June 12


The Union of Brest

National identity and religion are often closely tied. This was certainly the case in eastern Europe at the close of the sixteenth century. Many Slavic inhabitants of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth (a territory encompassing what is now Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) were adherents of the Orthodox Church but they resented having to acknowledge the headship of the new Patriarchate of Moscow. In order to assert their independence from Russian hegemony many clerics sought to arrive at a bargain with the papacy and in return for certain important concessions they were willing to reunite with the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome.

On this day in 1595 Ukrainian bishops read out a letter agreed to by Orthodoxy clergy at the synod of Brest. Their churches would acknowledge the headship of the pope, Clement VIII, but would not have to give up many of their cherished beliefs. They could retain married clergy, say the creed without the “Filoque Clause”, avoid Corpus Christi processions, and follow the Julian calendar rather than the newly-reformed Gregorian usage. Worship styles would remain unchanged and theological disputes would be shunned, as in the case of Purgatory where the synod had decreed “we shall not debate about purgatory, but we entrust ourselves to the teaching of the Holy Church.”

The split from Orthodoxy was not an easy one. Violence broke out over church property and forced allegiances; animosity still lingers in parts of Ukraine and Russia to this day.

June 11

1540 Birth of an anti-Catholic poet

June 11 is St Barnabas’ Day and thus it was natural for Robert and Margaret Googe of Chilwell, Nottinghamshire to name their new-born son Barnabe. Young Barnabe grew to be a well-connected lawyer and politician during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I but his chief fame is as a poet, not necessarily a very good poet but an influential one. In literary circles he was renowned as one of the first English pastoral poets and to historians of Tudor Protestantism he is famed for his religious commentary, particularly that found in his translation of Thomas Kirchmeyer’s Regnum papisticum of 1555, a compendium of attacks on Roman Catholicism — in 1570 Googe rendered this as The Popish Kingdome, or reign of Antichrist.

To give you a flavour of his artistry, here is his description of the Catholic celebration of St John’s Day, December 27:

Nexte John, the sonne of Zebedee hath his appointed day,

Who once by cruell tyraunts will, constrayned was they say 

Strong poison up to drinke, therefore the papistes doe beleeve

That whoso puts their trust in him, no poyson them can greeve.

The wine beside that halowed is in worship of his name,

The prestes doe give the people that bring money for the same.

And after with the self same wine are little manchets made

Agaynst the boysterous winter stormes and sundrie such like trade.

The men upon this solemne day do take this holy wine

To make them strong. So do the maydes to make them faire and fine.

June 10

1525 The Great Cursing

Yesterday’s post was about Old Testament and Roman curses. None of the imprecatory psalms or the curse tablets, however, could come close in maleficent power to the Great Cursing and Monition of Gavin Dunbar, the Archbishop of Glasgow. He summoned the Almighty to thoroughly plague the English and Scottish border raiders known as reivers. Every parish priest in Scotland was obliged to read it from the pulpit. Here is a taste of it in the Scots dialect.

I curse their heid and all the haris of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair tongue, thair teeth, thair crag, thair shoulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame, thair armes, thais leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk part of thair body, frae the top of their heid to the soill of thair feet, befoir and behind, within and without.

In contemporary English:

I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.

I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants who participate in their deeds. I (bring ill wishes upon) their crops, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horses, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock. I (bring ill wishes upon) their halls, their chambers, their kitchens, their stanchions, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their plows, their harrows, and the goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare.”

May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them.

He goes on for some time, urging the repetition of the ills that befell Pharaoh and the Egyptians, Sodom and Gomorrah, Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Julian the Apostate. The Archbishop goes on to excommunicate the, forbid anyone from having any dealings with them, and concludes:

And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of Burrow moor, first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their candle (light of their life) goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance.

June 9

When we think of petitions to the celestial powers we usual think of blessings. But, since time immemorial, people have also sought to invoke the gods to bring harm upon their enemies. Consider, for example, the Imprecatory Psalms of the Old Testament where God is beseeched to smite one’s enemies.

Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. (Ps. 69: 22-25).

Then there were the Roman curse tablets inscribed on lead and thrown into wells or tombs, or buried in the earth so that through closer contact with the chthonic powers their potency is increased.

Spirits of the netherworld, I consecrate and hand over to you, if you have any power, Ticene of Carisius. Whatever she does, may it all turn out wrong. Spirits of the netherworld, I consecrate to you her limbs, her complexion, her figure, her head, her hair, her shadow, her brain, her forehead, her liver, her shoulders, her heart, her her eyebrows, her mouth, her nose, her chin, her cheeks, her lips, her speech, her breath, her neck, lungs, her intestines, her stomach, her arms, her fingers, her hands, her navel, her entrails, her thighs, her knees, her calves, her heels, her soles, her toes. Spirits of the netherworld, if I see her wasting away, I swear that I will you every year. will be delighted to offer a sacrifice to

I curse Tretia Maria and her life and mind and memory and liver and lungs mixed up together, and her words, thoughts and memory; thus may she be unable to speak what things are concealed.

Chariot races were hugely popular in the Roman and, later, the Byzantine world. Drivers worked for the various organizations named after colours: the Greens, the Blues, etc. These groups functioned variously as mutual-aid groups, religious sects, political partisans, and criminal gangs.

I call upon you, o demon, whoever you are and ask that from this hour, from this day, from this moment, you torture and kill the horses of the Green and White factions, and that you kill and crush completely the drivers Clarus, Felix, and Romanus, and that you leave not a breath in their bodies.

June 8

Some thoughts on men and women

You know that look that women get when they want to have sex? Me neither. – Steve Martin 

At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies. – P.G. Wodehouse, Uneasy Money, 1916

“A woman’s always quicker than a man at such jobs as ’tater setting. They can bend easier, and they’re nimbler-handed nor we. My missis can pick peas twice as quick as I can. But there,” he added, in male extenuation, “a woman’s always handling ’taters, so she ought to know the way on’t.” – Adrian Bell, The Cherry Tree, 1932

A woman in love is capable of anything. Exactly like a woman not in love. – Roberto Gervaso (1937-)

A man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralizes is invariably plain. – Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1892

On the one hand, we’ll never experience childbirth. On the other hand, we can open all our own jars. – Jeff Green, 1999

The true man wants two things: danger and diversion. Therefore he wants woman, the most dangerous plaything. – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1883

“When I speak of women,” said the doctor, “I speak of a sex so fragile, so variable, so changeable, so inconstant, and so imperfect … that Plato, you will recall, was at a loss where to class them. …  For nature has placed in their bodies …  certain humors, brackish, nitrous, boracious, acrid, mordant, shooting, and bitterly tickling …  by which the entire feminine body is shaken …  all senses ravished …  all thought thrown into confusion …  sometimes so violent that the woman is thereby deprived of all other senses and powers of motion as if she had suffered from heart failure, syncope, epilepsy, apoplexy, something like death.” – François Rabelais,  Gargantua and Pantagruel, c. 1532

“I was thinking”, he answered absently, “about Euripides; how, when he was an old man, he went and lived in a cave by the sea, and it was thought queer at the time. It seems that houses had become insupportable to him. I wonder whether it was because he had observed women so closely all his life.” – Willa Cather, The Professor’s House, 1925

She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity. – Flannery O’Connor, “Good Country People”, 1955

A man experienced in dealing with the female sex knows that the policy to pursue, when a woman issues an order, is not to stand arguing but to acquiesce and then go off and disobey it. – P.G. Wodehouse, Ice in the Bedroom, 1961

A girl much given to dancing can hardly find acceptance in the eyes of a man of true delicacy. Such a man’s mind must revolt more or less at the idea of his mistress twirling round in the waltz, or quadrilling it with a set of fellows, the very touch of whose fingers upon her delicate person he must feel as a sort of sacrilege. For this reason, young ladies should dance little, or not at all, in the presence of their lovers. – Robert Macnish, Aphorisms, 1834

June 7

1495 Treaty of Tordesillas

By the late 15th century European marine architecture had advanced to the point that long ocean-going voyages were possible. The nation states on the Atlantic coast invested in exploration whose purpose was to find a sea-route to Asia and its trade riches. The country that achieved this might thus cut out Mediterranean middle-men and avoid dealing with hostile Islamic powers. Portugal was first to take up this challenge and a series of expeditions down the coast of Africa in the 1480s and 1490s would eventually find a way to round the southern cape and reach India. At the same time Castile, the leading Spanish power, financed Christopher Columbus’s attempt to reach Asia by a western route, a serendipitous blunder that ended up in the discovery of the Americas. When Columbus returned from the Caribbean in March, 1493 he was sure that he had touched on the offshore islands of Japan and the Khanate of Cathay

The problem was that Columbus’s voyage violated two papal bulls and a Spanish-Portuguese treaty that awarded Portugal the right to explore and occupy non-Christian lands “in the Ocean Seas” (in mari oceano) and usque ad Indos – all the way to the Indies. After all sorts of diplomatic moves, Pope Alexander VI, a Spaniard, issued the 1493 bull Inter cetera which bolstered Spanish claims:

Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself. …[W]e … assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, … all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from … the north, …to …the south, … the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde.

The Portuguese were unhappy with this rather vague division of the globe and saw that it precluded their hopes of claiming rights in India. They secured their future by negotiating the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain. This agreement, which ignored the papal bull, drew a north-south line down the Atlantic, giving Portugal territory to the east and Spain the lands to the west. Interestingly, the treaty specifically forbade any appeal to the pope.

June 6

It’s June 6 and time for my annual D-Day post. This year I thought I would concentrate on the goings-on on Juno Beach, the sector of the Normandy coastline allotted to the Canadian Army, supported by the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Airforce.

Juno was the second-most easterly beach of the five assaulted that morning, sandwiched between Sword and Gold, the responsibility of the British while the Americans attacked Utah and Omaha beaches to the west. It was defended by the 716th Infantry Division and the 22nd Panzers. The 718th was not a first-class unit; like most German static defensive formations they were recruited from older troops and foreign conscripts (in this case largely Ukrainian). They had seen no combat but the Panzers were a veteran force, having fought with the Afrika Korps under Rommel.

Few of the Canadian troops had seen battle either. Their brothers in arms had fared badly at Hong Kong and Dieppe but had done great things in Sicily and the Italian peninsula as well as battling the Japanese in Burma. The regiments chosen for the Normandy assault were drawn from across the country. The 1st Canadian Scottish, for example were a British Columbia unit; the Regina Rifles and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles represented the prairies; the Cameron Highlanders and the Queen’s Own Rifles came from Ontario; the Régiment de la Chaudière was Québécois; while the North Shore Regiment and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders hailed from the Maritime provinces.

Shortly before 8:00 a.m. the first wave of infantry landed, supported by amphibious tanks. They took very heavy casualties; some perished when their landing craft hit mines, some were killed by pill-box fire as they disembarked and tried to clear barbed wire emplacements, or raced to the seawall against machine-gun fire. The Queen’s Own took the worst of it, facing a dug-in enemy who had not been affected by shelling from the initial bombardments. Eventually they fought their way off the shore and established a beach-head. Reserve units landed and moved inland, breaching the first German line of resistance. By the end of the day’s fighting, the Canadians had not reached their hoped-for objectives but had penetrated farther than any other Allied army, at a cost in casualties much higher than other Commonwealth forces. The dead, wounded, and captured totaled 960 men. Only the Americans on Omaha beach suffered higher losses.

Worse was to come in the following days as the Germans counter-attacked with elite SS troops and tanks that were vastly superior to the under-gunned Shermans and Churchills. It would not be August that the Allies were in a position to break out of northeast France and head for Paris.

June 5

1864 The Great Leicester Balloon Riot

Henry Coxwell (1819-1900) was Britain’ pre-eminent aeronaut of the mid-Victorian period, dazzling crowd throughout Europe with his ballooning feats. He and his partner James Glaisher had ascended in 1862 to a height  of 35,000 feet, an altitude at which Glaisher fainted and Coxwell lost feeling in his hands. They would have perished had not Coxwell been able to engage the gas release mechanism with his teeth and land safely.

In 1864 he proposed to ascend in his balloon, dubbed the Britannia, as part of an Order of Foresters celebration at Leicester Racecourse. Because such feats were novel at the time, an estimated crowd of 50,000 people showed up. As Coxwell was making his preparations, a bystander remarked that Coxwell’s balloon seemed rather small. In fact, the man charged, the people of Leicester were being robbed of a chance to see a bigger and better balloon.

Though Coxwell would later dub this a “cruel libel,” the man’s allegations seemed to stir the large crowd into a surly mob that began jockeying for a better look at this disappointing craft. Some had paid to accompany Coxwell into the air, but so many spectators surrounded the balloon that it made take-off impossible. This in turn sparked a rumor that Coxwell was refusing to operate it, which only made them angrier.

People were acting so aggressively that the Britannia began to suffer damage. Coxwell scolded the crowd and insisted they behave, or else he would simply let the gas out. He made good on his threat. The balloon quickly collapsed, ending any hope of a spectacle. The act also reinforced the idea that Coxwell was trying to present them with an inferior balloon.

Already incited, they began tearing the balloon to pieces. The basket was set on fire. Two policemen, Inspector Haynes and Sergeant Chapman, arrived in an attempt to control the scene, but it proved difficult. They soon turned their attention to getting Coxwell away from the area before the crowd—already screaming for his head—began tearing into him.

Coxwell escaped intact, though Leicester’s reputation did not. Maligned by Coxwell as “balloonatics,” the spectators were criticized for their behaviour, though townsfolk blamed visitors. The incident proved embarrassing, but some chose to cash in on the notoriety. Pieces of the trampled balloon were sold as souvenirs.

June 4

The Preacher of Divine Love

St Francis Caracciolo (1563-1608) was the co-founder with St John Augustine Adorno of the Congregation of the Clerics Regular Minor or “the Adorno Fathers” whose motto is “Ad majorem Resurgentis gloriam” (“to the greater glory of the Risen One”).

Butler’s Lives of the Saints tells us Francis was born in the kingdom of Naples, of the princely family of Caracciolo. In childhood he shunned all amusements, recited the Rosary regularly, and loved to visit the Blessed Sacrament and to distribute his food to the poor. An attack of leprosy taught him the vileness of the human body and the vanity of the world. Almost miraculously cured, he renounced his home to study for the priesthood at Naples, where he spent his leisure hours in the prisons or visiting the Blessed Sacrament in unfrequented churches. God called him, when only twenty-five, to found an Order of Clerks Regular, whose rule was that each day one father fasted on bread and water, another took the discipline, a third wore a hair-shirt, while they always watched by turns in perpetual adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. They took the usual vows, adding a fourth—not to desire dignities [high church office]. To establish his Order, Francis undertook many journeys through Italy and Spain, on foot and without money, content with the shelter and crusts given him in charity. Being elected general, he redoubled his austerities, and devoted seven hours daily to meditation on the Passion, besides passing most of the night praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Francis was commonly called the Preacher of Divine Love. But it was before the Blessed Sacrament that his ardent devotion was most clearly perceptible. In presence of his divine Lord his face usually emitted brilliant rays of light; and he often bathed the ground with his tears when he prayed, according to his custom, prostrate on his face before the tabernacle, and constantly repeating, as one devoured by internal fire, “The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up.” He died of fever, aged forty-four, on the eve of Corpus Christi, 1608, saying, “Let us go, let us go to heaven!” When his body was opened after death, his heart was found as it were burnt up, and these words imprinted around it: “Zelus domus Tuæ comedit me“—”The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up.”

Francis is the patron saint of Naples and Italian cooks.

June 3

Some quotes about dogs in memory of Grendel, a dog of little brain but enormous heart.

Near this spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, And all the virtues of Man, without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of BOATSWAIN, a DOG. – Lord Byron, inscription on the monument of a Newfoundland dog, 1808

There were two classes of created objects which he held in the deepest and most unmingled horror: they were, dogs and children. He was not unamiable, but he could at any time have viewed the execution of a dog, or the assassination of an infant, with the liveliest satisfaction. Their habits were at variance with his love of order; and his love of order, was as powerful as his love of life. – Charles Dickens, “A Dinner at Poplar Walk”, 1833

And just as he has the sense of virtue, so also he has the sense of sin. A cat may be taught not to do certain things, but if it is caught out and flees, it flees not from shame, but from fear. But the shame of a dog touches an abyss of misery as bottomless as any human emotion. He has fallen out of the state of grace, and nothing but the absolution and remission of his sin will restore him to happiness. – Alfred George Gardiner”A Dithyramb on a Dog”, 1920

There are three faithful friends: an old wife, an old dog, and ready money. – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1734

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
But when we are certain of sorrow in store
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.  

– Rudyard Kipling, “The Power of the Dog”