A colour fresco of Old St Peter’s, half-demolished but with the obelisk in position

A kind commenter drew my attention to this fascinating fresco of the appearance of Old St Peter’s.

It shows clearly the rather ramshackle old front of Constantine’s basilica – there was an atrium/courtyard behind, and then the main front.  The huge construction of New St Peter’s looms at the back, unfinished – as indeed it stood for some decades.

But the most interesting feature is the Egyptian obelisk, already moved from its medieval position to the left of the church, and standing where it stands today.

I’m not sure where this fresco is from.  I think it may be from the Papal palace, which still stands, to the right of the basilica in the above picture.  It is notable how the palace dwarfs the old basilica!

It’s also interesting to see the slope of the Vatican hill, to the left.  The circus of Calgula and Nero stood at the foot of the hill, and St Peter was executed on a cross on the spina or central spine of the race-track.  His grave or trophaion was in an existing cemetery further up the hill.

Constantine built his basilica over the grave.  His Roman architects had to underpin the left side of the church, to prevent it sliding down the hill.  In fact cracks developed over the succeeding millennium, and this was one reason why the old basilica was demolished.

It’s a marvellous depiction, and I wish I knew more about it.

Further thoughts on translating St Cuthman’s “Life”

While translating the Latin text of the Life of the anglo-saxon Saint Cuthman, I have taken to googling for fragments of the Latin, or even whole sentences.  The results are often interesting, and not infrequently important.

One reason that I do this is to identify biblical references.  Often a tortured phrase turns out to be an allusion.  Indeed I came across a reference to Tobit 10:4 half an hour ago.

Strangely Google does not prioritise the Latin bible in a search for Latin text, although it is hard to see why not.  What you DO get back is endless 16th and 17th century texts, most of which I have never heard of.  I don’t know why this should be so.  Occasionally these are useful; usually they are not.

One such search produced a snippet result in a journal called Sussex Archaeological Collections.  Looking at the handful of words, I gained the impression that whatever paper this was might be a modern edition of the Latin text.  So far I have been working with the Bollandist text of 1658.  I have, indeed, found some suspect text in the Latin text.  At one point there is reference to trabale unicum where I wonder whether it should be trabale iugum.  There is, otherwise, no noun in the sentence.  The reference would be to a ridge-beam.

Of course I was unable to see what the paper was, but it proved to  be John Blair, “Saint Cuthman, Steyning and Bosham” in SAC 135 (1997), 173-92.  I was unable to access this; but an offprint was for sale on Amazon, at a high price, but rather less than the cost of the petrol to get a copy; and this arrived today.

The Blair paper does indeed contain an edition of the text – indeed a critical edition, with apparatus of the two extant manuscripts, plus the Bollandist edition.  It also contains what the author describes as a “paraphrase” translation.  This is nearly full length, and, had I known that it existed, I might not have troubled to make a translation myself.

Why paraphrase?  Well, it’s considerably easier to get the sense of the text than it is to identify each and every Latin construction and pin down precisely what that last word means.  It also avoids the risk of some snooty person critiquing your translation!   Since the precise wording is generally less important than the idea, these kinds of things are quite serviceable and they seem very common in modern versions of hagiographical literature.  But all the same, they are an abomination.  The reader should be given a proper translation.

I’ve been learning a great deal about Latin syntax from struggling with Cuthman.  I’ve been processing much of it into context-sensitive help-materials in QuickLatin 2, which is a double benefit: I learn the stuff, and there are reminders for the future.

I’ve worked harder on Cuthman than any Latin text that I have ever translated.  I’ve been proceeding as follows:

  1. Create an electronic text.
  2. Split it into chapters, each in a separate file.
  3. Split each chapter into sentences, translate this in Google Translate and interleave the two in the document.  The Google translation is generally useless, but it can sometimes highlight that the words are a set phrase of some sort, which you can therefore search for.  This is most obvious when the Google output drops into Jacobean English!
  4. Now skim-read the text in PDF, to get a sense of what the chapter says.  Ignore any difficult bits.  Speed is all.  At the head of the chapter, write down this skim-read synopsis.  This acts as a kind of guide when doing the detailed translation.
  5. First pass.  Now translate each sentence in the chapter, one by one, looking out for correlatives like vel… vel, etc.  Leave difficult bits.  Highlight in bold and red stuff of which you are uncertain.  Add a note of any Latin constructions that you recognise, and say why you chose those words.  Wherever the text feels “stiff”, then you need to document what you did.  Pay lots of attention to the verb tenses, etc.
  6. Go through the whole text until you have done the first pass.  Then copy this to a folder for later.
  7. Second pass.  Now go through the chapters again, making sure that you understand the Latin construction in every single case.  Google for them!  There’s a huge amount of information out there on syntax.  Fix whatever you can.  By the end of this, you should have satisfactory translations of the lot, with a huge amount of notes, quotes, links to external websites, and changes of mind marked with strike-out.  At this stage I tend to make most the notes grey, if I have finished with them, but want to be able to refer to them.  Then copy all these files to a new folder.

This is where I am at the moment.  The next stage will be:

  1. Third pass.  Go through the files again, removing the grey stuff, writing real footnotes; but also rechecking.  Harmonise common words.  Then save copies of this lot.
  2. Fourth pass.  Combine the sentences into groups, then into paragraphs.  Read the lot and see if it makes sense.  Sometimes you will realise that two sentences together each mean something rather different to what you thought.
  3. Create a single file with the whole translation in it.

It’s a lot of work; but it’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle.  It’s quite rewarding really!

How papyrus rolls lost their tops and bottoms – from Oxyrhynchus

A truly fascinating post at Papyrus Stories tells us what happened when an archive of papyrus rolls was neglected in the early 2nd century.

“The documents shown to me by the clerk Leonides (…) were in some cases deprived of their beginning, or damaged, or moth-eaten (…). Since the books have been hastily moved from one place to another repeatedly, lying on top of each other and unattached (…). Some were eaten away at the top because of the dry heat (…) and since they are being handled daily, and their material is brittle, it happened that some were destroyed in parts, others were without beginnings, and some had even fallen apart.”

This was only part of the story.  There was a position, Keeper of the Fayum archives, but by 107 AD Leonides was the man responsible for day to day care.  The rolls were already in a mess.  Over the next 50 years all those concerned were involved in endless bureaucratic argument and appeals to the prefect over whose fault this was and what should be done, and who should pay for it.

I recommend reading the whole article.  It is an interesting insight into the disfunction of the administration at that period, from the Prefect down.  But more, it explains how it is that we get so many texts which are missing the beginning.

For the last year I have myself been trying to obtain access to a document in an archive near me, where petty bureaucrats simply won’t solve the problems they themselves create.  I’ve had to give up, in fact.  So I have quite a bit of fellow-feeling for the poor souls caught up in this mess!

Some notes on St Alnoth

A correspondent was looking for the Life of St Alnoth in the Acta Sanctorum, and found himself confused by the series, as most of us are initially.

The Acta Sanctorum is confusing to the casual visitor, because all the lives of the saints are given on their saints’ day, the day in the Catholic Church on which they are commemorated.  For Alnoth this is February 27.  There is no overall numbering of volumes.  Instead the numbering is within each month – January vol 1, etc.

The material for St Alnoth is in February, vol 3, under the material for February 27th.  In the 1658 original edition, it’s on p.684.  I’m not sure if there is a standard way to reference this, but I might give it as something like:

Acta Sanctorum, Februarii III, Feb.27,  p.684 (1658)

This volume is online in a hard-to-read form here.  An electronic transcription is here.  (If you are on Windows, just do a ctrl-F in your browser for Alnoth)

Most people find the 19th century reprint easier to use.  There it’s on p.689, here (which is p.736 of the PDF).

There does not seem to actually be a “vita” for St Alnoth.  This item is instead a “sylloge”, which seems to be a collection of snippets from other hagiographical sources.  It was written in 1658 by the Bollandist editor: in this case, none other than Johannes Bolland (“I.B.”) himself.

Bolland quotes for St Alnoth the “Life” of St Werburgh, which is in February vol 1.  He also gives another couple of snippets from elsewhere.  I did look to see if the vita of St Werburgh had been translated, but if it has, it eluded me.

Alnoth himself was a 7th century anglo-saxon saint, who lived first as a herdsman.  He suffered from the attentions of an  unfair bailiff, and then he moved to become a hermit.  He was eventually murdered by robbers.

One day I ought to sit down and compile a “finder’s guide” for anybody wanting to work with the lives of the saints.  Maybe it already exists, I do not know.  Like most people, I wandered into the world of hagiography more or less by accident!

St Cuthman, the Vulgate, the sacramentary, and so forth

Translating the Latin text of the Life of St Cuthman, printed by the Bollandists, is an interesting exercise.  I find that the text quite often uses the approach of the Latin Vulgate bible, where quia means “that” rather than “because”.  This means that you can often get something from simply googling a passage – it may well bring up a translation, or at least highlight that the wording is very close to that of a biblical passage in Latin.

I’m not quite sure about the text that I am working with.  Today while googling I accidently came across signs that someone has produced a modern edition of all or part of it; in an article to which I have no access, unfortunately.  It is J. Blair, “Saint Cuthman, Steyning and Bosham”, in: Sussex Archaeological Collections, Relating to the History & Antiquities of the County (= SAC), 135, p.173-192.  If anybody has access to this, do drop me a line.

One example of the text is where St Cuthman is pushing his handcart, the rear end supported by a rope hanging from his shoulders.  Suddenly the rope breaks!  But he spies a “sambucus” lying by the way, takes a length from it, twists it, and remakes his rope.

Now “Sambucus” is an exotic form of harp.  Just the thing you’d find at random in Anglo-saxon England?  Well… maybe not.  The Oxford Latin Dictionary kindly directs me to “sabucus”, which is an elder tree.  That makes more sense.  It looks like Cuthman grabbed a branch from an elder tree and used that.

It’s not just the vulgate bible that gets used either.  I’ve reached chapter seven.  Most of this consists of a long and boring prayer.  But I came across this phrase:

hic tibi gratiarum referat actiones.

This, I confess, baffled me.  What on earth does “referat” mean here, and “actiones gratiarum”.  But some serious time on Google led me to

Ut reddita sibi sanitate, gratiarum Tibi in Ecclesia Tua referant actiones, per DNJC.

It turned out that this was a chunk of the prayer for the sick from the Roman missal or sacramentary.  I then undertook a search for an English translation, but in fact Google Translate gave me the clue.  It turned out that “actiones gratiarum” are “thanks”, and “refero” in this context is “give”.  The idea is “let them give thanks to You in Your church, through our Lord Jesus Christ”.  There was no way that you could work that out from a dictionary.

It does make sense, tho.  The medieval author of the Life of St Cuthman knew two Latin texts intimately, and used them every day – the vulgate bible, and the missal.  Both would inevitably enter his composition.

For those working with Latin Saints’ Lives, then, a knowledge of both texts is clearly essential.

I have found that Bible Gateway will allow me to display the Latin with parallel Douai English translation, such as this example from Psalms 15This 1815 edition of the missal has a lot of English versions in it.  Both are useful tools.

Translating Cuthman, I have found it useful to skim-read each chapter, on my mobile phone, while lying on the sofa, and just get some idea of what it is about.  Once done, I write down some sort of summary, ignoring hard bits, at the top of each Word document – I do one per chapter – as a guide to what ought to be coming out.  This does seem to ease the process of translation, curiously.


Literary sources for the “Life” of St. Eanswythe

There is a big news story yesterday about the bones of St Eanswythe, an anglo-saxon saint ca. 630 AD, which have been discovered in the wall of a Kentish church.  They were stashed there at the Reformation, and rediscovered a century ago, but without any certainty as to who they were.  The modern story is that they have been carbon dated and shown most likely to be authentic.  This all arises from the Finding Eanswythe project.

Here’s the headlines from the Daily Mail: here:

England’s missing saint is found: Scientists reveal skeletal remains squirrelled into the wall of Kent church belong to St Eanswythe who died 1400 years ago.  Hidden bones dating back as far as the 7th century are those of the Kentish Royal Saint of St Eanswythe. She was the daughter and granddaughter of Anglo-Saxon kings and one of the earliest English saints. Relics survived upheavals of the Reformation, squirrelled away in a wall, and were discovered in 1885. Patron saint of Folkestone is believed to have founded one of England’s earliest monastic communities.

Bones dating back to around the seventh century are those of St Eanswythe, the daughter and granddaughter of Anglo-Saxons who is venerated in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

The relics survived the major upheavals of the Reformation, during which Henry VIII’s agents seized and plundered the Folkestone church, before smashing the shrine of St Eanswythe.

Her remains, however, remained squirrelled away in the north wall of the church, and were discovered in a 12th-century reliquary in 1885, after church workmen stumbled upon a niche which had been plastered up.

The patron saint of Folkestone, Eanswythe is believed to have founded one of the earliest monastic communities in England, most likely around 630 on the Bayle, the overlooked historic centre of the town. She is thought to have died in her late teens or early 20s, though currently the cause of her death is unknown.

Now, over 1,300 years after her death, Kent archaeologists and historians, working with Queen’s University in Belfast, have confirmed the human remains kept at the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe are those of the saint.

St Eanswythe was the only daughter of King Eadbald and his wife Emma, a Frankish princess. Born in around 614, it is believed that she was baptised and raised as a Christian. The princess committed her life to the service of God as a nun, and refused to marry.

Her father built her England’s first female monastery in Folkestone, into which she moved around 630 with companions who had received guidance from Roman monks who had moved to England in around 597 with St Augustine. Though she was not made an abbess, given she was aged 16, historians do not know of any abbesses prior to St Eanswythe.

Stories of her miracles including healing the sight of a blind man and casting out a devil in a sick man circulated during her life, and proliferated after her death in around 640. Historians believe that St Eanswythe prayed day and night, read spiritual books, copied and bound manuscripts, cooked and cleaned, and cared for the sick and elderly in her community.

The monastery survived for around two centuries after her death, before it was sacked by the Danes in 867, according to some historians. St Eanswythe’s holy relics were moved to a nearby church, before a new monastery and church dedicated to St Mary and St Eanswythe were built further inland in around 1138.

The story is copiously illustrated.  Her saints’ day is August 13th.

There seem to be two literary sources.

First there is a Latin vita (BHL 2555) in the Acta Sanctorum, August vol. 6, for 31st.[1]  This may be found online here., in vol. 40 the Paris reprint, on p.684 (p.728 of the PDF).

This is the only item listed in the BHL.  Incipit: Ethelbertus rex Angliae per s. Augustinum ep. – Des. et carnem prorsus a dolore purgavit.

There is a manuscript in British Library Cotton Tiberius E I/2, (late 14th century) fol. 60r-v.

A great number of catalogues of manuscripts are listed on the Bollandist website.  The material there is slender on editions.

Secondly an abridged version in Middle English in John of Tynemouth’s 1360 Sanctilogium Angliae, Walliae, Scotiae et Hiberniae.[2]  The electronic text may be found here, and, with modernised spelling, is as follows:

De sancta Eauswida virgine & abbatissa.

Saint Eauswyda was daughter to the king, son to king Ethelbert, Edbaldus. And from her youth she forsook the pomps of the world, and induced her Father to make her an oratory at Folkstone that she might in virginity serve our Lord.

And as the oratory was in building, the king of Northamhumbrorum, who was a pagan, desired to have her in marriage and her Father counselled her thereto, and praised the King much. And she said if he could in the name of his gods make a beam of her oratory, which was too short, long enough,  she would assent to him, if not she desired to be left alone.  And the king trusting in his gods gladly assented. And when he had long prayed, all was in vain that he did, and so he went away with shame.  And then the virgin prayed in the name of our Lord. And anon her prayer was heard, and the beam made long enough. And so the King departed.

And by her prayer water came against the hill from a town called Swecton to her oratory. And it came by another river and yet joined not with it.

Four brethren of great riches denied to give dysmes to St Eauswyda.  And after many years, three of them were compunct, and advertised the fourth to go with them to her sepulcre to do penance, and make satisfaction, and he denied it.  And anon the Devil entered into him.   And so his brethren bound him and brought him to her altar. And anon he was made whole and paid his tithes. And she went from this present life the day before the kalends of September.  And because her church was destroyed with the sea, her body was brought to Folkstone.

All useful.  It would be nice if someone would translate the Vita in the AASS.

  1. [1]My thanks to Mark for this.
  2. [2]My thanks to Judy Doherty for this!

The harvester who became a magistrate – an inscription from 260-270 AD

On twitter this evening, I saw a Latin inscription in the Louvre, in a cursive script (!), which tells an interesting story.  It’s from Mactaris, in ancient Africa Proconsularis, between 26–270 AD (h/t Susan Rahyab).  It tells an interesting story of how a humble corn harvester rose to become a magistrate:

CIL 8, 11824

The monument is today ca. 1.09m high, 0.54m wide, and 0.23m thick.  It suffered minor damage during its journey from Tunis to the Louvre in 1886, but at some point lost the upper part of the inscription.

It begins with the remains of four separate but brief funerary notices, of at least two women and one man, and one unknown, not bearing the classic three names, but which each feature a formula pius/pia vixit annis which is normally Christian.  They are also in a quite different script, and must be later as they run over the top of the poem.  There is a detailed discussion of the monument in Brent D. Shaw, Bringing in the sheaves: Economy and Metaphor in the Roman world, p.281 f.  [1]

Thanks to Miranda Halsey, to whom I also owe many of the references, I learn that this was published as Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 8.11824 = Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 7457 (from Tunisia, 3rd century A.D.).

There is a translation by Tim G. Parkin and Arthur J. Pomeroy, Roman Social History: A Sourcebook, London: Routledge, 2007, p. 39-40.  (Google Books preview) which reads:

I was born into a poor dwelling and of a poor father, who had no property or household. From the time of my birth, I lived in the country looking after my business; there was no time off in the countryside and none for me at any time. And when the time of year had brought forth the grain ready for harvest, then I was the first reaper of the stalks. When the sickle-bearing gangs of men had made their way to the fields, whether heading for the nomads of Cirta or the fields of Jupiter, as harvester I preceded them all, first into the fields, leaving the packed bands behind my back. I reaped twelve harvests under the raging sun, and afterwards became a work gang leader instead of a labourer. We led the gangs of harvesters for eleven years and our band cut down the Numidian fields. This effort and my frugal lifestyle brought success and made me master of a household and gained me a house, and my home itself lacks nothing. And my life gained the rewards of office: I was myself enrolled among the conscript councillors. Elected by the order [of the decurions], I had a seat in the order’s temple and, starting out as a humble country boy, I too became censor. I produced children and saw them grow into young men and saw their children too. In accord with our services in life, we have enjoyed years of fame, which no bitter tongue has hurt with any reproach. People, learn to pass your lives without giving reason for reproach. The man who has lived without deceit has earned meeting his death in such a manner.

But Dr Halsey posted a different, and rather moving translation made by another:

My cradle stood in a hut of poor parents;
no money, no personnel in sight.
Since then I kept on working my fanner’s land;
my plot was never rested, nor was I.
When the season produced a harvest,
I was the first to mow the grain
and when the farmers travelled the country
in droves, carrying their scythes, all the way to Cirta
I was the first; I was the front mower,
leaving plenty of sheaves behind me.
For twelve harvests I mowed under the burning sun,
then I became a headman
and I was in charge of the teams for eleven years.
My men mowed every field in Numidia.
My hard work, my modest wishes
proved successful in the end: they earned me
a home. I became the owner of a large villa,
and who lives there is never in want.
Life also offered me a bunch of honors:
I was elected to join the municipal council.
In the temple I sat in the seat of honor
and from a peasant I became a censor.
I got sons and I had the privilege of seeing them grow up,
as well as grandsons, whom I loved very much.
By living well I had many beautiful years.
No vicious neighbor’s tongue to ruin it.
Dear People, leam to live without sin;
he who lives without blame has earned the right to die blamelessly.

The Latin text can be found in the Clauss-Slaby database as EDCS-23200467:

Caeselia Namina […]
pia vixit annis
lianus pius [vix]it annis
[…] pia vixit annis […]
[……] annis[2]
VE[…]AIIIS[…]MA[3… fui
paupere progenitus lare sum parvoq(ue) parente
cuius nec census neque domus fuerat
ex quo sum genitus ruri mea vixi colendo
nec ruri pausa nec mihi semper erat
et cum maturas segetes produxerat annus
demessor calami tunc ego primus eram
falcifera cum turma virum processerat arvis
seu Cirtae Nomados seu Iovis arva petens
demessor cunctos anteibam primus in arvis
pos(t) tergus linguens densa meum gremia
bis senas messes rabido sub sole totondi
ductor et ex opere postea factus eram
undecim et turmas messorum duximus annis
et Numidiae campos nostra manus secuit
hic labor et vita parvo con(ten)ta valere
et dominum fecere domus et villa paratast
et nullis opibus indiget ipsa domus
et nostra vita fructus percepit honorum
inter conscriptos scribtus et ipse fui
ordinis in templo delectus ab ordine sedi
et de rusticulo censor et ipse fui
et genui et vidi iuvenes carosq(ue) nepotes
vitae pro meritis claros transegimus annos
quos nullo lingua crimine laedit atrox
discite mortales sine crimine degere vitam
sic meruit vixit qui sine fraude mori

D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum)  C(aius) Mulceius  Maximus  vixi(t) an(nos) XXX
D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum)  S(extus) Au[reli]us F[…]nus vix(it)  an(nos) XL

The lines at the top probably have no connection with the poem.  Caeselia Namina is a shortened form of a punic name, perhaps Namphamina.

The subject of the poem is known in English as the “Maktar harvester”, as his name is no longer readable.

On either side of the stela are recorded the deaths of C. Mulceius Maximus, died age 30, and S. Aurelius F…nus, who died aged 40.[3]  These are probably late and probably 4th century.

Interesting and new to me.

  1. [1]Google Books preview.
  2. [2]Up to this point I have followed Brent D. Shaw’s text rather than the Clauss-Slaby text.
  3. [3]H. Singor, “Africa Romana: een overzicht”, Hermeneus 78 (2006), 65-78.  Online here.

Did Pope Gelasius create St Valentine’s Day as a replacement for the Lupercalia?

Something weird has begun to happen over the last couple of years.   Twitter is filling up with claims that “Christmas is really pagan”; the same for Easter (!), St Valentine’s Day – indeed for every single Christian holiday.  This is new, and started maybe in 2018, and now has become very commonplace.  The object is without a doubt to diminish the Christian significance of American holidays.  I get the impression that this may be part of the anti-Trump reaction.  It is clearly orchestrated, and obviously a nuisance.

This year I came across the claim that St Valentine’s Day is really the Lupercalia (!), and that Pope Gelasius I abolished the Lupercalia and created St Valentine’s Day instead.  One website calling itself “history.com” claims:

In the late 5th century A.D., Pope Gelasius I eliminated the pagan celebration of Lupercalia and declared February 14 a day to celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine instead, although it’s highly unlikely he intended the day to commemorate love and passion.

And the same website on another page:

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.

Google helpfully puts these pages at the very top of the search results if you look for information.  They seem to be drawing on an article which otherwise appears a bit further down, National Public Radio, The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day, Feb. 13, 2011, which claims:

Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. Lenski adds, “It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.”

Lenski is “Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder”.  Of course he may well have been misrepresented by this journalist.  But is this true?  Did Gelasius establish St Valentine’s Day on February 14?

In a 1931 article,[1]William M. Green indicates that Cardinal Baronius must take some responsibility for all this.

… in almost all the discussions of the institution it is said that Pope Gelasius in 494 converted the pagan festival into the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin (=Candlemas). This conjecture of Cardinal Baronius[4] was based on the fact that Gelasius had suppressed the pagan festival, and that the quadragesima Epiphaniae (February 14), the earliest form of the Christian festival, so nearly coincided with its date, February 15. Usener and later writers on Christian ritual [5] have recognized Baronius’ mistake…

4. C. Baronius, Annales Ecclesiastici (Barri-Ducis; L. Guerin, 1864-83), IX, 603.
5. H. Usener, Weihnachtsfest (Bonn: Cohen, 1889), p. 318; T. Barnes, “Candlemas” in Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (New York: Scribner’s, 1908-190; L. Duchesne, Christian Worship5 (London: SPCK, 1923), p.271.

So the modern idea that the Lupercalia turned into St Valentine’s Day is itself a bastardisation of an older idea, that the Lupercalia turned into Candlemas.

We do know that Gelasius did abolish the Lupercalia.  In Letter 100, to Andromachus, in the Collectio Avellana he explicitly says so, and defends his action to his noble correspondent by attacking the remains of the Lupercalia as a degraded superstition.  (I was unaware until now that an edition of this exists in the Sources Chretiennes series, 65).[2]

Another article by Jack B. Oruch is more forthright:[3]

The idea that Valentine’s Day customs perpetuated those of the Roman Lupercalia has been accepted uncritically and repeated, in various forms, up to the present.22 Most of those who offer this now traditional explanation cite no sources or refer only to Butler or Douce. But John W. Hales, in the most substantial and reasonable article written about Valentine’s Day, correctly pointed out that the Lupercalia never involved the pairing of lovers or a lottery.23 As far as I can determine, the first suggestions of a lottery of lovers on Valentine’s Day occur in the fifteenth century in poems of Lydgate and Charles d’Orleans, discussed below; the only known attempt to suppress the practice and substitute the names of saints was that of St. Francis de Sales early in his career as bishop at Annecy (1603).24 Butler’s ideas were prompted, in all probability, by a confused knowledge of the date of this isolated event; a less charitable explanation would attribute his remarks to wishful or pious fantasy.

The most complex version of this story – one that links the Lupercalia, Valentine, and Chaucer – has recently been put forth by Alfred L. Kellogg and Robert C. Cox[4]… According to Kellogg and Cox, the process by which St. Valentine became a “fertility figure” was an indirect and accidental one. They report: “When, in 495, Pope Gelasius finally abolished the Lupercalia, his procedure followed the accepted pattern. He set in its place a Christian festival of comparable meaning and almost exact date – the Purification of the Virgin, or Candlemas, celebrated on February 14” (p. 112). Then, after the date of the observance of Candlemas was “transferred from February 14 to February 2” (to accord with the fixing of the date of Christ’s birth at December 25), Valentine in some unknown way inherited the associations of the Virgin Mary with purification and fertility. Unfortunately, the account thus far is based upon faulty assumptions and misunderstood data.

Informed scholarship offers nothing to support the claim that Gelasius I “baptized” the Lupercalia by supplanting it with the Feast of the Purification…. Other medieval writers [than Bede] gave different explanations of the origin of the Feast of the Purification, but not until the unfortunate conjectures of Cardinal Baronius in the sixteenth century was the particular pagan festival behind Candlemas. said to be the Lupercalia.29 While the church did supplant some pagan customs with Christian ones, in the present case the similarities between the Lupercalia and Candlemas appear to be fortuitous and negligible. To suggest a place for St. Valentine in a history already marked by so much speculation is pointless.

Which is pretty direct.  There’s simply no evidence, apparently, of any connection with St Valentine.

I’m not quite clear how we discover what the early evidence is for the celebration of a saint’s day.  It appears that we must look at early service books, and this is rather an area outside of my knowledge.

The so-called Gelasian Sacramentary does indeed have prayers in natali Valentini, Vitalis et Feliculae on xvi Kal. Martias, i.e. 14th February.  (How interesting to see natalis used to indicate an anniversary, rather than a  birthday!).[5]  This has reached us in a Vatican manuscript (Ms. Reg. 316), written around 750 at the nunnery of Chelles near Paris.  The prototype was probably composed in Rome between 628-715.[6]

I do wonder how we could find out when the feast of St Valentine was first celebrated!

UPDATE: I have just heard from Dr Lenski, disclaiming any responsibility for the mangled comments attributed to him in that NPR article.

  1. [1]William M. Green, “The Lupercalia in the Fifth Century”, Classical Philology 26 (1931), 60-69.  JSTOR.
  2. [2]Gélase Ier : Lettre contre les Lupercales et Dix-huit messes du Sacramentaire léonien. SC65, 1960.
  3. [3]Jack B. Oruch, “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February”, Speculum 56 (1981). 534-65.  JSTOR.
  4. [4]25. “Chaucer’s St. Valentine: A Conjecture,” in Alfred L. Kellogg, Chaucer, Langland, Arthur: Essays in Middle English Literature (New Brunswick, N.J., 1972), p. 108.
  5. [5]H.A.Wilson, The Gelasian Sacramentary. Liber Sacramentorum Romanae Ecclesiae, Oxford, 1894, p.167.  Archive.org.
  6. [6]Joseph M. Lynch, Christianizing Kinship, p.29. Google Books.

From my diary

It is now four months since I fell ill with some minor but annoying problem that gave me splitting headaches all day long and left me washed out.  Thankfully those are nearly gone, and although I am still rather weak, I now believe that I will make a full recovery.  It’s been an expensive time, sitting at home, but there was no alternative.  I have also been unable to do very much blogging, as regular readers will know.

One of the things that I have wanted to do is to translate from Latin a couple of “saint’s lives”.  The last time that I did this, I became very dissatisfied with my limited knowledge of Latin syntax.  My knowledge of Latin came from my schooldays, and was mainly a matter of grammar – amo, amas, amat etc.  I did retain knowledge of structures like the ablative absolute, and the accusative plus infinitive for reported speech.  But it became clear to me that I ought to work more on this.

When I work with Latin, I always use a parser to do the vocabulary and grammar, because my memory has started to let me down at times.  In fact I use QuickLatin, which I wrote back in 1999.  It seemed to me that I needed to add syntax information to this, so that it would warn me of common constructions.

In order to do this, I had to do some very serious work on the code.

My first encounter with parsers was with Whitaker’s Words.  This was written by Col. William A. Whitaker (d. 2010), and was written in the military language Ada as a command-line application.  I wanted something that worked in Windows.

In February 1999 I was recruited to work on a military project where there was actually very little to do.  Anybody with experience of government programmes will know that these are incredibly wasteful and slow.  In this case somebody had decided, sometime around 1992, that a computer system was necessary to list the whereabouts of spare parts for a certain type of bomber.  The idea was that cost savings could be made if, instead of stocking all the spare parts necessary, NATO allies could borrow them from each other.  So if the Soviets invaded, and somebody needed a spare part, then they could look at this system, find that the Italians had one, and borrow that.  As you would, with the Soviets bombing every road and railway and the tanks rolling through West Germany.

Obviously this was a completely bonkers idea.  It could never work.  Who thought of it, and why, I have no idea.  There was also the little matter that the Soviet Union had collapsed a couple of years earlier.  Probably there had been several  years of planning, and the process had continued even though the purpose of NATO had disappeared.

The system was not a large one.  In my professional experience, it could have been completed in three months by a team consisting of a team leader and three programmers.

When I joined, in 1999, there was a team of two team leaders and eight programmers.  The software was all years out of date.  The project itself was seven years late.  I worked there for a year, doing minor fixes, and I probably didn’t make it any worse.  What became of it I know not.

Sitting in that office, bored to tears, my thoughts turned to Latin.  I ended up reading the source code for Col. Whitaker’s masterpiece and implementing a version of much of it in Visual Basic for Applications, in a MS Access database.  This was obviously the wrong tool, but it was all that there was on my desktop.  Later I transformed this into Visual Basic 6, and this formed the code base for QuickLatin.

VB6 is now long gone and dead.  Even installing it on Windows 10 is difficult.  So I had to convert and rewrite the code into Visual Basic .Net, as I have mentioned in previous posts, so that I could move forward.  This I did, and I have spent most of my active time in the last four months working on this.

It was also an opportunity to chop out some very tangled code.  Not all the language features used in Ada were available in VBA, nor even in VB6, so I had to code around these.  In fact some are still unavailable in VB.Net.

Col. Whitaker continued to work on his software after 1999, however, although I did not revisit the code.  Recently I came across a feature that he had added which I felt should be part of QuickLatin also.  So I have been looking again at the Ada source code, and trying to convert some of the bits to VB.Net.

The Ada code is remarkably difficult to read, and always was.  The colonel knew what he was trying to do, and did not need to write notes.  The reader is not so fortunate.  I saw a line of code yesterday which read:


and I felt rather hard done by!  Who or what is K and NK?  (After some examination, I decided that it was a stupid way to test something that I could do better another way).

But the colonel did his time in days before most modern coding constructs existed.  His code isn’t really structured in the way that any professional code written after 1985 would be.  The idea of test-driven development only appeared in the last few years of his life.  For Whitaker the Array was his tool; the idea of the HashMap does not seem to have registered.  But these are not criticisms; rather they are a reminder of how far we have come since I started coding.

It is quite interesting to work again on the colonel’s code, after 21 years!  I shall keep plodding away.  At least VB.Net is a far better language to work in than VBA ever was.

Writing in VB6 in 1999, I wrote the user interface in WinForms.  I discovered today that this too is obsolete – I should now use WPF, whatever that is.  I will need to check whether there is an even more recent tool, in fact!  In a way this is a relief.  But it will all take time.

However I have started looking for Latin language constructs.  My guide in this has been Morwood’s Oxford Latin Grammar, which has a very readable section on syntax.  I have also found that simply googling a construction often brings up very readable material.  I discovered “Vir drinks beer” which is focused on Latin-to-English translation, as I am.  A day or two ago I discovered Michael Fontaine’s Hack your Latin articles.

I’ve also been reading verses from Genesis in the Vulgate.  I downloaded to my phone the “sample” from Kindle, which was free and gave me more than enough stuff to read.  I find that if I lie on the sofa and read, looking at the Latin, I find myself wondering “ah, that’s gone into the subjunctive – why?” and such like.  Again I can google bits of it.  So it seems to be really beneficial to do.  I can only do this for a few verses at a time, tho.

Meanwhile I have started to look at job adverts.  I would like to start earning again.  I would like to be able to afford a couple of expensive foreign trips once I am fit enough to do them, if coronavirus does not make visiting airports a rather chancy business.  Unfortunately there are some tax changes here which are due to take effect in April.  These are already disrupting the industry very badly.  It looks unlikely that I will be able to afford to work away from home, if I must pay basic-rate tax at 50%, and then pay for hotel rooms out of taxed income.  Yet my work has always meant working away from home, for there is little work locally.  So I wonder whether I shall be forced to retire.

There is much to think upon.  Meanwhile, I shall return to working on the Latin.

A concise explanation of the legal basis for Roman persecution of Christians

Tertullian tells us, in his Apologeticum that Christians were told, simply, “Non licet esse vos!” (You are not allowed to exist!)  I happened to see a very nice summary of what this meant, and what it tells us, in Servais Pinckaers Spirituality of Martyrdom, p.66.

It was new to me, and I thought that others might find it interesting also.

The traditional explanation of Christian persecution traces its origin to an imperial decree dating back to Nero or Domitian that Tertullian calls the Institutum neronianum. The text is no longer extant, but if it existed it probably contained these terms of proscription: “Non licet esse Christianos” [Being a Christian is forbidden]. This expression underlies many sayings of authors such as Tertullian: “What a harsh law you have written, which says to us: you are forbidden to exist” (non licet esse vos). The apologists consistently reaffirm that Christians were accused merely of being Christians; that they were reproached only for bearing that name, and Tertullian repeatedly asserts that the sentence condemning them indicates no other crime than that. The magistrate would remind the accused of that concise decree, “non licet esse Christianos,” to which the accused would reply, if he were faithful, “Christianus sum” (I am a Christian), and the case would be closed.[1]

This explanation relies upon Trajan’s rescript of 112 CE in response to a letter from Pliny the Younger. Pliny displayed a rigorous but exact interpretation of the legislation, which he used to condemn Christians propter solum nomen—solely on account of the name:

“I make it a sacred duty, my lord, to consult you with my scruples, for who can better guide or instruct me? I have never attended the trial or sentencing of any Christian. I therefore do not know the exact offenses for which they are prosecuted nor the extent to which they are punished.  I am particularly hesitant about whether to make distinctions according to age. Should we impose the same punishment without distinguishing the younger from the older? Should we pardon those who repent, or is the renunciation of Christianity useless once it has been embraced? Is it the name only that we punish? Or are there crimes attached to that name?”

The emperor approves and confirms the obligation to punish nomen si flagitiis careat (the name, even without misdeeds) and not merely the flagitia nomini coherentia (the misdeeds associated with the name).

This rescript of Trajan presupposes an existent law against Christians, dating back at least to Nero or Domitian, which interpretation he solidifies. According to Tertullian, “Under the reign of Augustus this name [Christian] has arisen, under Tiberius it has shown its discipline, and under Nero it has met with condemnation.  Yet only this institution of Nero has survived, while the others were destroyed” (Ad Nationes I, ch.7).

And so, legally speaking, this very characteristic of being a Christian would seem to serve as the basis of the persecution of the first centuries. The historians still debate the existence of that anti-Christian law. Some think that the legal precedent was laid down by Trajan’s rescript itself. [But] regardless of the historical debate surrounding its legal origins, the persecuted Christians understood the basis of the accusation against them to be the mere fact that they were Christians: “Non licet esse christianos.”

That is rather neatly put, and rather useful to have.