Archive for the ‘Ascension of Jesus’ Tag

St Andrew’s Day, November 30th: Scotland and Hungary   1 comment

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the twelve disciples, possibly the first and previously one of John the Baptist’s disciples (Mt. 10 v 1, Jn. 1 v 40). He and his brother were originally from Bethsaida in Galilee (Jn. 1 v 44),  moving to live and work at the fishing port of Capernaum on the northern shore of Lake Galilee (Mk. 1 v 29).  Pointed towards ‘the Lamb of God‘ by the Baptist (Jn. 1 vv 35-40), he, in turn, introduced his brother to Jesus, telling him that he had found the Messiah (Jn. 1 v 42). There are several references to his role in the ministry of Jesus, especially in terms of mediating within the group of apostles and facilitating Jesus’ contact with would-be disciples and enquirers (Jn. 6 v 8, 12 v 22, Mk. 13 v 3). He also witnessed the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1 v 13).

Andrew means ‘manly’ in Greek and, as he was not just Simon Peter’s brother, but also his partner in the fishing business, it was a name that he no doubt lived up to. However, after meeting Jesus, he gave up the trade, at least as a full-time occupation, and, together with Simon, he joined Jesus’ itinerary ministry as a ‘fisher of men’. Before the cross became the symbol of Christianity in Roman times, the fish was the sign which Jesus’ disciples recognised on each other’s houses and later in the catacombs in Rome. After Jesus’ ascension he travelled in Asia Minor and along the Black Sea as far as the River Volga. He therefore became the patron saint of the Volga  boatmen and then of Russia. He was taken prisoner as a Christian and condemned to death by crucifixion. Legend has it that he considered himself unworthy to be put to death in the same manner as Jesus, and so elected to be crucified in the form of a ‘crux decussata’, or diagonal, hence his white diagonal cross on a blue background making up the flag of Scotland and, of course, the background of the Union Flag. The white stands for the purity of the saint and the blue for the sea which he loved.His remains were taken from Patros where he was buried (hence his association with Greece) to Constantinople. He was canonised by the Church long before being adopted by the Scots as their patron. His remains are now said to be on the spot over which St Andrew’s Cathedral was built and around which the university town grew up.

There are also many legends about the manner in which the relics of the saint came to rest in Scotland. One of the most attractive recounts how a group of monks set out from Constantinople to reach Scotland to spread the gospel and convert the Scots to Christianity, probably in the sixth century.  They asked for the relics of a holy man to take with them as a protection from all the dangers of the voyage. Given the length of the journey and the number and nature of the hazards, known and unknown, that they were likely to encounter, they needed a pretty hefty insurance policy, and so were given the bones of St Andrew. After months of travel, they arrived on the east coast of Scotland, buried the relics near where they landed and set up an altar within a small church which they built on the spot. On being converted to Christianity, the people then declared St Andrew as their patron and St Andrew’s became a place of pilgrimage.

Since then, Scottish people all over the world celebrate St Andrew’s Day, though Hogmanay, a two-day public holiday in Scotland, and Burns’ Night are more important events in Scotland itself and among expatriates. Stories are told in schools which illustrate the bravery and independence of the Scots. Many of these tales date back to the period when the Scots contested the claims of Edward I and Edward II to be the Kings of Scotland, following great historical characters such as William Wallace, Robert Bruce and the Black Douglas. Perhaps the best-known legend is that of Bruce in despair following the capture of his wife and execution of his brother. He was considering giving up his claims to the Scottish throne and going into exile, lying back on his straw bed looking up at the roof of his miserable hut. Then he saw a spider hanging by a long thread, trying to swing itself from one beam to another. He counted the creature’s six attempts to link up with the other beam before finally succeeding. Bruce remembered that he had fought and lost six battles, and vowed to fight on.

A distinguished follower of Bruce was the Good Lord James of Douglas who fought fiercely to recover the castles of Scotland that had fallen into the hands of the Norman English. The castle at Linlithgow was one of these, having the usual defences of huge gates to the only entrance and a portcullis behind them, a huge iron grate which could be let down rapidly, crushing all below it with its spikes. Not far from the castle lived a farmer called Binnock who supplied the castle garrison with hay. One night, he loaded a great wagon with hay, hiding eight fully armed soldiers beneath it, lying flat at the bottom of the cart. In the morning, he and his driver approached the castle and the portcullis was raised to allow the two men to enter. When the cart was directly under the portcullis, the driver took his hatchet and severed the horses’ harness. The horses, freed from their load, started forward, leaving the cart of hay under the portcullis. Binnock shouted ‘Call all, call all!’ as he pulled his sword from under his farm coat and slew the gatekeeper. The English soldiers were unable to lower the portcullis with the hay cart in the way. The soldiers hiding in the cart were joined by reinforcements lying in wait outside and the castle was taken.

The dreaded Black Douglas was so-called for his deftness at using the cover of darkness to retake the castles. He used the night of Shrove Tuesday, when most of the English troops were tucking into their pancakes, to take back Roxburgh. The wife of one of the English officers was sitting on the battlements singing a lullaby to the child on her lap. She saw black objects moving about in the darkness below and thought they were cattle. However, they were Douglas’ soldiers, able to scale the walls without detection. When she realised what was happening, the mother changed her song:

Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye,

Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye,

The Black Douglas shall not get ye.

From the darkness at her shoulder a voice said, Ye canna be sure o’ that! and was followed by a heavy hand on her shoulder. She turned to see the Black Douglas himself. Although many English died that night, Black Douglas saw to it that no harm came to the woman or child. Sir Walter Scott tells this tale in Tales of a Grandfather, commenting ‘I dare say she sang no more songs about the Black Douglas’. A third legend tells a tale of a group of English soldiers approaching a castle held by the Scots. It was a black, moonless night, and this time the English were wearing black cloaks over their uniforms. However, one of them put his hand on a thistle and gave a cry of pain. This alerted the garrison and the castle was saved. After that, the thistle, an unlikely flower to choose as a national emblem, became just that. The other, sometimes preferred, emblematic purple flower is, of course, the heather.

File:Saint Margaret of Scotland.jpg

There are historic ties between Hungary and Scotland predating Edward I,  the hammer of the Scots, and even the Norman conquest of England. These relate to Margaret of Wessex, who was born in exile Mecseknádás in southern Hungary. Margaret was the daughter of the English prince, Edward the Exile and granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, king of England. After the Danish conquest of England in 1016, Canute had the infant Edward exiled to the continent. He was taken first to the court of the Swedish king, Olof Skötkonung, and then to Kiev. As an adult, he travelled to Hungary, where in 1046 he supported Andrew I‘s successful bid for the throne. Margaret’s mother, Agatha, was related either by blood or marriage to István (Stephen I), the founding king of Hungary. and Margaret was born in Hungary around 1045. Her brother and sister were also born in Hungary around this time. Margaret grew up in a very religious environment in the Hungarian court. Andrew I of Hungary was known as “Andrew the Catholic” for his extreme aversion to pagans, and great loyalty to Rome, which was probably what induced Margaret to follow a pious life.

Still a child, she came to England with the rest of her family when her father, Edward, was recalled in 1057 as a possible successor to her great-uncle, the childless Edward the Confessor. Whether from natural or sinister causes, her father died immediately on landing, but Margaret continued to reside at the English court where her brother, Edgar Ætheling, was considered a possible successor to the English throne. When the Confessor died in January 1066, Harold Godwinson was selected as king, Edgar perhaps being considered still too young. After Harold’s defeat at the battle of Hastings later that year, Edgar was proclaimed King of England, but when the Normans advanced on London, the Witenagemot presented Edgar to William the Conqueror who took him to Normandy before returning him to England in 1068, when Edgar, Margaret, Cristina and their mother Agatha fled north to Northumbria.

According to tradition, the widowed Agatha decided to leave Northumbria with her children and return to the continent. However, a storm drove their ship north to Scotland, where they sought the protection of King Malcolm III. The spot where they are said to have landed is known today as St. Margaret’s Hope, near the village of North Queensferry. Margaret’s arrival in Scotland in 1068, after the failed revolt of the Northumbrian earls, has been heavily romanticized, though Symeon of Durham implied that her first meeting with Malcolm III may not have been until 1070, after William the Conqueror’s harrying of the north.

Malcolm was a widower with two sons, Donald and Duncan. According to the sources on which Shakespeare based his ‘Scottish Play’, Macbeth, the ‘evil tyrant’ who had his wife killed after Malcolm had escaped into exile in England, returning to overthrow Macbeth and claim the Scottish throne. He would have been attracted by the prospect of marrying one of the few remaining members of the Anglo-Saxon royal family. The marriage of Malcolm and Margaret took place some time before the end of 1070. Malcolm followed it with several invasions of Northumbria, in support of the claims of his brother-in-law Edgar, as well as to increase his own power. These, however, had little result beyond the devastation of the province.

Margaret’s biographer Turgot, Bishop of St. Andrews, credits her with having a civilizing influence on her husband Malcolm by reading him stories from the Bible. She instigated religious reform, striving to make the worship and practices of the Church in Scotland conform to those of Rome. This she did with the inspiration and guidance of Lanfranc, the future Archbishop of Canterbury. She also worked to bring the Scottish Church practice in line with that of the continental church of her childhood. Due to these achievements, she was considered an exemplar of the “just ruler”, and influenced her husband and children – especially her youngest son, later David I– also to be just and holy rulers. She attended to charitable works, serving orphans and the poor every day before she ate, and washing the feet of the poor in imitation of Christ. She rose at midnight every night to attend church services. She invited the Benedictine order to establish a monastery at Dunfermline in Fife in 1072, and established ferries at Queensferry and North Berwick to assist pilgrims journeying from south of the Forth Estuary to St. Andrews in Fife. A cave on the banks of the Tower Burn in Dunfermline was used by her as a place of devotion and prayer. St Margaret’s Cave, now covered beneath a municipal car park, is open to the public. Amongst her other deeds, Margaret also instigated the restoration of the monastery at Iona. She is also known to have been an intercessor for the release of fellow English exiles, forced into serfdom by the conquest.

In her private life, Margaret was as devout as she was in her public duties. She spent much of her time in prayer, devotional reading, and ecclesiastical embroidery. This appears to have had a considerable effect on the more uncouth Malcolm who could not read; he so admired her devotion that he had her books decorated in gold and silver. One of these, a pocket Gospel with lavish images of the Evangelists, is kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Malcolm seems to have been largely ignorant of the long-term effects of Margaret’s endeavours, not being especially religious himself. He was content for her to pursue her reforms as she wished, a testament to the strength and affection inherent in their marriage. Malcolm and their eldest son, Edward, were killed in a fight against the English at the Battle of Alnwick on 13 November 1093. Her son Edmund was left with the task of telling his mother of their deaths. Margaret was not yet fifty, but a life of constant austerity and fasting had taken their toll. Already ill, Margaret died on 16 November 1093, three days after the deaths of her husband and eldest son.

Below: Site of the shrine of St. Margaret,Dunfermline Abbey, Fife

Saint Margaret was canonised in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV in recognition of her personal holiness, fidelity to the Church, work for religious reform, and charity. On 19 June 1250, after her canonisation, her remains were moved to Dunfermline Abbey.

The Roman Catholic Church formerly marked the feast of Saint Margaret of Scotland on 10 June, because the feast of “Saint Gertrude, Virgin” was already celebrated on 16 November, but in Scotland, she was venerated on 16 November, the day of her death. In the revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1969, 16 November became free and the Church transferred her feast day to 16 November. However, some traditionalist Catholics continue to celebrate her feast day on 10 June. She is also venerated as a saint in the Anglican Church.

Several churches are dedicated to Saint Margaret. One of the oldest is St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle, which was founded by her son King David I. The chapel was long thought to have been the oratory of Margaret herself, but is now considered to be a 12th-century establishment. The oldest building in Edinburgh, it was restored in the 19th century, and refurbished in the 1990s.

Right: St Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh Castle

Others include the thirteenth century Church of St Margaret the Queen in Buxted, East Sussex, St Margaret of Scotland, Aberdeen and the Church of England church in Budapest. There are also memorial stones and shrines to her in and near Mecseknádásd in Baranya County (see below).

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Sources:

Victor J Green (1978), Festivals and Saints Days: A Calendar of Festivals for the School and Home. Poole: Blandford Press

Wikipedia, Saint Margaret of Scotland.

Beating the Bounds: Rogation Days to Ascension Day   2 comments

BEATING THE BOUNDS; SCANNING THE SKIES?

The ‘Rogation Days‘ are the days before Ascension Thursday, which is forty days after Easter Sunday in the Christian calendar. The days get their name from the Latin word ’rogare’ meaning ’to ask for’. For a long time these were ’petitions’ to the almighty which were chanted in processions around the church. In A.D. 511 the Council of Orleans declared that the three days before Ascension Day, commemorating Christ’s going up to heaven, should be holidays for prayer and fasting. The processions moved outside the church and circled the parish, pausing at the edge of fields where prayers were said petitioning for a good harvest of the particular crop growing there. These sojourns included a ’Gospel Oak’. A modern survival of these folk-customs is ’beating the bounds’, possibly originating in pagan Roman festivals, Terminalia and Ambarvalia. The statue of Terminus was not int he form of a man, but a wooden post or boundary stone, marking the end of one estate and the beginning of another.  From this, we get the idea of the end of a bus or rail route as a terminus. Ambarvalia, held at the same time of year, involved processions around the fields, with participants carrying sticks with which they beat the ground in order to drive away the winter frosts. Any grower will tell you that a late frost is very dangerous to the prospect of a good crop, especially if it comes after a prolonged spell of warm weather.

At ’Rogationtide’, a procession forms up at the church with the priest in charge at the front followed by someone bearing the ceremonial cross. The choir follows, dressed in their gowns and surplices, and a crowd of parishioners, including schoolboys with their masters. Most of them carry willow wands, topped with wild flowers. They stop at well-known ’landmarks’ around the route following the parish boundary, perhaps a gate, a tree, a bridge or a road crossing, so that the company can gather round for prayers asking for seasonable weather and a successful harvest. At some of these points refreshments will be waiting. At the ’Gospel Oak’, or some other prominent landmark, the wand bearers used to set about beating the landmark, then  transferred their wand-action to one of the boys, who was rolled in the grass or ’gently bumped’ against a tree, receiving compensation in silver for his ’suffering’.

Since accurate mapping is a comparatively recent development, this was a sensible way of marking boundaries between parishes, especially before the early twentieth century, when the parishes played a vital role in the administration of the Poor Law and other local ’secular’services. In England and Wales, the Parish Council is still the basic unit of local government. If there was a dispute between parishes as to where the exact boundaries lay, somebody could be found who would remember a particular landmark from having received a beating there. In the late twentieth century the custom revived somewhat despite the national government taking over welfare services, and especially in urban areas where the boundaries might pass beside, or even through, a number of public houses, breweries and other  places of interest forming  ’recent’ additions to the townscape!

At St Clement Danes in London, the procession of clergy and choir follows the beadle, an officer from medieval times, featured in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, who was responsible for  ratepayers’ meetings which were held in the ’vestry’ of the Church. The Beadle was also responsible for the relief and discipline of the Poor in the parish, especially the children in church. For this purpose, he carried a stick called a mace, and wore a blue uniform cloak. At the St Clement Danes procession, the choirboys follow his now ceremonial mace, themselves carrying willow wands topped with ribbons or flowers. With these, they beat the boundary stones, although the southern boundary lies along the bed of the Thames, for which the procession takes to boats.

Ascension Day, on the Thursday, is the day on which we think about Jesus being ’taken up’ to heaven from Bethany, as  Luke describes in both his gospel (chapter 24) and in The Acts of the Apostles (chapter 1, vv 9-11). Having witnessed this, he tells us, they spent all their days in the Temple, worshipping and waiting for the gift of the Spirit to come to them before starting their ministry.  In Acts, he tells us that, as they watched him, ’a cloud hid him from their sight’.  They still had their eyes fixed on the sky when two ’men in white’ appeared beside them and asked them why, as practical Galilean fishermen and farmers, they were stood there ’star-gazing’. So, in addition to praying, they set about other practical preparations for ministry, together with the women and the family of Jesus. Already a hundred strong, the believers meet together and a successor to Judas is chosen. This was an important appointment, as Judas had been the group’s Treasurer. After that, Luke moves on quickly to the dramatic events of Pentecost. So, even during this quiet period of prayer and refection at Ascentiontide, like the disciples, we cannot afford to be ’so heavenly-minded’ that we are ’no earthly use’. Heaven may be a beautiful place, and we know that we too have a place there, but, for now, we need to focus on the here and now. We won’t need to strain our eyes, scanning the skies for signs of Jesus’ second coming, as with his first. It will be as clear and ’transparent’ an event as when he left. For this reason, Christianity has often been described as ’the most materialistic of all world religions’.

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