October 12

Discovering Our Cities: The City Founded on Faith (York)Saint Edwin of Northumbria

Born a pagan, Edwin (585-633) became a Christian saint, the father of two saints, and the great-uncle and grandfather of two more saints.

The political life of early medieval Britain was brutal, resembling in many ways A Game of Thrones, though with, perhaps, slightly less sex and no dragons. A number of minor, pagan Anglo-Saxon kingdoms continually struggled against each other, against native Christian enclaves and against raiders from Ireland and Caledonia. These statelets rose and fell, occasionally producing a ruler who was strong enough to dominate his neighbours for a time and earn the title of Bretwalda or High King. One of these was a northern prince named Edwin of Northumbria.

Edwin appeared at a time when Christian missions were penetrating these pagan Germanic territories from the north, where Irish-trained monks brought a Celtic Christianity and from the south, where missionaries had been sent from Catholic Rome. In 627, under the influence of Catholic bishop Paulinus, Edwin agreed to convert from his pagan upbringing. Bede’s history tells us that the king and his nobles debated the opportunity of becoming Christians, with the speech of one of his men being decisive:

The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately out another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space but of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.

Edwin’s conversion and his domination of northern England aroused enemies, particularly the very able and aggressive Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. In 633 Penda defeated Edwin, killing him and his two sons. His Christian wife and Paulinus fled south and the Christian project in northern England suffered a temporary set-back.

 

Sicilians know a thing or two

 

He who gets married will be happy for a day, he who butchers a pig will be happy for a year.

The abbot and thirty monks couldn’t force a donkey to drink.

Three things are needed to get rich: a little, a lot, a nothing: little money, much ability, no conscience.

If water were any good, it wouldn’t be used to water cucumbers.

If you want to live to an old age, you need to start early.

For good health never wash your head, wash your hands often and your feet rarely.

Don’t choose a woman or cloth by candlelight.

– Sicilian proverbs

October 12

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Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin takes a pioneering jump

Late in the 18th century the French were fascinated by the globe aérostatiquehot-air ballooning. Since the Montgolfier brothers made the first ascent in 1783, the possibilities for air travel — military, commercial, recreational — tickled the French imagination. Women were among the first passengers and in 1799 Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin (neé Labrosse) became the first woman to fly solo and pilot a lighter-than-air craft when she took a hydrogen balloon aloft.

Mme Garnerin was made of very brave stuff. Her husband André-Jacques Garnerin, who would be named the Official Aeronaut of France, had been the first to jump from a balloon and survive with the aid of a parachute. On October 12, 1799 Jeanne Geneviève took a balloon to an altitude of 900 meters and separated her basket from the balloon, controlling her descent with an attached parachute — the first woman to do so. They later filed a patent for  “a device called a parachute, intended to slow the fall of the basket after the balloon bursts. Its vital organs are a cap of cloth supporting the basket and a circle of wood beneath and outside of the parachute and used to hold it open while climbing: it must perform its task at the moment of separation from the balloon, by maintaining a column of air.”

October 11

Barabino, Nicolo; The Death of Pope Boniface VIII; The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery); http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-death-of-pope-boniface-viii-81675

 

1303 Death of an ambitious pope

Since the middle of the eleventh century, popes had been asserting their power over secular rulers. They claimed that the spiritual authority ordained by God held precedence over mere earthly power. They had deposed kings and emperors and named substitute rulers; they had precipitated civil wars; claimed dominion over entire kingdoms and excommunicated princes right, left and centre. By 1300 they had gutted the power of their chief rival, the Holy Roman Emperor, and begun to quarrel with the new centralized monarchies of western Europe.

Benedetto Caetani, elected Pope Boniface VIII in dubious fashion in 1294, had twice forbidden the kings of England and France from taxing the Church in their countries. The King of France Philip IV “the Fair” responded by cutting off money from the French church to the papacy. Boniface replied by hinting that he might exercise his right of deposing Philip who immediately began a campaign of vilification of the pope including circulating forged documents.

This led Boniface on November 17, 1302 to issue the proclamation Unam Sanctam, which asserted the doctrine of papal monarchy in the most uncompromising terms ever. He asserted (1) there is but one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation; (2) that head is Christ and His representative, the pope who is above, and can direct, all kings; (3) whoever resists the highest power ordained by God resists Himself; and (5) it is necessary for salvation that all humans should be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

Philip the Fair now summoned a kingdom-wide assembly, and before it he accused Boniface of every imaginable crime from murder to black magic to sodomy to keeping a demon as a pet. A small French military force crossed into Italy in 1303 and took Boniface prisoner at his palace at Anagni with the intention of bringing him to France for trial. The French plan failed—local townspeople freed Boniface a couple of days later—but the proud old pope died shortly thereafter, outraged that anyone had dared to lay hands on his sacred person.

This marks the beginning of the waning of medieval papal power. In 1305 the cardinals elected the Frenchman Clement V who submitted to the French king on the question of clerical taxation and publicly burned Unam Sanctam, conceding that Philip the Fair, in accusing Pope Boniface, had shown “praiseworthy zeal.” A few years after his election, Clement moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon in southern France, the start of the period of papal humiliation known as “The Babylonian Captivity”

Who knew Corsicans were so smart?

  • You’re correct, but the goat is mine.
  • He who sleeps cannot catch fish.
  • He who leaves and then returns, had a good trip.
  • A closed mouth catches neither flies nor food.
  • If you own two houses, it is raining in one of them.
  • Company drags a man to the scaffold.
  • He who lives fast goes straight to his death.
  •  Hunger drives the wolf from its den.
  • Theory dominates practice.
  • If a caged bird isn’t singing for love, it’s singing in a rage.
  • An open path never seems long.
  • A fine rain still soaks you to the bone, but no one takes it seriously.
  • What can a cat do if its master is crazy.
  • Words have no bones, but can break bones.
  •  A thin cat and a fat woman are the shame of a household.

— Corsican proverbs

Interesting but, sadly, not true

• In late Victorian times, proper ladies refused to use the word “leg,” so as to avoid mentioning the delicate subject of stilts.

• Pertinax was the first Roman emperor to hop on one foot for more than three hours straight.

• Most Nativity scenes displayed at Christmas are risibly inaccurate, because they leave out the obstetrician.

• All other Russian names that begin with the letter Ч are transliterated with a Ch in English, but Tchaikovsky’s name is transliterated with a Tch. The anomaly is due to the acrimony of Tchaikovsky’s enemies in the English-speaking music press, who wished to make sure that Tchaikovsky’s name would always appear last in alphabetical lists of Russian composers.

— Dr. Boli’s Encyclopedia of Misinformation

October 10

scene_de_la_bataille_de_karbala_par_mohammad_modabber_deuxieme_fondateur_de_lecole_picturale_ghahveh-khaneh

680 The Battle of Karbala

Though relatively bloodless, few combats in Islamic history have been as consequential as the Battle of Karbala.

When Mohammed died in 632, rulership of the Muslim world fell to a series of four caliphs or “successors”: Abu-Bakr, Mohammed’s father-in-law, Umar, Uthmana and Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law. The turbulence of the time may be seen in the fact that the last three were all assassinated. At the death of Ali in 661, the succession was disputed with a regional governor named Muawiyah winning more support than Ali’s oldest son Hasan. Muawiyah would establish a new dynasty, the Umayyads, and move the capital of the Islamic world from Mecca to Damascus.

Resistance to this new caliphate was led by Husayn, Ali’s second son, whose followers came to be known as Shi’ites. Husayn claimed that in establishing a dynasty the Umayyads had forfeited their right to rule. On October 10, 680 Husayn’s caravan was attacked by Umayyad forces and everyone in it killed or taken prisoner.  This Battle of Karbala became part of Shi’ite sacred history, inspiring further resistance and engendering the annual Ashura period of mourning. The split in the Islamic world between the majority Sunni and minority Shia branches remains unhealed to this day.

Tell me this ain’t true

INFORMATION, we like to tell ourselves, is our most valuable commodity. Yet a cursory glance at the world today will show us that our deeds give the lie to our words. For our purposes we may define “information” as true knowledge of the state of things, and it is clear that we actively despise such knowledge. Has any nation ever gone to war, any hotly contested election been won, any grave question of public policy ever been decided on the basis of information? Certainly not.

No, when we face our most important decisions, the choices that will change our lives forever, MISINFORMATION is what we demand. We reward the purveyors of misinformation with high office and public honor; we punish the bringers of information with scorn and derision, and frequently prison or torture.

— Dr. Boli

October 9

notre-dameDeath of a cephalophoric saint

We expect saints to perform miracles. These days, proof of a miraculous cure or two is one of the ways the Catholic Church decides that an individual has exhibited saintly prowess. We do not routinely expect, however, that saints go about lugging their severed heads, but hagiographies abound in cephalophores (head-carriers) and today we celebrate the first of them: St Denis.

St Denis seems to have been sent from Italy to evangelize Roman-occupied Gaul in the third century. He converted so many in the region of what is now Paris that the authorities were alerted to his presence and he, with two companions, was beheaded on the city’s highest point, Montmartre. This execution does not seem to have deterred Denis from picking up his severed sense organ cluster and walking six miles to his burial site, with the detached head preaching a sermon of repentance all the way.

Other cephalophoric saints include Nicasius of Rheims who was reading a psalm when he was decapitated — his head finished reciting the verse he was on — and St Gemolo who, after his execution, picked up his head mounted a horse and rode off to meet his uncle. St Paul’s head was separated from his body by a sword but, nevertheless, was reputed to have cried out “Jesus Christus” fifty times.

Denis is not to be confused (though he was for centuries) with Dionysius the Areopagite who was converted by Paul in Athens. And of the latter’s imposter, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, we shall remain silent.

Oh, those Bulgars

  • A gentle word opens an iron gate.
  • God promises a safe landing but not a calm passage.
  • If you call a single wolf, you invite the pack.
  • If you can kiss the mistress, never kiss the maid.
  • If you let everyone walk over you, you become a carpet.
  • If you wish to drown, do not torture yourself with shallow water.
  • When the sea turned into honey, the poor man lost his spoon.
  • Even the madman runs away from the drunk.

— Bulgarian proverbs

  • If you meet a Bulgarian in the street, beat him. He will know why.

— Russian proverb