Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from Judean port
Aboard a Roman Ship.
The weather started getting rough,
The Roman ship was tossed.
Because of the sermons of the fearless Paul
Not a single life was lost.
They splashed about for 14 days,
No sight of sun nor star.
Until they crashed upon the reef
Of Malta’s rocky shore…
Of Malta’s rocky shore.
Reminded this was nothing to
His Savior’s sacrifice
Paul introduced the pagans there
To eternal life with Christ.
Here, on St. Paul’s shore!
St. Paul (the artist formerly known as Saul of Tarsus) was one of the worst persecutors of Christians before his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus. The former Bad Boy of Tarsus is the only Apostle never to have toured with the living Jesus; yet he has more New Testament works attributed to him than any other author. At least 7 NT books are attributed to Paul, and he’s credited with having written or inspired another 8, making him responsible for up to half of the New Testament’s 27 books.
In the late 50s AD, the Apostle Paul was nearly stoned to death by his fellow Jews for bringing Gentile into a Jewish Temple. He demanded his right to be tried before a Roman court, hence his journey across the Mediterranean around 60 CE.
Because of the shipwreck, Paul was a few years late for his court date. He continued proselytizing in the Mediterranean before being tried in Rome. He lost his head during the reign of Nero, around 64 or 67 AD.
St. Paul is the patron saint of Malta, and the bay where he is believed to have crashed still bears his name.
February 10th is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church as the feast day of the Shipwreck of Saint Paul, and it’s a national holiday in Malta. On this day each year the statue of St. Paul is carried in a procession through the streets of Valletta.
June 29, 2008 to June 28, 2009 was declared the “Year of St. Paul” by Pope Benedict XVI.
Brigid was a Celtic goddess whose festival was celebrated on February 1st and 2nd. Brigid’s Day, or Imbolc, heralded the middle of Winter and anticipated the coming of Spring. It was a festival of purification. (The word February itself comes from the Latin Februus, the god of purification and the dead.)
The Catholic church has been at odds with Brigid’s legacy for most of its existence. The bishops of Ireland found the goddess’s pagan following to be too deeply embedded in local tradition to be stomped out. Even the newly-converted Irish Christians refused to stop worshipping their exalted patroness. The Church decreed, If you can’t win ’em, join ’em. Brigid became Saint Brigid.
Over the centuries two Brigids emerged. One Brigid was transformed into Mary’s “midwife” at the birth of Jesus. (The position of Jesus’s mother was taken.)
In the other the she became the daughter of a Druid father ( and in some stories of a Christian mother from Portugal kidnapped by pirates!) and was named after the Celtic goddess. She lived from 451 to 525. She was known for her generosity as a young woman, and devoted herself to God, deflecting proposal after proposal from eligible suitors. She was baptized by St. Patrick himself and became a devout nun and Abbess, eventually founding the Abbey at Kildare in the 5th century.
In the Celtic tradition the Abbey at Kildare is believed to have preceded the so-called Saint herself. It was an ancient shrine to the Goddess before Christianity ever reached the Emerald Isle. There priestesses kept alight an eternal flame at the shrine until the 1220s when a Bishop, angered by the Abbess’s ‘no men allowed’ policy and the Druidic rituals, ordered the sacred flame to be put out.
The last insult to Brigid was her expulsion from the list of Saints in the 1960s. During Vatican II she was decanonized due to insufficient proof of her existence, after volumes of creative embellishment written about the supposed nun’s life and deeds over the centuries.
Brigid is affiliated with wisdom, healing, metal-work or craftmanship, flames and fire, and childbirth, even though she was a virgin in the Christian tradition.
“When we face the possible end of a relationship, when our bills are higher than the tiny resources we have, when we are emotionally drained by negative working conditions–it is all too easy to cling to what we have known previously…Brigid tells us otherwise…transformation is the only way to survive.“
Likewise Imbolc is the transformation of winter into spring.
“…the day on which you assume a new name; the day on which you pledge to make specific changes in your life. [Imbolc] could be thought of as a kind of goddess-specific New Year’s Eve.“
“St. Brigid received from her people a worship which history accords no other saint…She was the light that shone over their Island to direct the footsteps of the daughters of Erin in the paths of virtue and sanctity. In speaking of her they discarded the prefix Saint, and called her, in homely, yet reverent fashion, “Mo Brighe”–or “My Bride.“
Note how Knowles reverses the carry-over from Brigid’s pre-Christian goddesship.
In the British Isles Brigid’s Feast and Imbolc merged with Candlemas. Both involves the ancient druidic lighting ceremony and purification rites, originally meant to honor Brigid. Some calendars list February 1 as Imbolc, others February 2. Most likely the celebration began on the evening of February 1 and concluded the following day, as was the tradition of the time.
“Do a self purification rite with Elemental tools–
cleanse your body with salt (Earth)
your thoughts with incense (Air)
your will with a candle flame (Fire)
your emotions with water (Water)
and your spiritual body with a healing crystal (Spirit)
Bless candles that you will be using for rituals throughout the year.
Invoke Brigid for creative inspiration.
Take a Nature walk and look for the first signs of Spring.”
One ritual of Brigid’s Day was to plant or hang straw cross from the previous year’s harvest around the outside of the house and in the rafters in honor of the goddess of flame, to protect the house from fire. “An odd gesture,” writes Patricia Monaghan, “for a collection of old straw ornaments in the attic seems to encourage, rather than prevent, house fires.“
Today is St. Genevieve’s feast day. She’s honored as the Patron Saint of Paris.
St. Genevieve became a nun at the tender age of 15 and devoted the rest of her life—another 65 years—to Christ. The secret of her longevity may have been her diet. She didn’t eat much more than barley bread and beans, and according to her biography, only twice a week, Sundays and Thursdays. She loosened this restriction at the age of 50 at the request of some bishops.
When Huns Attack
During the Hun invasion of what’s now France in 451, St. Genevieve’s prayers were believed to have prevented the Huns from attacking Paris; they headed toward Orleans instead. (Notice Genevieve is not the patron saint of Orleans…)
The following decade, during the lengthy Childeric siege on the city, Genevieve sneaked through a blockade to bring back much-needed grain to Paris’s starving citizens.
Death did not stop Genevieve from performing miracles. Parisians held a procession of her relics during the deadly plague of 1129 which killed 14,000 people. Spread of the disease ceased almost immediately, and many who were sick were reported to have healed upon touching her relics.
St. Genevieve’s saint day is January 3, but for centuries Parisians celebrated the anniversary of that first procession–November 26, 1129–with another procession in her honor.
We made it to day 2 of the new year and the Swiss are already celebrating their second holiday.
Berchold’s Day, January 2, is named after Duke Berchtold V of Zahringen who founded the capital city of Switzerland in 1191.
Local legend goes that Bertchtold announced he’d name his future city after the first animal he slay on his hunting trip. He scored a bear, and thus the city is called Berne. (Good thing he didn’t kill a donkey.)
A duller theory is he named it “in memory of Dietrich of Berne (Verona), a favourite hero of Alamannic poetry.” (Names and Their Histories, Isaac Taylor, 1856″)
St. Brechtold’s Day is celebrated mostly in the area around Berne. Though the confederacy of Switzerland is 700 years old, each region has maintained their own culture and identity. Switzerland’s central location in Western Europe makes it the “melting pot” of very white people: French, German, Italian, and Swiss. So I guess it’s more of an assorted cheese wheel of cultures, since it hasn’t really melted yet.
…the second day of January is devoted to gay neighborhood parties in which nuts play an important part.
You know, I’m not even going to quote you the rest of that.
Okay, yes I am.
In early autumn children begin hoarding supplies of nuts for Berchtold’s Day, when they have “nut feasts.” Nut eating and nut games, followed by singing and folk dancing…One favorite stunt of the boys and girls is to make “hocks.”
Hocks are made up of five nuts—a pyramid with four nuts on the bottom and one on top—and apparently they’re harder to construct than you’d think. We don’t know why nuts are involved. Officeholidays.com theorizes that Berchtold really killed a squirrel.
Whatever the reason, there’s no better way to usher in the New Year than by breaking out some nuts, build those pyramidal hocks, and sing the national song of Switzerland:
O Great Berchtold
You killed a bear
You founded Berne
We stack nuts in your honor.
In Sweden and in Swedish communities in North America, thousands of girls will don the traditional white dress and red sash to take part in Lucia Day. Atop the heads of many girls will burn candles in a special crown worn for the holiday–although in Sweden most candles used these days are the battery-powered kind, due to–as the Swedes have discovered–the highly flammable nature of girls’ hair.
The crown of candles shines a light of hope during the darkest nights of the year, which in Sweden can be about 23 hours long.
Saint Lucia was a young Christian who lived in Syracuse, Italy during the time of Diocletian–the infamous persecutor of early Christians–in the late 3rd century. When her mother became ill, Lucia prayed for her. Upon her mother’s recovery Lucia took a vow of chastity and gave her dowry to the poor, thus earning the rancor of a particularly vindictive suitor.
Some stories say the angry suitor outed her as a Christian in court, which then ordered her execution. Other stories say the suitor tried to kill her himself. Either way, they tried to kill her by fire, but she would not burn. Her eyes were poked out (some say she poked out her own eyes and gave them to the suitor) but new eyes grew back in their place. Men and oxen tried to drag her from the town, but she could not be budged.
Finally, on December 13, 304 A.D., the angry suitor stabbed Lucia with a sword in the neck and killed her. She was 20 years old.
Another legend tells of St. Lucia helping the ancient Christians in the catacombs, where torches were needed to navigate the dark tunnels. To keep her hands free to bring more food and drink, Lucia attached candles to a wreath she wore on her head.
So how did this Catholic saint from Italy become the heroine of a Protestant country in Scandinavia?
It may have to do with the date. Back when Sweden was Catholic and used the Julian calendar, Lucia’s feast day, December 13, was the longest night of the year. In pagan times the winter solstice was considered an ominous night to be out, when trolls and supernatural spirits wandered the earth. Lucia, whose name means light, became a symbol of the victory of light over darkness. Today, Swedish towns hold pageants to pick the “Lucia Bride”. Rituals similar to Luciatagen have taken place in Sweden in one form or another for over a thousand years, but it wasn’t until the 1927 Lucia procession in Stockholm, organized by a local newspaper, that the tradition as we know it spread throughout Sweden and Swedish-speaking Finland.
Lussekatter, or saffron buns, are a staple of the holiday. Made with one of the world’s most expensive spices, saffron dough is filled with cinnamon, sugar, raisins and chopped nuts. The oldest (or youngest) girl in the family serves these goodies.
A more recent Lucia Day tradition is to wake up unsuspecting Nobel Prize winners sleeping at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. The Nobel Prize is awarded three days earlier on December 10.
Kids, if you thought your folks are hard on you, be glad you didn’t have Saint Barbara’s dad.
Barbara’s claim to fame was being kept in isolation in a tower by her father Dioscorus, a prominent pagan in Asia Minor, around 300 AD.
Dioscorus grew upset at his daughter’s refusal of several marriage proposals by eligible suitor-princes. Before leaving on a business trip, Dioscorus ordered his workers to construct a bathhouse for Barbara. The bathhouse had two windows. But in her father’s absence, Barbara asked the workmen to put in a third window. When Dioscorus returned he was infuriated by the deviation from his plan. Barbara confessed she did it in honor of the Holy Trinity, and that she was a Christian, having been secretly tutored by a priest.
As any concerned father would do, Dioscorus took her to the Roman prefect, Marcian, who ordered Barbara to be tortured until she renounced her faith. Young Barbara withstood heinous tortures, but did not renounce Christ. When Marcian ordered her execution, Dioscorus offered to do it himself. Barbara was beheaded by her own father around 303 AD. Dioscorus was then struck by a bolt of lightning and died.
Because of the method of her father’s demise, Barbara became the patron saint of those threatened by thunderstorms and fire. And later became the patron saint of miners and artillerymen.
Rome had the last laugh on Barbara though. In 1969, after over a thousand years, the Catholic Church officially removed her Feast Day–like Saint Brigid–for lack of any evidence that she ever existed.
Barbara’s legend is still strong in Germany and northern Europe, where Barbara is celebrated on December 4, the assumed date of her martyrdom. It’s customary to place a twig from a cherry branch (Barbarazweig) in water on this day, to bloom by Christmas. While imprisoned Barbara had found a cherry branch in her cell and moistened it with her drinking water. Before her death, it bloomed, and brought her joy.
The U.S. Field Artillery has two military orders in her name, the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara and the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara.
November 30, St. Andrew’s Day, is the national day of Scotland.
St. Andrew is said to be the first disciple of Christ, though he’s got some competition from his brother Simon Peter.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
— Matthew 4:18-19
The Book of John, however, proclaims Andrew and an unnamed disciple of John the Baptist as the first two, and Simon Peter as the third. When John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God”, Andrew and the unnamed disciple choose to follow Jesus. Only after spending the day with Jesus, does Andrew get his brother Simon Peter to tell him they’ve found the Messiah.
Andrew is also present with Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple when Jesus tells them of false prophets and prophesies to be fulfilled:
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…
“…You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in synogogues…Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
— Mark 13
We don’t know Andrew’s last words. According to the Acts of St. Andrew, a third century text, he preached in Asia Minor, the Black Sea area, and Greece, and was crucified around 60 A.D. Tradition has it he was tied (not nailed) to an x-shaped cross, now known as St. Andrew’s Cross, or Saltire. Today the diagonal cross forms the banner of Scotland, of which St. Andrew is the patron saint. (Andrew the Apostle: Profile & Biography – About.com)
Saint Andrew is also the patron saint of Russia, the Ukraine, Greece, and Romania. But why Scotland? A country he never came a thousand miles from? The answer may lie with some of the Saint’s relics.
“…the monastery of Kilrymont (later St Andrews) in Fife claimed to have three fingers of the saint’s right hand, a part of one of his arms, one kneecap, and one of his teeth. It is possible that these were brought to Fife (which was at that time part of the kingdom of the Picts) from the neighbouring kingdom of Northumberland, where veneration of St Andrew was particularly strong. St Andrews became a popular pilgrimage destination after miracles were attributed to the saint.”
St. Andrew’s Day didn’t become an official Bank Holiday in Scotland until 2006, a move that met with some controversy.
“There will always be someone to argue against something as unambiguously positive and celebratory as Saint Andrew’s Day. They’ll say it’s all a load of patriotic nonsense; they’ll say that Saint Andrew never set foot in Scotland, they’ll question why we have to share a saint with the Ukraine, Russia, Greece and so on. Maybe they’ll whinge that it’s too Christian, too partial, or not multicultural enough, and ask why it has to be that particular saint in the first place. But it all misses the point. Let’s face it, nobody thinks Saint Patrick’s Day is really about Saint Patrick; everybody knows it’s all about Ireland. And so it should be with Saint Andrew’s Day. It’s not really about celebrating Saint Andrew, it’s about celebrating Scotland.”
…For it’s the turn of the year and All Souls’ night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight…
Edith Wharton, All Souls
Whereas All Saints Day recognizes the departed whose souls have found refuge in Heaven, All Souls Day remembers those restless spirits still lingering in Purgatory.
All Souls Day originated not in Rome but France.
Around 820 Amalarius of Metz (northwest of Strasbourg) wrote “After the offices of the saints, I have inserted an office for the dead. For many pass over from this present age who are not immediately united with the saints.” (ie. “don’t go directly to heaven.”)
In the early 11th century, St. Odilo, fifth abbot of the Cluny monastery, officiated the feast of All Souls on November 2. Over the century, the tradition was adopted by dioceses across Western Europe.
On All Souls Day, families visit the graves of their loved ones and light candles in their memory.
Fear not the shudder that seems to pass:
It is only the tread of the their feet on the grass…
…For the year’s on the turn and it’s All Souls’ night,
When the dead can yearn and the dead can smite…
…Let them see us and hear us, and say: “Ah, thus
In the prime of the year it went with us!”
All Souls Day is celebrated on November 2, unless the 2nd falls on a Sunday, in which case it’s observed on Monday, November 3 as was the case in 2008.