HISTORY OF AMAZING GRACE, part 2: William Wilberforce
As I mentioned in my first article on the History of Amazing Grace, this is the story of the lives of two men and that one song. In the first part, we discussed the life of the song’s author, John Newton. However, the 2007 film “Amazing Grace” is about the life of one of Newton’s protégés, William Wilberforce.
Wilberforce was a man well-known to the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution. He became, in his day, not just a politician, philanthropist, and abolitionist but also a writer of such popularity at the time as C. S. Lewis was in the 20th century.
William Wilberforce was born to privilege and wealth in 18th-century England. Though physically challenged, he worked for nearly 20 years to push through Parliament a bill to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire 200 years ago.
HISTORY OF AMAZING GRACE, part 1
On February 23, 1807, the British parliament passed a bill banning the nation’s slave trade. In these two articles, we’ll explore the lives of two men and one song that played a significant role in that effort.
John Newton‘s devoted Christian mother dreamed that her only son would grow up to become a preacher. But he lost his mother when he was six years old, and at eleven, he followed his sea-captain father to the sea. He did not take to the discipline of the Royal Navy and deserted ship, was flogged, and eventually discharged.
HISTORY OF ASH WEDNESDAY
In the Western church, the first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday from the ceremonial use of ashes, as a symbol of repentance, in the service prescribed for the day. It follows Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, and ends with Easter 40 days later, not counting Sundays.
Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Anglican denominations, Roman Catholics, and some Baptists practice it. The Eastern Church practices the Great Lent during the 40 days preceding Palm Sunday, with fasting continuing during the Holy Week of Orthodox Easter. The ash represents repentance and a reminder of death. These 40 days represent the duration of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
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.
In French, Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday.” It 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.
Origin of Mardi Gras
Historically, Lenten fasting became mandatory, especially 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 last weeks before Easter.
The Monday before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Monday. The three days before Ash Wednesday are known as “Shrovetide,” starting with Quinquagesima Sunday and ending on Shrove Tuesday, a day more popularly known as Mardi Gras.
Quinquagesima meant the fiftieth day before Easter, specifically the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, marking Lent‘s beginning.
Shrove is the past tense of shrive and is an Old English word meaning “to repent.” Repentance from sin was a common practice during this season.
The Royal Shrovetide Football Match is typically played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England, tracing back to the time of Henry II in the 12th century (think of the play/movie The Lion in Winter.)
HISTORY OF PRESIDENTS DAY
During my lifetime, two American holidays got consolidated into one. In 1971, a day between both Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12 and Washington’s Birthday on February 22 became a single holiday, Presidents Day — alternately spelled Presidents’ Day, or incorrectly as President’s Day (it’s plural) — to be observed on the third Monday in February, to honor all the past Presidents of the United States.
Presidents Day History
When I was a schoolchild, both Washington’s and Lincoln’s pictures were typically displayed prominently in schoolrooms. Schoolchildren in many states have felt cheated out of an extra day off of school ever since, with the two Presidents’ birthdays being combined into only one holiday. Is this a way of consolidating holidays for advertisers for “Presidents Day Sales?” Indeed, some state and local governments observe it as Presidents Day. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971 established more three-day weekends.
Nevertheless, Washington’s Birthday is still observed by U.S. Federal employees, though it rarely falls on Washington’s actual birthday. His birthday was officially recognized as a holiday back in 1885. Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12 is not a Federal holiday, though some states observe it, going back to 1873 or 1874 in Buffalo, NY.
HISTORY OF ST. VALENTINE’S DAY
The day we associate with love and romance has a history that traces back almost three millennia to ancient Rome but winds through Roman North Africa, England, and the United States.
St. Valentine was martyred on February 14. However, Valentine or Valentinus is the name of at least three martyred saints. The most celebrated are the two martyrs whose festival days fall on February 14. One was a Roman priest; the other was the bishop of Terni.
HISTORY OF THE AVOCADO: THE SUPER BOWL FOOD
Why are avocados, especially guacamole dip, considered a required food for Super Bowl Parties? What’s the background?
California, which has 60,000 acres of avocado orchards, has an avocado growing season running from March through August… not exactly friendly to the date of the Super Bowl. The popular “Hass” variety does not ripen until March. So, where do Super Bowl Avocados come from?
HISTORY OF THE SUPER BOWL
The Super Bowl™ is a territory acquisition athletic contest played on a fixed agrarian grid using, as a token, an inflated porcine prolate spheroid. Some will say it is the most important holiday of the year in America. While it is ostensibly a secular holiday, others argue it is truly a religious holiday. And there are several reasons why. It has:
- A liturgy
- Multiple prayers
- Special foods
- Formal rituals that have developed throughout history
HISTORY OF CHARLES DICKENS
Today marks the 211th birthdate of Charles Dickens, considered by many the greatest English writer since Shakespeare — at least he was during his lifetime in the Victorian age. He enjoyed the distinction of fame and a measure of financial success during his lifetime, starting in his 20s. Many of his novels were published serially in newspapers or 3 pence pamphlets. Think of them as early Twitter novels. And like Twitter posts, they’re forever: his novels are still in print.
Indeed, eleven years ago (as of the original writing of this article in December 2011), London was having a “Dickens of a time,” with special events and exhibits all over town.
In December, I went to no less than three: the exhibit of his books at the British Library, the immersive Dickens exhibit at the Museum of London, and his only remaining residence in London at 48 Doughty Street, now known as the Charles Dickens Museum which houses thousands of his personal effects.
Dickens in London
When he was still young, his family moved to Camden Town, London, around which he lived most of his life. Though he received an education as a child and was a voracious reader, his father’s extravagant spending habits eventually landed him in debtor’s prison, and young Charles, at 12, had to leave school and take work in a boot-blacking factory near Covent Garden.
Living as a boarder, on weekends, he would visit his family, who lived with his father in Marshalsea debtor’s prison in Southwark, south of the City and across the Thames. His painful recollections of his experiences during this time and his phenomenal memory for detail would provide motivation and content for many of his later novels: Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and especially David Copperfield.
HISTORY OF THE BEATLES
On February 7, 1964, The Beatles landed at JFK Airport in New York. The airport was recently renamed by a mourning country in honor of President Kennedy, who had been assassinated just 77 days earlier.
The airport was now full of 4,000 greeters. Not realizing why there was such a crowd, Paul McCartney wondered aloud,
“Who is this for?”
as the screaming fans rushed to the gates to meet The Beatles. Two days later, on Sunday night, they would appear on The Ed Sullivan Show for their first of three consecutive Sunday night appearances.
HISTORY OF PETER PAN
All of this has happened before,
and it will all happen again.
So begins my favorite Walt Disney animated movie, Peter Pan, which debuted 70 years ago today on February 5, 1953. The original movie poster said:
“It will live in your heart forever!”
…and indeed, it has.
Why was this turn-of-the-century tale one of Disney’s favorite stories?