History Articles

History of Faith in a Time of Plague

March 15, 2020 /
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When the Black Death passed through Europe, coming across the Asian steppes and through trading ships in Constantinople, it visited Athens, the ports of Italy, and then north into the heart of Europe. In just one day, the infection could show signs of fever, delirium, speech disorders, and loss of consciousness. A healthy person could die within as little as three to ten days. Mortality statistics range as wide as 30-90% of populations devastated. When it struck, it touched every aspect of one’s life. Whole towns had disappeared. It profoundly impacted the culture of Europe, its art, literature, and folk customs.

Medieval Times

In 1348, people watched helplessly as their family died. Where were they to place their faith? By 1359 the Black Death seemed to have passed. But it hadn’t gone away; it would pass in successive waves for another 400 years. Just 180 years after the initial outbreak, the epidemic came back through Germany and infected the new University town.

Renaissance Times


In August of 1527, the Plague struck Wittenberg powerfully, and many people fled the city in fear of their lives. Friends strongly urged the University professor and his pregnant wife to leave. His prince ordered him to depart immediately to save his own life. Virtually all of his students had left the city. He had suffered for the last year with dizzy spells and buzzing in his ears. That summer, he had a severe attack of cerebral anemia. And then came the bouts of great depression and despair. His wife was carrying their first daughter, and the townspeople called for them to flee. The 44-year-old professor argued that it was not wrong for a person to value their life so that they did not remain, but only so long as the sick had someone of greater faith than they themselves, who would care for them. (more…)

History of the Ides of March: Who should Beware?

March 15, 2020 /
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According to the ancient Roman calendar, the ides fell on the 13th of the month with the exception of the months March, May, July, and October, when it fell on the 15th of the month. Something epochal occurred in 44 B.C.

Et tu, Brute?



It was on March 15, 44 B.C. that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated after he had been warned by a seer that harm would befall him before the end of the Ides of March. Contrary to popular belief, including William Shakespeare, Caesar was not assassinated in the Capitol, meaning the Curia Hostilia or Senate House in the Roman Forum at the foot of the Capitoline Hill (pictured at top).


History of Pi Day: 3.14

March 14, 2020 /
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This holiday is often overlooked by those who do not speak Greek or those who do not speak Geek. But for the science major, this is a special celebration. Though it is an irregular constant number, regularly and annually on March 14, or 3/14, or 3.14 — we have the first three digits of “Pi.” If one wanted to be precise, and why not, it would be at 15:92 o’clock, or 4:32 pm… and 65.35 seconds, or slightly after 4:33 pm. You get the idea.

pi dayOrigin of Pi Day

The origin of this geek holiday has been traced to a celebration led by Larry Shaw at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988, where he was a physicist. No less than the U.S. House of Representatives boldly stepped out and passed a non-binding resolution recognizing March 14 as Pi Day in 2009. Your tax dollars at work.

History of Starkbier Festival

March 13, 2020 /
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Today, March 13 begins the Starkbierfest. The heart of this festival is in Munich, Germany, specifically at Paulaner am Nockherberg Brewery, where it all began, and lasts about two weeks. It is unlike its more well-known sibling Oktoberfest in a few ways.

Little Known

Outside of Germany and Munich in particular, it’s not widely known, except to German ex-pats or beer lovers. Or historians who have visited Munich in the Spring.

Narrowly Observed

There are perhaps half a dozen locations in Munich that celebrate it.


What is Starkbierfest?

It’s the festival for Starkbier.

What is Starkbier?

It’s German for strong beer.

What is Strong beer?

Starkbierfest Poster

Some assume the name refers to it’s higher alcohol content, but that’s not the case, though it is more alcoholic, about 6.5% to 9% by volume. Instead, the name is due to the higher gravity, or Stammwürze of the beer, with its concentration of solids like proteins, starches, and sugars… the wort. Starkbier contains 180g of solids or the equivalent to a third of a loaf of bread. It was originally dubbed flüssiges Brot, or “liquid bread” by the monks who created it. It’s liquid nourishment. (more…)

History of Daylight Saving Time: Why do we Spring forward?

March 6, 2020 /
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It seems like only yesterday that we discussed the end of Daylight Saving Time, or DST, a brilliant campaign to convince people that we’re getting more daylight each day when in reality, we’ve simply changed our clocks and then forgotten about it within two weeks. Actually, it was only back in November, or four months ago.

Recent Changes

Indeed, the new rules for DST that began in 2007 meant an extra four or five weeks of DST each year. There are now a total of 238 days of DST, compared to a total of 210 days of DST back in 2006 under the previous rules. This means the U. S. remains on DST for about 65% of the year. So if you think about it, DST will be in effect for most of the year, Standard time is no longer the standard. It might be more significant to recognize Daylight Losing Time.


History of March

March 1, 2020 /
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March - Mars


The month that can come in “like a lion and out like a lamb” is named after Mars, the Roman god of war (and agriculture). March or Martius as it was known in ancient Rome is the first month of Spring and was considered a favorable season for travel, planting, or to begin a military campaign. March 1st in the Northern hemisphere marks the beginning of the meteorological Spring and was the original New Year’s Day of Rome until that was changed to December or January under different rulers. Some parts of Europe continued to use March as the beginning of the year until the 16th to 18th centuries when the West changed the calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.


History of Leap Year

February 28, 2020 /
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The Leap Day, February 29, depicts a day that occurs only once every four years, every Leap Year or intercalary year when an extra day is inserted. But not every fourth year, if that year ends in “00” like 1900, then it is not a Leap Year. Except if that year ending in 00 is also divisible by 400 then it is a Leap Year. Unless it is a Tuesday and it is dark. OK, I made up that last rule. So, years like 2008 are Leap Years, being divisible by 4. 1900 is not a Leap Year as it ends in 00. In the year 2000, you’ll remember, the famous Y2K, when computer programmers only obeyed the first two rules and assumed that it wasn’t a Leap Year so that all the computers failed and the world came to an end? That was a Leap Year, as it was divisible by 4, and though it ended in 00, it was divisible by 400 (indeed, it’s divisible five times, if you’re still with me.)

Calculation Correction

How did we get into this calculation conundrum? It has to do with a cumulative rounding error in trying to reconcile the Julian calendar with the tropical or astronomical calendar. The Julian calendar, established by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. lasted from 45 B.C. until A.D. 1582 and stipulated that the year should be 365 days for 3 years in a row, with every 4th year having 366 days. This meant that an average year was 365.25 days. But according to the tropical calendar, the year has 365.24219 days.


History of Ash Wednesday: Where does the Ash come from?

February 26, 2020 /
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In the Western church, the first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday from the ceremonial use of ashes, as a symbol of penitence, in the service prescribed for the day. It follows Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, and ends 40 days later with Easter. The custom is still retained in the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran and some Orthodox Churches. The ashes, obtained by burning the remains of the palm branches blessed on the previous Palm Sunday, are placed in a vessel on the altar and consecrated before High Mass. The priest then invites those present to approach and, dipping his thumb in the ashes, marks them as they kneel with the sign of the cross on the forehead, with the words:

Remember, man, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.


History of Mardi Gras: Why is it called Fat Tuesday?

February 25, 2020 /
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In French, Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” and is celebrated the day after Shrove Monday and the day before Ash Wednesday as a last “fling” before the 40 days of self-denial of Lent which precede Easter. Lent is a word that comes from the Middle English word “lente” which means “springtime” — so named for the season of the year in which it usually occurs. While the practice of Lent is not mentioned in the Bible, it has been a tradition in the Christian world since the mid 4th century. It seems to parallel the 40 days of fasting in the wilderness that Jesus experienced following his baptism at the Jordan River.


Historically, Lenten fasting became mandatory, especially the abstinence from eating meat. While recommended by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in his Festal Letter III to his flock in Egypt in 331 AD, by the Middle Ages Lent was enforced throughout Europe, especially the forbidding of meat during the final weeks before Easter.