Put Them All Together …

… you get St. Valentine!

Now I don’t want to sound the cynic but I’m still trying to figure out what the hearts, frills, chocolate, and flowers has to do with a Christian bishop who was battered and beaten, refused to die so had his head chopped off and then it would appear was unceremoniously scattered around Christendom?

Oh sure there’s some poppycock about him illegally performing secret marriages in Rome so the young men would get out of serving in the army. If the bloody marriages were secret how exactly did they get the exemption? There’s another story about him restoring the eyesight of his jailer’s daughter who had been blind from birth and just before they took him off he sent her a letter signing it “from your Valentine”. When and how exactly did this young lady learn to read? And what was a priest and bishop doing romancing the jailer’s daughter? What exactly did he mean by “your Valentine”? It all sounds a bit dodgy, not romantic, to me. And as to his martyrdom it was in either 269, 270 or 273 AD – take your pick. It would appear that at the beatification of the blessed Valentine the Devil’s Advocate may have missed some gaping holes in his claim to sanctity?

Now let’s address the matter of the bits and pieces – according to a recent reckoning the Blessed V’s body was, not unusually for martyrs, scattered to the four winds and ended up in:

Skull – Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome
Skull and other bits – San Anton, Madrid
Body (minus skull?) – Whitefrairs Street Church, Dublin
Relics??? – Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Vysehrad, Prague
Skull bits – Church of the Assumption of Mary, Chelmno, Poland
Body (minus skull?) – Birmingham Oratory, Birmingham, UK
Relics??? – Cathedral of Maria Assumta, Savona, Italy
Relics??? – St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna
Relics??? – Blessed John Dun Scotus cynicism

I guess this could be what they mean by spreading the love?

Now lest you think I’m just being a bitter old curmudgeon – I am but not about this – I did receive a lovely rose in honour of poor battered, beheaded and bestrewed Valentine. And I have exchanged greetings with several people. But let’s just add to that question I asked at the beginning. What do hearts, flowers, chocolate and frills have to do with a man who has, at the least, three skulls floating around the known world?

On this day in 1949: the Asbestos Strike begins in Canada. The strike marks the beginning of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.

Lunar New Year*

The Pig has a beautiful personality and is blessed with good fortune in life.

Last year I told the story of the Rat, the Dog and the Cat and how through sly manipulation the Rat became the first to reach the throne of the Celestial Ruler. In that telling I mentioned that the pig had spent part of the journey wallowing in the mud and need to bath before entering the Heavenly Presence. Given what is known of pigs many, myself included, accepted it as fact. It appears it may have been a rumour spread by a mangy pack of disgruntled – and hungry – wolves.

The Jade Emperor awaits the arrival of the animals.

Before the Celestial messenger arrived to announce the race a marauding wolf had destroyed the fine house the Pig had made himself and his family. Fortunately they were able to escape the wolf’s desire for a feast of pork but there was little left of their home. Pig had just finished rebuilding a new home – stronger and more protected than their previous one – when the heavenly summons was received. Pausing only to assure the safety of his family he trotted off for the Gate of Heaven. When he arrived he was still begrimed with the dirt and dust of his chore. He was a proud pig and had no wish to appear in this state before the Jade Emperor. He stopped to bathe before approaching the Celestial Throne. He was the twelfth to arrive and though late was still granted the honour of decreeing the blessings of the New Year. When he returned home he found that the wolf had once again tried to make a fine dinner of his little family. But he had built true and strong and his family was unharmed. Being a joyful soul the Pig accepted his place as the last of the Twelve Celestial Animals but revelled in being amongst the first in good fortune.

A left click will take you to one of the many horoscopes for the year 4717. I can’t guarantee the accuracy but we can always hope.

Whatever your horoscope may predict I wish you and yours:

Gung Ha Fat Choy – Gong Xi Fa Ca

*I was reminded by Laurent and by my blog buddy Debra’s post for today that it is not exclusively “Chinese” New Year but a new year for any region that follows the Lunar calendar: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Suriname as well as Mainland China. So I have changed to title of the post to honour everyone who is celebrating the arrival of 4717.

On this day in 1905: In Mexico City, the General Hospital of Mexico is inaugurated, started with four basic specialties.

Joy and Mirth Are Now to Reign

A New Orleans 12th Night – 1871

We think of Carnival or Mardi Gras as being a week or so before the beginning of Lent but in some cultures the Twelfth Night of Christmas – January 6th – signals the beginning of Carnival. In many major European centres it began the social season of dinners, dances, masked balls, musicales, new ballets, operas and plays (sometimes all on the same bill). It should then come as no surprise that the French influence meant that this tradition carried over to social life in Louisiana and particularly New Orleans. Epiphany/January 6th/12th Night is the day for Gateau de Roi (King Cake) and the beginning of Carnival .

There are several Jeanne’s in the parade but they all stop before the statue on Decatur Street to pay their respects. Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

My friend Cecilia tells me that this year her Carnival began with a slice of King Cake and the first parade of the season by the Krewe of Jeanne d’Arc. The Krewe celebrates both the beginning of Carnival and the birthday of Joan of Arc with an old style walking parade. Their route takes them by the statue of the Saint on Decatur Street (above right) where they stop and sing Happy Birthday to the unofficial patron of New Orleans.

This year was the 11th annual Jeanne d’Arc parade but the custom of parading on the Twelfth Night after Christmas in New Orleans began back in 1870 with the appearance of the Twelfth Night Revellers. The second Krewe to be formed, they celebrated their arrival with an elaborate nine float parade that was quite the equal in splendour to the rival Comus parades. The pageant was followed by a festive gathering at the French Opera House with the usual tableaux vivants and dancing however the Revellers introduced two innovations to the festivities. The first was a grand march led by the Lord of Misrule as the King Cake was processed around the room. The second was the choosing of a Queen of the celebration. The opening march was a great success and became a fixture at most Mardi Gras balls. The second was truly innovative as women had previously been excluded from all but the dancing at these affairs. Though it too was readily adopted by all the societies the initial attempt did not quite go as planned.

The King Cake is born into the ballroom at the 12th Night Revellers celebration in 1878. Though the Krewe stopped parading in 1875 their mask balls continued to mark the beginning of the festivities.

The Four Court Fools paraded the huge King Cake into the centre of the floor. When the Cake was prepared a golden bean had been hidden inside and the lady receiving the gleaming legume in her slice of cake was to be hailed as Queen and rule over the evening. There was much anticipation, and no doubt some preening, in the boxes as the ladies waited patiently.

However the court fools were to live up to their name. No doubt because they had overindulged in liquid refreshments, they did not politely pass the slices according to plan. Instead they dropped them in the laps of the stunned recipients. In fact two of the more intoxicated jesters threw cake at the startled ladies in the parterre boxes.

The gallants who accompanied the King Cake on 12th Night in the festivities of 1878.

The ladies of the court were, to say the least, appalled at the proceedings and a few fled the room in disgust. As a protest, the lady who received the slice with the bean swallowed it, and the evening ended without a queen being crowned. Misrule had indeed been the order of the day.

The following year, when the court fools were better behaved, Mrs. Emma Butler discovered the golden bean in her slice. The cake had been presented to her in a gentil fashion and Mrs Butler graciously accepted the honour.

The current Twelfth Night Revellers reproduced the 1871 poster for last year’s celebration.

The 12th Night Revellers parade and tableaux for 1871 were even more splendid than the year before. Designed by the great Charles Briton it was entitled Mother Goose’s Tea Party. A mixture of floats, costumed marchers and “big heads” it was reported that “when it was found that the pageant was to represent the characters whom Mother Goose has made immortal, the delight of the spectators can better be imagined than described… “. The reporter goes on to say that “each new tableau was greeted with shouts of enthusiastic recognition from the innumerable throng.” Some of that enthusiastic shouts of recognition may have been because being Briton and being Carnival many of the characters made satirical reference to civic, state and national figures – popular and more often otherwise.

These charming sketches by Briton are amongst the earliest that have survived of Mardi Gras parade designs. Any satirical references, and in the years of Reconstruction the parades were a constant source of political comment, are lost to us today. A life click will take you to a slideshow for a closer look.

Our reporter makes no mention of the choosing of a Queen or indeed the good manners of the fools. He does tell us that, “At the Opera House, the tableaux elicited the warmest applause, from one of the most brilliant audiences ever gathered within its walls. The ball which wound up the entertainment was a joyous termination to an event which will ever be pleasantly remembered by all who were present.”

On this day in 1297: François Grimaldi, disguised as a monk, leads his men to capture the fortress protecting the Rock of Monaco, establishing his family has the rulers of Monaco.

And when they came into the house

A study for a bas-relief circa 1792 in graphite, watercolour and wash by John Flaxman. – Yale Centre for British Art.

they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

Mathew 2:11 – KJV

John Flaxman captured that single verse in which Mathew tells of the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles with an elegant simplicity. First in his study than in its realization as a bas relief in marble. A small piece (9 × 17 inches · 228 × 430 mm) it has only recently be recognized as Flaxman’s work based on the sketch at the Yale Centre for British Art and a similar sketch at the British Museum.

In 2009 it was on loan to the Bode Museum from a private collection and we saw it on our visit to Berlin that November. It was one of those works that fascinated me the minute I saw it. I am not sure where the piece is housed at the moment; there was a challenge to it being exported out of the United Kingdom in 2014 that would suggest it had been sold. Unfortunately I could not track down the results of that challenge.

The German Marian hymn Es ist ein Ros’entsprungen is often thought of as a carol for the season of Advent however I think it’s simplicity and symbolism fit well with Flaxman’s image of the Epiphany. I’ve always loved this version by the Boston Camerata lead by Joel Cohen on their early album, A Renaissance Christmas.

With the departure of the Magi, each into their own country, and the flight of Mary, Joseph and their new born son from Bethlehem the season of Christmas draws to a end. May the love, peace and goodwill of Christmastide and Epiphany stay with us as we go into the year just begun.

On this day in 1947: Pan American Airlines becomes the first commercial airline to offer a round-the-world ticket.