St. John’s Eve and Midsummer in Celtic Lore

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.

 

Reference

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.

Squire, C. (191AD). Celtic myth & legend, poetry & romance. Gresham Pub.

For the online version, click here. Please note they may not be exactly the same.

Rolleston, T. W. (1911). Myths & legends of the celtic race. G.G. Harrap.

For an online version, click here. Please note they may not be exactly the same.

May Day in Celtic Lore

May Day Eve and May Day

Lá Bealtaine in Irish, or “Belltaine or May Day took its name, i.e., bel-tene, lucky fire” is a celebration of summer (Joyce, 290). May Day Eve and May Day are traditionally celebrated with great bonfires along with fairs and festivals. This day also marks the occurrence of a shriek due to the Red Dragon of Britain being attacked by the White Dragon of the Saxons.

May Day marked “the great feast of Bel, or the Sun”, a time when the “Druids lit the Baal-Tinne, the holy, goodly fire of Baal, the Sun-god, and they drove the cattle on a path made between two fires, and singed them with the flame of a lighted torch, and sometimes they cut them to spill blood, and then burnt the blood as a sacred offering to the Sun-god” (Wilde, 102).

While the Druids saw Bel as a god, Reverend Michael P. Mahon describes Bel as being promiscuously written “Bial and Beal, and supposed to be the “Beel” in the Hebrew word Beelzebub, is a semitic word that would give the idea of a supreme god or a supreme demon” (Mahon, 195).

According to ancient Druid practices all domestic fires were extinguished and relit by the sacred fire taken from the temples and it was “sacrilege to have any fire kindled except from the holy alter flame” (Wilde, 102). It was said that while the sacred fire was burning “no other should be kindled in the country all round, on pain of death” (Joyce, 290).

However, St. Patrick was “determined to break down the power of the Druids; and, therefore, in defiance of their laws, he had a great fire lit on May Eve, when he celebrated the paschal mysteries; and henceforth Easter, or the Feast of the Resurrection, took place of the Baal festival” (Wilde, 102). Thus Christianity started to take root but still boasted similar traditions, customs, and superstitions, just without sacrifice and death. One such superstition talks about fires going out on May Day, stating that:

“If the fires go out on May morning it is considered very unlucky, and it cannot be re-kindled except by a lighted sod brought from the priest’s house. And the ashes of this blessed turf are afterwards sprinkled on the floor and the threshold of the house” (Wilde, 106).

Which is similar to the Druids practice of extinguishing domestic fires and only relighting them from the sacred fire, the holy alter flame, taken from the temples.

And where “Baal fires were originally used for human sacrifices and burnt-offerings of the first-fruits of the cattle”, they were being used “for purification from sin, and as a safeguard against power of the devil” (Wilde, 102). Even with Christianity established people have learned that May Day celebrations are “a survival of the ancient pagan rite” along with certain customs and superstitions (Mahon, 197).

Such as believing that fairies have great power during May Day and children, cattle, milk, and butter must be guarded from their influence. Other customs and superstitions say:

“It is not safe to go on the water the first Monday in May” (Wilde, 106)

“Finishing a cup of nettle soup on May 1 (May Day) prevents rheumatism for a year” (Putzi, 195).

“…the men, women, and children, for the same reason, pass through, or leap over, the sacred fires, and the cattle are driven through the flames of the burning straw on the 1st of May” (W. R. Wilde, 39)

“The fire was of the greatest importance in house in Ireland. People were unwilling to allow it to die out or to lend a fire-coal. They were especially careful of the fire on May Day” (O’Súilleabháin, 334)

“…spent coal must be put under the churn, and another under the cradle; the primroses must be scattered before the door, for the fairies cannot pass the flowers” (Wilde, 102)

“All herbs pulled on May Day Eve have a sacred healing power, if pulled in the name of the Holy Trinity; but if in the name of Satan, they work evil” (Wilde, 184)

While Christianity became more popular and practiced, old time Druid traditions can still be seen. May Day Eve and May Day, as with many other holidays that are celebrated, is a mix of traditions and customs, creating something that is unique and enjoyed by all.

 

Reference

Joyce, P. W. (1903). A social history of ancient ireland : treating of the government, military system, and law ; religion, learning, and art ; trades, industries, and commerce ; manners, customs, and domestic life, of the ancient irish people. Longmans, Green.

For the online version, click here. Please note they may not be exactly the same.

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.

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.

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.

Squire, C. (191AD). Celtic myth & legend, poetry & romance. Gresham Pub.

For the online version, click here. Please note they may not be exactly the same.

O’Súilleabháin Seán. (1942). A handbook of irish folklore.

No online version available.

Alice Stopford Green – Irish Historian and Political Pioneer

In honor of Lá Fhéile Pádraig (St. Patrick’s Day) and Women’s History Month, the name Alice Stopford Green is one that has a prominent place in the Scoláireacht Stairiúil ar Éire (Historical scholarship on Ireland) as one of the earliest twentieth century intellectual chroniclers who was able to write in depth with the benefit of diverse and multi-subject based primary sources about varied aspects of Irish history.  In addition, she made her mark not only as one of the first female, but overall trailblazing members of Seanad Éireann (Irish Parliament) with the birth of the Irish Free State during the 1920s.  The Archives & Special Collections has collected a number of her works which are featured a part of our Irish Book holdings library within the Archives & Special Collections Center.

A native of Kells, Alice Sophia Amelia Stopford entered the world on May 30, 1847, the seventh of ninth children born to Edward Adderley Stopford, who three years earlier was appointed the Archdeacon of Meath under the authority of her grandfather Edward (d. 1850), who was a former Bishop of Meath (1842-50), as part of the Church of Ireland (Anglican) hierarchy. (Johnston; Wikipedia). The Stopford family proper were long standing residents of Éire as contemporaries and acknowledged scholars who traveled with Oliver Cromwell and his adherents during their conquest of Ireland.

Map of Ireland, c. 1925. Stopford Green usually included a map of Ireland in her books to provide visual perspective to compliment her text

The migratory history of the Stopford clan also included ties to various family members residing in London.  Periodic visits made by Alice to the largest city in Great Britain led to her meeting John Richard Green (1837-83), a combination cleric and scholar who would eventually become a noted historian in his own right with the publication of Short History of the English People (London: Macmillan, 1874).

Alice and John married in 1877 and she assisted her husband in his research and writing as a documenter of Irish heritage and she adopted his methodology in the process.  Although John passed away in 1883, Alice rallied from this loss to become an active presence in the publishing world and began sharing her own work with the public (R.B. McDowell).

by Henry Herschel Hay Cameron (later The Cameron Studio),photograph,1880s

After repeated sojourns across the Irish Sea during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in 1918 Stopford Green permanently moved back to Ireland.  Stepford Green would become a very passionate supporter of the Gaelic Revival and its goals for the preservation and proliferation of Irish language, scholarship, and political independence.  As a result of her passion and persuasive nature Stepford Green helped to create and maintain a Celtic Studies program located in Dublin (Johnston).

Stepford Green also became involved with international movements in Africa, studied the colonial policies toward that continent, and advocated justice for the indigenous populations in relation to the quest for Irish independence.

After the initial publication of her seminal work – The Making of Ireland and its Undoing, 1200-1600 (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1908) where she explores the history of economics and education in the Irish experience, Stopford Green wrote two subsequent patriotic-themed books entitled: Irish Nationality (1911) and The Old Irish World (1912).  These works written pre-Easter Rising continued in the nationalistic, yet scholarly vein (Wikipedia).  Ironically, Stopford Green served as the first female president of the British Historical Association (1915-18), turning her pen towards producing essays and articles attempting to heal the escalating divisions in Irish society (Wikipedia).

Stopford Green was celebrated for her hopes for a distinctive Irish constitution, a parliament controlled by the Sinn Féin party (“We Ourselves”) and for re-examing the “Dominion Status” model found in Canada prior to their own independence (Wikipedia). She was also a confidant of Michael Collins and others in the Home Rule movement, along with being an occasional gun runner for the underground (Wikipedia). After the partition and Civil War (she was pro-Treaty) during the early 1920s, Stopford Green lived adjacent to St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin and kept up a busy social schedule, including frequent visits to the North of Ireland to keep in contact with friends across these counties and the Free State alike (Johnston).

In addition to her attention to intellectual and social affairs, Stopford Green was a co-founder of the Cumman na Saoirse (The League for Freedom) a female Irish Republican organization, along with becoming one of the first individuals nominated to serve in the newly formed Senate of Ireland (Seanad Éireann), and in the process she became one of the first four women elected or appointed to this chamber in 1922 and served as a member of this body until 1929 (Wikipedia; Mitchell 15). Stopford Green passed away on May 28, 1929 and was buried at Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin.  Her grave marker reads: “Historian of the Irish People” (Mitchell 15)

Within the holdings catalog of the Irish Book Collections found Archives & Special Collections included the following first edition volumes written by Alice Stopford Green . . .

  • The Making of Ireland and its Undoing 1200-1600 (London: Macmillan 1908), Do., 2nd ed., with add. Appendix (Oct. 1909; rep. 1913),. xxiv, 573 pp.; Do. [another ed.] (London: Macmillan 1924), 573pp.; and Do. [rep. of 1st Ed.] (NY: Books for Libraries Press 1972), xvi, 511 pp.
  • Irish National Tradition (London: Macmillan 1923), 31 pp. [rep. from History (July 1917)
  • Irish Nationality [Home University Library of Modern Knowledge, No. 6] (London: Williams & Nordgate [1911], 1922, 1925), 256 pp.; [another ed.] (London: T. Butterworth 1929), 252pp. [also Irish trans., as infra].
  • History of the Irish State to 1014 (London: Macmillan & Co 1925), xi, 437 pp., ill. [front. map; maps, plan].
  • The Old Irish World (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1912), vii, 3 lvs., 197 pp., ill. [pls., maps (1 fold.); 23cm.].
  • The Irish and the Armada (Dublin: Cumann Léigheacht an Phobail 1921), 27 pp.
  • An Irish School (London: Macmillan and Co. St. Martin’s Street, London, 1926), 15 pp.

https://setonhall.on.worldcat.org/search?clusterResults=off&queryString=stopford+green

For more information about Alice Stopford Green and her works (The Making of Ireland and its Undoing 1200-1600 in particular) please consult the following link to the journal Critical Inquiries Into Irish Studies – https://scholarship.shu.edu/ciiis/ under the Téacsúil Fionnachtain (“Textual Discovery”) entry, and/or you can contact via the following e-mail address: Archives@shu.edu or by phone at: (973) 275-2378.

Works Cited

“Alice Stopford Green,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/_wiki/Alice Stopford Green Accessed 1 January 2021.

 “Alice Stopford Green (1847-1929),” Ricorso.Net, http://www.ricorso.net/rx/az-data/index.htm Accessed 1 January 2021.

 “The Bookshelf – The Making of Ireland and its Undoing,” Irish Times & Weekly Times, 18 December 1909, 9.

“Ireland and the Tudors,” Irish Times & Weekly Times, 25 June 1908, 7.

Johnston, Roy. Century of Endeavour – Life and Times of Alice Stopford Green, 1999.  http://www.rjtechne.org/century130703/1900s/asgmcd.htm  Accessed 1 January 2021.

McDowell, RB. Alice Stopford Green – A Passionate Historian, Dublin, Allen Figgis, 1967.

Mitchell, Angus. “An Irishman’s Diary,” Irish Times & Weekly Times, 2 December 2019, 15.

“Mrs. Green’s History of Ireland – Mrs. J.R. Green’s Remarkable Volume on The Making of Ireland and its Undoing (1200-1600),” Irish Times & Weekly Times, 26 September 1908, 18.

“Noted Irish Writer – Death of Mrs. A. Stopford Green – Her Gift to Free State Senate,” Irish Times & Weekly Times, 29 May 1929, 7.

O’Brien, George.  “Book of the Day – Passionate Historian,” Irish Times & Irish Weekly Times, 11 July 1967, 9.

SetonCat Entry. Seton Hall University Libraries, “Alice Stopford Green (1847-1929);” Stopford Green, Alice. The Making of Ireland and its Undoing, 1200-1600, MacMillan and Company, Ltd., 1909.

https://setonhall.on.worldcat.org/search?clusterResults=off&query String=stopford+green#/oclc/456747. Accessed 1 January 2021.

“Students’ Department – Selected Motto for 1908,” Irish Times & Weekly Times, 26 September 1908, 18.

“The Bookshelf – The Making of Ireland and its Undoing,” Irish Times & Weekly Times, 18 December 1909, 9.

“The Elected Members, Who’s Who of the Last Thirty,” Irish Times & Weekly Times, 16 December 1922, 5.

 

Documenting Setonia – Written by Hand and Handled With Care

January 23rd marks National Handwriting Day which was established in 1977 to promote and celebrate the usage of writing instruments from the quill to ballpoint pens along with the paper upon which such methods as cursive, script, and other self-expression is put into print for posterity.  This particular date was also chosen to commemorate the birthday of John Hancock, first Autographer of the Declaration of Independence who arguably has the most famous signature in American History.  However, the story of handwriting can be traced further back in time.

Iconic Illustration from the 1926 White & Blue, Seton Hall College Yearbook

Written communication can be traced back to Ancient Rome (c. fifth century AD) that was built on contributions from other founding civilizations and in the process became an important means of non-verbal communication and by extension preserving the word of the author for future reference.  As this practice caught hold and moving forward to other eras, the Medieval period has been noted for manuscripts reproduced by cloistered monks who patiently and expertly provided copies of texts (mainly Christian and classical-based) as an important service to humanity as a means of promoting literacy and inspire deeper learning opportunities than ever before.  With the advent of the Printing Press during the sixteenth century this lessened the need for handwritten, mass produced works and ushered in a new era of mass-produced writings.  Despite this invention the trade art of “penmanship” still became a sought after skill set especially in the documentary establishment of the American Republic and as the nation grew in size and population where school systems, mail service, and other forums for handwritten communication were created.

With the establishment of the United States and moving into the nineteenth century, a bookkeeper named Platt Rogers Spencer who adopted a method to teach cursive writing that was captured in various textbooks and made its way to various schools and colleges to help students improve their respective writing styles.  Eventually print and cursive developed into various methods side-by-side in the dawn before typewriters and later computers would help with journaling and interpersonal communication.  Overall, expanded technology has superseded the need or want to write as a matter of preferred course.  More information on the historical evolution of handwriting can be referenced via the V-Letter and History Channel sites found via the links located below . . .

https://www.vletter.com/help/font-faq/history-of-handwriting.html

https://www.history.com/news/a-brief-history-of-penmanship-on-national-handwriting-day#:~:text=Borrowing%20aspects%20of%20the%20Etruscan,script%20for%20transactions%20and%20correspondence.&text=Elegant%20handwriting%20emerged%20as%20a,educating%20generations%20of%20master%20scribes

Page featuring student autographs – 1926 White & Blue Seton Hall College Yearbook

Although handwriting is not in vogue in the present day except for the most part among those who prefer traditional forms of communication and to “jot down” information, but if nothing else a personal signature and/or requested autograph are at the very least a form of handwriting that has held on as a mark of personal identification and shows that the practice has not departed altogether.  These examples are true to life within the world of Seton Hall academic life where note-taking is now mainly done via a computer laptop, etc.  But there is always a place for handwriting to remain even though it is rarer to find schools that teach this craft in full, or even the elementary level basics nowadays.

When looking at historical textbooks and examples within our Rare Book Collection there are a pair of texts found that show how the student of the nineteenth century learned the finer art of taking their writing skills into advanced applications.  The following works include the following texts . . .

A volume entitled: Five Hundred Mistakes of Daily Occurrence in Speaking, Pronouncing, and Writing the English Language, Corrected. (New York: D. Burgess & Co., 1856) [Call Number: PE1460 .B8 1856] is one that saw print in the same year that Seton Hall College was founded.  Within this book, the modern reader can see what some of the most common errors and correct approaches were made among the student body of yore.

Within this volume you can see five hundred individual examples from the first . . .

“THE business would suit any one who enjoys bad health.”  [From an advertisement in a daily newspaper of New-York.]  Few persons who have bad health can be said to enjoy it.  Use some other form of expression: as, one in delicate health, or, one whose health is bad.”

Through to the five-hundredth on their list . . .

The last direction which this little book will give on the subject with which it has been occupied, is one that long ago was given in the greatest of books – “Let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ.”  If obedience to this injunction may not guard him who heeds it against the commission of such mistakes as are numbered in this catalogue, it will not fail to lead him out of the way of errors more grievous and solemn.”

More specific to Setonia, is the book entitled – How to Write Letters: A Manual of Correspondence Showing the Correct Structure, Composition, Punctuation, Formalities, and Uses of the Various Kinds of Letters, Notes, and Cards by J. Willis Westlake (Philadelphia: Christopher Sower Co., 1876) [Call Number: PE 1485 .W4 1876]  Our version was once owned by a former student – Thomas Raftery, ’93 who not only possessed this copy, but along with the book, but also found within the text block was a letter from his mother that shows a perfect example of cursive writing from that period.

Letter written Mrs. Raftery found in the book of her son (c. 1880s-early 1890s)

Along with their primer in tow, Mr. Raftery would have encountered a core curriculum that was totally structured and included detailed classes in English Composition along with optional instruction in stenography and/or drawing (for $50.00 per annum apiece) to help with his writing practice and perfecting his form.  Even though Mr. Raftery attended the school for a brief time without graduating he did have the basic tools to aid with his writing efforts.  This is one of many examples that features unique handwritten registers, letters, and other documents based content that have been transcribed and preserved in our repository.  These materials are available to researchers for exploration and perspective on handwriting styles and content that have been created through sight and hand alike.

For more information on the other 498 Mistakes, see other examples of handwriting in the name of academic life and administrative business, and other aspects of handwriting along with the Rare Books and Seton Hall History feel free to reach out to us via e-mail at: Archives@shu.edu or by phone at: (973) 275-2378.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – His Influences Rediscovered & Setonia Ties

The impact that the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) had on society is manifest especially when it came to his legacy in regard to the Civil Rights movement.  The individuals, writings, and imagery that captured his life and impact is extensive.  However, it is also noteworthy to reference and reflect upon those who influenced his own philosophy and teachings.

Poster proclaiming the visit of Ghandi’s Grandson as part of the Seton Hall MLKSA celebration in 2003

Among the more famous individuals that Doctor King has cited include Indian lawyer and ethician Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi (1869-1948) and his embrace of nonviolent resistance to unjust laws along with the political writings of American statesman, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) found in his pronouncements on “liberty,” “democracy,” and “equal rights” in particular.

In addition to notable secular figures, another individual cited as part of the early education is the prophet Moses (1391-1271 BC) who was seen as a living symbol connected to the law of God.  In American historical annals, when it came to slavery such figures and role models as Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman each became a latter-day Moses in leading their people to a promised land of freedom and grace.  Ironically, Doctor King would not only quote Moses on a regular basis within his sermons, but he was equated by many of his adherents as another Moses for his efforts to achieve freedom and equality within American society.  More on the relationship between Doctor King and Moses can be found within the Stanford Freedom Project site accessible via the following link – https://stanfordfreedomproject.com/multi-media-essays-on-freedom/the-biblical-exodus-in-the-rhetoric-of-martin-luther-king/

MLKSA Seton Hall Scholarship Banquet Menu, 1992

Connections to Doctor King, Moses, and/or Seton Hall have been made within the Archives & Special Collections Center.  Along with records relating to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Program (MLKSA) is the oldest and most prestigious Servant Leadership Program on campus and one of the first in the United States having been founded in 1970.  This initiative deals with tuition funding, management, leadership skills development, and research opportunities covering social justice, spirituality, critical thinking, and community service.

Frontispiece of the book: The History of the Heavens (1752)

In regard to Moses, various theological-centered volumes are found in the Rare Book Collection including a 1752 edition of a text entitled:

The History of the Heavens : Considered According to the Notions of the Poets and Philosophers, Compared with the Doctrines of Moses. Being an Inquiry into the Origine of Idolatry, and the Mistakes of Philosophers, Upon the Formation and Influence of the Celestial Bodies, 2 vols. (London: J. Wren, 1752) by Noël Antoine Pluche (1688-1761) and translated from the French by John Baptist De Freval.  The catalog entry for this work can be found under the LC Code – BL305 .P68 1752.

For more information on Doctor King, Moses, and other figures of note that are connected to the history and academic curriculum of Seton Hall University please contact us for information.  E-Mail: Archives@shu.edu, Phone: (973) 275-2378.

Celebration of St. Stephen and “Wren Day”

In religious terms, December 26th is the second day of Christmastide is part of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” observance between the Nativity and Epiphany.  In secular contemporary circles, the day itself is often seen as a time to rest, shop, or return gifts for exchange, but is also notable for the observance of what has come to be known as “Boxing Day” and has endured over the centuries. Various theories regarding the naming of this holiday have endured including among others servants receiving boxed gifts from their respective managers that emanated from Great Britain and is celebrated throughout the commonwealth wherein along with gifts in past days “lords of manor” and servants would trade places for that 24-hour period and in modern times the switch is based more on creative role playing in the present day.  In Éire proper, December 26th among the Christian population in particular, a different style commemoration that honors the Feast of St. Stephen has its own customs and traditions which has lived on through the ages.

“The Stoning of Saint Stephen” by Giovanni Battista Lucini (1508) [Public Domain Image]
St. Stephen (5-34 AD) was a church deacon who is often recognized (and memorialized in the Acts of the Apostles found throughout texts within the New Testament) as the first martyr of Christendom who lost his life in defense of his faith.  The specific reason for his death came through reprisal for negative remarks about Jewish authorities that spread to the ears of various Synagogue overseers throughout the City of Jerusalem during the fourth century.  According to existent accounts, Stephen was stoned to death for this sacrilege which led to his martyrdom and subsequent place of adoration over time.  His deed is recognized throughout various Christian denominations on a worldwide scale.  When it comes to the place of this martyr in Irish life, the famed Georgian square in Dublin, christened “St. Stephen’s Green” has immortalized him along with a Catholic parish that bears his name situated in Tyrrellspass, County Westmeath as well.

In broad terms, the traditional celebration of St. Stephen’s Day is actually a National Public Holiday (following in the wake of the Irish Banks Holiday Act of 1871) throughout the Republic of Ireland.  This observance is also celebrated in other locales (especially prevalent across Europe), but within the townlands and villages of Ireland, pubs and stores are often open to accommodate the crowds and visiting family members, attending musical-comedy performances that rely mainly on pantomime as a means of expression, and/or attending special Masses honoring Stephen for the more devout are popular traditions and more modern in approach than in past years when a Wren was the true centerpiece.

Atmospheric and Astrological details on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26, 1820 from the Irish Almanack of that year

This celebration is known in the Irish language as: Lá an Dreoilín or Lá Fhéile Stiofáin which in translation is known variously as “Wren Day,” “Wren’s Day,” or “Day of the Wren,” or the “Hunt of the Wren” (pronounced “wran” in Ireland) in which this bird is short in physical stature with a small wingspan is conversely loud and bold in its actions.  Known in some circles as “The King of Birds,” the wren according to historical accounts was the betrayer of Stephen who was found after hiding from those who sought to kill him making this fowl who squealed an integral part of the story in this martyrdom.  In the present day, it is considered good fortune for the individual to capture a live wren or a least secure a feather to find abundant good fortune while this bird of death is also associated with the old year.

Tradition has it that on every December 26th, a procession of individuals (known variously as “mummers” or “strawboys” or “wrenboys”) don suits and hats of dried hay, colorfully mixed and matched old clothing with some festooned in tinsel or colored paper and wearing masks to hide their faces while playing musical instruments in Céilí style, or process and dance on their own downtown streets.  During days of yore, in-between the march, the revelers stopped at homes along the way to ask for money, food, and drink as ingredients for the parties that were celebrated on that day.

Image of child-led procession in celebration of St. Stephen’s Day – “The Day of the Wren” c. early 20th century. Image from the site –
https://www.doolin2aranferries.com/blog/the-day-of-the-wren-la-an-dreoilin/

For those who did not contribute according to legend would risk having a wren buried outside of their door which would constitute twelve years of back luck for the non-donor.  In present times, those who collect money often donates these alms to charity or local schools instead of using it on themselves. Leading the way for the band of revelers within the parade itself is a pole bearer (or a few) who has a faux wren (in past ages it was a real bird, but this practice was phased out around the turn of the twentieth century) mounted atop this staff and in some cases also adorned with a holly bush to further denote the hiding place of Stephen upon his discovery.  Thu tradition is more common and celebrated fervently in different parts of Ireland including Dingle and Westmeath among others and has since fallen out of vogue in other regions of Ireland, but has undergone a more modern revival while keeping core traditions alive especially the honoring of the wren, song, dance, and expression which is now co-educational while in past days was a male only revelry.

Many who have no recognition of St. Stephen, may have heard his name within the refrain of the song “Good King Wenceslas” by John Mason Neale in 1853 actually in honor of his feast day.  This ballad begins in the following manner: “Good King Wenceslas look’d out, On the Feast of Stephen; When the snow lay round about, Deep, and crisp, and even . . . Brightly shone the moon that night . . .”

This mention is also a compliment to a number of poems and songs that honor St. Stephen and the Day of the Wren including: “The Wren, The Wren” (The Wrenboys Song) published in popular music anthologies during the nineteenth centur

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Sheet Music to the Tune – “The Wren, The Wren” c. 1870s

However, he most prevalent and standard of rhymes that is repeated over and over on December 26th is the following verse . . .

The Wren, the Wren the king of all birds,
St. Stephens’s day, he was caught in the furze.
Although he is little, his honour is great,
Rise up, kind sir, and give us a trate.

We followed this Wren ten miles or more
Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow,
We up with our wattles and gave him a fall
And brought him here to show you all.

For we are the boys that came your way
To bury the Wren on Saint Stephens’s Day,
So up with the kettle and down with the pan!
Give us some help for to bury the Wren!

For more information about the story of St. Stephen can be found within New Testament text found in our Rare Book Collection including one of the oldest of our Irish-language volumes entitled: Tiomna Nuadh ar dTighearna agus ar Slanuigheora Iósa Criosd : ar na ťarrv, ng go firněać as Greigis go Gioďeilg (1681) along with other versions in later editions in multiple languages.

For more information on St. Stephen, Wren Day, and other aspects of Irish and Religious History please feel free to contact us by phone at: (973) 275-2378, or via e-mail: Archives@shu.edu

Irish Superstitions and Rituals

From Friday the 13th and black cats to tossing salt over one’s left shoulder to ward off evil spirits, superstitions and rituals are rooted in a mixture of religion, mythology, and folklore. They have the power to ward off evil, bring good luck, cure sickness, even stop people from performing certain activities on certain days.

However, every culture is different and what is unlucky in one may be lucky in another. Instead of Friday the 13th, it is Tuesday the 13th that is thought to be unlucky in Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Ecuador, Greece, Mexico, and Serbia. For Italy, it is Friday the 17th.

Where a black cat can be thought to mean bad luck, in Ireland it may lead to fortune as “several of the great lake serpents and water-cows of our Irish Fairy Mythology are supposed to guard treasurers; in some instances black cats are similarly employed” (Wilde, 98).

Some of Ireland’s other superstitions and rituals revolve around fairies and goblins, stating,

“…if you cast the dust that is under your foot against the whirlwind at the instant that it passes you, “them that’s in it” (that is, if they have any human being along with them) are obliged to be released” (Wilde, 130).

Then there are those that involve fire, most notably on days of celebration such as May Day and St. John’s Eve or Midsummer’s Eve:

“If a man was to perform a long journey, he leaped backwards and forwards three times through the fire to render himself invulnerable” (Wilde, 49).

“When the fire has nearly expired, and the dancing, singing, and carousing are over, each individual present provides himself with a braune, or ember of the fire, to carry home with him, which, if it becomes extinguished before he reaches his house, it is an omen of impending misfortune” (Wilde, 49).

“Walking around a burning flame during St. John’s Eve or Midsummer’s Eve spares one from being sick the whole year” (Putzi, 196).

Other curious Irish rituals include keeping spiders in a bag to be worn as a pendant or necklace to cure fever. However, if the bag is opened it will cause back luck. To remove a sty on one’s eyelid, the person should point to the direction of a gooseberry thorn nine times while chanting “Away, away, away!”.

But if things still go awry, you find your milk has curdled, you can always blame the fairies!

 

Other superstitions and rituals can be found in:

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.

All Saints &; All Souls Days – Early Texts from the Rare Book Collection

The liturgical commemorations that distinguish the feast days of All Saints (November 1st) and All Souls (November 2nd) that are both important times of reflection and veneration by many adherents who believe in the spirit of Christianity.  Along with iconography and dedicated prayers, the most evident means of honoring the memories of those who came before us can be found in the bibliographic record created over time.  This encompasses various accounts, sermons, pronouncements, and legacies of innumerable individuals have recorded relevant declarations throughout the past several centuries and preserved for the ages.

Calendar of Holy Days for November Including All Saints and All Souls, 1723

Within the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, a number of theological-based volumes have been collected by our past and present clergy that honor the prayers of the faithful along with titles on individual saints who have been memorialized over time.  All Saints Day (or All Hallow’s Day) is a time of dedicated solemnity to honor all blessed individuals who have attained canonization especially blessed individuals who do not have their own respective feast day within the calendar.  The start of formal celebrations in regard to sainthood possibly began in Antioch and the inspiration for present day commemoration of November 1st as the Feast of All Saints was first documented by 800 AD within such manuscripts as the Martyrology of Tallaght and Martyrology of Óengus from Éire and spread forward to Bavaria, Nothumbria (England), the Frankish Kingdom (a day of total obligation even prior to its emergence as part of the Holy Roman Empire) along its present-day presence.

First page of the Sermones de t(em)p(or)e et de sanctis: cu(m) omelijs Beati Bernardi Abbatis Clareualle(n)s(is) (1495)

When it comes to individual titles on those canonized located in our stacks, the oldest text devoted to a saint is a compilation of sermons and devotions created by Bernard of Clarivoux. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153 AD) was a native of Burgundy and spent his life as a monastic abbot within the Order of Cistercians (Trappists).  He later became the first Cistercian placed on the Christian Calendar of Saints and was canonized on January 18, 1174 and over half a century later was bestowed with the title: “Doctor of the Church” in honor of his contributions to the faith.  The volume that celebrates his legacy found within our collection is entitled (in the Latin): Sermones de t(em)p(or)e et de sanctis: cu(m) omelijs Beati Bernardi Abbatis Clareualle(n)s(is) ordinis Cisterciensis; cu(m) no(n)nullis ep(isto)lis eiusde(m) (English: Conversations about t [em] p [or] of the holy places [m] omelijs St. Bernard Abbot Clareualle [n] [is] a Cistercian [m] no [n] with no ep [this] issue eiusdë [m]) (Impressi Venetijs : Per Iohannem Emericu[m] de Spira Alemanu[m], sub anno I[n]carnatio[n]is D[omi]nice, 1495).  [Call Number is: BXZ890.B5377 1495]

Preface page to Sermones de t(em)p(or)e et de sanctis: cu(m) omelijs Beati Bernardi Abbatis Clareualle(n)s(is) (1495)

When it comes to the commemoration of All Souls Day (LatinCommemoratio Omnium Fidelium Defunctorum also known as the: “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed” or the “Day of the Dead”) in celebration of the faithful who are counted among the deceased.  In terms of textual origins, the practice of praying for the corpus dates can be traced back as far as the Book of Maccabees 12:42–46.

Frontispiece of Coeleste palmetum variis officiis, litaniis, precibus, & psalmis poenitentialibus (1723)

Within our own library there are a number of works that relate to meditation and devotionals can be found within the book (in Latin) entitled: Coeleste palmetum variis officiis, litaniis, precibus, & psalmis poenitentialibus, &c. : nec non vitis sanctorum per annum, cum orationibus adjunctis : ad ubertatem & sacras delicias excultum, ornatum, munitum : opera (Coloniae Agrippinae : Sumptibus Petri Putz, 1723) (English: Sixto offices litanies, prayers, instructions, explanations of Psalms, meditation controversy, Sec. Nor does the holy lives a year with prayers in the circumstances, choice of Scripture and the Fathers admitting the evidence and opinion to the richness and holy . . . developed, given assumed.) [Call Number: BXZ2184.N34162 1723] written by Wilhelm Nakatenus, S.J.  Reverend Nakatenus (1617-1582) was a Jesuit priest, author and preacher who is considered “one of the important prayer book authors of modern times” by several theologians throughout the years. This particular edition is one of only six found within different libraries globally which adds to its uniqueness for those read this valuable work.

For more information on titles by and about various Saints (1300-1800 AD) found within Archives & Special Collections Center Catalog please consult the following link . . . https://setonhall.on.worldcat.org/search?sortKey=RECENCY&databaseList=&queryString=Saint*&changedFacet=year&overrideStickyFacetDefault=&selectSortKey=RECENCY&expandSearch=on&overrideGroupVariant=&overrideGroupVariantValue=&scope=wz%3A3042&subformat=Book%3A%3Abook_printbook&year=custom&yearFrom=1300&yearTo=1800&author=all&topic=all&database=all&language=all&materialtype=all

Additionally, a number of works about All Souls Day and its symbolism can be located within the University Libraries Catalog . . . https://setonhall.on.worldcat.org/search?databaseList=283&queryString=all+souls+day&clusterResults=false

For more information on Church Feasts, Saints, Rare Books, and other related topics please feel free to contact our Center by e-mail: Archives@shu.edu or via phone at: (973) 275-2378.

 

Sister Rose Thering – A Centennial Remembrance

“No one who ever brushes shoulders with Sister Rose can forget the experience.  Her unique charism, blending warmth with idealism, moves everyone she meets.  She is also a team player who serves on many teams, all with the same fervent ideals.”

This passage was written to summarize the legacy of Sister Rose Thering upon the receipt of an honorary degree bestowed by Seton Hall University in 2000. These remarks show that the esteem she was shown in life was profound and remains ever strong even a decade after her death six years later.  Her life and works are diverse and continuously honored not only on the campus, but also on a global level alike. Sister Rose (as she was affectionately known) was most widely noted for her advocacy of Israel and promoting the spiritual and educational importance inherent within Christianity and Judaism.  Her respect for each religious tradition entailed a perpetual celebration of the uniqueness found within each faith and fostering respectful dialogue between both religious traditions whenever possible.  This became one of her most lasting contributions to humankind.

Tribute to Sister Rose Thering, Memorial Card, 2006

Rose Elizabeth Thering was born on August 9, 1920 in Plain, Wisconsin and entered the order of Racine Dominican Sisters at the age of 16.  She later earned her academic credentials that included an undergraduate degree from Dominican College (1953), master of arts from the College of St. Thomas (1957), and a doctorate from St. Louis University (1961) before embarking on her long-standing work as an educator.

The doctoral dissertation written by Sister Rose focused upon the negative treatment of Judaism found in Catholic-produced textbooks.  The findings of this study were utilized by Cardinal Augustin Bea, a German Jesuit priest who during the Second Vatican Council used the work of Sister Rose for perspective that resulted in the 1965 document: Nostra Aetate (“In Our Age”), A Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, which came down to the following major pronouncement in regard to the Crucifixion of Christ: “. . . what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today”. As regarding how this issue was to be handled in catechetical instruction, it added, “The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God.”

Text of Nostra Aetate, 1965

This adherence to Nostra Aetate in turn became a lifelong cause for Sister Rose where she advocated for Christians to understand and embrace this message of toleration and bring the principles from print to real life recognition.  Her activism resulted in fighting Anti-Semitism and becoming more involved in community initiatives where she was one of the founding forces behind the National Christian Leadership Conference Leadership Conference for Israel, United States Foreign Relations Committee, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) among many others.  In addition, Sister Rose became a charter member of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education where her work led to required instruction of the Holocaust and Genocide throughout all New Jersey Public School systems.  Her outreach was so widely known that a film about her activism entitled: Sister Rose’s Passion released in 2004 was later nominated for an Academy Award.

Even though she was a citizen of the world, Sister Rose made an important and lasting mark on Seton Hall when she arrived on campus in 1968 through her work as a faculty member in the College of Education.  She advanced to the rank of Professor and was elected Chair of Secondary Education before her official retirement in 1989.  Sister Rose further helped to enhance the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies, conducted over 50 tours of Israel and countless workshops on Judaism that helped lead to the origin of the Menorah Studies Program that led to the Graduate Department of Judaeo-Christian Studies founded in 1974.  She later became a Professor Emerita at Seton Hall and the Sister Rose Endowment Center named in her honors continues to the sponsor the annual “Evening of Roses” event where leaders in both the Jewish and Christian communities were honored for their contributions to mutual religious understanding.

 

 

 

 

Publications Celebrating the Work of Sister Rose Thering, 1974-2000

 

In addition to the memories and testimonials that remain, the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center houses the Sister Rose Thering Papers (MSS 0016) consisting of various works that show more detail on her life and work over the last century.  The following abstract provides an overview of this collection which is available for research consultation . . .

The Rose Thering Papers (1944-2005) consist of the professional and personal papers of Sister Rose Thering. The collection includes writings, correspondence, speeches, travel information, and subject files. Most of the material dates from Sister Rose Thering’s time in New Jersey working for the Institute for Judaeo-Christian studies, and documents her teaching and scholarly activities, her work for the state of New Jersey in creating legislation for the teaching of the Holocaust, her international activism, and her travel to gives talks to a wide variety of audiences. The materials also demonstrate the varied research interests of Sister Rose that are located in specialized subject files.

More details on this collection can be reviewed via the following link . . .

https://archivesspace-library.shu.edu/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&op%5B%5D=&q%5B%5D=thering&commit=&field%5B%5D=&from_year%5B%5D=&to_year%5B%5D=

In addition, the Archives & Special Collections Center along with the University Libraries of Seton Hall contains a number of books authored by and about Sister Rose along with various articles that highlight her research and varied pronouncements . . .

https://setonhall.on.worldcat.org/search?databaseList=283&queryString=Rose+Thering&clusterResults=false

For more information regarding Sister Rose Thering along with other figures related to the Judaeo-Christian Studies program and its history please feel free to contact us via e-mail at: Archives@shu.edu or by phone at: (973) 275-2378.

 

“Ever More” – Edgar Allan Poe & Rare Book Holdings

With the calendar pointing to late October, reading trends this time of year often focus on tales of mystery and mayhem connected with the observance of Halloween.  Counted among the most famous authors who represent this time of year so vividly is Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49).  Among his varied literary accomplishments, Poe is often credited with being the first to create and popularize the genre of science fiction.  Many of his stories touched on the darker side of human nature, but his writing style was unique and captured the public imagination.  Within an academic context, the short stories penned by Poe are still assigned by many professors as required reading for their students to study and learn from in turn.

Illustration from “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” (New York: Brentano’s, 1923)

When it comes to learning more about Edgar Allan Poe, biographical information and introductory information on some of his more famous writings can be found via the University Libraries Search page at: http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/results?vid=0&sid=c0971814-1a94-41d1-b97c-87b36a01b8dc%40sessionmgr101&bquery=Edgar%2BAllan%2Bpoe&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPXNzbyZ0eXBlPTAmc2VhcmNoTW9kZT1BbmQmc2l0ZT1lZHMtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d

Inside the Archives & Special Collections are different historical anthologies and special edition volumes that capture the written legacy of Poe in greater detail.  Included are the following titles under his authorship:  Eurkea, Marginalia; A Chapter on Autobiography (Boston: L.C. Page, 1884);  Poetical Works With Original Memoir (New York: J.S. Redfield, 1858);  Poems and Essays (Boston: L.C. Page, 1884);  Prose Tales (Boston: L.C. Page, 1884); and Tales of Mystery and Imagination (New York: Brentano’s, 1923) among other works of scholarship that have endured the test of time.

Illustration connected to the Poe short story: “The Raven” from “Poetical Works With Original Memoir”(New York: J.S. Redfield, 1858)

These and other works by Poe and different authors who specialize in suspense and other genres can be found through within our collection.  For more information about Edgar Allan Poe, Rare Book holdings, and research opportunities please feel free to contact us to arrange an appointment via e-mail: <archives@shu.edu> or by phone at:  (973) 275-2378.