What’s in a name? The name of this month wasn’t always August, previously it was called Sextilis by the Romans, back in the days of Romulus in 753 BC when there were originally 10 months (Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.) The Roman Senate, in 8 B.C. decided to honor their first Emperor, Augustus Caesar, by changing the name of the month to Augustus. Now Augustus wasn’t his name, it was more of a description of his importance. He was born as Gaius Octavius, though he is known in the history books as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus or Octavius to his friends. The title augustus in Latin comes from augere “to increase” and was granted to him in 27 BC by the Senate. In a religious sense it meant “venerable” or “consecrated,” signifying his role in the Roman cultus. We use the term in English to describe someone auspicious, grand or lordly… or with imperial qualities.
You know about Augustus from the Christmas story in Luke 2:
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth [i.e., the Roman Empire].
186 years ago today, on July 26, 1833, the Emancipation Act passed its third reading in the House of Commons, ensuring the end of slavery in the British Empire. It was authored by William Wilberforce.
August 24 marks the birthday of British statesman and England’s greatest abolitionist William Wilberforce. He was a man well known to the Framing Fathers of the American Revolution and became in his day, not just a politician, philanthropist, and abolitionist, but also a writer of such popularity (in his own day) as C.S. Lewis was in the 20th century. As I mentioned in my first article on the History of Amazing Grace, Wilberforce’s mentor was the song’s author John Newton. The popular film “Amazing Grace” tells, in brief, the life of Wilberforce.
William Wilberforce was born in 1759 to privilege and wealth in 18th century England and though physically challenged, worked for nearly 20 years to push through Parliament a bill for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire almost 200 years ago. (more…)
HISTORY OF REEK SUNDAY, Part 3: LOCATION
In our previous article on Reek Sunday, we discussed the Pilgrimage to County Mayo, Ireland for Cruach Phadraig — as it is known in Irish — that is also called “The Reek.” It stands at 764 meters or 2510 feet elevation. It is located about 5 miles from the lovely town of Westport, an Irish Tidy Town. St. Patrick’s “Confessions,” tells of his slavery in the wood of Fochluth. Evidence relating to the history of St. Patrick suggests that this location was actually on the west shore of Ireland in this area.
Westport is a popular tourist destination in County Mayo, not only as a launching point for the pilgrimage but for its picture-postcard beauty. In the center of the town is an octagon with a pillar featuring St. Patrick. On each of the eight sides is a panel illustrating an event from his life.
HISTORY OF REEK SUNDAY, part 2: PILGRIMAGE
Pilgrims, nature lovers, archeologists, historians, and hill climbers come from all over the world to climb the mountain on Reek Sunday. In our previous article, we discussed the Tradition. Here we discuss the pilgrimage that has been going on for centuries, and an older one for millennia. More on that later.
The current one has been going on actively since 1905 with the dedication of the new St. Patrick’s Oratory. Pilgrimages had fallen off following the Great Hunger (Potato Famine) of the 1840s and efforts were made to revitalize it. On Sunday, July 30, 1905, there were 10,000 pilgrims in attendance of the new church. Night pilgrimages were performed until 1973, but they are now held during the day, sometimes barefooted.
An older tradition goes back even further. Pre-Christian artifacts have been discovered by archeologists suggesting a Celtic hill fort that circled the top of the mountain. On the summit have been found amber, blue and black glass beads dating to the 3rd century BC. The mountain seemed to have been revered long before Patrick and was perhaps the reason he had his fast and contest there. It was believed to be the seat of the old Celtic fertility deity Crom Dubh, often translated as the Dark Stooped One. In pre-Roman times, Crom Dubh seems to have been considered a despotic deity with evil powers.
HISTORY OF REEK SUNDAY
Several years ago at this time of the Summer, I was on the west coast of Ireland, where they say,
“West o’ here, ta next parish over, tat’s Boston.”
This Sunday, the last one in July every year, marks Reek Sunday, or Garland Sunday in Ireland. During this event between 25,000 and 40,000 people will walk the 3-hour round trip up the Reek Mountain, or Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland. It’s the sacred mountain of St. Patrick and a popular pilgrimage in honor of the patron saint of Ireland, commemorating his driving the snakes from Ireland. Over 100,000 people visit Croagh Patrick throughout the year.
On the summit of this mountain, it is believed that St. Patrick fasted and prayed for 40 days in 441 A.D. The story goes that at the end of this fast St. Patrick threw a bell down the mountainside and banished all the serpents from Ireland. The fact that snakes never were native to Ireland does not diminish the tradition. Some believe that the banishing of the snakes represents either certain pagan practices or outright evil. In any event, the pilgrimage in honor of St. Patrick goes back to this date over 1,500 years ago. Radiocarbon dating of the remnants of a dry stone oratory is dated at between 430 and 890 AD. This oratory or place of worship is similar in design to the magnificently preserved Gallarus Oratory found on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. The bell we have now dates from 600 to 900 AD and is kept by the National Museum of Ireland.
HISTORY OF THE 1ST MOON LANDING: APOLLO 11
Fifty years ago today, at 3:17 Eastern Time, July 20, 1969, the first human stepped onto the moon. With the immortal words of the 38 year-old Neil Armstrong:
“That’s one small step for (a) man,
one giant leap for mankind.”
…the first man in history began an excursion on the moon that lasted over two and a half hours.
500 million people watched on television. Everyone I knew watched it.
Eight years previously, in May of 1961, President John F. Kennedy in his special State of the Union message had uttered these galvanizing words:
“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
You’ve heard the phrase “Space… the Final Frontier… her mission…” It was uttered first in September of 1966. But John Kennedy’s 29-word statement first captured the sense of “mission” more clearly and memorably than Americans had commonly heard before.
The Apollo mission would send two Americans to the moon’s surface and return them back safely. (more…)
HISTORY OF BASTILLE DAY
Each year on July 14 Bastille Day is celebrated to commemorate the Storming of the Bastille in Paris on this date in 1789, an important date in the French Revolution. Also known as French National Day, it features feasting, fireworks, public dancing, and an address by the French President. However, the center of this celebration is the largest and oldest European military parade along the Avenue of the Champs-Élysées, a wide boulevard that runs through Paris and is called la plus belle avenue du monde. Lined by high-end shops and eateries, as well as the Arc of Triumph in the middle, it is undoubtedly the most beautiful avenue in the world that I’ve walked along. Bastille Day is celebrated across the globe wherever French ex-patriots, people of French ancestry, and Francophiles live. (more…)
HISTORY OF FRENCH FRIES: NATIONAL FRENCH FRY DAY
Today is National French Fry Day. While no one knows who began this celebration, placing in on July 13 is significant in that the most important French holiday is the next day, July 14 for Bastille Day.
Some French people might call the delectable potato confection Belgian Fries, and there is evidence that they may have originated there. However, due to the last year’s defeat of the Belgians to the French at the World Cup games, I cannot find any French people who will give any credit to the Belgians on these historical facts. A Belgian journalist claims that a 1781 family manuscript tells of deep-fried potatoes in the Spanish-Netherlands (now Belgium) before the 1680s. The fact that potatoes did not arrive in that area until around 1735 makes this a hot potato. Eating potatoes for food was popularized in France by King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who wore potato blossoms in their buttonholes and hair. (more…)
HISTORY OF JOHN CALVIN
On July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France was born Jean Cauvin, known to us as John Calvin. Of all the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, none were as significant in forming biblical theology or ecclesiastic thought as this one man. Calvin’s teaching and tradition penetrated more of the world than any of the other Protestant traditions. He would most influence the worldview of Western Europe, the UK, and the Americas up until the Modern period of history. His organization of the church government in Geneva would influence the church polity of Presbyterianism.
Influence on America
Many of the ideas incorporated into the American Constitution were done so by men inspired by John Calvin who had a healthy view of the depravity of man, the need for checks-and-balances in government, the division of powers, and provision for the rightful and orderly succession of rulers. Founding Father James Madison was strongly influenced by Reverend John Witherspoon, the only clergy signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Witherspoon was a descendant of the Scottish Reformer John Knox. Knox, once chaplain to the English King Edward VI, subsequently became a student of Calvin’s in Geneva, calling it:
“the most perfect school of Christ since the days of the Apostles.”
Witherspoon had been president of the Presbyterian school Princeton (known at that time as the College of New Jersey), and Madison spent an additional year after graduating studying Hebrew and political philosophy under Witherspoon. (more…)