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

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

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