Le Quatorze Juillet – France

July 14

As a child, I asked my father, “When was the French Revolution?”

He said, “It began in 1789.”

I asked, “When did it end?”

He said, “It’s still going on.”

*   *   *

Known as “Bastille Day” in English, Fete de la Federation (Holiday of the Federation) is one of the world’s most famous national holidays, but it’s more commonly known as le Quatorze Juillet (July 14).

The Fete de la Federation commemorates the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. Located in the heart of Paris, the fortress was built during the Hundred Years War as the Bastion de Saint-Antoine. After the war, kings used the Bastion to hold the “evildoers”, such as con-men, embezzlers, political prisoners and Protestants.

Over the centuries the large, imposing Bastille prison became the very symbol of the tyrannical monarchy.

The Bastille

By 1789 France was in deep financial doodoo, in part from supporting the American War of Independence. King Louis XVI took the desperate step of calling together a body known as the Estates-General–a gathering of members of the clergy, nobles, and “everybody else”–to help solve the crisis. The Third Estate (the “everybody else” contingent) represented 97% of France’s population (Nobles and Clergy made up the other 3%) but could easily be outvoted by the other two Estates, as had happened the last time the Estates-General convened, in 1614.

“Since 1614, the economic power of the Third Estate had increased dramatically; in 1788, the popular call was to double the number of the representatives from the Third Estate so that they’d have equal voting power in comparison with the other two estates…TheParlement of Paris conceded the doubling question…but then declared that all voting would be done by individual Estates, that is, each Estate would get one vote.”

“Revolution & Tragedies in France”

Needless to say, this didn’t enthuse the Third Estate, which walked out of the meeting en masse and formed the National Assembly, joined by sympathetic clergymen and nobles. On June 19, 1789, the king locked and forbade entry to the meeting place of the newly-formed National Assembly, the Salle de Etats. Not easily dissuaded, the Assembly met on a nearby Tennis Court to take what became known as the Tennis Court Oath. Fearing that King Louis XVI would shut them out of the their new meeting place, members of the National Assembly vowed that they would not disband until they had created a Constitution for a new France, based on the principle that the government serve the people.

The Tennis Court Oath

Tensions in Paris grew as King Louis filled the capital with Swiss and German soldiers, who were less sympathetic to the French populace than native-born soldiers. The final straw was not a shot or a massacre, but the king’s dismissal of his Finance Minister Jacques Necker. Necker had been instrumental in calling together the Estates-General, in doubling the membership of the Third Estate, and in involving the public in the financial affairs of the nation. The already discontented public saw his dismissal as an attack on their cause, and they feared King Louis XVI’s next step would be the dissolution of the National Assembly.

On July 12, thousands of Parisians marched onto the Palais Royal where a journalist and lawyer by the name of Camille Desmoulins jumped up on a table outside a cafe by the garden and was said to have yelled,

“Citizens, there is no time to lose; the dismissal of Necker is the knell of Saint Bartholomew for patriots! This very night all the Swiss and German battalions will leave the Champ de Mars to massacre us all; one resource is left; to take arms!”

In recent years, the debate about whether the besiegers of the Bastille sought to free political prisoners, or to take the weapons stored there, has favored the latter. There were only seven prisoners in the Bastille at the time of the siege. After a violent clash between the angry armed crowds outside the Bastille and the forces that guarded it, the crowds stormed the fortress, freed the prisoners, took the munitions, and reportedly decapitated the Bastille’s governor and placed his head on a spike.

The 500 year-old symbol of French royal tyranny had come to an end; the following month the National Constituent Assembly gave birth to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. A document which declared equality not only for all French citizens, but for all men, for all time.

Exactly one year after the storming of the Bastille, Paris hosted the first Fete de la Federation in memory of the event. Hundreds of thousands or spectators gathered around the Champ de Mars to watch soldiers and national guardsmen of France’s 83 departments march, after which King Louis gave an oath to uphold the new Constitution. He would lose his head two and a half years later.

A Bastille Day Revolution

Welcome to the Bastille

Battle of the Boyne

July 12

…there is nothing now that we so earnestly desire as to establish our government on such a foundation as may make our subjects happy, and unite them to us by inclination as well as duty; which we think can be done by no means so effectually as by granting to them the free exercise of their religion…

Such were the words that got James II booted off the English throne.

On the Glorious Twelfth (not to be confused with August’s Glorious Twelfth) Northern Ireland recalls a battle of two Kings. The Battle of the Boyne marked the first major victory of William of Orange against mostly-Catholic forces supporting the deposed King James II. The “Twelfth” refers to the date in 1690 on which the battle took place: July 1st. “Uhh…” Yeah, we’ll get to that.

The war is called the “Jacobite War” after King James. (Okay, somebody has to talk to these people about naming things.)

King James’ Catholic leanings, his push for religious freedom, and his tendency to bypass Parliament when issuing such decrees, landed him on the top of Parliament’s naughty list. Finally King James did the unforgivable: he reproduced.

The birth of his son by his Catholic wife ensured what Parliament had been fearing most: the continuation of a Catholic line on the English throne. Parliament deposed the King in favor of his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange, the stadtholder (head honcho) of the Dutch lowlands. (Orange refers to a principality, not a fruit or color.)

France was at odds with William and the Dutch at the time, so James hightailed it to Paris to garner troops from the French King. James then set his sites on Ireland, where he had support from both Catholics and Protestant loyalists.

King William III King_James_II
Kings William III and James II (separated at birth?)

The two armies collided at Boyne–William with 36,000 men and 24,000 under James. Surprisingly the death toll was only around 2,000, but it was a definitive Williamite victory, and the beginning of the end for James.

The following year King William sealed the deal at the Battle of Aughrim. Fought on the real July 12, Aughrim was one of the bloodiest battles ever waged on Irish soil–7000 men killed in a day. Thus, the Irish have a definite ax to grind regarding what England sometimes refers to as its “Bloodless Revolution.”

For many years the inhabitants of Belfast celebrated Aughrim as the primary motivation behind Glorious Twelfth. When the UK switched to the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory, many in Northern Ireland saw it as declaring allegiance to the Papacy, and continued celebrating on Julian calendar dates. The anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne–fought July 1 in the Julian Calendar–falls on July 12 in the Gregorian. The two battle commemorations were combined, and over the centuries the Boyne has become more celebrated of the two. Celebrating Boyne over Aughrim has helped to appease Irish Catholics, who didn’t appreciate the wholesale slaughter of their ancestors at Aughrim being celebrated as a holiday.

Tensions remain high between Irish Catholics and the mostly-Protestant population of Northern Ireland. The celebrations have often led to violence, destruction, and poor taste in hat wear.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Running of the Bulls – Encierro

July 7 (St. Fermin’s Day)

14 people have been killed in the San Fermin Running of the Bulls since 1924, when they began counting. To give you an idea of the scope of the mayhem, that’s almost equal to the number of people killed by vending machines in the U.S. since 2001.

Running with the Bulls (aka the Encierro) has been a Pamplona tradition for centuries. Local organizers remind tourists to take safety precautions and warn them of the potential for serious injury. The warnings are often shrugged off, but last year two California brothers got the point in the end.Protesters aren’t so concerned with injuries to humans, but with cruelty to animals. 40,000 bulls are killed by the bullfighting industry each year in Europe. These and other facts about bullfighting are ‘exposed’ during PETA’s Running of the Nudes, which coincides with the festival each year.

Who knows which Run the good Saint Fermin would prefer?


Q: So who is this Saint Fermin anyway, and what does he have to do with bulls?

A: St. Fermin was the son of a Roman senator in Pamplona. He converted to Christianity, was named a Bishop in Amiens, returned to Pamplona to lead his flock, and was martyred back in Amiens in 303 AD. He was actually beheaded, not slaughtered by bulls. And in September, not July.

It was his predecessor Bishop Saturninus of Toulouse who had the honor of being tied to a bull by his legs and dragged to his death. The two saints’ martyrdoms are sometimes confused because of Fermin’s association with the Encierro.

The tradition of honoring St. Fermin in Pamplona dates back to 1186, though the liturgical festival was originally in October. It was moved to July 7 in 1591 to coincide with the summer market fairs and bull ceremonies.

The Martyrdom of Saturninus of Toulouse

So if you’re running with the bulls this week, stretch beforehand, wear good shoes, and be careful where you slip.

[Also on July 7: the Japanese celebrate Tanabata, the reunion of the lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi—stars in the heavens who are permitted to visit each other one day of the year—the seventh day of the seventh month. People create beautiful origami in their honor and write wishes on tanzuku to send up to the two briefly reunited lovers.]

Tynwald Day – Isle of Man

Usually July 5

Tynwald is the legislative body of the Isle of Man, located between England and Ireland in the Irish Sea. Founded in 979 AD, Tynwald is said to be the oldest continuously active parliament in the world. It is descended from the Norse thing–the Parliamentary body developed by the Vikings. Vikings settled on the previously island beginning in the eighth and ninth centuries, but the island maintained much of its Celtic heritage.

On Tynwald Day, the island’s national holiday, the parliament meets in an open air ceremony presided over by the Lieutenant Governor or the Lord of Mann. The British monarch is the official head of state (since Charlotte Murray, 8th Baroness Strange, sold the sovereignty of the Isle for £70,000 in 1765) but the Isle of Man is not a part of the United Kingdom. As Lord of Mann, Queen Elizabeth presided over Tynwald’s 1000th anniversary session in July 1979.

Ballakilleyclieu - Isle of Man © Jon Wornham, www.island-images.co.uk

Tynwald Day originally fell on Midsummer’s Day, June 24, in the Julian calendar. When the Isle of Man switched to the Gregorian calendar, they lost 11 days, but continued to celebrate its national day on June 24 Julian (July 5 Gregorian). As is the case this year, Tynwald Day is held the following Monday if the 5th falls on a weekend.

According to legend, the Isle of Man was once ruled by a Celtic sea god named Manannan, who would shroud the isle in his misty cloak to protect it from invaders. Residents paid tribute to the sea god in the form of bundles “of course meadow grass yearly, and that, as their yearly tax, they paid to him each midsummer eve.” —Mannanan Beg Mac y Leirr

Today the bundling of reeds is still a part of the Tynwald Day festivities.

Day of Portugal

June 10

The feats of Arms, and famed heroic Host
from occidental Lusitanian strand,
who over the waters never by seaman crossed
fared beyond the Taprobane-land (Ceylon)
forceful in perils and in battle-post,
with more than promised force of mortal hand…

Os Luíadas

June 10 is Portugal’s National Day, aptly known as “Portugal Day” or Dia de Portugal. Actually it’s longer, but few go around saying, “Happy Day of Portugal, Camões, and the Portuguese Community!”

Portugal Day marks the death of writer, historian and adventurer Luís de Camões in 1580.

Camões wrote the Portuguese national epic Os Lusíadas , a history in verse of the Iberian nation and the era of discovery.

Compared to his writings, little is known of Camões’ real life. He was banished from Lisbon in 1546, supposedly because of an affair with a lady of the court. He served in the military for two years in Morocco, where he lost his right eye. He returned to Lisbon where the king (John III) pardoned him for injuring an officer in a street brawl; then spent 17 years in exile from his homeland, living in Goa, India and Macau, China. During these years he conceived of and wrote much of Os Lusíadas. Legend tells us he survived a shipwreck in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, keeping his manuscript dry by swimming with one arm and holding it above the water with the other.

Luis de Camões - he ain't winking

(The word “Lusiadas” stems from the tribe that occupied Portugal in ancient times, and refers to the Portuguese.)

Camões presented his masterpiece to King Sebastian in 1572 and won a small royal pension. However, he spent the end of his life in in a Lisbon poorhouse.

The year of Camões’ death, King Philip of Spain claimed the throne of Portugal after the disappearance of King Sebastian at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir. Portugal remained under Spanish control for sixty years.

Today, citizens of Portugal get the day off, the President addresses the nation, and Portuguese around the world gather to celebrate their homeland and their heritage.

D-Day Anniversary

June 6


D-Day: Cargo Vehicles

“The eyes of the world are upon you.”

from General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s statement to the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force, June 1944

June 6 marks the anniversary of the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy that precipitated the long and brutal campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi power.

The invasion, also known as Operation Overlord, involved the landing of approximately 160,000 Allied troops, including U.S., U.K, Free French, Canadian, and Australian forces, in a single day along the heavily fortified Normandy coast. The day was scheduled to be June 5, but unfavorable weather conditions forced the landing back a day.

Contrary to popular belief, D-Day doesn’t stand for Debarkation Day.

“In fact, it does not stand for anything. The ‘D’ is derived from the word ‘Day.’ ‘D-Day’ means the day on which a military operation begins.”


Operation Overlord referred to the entire operation from the initial assault on June 6 to the crossing of the River Seine on August 19. Operation Neptune referred the beginning of the invasion, covering the assault on the beaches, and ended on June 30.

Then there was the lesser known “Operation Fortitude”. Operation Fortitude entailed a massive invasion through the narrowest point in the English Channel by the “First US Army Group” led by General George S. Patton.

D-Day: Invasion

Operation Fortitude was, needless to say, entirely made-up. A fictitious assault created to mislead the Germans into thinking the invasion would occur at another location. Secrecy was essential as the Germans had 55 divisions at their command in France, and the Allies could only land a maximum of 8 at any one time. Keeping the world’s largest invasion a secret was a feat almost as remarkable as the invasion itself. It required the Allies win complete dominance over UK airspace—Allied air forces suffered tremendous losses in the two months before the invasion in order to make this so. It required the UK to ferret out all German spies within their ranks and region and to force known spies to send misinformation back home.

The deception went so far as to set up a fake base for the “First U.S. Army Group” in England opposite the suspected landing site, complete giant rubber tanks, cardboard weapons, a paper mache oil pump, and scripted radio chatter.

D-Day: Wounded by the Chalk Cliffs

General Patton was an obvious choice for the fictitious assault. The Germans assumed Patton—one of the U.S. most capable generals—could lead such an operation. However, Patton had been disciplined for a “slapping” incident, something the Germans found difficult to believe was true. (It was.)

“Fortitude succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Long after June 6th, Hitler remained convinced that the Normandy Landings were a diversionary tactic to induce him to move his troops away from the Pas-de-Calais…He therefore kept his best units in readiness there, until the end of July…”

Normandie Memoire, Operation Fortitude

Within five days, over 325,000 troops had landed in Normandy.

The exact number of casualties and soldiers killed on D-Day itself are difficult to ascertain due to the large scale and complexity of the operation, and the conditions under which it was fought. Traditional estimates put the number of Allied casualties at 10,000 with the number of deaths accounting for a quarter of that.  More recent estimates have put the number of dead alone at over 4400, a little over half of that figure Americans.

D-Day: German Troops Surrender

“These men came here — British and our allies, and Americans — to storm these beaches for one purpose only, not to gain anything for ourselves, not to fulfill any ambitions that America had for conquest, but just to preserve freedom… Many thousands of men have died for such ideals as these… but these young boys… were cut off in their prime… I devoutly hope that we will never again have to see such scenes as these. I think and hope, and pray, that humanity will have learned… we must find some way… to gain an eternal peace for this world.”

— Former President Eisenhower at the 20th anniversary commemoration of D-Day. (The D-Day Companion: Leading Historians Explore History’s Greatest Amphibious Assault)


D-Day: Monument


65th Anniversary of D-Day on the Normandy Beaches

Wild Ride on an Italian Superbus

June 2

Today the descendants of the world’s oldest Republic celebrate Republic Day.

Over 2500 years ago present-day Italy was ruled by a king with a superbadass name, Tarquinius Superbus, who inherited the throne, not through direct lineage, but the even-older-fashion way–by offing his wife’s dad King Tullius.

Servius Tullius had angered the Roman elite by implementing revolutionary policies that protected the poor and laid the foundations for constitutional government. Tarquinius and the king’s daughter Tullia, outraged at how her father was flushing their country down the toilet, led the conspiracy to assassinate him, ending his 44-year reign. According to legend, Tullia showed her remorse for the murder by repeatedly running over her father’s dead body with a chariot.

Tarquinius ushered in a new age of Roman reform, by repealing his father-in-law’s Constitutional decrees and maintaining the peace through violence, murder and terrorism. These halcyon days came to an abrupt halt in 510 BC. Just as Tullius’ daughter became the king’s downfall, Tarquinius’ son Sextus would become his, taking down not only his father, but the entire concept of monarchy in his wake.

The Rape of Lucretia

The unruly and loathsome Sextus decided it would be a thrill to rape one of the most respected and pious members of Roman patrician society. He told Lucretia, wife of the nobleman Collatinus, that if she refused to submit to him, he would have her killed and place her body in bed with a dead slave, all before her husband returned home. A fate worse than death, she would be disgraced for all time.

Lucretia gave in to the threat. But after the evil deed, she reported circumstances of the rape to her family. She then committed suicide to save them from scandal. The furor that arose against the king led to a revolt against the monarchy and the deposing of the whole king’s clan.

On these precarious beginnings grew the most famous republic in world history. A republic that only ended half a millennium later when Julius Caesar was elected dictator for life.

But that has nothing to do with Republic Day. No, the Italians celebrate Republic Day to commemorate this day back in 1946, when they elected to boot the House of Savoy, Europe’s longest ruling royal house, from power.

fascio-nating’ bit of linguistic trivia:

In 1922, after a series of riots and civil unrest, Italy’s King had appointed the strong figure of Mussolini, leader of the Fascist Party, to be the nation’s new Prime Minister. (Today’s word fascist comes from the Italian fascio, referring to a bundle of rods. In the 19th century the fascio was used by political groups as a symbol of Italian unity: the individual sticks of the fascio were fragile, while the bundle itself was unbreakable.)

The King assumed Mussolini would reign in the rebelling democratic and parliamentary institutions. Mussolini did indeed consolidate power, by declaring himself supreme dictator and doing away with any semblance of representative or Constitutional government.

In 1939 Mussolini and the Fascists brought Italy into World War II on the side of Nazi Germany in the hopes of rebuilding an empire–a mission accomplished by conquering King Zog of Albania. Mussolini met his fate near the end of the war. Executed by a Soviet firing squad, Mussolini’s body was hung upsidedown at an Esso gas station, where it became a punching bag for angry Italian citizens.


But his death didn’t ease resentment against the monarchy that had once promoted the dictator.

There were no names or specifics on the famous 1946 referendum. The ballot asked voters to determine whether the Head of the Italian State would be held by the Royal Family–the House of Savoy–or a democratically elected representative.

During this process King Vittorio Emanuele III handed over the throne to his son Umberto II. Umberto is called “the King of May”, referring to his fleeting reign. On June 2 and 3 a narrow margin of Italians voted for the final abolition of the Italian monarchy.

As a result of the referendum the king and his progeny were forced to leave Italy forever. It wasn’t until 2002 that this provision was overturned, and the son of King Umberto, Victor Emmanuel, exiled for 56 years, finally re-entered the land he once almost ruled.

San Isidro – Spain

May 15


Just when Madrid sobers up from back-to-back celebrations of Labor Day and Dos de Mayo, it pulls out all the stops for the week-long celebration of San Isidro.

San Isidro (1070-1130) is Madrid’s patron saint, whose feast day falls on May 15.

A simple farm worker, Isidro never had much money, never led a diocese or congregation, never fought in a war, and was not martyred or notably persecuted for his faith. Nor was his wife Santa Maria de la Cabeza (Saint Mary of the Head). And yet Maria and Isidro are among the few husband-and-wife teams to be canonized in 2000 years of Christendom. (Though it did take 500 years for the Pope to do so.)

[Iberian Gothic? 12th century saints Ysidro & Maria reincarnated]

The couple lived in poverty for most of their lives, but they were known for their generosity, giving more to the poor than they kept for themselves. Stories of Isidro’s miracles, like the materialization of food and water for the hungry, are reminiscent of Jesus feeding the masses with a single loaf of bread. According to legend, one day Isidro’s scythe struck the earth, and a spring burst forth with enough water to sustain the whole city.

In the 900 years since Isidro and Maria walked the earth, farmers have called on them for relief in times of drought.

The holiday also marks the beginning of bullfighting season. Spanish bullfighting traces its roots back to Mithras, imported from the Middle East either through Rome or North Africa.

“The killing of the sacred bull (tauromachy) is the essential central iconic act of Mithras, which was commemorated in the mithraeum wherever Roman soldiers were stationed. Many of the oldest bullrings in Spain are located on the sites of, or adjacent to the locations of temples to Mithras.”

If you’re with PETA, and bullfighting doesn’t do it for you, concerts and dancing fill the streets the whole week. Parks are converted into open-air verbenas, where celebrants wear traditional attire: chulos and majos for the guys, chulapas and majas for the ladies.

Chulo is a derogatory term sometimes applied by other Spaniards to the inhabitants of Madrid. It means arrogant. But the Madrilenos take it in stride. Dressed in chulo and chulapa costumes, performers live up to their name in a stylized dance of exaggerated arrogance.

Strange that a holiday in honor of a man so down-to-earth would be celebrated by imbibing vast quantities of alcohol and performing dances that exude arrogance.  But as the Spanish say…

Cada uno en su casa, y Dios en la de todos.

San Isidro and Santa Maria

San Isidro in Madrid

San Isidro the Laborer: A Worker’s Life Anchored in Christ

Madrid’s Festival of San Isidro

St. Isidore: the Patron Saint of Farmers