, on the contrary, he proved a good economist, and turned his farms to excellent account. His good sense, his probity, and liberal soul, won for him the esteem of his province; and though the civil wars of the League converted every house into a fort, he kept his gates open, and the neighbouring gentry brought him their jewels and papers to hold in safe-keeping. He placed his library in a tower overlooking the entrance to his court-yard, and there spent his leisure in reading, meditation, and writing. On the central rafter he inscribed: I do not understand; I pause; I examine. He took to writing for want of something to do, and having nothing else to write about, he began to write about himself, jotting down what came into his head when not too lazy. He found paper a patient listener, and excused his egotism by the consideration, that if his grandchildren were of the same mind as himself, they would he glad to know what sort of man he was. ‘What should I give to listen to some one who could tell me the ways, the look, the bearing, the commonest words of my ancestors!’ If the world should complain that he talked too much about himself, he would answer the world that it talked and thought of everything but itself.

A volume of these egotistic gossips he published at Bordeaux in 1580, and the book quickly passed into circulation. About this time he was attacked with [kidney] stone, a disease he had held in dread from childhood, and the pleasure of the remainder of his life was broken with paroxysms of severe pain. When they suppose me to he most cast down,’ he writes, and spare me, I often try my strength, and start subjects of conversation quite foreign to my state. I can do everything by a sudden effort, but, oh! take away duration. I am tried severely, for I have suddenly passed from a very sweet and happy condition of life, to the most painful that can be imagined.’

Abhorring doctors and drugs, he sought diversion and relief in a journey through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. At Rome he was kindly received by the pope and cardinals, and invested with the freedom of the city, an honour of which he was very proud. He kept a journal of this tour, which, after lying concealed in an old chest in his chateau for nearly two hundred years, was brought to light and published in 1774; and, as may be supposed, it contains a stock of curious and original information. While he was travelling, he was elected mayor of Bordeaux, an office for which he had no inclination, but Henry III insisted that he should accept it, and at the end of two years he was re-elected for the same period.

During a visit to Paris, he became acquainted with Mademoiselle de Gournay, a young lady who had conceived an ardent friendship for him through reading his Essays. She visited him, accompanied by her another, and he reciprocated her attachment by treating her as his daughter. Meanwhile, his health grew worse, and feeling his end was drawing near, and sick of the intolerance and bloodshed which devastated France, he kept at home, correcting and retouching his writings. A quinsy [throat infection] terminated his life. He gathered his friends round his bedside, and bade them farewell. A priest said mass, and at the elevation of the host he raised himself in bed, and with hands clasped in prayer, expired. Mademoiselle de Gournay and her mother crossed half France, risking the perils of the roads, that they might condole with his widow and daughter.

It is superfluous to praise Montaigne’s Essays; they have long passed the ordeal of time into assured immortality. He was one of the earliest discoverers of the power and genius of the French language, and may he said to have been the inventor of that charming form of literature—the essay. At a time when authorship was stiff, solemn, and exhaustive, confined to Latin and the learned, he broke into the vernacular, and wrote for everybody with the ease and nonchalance of conversation. The Essays furnish a rambling auto-biography of their author, and not even Rousseau turned himself inside out with more completeness. He gives, with inimitable candour, an account of his likes and dislikes, his habits, foibles, and virtues. He pretends to most of the vices; and if there be any goodness in him, he says he got it by stealth. In his opinion, there is no man who has not deserved hanging five or six times, and he claims no exception in his own behalf. ‘Five or six as ridiculous stories,’ he says, ‘may he told of me as of any man living.’ This very frankness has caused. some to question his sincerity, but his dissection of his own inconsistent self is too consistent with flesh and blood to be anything but natural.

Bit by bit the reader of the Essays grows familiar with Montaigne; and he must have a dull imagination indeed who fails to conceive a distinct picture of the thick-set, square-built, clumsy little man, so undersized that he did not like walking, because the mud of the streets bespattered him to the middle, and the rude crowd jostled and elbowed him. He disliked Protestantism, but his mind was wholly averse to bigotry and persecution. Gibbon, indeed, reckons Montaigne and Henri IV as the only two men of liberality in the France of the sixteenth century. Nothing more distinguishes Montaigne than his deep sense of the uncertainty and provisional character of human knowledge; and Mr. Emerson has well chosen him for a type of the sceptic. Montaigne’s device—a pair of scales evenly balanced, with the motto, Quo scais je? (What do I know?)—perfectly symbolises the man.

The only book we have which we certainly know was handled by Shakspeare, is a copy of Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s Essays. It contains the poet’s autograph, and was purchased. by the British Museum for one hundred and twenty guineas. A second copy of the same translation in the Museum has Ben Jonson’s name on the fly-leaf.

September 12

490 B.C. Athens defeats the Persians at Marathon

Darius, the Persian emperor, was bent on expanding his realm into the Greek world. The help given by the newly-democratized city of Athens to Greek cities in Asia Minor in their resistance to Persia persuaded Darius to invade their territory with a huge fleet and army. He landed his army at Marathon, some 25 miles from Athens, because it was an area supposedly loyal to Hippias, a former Athenian tyrant who accompanied the Persians and who hoped to be restored as a puppet ruler under Darius.

Sparta declined to send help immediately to its fellow Greeks, using the excuse of a religious festival, but the small city of Plataea sent 1,000 men to aid the Athenian force of 9,000 hoplites — heavy infantry. Under Miltiades the Athenians blocked the Persians from moving inland and forced a battle, despite being outnumbered by at least 2 to 1. The Persians seem to have been taken by surprise by a sudden Greek charge, panicked, and were slaughtered in great numbers on the beach.

The Athenian victory was important because it convinced Greece that Persia was not unbeatable and because, had they lost the battle, their experiment with democracy would have ended.  

Ten years later, the son of Darius, Xerxes, returned to Greece with an even larger force and confronted the Hellenes in battles at Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea. 

September 10

The Birthday of Jean Vanier, September 10, 1928

I am going to do a series on the Ten Greatest Canadians of the Twentieth Century, in no particular order. I may cheat a bit, as you will see. Since today is the birthday of one of those worthies, let us begin with him.

For many excellent reasons, Canada does not have a President. Our head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, and in her absence, a Governor-General who opens Parliament, hands out awards, and carries on all the ceremonial duties, while mere Prime Ministers and politicians do the grubby business of actually running the country. By universal accord, the greatest of our Governors-General was Georges Vanier, a splendid figure of a man with a heroic mustache, a chest full of medals, and a long record of service to his nation as a soldier and a diplomat. His wife Pauline was beautiful, pious and serene; together they helped refugees and founded the Vanier Institute of the Family. But perhaps their greatest gift to the world was the birth of their son Jean.

Jean Vanier served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and was a career officer in peace time with the Royal Canadian Navy. He resigned his commission to become a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, publishing works on Aristotle. When he was 36 years old, a friend showed him the horrible living conditions endured by people with mental disabilities. The result of this visit was a life-long dedication to serving the helpless and oppressed. He began a small community of the disabled and their helpers called L’Arche or The Ark, in a village in France, which blossomed into a world-wide movement with 147 homes in 35 countries. Vanier died recently at age 90, still a resident of his ‘’Arche community in Picardy.

It is a safe bet that before too long Vanier will be canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church, a fate that probably awaits his parents as well.

Well, all the above was written in 2019. Since then Vanier has been credibly accused of a tawdry sort of sexual misconduct. Under the guise of spiritual direction, Vanier seems to have manipulated a number of women, including nuns, into a sexual relationship. He was posthumously stripped of honours and schools once named after him were renamed. It is a safe bet his canonization will not take place any time soon.

“The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” Future generations will have to weigh Vanier’s undoubted contributions against the harm he did to those 6 women.

September 9

384 The birth of a nincompoop

It was the ill-fortune of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the fifth century to be governed by a pair of useless twits, the sons of the capable Theodosius I, Honorius in the West and Arcadius in the East.

Honorius succeed to the imperial throne at the age of ten. As long as he was under the tutelage of Stilicho, the half-Vandal general who had married into the royal family, things went fairly smoothly: revolts were put down and barbarian invasions were thwarted. In 408, however, Honorius had Stilicho and his family murdered. This not only deprived him of an able general but prompted barbarian troops in the service of Rome to defect to the Visigoths, who in 410 sacked Rome while Honorius hid out in Ravenna. 

Thomas Hodgkin, the 19th-century historian and author of the massive Italy and her Invaders sums up the life of this hapless emperor:

Let us now turn from poetry to fact, and see what mark the real Honorius made upon the men and things that surrounded him. None. It is impossible to imagine a character more utterly destitute of moral colour, of self-determining energy, than that of the younger son of Theodosius. In Arcadius we do at length discover traces of uxoriousness, a blemish in some rulers, but which becomes almost a merit in him when contrasted with the absolute vacancy, the inability to love, to hate, to think, to execute, almost to be, which marks the impersonal personality of Honorius. After earnestly scrutinising his life to discover some traces of human emotion under the stolid mask of his countenance, we may perhaps pronounce with some confidence on the three following points.

1. He perceived, through life, the extreme importance of keeping the sacred person of the Emperor of the West out of the reach of danger.

2. He was, at any rate in youth, a sportsman.

3. In his later years he showed considerable interest in the rearing of poultry.


September 2

1945 The Japanese sign the Instrument of Surender

Pretty much everyone has seen the picture of American general Douglas MacArthur on the deck of the battleship Missouri signing the acceptance of the Japanese surrender which ended the Second World War in the Pacific. Less well-known is the fact that Canada also signed this document as one of the belligerents in the struggle against the Japanese empire.

Great Britain, in its own imperialistic way, assumed that it would sign on behalf of its Dominions but MacArthur chose to invite the Australians, who had played a significant part in battles against the Japanese, as well as Canada, New Zealand and two countries whose Asian colonies had been conquered, France and the Netherlands. The Australians were reportedly miffed at the Canadian invitation.

The Canadian signature was added by Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrove (pictured above) who accidentally signed on the wrong line, perhaps because he was blind in one eye from a wound suffered in World War I. 

Cosgrove had been a war hero (DSO and the Croix de Guerre) and was supposedly the fellow on whose back John McRae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” in the trenches on the Western Front in 1917.

August 28

1916 Birth of an under-rated author

Reputation is a fickle goddess; she attaches herself to the most undeserving of characters while those who truly merit fame often go unrecognized. This is certainly true for authors of fiction. Prolific drones like Margaret Atwood or Gore Vidal are lauded, while superior writers are condemned to ignominy because they are classified as “genre” writers. I will today, in a small way, make up for that by bringing to your attention the writing of Jack Vance.

The career of John Holbrook “Jack” Vance spanned a seventy-year period in which he won plaudits for his works of fantasy, science fiction and crime under his own name and pseudonyms including “Ellery Queen”. 

Vance was a master of plotting, dry wit, and, best of all, strange possible cultures. He might be termed the greatest sociologist of speculative fiction. To read a Vance novel is to be plunged into worlds where all communication might be sung, or where automation has been banned, or where the choice of the mask you wear determines your social status.

For fantasy fans I recommend the Lyonesse trilogy, for lovers of picaresque derring-do there are the Demon Princes novels and the Planet of Adventure series. You can find humour in the detections of Magnus Rudolph or Space Opera. The Pleasant Grove and Fox Valley Murders and the Cadwal Chronicles will tax your powers of deduction. My personal favourites are “The Moon Moth”, Emphyrio, and The Face. Give Vance a try; he will not disappoint.