Zachary Pelli is the Digital Collections Infrastructure Developer for Walsh Library. He ensures all the Library’s digital projects, from interactive exhibits in Special Collections and the Gallery to remote reference appointments for the liaison librarians, operate smoothly. Additionally, he maintains open source software systems used by the library, giving Zach an opportunity to build new tools as digital library practices evolve. You may also recognize his work from the library website (https://library.shu.edu/home), which he created.
How long have you been working at the library?
Just over 5 years.
What was the last book you read that you really enjoyed?
Currently binging The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson (currently halfway through Words of Radiance). I also listen to many podcasts.
Print book or ebook?
Audiobook or podcast. I’m a terribly slow reader.
What is the best way to rest / decompress?
Lift heavy weights or go for a run with a (non-political) podcast. I also enjoy PC gaming when I find the time.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I am a tribal citizen of Muscogee Nation. There’s not many of us in NJ!
The nursing profession has always been among the most respected careers in light of their selfless dedication to the health and welfare of patients in their care. October 13th has been designated “National Emergency Room Nurses Day” throughout the United States in honor of those who work in situations that require added patience and attention to those in need. Seton Hall has been a proud training ground for many nurses who have chosen to serve society upon graduation from the school.
Seton Hall established its College of Nursing in 1940 and from the starting Points of Purpose included the following objectives . . .
The aim of the School of Nursing Education of Seton Hall College is to provide educational opportunities leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Nursing education for the following types of students:
Graduate nurses who wish to prepare for positions as teachers, supervisors and administrators in schools of nursing and hospitals.
Nurses particularly interested in Public Health Service.
Properly qualified high school graduates who wish to entre the nursing profession.
Hospital administrators or those preparing for such positions.
From that point forward quality instruction by dedicated professionals too numerous to name here, but whose names and course information can be found within our holdings. Presently, we have been working with a valued Nursing History Committee which has provided incredible support to the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center over the last few years. This includes Professor Jane Dellert, Professor Eileen Donnelly, Professor Ann Elkas, Professor Gloria Essoka, Professor Margaret Howard, Professor Carolyn Rummel, Professor Mary Ann Scharf, and Professor Mary Ann Whiteman in particular.
Each of these scholars has also collaborated to the creation and content management associated with a special Research Guide dedicated to the History of the Nursing Program at Seton Hall University that can be accessed via the following link . . .
Beyond an educated choice of academic specializations, the selection of a nickname, mascot, school colors, special cheers, and other unique campus traditions have long been one of the most important legacies that any college or university can make to universally celebrate their respective athletic teams in particular while honoring their student, alumni, and fan base by extension. On a competitive level sports-wise, there have been an abundance of Tigers, Bulldogs, Lions, Bears, and other wildlife for example in order to show team pride and hopefully inspire fear in opponents. However, other appellations have a logical link to history including such local models as the “Queensmen” of Rutgers College (founded in 1766 as Queen’s College) and the “Vikings” of Upsala (established in 1893 by Swedish educators who noted the nickname was synonymous with Scandinavian lore). Beyond what their opponents were formulating when it came to their own respective mascot preferences, Seton Hall had its own road to image-based immortality.
Throughout its storied history, the hues of “White and Blue” have always been synonymous with Seton Hall. These colors were adopted during the nineteenth century and likely inspired by Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley whose family crest features a series of white stars affixed to a cobalt field. Additionally, Blue is associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the early patronesses of the school and associated with finding truth while White is the symbol of purity, light, and saints who were not martyred (although Elizabeth Ann Seton was not canonized until 1975, she did not achieve martyrdom)
When it came to seminal nicknames at Seton Hall during the years prior to the celebration of its Diamond Jubilee, intercollegiate squads used the sobriquet – “White and Blue” as an all-purpose attribution. Additional adjectives included “The Villagers,” “Alerts,” and the “Quick Step Nine” (for Baseball Nines) have also been documented in print through Setonia-produced imprints (including the title of the School Annual or Yearbook from 1924-42) and external media sources alike. This legacy still lives on in the popular refrain – “Fight, Fight, Fight for the Blue and White . . . Onward to Victory!” Presumably this “mascot” and choice of talisman would have continued further, had it not been for one fateful day on a New England Baseball Field nine decades ago
The Pirates are Born
Within the aftermath of the Seton Hall-Holy Cross Baseball Game held on April 24, 1931 in Worcester, Massachusetts, the visiting team from New Jersey somewhat miraculously came from behind after experiencing a five-run deficit through the stringing together a combination of walks, hits, and errors that helped the “White & Blue” Nine emerge victorious by a final score of 11-10. This outcome prompted a Newark News sportswriter to exclaim, “That Seton Hall team is a gang of Pirates! . . . ,” which applied to the aggressive play and the squad stealing a victory (or a “treasured” result if you will) from the Crusader Nine. Upon hearing of this post-game proclamation within their locker room, the Seton Hall squad decided that their newfound name was both fitting and fashionable, and they would return to South Orange and be known as the Pirates thereafter.
It has been oft-wondered why the writer used the term “Pirates” instead of something else? Upon reflection this makes sense as the noun “Pirate” has been defined according to the Cambridge University Dictionary as one who: “. . . sails on the sea and attacks and steals from other ships.” Combine the formal definition taken from a journalist with the prevalence of Pirate imagery in popular culture including the long-standing renown of such novels as: The Pirate, by Sir Walter Scott (1821); “Long John Silver” a major figure in Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883); “Captain Hook” from Neverland, one of the main protagonists from the book – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie (1904). Book covers/jackets, early cinema, and literary descriptions set the image of English launched a “Jolly Roger” Pirate model (with large, plumed hat featuring a decorative “Skull and Cross Bones” motif, eye patch, peg leg, hook hand, etc.) who sailed the Caribbean during the eighteenth-mid-nineteenth century seas.
In 1931, the book entitled: Yankee Ships in Pirate Waters by Rupert Sargent Holland and the daily comic strip, Terry and the Pirates by Milton Caniff helped to reinforce the “swashbuckling” and exciting aspects of Piracy in a fictional sense. On the sports-front, that same year the Pittsburgh Pirates, a major league club was celebrating a half century of existence and their third decade in the National League. They were known as frequent visitors to the Newark-area to play such local teams as the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants in regular series during that era. Thus, “Pirates” already had a wider appeal throughout popular society and the sports world alike.
The first edition of The Setonian (Student Newspaper) after the Holy Cross contest resulted in the first public pronouncement of this new nickname adoption. The Reverend Thomas J. Gilhooly (then a student in 1931) wrote a poetic verse in tribute of this new and figurative era in Seton Hall Athletics History . . .
“THE PIRATES – Our teams are known as Pirates, / In the world where sport holds sway; / And like their honored forbears, / Nothing stands in their way. / On the football field, the Pirates / Fight for every gain; / And though they do not always win, / The enemy earns the game. / In the realm of basketball, / The Pirates stand supreme; For her is their initial charge, / Their booty . . . so it seems. / Then baseball calls them to the helm, / And bold and brave they stand; / Now they justify their name, / They are heroes of the land. / So onward, ye brave Pirates. / On, on to worlds of crowns; / Onward to “runs” and “baskets”, / Onward to many “touchdowns.” / on, onward to greater heights, / In the world where sports holds sway; / And where your honored forbears, / Pridefully bless your day.”
Despite an initially warm and exciting reception, somewhat curiously, the use of the “Pirate” nickname in print did not have wider usage or uniform approval during the remainder of the 1930s and into the 1940s. Interestingly, the “Pirate” term was used conservatively beforehand especially in print as the “White and Blue” and the unofficial and colloquial – “Setonians,” “South Orangers,” and even “South Orange Lads,” were typically used as an alternative term within some press circles.
Conceivably the violent and illegal nature associated with real-life “Pirates” went against Catholic teaching and moral sensibilities, but for the sake of intercollegiate competition having a fearsome nickname makes a team appear more formidable, but all in the spirit of competitive sportsmanship. The question of change came in 1936, when sports scribes from The Setonian made their own attempt to create a distinctive nickname for the Seton Hall Five and every other sports team to supersede the “Pirates” for something more benign. They came up with the “Kerryblues” (the “Kerry” is a bluish furry dog noted for its fighting instincts and “Blues” for the school color), but this particular moniker never stuck, and the “Pirates” have endured and by the 1970s had adopted an alternative and rarely used nickname of the “Buccaneers” or “Buccettes” for Women’s sports teams. And would be used conservatively for a few more years.
However, it would not be until the post-World War II-era when the “Pirates” brand came into greater vogue. This explosion which began in earnest from the early 1950s forward was fueled by the success of each Seton Hall Athletic squad to compete over the last half century plus whether it be on the Basketball or Volleyball Court, Baseball Diamond, Soccer Field, Running Track, Golf Course, or any other venue where Seton Hall squads have competed. Additionally, there is no aspect of school life that has been left untouched by some aspect of a “Pirate” allegory. Whether it be figurative or visual, the proliferation of Pirate references by word, print, and in logo form that is associated with Setonia has not only become regionally recognized, but nationally as well. This has also coincided with the wide-spread growth of sports marketing along with a receptive and passionate student body, alumni, and wide-spread fan base that choose to identify as Pirate Fans.
Additional “Pirate” Historical Sightings and Research Opportunities
Documentation shows that not only athletic teams really ran with the nickname (and the Seton Hall Prep School by extension adopted the nickname as well) The student body also began to incorporate popular Pirate-centered imagery into their activities. As noted above, the renaming of the Student Annual (Yearbook) first known as the “White and Blue” was later changed to “The Galleon” (for one year in 1940) and for good from 1947-2006 when it ceased publication . . .
As archival documentation shows, other examples go beyond Athletic Team representation alone to exhibit how the administration and all parts of the University adopted the nickname to coincide with various project designations and publication titles including the aforementioned Galleon (a term for a Pirate Ship), there are others like “Pirate Plank” (as in “Walking The . . . “ as a form of punishment, “Pirate Treasure” (the typical objective that Pirates sought), in other words from 1931 to the present-day, all aspects of University life have been touched by some degree of “Pirate” identification in some way either by exposure, extension, usage, naming opportunities, cheering, school spirit, along with other applications or allegories.
Seton Hall University looks to navigate forward with the “Pirate” as its mascot now and well past its ninetieth anniversary. Many more “ahoys” will be heard on campus and beyond when it comes to praising Seton Hall in the following traditional manner . . . “Go Pirates!”
For more information on Seton Hall traditions and other aspects of school history please contact the University Archives by e-mail: email@example.com or by phone at: (973) 275-2378.
Counted among the most important figures in the history of labor relations and human rights advocacy is Cesar Chavez whose legacy remains alive through continual study and application of his principles on behalf of the migrant farm community and other disenfranchised Latinos in particular. As part of an ambitious plan, Mr. Chavez founded the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) in order to bring awareness and advocate for fair working conditions, collective bargaining opportunities, competitive wages, and seeking fairness and respect for all farmers who were in need of support. The following highlights taken from the UFW biographical overview produced by the UFW provides a brief overview on the life and accomplishments of Mr. Chavez which would lead to his wide-spread appeal which became global including Seton Hall on a local level.
Cesar Estrada Chavez (1927-1993) was born in the vicinity of Yuma, Arizona. In 1938, his family re-located to California where they briefly resided at the La Colonia Barrio in Oxnard prior to moving back and forth between his home state and California where the family settled in San Jose by June of 1939, but would soon live in a series of towns including Brawley, Atascadero, Gonzales, King City, Salinas, McFarland, Delano, Wasco, Selma, Kingsburg, and Mendota.
In addition to his moving from place to place, Mr. Chavez was discriminated against as a youth especially as a Latino who attended primarily English-language grade school where racist remarks, discriminatory practices, and the linguistic barrier led to an unbalanced experience in the classroom. Mr. Chavez made it through the eighth grade but dropped out to become a migrant farm worker during the 1930s through the early 1940s. Despite not having a formal education beyond middle school, Mr. Chavez was well-read and studied a vast range of subjects and believed that: “The end of all education should surely be service to others.” Counted among his early inspirations were St. Francis of Assisi and Mohandas Gandhi who both taught non-violence as a means of achieving justice for others.
By 1946, Mr. Chavez enlisted in United States Navy and served for two years prior becoming a civilian and at this time he married the former Ms. Helen Fabela and at first lived in Delano, California and together were parents to eight children over the course of their lives together.
Mr. Chavez became more interested and active in civil rights during the late 1940s and 1950s and offered to assist with voter registration as part of his local California-based Community Service Organization. From this starting point, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (later known as the UFW) in 1962. Counted among his co-founders and long-time allies were Ms. Dolores Huerta and his brother Mr. Richard Chavez. Their core group of supporters were grape farmers, but this soon spread to those who harvested other fruits and vegetables which resulted in 50,000 dues paying members by 1970.
As part of the La Causa “The Cause” movement, the most iconic and effective forms of non-violent resistance initiated by Mr. Chavez included the Delano Grape Strike (1965-70), a 340-mile March for Civil Rights from Delano to Sacramento (1966), and a number of fasts in protest of sub-standard worker conditions including those of: 25 days (1968), 24 days (1972), and 36 days (1988) for example. These demonstrations were also complimented by a number of product boycotts, picketing, and other means of non-violent protest to draw attention to those who were exposed to unfair treatment and in need not only vocal, but also legal and political support.
Mr. Chavez passed away near Salinas, California on April 23, 1993. It is estimated that this was the largest funeral conducted for any labor leader in United States history to date. The following year, Mr. Chavez was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of advocacy work on behalf of others and as U..S. President Bill Clinton noted in the accompanying citation: “The farm workers who labored in the fields and yearned for respect and self-sufficiency pinned their hopes on this remarkable man who, with faith and discipline, soft spoken humility and amazing inner strength, led a very courageous life.”1
Seton Hall Ties – Cesar Chavez & Dolores Huerta
The work of Mr. Chavez had been long known by those on the Seton Hall University campus through media reports that chronicled activities on the West Coast to a national audience including our student body, faculty, and administration. The Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center has worked with the public on research projects related to the Latino community including primary source documentation connected to the Unanue Latino Institute and their celebration entitled: “The Catholic Symbolism of Cesar Chavez” in 2019. This which resulted in an overview of the event and connections that he and other members of the UFW had to Seton Hall was researched and written by Adam Varoqua. Counted among the main features that marked the connection between Mr. Chavez and our school go back to the founding date of the Puerto Rican Institute (now known as the Unanue Institute) in 1974.
By 1974, the first Seton Hall-sponsored Migrant Symposium was created through the efforts of University President Monsignor Thomas Fahy who was an active supporter of the UFW along with a variety of other social justice related issues. He noted that: We are happy to express solidarity with the aims of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.” Monsignor Fahy also worked with Archbishop Peter Gerety and other clergy within the Archdiocese of Newark and across the region to help with advocacy on behalf of Mr. Chavez and his mission. Their work also extended to working with state legislators such as Assemblyman Byron Baer who introduced a bill to aid farmer workers in New Jersey later that year.2
Mr. Chavez invited to provide the keynote address, but due to medical issues could not attend. His proxy was Ms. Dolores Huerta who was also a top official within the UFW and was an honored guest then and also when revisiting campus in 2019 to discuss what progress had been made regarding the rights of Latinos and migrant famers over the last four decades since she last came to South Orange.
Archival & Library Research Opportunities
Over the course of his life and into the present day, the work of Mr. Chavez has also been included as part of various History, Labor Studies, Diplomacy, and Latino-centered courses at Seton Hall. Interest continues not only in regard to the life and work of Cesar Chavez, but Dolores Huerta, UFW, and the Unanue Latino Institute at Seton Hall. Along with materials found in our Vertical Files, Office of Public Affairs Clipping Files, Setonian Newspaper, Seton Hall Yearbooks – https://scholarship.shu.edu/yearbooks/ and other resources found within our repository are available for research project consultation. Additionally, the following resources are available within the University Libraries and the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections for review.
Major Archival Collections
Office of the President & Chancellor of Seton Hall University: Thomas G. Fahy
Thomas G. Fahy was the fifteenth President of Seton Hall University and oversaw significant physical growth as well as progress in equal access to education for minorities, improved governance, and student affairs during his tenure as president. The Office of the President and Chancellor: Thomas Fahy records include materials generated and gathered by Monsignor Fahy during his time as President of Seton Hall University.
Link To Finding Aid: https://archivesspace library.shu.edu/repositories/2/resources/283
Chavez Literary Journals
(Named in honor of Cesar Chavez, but covering a wide range of Multi-Cultural subjects and themes)
Chavez Literary Arts Magazine, 1998-2005
File — Box: 169
Scope and Contents note
Published by: Department of English at Seton Hall University
Original number: 1.191
For the 2020-2021 academic year, Walsh Library’s Special Collections and the Gallery has made a coloring book featuring images from the rare book and museum collections. Building on the IHS Library’s “Color our Collections” initiative, over the pandemic the department decided to make printed books so that the community would have a way to take the objects in the collections home with them, even when they could not see them in person.
Coloring can be a meditative experience that allows the mind to rest and reflect, shifting gears from the mode of understanding and deciding to a mode of experiencing and appreciating. In this form the collections can accompany Seton Hall students wherever their day takes them and allow them the time to really get to know what they offer.
Coloring books can be picked up on the first floor of Walsh Library, at the Gallery front desk.
As we reflect on the twentieth anniversary of the tragic events that occurred on September 11, 2001, the historical record is deep and reflects upon the many ranges of emotion for those who lived through that day and subsequent generations who are just now learning about its prevailing effects both past and present. When it comes to the legacy of 9-11 and learning more about the varied issues in published form that connect to this period, the educational benefit is considerable.
Resources preserved inside the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, the resources found mainly reflect on the student, alumni, and administrative perspective. For example, within the pages of The Setonian published right after 9-11 there are several articles that explore not only the basics of the attack on the World Trade Center, but also on a local level in salute to both the victims and heroes who had connections to the school. Additional articles appeared in the Seton Hall University Magazine and other communiqués produced campus-wide during this time and in subsequent years to mark the occasion.
Additional information can also be referenced within the many articles and books that have been penned about the subject found in our Rare Book and the University Libraries Main Collections. Special copies of the Thomas L. Friedman volume entitled: Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11. (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2002) and Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation With the World. (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2003) are found in our Special Collections Center. Other volumes include a work by former Writer-In-Residence Anthony De Palma whose work” City of Dust: Illness, Arrogance, and 9/11. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2011) is included with many other titles found via our SetonCat bibliographical system. Various print materials under the Library of Congress subject heading: “September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001” can be referenced via our homepage found within this site – https://library.shu.edu/home
When it comes to our Manuscript Collections, the Honorable Donald M. Payne Papers features a detailed file on September 11th from a U.S. Congressional standpoint. More information on the collection proper can be found via the following link – https://archivesspace-library.shu.edu/repositories/2/archival_objects/34116 Other documentation and resources from different entities and Catholic New Jersey-centered outlets in particular are also available to our research community on many levels.
Starting in the Fall semester of 2021, the Archives and Gallery (Special Collections) will operate out of a single reception space at the front desk of Walsh Gallery. Visitors looking for both archival and museum materials, as well as individuals with appointments in the department, or researchers looking for rare books or Archdiocesan materials will come here to be directed to where they need to go.
The Archives Reading Room will remain open by appointment only. Researchers needing to consult with archival documents or view museum objects will be able to make an appointment to see materials. The Archives Reading Room will also continue to host classes incorporating archival materials. Additionally, events centered around Seton Hall’s museum and archives collections may take place in the Reading Room.
Welcome back to campus! We look forward to seeing you during the 2021-2022 academic year!
Finished coloring the Special Collections Coloring Book? Still curious?
Look no further! Below are the original images of those in the Special Collections Coloring Book along with their information.
William F.J. Ryan
Seton Hall University coat of arms
Gouache on board
16” x 13”
Mid 20th century
Ryan designed coats of arms for many dioceses throughout the United States. The scroll at the bottom bears the university’s motto, “Hazard Zet Forward”, which translates from Latin to “whatever the peril, ever forward” in English.
Design for medal
paint on paper
12 ⅞” x 10 ½”
Sketch, Prepared for the Society for the Preservation of Setoniana by Dieges & Clust jewelers, established in New York in 1898. The company also produced the Heisman Trophy from 1935 through 1979, as well as the first Most Valuable Player Award for Major League Baseball.
11 ⅜” x 35”
Former nicknames for the Seton Hall University sports teams include “White & Blue,” “Villagers,” and in the case of the baseball team, “The Alerts,” prior to 1931 when Seton Hall adopted the currently used name “Pirates.”
Design for Design for Renovation for Existing Tester
Paint on paper
11 ⅛” x 6 ¼”
Robert Robbins Studios of New York City was retained to complete the restoration of the Chapel of the Immaculate in 1963. This sketch shows the canopy design which hangs above the altar.
8 ¼” x 3 ¾”
Wang Fang-yu Collection of Asian Art
Gift of Dr. Marvin Boris
The period in which this Qing Dynasty vase was made marks the last dynasty in the imperial history of China. The Qing Dynastry was established in 1636, and ruled China from 1644 to 1912, with a brief restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China.
Mss 0029: Herbert Kraft manuscript and book leaves, Box 11
From Sebastian Munster’s “Cosmographia Universalis, printed in Basle, 1559.
Mss 0029: Herbert Kraft manuscript and book leaves, Box 11
From Luther’s “German Translation of the Bible”, printed in Wittenberg, 1584.
Mss 0029: Herbert Kraft manuscript and book leaves, Box 11
From “Las Quatorze Decades de Tito Livio”, printed in Saragossa, 1520.
Mss 0029: Herbert Kraft manuscript and book leaves, Box 11
A beautifully bound medical text containing the research of the pioneering 19th century physicians Drs Corvisart and Auenbrűgger was recently donated to Special Collections at Walsh Library by Anthony Valerio, a writer who used it in the research for a biography he wrote. One of the authors, Dr. Corvisart, was Napoleon I’s private physician. Instead of joining Napoleon I’s campaign to Italy, he stayed behind and translated his predecessor Auenbrűgger’s writings from Latin to French. Auenbrűgger developed the percussive technique of physical examination, which led to the invention of the stethoscope. His father was a merchant, and young Auenbrűgger played with his father’s wine barrels as a boy, which made different sounds according to how he drummed them, inspiring his later discovery. These works – and the stories behind them – inspired Valerio to write his biography depicting a similar medical breakthrough.
Valerio’s book tells the story of the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmesweis, who did groundbreaking work in obstetrics. In Valerio’s words, “The field of obstetrics, then, was relatively new. In Vienna’s medical school, which Semmelweis attended, it was an elective of a few months. Dr. Skoda, a famed diagnostician and internist, was Semmelweis’s mentor and teacher. Skoda taught Corvisart’s work on the heart. Upon obtaining his medical degree, Semmelweis sought a job with Skoda but one was not open. Semmelweis then trained with famed surgeon Dr. Karl von Rokitansky, who performed all autopsies in the hospital. Semmelweis obtained a degree in surgery and sought a job with Rokindansky. Again, one was not open. But an assistant’s job did open in a relatively new field, obstetrics. Semmelweis took this job at a time when childbed fever was the scourge of Europe, the pandemic of his time, women dying of this terrible disease at alarming rates. Theories were advanced as to its cause and means of prevention. Semmelweis rejected them all. He was determined to find those causes and means of prevention—which journey I attempted to describe in detail in my book. Semmelweis did not know what he was looking for. His approach included his studies of Corvisart on the heart, Skoda’s work on palpitation, Auenbrűgger’s work on the varied sounding of the human body with a stethoscope. Semmelweis read and researched after his daily tour of rounds, in his small room in the Vienna hospital.”
This medical text and the biography it inspired demonstrate that literature can evolve from science, just as scientific advances can be derived from childhood games. Insight and inspiration know no disciplinary boundaries.
To see this book in person, or investigate other Special Collections materials, our Research Appointments page has details on how to proceed.
In Ireland, the holiday of Midsummer marks the middle of summer and comes just a few days after the Summer Solstice. Much of the celebration takes place the evening before on Midsummer’s Eve, also known as St. John’s Eve. As with many Celtic celebrations, great bonfires are lit, and fairs and festivals are held to celebrate. Just like May Day, St. John’s Eve has its own stories, customs, and superstitions.
“In ancient times the sacred fire was lighted with great ceremony on Midsummer Eve; and on that night all the people of the adjacent country kept fixed watch on the western promontory of Howth, and the moment the first flash was seen from that spot the fact of ignition was announced with wild cries and cheers repeated from village to village, when all the local fires began to blaze, and Ireland was circled by a cordon of flame rising up from every hill” (Wilde, 113).
It was also a time to worship the Goddess Áine.
“…Áine, who gave her name to Knockainy hill and village in the county Limerick. She ruled, and still rules, that district as fairy queen and banshee. In the second century of our era, she cut off the ear of Ailill Oluim, King of Munster. It was on this account he was called Oluim, from “o”, and ear, and “lom”, bare; bare of one ear” (Mahon, 137).
“Aynia, deemed the most powerful fairy in Ulster, and Áine, queen of South Munster, are perhaps the same person, the mysterious and awful goddess once adored as Anu, or Danu. Of the two, it is Áine who especially seems to carry on the traditions of the older Anu, worshipped, according to the “Choice of Names”, in Munster as a goddess of prosperity and abundance. Within living memory, she was propitiated by a magical ritual upon every Saint John’s Eve, to ensure fertility during the coming year. The villagers round her sidh of Cnoc Aine (Knockainy) carried burning bunches of hay or straw upon poles to the top of the hill, and thence dispersed among the fields, waving these torches over the crops and cattle. The fairy, or goddess was held to be friendly, and, indeed, more than friendly, to men” (Squire, 245).
Another tale tells the story of a St. John’s Night were a number of girls stayed late on the Hill to watch the clairs (torches) and join in the games when suddenly “Áine appeared among them, thanked them for the honour they had done her, but said she now wished them to go home, as they wanted the hill to themselves” (Rolleston, 128).
Since “fire is the holiest of all things” many customs and superstitions surround the bonfire and included carrying off a coal, jumping and leaping through the flames forward and backwards a certain number of times, and walking “three times round a fire on St. John’s Eve, and you will be safe from disease for all that year” (Wilde, 211). These customs and superstitions were not just limited to people but could include animals. Cattle were “driven through the half-extinguished bonfire, as a preventive against witchcraft” (W. R. Wilde, 40).
As Christianity spread and Midsummer became “christianized”, dedicated by the Church to honor St. John the Baptist, certain customs and superstitions survived (O’Súilleabháin, 322). “…Baal fires were kindled as part of the ritual of sun-worship, though now they are lit in honour of St. John. The great bonfire of the year is still made on St. John’s Eve, when all the people dance round it, and every young man takes a lighted brand from the pile to bring home with him for good luck to the house” (Wilde, 113). Whether Celtic or Christian, fire was still seen as a central part of the celebration, bringing good luck just like the fires of May Day did.
O’Súilleabháin Seán. (1942). A handbook of irish folklore.
No online version available.
Wilde, & Wilde, W. R. (1919). Ancient legends, mystic charms & superstitions of ireland : with sketches of the irish past. Chatto & Windus.
For the online version, click here. Please note they may not be exactly the same.
Putzi, S. (Ed.). (2008). To z world superstitions & folklore : 175 countries – spirit worship, curses, mystical characters, folk tales, burial and the dead, animals, food, marriage, good luck, and more. ProQuest Ebook Central https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Wilde, W. R. (1852). Irish popular superstitions. J. McGlashan.
No online version available.
Mahon, M. P. (1919). Ireland’s fairy lore. T.J. Flynn.
For an online version, click here. Please note they may not be exactly the same.