Category Archives: Christianity

The story of the English Pope

It was on this day – 1st September 1159 – that Pope Adrian IV passed away – the first and only Englishman to have occupied the papal throne.  He is recorded as being born at Bedmond Farm in Bedmond, a village in Hertfordshire, England at around 1100AD.  The site where his home stood is now marked by a plaque. He received his early education at the Abbey School at nearby St Albans community.  From this beginning he went to Paris and later became a ‘canon regular’ of the cloister of St Rufus monastery near Arles. He rose to be prior and was then soon unanimously elected abbot. From 1152 to 1154 Nicholas was in Scandinavia establishing an independent archepiscopal see for Norway. On his return to Rome, he was received with great honour by Pope Anastasius IV and on the death of Anastasius, Nicholas was chosen as pope on 3rd December 1154.  He took the name Adrian IV.

His throne was not an easy one with many challenges and an anti-papal faction in Rome. Disorder within the city had led to the murder of a cardinal which prompted Adrian, shortly before Palm Sunday in 1155, to take the unheard-of step of putting Rome under a ban that prohibited persons, certain active Church individuals and/or groups from participating in certain rites, or that the rites and services of the church were banished from having validity in certain territories for a limited or extended time.

Arnold of Brescia, King William of Sicily, Frederick Barbarossa and the Italian barons gave the English pope many challenges. Arnold’s followers took Rome. After they assassinated Cardinal Gerardus in broad daylight, Pope Adrian IV broke all precedent and placed the city under interdict. Eventually it capitulated to him.  Adrian’s most controversial act was a bull that allowed Henry II of England to annex Ireland to his kingdom. That decision left an aftertaste of bitterness that lingers to this day, more than 800 years later.

According to one report, Adrian IV died after choking on a fly in his wine, but quinsy (an inflammation of the tonsils) is the more commonly accepted explanation.

Advertisements

The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797

This is a lovely book that does just what it says.  Anne Hughes is that Farmer’s Wife and she prefaced her book with these words:

‘Anne Hughes, her boke in whiche I write what I doe, when I hav thee tyme, and beginnen wyth this daye, Feb ye 6 1796.’

These are Anne’s words as we see her story of 20th August 1796:

This be the first time I hav writ in my book for three dayes, bein bussie.
It hav bin a verrie hot day and we to church at night, after the milking be don and the pigges fed.
The passon was new, and did preche a verrie prosie surmon,so I nearly aslepe, and did jump much at the last himm singeing. I was glad to be out once more, and John bidden the passon to sup with us we back home, where Sarah cumming in, we did put the supper reddie in the best kitchen.

In 2017 words this might read:

This is the first time I have written in my book for the past three days because I’ve been busy.  It’s been a very hot day and, after the cows had been milked and the pigs fed, we went to church.   We’ve a new parson and he preached a very prosy sermon, so much so that I nearly went to sleep – so much so that I jumped when they started singing the last hymn. I was glad when the service ended and we were outside. John, my husband, invited the parson to come to supper with us.  Sarah, our maid, was ready and we put the supper ready in the best kitchen.

 

It is New Year’s Eve – and things happen

Tomorrow is a New Year; new work; new challenges – and long standing beliefs. These beliefs go back to happenings long ago – but were they ‘real happeningsor are they just stories?  No-one knows for certain – but while there is doubt there is risk so when in doubt….. – now that’s up to you!  The decision is up to you – and this is one such situation.

Walk along the High Street at Stonehaven in Scotland at Midnight on this night and you’ll come across the Ancient Fireballs Ceremony. This fishing community, 16 miles south of Aberdeen, is ‘home’ to one of the unique Hogmanay festivals in Scotland – and argued by many as the best.

For over 150 years, at the stroke of midnight, the High Street has been lit up as sixty or so local fireball-swingers make their way through their town, swinging their fireballs above their heads. It looks dangerous but the fireballs are very safely packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The balls are made of combustible and oily waste matter, (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal), soaked in paraffin and are held together in a case of wire mesh. The ‘balls’ are made as heavy as each ‘swinger’ feels they can handle – anything from 5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3 feet in diameter and, in the past, have been recorded to burn for 2 hours!  Now, however, they only last for 20 minutes maximum: – Health & Safety rules must be followed you know!

For the parade, the swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, march down the High Street to the accompaniment of Pipes and Drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the ‘fireball swingers’ have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.

As you would expect, fireball-swinging is an energetic activity. One regular participant recorded recently that: “I can personally attest to the effort needed to continue swinging for the 10-15 minutes the ball will burn.”  

The ceremony is said to date from a fishermen’s festival in the 19th century but these torch processions can be dated back to before Christianity arrived in Scotland and there are a number of theories about the significance of the festival.  Some say that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the recall of the sun but others follow the pre-Christian theory in that the fireballs are to purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.

Another, more detailed, theory is that at some time in the Dark Ages a shooting star appeared above what is now Stonehaven and that those living nearby had bumper crops in the following year. The seers of the tribe then attributed this prosperity to the coming of the shooting star.  The Fireball is regarded as a mimic of that shooting star and that recalling it at this time will bring a return of that prosperity.

Now, whatever the background, this celebration has become such a popular event that, in the interests of safety, barriers are erected to separate the swingers and pipe bands, and control the thousands that come to spectate! But the spectacle and atmosphere are still second to none.