For many years, I thought the Church picked December 25 as Jesus’s birthday to counteract the popular pagan winter festivals. Although that has something to do with the date for the Christian holiday, a peek at the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia reveals the background is more complex.
Madonna and Child, a 1460 painting by the master of the Osservanza (public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)
In Christianity’s first couple of centuries, the birth of Christ was not celebrated. St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, who were second- and third-century fathers of the Church, don’t list Jesus’s birth among Christian festivals. Until the third century, the only universal holidays were Easter and Pentecost.
Third century author and teacher Origen thought birthdays were for sinners, and Christian apologist Arnobius (second and third centuries) ridiculed the birthdays of gods.
Yet others who lived at that time were calculating when Jesus was born, and there were multiple…
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The St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire is Scotland’s national flag. Tradition has it that the flag, the white saltire on a blue background, the oldest flag in Europe and the Commonwealth, originated in a battle fought in East Lothian in the Dark Ages.
It is believed that the battle took place in the year 832AD. An army of Picts under Angus mac Fergus, High King of Alba, and aided by a contingent of Scots led by Eochaidh (Kenneth mac Alpin’s grandfather) had been on a punitive raid into Lothian (then and for long afterwards Northumbrian territory), and were being pursued by a larger force of Angles and Saxons under one Athelstan.
The Albannach/Scots were caught and stood to face their pursuers in the area of Markle, near East Linton. This is to the north of the modern village of Athelstaneford (which was resited on higher ground in the 18th century), where the Peffer, which flows into the Firth of Forth at Aberlady, forms a wide vale. Being then wholly undrained, the Peffer presented a major obstacle to crossing, and the two armies came together at the ford near the present day farm of Prora (one of the field names there is still the Bloody Lands).
Fearing the outcome of the encounter, King Angus led prayers for deliverance, and was rewarded by seeing a cloud formation of a white saltire (the diagonal cross on which St Andrew had been martyred) against a blue sky. The king vowed that if, with the saint’s help, he gained the victory, then Andrew would thereafter be the patron saint of Scotland. The Scots did win, and the Saltire became the flag of Scotland.
When Kenneth mac Alpin, who may have been present with his grandfather at the battle, later united Picts and Scots and named the entity Scotland, Andrew did indeed become the patron saint of the united realm. Kenneth mac Alpin, King of Scots and Picts, Ard-righ Albainn, was laid to rest on Iona in 860AD.
By Poppy Holden, professional singer and singing tutor.
Thomas of Erceldoune, Thomas the Rhymer, True Thomas: this man of many names, famous for his journey to the land of the fairies and the gifts he gained there, is a prominent figure in the Between Worlds exhibition. In this post, singer Poppy Holden explores the first written account of Thomas and how the seemingly inexplicable events of the story have a curious link to the real world geography of Melrose.
David Wright, Assistant Curator at Palace Green Library
Manesse Codex, c.1300
Inter-species sex in the late thirteenth century; travel between worlds; wealthy elves partying nonstop in a castle; magical gifts; prophecies; curious geological phenomena. An interesting story!
Recently, I met some distinguished physicists who were amused that I was investigating a story with characters who move between our world and another, what? Dimension? Something like that. They thought I…
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