April 16, 73 Masada

The siege of the mountaintop fortress of Masada ended this day in 73.  Two women and five children who had taken shelter in a water pipe, alone remained to tell the tale.

Built under the reign of King Solomon in the 10th century BC, Solomon’s Temple was the first holy temple in ancient Jerusalem.  According to Rabbinic sources the temple stood on part of the Temple Mount, also known as Mount Zion for 410 years, before being sacked and burned to the ground by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, in 587 BC.

solomons-templeSo important is this event to the Jewish people that it is commemorated still as the bitterest day of the Jewish calendar, a day of fasting and mourning known as Tisha B’Av.

A second temple was built on the site in 516BC, and expanded during the reign of Herod the Great. This second temple stood until the Roman sack of Jerusalem in 70AD, according to Jewish tradition falling on the same day as the first temple.

The first Roman involvement with the Kingdom of Judea came in 67BC.  The client Kingdom of the Herodian Dynasty became a Roman Province in the year 6AD.

Long standing religious disputes erupted into a full scale Jewish revolt in 66. Thousands of Jews were executed in Jerusalem and the second temple plundered, resulting in the Battle of Beth Horon in which a Syrian Legion was destroyed by Jewish rebels. The future emperor Vespasian appointed his son Titus as second in command, entering Judea in 67 at the head of four legions of Roman troops.

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“Depiction of the Roman triumph celebrating the Sack of Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The procession features the Menorah and other vessels taken from the Second Temple”. H/T Wikipedia

A three year off and on siege followed, with Vespasian being recalled to Rome in 69 to become Emperor. The Great Jewish Revolt was now Titus’ war.

The Jewish historian Josephus acted as intermediary throughout much of the siege, though his impartiality has been questioned since he was both friend and adviser to Titus.   Josephus entered the city at one point to negotiate but later fled, wounded by an arrow in a surprise attack which very nearly caught Titus himself.

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The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, Oil on canvas by David Roberts, 1850

A brutal siege of Jerusalem followed through most of the year 70, in which Jewish Zealots burned their own food supply, forcing defenders to “Fight to the End”.  During the final stages, Zealots following John of Giscala still held the Temple, while a splinter group called the Sicarii (literally, “Dagger Men”), led by Simon Bar Giora held the upper part of the city.

The Second Temple, one of the last fortified bastions of the rebellion, was destroyed on Tisha B’Av, July 29 or 30, 70AD. By September 7 the Roman army under Titus had fully occupied and plundered all of Jerusalem.

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Mountain fortress of Masada. Note the siege ramp to the right, by which the besieging force gained access to the top. The Romans built that.

The first Jewish-Roman war would last for three more years, culminating in the Roman siege of the mountaintop fortress of Masada.

Masada rises nearly fifteen-hundred feet above the dead sea, occupying the 18-acre plateau of a mountain described by modern Arabs as al-Sabba. “The Accursed”.

The rhomboid-shaped mesa was briefly settled around the time of the first temple (ca. 900BC), and fortified during the Hasmonean Dynasty of ancient Judaea. The plateau ends in steep cliffs falling some 1,300 feet to the east and about 300-feet on the western side. Already a natural fortress, Herod the Great equipped the place with a 13-foot wall some 1,300-feet in length, a barracks, armory and a cistern holding 200,000 gallons of water.

4d6e5b7865f7fe3f65d6c897db1ed696Masada remained the last remnant of Jewish rule in Palestine in 70, following the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the second temple.  A defending force of fewer than 1,000 (including women and children) held out for nearly two years as the 15,000-strong legions of General Flavius Silva placed stone upon stone, building the sloping ramp of earth and stone seen above.

In the end, Zealot defenders led by Eleazar ben Ya’ir, never had a chance.  Preferring death to enslavement, Josephus tells us of their drawing lots, each man bearing his throat to his comrade until there remained only one.

Mountaintop excavations in 1955-’56 and resumed in 1963-’66 support this version of the end, pottery shards bearing inscribed names, in Hebrew.

It was all over on this day in 73.  Two women and five children who had taken shelter in a water pipe, alone remained to tell the tale.

There would be two more Jewish-Roman wars:  Kitos War (115–117), sometimes called the “Rebellion of the Exile”, and the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132 through 135. The wars had a cataclysmic impact on the Jewish people, the resulting diaspora transforming a major Eastern Mediterranean population to a scattered and persecuted minority.

The Jewish people would not reestablish a major presence in the Levant until the State of Israel was constituted, in 1948.

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Old City of Jerusalem
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March 19, 1227 The Catapocalypse

The effect of the papal Bull, was as a commandment.  “Thou shalt not suffer a cat, to live”.

In the early 1330s, a deadly plague broke out on the steppes of Mongolia. The gram-negative bacterium Yersinia Pestis preyed heavily on rodents, whose fleas would transmit the disease to people, the infection then rapidly spreading to others. High fever would precede the appearance of “buboes”, a painful swelling of the lymph glands, especially in the armpit, neck and groin. Spots appeared on the skin turning from red to black, often accompanied by necrosis and gangrene in the nose, lips, fingers and toes.

In some cases, bubonic plague will progress from the lymphatic system to the lungs, resulting in pneumonic plague. Y. Pestis can progress to the blood system as well, a condition known as septicemic plague. In medieval times, septicemic mortality rates ran as high as 98%-100%.

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H/T Historythings.com

Plague broke out among a besieging force of Mongols on the Black Sea city of Caffa, in 1346. Italian merchants fled with their ships in the Spring of 1347, carrying in their holds an untold number of rats and the fleas which came with them.

The disease process unfolded with horrifying rapidity. The Italian writer Boccaccio wrote that plague victims often “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.”

This was the experience of individual sufferers.  So, what allowed the pandemic to spread with such rapidity?

The story begins one-hundred years earlier.  On this day in 1227, eighty-year-old Cardinal Ugolino di Conti was elected Supreme Pontiff, taking the name Pope Gregory IX.  Gregory’s papal ordination came at a time of spreading heresy, the earliest reverberations of what came to be known some three hundred years late, as the Protestant Reformation.

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Pope Gregory IX, H/T Historythings.com

The Waldenses, founded in 1170 by Peter Waldo, claimed that individuals could commune with directly with God. Other sects such as the Cathars followed similar beliefs. Such heresies challenged the authority of the One True Church, and could not be left unchecked.

Today, Gregory is best remembered for his organization of Canon law, the formalization of practices later forming the basis of the medieval inquisition. At the time, a more immediate problem was the rise of what were seen as satanic cults.

The German priest and nobleman Conrad of Marburg was an early leader in the persecution of heretics, claiming to have rooted out a number of Luciferian cults around the cities of Mainz and Hildesheim. The first Bull of the new papacy, the Vox in Rama, beseeched the bishops to come to Conrad’s aid, and went on to describe in some detail, the depraved rituals of such cults.

The devil at the center of it all was a shadowy figure, half man and half cat.

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A witch and her cat. Weird Tales, Vol 36. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons

From the mists of antiquity, the cat was worshiped as some kind of deity. The Vox reshaped the European view to where cats were now seen, as agents of hell.  The French theologian Alain de Lille piled on, falsely claiming the Cathar sect took its name from the animal and not the real source, the Greek katharoi or ‘pious ones’.

The effect was as a commandment.  “Thou shalt not suffer a cat, to live“.

The orgy of cruelty which followed, makes for some tough reading.  Cats were hurled from high cathedrals and set on fire, ritually tortured or summarily stomped or clubbed, to death.

In Denmark, the festival of Fastelavn held at the start of Lent, held that Spring would not come until evil, was banished from the land. Black cats were ritually beaten to death, to purge evil spirits. Cat killing became a folk practice all over Europe. During the festival of cats or Kattenstoet held in the Belgian city of Ypres, the custom was to hurl cats from the belfry of local churches, before setting them on fire. The hideous practice carried on until 1817 with live cats and continues to this day, only now, they’re stuffed.

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So it is that nature’s most efficient hunter of rodents was all but exterminated from the land, paving the way for the rat-borne apocalypse, to come.

One-third of the world’s population died in the rat-borne plague of 1347-’52.  It’s as if  over two billion were to sicken and die, today.

Feature image, top of page:  Hat tip historythings.com

 

A Trivial Matter
The term ‘Black Death’ was not adopted until some time later. For years, the plague was known as “the Pestilence” or simply “the Great Mortality”.

March 1, 1692 The Conduct of Public Affairs for Private Advantage

“Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage”. – Ambrose Bierce

On this day in 1692, three residents of Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were charged with the illegal practice of witchcraft.  Twelve-year-old Abigail Williams and ten-year-old Elizabeth Parris were ill with some unknown sickness, and accused the trio of biting and pinching the girls, and poking them with knitting needles.

Massachusetts Governor William Phips established “Courts of Oyer and Terminer” (to hear and determine) to hear the charges.  Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, and an Indian slave from Barbados named Tituba, being the first so accused.  Five men and fourteen women were hanged as witches over the following seven months.  As many as 17 more died in the tiny, freezing stone compartments which then passed for jail cells.

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H/T The Crucible. Accused

According to the law of the time, the accused were required to enter a plea.  Guilty or not guilty.  Without such a plea, there could be no trial.  On March 19, 72-year-old Martha Corey was arrested for witchcraft.  Martha’s husband, 81-year-old Giles Cory, was so caught up in the hysteria as to join in the accusations against his wife.  Until he himself was accused.

Martha Corey: “I, sir, am innocent to a witch. I know not what a witch is”.
Judge Hathorne: “If you know not what a witch is, how do you know you are not one?” ~ The Crucible

Corey refused to plead, so he was subjected to the “peine forte et dure”  (French:  “hard and forceful punishment”).  Stripped naked and placed under a board, Corey was tied spread-eagle on is back, his arms and legs secured, by cords.  Stones of increasing size were heaped on top, to extract his plea.  This torture went on for two days, the man given nothing but the “worst bread” on day one, and “standing” water, the following day.

Knowing his possessions would be forfeit to his tormentor in the event of conviction, Corey’s only response was “more weight”.

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Giles Corey’s persecutor was Essex County High Sheriff George Corwin, he who signed warrants for the arrest and execution of those condemned of witchcraft.  It was he who (conveniently) received the belongings, of those so condemned.  In the end, Corwin himself was standing atop the pile of stones, shoving Corey’s tongue back into his mouth, with a cane.

The end came on Monday September 19, around noon.  One witness remembered the old farmer’s last words:  “Damn you. I curse you and Salem!”  Martha Corey was hanged, three days later.

Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage”. – Ambrose Bierce

Even then, George Corwin came after Corey’s adult children, to extort money from the Corey farm.  What a guy.  In 1710, Corey’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband John Moulton filed a lawsuit, seeking damages.  Elizabeth’s statement to the court said, “After our father’s death the sheriff threatened to seize our father’s estate and for fear we complied with him and paid him eleven pound six shillings in money.”

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The hideous nature of Giles Corey’s death did much to cool the ardor, for the persecution of witches.  Governor Phips dissolved the Courts of Oyer and Terminer a month later, around the time his own wife was accused of witchcraft.

Afterward

This George Corwin character must have been some 14-carat SOB but, he would get what he had coming, in the end.  Four years after the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, the High Sheriff died of an apparent heart attack, at the age of 30.  Salem resident Phillip English was accused in the earlier madness, when Corwin seized his property.  English put a lien on the corpse and delayed its burial, until he could be reimbursed.   The lien was eventually satisfied, and the debt paid back.  How long George Corwin was left to rot, is unknown to this writer.

Sometime in the 1830s, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “W” to his name, distancing himself from his twice-great grandfather and Salem witch trial judge, John Hathorne.  It didn’t do a lick of good for the poor collection of oddballs and outcasts who would not survive the witchcraft hysteria of 1692.

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For three hundred years, nineteen innocents were believed to have been hanged on Gallows Hill.  You can visit Gallows Hill Park if you like, in modern-day Salem.  Today it’s more of a skate park, than historic site.  In 2016, the Gallows Hill Project of Salem State University determined the place to have been Proctor’s Ledge, not Gallows Hill.  It’s an interesting story in itself, for those inclined to read more.  Salem State’s story, is linked above.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

February 21, 1431 Joan of Arc

History has a way of demonstrating the truth of Taylor Owen’s adage on the subject of leadership: “An army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey.”

The Hundred Years’ War began as a succession dispute over the French throne, pitting an alliance of Burgundians and English on one side, against a coalition of Royalists led by the Armagnacs, on the other.

Europe was not far removed from the latest outbreak of the Black Death at this time, as the scorched earth tactics employed by the English army laid waste to the countryside and devastated the French economy.

Charles, Dauphin and heir apparent to the French throne was up against a wall, when a teenage peasant girl approached him in 1429.

For the 14-year-old boy-king, even listening to her was an act of desperation, borne of years of humiliating defeats at the hands of the English army. Yet, this illiterate peasant girl had made some uncanny predictions concerning battlefield achievements. Now she claimed to have had visions from God and the Saints, commanding her to help Charles gain the throne. Her name was Jeanne d’Arc.

The siege of Orléans was six months old at this time, when the Dauphin decided it couldn’t hurt to let her take part. She dressed herself in borrowed armor and set out, arriving on the 29th of April, 1429.

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History has a way of demonstrating the truth of Taylor Owen’s adage on the subject of leadership: “An army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey.” So it was in the days after Jeanne’s arrival at Orléans.

Time after time, Jeanne found herself excluded from war councils.  Yet she managed to insert herself anyway, putting the French back on the offensive and achieving one victory after another.

Nine days after her arrival, Orléans turned into an unexpected victory for the French.  Jeanne herself was shot through the neck and left shoulder by an English longbow, while holding a ladder at the siege of Tourelles.  The Dauphin granted her co-command of the army with Duke John II of Alençon. The French army enjoyed a string of successes, recovering Jargeau on June 12, Meung-sur-Loire on the 15th and Beaugency two days later, leading to a humiliating English defeat at the battle at Patay on the 18th.

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Several more Armagnac victories followed. On July 17, 1429, Charles was consecrated King Charles VII of France, fifth King of the House of Valois, with Jeanne at his side.

Despite her loyalty, Charles’ support began to falter.  Court favorite Georges de La Trémoille convinced the King that Jeanne was becoming too powerful. An archer pulled her from her horse during the siege of Compiègne in May, 1430, and her allies failed to come to her aid.

The town gates closed, leaving Jeanne on the outside.  She was captured and taken to the castle of Bouvreuil.

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Some 70 charges were made against her by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, including witchcraft, heresy, and dressing like a man.

The judge’s representatives were dispatched to Jeanne’s home village of Domremy, to ascertain the prisoner’s virginity, character, habits and associations. Nicolas Bailly, the man responsible for collecting testimony, reported he “had found nothing concerning Joan that he would not have liked to find about his own sister”.

This Bishop Cauchon must have been some piece of work. The report so angered the man, he called Bailly “a traitor and a bad man” and refused to pay him for his work.

Joan_of_arc_interrogationJean Le Maistre, whose presence as Vice-Inquisitor for Rouen was required by canon law, objected to the proceedings and refused to appear, until the English threatened his life.
Interrogation of the prisoner began on February 21, 1431. The outcome was never in doubt. Transcripts were falsified and witnesses intimidated. Even then, trial records reveal this illiterate peasant girl to be brighter than all her inquisitors, combined.

Here’s an example from Jeanne’s third interrogation: “Do you know whether or not you are in God’s grace?”  The question was a trap. Church doctrine stated that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace, yet a “no” answer would have been held against her. “If I am not”, she said, “may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace.”

After fifteen such interrogations, Jeanne’s inquisitors still had nothing on her, save for the wearing of soldier’s garb, and her visions. Yet, the outcome of her “trial” was already determined. She was found guilty of heresy, and sentenced to be burned at the stake. On May 24, Jeanne was taken to a scaffold. Threatened that she would be immediately burned alive if she didn’t disavow her visions and abjure the wearing of soldier’s clothing, Jeanne agreed to sign such an abjuration, but recanted four days later.

joanstilkestakeThe death sentence was carried out on May 30, 1431, in the old marketplace at Rouen. She was 19.

When the fire died, the coals were raked back to expose her charred body. No one would be able to claim she’d escaped alive. Her body was then burned twice more, so no one could collect the relics. Her ashes were then cast into a river.

Guillaume Manchon, one of the court scribes, later recalled: “And she was then dressed in male clothing, and was complaining that she could not give it up, fearing lest in the night her guards would inflict some act of [sexual] outrage upon her; and she had complained once or twice to the Bishop of Beauvais, the Vice-Inquisitor, and Master Nicholas Loiseleur that one of the aforesaid guards had tried to rape her.”

Her executioner, Geoffroy Therage, later said he “Greatly feared to be damned”.
An inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Calixtus III re-examined the evidence, 25 years later. The court exonerated her of all charges, pronouncing her innocent on July 7, 1456, later declaring her a Christian martyr.

Jean d'Arc execution

A National Heroine to the French, Joan of Arc was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, in 1920. It was small consolation for this child who had been set up for a fall by her enemies, and abandoned to be incinerated alive, by her friends.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

January 2, 1492 La Reconquista

A Christian military force under Pelagius,(aka “Pelayo”), the future first King of Asturias, met the invaders at “Covadonga”, meaning “Cavern of the Lady”.  The Arabic name for the place is “Sakhrat Bilāy” “the Rock of the Affliction”.  The two names tell the tale about the outcome, of the battle.

The manner by which Roderic ascended to the throne of the Visigothic Empire is unclear. His history as any other, was written by the victors.  Unbiased contemporary sources do not appear to exist. What Is known is that someone in the early 8th century Iberian Peninsula, thought Roderic an illegitimate King.

al-andalusThat someone appears to have gone to Mecca looking for help from the BanūʾUmayya, the “Sons of Umayya”, the second such center of Islamic power since the time of Muhammad and known to history as the Umayyad Caliphate.

In 711AD, a force of some 1,700 Arab and North African horsemen, the Berbers, landed on the Iberian Peninsula led by Tariq Ibn Ziyad.  384 years before the first Christian Crusade, the Umayyad conquest of Hispania was on.  Within ten years, most of what we now know as Portugal and Spain had become “al-Andalus”; five administrative districts under Muslim rule, save for the fringes of the Pyrenean mountains, and the highlands along the northwest coastline.

The first significant Christian victory and what may constitute the beginning of reconquest, “La Reconquista”, took place along that northern fringe. That sliver of Christianity was the Kingdom of Asturias. The refusal to pay the Jizya, the Muslim tax on “unbelievers”, brought them into conflict with an Umayyad force in the summer of 722.

A Christian military force under Pelagius, (aka “Pelayo”), the future first King of Asturias, met the invaders at a place called “Covadonga”, meaning “Cavern of the Lady”.  The Arabic name for the place is “Sakhrat Bilāy” “the Rock of the Affliction”.  The two names tell a tale about the outcome, of the battle.

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Covadonga

The Arab chronicles record Covadonga as a small skirmish while the Spanish record a great victory, but two things are near certain. In 770 years, no Muslims force ever returned to Asturias.  Without Pelagius’ victory at Covadonga, we’d almost certainly never have heard of Ferdinand and Isabella, let alone a certain Italian explorer whom the pair sent off in 1492, in search of a sea route to China.

It was close to 400 years before the crusading knights of Europe came to the aid of the Iberian Kings. With help from the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. Alfonso VI captured Toledo in 1085, beginning a long period of gradual Muslim decline.

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The Portuguese nation was a mere county in the early 12th century, dependent on the Crown of León and Castile, one Alfonso VII. His cousin, three year old Alfonso Henriques, followed his father as the Count of Portugal in 1122.

At the age of 14, the age of majority in the 12th century, the boy proclaimed himself a knight and raised an army against his cousin. The county’s people, church and nobles were demanding independence when, his cousin vanquished, Alfonso Henriques declared himself Prince of Portugal. Following ten years of near-constant fighting against Moors and rival Christian Kingdoms alike, Alfonso was unanimously proclaimed the King of an Independent Portugal on July 25, 1139.

Portugal would be annexed to Spain in 1580, regaining its independence sixty years later and leading many to believe that Portugal is the younger between the two countries. It isn’t so. Portugal was an independent, self-governing nation, more that 350 years before her Spanish neighbor.

Following the Christian re-conquest of Córdoba in 1236, the Emirate of Granada was all that was left of al-Andalus. Granada became a tributary state to the Kingdom of Castile two years later.  Finally, on this day in 1492, Emir Muhammad XII surrendered the Emirate of Granada to Queen Isabella I of Castile, and her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon.

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Ferdinand & Isabella. March 31, 1492 Edict of Expulsion

For the six years I’ve written “Today in History”, the first thing I do is search on a date, and select an interesting topic from the list.  To date, I’ve written about seven hundred. 

As I review these lists, I am perpetually surprised and not a little horrified, at the never ending recurrence of barbarity against the Jews of the world. It’s not the pogroms and the massacres which surprise me, but rather their appalling frequency, over 2,000 years.

The paroxysm of cruelty and paranoia now known as the Spanish Inquisition begun in 1478, was not a standalone event. In part, this passion for religious unity was the result of 700+ years of Muslim domination of the Iberian Peninsula. One of the early results of this manic drive for ideological purity was the Edict of Expulsion of 1492, resulting in the forced conversion of some quarter-million Spanish Jews, the “conversos“, and the expulsion of as many as 100,000 more.

Untold numbers lived lives of “marranos” (from the Hebrew marit ayin: “the appearance of the eye”), secretly practicing Jews forced on pain of death, to adopt the outward signs of Christianity.

Maimon-Marrans

This date, originally selected to signify Ferdinand and Isabella’s final defeat of the Islamic conquest of Spain, has yet another significance. It is only within living memory that descendants of Spanish Jews, the Sephardim, have returned in any significant numbers to their homeland. The first native Jewish child born in Spain since Christopher Columbus discovered America, was born on this day, January 2, 1966.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

December 24, 1822 A Right Jolly old Elf

Santa Claus may be the most powerful cultural idea, ever conceived.  This year, Christmas sales are expected to exceed one Trillion dollars.  Not bad for a 2,000-year old saint, best remembered for gift giving with no expectation of anything in return.

The historical life of St. Nicholas is shrouded in legend.  Born in modern-day Turkey on March 15, AD270, Nicholas was the only child of rich parents who died in a plague, leaving the boy a wealthy orphan.

St. Nicholas going to school
1689 fresco depicts St. Nicholas, giving to a school

Nicholas was raised in the Christian faith and became an early bishop in the Greek church. One of many stories concerning the bishop’s generosity involves a destitute father, unable to raise a dowry sufficient to marry off his three daughters. On two consecutive nights, Nicholas crept up to the man’s window, and dropped a small sack of gold coins. On the third night, the man stayed up to learn the identity of his secret benefactor, only to be asked to keep the name, secret. 

St. Nicholas saving the Three Maidens
St. Nicholas saving the Three Maidens, Decani monastery, Kosovo

Saint Nicholas passed on December 6 in the year 343. He’s entombed in a marble cathedral dedicated to his name, in Myra.

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The “Sinterklass” of the Netherlands, rides a white horse

Nicholas is remembered as the patron saint of whole nations and cities such as Amsterdam and Moscow, revered among the early Christian saints and remembered for a legendary habit of secret gift-giving.

Some ideas take hold in the popular imagination, while others fade into obscurity.  The “Three Daughters” episode made it into nearly every artistic medium available at that time, from frescoes to carvings and windows, even theatrical performances.

The Patron Saint not only of sailors, but of ships and their cargoes, the seas were the internet of the day, and the story of St. Nick spread from the Balkans to Holland, from England to Crete.

Krampus-340x540The Feast of St. Nicholas took hold around the 6th of December.  Children and other marginal groups such as old women and slaves could receive gifts, but only by demanding them.  The secret giving of gifts appeared sometime around the year 1200.

On the continent, legends of St. Nicholas combined with Pagan traditions and developed in quirky directions, including an evil doppelgänger who accompanies St. Nick on his rounds.  As early as the 11th century, the Krampus may be expected to snatch bad little tykes away from parts of Germany, Austria and the Alpine villages of northern Italy, never to be seen again.

In eastern Europe, the witch Frau Perchta “The Disemboweller” was said to place pieces of silver in the shoes of children and servants who’d been good over the year, and replace the organs of the bad ones, with garbage. Yikes.

In French-speaking regions, Père Fouettard (Father Whipper) accompanies Père Noël on gift-giving rounds, dispensing beatings and/or lumps of coal to naughty boys & girls. In some German speaking regions, the malevolent Schmutzli accompanies Samichlaus, with a twig broom to spank wicked children.

Never mind Santa Claus. The Schmutzli is watching.

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Samichlaus and the Schmutzli

The “Little Ice Age” of the 13th century, led to a proliferation of chimneys.  Windows and doors were the things of thieves and vagabonds, while the chimney led directly to the warm heart of the home.  St. Nick made his first gift-giving appearance via the chimney in a three daughters fresco, painted sometime in 1392, in Serbia.

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The Ghost of Christmas present as illustrated by John Leech, in Charles Dickens’ classic, a Christmas Carol

St. Nicholas was beginning to be seen as part of the family outside of the Church, which is probably why he survived what came next.  Saints reigned in the Christian world until the 16th century, when the Protestant reformation rejected such “idolatry” as a corruption of Christianity.

Whatever you called him:  Sinterklaos, Saint-Nikloi or Zinniklos, St. Nick went away entirely in England and Scotland during the time of Henry VIII, giving way to the spirit of Christmas cheer in the person of one Father Christmas.  England would no longer keep the feast of the Saint on December 6.  The celebration moved to December 25, to coincide with Christmas.

Protestants adopted as gift bringer the Baby Jesus or Christkindl, later morphing into Kris Kringle.

Puritan arrivals to New England rejected Christmas and everything with it, as “un-Christian”.  In 1644, Massachusetts levied a fine of five shillings, on anyone observing the holiday.

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Santa Claus 1863, by Thomas Nast

Sinterklaas survived the iconoclasm of the Reformation in places like Holland, transferring to the 17th century settlement of New Amsterdam:  what we now know as the new world port city of New York.

Sinterklass blended with Father Christmas, to create a distinctly American Santeclaus, which began to take hold in the 19th century.

The Christmas “celebrations” of the period, looked more like Mardi Gras than what we know today.  Drunk and rowdy gangs wandered the streets of New York, Philadelphia and the cities of the northeast, something between a noisy mob and a marching band.  Men fired guns into the air and banged or blew on anything that would make noise.  Mobs would beat up the unfortunate, and break into the homes of the “upper classes”, demanding food and liquor.

New York philanthropist John Pintard, the man responsible for the holidays celebrating the fourth of July and George Washington’s birthday, popularized an image first set forth by Washington Irving, in his satirical story A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker, depicting St. Nicholas bringing gifts to good little boys and girls, and switches with which to tan the hides of bad kids.

220px-MerryOldSantaThe unknown genius who published and illustrated A Children’s Friend in 1821, first depicted “Santa Claus” not as a Catholic bishop, but as a non-sectarian adult in a fur lined robe, complete with a sleigh inexplicably powered by a single reindeer, coming in through the chimney not on December 6, but on Christmas eve.

An anonymous poem believed to have been written on December 24, 1822 and later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, began with the words: “T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house“…

A Visit From St. Nicholas“, better known by its first line, gave us the first description of the modern Santa Claus and a tool for domesticating the occasion, agreeable to law enforcement for calming the rowdy streets, to manufacturers and retailers for selling goods, to the church to make way for a family friendly day of worship and to parents, to control unruly children.

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Goody Santa Claus 1889

The “Right Jolly old Elf” took his modern form thanks to the pen of illustrator and editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast, creator of the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant and scourge of the Tammany Hall political machine which had swindled New York city, out of millions.

The idea of a Mrs. Claus seems to come from a poem by Katharine Lee Bates of the Cape Cod Curmudgeon’s own town of Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Today, the author is best known for her 1895  poem “Pikes Peak”, later set to music and widely known as “America the Beautiful”.

Tonight, NASA may be expected to track Santa and his sleigh drawn by eight reindeer, though none are any longer, all that tiny.  Santa Claus will appear around the planet. Regional variations include Santa’s arriving on a surfboard in Hawaii.  In Australia, he’s pulled by six white kangaroos.  In Cajun country, Papa Noël arrives in a pirogue, drawn by eight alligators.

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Santa Claus may be the most powerful cultural idea, ever conceived.  This year, Christmas sales are expected to exceed one Trillion dollars.  Not bad for a 2,000-year old saint, best remembered for gift giving with no expectation of anything in return.

Fun fact:  Today, the port city of Bari on the Adriatic coast of Italy is remembered for the WW2-era mustard gas accident, which spawned the discovery of modern chemotherapy drugs. A thousand years earlier, city fathers feared growing Muslim influence over the tomb of Saint Nicholas, and went to retrieve his remains.  Find him, they did.  Saint Nicholas’ large bones were removed and brought back as holy relics to Bari, where they remain, to this day.  Smaller fragments were removed during the 1st Crusade and brought back to Venice, or enshrined in basilica from Moscow to Normandy.  According to one local antiquarian, the “Tomb of Saint Nicholas” in Ireland, is probably that of a local priest.

Feature image, top of page:  Hat tip GP Cox.  I don’t know where you got it, but I Love this image.  Merry Christmas and all the best for a healthy and prosperous New Year to you and yours, from Mr. & Mrs. Cape Cod Curmudgeon.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

November 22, 1307 Friday the 13th

On Friday the 13th of October, 1307, King Philip IV of France sent out his arrest warrant, against the knights Templar.  Under pressure from the French King, Pope Clement issued the bull “Pastoralis praeeminentiae” on November 22, instructing Christian monarchs throughout Europe to arrest Templar officials and seize their assets. Within a couple of years, the order had ceased to exist.

From the dawn of Christianity, faithful believers have traveled from the length and breadth of Europe to the Holy City of Jerusalem, to renew and affirm a lifelong faith in scripture.

The Rashidun Caliphate captured the Holy City in 637, following a long siege.  Except for an 88-year period following the first crusade in 1099, the Temple Mount in the old city has been under Islamic administration, from that day to this.

Nevertheless, the number of these pilgrims increased over time.  Many suffered robbery and even murder at the hands of Muslim fanatics, who considered it their Islamic duty to kill the “Infidel”.

47e7896055de65697d83aba928ae90ca--knights-templar-symbols-the-knightThe French knight Hugues de Payens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1119, with a proposal.  He would create a monastic order of warrior knights to protect these pilgrims, to be headquartered in a wing of the recaptured Al Aqsa Mosque, built on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon.

They were monks and they were warriors, “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”.   For 200 years, these “Knights Templar” provided for the safe passage of Christian pilgrims.

The original nine knights of the order lived up to the “poor knights” part of their name, relying on financial donations for their survival.  So destitute were they that their emblem showed two knights riding a single horse.

That would change.

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In time, the Templars gained favored charity status, their new-found wealth helping them to found an early banking system. Pilgrims to the holy land could deposit gold coins in Paris and take them out in Jerusalem, or vice-versa.  The knights Templar achieved vast wealth in this manner, at their height running over 800 castles, every one of which ran as a full service banking institution, financing military campaigns and shoring up the treasuries of Kings.

Following what must have seemed a never ending series of wars with the English King, Philip IV of France found himself deeply in debt to the Templars.  In 1307, he needed to wriggle out of it.

It was Friday the 13th of October that year, when Philip sent out his arrest warrant.  Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and scores of other French Templars were simultaneously arrested. Charges included everything from obscene secret rituals to financial fraud. “Confessions” were extracted by torture.

Quema herejes Edad MediaUnder pressure from the French King, Pope Clement issued the bull “Pastoralis praeeminentiae” on November 22, instructing Christian monarchs throughout Europe to arrest Templar officials and seize their assets.

Thousands of knights fled to areas outside Papal control.  Some were burned at the stake, or absorbed into the rival Knights Hospitaller. Within a couple of years, the order had ceased to exist.

Some will tell you that’s where the Friday 13th superstition began.  Others say it goes back to the Friday when Eve offered Adam that forbidden apple, or the Friday crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Ancient Egyptians and Chinese believed the number 13 brought good luck, but some actually fear Friday the 13th.  It’s called “Friggatriskaidekaphobia”.

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People in Spanish-speaking countries will tell you it’s the 13-part that brings bad luck, but for most, it’s Friday.  At least one psychotherapist asserts that 21 million Americans are afraid of Friday the 13th.

Smithsonian Magazine reports that fear of the number 13 costs the United States a Billion dollars a year in absenteeism, train and plane cancellations and related commerce on the 13th of the month.

FDR avoided dinner parties with 13 guests.  In France, there are professional 14th party guests called “quatorzieme“.  I wonder how you get that job.

Who knows, maybe thirteen really is bad luck.  There are 13 steps leading to the gallows, where the condemned meets the 13 knots of the hangman’s noose.  The guillotine’s blade falls 13 feet.  Diana hit the 13th pillar at Place d’Alma.  Tupac was shot on Friday the 13th, and Fidel Castro was born on one.

So knock on wood, and cross your fingers.  Watch out for black cats.  Don’t look at the full moon through a pane of glass, and be sure throw salt over your shoulder.  You’ll be fine.

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If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.