It’s obvious that Jesus was born on December 25, A.D. 1, right? Wrong. We do know that Herod the Great (who killed all the babies in Bethlehem younger than 2 years of age) died in the spring of 4 B.C., and the king was quite alive during the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) in the Nativity story told in the Gospel of Mark. So Jesus must have been born before this time, anywhere from 7-4 B.C. (Before Christ, or before himself!)
Why is there a gap of this much time in our modern calendar? There was a Roman monk-mathematician-astronomer named Dionysis Exeguus (Dionysis the Little) during the 6th century who unwittingly committed what has become history’s greatest numerical error as it relates to the calendar. As he endeavored to reform the Western calendar to center around Jesus’ birth, he erroniously placed the date of the Nativity in the year 753 from the founding of Rome (753 a.u.c. or Ab Urbe Condita), even though Herod died only 749 years after the founding of the city of Rome. The cumulative effect of Dionysis’ calendar error, which is the same calendar we use today, was to give the correct traditional date for the founding of Rome, but one that is at least 4 to 7 years off for the birth of Christ.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
Inspired by Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time
You’ve seen the greeting card — Joseph along with Mary on the back of a donkey making their way to Bethlehem in the wintery snow. But could Jesus have been born during that time of the year, perhaps with snow on the ground? It is possible, as 3 to 4 days a year snow can fall in Palestine. In January on 1950 for example there was 20 inches on the ground in Israel. It is usually pointed out that shepherds don’t have sheep on the hilsides during the winter, though the Nativity story reports “…shepherds watched their flocks by night…” But there were flocks of special sheep, those who were designated for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem who were kept all year round near Bethlehem at Beit Sahur, the “Tower of the Flock”.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
Inspired by Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time
The origin of Thanksgiving Day has been attributed to a harvest feast held by the Plymouth Colony, although such celebrations date from ancient times. In 1621, Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony proclaimed a day of “thanksgiving” and prayer to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first harvest in America. The picture you usually see of a few Native American men joining the Pilgrims at the feast is a bit inaccurate however. From original settler Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend in 1621 we know that some 90 men accompanied the Wampanoag Chief Massasoit to visit at Plymouth for three days of fish, foul, and venison. But of the roughly 100 English settlers who had spent their first year on the Massachusetts coast, about half had died by this time. This would have left about half the 52 survivors as English men. So the Native men outnumbered the Pilgrim men by over three to one!
The idea of a day set apart to celebrate the completion of the harvest and to render homage to the Spirit who caused the fruits and crops to grow is both ancient and universal. The practice of designating a day of thanksgiving for specific spiritual or secular benefits has been followed in many countries.
One of the first general proclamations was made in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1676. President George Washington in 1789 issued the first presidential thanksgiving proclamation in honor of the new constitution. During the 19th century an increasing number of states observed the day annually, each appointing its own day. President Abraham Lincoln, on October 3, 1863, by presidential proclamation appointed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, due to the unremitting efforts of Sarah J. Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.
Each succeeding president made similar proclamations until Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1939 appointed the third Thursday of November, primarily to allow a special holiday weekend for national public holiday. This was changed two years later by both congress and the President to the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving Day remains a day when many express gratitude to God for blessings and celebrate material bounty.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
I had the opportunity to catch a private pre-screening of this movie. What a treat!
It opens in black and white with a dark and stormy night and the Warner Brothers logo. Then a snake slithers along the ground… and then the title. But soon afterward it explodes into full-color fireworks of the World Cup of Quidditch. But we aren’t shown this exciting game as it’s portrayed in the book (you’ve got to cut something from the 734-page book. They were toying with making two movies from it, to be released close together, but ultimately decided against it.) Rather we’re ushered into a different contest, the TriWizard Tournament competition.
It soon becomes clear that this isn’t your previous kiddies movie. As the first PG-13 movie in the Harry Potter franchise, it’s darker, more frightening and more mature. In many ways, it is the most satisfying of the series. However, the appearance of the personification of Lord Voldemort and some other scenes may be too intense for younger viewers.
This is not about fun and games, the struggles here are about life and death.
This movie picks up our heroes at the age of 14, whom we haven’t seen since they were 13, and the awkward challenges they face with their teenage years including testing the nature of their friendship. Associated with the TriWizard Tournament is the Christmas Eve night Yule Ball (a Christian holiday mentioned amongst the magic?) As each of our trio struggles with who to go to the dance with, some of the sly humor comes out.
As the visiting contestants from two other foreign wizarding schools arrive at Hogwarts, the special effects are the most dazzling yet. With a submarine sailing ship and a pegasus-pulled carriage, it’s fabulous.
The budding romance between Ron and Hermione is set aside as she is squired to the dance by an older visiting Bulgarian contestant. But Hermione is now revealed as a budding lovely young lady. This was hinted at in the previous movie but now showcased with her dramatic entrance to the Ball.
Harry, on the other hand, laments how difficult it is to ask a girl to the Ball when they tend to “travel in packs.” His gaze has turned to a new face, the fresh face of Katie Leung in the role of Cho Chang, picked from an audition of 3,000 young ladies. The clumsiness and awkwardness of adolescence are poignant and touching, deftly and honestly handled.
The climactic portion of the movie deals with the Tournament, with three tasks: in air, the water and on land (no it’s not Earth, Wind, and Fire… though when one thinks of dragons, one does tend to think of fire.) The contest with the dragon shows the decidedly Gothic spires of Hogwarts’ roofline in great array. But, it is the second contest that shows Harry’s character.
Harry Potter is an “everyman”, a rather ordinary boy with extraordinary power. But as a hero, he’s unexpected and reluctant, not the quickest in mind or body, but his character is revealed in each trial as that of “strong moral fiber.”
Meanwhile, the co-starring roles of the Hogwarts’ faculty is delightful. Brendan Gleeson does a terrific job as the curious “Mad Eye” Moody, a new Professor of Defense against the Dark Arts, and his arch Dublin accent puts him just short of a Pirate. He’s had significant roles in recent movies, including Menelaus in “Troy” and Reynald in “Kingdom of Heaven.” He is probably best remembered as Mel Gibson’s right-hand man Hamish in “Braveheart” which was filmed mostly in Ireland. Ironically, Gleeson spent 10 years teaching school before becoming an actor.
Miranda Richardson plays the role of Rita Skeeter the gossip reporter for the Daily Prophet. You may remember her in the role of Madame Giry in the movie version of “Phantom of the Opera” or as Queen Elizabeth for fans of the BBC series “Blackadder II.”
Alan Rickman’s deliciously loathsome Professor Severus Snape is a delight to see at any time. My first recollection of him is as the bad guy in “Die Hard” but he’s been in a ton of English movies and other fine American ones. And who can forget him in “Sense and Sensibility?”
While the other professors have less screen time than in the previous movies, Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, knighted as CBE) has decidedly more exposure. We’ve loved him in “Gosford Park” and many other roles especially in West End Theatre in London.
Obligatory Movie trivia: he once auditioned for the role of James Bond after George Lazenby’s single performance in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” but was turned down as they didn’t want to hire another “unknown.” More ironic still, he appears in the 2004 movie “Layer Cake” with Daniel Craig, who has been cast as the new James Bond in the next 007 outing “Casino Royal.”
But this film especially felt the absence of Richard Harris in the role. Gambon seems to be more of an academic functionary and a less wise and powerful wizard than Harris. Something about Harris suggested his kind affection for the lonely orphan Harry. And Harris has played his share of regal characters.
Obligatory Theatre trivia: I had the pleasure of seeing Richard Harris in person doing the role of King Arthur in the revival of “Camelot” some 25 years ago in Los Angeles. While Harris did have a hit single in the 60s with “MacArthur Park” he is not known for his singing. However, he was a stand in for the original Richard Burton, who is even less known for his singing, but Burton had been permanently sidelined from the revival tour by a pinched nerve in his back.
At the end of each movie, Dumbledor has a brief interview with Harry where he asks simple yet deep questions and imparts some wisdom. The same happens here as he notes that with his coming of age he will have to make decisions “between what is right and what is easy.”
Ralph Fiennes is cast as the now corporeal Lord Voldemort. Lithe and reptilian he is both charming and loathsome as the evil wizard who years ago killed Harry’s parents. Harry’s contest with him is quite dramatic and revealing. I’ll say no more.
This is the first Harry Potter movie where John Williams does not do the music, other than the theme, and he wasn’t missed. I find the theme too reminiscent of his music in “Hook” and rather distracting in the Potter movies. Instead, in this movie, the music is by Patrick Doyle, who had a small role as an actor in my favorite movie “Chariots of Fire” (1981). He’s also done the music for “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Gosford Park.” It’s got more of a sense of wonder and whimsey.
This movie was sincerely entertaining, a real pop-corn pleaser for the holidays, but those who know me have heard me describe the Harry Potter books as “Diet Tolkien” or “C.S. Lewis Lite.” While it does enjoy magic, it is derivative of Ursula K. LeGuin’s wizard school in “A Wizard of Earthsea” books. And the creatures, culture, history, and languages in no way compare to the depth and scope of Tolkien. Not that J.K. Rowling is not a good writer, it’s just that Tolkien was a professor and new his history, language and literature to a level far beyond Rowling. And Tolkien’s close friend, fellow professor and novelist C.S. Lewis was equally popular, especially with his magic series. Tolkien is my favorite writer of fiction, but I love Lewis’ non-fiction writing.
It will be interesting to see what December’s movie “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” brings.
- You’ll like it if: You like action, special effects, teen romance
- You won’t if: You’re disappointed by movies that don’t cleave close to the book or are easily frightened
Sir Paul McCartney last visited the Denver Pepsi Center in 2002, where he performed what has now been captured on his album Back in the US. It was the best concert I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been going to major concerts for 35 years. Why was this?
Paul McCartney plays the soundtrack of my life
He created and plays the music my generation grew up on. It is hard to exaggerate that the Beatles — the group he was in before Wings — was one of the most seminal bands of the last century and changed the face of popular music and culture. Was this concert in November of 2005 as good? I’ll tell you at The End.
What does a $115 ticket buy you? Not the worst seat in the house. No, that was the seat a hundred feed to my left. At this price it’s BYOO (Bring Your Own Oxygen). To get a seat on the floor is $250 plus fees.
The $30 Tour Program was very sharp, though curiously, filled with ads. Admittedly, there was inevitably a McCartney tie-in. This tour showcases his latest album “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard”.
Did you notice that Paul McCartney’s name on it is the same if rotated 180 degrees?
The show started about 30 minutes late. The Introductory part included synthesized and amplified compilation of his music driven by a live DJ, with incomprehensible voice-overs by Paul and his wife with some colorful gear animations on the Jumbotron projector screen. Almost Peter Max-esque, like Yellow Submarine. Animation is a penchant of Sir Paul.
This was followed by a video starting with WWII in 1942 and the bombing of England, his birth and early life in Liverpool.
Obligatory history trivia: This most successful musician, and the UK’s first music billionaire, was once a choir boy at his Anglican church in Liverpool. When he auditioned at the much larger Cathedral, indeed the largest Anglican Church in Britain, he was turned down as not talented enough. In 1991, he performed his Oratorio there. The story goes (whether true or not) that when he returned he say the old priest who turned him down. When Paul asked if he remembered him and what he’d said, the reply was “Yes, and because of it you went on to become a Beatle!”
There were then photos of the Quarrymen then the Beatles at the 1964 Ed Sullivan Show (I remember watching it) and then Wings. Then various tours followed by the 9/11 concert in NY, Live 8 in Hyde Park, London and his huge concert “Live in Red Square”, Moscow. (Back in the 1960’s, the Beatles had been forbidden in the Soviet Union.)
Yet another history trivia: When Paul performed his previous tour in Rome, they build a stage over part of the floor of the Coliseum. An historical first!
The show began in earnest 45 minutes late, thanks to security scans of all attendees. And it began with a surprise, though a very logical one – as we were asked to Roll Up, Roll Up For the Mystery Tour
- Magical Mystery Tour
This title track to the album of the same name began with a live lighted stage floor lit up like a pinball machine. It was the most high-tech stage I’d seen. It appears to have been a 24 x 24 matrix of square LCD screens which could display colors and even animated pictures on the flat stage that extended to the back and curved up to a vertical back drop to the drum set. By the way, the Beatles coach (bus) tour from the Liverpool Tourist Information Center is called The Magical Mystery Tour.
Paul introduced the “US” show with “We have come for many miles to rock you tonight — and rock you we will!” The crowd went wild.
The next song was:
- Flaming Pie
This song is from his album of the same name
The bass was overwhelming, even through my ear plugs. After too many years of concerts by The Who earplugs have become required.
Paul then said, “We’re gonna play some new songs and some old songs. The next one definitely falls into the later. If you remember it, you weren’t there.”
- I’ll Get You (in the End)
This is a song he’s never performed live since the Beatles. He followed this with, “Here’s one we performed at the Super Bowl”
- (Baby You Can) Drive My Car
There were two lava lamps next to the keyboard set. Foreshadowing?
“We performed in Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues clubs in Liverpool. We wanted to do the cabaret clubs — probably because they paid better. But you had to do a smoochier set.” So he played:
- Till There Was You
This is Paul’s old cover from “The Music Man” this time accompanied by an accordion! And I thought it was the case: Use an accordion, go to jail. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!
Abe his drummer said “Hello Denver, it’s good to be back. You’re looking good. Are you ready to rock?”
Thunderous affirmative from the crowd.
- Let Me Roll It
Which was followed by a guitar riff Jimi Hendrix “Foxy Lady.” Then:
- Got To Get You into My Life
Where the horns, of course, were synthetic but every note,which is burned into our engrams was perfect.
A piano appears from below the center of the stage. Paul tells us, “It comes up out of a whole in the stage. On the second night of the tour I forgot. I stepped back with my bass and fell in. In slow motion I thought ‘How deep is this hole?'”
- Fine Line
This is the first track of his latest album, <a href=”http://Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which he was careful to point out. Then back to the old hit:
- Maybe I’m Amazed
It’s easier to track the harmonies — a descending progression — with this band for some reason than on the original album. If he can’t hit all the notes anymore, no one minded.
- The Long And Winding Road
Back to his guitar — and he changed guitar between almost every song — for his solo. Back to before the Beatles. A skiffle song. He said how nice it would be to have the 20,000 backing vocals… we were to sing Whoa-aoo-oo-oo.
- In Spite of All The Danger
- (If You Want Me To) I Will
This wonderful song, from the the self titled <a href=”http://www.blogger.com/The Beatles — but better know as simply the White Album — had never been performed live before. He related the story that he’d met a guy in a Mexican restaurant in Pasadena who told about how his daughter had performed it at her school. Paul made a point to perform it live.
His next song was:
- Jenny Wren
This is an unusually beautify song from his new album, reminiscent of his earlier Blackbird. In a previously published interview Paul said he’s tried to avoid writing songs that sounded like his Beatles music, but no one else does. If they can rip him off, he can do it too. This one was done to beautiful effect. For this song, he was joined by Abe on the drums — a simple beat — and Wix on the accordion.
He told us it was sometimes to remember the words to his songs when he saw banners being waved in the audience. He mentioned one in particular:”My mother saw you at Shea Stadium”
Back to the piano Paul began to sing A love that should have lasted years
- For No One
- Fixing A Hole
Here he did a nice solo, with some modifications — it seemed to avoid some high notes. But nobody minded. This was followed by an introduction to one of the prettier songs from his new album:
- English Tea
In it he mentions “Miles and miles of English gardens.” Veddy British.
“I am proud that I worked in the word ‘peradventure’. I looked it up in the dictionary. It means ‘maybe’. You don’t expect to come to a show like this and learn something like that. I understand that the word is now sweeping the nation”
“I remember writing the following song in our little place in Liverpool.”
- I’ll Follow the Sun
He did the last line 3 times “it’s such a short song that I need to do it again” so he did “Enough’s enough” but the crowd wanted more, so he did it yet again.
“I’d like to dedicate this next song to my lovely wife and our child”
- Follow me (you lead me to places I’ve never been)
While this sounds like a very personal song, I couldn’t help thinking that it also sounds like an Adam Sandler tune. Nevertheless, the LCD floor fired up with sparklers cascading in the back.
“Back in Liverpool, George and I would play this song. It was semi-classical. It was actually classical but we made it semi. It was by J.S. Bach. I took it and years later turned it into this”
As he sang and played, one could see on his left wrist he wore two white “Lance Armstrong” style bands.
- Eleanor Rigby
- Too Many People
- She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
The crowd went crazy for this last tune. Then he related that with this next song NASA woke up the space shuttle with the following song:
- Good Day Sunshine
Since this concert, his Anaheim concert was beamed into space to entertain the international space station, ISS Expedition 12, to share with them this song and “English Tea”. However, this time the astronauts were awakened from sleep not by recorded music, but by live music, a first.
- Band on The Run
I noticed that each front stage performer had 2 floor monitors — unusual in the day of in-ear monitors — but Paul had 3.
- Penny Lane
Penny Lane is a street in Liverpool, where John and Paul were once waiting in a one-storey building in the middle of the roundabout (rotary for us Yanks) and saw a “banker on the corner,” and “a barber.”
This was followed by:
- I’ve Got a Feeling
“Oh I got a feeling…” Paul said, and when the jet sound came up and you just knew it was going to be:
- Back in the USSR
“Those Ruskies love their Rock. We did it in Red Square” Paul said.
During the concert, it was more sad than amusing to watch two hyperactive middle-aged women, whose lack or rhythm was rivaled only by their inability to dance, stand up in front of me to rock and/or roll.
Back again to the piano, where they started to sing:
- Baby Face
The crowd seemed confused, until it was abruptly ended with, “Sorry, wrong tune… Here it is:”
- Hey Jude
Many in the crowd came to their feet for the chorus. Paul asked for participation in singing from the top, the floor, men only, women only, then everyone.
But last time, everyone was on their feet singing. The real crowd pleaser followed:
- Live and Let Die
with real multi colored flames. Shades of the Wizard of Oz. What a way to end a show.
Obligatory movie trivia: At the concert in 2002 there were 007 photo clips including Sean Connery, despite the fact that this was a Roger Moore movie. It is ironic that Paul McCartney wrote the theme to a James Bond movie. In 1964’s Goldfinger, Sean Connery chides his golden girl Jill Masterson when the champagne loses its chill that “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!”
He left the stage, only to return for his first encore:
- Get Back
with the whole band. “Thank you Denver. I’ve got a feeling you still want to rock.”
- Helter Skelter
Another encore had Paul returning to the stage in his red t-shirt “No More Landmines.” The band was waving flags: US, Colorado and others.
- Please Please Me
But it was not like the original harmonies with John
Paul then took down house lights and lit one candle on the piano to sing:
- Let It Be
They ended with a fabulous:
- Reprise from Sgt Pepper/Abbey Road Riff/The End
A satisfying show ended at 11:30 pm. But was it as good as the last concert in 2002? It may have rivaled it, but it did not compare. This one was a home run. But the previous concert, the best I’d seen, was a grand slam. But a home run isn’t bad. I could have used more of his Beatles music. But couldn’t everyone?
Perhaps you can only see Paul McCartney the first time, once. This concert had fewer “off” songs than the previous concert. “C Moon” what was with that? And the new songs from his new album were not only almost consistently good, but in a few cases rivaled the quality of his writing from the days of The Beatles.
At 63, it is understandable that Paul’s higher range might not be what it used to be, but I hope he comes back next year and sings to us “When I’m Sixty-Four”.
We’ll still need him, we’ll still feed him, when he’s sixty-four.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood Beatle maniac
A professor once commented, “We write things down so we can forget them.” Now, of course this is wrong, except in the limited sense of writing down appointments so we don’t have to worry about forgetting things. But that’s just it, we do forget things. As individuals we forget things that are important to us. Corporations seem to have little in the way corporate memory, so they might do things better the next time. Countries forget the things that have occurred in their past, that make them unique. In many parts of the world — Europe in particular and the former British Commonwealth specifically — there are memorials in the town square commemorating their war heroes, usually with the words “Lest we forget”.
Historically, Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, commemorating the ending of World War I on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.) At 5 am on that day, Germany signed the Armistice (truce) in the Forest of Compeigne and the order was given for a cease fire, after 4 years of war. In the United States in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson issued an Armistice Day proclamation, but it was not until Congress first passed a resolution in 1926, and then passed a bill 12 years later that it became a federal holiday. But WWI, “the War to end all wars” was not the final war, and of the 16 million who served in WWII, more than 400,000 died. Birmingham, Alabama organized a “Veterans Day” parade on November 11, 1947 to honor all of America’s veterans for all wars. In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas called the holiday Veterans Day in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill introduced by a Kansas congressman renaming the federal holiday to Veterans Day. In 1954 President Eisenhower proclaimed November 11 as Veterans Day asking Americans to redicate themselves to the cause of peace.
It is said that in old age, two things happen: first, you begin to lose your memory, next… I can’t recall right now. I for one am in favor of memorials, tributes, and parades. Let us remember, recognize, and preserve the memory of those who came before us and what freedoms we enjoy because of their sacrifices. This is one of the reasons I created a tribute webpage for my father, a World War II soldier and hero who liberated the death camp at Dachau. HBO picked up his story and features in on their website when they run the Dachau episode of “Band of Brothers”. Get yourself a copy of the DVD and watch it. It will be good for your memory.
Some have said that we are raising up a generation who knows less about their own history than any generation before them. Let that not be our legacy for the future.
“Lest we forget.”
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
For our friends across the Pond
November 5th is known as “Bonfire Night” or “Guy Fawkes Night”, and all over Britain people fire off fireworks, light bonfires, and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. Guido Fawkes was an Englishman who, in popular legend, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder. He was caught, imprisoned, tortured on the rack, and finally executed, as we’ll see.
400 years ago, Guy Fawkes was a co-conspirator in the “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605 in England. He and his cohorts decided to blow up the both Houses of Parliament in London and kill King James I upon the inaugural opening of the Parliament, and succeeded in smuggling several barrels of gunpowder into the basement of the Parliament.
This “Gunpowder Plot” occurred two years after King James I (of the “King James Bible” fame) ascended to the throne. A group of English Catholics, of which Guido Fawkes was a member, decided to kill the King because it was felt he had reneged on his promises to stop the persecution of Catholics. To this day, it is the law in Britain that a Roman Catholic cannot hold the office of monarch. And the Queen is still Supreme Head of the Church of England.
The plot was foiled at the eleventh hour; some of the plotters escaped, some turned King’s Evidence and reported on the rest. The unlucky Fawkes was taken in chains to the Tower of London. He was hanged, drawn and quartered. After Guy was hanged, he was torn asunder and drug through the streets of London behind a horse cart. The charge was treason, though some people in England prefer to remember Guy as “the only man ever to enter Parliament with honourable intentions.”
To this day, one of the ceremonies that accompany the opening of a new session of parliament, is the searching of the basement, by a bunch of men in funny hats. Parliament somehow made political capital out of the close call, and poor Guy Fawkes is burned in effigy every November 5th on bonfires all over Britain. They sell a lot of fireworks too, and children beg for money on the streets to buy them. The children usually exhibit the “guy” or dummy that will be put on the fire. “Penny for the guy, mister?” is a common refrain at this time of year.
In the last dozen years or so however, with the pervasiveness of American television and culture in England, the custom of celebrating Halloween is in the ascendancy, and many children are now going for the double treat: candy on October 31, money for November 5.
Bill Petro – your friendly neighborhood historian
On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg 95 propositions or theses and marked the beginning of the Reformation. Of course, the Reformation began long before that, but this date proves to be a convenient coat hanger to mark the beginning of Protestantism. But the 95 Theses were not intended as a call to reformation and it is the story behind this event that proves so fascinating, and shows the real purpose of the 95 Theses.
Prince Albert wanted the archbishopric of Mainz. (You may know Mainz as the home of a goldsmith named Johann Gutenberg, who had developed the uniform-sized movable type printing press 60 years earlier.) Because Albert was less than 25 years old, the office of archbishop would cost him $500,000. Pope Leo X, who was financing the building of St. Peter’s in Rome (for $46 million) suggested that Albert borrow the money from the wealthy Fugger banking family. Albert was able to secure half the funds from the Fuggers, and for the rest he sold indulgences. An indulgence was a document which freed the holder from the temporal penalty of sin. The sale of indulgences, introduced during the Crusades, remained a favored source of papal income. In exchange for a meritorious work – frequently, a contribution to a worthy cause or a pilgrimage to a shrine – the church offered the sinner exemption from his acts of penance by drawing upon its “treasury of merits.” This consisted of the grace accumulated by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the meritorious deeds of the saints. In Castle Church at Wittenberg for example, it was believed that the relics (bones of saints, etc.) were reckoned to earn a remission for pilgrims of 1,902,202 years and 270 days.
When the Dominican John Tetzel came preaching through much of Germany on behalf of Albert, he boasted that for a contribution he would provide donors with an indulgence that would even apply beyond the grave and free souls from purgatory. “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,” went his jingle, “quickly the soul from purgatory springs”.
To Martin Luther, the professor of biblical studies at the newly founded University of Wittenberg, Tetzel’s preaching was bad theology if not worse. Luther thought this practice was wholly unwarranted by Scripture, reason or tradition. It encouraged not repentance but mere payment. Luther promptly drew up 95 propositions or theses in Latin, following university custom, for a call to theological debate. Among other things, they argued that indulgences cannot remove guilt, do not apply to purgatory, and are harmful because they induce a false sense of security in the donor. The 95 Theses were not a general call to break with the Roman Catholic Church. The irony is that someone took the 95 Theses and translated them into German, the language of the common man. And with the aid of the printing press copies were distributed to the masses. This was the spark that ignited the Reformation.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
Halloween (Allhallows Even) is the evening of October 31. In its strictly religious aspect this occasion is known as the vigil of Hallowmas or All Saints’ Day, November 1, observed by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. In the fourth decade of the 8th century, Pope Gregory III assigned this date for celebrating the feast when he consecrated a chapel in St. Peter’s basilica in Rome to all the saints. Gregory IV extended the feast to the entire church in 834. In Latin countries the evening of October 31 is observed only as a religious occasion, but in Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States, ancient Halloween folk customs persist alongside the ecclesiastical observance.
Students of folklore believe that the popular customs of Halloween show traces of the Roman harvest festival of Pomona and of Druidism. These influences are inferred from the use of nuts and apples as traditional Halloween foods and from the figures of witches, black cats, and skeletons commonly associated with the occasion.
In pre-Christian Ireland and Scotland, the Celtic year ended on October 31, the eve of Samhain, and was celebrated with both religious and harvest rites. For the Druids, Samhain (pronounced: SOWin) was both the “end of summer” and a festival of the dead. The spirits of the departed were believed to visit their kinsmen in search of warmth and good cheer as winter approached. It was also an occasion when fairies, witches, and goblins terrified the populace. The agents of the supernatural were alleged to steal infants, destroy crops, and kill farm animals. Bonfires were lighted on hilltops on the eve of Samhain. The fires may have been lighted to guide the spirits of the dead to the homes of their kinsmen or to kill and ward off witches. In the City Center of modern day Dublinone can find signs advertising “Samhain Halloween” parties. Samhain is also the name for November in the modern Scots Gaelic and Irish languages.
During the middle ages when the common folk believed that witchcraft was devoted to the worship of Satan, this cult included periodic meetings, known as witches’ Sabbaths, which were allegedly given over to feasting and revelry. One of the most important Sabbaths as held on Halloween. Witches were alleged to fly to these meetings on broomsticks, accompanied by black cats who were their constant companions. Stories of these Sabbaths are the source of much folklore about Halloween.
Pranks and mischief were common on Halloween. Wandering groups of celebrants blocked doors of houses with carts, carried away gates and plows, tapped on windows, threw vegetables at doors, and covered chimneys with turf so that smoke could not escape. In some places boys and girls dressed in clothing of the opposite sex and, wearing masks, visited neighbors to play tricks. These activities generally resembled the harmful and mischievous behavior attributed to witches, fairies, and goblins. The contemporary “trick or treat” custom resembles an ancient Irish practice associated with Allhallows Eve. Groups of peasants went from house to house demanding food and other gifts in preparation for the evening’s festivities. Prosperity was assured for liberal donors and threats were made against stingy ones. These contributions were often demanded in the name of Muck Olla, an early Druid deity, or of St. Columb Cille, “dove of the Church” (also knownas St. Colomba) who was an Irish missionary to Scotland during the 6th century. In England some of the folk attributes of Halloween were assimilated by Guy Fawkes day celebrated on November 5. Consequently Halloween lost some of its importance there.
Immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland brought secular Halloween customs to the U.S., but the festival did not become popular in this country until the latter part of the 19th century. This may have been because it had long been popular with the Irish, who migrated here in large numbers after 1840. In America, though some churches observe Halloween with religious services, most people regard it as a secular festival. Other Protestant churches celebrate it as “Reformation Day”in commemoration of the date in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed the95 Theses to the northern wooden door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian