Young Osama bin Ladin (second from the right, in blue bell bottoms) vacationing with his family in Sweden in the early 1970s.
This arresting image of the young conformistically Western counter-cultural Osama happily posing in the midst of a family shopping expedition in Sweden completely undermines the authenticity of the older bin Ladin’s self-assumed role of warrior-prophet. The photo demonstrates that Osama bin Lain was never anything but a spoiled, rich and thoroughly Westernized resident of the modern world using old-time cultural stereotypes to glamorize a cynical and calculated program of terrorism aimed at accessing personal political power.
This kind of opportunistic reversion to a deep-in-culture primitive image of leadership is actually a tactic we’ve seen before. The astute Winston Churchill recognized Ghandi as another practitioner of the same kind of fraud.
“It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor.”
—Winston Churchill, 1930
Greg Satell, at Forbes, I think, accurately identifies Vladimir Putin’s motive in occupying the Crimea.
Crimea looms large in Russian history. It was the site of the Crimean War fought in the 1850’s against the French, British and Ottoman Empire . Although Russia lost, the bravery of its soldiers is still a source of Russian pride, much like The Alamo in Texas. Its resort city of Yalta hosted the famous talks between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill.
Yet Russia’s interests in Crimea go far beyond nostalgia. As important as the region is for Russian pride, as the map below shows it looms even larger in the geopolitics of the region.
The naval base at Sevastopol, on Crimea’s southwestern tip, is Russia’s only warm water port and its primary means of extending force through the Mediterranean. It has been alleged that the port city has been used extensively to supply Bashar al-Assad throughout the current civil war in Syria.
And while the lease agreement with Ukraine regarding the base remains valid until 2047, the majority of the Black Sea coastline is held by NATO allies except for Georgia on the east, which is actively seeking NATO membership, and Ukraine in the north.
Put simply, without a naval base in Crimea Russia is finished as a global military power.
Julia Ioffe notes the additional key consideration: that no one can stop him. Certainly not Barack Obama.
Why is Putin doing this? Because he can. That’s it, that’s all you need to know. The situation in Kiev—in which people representing one half of the country (the Ukrainian-speaking west) took power to some extent at the expense of the Russian-speaking east—created the perfect opportunity for Moscow to divide and conquer. As soon as the revolution in Kiev happened, there was an unhappy rumbling in the Crimea, which has a large Russian population and is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It was a small rumbling, but just big enough for Russia to exploit. And when such an opportunity presents itself, one would be foolish not to take it, especially if one’s name is Vladimir Putin. ...
Putin, sees the world according to his own logic, and the logic goes like this: it is better to be feared than loved, it is better to be overly strong than to risk appearing weak, and Russia was, is, and will be an empire with an eternal appetite for expansion. And it will gather whatever spurious reasons it needs to insulate itself territorially from what it still perceives to be a large and growing NATO threat.
What we don’t know, at this point, is whether Russia will contentedly gobble down the Crimea and stop, the way it did in the case of Georgia, or whether Russia will go on to occupy and annex Eastern Ukraine or the entire country.
If Russia simply takes the Crimea, Ukraine loses a nice vacation land and a semi-autonomous portion of territory to which it had only a pretty modest historical claim. Ukraine only acquired the Crimea as a gift by Nikita Krushchev in 1954. If Crimea had a legitimate historical owner, that would be the Crimean Tartars, conquered by Tsarist Russia in 1783, then deported en masse by Stalin in 1944 for collaborating with the German Occupation.
So, if Russia takes back and gets to keep its key warm water naval port, what does that really mean. A scene comes to mind from the late 1970s, when I was fresh out of Yale, and was working on war games at Simulation Publications in New York for the great Jim Dunnigan. The news of the day involved the contrast between some recent dramatic Soviet naval expansion and a further reduction of the US Navy’s budget by the peanut farmer.
The development team was sitting around a large table discussing current events gloomily and debating whether our next game should be a grand scale US versus Soviets Naval game. The arguments, as always, flew hotly back and forth, but finally one of the older and most cynical grognards called out: “OK, when was the last time Russia won a naval battle?”
We had a room full of military history buffs, all of whom were thrown basically for a loop. You could almost hear the gears spinning and smell the wiring overheating as we all racked our memories.
After a while, one very knowledgeable man suggested the 1827 Battle of Navarino during the Greek War for Independence. But, no, another expert objected: the Russians formed only a portion of an Allied fleet, and were effectively under British command.
The next best suggestion referred vaguely to Russian warships beating the Turks while under the command of Rear Admiral John Paul Jones in 1787 or 1788. At which point, the whole table broke up in laughter at the idea of what would happen to a Russian Navy with a centuries long tradition of not very much were it ever to encounter the US Navy, equipped with an enormously long tradition of victory.
Let Putin have Sevastopol. If Russia really needs to be a significant naval power in order to be a Global Power, Russia is still going to be out of luck.
Galgano Guidotti was born in 1148, the son of a minor noble, and one of those punk, no-good young knights constantly looking for trouble and worldly pleasures. One day when he least expected it, Archangel Michael appeared before him and showed him the way to salvation, and kindly provided him with directions as well. Next day, Sir Galgano announced that he was going to become a hermit and took up residence in a cave. His friends and relatives ridiculed him, and Dionisia, his mother, bade him to wear his expensive nobleman’s clothes and at least pay a last visit to his fiancée. On his way there, his horse reared, throwing Galgano. Spitting road dust, he suddenly felt as if he was being lifted to his feet by an invisible force, and a seraphic voice and a will he was unable to resist led him to Monte Siepi, a rugged hill close to his home town of Chiusdino.
The voice bade him to stand still and look at the top of the hill; Galgano saw a round temple with Jesus and Mary surrounded by the Apostles. The voice told him to climb the hill, and while doing so, the vision faded. When he reached the top the voice spoke again, inviting him to renounce his loose, easy living. Galgano replied that it was easier said than done, about as easy as splitting a rock with a sword. To prove his point, he drew his blade and thrust at the rocky ground. With an ease that would impress even cinderblock-splitting sword dealers at Renaissance fairs, the sword penetrated the living bedrock to the hilt. Galgano got the message, and took up permanent residence on that hill as a humble hermit. He led a life in poverty, visited by the occasional peasant looking for a blessing. He befriended wild animals, and once, when the Devil sent an assassin in the guise of a monk, the wild wolves living with Galgano attacked the killer and, according to legend, “gnawed his bones.”
Galgano Guidotti died in 1181, at the age of 33 years, and was canonized four years later. His funeral was a major event, attended by bishops and three Cistercian abbots, including one who had got lost while on his way to Rome. The next year, the Bishop of Volterra gave Monte Siepi to the Cistercian monks, aware that they would build a shrine to Galgano’s memory. They began building in 1185, erecting a round chapel that became known as the Cappella di Monte Siepi, on the hill above the main abbey, with the sword forming the centerpiece.
The Cappella offers a breathtaking view of the Abbey, the neighboring buildings and the beautiful surrounding countryside. Galgano’s body was for some reason lost after the funeral, although his head, which is said to have grown golden curls for many years following his death, was placed in one side chapel, and the chewed bones of the arms of the assassin in another. Saint Galgano’s head is preserved as a relic in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Siena, while the skeletal arms are still in place. The crowds of pilgrims were so numerous that the Cistercians were authorized to build another monastery named after the Saint a short distance away. It was to be one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Italy, and one of the Cistercians’ two largest Italian foundations. The monastery soon became both powerful and respected. Monks from San Galgano were appointed to high offices throughout Tuscany. In the 14th century, a Gothic side chapel was added to the original Romanesque Cappella, and in the 18th century a rectory was added. The side chapel has the remains of some frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, including a faint picture of Galgano offering the sword in the stone to Saint Michael. The Abbey was sacked by the (in)famous English mercenary captain Sir John Hawkwood and his White Company, and by 1397 the abbot was its only inhabitant. The Abbey deteriorated over the centuries, becoming the impressive ruins seen today.
“Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad Company.”
—From a set of maxims which Washington copied out in his own hand as a boy: “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.”
Jacopo Bassano, St Valentine Baptizing St Lucilla, 1575, oil on canvas, Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa
The popular customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e., half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair. Thus in Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules we read:
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
For this reason the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers’ tokens. Both the French and English literatures of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries contain allusions to the practice. Perhaps the earliest to be found is in the 34th and 35th Ballades of the bilingual poet, John Gower, written in French; but Lydgate and Clauvowe supply other examples. Those who chose each other under these circumstances seem to have been called by each other their Valentines.
In the Paston Letters, Dame Elizabeth Brews writes thus about a match she hopes to make for her daughter (we modernize the spelling), addressing the favoured suitor:
And, cousin mine, upon Monday is Saint Valentine’s Day and every bird chooses himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.
From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869: Feast Day: St. Valentine, priest and martyr, circ. 270.
ST. VALENTINE’S DAY
Valentine’s Day is now almost everywhere a much degenerated festival, the only observance of any note consisting merely of the sending of jocular anonymous letters to parties whom one wishes to quiz, and this confined very much to the humbler classes. The approach of the day is now heralded by the appearance in the print-sellers’ shop windows of vast numbers of missives calculated for use on this occasion, each generally consisting of a single sheet of post paper, on the first page of which is seen some ridiculous coloured caricature of the male or female figure, with a few burlesque verses below. More rarely, the print is of a sentimental kind, such as a view of Hymen’s altar, with a pair undergoing initiation into wedded happiness before it, while Cupid flutters above, and hearts transfixed with his darts decorate the corners. Maid-servants and young fellows interchange such epistles with each other on the 14th of February, no doubt conceiving that the joke is amazingly good: and, generally, the newspapers do not fail to record that the London postmen delivered so many hundred thousand more letters on that day than they do in general. Such is nearly the whole extent of the observances now peculiar to St. Valentine’s Day.
At no remote period it was very different. Ridiculous letters were unknown: and, if letters of any kind were sent, they contained only a courteous profession of attachment from some young man to some young maiden, honeyed with a few compliments to her various perfections, and expressive of a hope that his love might meet with return. But the true proper ceremony of St. Valentine’s Day was the drawing of a kind of lottery, followed by ceremonies not much unlike what is generally called the game of forfeits. Misson, a learned traveller, of the early part of the last century, gives apparently a correct account of the principal ceremonial of the day.
‘On the eve of St. Valentine’s Day,’ he says, ‘the young folks in England and Scotland, by a very ancient custom, celebrate a little festival. An equal number of maids and bachelors get together: each writes their true or some feigned name upon separate billets, which they roll up, and draw by way of lots, the maids taking the men’s billets, and the men the maids’: so that each of the young men lights upon a girl that he calls his valentine, and each of the girls upon a young man whom she calls hers. By this means each has two valentines: but the man sticks faster to the valentine that has fallen to him than to the valentine to whom he is fallen. Fortune having thus divided the company into so many couples, the valentines give balls and treats to their mistresses, wear their billets several days upon their bosoms or sleeves, and this little sport often ends in love.’
St. Valentine’s Day is alluded to by Shakespeare and by Chaucer, and also by the poet Lydgate (who died in 1440).
The origin of these peculiar observances of St. Valentine’s Day is a subject of some obscurity. The saint himself, who was a priest of Rome, martyred in the third century, seems to have had nothing to do with the matter, beyond the accident of his day being used for the purpose. Mr. Douce, in his Illustrations of Shakespeare, says:
“It was the practice in ancient Rome, during a great part of the month of February, to celebrate the Lupercalia, which were feasts in honour of Pan and Juno. whence the latter deity was named Februata, Februalis, and Februlla. On this occasion, amidst a variety of ceremonies, the names of young women were put into a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed. The pastors of the early Christian church, who, by every possible means, endeavoured to eradicate the vestiges of pagan superstitions, and chiefly by some commutations of their forms, substituted, in the present instance, the names of particular saints instead of those of the women: and as the festival of the Lupercalia had commenced about the middle of February, they appear to have chosen St. Valentine’s Day for celebrating the new feast, because it occurred nearly at the same time.”
February 14th, prior to 1969, was the feast day of two, or possibly three, saints and martyrs named Valentine, all reputedly of the Third Century.
The first Valentine, legend holds, was a physician and priest in Rome, arrested for giving aid to martyrs in prison, who while there converted his jailer by restoring sight to the jailer’s daughter. He was executed by being beaten with clubs, and afterwards beheaded, February 14, 270. He is traditionally the patron of affianced couples, bee keepers, lovers, travellers, young people, and greeting card manufacturers, and his special assistance may be sought in conection with epilepsy, fainting, and plague.
A second St. Valentine, reportedly bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) was also allegedly martyred under Claudius II, and also allegedly buried along the Flaminian Way.
A third St. Valentine is said to have also been martyred in Roman times, along with companions, in Africa.
Because of a lack of historical evidence, the Roman Catholic Church dropped the February 14th feast of St. Valentine from its calendar in 1969.
Cornelius Vanderbilt built NYC’s first subway in 1841 in order to bring steam locomotives carrying Long Island Railroad passengers from Brooklyn into Manhattan wile bypassing the traffic-filled Court Street and Atlantic Avenue intersection underground. As the Verge notes: “The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel holds the Guinness world record for “oldest subway tunnel,” predating the Tremont Street subway in Boston from 1897, the 312-foot Beach Pneumatic Transit tunnel in Manhattan from 1869, and the first subway in the London Underground, which was built in 1863.”
Walt Whitman memorialized the tunnel’s closure in 1861 (after Brooklyn banned steam locomotives within its city limits): “The old tunnel, that used to lie there under ground, a passage of Acheron-like solemnity and darkness, now all closed and filled up, and soon to be utterly forgotten, with all its reminiscences.”
Reputedly, the 1611-foot-long tunnel was reopened decades later for growing mushrooms, and used during Prohibition for boot-legging, but it had remained closed and forgotten for many, many years when Bob Diamond, a local amateur archaeologist, persuaded the Brooklyn Union Gas Company to open one of its manholes and allow him to explore.
Diamond broke through a concrete wall and constructed his own staircase giving access to the tunnel, and operated his own small-scale business for 30 years, taking people (through the original man-hole) on tours of the historic tunnel.
At the end of 2010, however, jealousy of somebody else making a dollar out of an asset over which they could claim control provoked the city authorities to shut down Diamond’s tours, closing off access to the historic tunnel permanently, on the basis of safety concerns. (No one had been injured in the course of 30 years of Diamond’s operations.)
Tintoretto, Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, 1550-1555, Gallerie dell Accademi, Venice
From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:
From a very early, indeed unknown date in the Christian history, the 2nd of February has been held as the festival of the Purification of the Virgin, and it is still a holiday of the Church of England. From the coincidence of the time with that of the Februation or purification of the people in pagan Rome, some consider this as a Christian festival engrafted upon a heathen one, in order to take advantage of the established habits of the people; but the idea is at least open to a good deal of doubt. The popular name Candlemass is derived from the ceremony which the Church of Rome dictates to be observed on this day; namely, a blessing of candles by the clergy, and a distribution of them amongst the people, by whom they are afterwards carried lighted in solemn procession. The more important observances were of course given up in England at the Reformation; but it was still, about the close of the eighteenth century, customary in some places to light up churches with candles on this day.
At Rome, the Pope every year officiates at this festival in the beautiful chapel of the Quirinal. When he has blessed the candles, he distributes them with his own hand amongst those in the church, each of whom, going singly up to him, kneels to receive it. The cardinals go first; then follow the bishops, canons, priors, abbots, priests, &c., down to the sacristans and meanest officers of the church. According to Lady Morgan, who witnessed the ceremony in 1820:
‘When the last of these has gotten his candle, the poor conservatori, the representatives of the Roman senate and people, receive theirs. This ceremony over, the candles are lighted, the Pope is mounted in his chair and carried in procession, with hymns chanting, round the ante-chapel; the throne is stripped of its splendid hangings; the Pope and cardinals take off their gold and crimson dresses, put on their usual robes, and the usual mass of the morning is sung.’
Lady Morgan mentions that similar ceremonies take place in all the parish churches of Rome on this day.
It appears that in England, in Catholic times, a meaning was attached to the size of the candles, and the manner in which they burned during the procession; that, moreover, the reserved parts of the candles were deemed to possess a strong supernatural virtue:
‘This done, each man his candle lights,
Where chiefest seemeth he,
Whose taper greatest may be seen; And fortunate to be,
Whose candle burneth clear and bright: A wondrous force and might
Both in these candles lie, which if At any time they light,
They sure believe that neither storm Nor tempest cloth abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard, Nor any devil’s spide,
Nor fearful sprites that walk by night,
Nor hurts of frost or hail,’ &c.
The festival, at whatever date it took its rise, has been designed to commemorate the churching or purification of Mary; and the candle-bearing is understood to refer to what Simeon said when he took the infant Jesus in his arms, and declared that he was a light to lighten the Gentiles. Thus literally to adopt and build upon metaphorical expressions, was a characteristic procedure of the middle ages. Apparently, in consequence of the celebration of Mary’s purification by candle-bearing, it became customary for women to carry candles with them, when, after recovery from child-birth, they went to be, as it was called, churched. A remarkable allusion to this custom occurs in English history. William the Conqueror, become, in his elder days, fat and unwieldy, was confined a considerable time by a sickness. ‘Methinks,’ said his enemy the King of France, ‘the King of England lies long in childbed.’ This being reported to William, he said, ‘When I am churched, there shall be a thousand lights in France !’ And he was as good as his word; for, as soon as he recovered, he made an inroad into the French territory, which he wasted wherever he went with fire and sword.
At the Reformation, the ceremonials of Candlemass day were not reduced all at once. Henry VIII proclaimed in 1539:
‘On Candlemass day it shall be declared, that the bearing of candles is done in memory of Christ, the spiritual light, whom Simeon did prophesy, as it is read in. the church that day.’
It is curious to find it noticed as a custom down to the time of Charles II, that when lights were brought in at nightfall, people would say—’ God send us the light of heaven!’ The amiable Herbert, who notices the custom, defends it as not superstitious. Some-what before this time, we find. Herrick alluding to the customs of Candlemass eve: it appears that the plants put up in houses at Christmas were now removed.
Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly now upraise The greener box for show.
The holly hitherto did sway,
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter day Or Easter’s eve appear.
The youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin’, To honour Whitsuntide.
Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments, To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing in turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.’
The same poet elsewhere recommends very particular care in the thorough removal of the Christmas garnishings on this eve:
‘That so the superstitious find
No one least branch left there behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.’
He also alludes to the reservation of part of the candles or torches, as calculated to have the effect of protecting from mischief:
‘Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn,
Which quenched, then lay it up again, Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept, wherewith to tend
The Christmas log next year;
And where ‘tis safely kept, the fiend Can do no mischief there.’
Considering the importance attached to Candlemass day for so many ages, it is scarcely surprising that there is a universal superstition throughout Christendom, that good weather on this day indicates a long continuance of winter and a bad crop, and that its being foul is, on the contrary, a good omen. Sir Thomas Browne, in his “Vulgar Errors,” quotes a Latin distich expressive of this idea:
‘Si sol splendescat Maria purificante,
Major erit glacies post festum quam fait ante;
which maybe considered as well translated in the popular Scottish rhyme:
If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
The half o’ winter’s to come and mair;
If Candlemass day be wet and foul,
The half o’ winter’s gave at Yule.’
In Germany there are two proverbial expressions on this subject: 1. The shepherd would rather see the wolf enter his stable on Candlemass day than the sun; 2. The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemass day, and when he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining, he draws back into his hole. It is not improbable that these notions, like the festival of Candlemass itself, are derived from pagan times, and have existed since the very infancy of our race. So at least we may conjecture, from a curious passage in Martin’s Description of the Western Islands. On Candlemass day, according to this author, the Hebrideans observe the following curious custom:
The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up in women’s apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call BrÏd’s Bed.; and then the mistress and servants cry three times, “BrÏd is come; BrÏd is welcome!” This they do just before going to bed, and when they rise in the morning they look among the ashes, expecting to see the impression of Brad’s club there; which, if they do, they reckon it a true presage of a good crop and prosperous year, and the contrary they take as an ill omen.
Groundhog Day is obviously a modern, commercialized New World adaptation of the earlier weather traditions associated with the Christian feast day with the groundhog replacing the badger.
“For the people. And truly I desire their Liberty and Freedom as much as any Body whomsoever. But I must tell you, That their Liberty and Freedom, consists in having of Government; those Laws, by which their Life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government, Sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a soveraign are clean different things, and therefore until they do that, I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.
Sirs, It was for this that now I Am come here. If I would have given way to an Arbitrary way, for to have all Laws changed according to the power of the Sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore, I tell you, (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) That I Am the Martyr of the People.”
King Charles I, executed by left-wing totalitarians, 30 January 1649.
He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe’s edge did try;
Nor call’d the gods with vulgar spite
To vindicate his helpless right,
But bowed his comely head
Down as upon a bed.
This was that memorable hour
Which first assur’d the forced pow’r.
So when they did design
The Capitol’s first line,
A bleeding head, where they begun,
Did fright the architects to run.
Born: Richard II, King of England, 1366; Joan d’Arc, 1402; Peter Metastasio, poet, 1698; Benjamin Franklin, philosopher, Boston, U.S., 1706; David Dale, philanthropist, 1739; George Thomas Doo, engraver, 1800.
Feast Day: St. Melanius, bishop, 490. St. Nilammon, Hermit. St. Peter, abbot of St. Austin’s, Canterbury, 608.
This day, called Twelfth-Day, as being in that number after Christmas, and Epiphany from the Greek ‘‘ΕπιΦáνєια‘’, signifying appearance, is a festival of the Church, in commemoration of the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles; more expressly to the three Magi, or Wise Men of the East, who came, led by a star, to worship him immediately after his birth. (Matt. ii. 1-12.) The Epiphany appears to have been first observed as a separate feast in the year 813. Pope Julius I is, however, reputed to have taught the Church to distinguish the Feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany, so early as about the middle of the fourth century.
The primitive Christians celebrated the Feast of the Nativity for twelve days, observing the first and last with great solemnity; and both of these days were denominated Epiphany, the first the greater Epiphany, from our Lord having on that day become Incarnate, or made his appearance in “the flesh;” the latter, the lesser Epiphany, from the three-fold manifestation of His Godhead—the first, by the appearance of the blazing star which conducted Melchior, Jasper, and Balthuzar, the three Magi, or wise men, commonly styled the three Kings of Cologne, out of the East, to worship the Messiah, and to offer him presents of “Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh”—Melchior the Gold, in testimony of his royalty as the promised King of the Jews; Jasper the Frankincense, in token of his Divinity; and Balthuzar the Myrrh, in allusion to the sorrows which, in the humiliating condition of a man, our Redeemer vouchsafed to take upon him: the second, of the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of a Dove, at the Baptism: and the third, of the first miracle of our Lord turning water into wine at the marriage in Cana. All of which three manifestations of the Divine nature happened on the same day, though not in the same year.
‘To render due honour to the memory of the ancient Magi, who are supposed to have been kings, the monarch of this country himself, either personally or through his chamberlain, offers annually at the altar on this day, Gold, Frank-incense, and Myrrh; and the kings of Spain, where the Feast of Epiphany is likewise called the “Feast of the Kings,” were accustomed to make the like offerings.—Brady.
In the middle ages, the worship by the Magi was celebrated by a little drama, called the Feast of the Star:
‘Three priests, clothed as kings, with their servants carrying offerings, met from different directions before the altar. The middle one, who came from the east, pointed with his staff to a star. A dialogue then ensued; and, after kissing each other, they began to sing, “Let us go and inquire;” after which the precentor began a responsory, “Let the Magi come.” A procession then commenced; and as soon as it began to enter the nave, a crown, with a star resembling a cross, was lighted up, and pointed out to the Magi, with, “Behold the Star in the East.” This being concluded, two priests standing at each side of the altar, answered meekly, “We are those whom you seek;” and, drawing a curtain, shewed them a child, whom, falling down, they worshipped. Then the servants made the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which were divided among the priests. The Magi, meanwhile, continued praying till they dropped asleep; when a boy, clothed in an alb, like an angel, addressed them with, “All things which the prophets said are fulfilled.” The festival concluded with chanting services, &c. At Soissons, a rope was let down from the roof of the church, to which was annexed an iron circle having seven tapers, intended to represent Lucifer, or the morning star; but this was not confined to the Feast of the Star.’—Fosbroke’s Antiquities, ii. 700.
At Milan, in 1336, the Festival of the Three Kings was celebrated in a manner that brings forcibly before us the tendency of the middle ages to fix attention on the historical externals of Christianity. The affair was got up by the Preaching Friars. The three kings appeared, crowned, on three great horses richly habited, surrounded by pages, body guards, and an innumerable retinue. A golden star was exhibited in the sky, going before them. They proceeded to the pillars of St. Lawrence, where King Herod was represented with his scribes and wise men. The three kings ask Herod where Christ should be born, and his wise men, having consulted their books, answer, at Bethlehem. On which the three kings, with their golden crowns, having in their hands golden cups filled with frankincense, myrrh, and gold, the star going before, marched to the church of St. Eustorgius, with all their attendants, preceded by trumpets, horns, asses, baboons, and a great variety of animals. In the church, on one side of the high altar, there was a manger with an ox and ass, and in it the infant Christ in the arms of his mother. Here the three kings offer Him gifts. The concourse of the people, of knights, ladies, and ecclesiastics, was such as was never before beheld.
In its character as a popular festival, Twelfth-Day stands only inferior to Christmas. The leading object held in view is to do honour to the three wise men, or, as they are more generally denominated, the three kings. It is a Christian custom, ancient past memory, and probably suggested by a pagan custom, to indulge in a pleasantry called the Election of Kings by Beans. In England, in later times, a large cake was formed, with a bean inserted, and this was called Twelfth-Cake. The family and friends being assembled, the cake was divided by lot, and who-ever got the piece containing the bean was accepted as king for the day, and called King of the Bean.
In England, it appears there was always a queen as well as a king on Twelfth-Night. A writer, speaking of the celebration in the south of England in 1774, says:
‘After tea, a cake is produced, with two bowls containing the fortunate chances for the different sexes. The host fills up the tickets, and the whole company, except the king and queen, are to be ministers of state, maids of honour, or ladies of the bed-chamber. Often the host and hostess, more by design, than accident, become king and queen. According to Twelfth-Day law, each party is to support his character till midnight.’
In the sixteenth century, it would appear that some peculiar ceremonies followed the election of the king and queen. Barnaby Goodge, in his paraphrase of the curious poem of Nagcorgus, The Popish Kingdom, 1570, states that the king, on being elected, was raised up with great cries to the ceiling, where, with chalk, he inscribed crosses on the rafters to protect the house against evil spirits.
A Twelfth-Day custom, connected with Paget’s Bromley in Staffordshire, went out in the seventeenth century. A man came along the village with a mock horse fastened to him, with which he danced, at the same making a snapping noise with a bow and arrow. He was attended by half-a-dozen fellow-villagers, wearing mock deers’ heads, and displaying the arms of the several chief landlords of the town. This party danced the Hays, and other country dances, to music, amidst the sympathy and applause of the multitude. There was also a huge pot of ale with cakes by general contribution of the village, out of the very surplus of which ‘they not only repaired their church, but kept their poor too; which charges are not now, perhaps, so cheerfully borne.’
On Twelfth-Night, 1606, Ben Jonson’s masque of Hymen was preformed before the Court; and in 1613, the gentleman of Gray’s Inn were permitted by Lord Bacon to perform a Twelfth-Day masque at Whitehall. In the masque the character of Baby cake is attended by ‘an usher bearing a great cake with a bean and all with good will have spared unto your lordship, please.’
On Twelfth-Day, 1563, Mary Queen of Scots celebrated the French pastime of the King of the Bean at Holyrood, but with a queen instead of a king, as more appropriate, in consideration of herself being a female sovereign. The lot fell to the real queen’s attendant, Mary Fleming, and the mistress good-naturedly arrayed the servant in her own robes and jewels, that she might duly sustain the mimic dignity in the festivities of the night. The English resident, Randolph, who was in love with Mary Beton, another of the queen’s maids of honour, wrote in excited terms about this festival to the Earl of Leicester.
‘Happy was it,’ says he, ‘unto this realm, that her reign endured no longer. Two such sights, in one state, in so good accord, I believe was never seen, as to behold two worthy queens possess, without envy, one kingdom, both upon a day. I leave the rest to your lordship to be judged of. My pen staggereth, my hand faileth, further to write.’
The queen of the bean was that day in a gown of cloth of silver; her head, her neck, her shoulders, the rest of her whole body, so beset with stones, that more in our whole jewel-house were not to be found. . . The cheer was great. I never found myself so happy, nor so well treated, until that it came to the point that the old queen [Mary] herself, to show her mighty power, contrary unto the assurance granted me by the younger queen [Mary Fleming], drew me into the dance, which part of the play I could with good will have spared unto your lordship, as much fitter for the purpose.’’
Charles I had his masque on Twelfth-Day, and the Queen hers on the Shrovetide following, the expenses exceeding Â£2000; and on Twelfth-Night, 1633, the Queen feasted the King at Somerset House, and presented a pastoral, in which she took part.
Down to the time of the Civil Wars, the feast was observed with great splendour, not only at Court, but at the Inns of Court, and the Universities (where it was an old custom to choose the king by the bean in a cake), as well as in private mansions and smaller households.
Then, too, we read of the English nobility keeping Twelfth-Night otherwise than with cake and characters, by the diversion of blowing up pasteboard castles; letting claret flow like blood, out of a stag made of paste; the castle bombarded from a pasteboard ship, with cannon, in the midst of which the company pelted each other with egg-shells filled with rose-water; and large pies were made, filled with live frogs, which hopped and flew out, upon some curious person lifting up the lid.
Twelfth-Night grew to be a Court festival, in which gaming was a costly feature. Evelyn tells us that on Twelfth-Night, 1662, according to custom, his Majesty [Charles II] opened the revels of that night by throwing the dice himself in the Privy Chamber, where was a table set on purpose, and lost his £100. [The year before he won £1500.] The ladies also played very deep. Evelyn came away when the Duke of Ormond had won about £1000, and left them still at passage, cards, &c., at other tables.
The Rev. Henry Teonge, chaplain of one of Charles’s ships-of-war, describes Twelfth-Night on board:
‘Wee had a great kake made, in which was put a beane for the king, a pease for the queen, a cloave for the knave, &c. The kake was cut into several pieces in the great cabin, and all put into a napkin, out of which every one took his piece as out of a lottery; then each piece is broaken to see what was in it, which caused much laughter, and more to see us tumble one over the other in the cabin, by reason of the ruff weather.’
The celebrated Lord Peterborough, then a youth, was one of the party on board this ship, as Lord Mordaunt.
The Lord Mayor and Aldermen and the guilds of London used to go to St. Paul’s on Twelfth-Day, to hear a sermon, which is mentioned as an old custom in the early part of Elizabeth’s reign.
A century ago, the king, preceded by heralds, pursuivants, and the Knights of the Garter, Thistle, and Bath, in the collars of their respective orders, went to the Royal Chapel at St. James’s, and offered gold, myrrh, and frankincense, in imitation of the Eastern Magi offering to our Saviour. Since the illness of George III, the procession, and even the personal appearance of the monarch, have been discontinued. Two gentlemen from the Lord Chamberlain’s office now appear instead, attended by a box ornamented at top with a spangled star, from which they take the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and place them on an alms-dish held forth by the officiating priest.
In the last century, Twelfth-Night Cards represented ministers, maids of honour, and other attendants of a court, and the characters were to be supported throughout the night. John Britton, in his Autobiography, tells us he ’ suggested and wrote a series of Twelfth-Night Characters, to be printed on cards, placed in a bag, and drawn out at parties on the memorable and merry evening of that ancient festival. They were sold in small packets to pastrycooks, and led the way to a custom which annually grew to an extensive trade. For the second year, my pen-and-ink characters were accompanied by prints of the different personages by Cruikshank (father of the inimitable George), all of a comic or ludicrous kind.’ Such characters are still printed.
The celebration of Twelfth-Day with the costly and elegant Twelfth-cake has much declined within the last half-century. Formerly, in London, the confectioners’ shops on this day were entirely filled with Twelfth-cakes, ranging in price from several guineas to a few shillings; the shops were tastefully illuminated, and decorated with artistic models, transparencies, &c. We remember to have seen a huge Twelfth-cake in the form of a fortress, with sentinels and flags; the cake being so large as to fill two ovens in baking.