Archive for the ‘histories’ Category

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.


The Legend of St. Valentine

The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Link Source: http://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day

Happy Valentines Day

Read Full Post »

Intense and brooding images of Stonehenge and other prehistoric monuments in a new exhibition are taking visitors deep into the heart of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Wessex’.

Archaeologists debate the purpose of Stonehenge, but for Hardy it was a haunting symbol of isolation and suffering.

The exhibition by three artists at Salisbury Museum mirrors the Dorset author’s emotional response to the archaeological sites he knew and used with such effect in his novels.

His use of landscape was highly symbolic and deeply emotive. Nowhere is that more clear than in his description of Stonehenge, which features in the climactic scene of Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

In the dead of night, Tess stumbles upon the monument, and lies down to rest on an ancient altar, giving the allusion of her character as a sacrificial offering to a society that has cast her out. Hardy describes the isolation of the monument on Salisbury Plain, and once inside, the feeling of enclosure.

Symbolism is central to Hardy’s writing, which may be why so many artists use his work as their inspiration.

Artists Dave Gunning, David Inshaw and Rob Pountney have collaborated to show the dramatic landscapes and archaeology in media ranging from charcoal to steel etching and oil paint.

They share a common interest in how Hardy used landscape to symbolise the emotional and physical experiences of his characters.

He revived the Saxon name ‘Wessex’ as a part-real, part-dream landscape, thinly disguising place names so that Salisbury becomes Melchester and Dorchester becomes Casterbridge. Salisbury Plain is sometimes called the “Great Grey Plain”.

Dave Gunning, who was awarded the Year of the Artist Award in 2000-1 by the British Arts Council, has spent more than 25 years studying the prehistoric landscape in the West Country, particularly the ancient monuments within the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge and Avebury.

David Inshaw is one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists. His work is often inspired by literature that takes landscape and nature as its focus.

Rob Pountney has always been fascinated by Thomas Hardy’s work, and says the use of dramatic contrasts of light and shade in his work captures the striking visual aspects of the geological and archaeological features of the Wessex landscape, and his interpretation of Hardy’s response to them.

Salisbury Museum is the perfect place for the exhibition, which opened on Saturday and runs until April 14.

In Jude the Obscure, Hardy bases the college that Sue Bridehead attends on the training college for schoolmistresses that his sisters attended. This was the King’s House, Salisbury, and is now home to the museum.

Thomas Hardy was born at Higher Bockhampton, a hamlet in the parish of Stinsford to the east of Dorchester.

He became ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died at Max Gate just after 9pm on January 11, 1928, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed. The cause of death was cited, on his death certificate, as “cardiac syncope
Link: http://www.dorchesterpeople.co.uk

Mystical Landscape, Magical Tours
HisTOURies UK – Private Guided Tours of Stonehenge and the West Country

Read Full Post »

THE discovery of a Stone Age temple on Orkney looks set to rewrite the archeological records of ancient Britain with evidence emerging it was built centuries before Stonehenge.

Stonehenge Wiltshire


 Archeologists have so far found undisturbed artefacts including wall decorations, pigments and paint pots, which are already increasing their understanding of the Neolithic people.

Experts believe the huge outer wall suggests the site was not domestic, while the layout of the buildings has reinforced the view it might have been a major religious site. Archaeologists think the temple was built 500 years before Stonehenge, regarded as the centre of Stone Age Britain.

However, only 10% of the site at Ness of Brodgar has been excavated and it could be years before the scale and age of the discovery is fully understood.

It sits close to the existing Ring of Brodgar stone circles and the standing stones of Stenness, near to the town of Stromness.

The uncovered wall around the edges of the site was built with 10,000 tonnes of quarried rock and may have been up to 10 ft high.

Thermal technology also indicates the site could cover the same area as five football pitches, with some parts potentially older than Stonehenge, in south-west England, by as much as 800 years.

Charcoal samples from beneath the wall indicate it was built around 3200 BC. A 30mm high figurine with a head, body and two eyes, and called the “Brodgar Boy”, was also unearthed in the rubble of one of the structures.

About 18 months ago, a remarkable rock coloured red, orange and yellow was unearthed. This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic peoples used paint to decorate their buildings.

Project manager Nick Card said the discoveries are unparalleled in British prehistory and that the complexity of finds is changing the “whole vision of what the landscape was 5000 years ago.” He said it was of “a scale that almost relates to the classical period in the Mediterranean with walled enclosure and precincts”.

Mr Card added: “It’s a huge discovery; in terms of scale and complexity there really is nothing else quite like it.

“At first we thought it was a settlement but the scale and complexity within the buildings makes you think along the lines of a temple precinct. It’s something you would associate with the classical world.”

Archeologist Julian Richards, who has written several books on Stonehenge, added: “The indication is that building was taking place when Stonehenge was still, relatively speaking, insignificant. We have tended to think we know how things were in the Neolithic period, then something like this turns that on its head.”

Full story: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/orcadian-temple-predates-stonehenge-by-500-years.16330802

Stonehenge Tourist Guide
HisTOURies UK – Mystical Landscape, Magical Tours

Read Full Post »

I don’t normally do articles on ancient sites outside of my own Country,  Britain.  However I felt this was a significant discovery in Europe and has a Stonehenge connection.

General plan of the early Celtic burial mound with sky constellations.

General plan of the early Celtic burial mound with sky constellations.

A huge early Celtic calendar construction has been discovered in the royal tomb of Magdalenenberg, nearby Villingen-Schwenningen in Germany’s Black Forest. The order of the burials around the central royal tomb fits exactly with the sky constellations of the Northern hemisphere.

Whereas Stonehenge was orientated towards the sun, the more than 100-meters-wide burial mound of Magdalenenberg was focused towards the moon. The builders positioned long rows of wooden posts in the burial mound to be able to focus on the Lunar Standstills. These Lunar Standstills happen every 18.6 year and were the corner stones of the Celtic calendar.

Archaeo-astronomic research resulted in a date of Midsummer 618 BCE, which makes it the earliest and most complete example of a Celtic calendar focused on the moon.

After the complete destruction of the Celtic culture by Rome, these types of calendars were completely forgotten.The full dimensions of the lost Celtic calendar system have now come to light again in the monumental burial mound of Magdalenenberg.

Like other European Iron Age tribal societies, the Celts practiced a polytheistic religion. Rites and sacrifices were carried out by priests known as druids. The Celts did not see their gods as having human shapes until late in the Iron Age. Celtic shrines were situated in remote areas such as hilltops, groves, and lakes.

Roman reports of the druids mention ceremonies being held in sacred groves. La Tène Celts built temples of varying size and shape, though they also maintained shrines at sacred trees and votive pools.

Druids fulfilled a variety of roles in Celtic religion, serving as priests and religious officials, but also as judges, sacrificers, teachers, and lore-keepers. Druids organized and ran religious ceremonies, and they memorized and taught the calendar. Other classes of druids performed ceremonial sacrifices of crops and animals for the perceived benefit of the community. Neo-druidism is still practiced today.

Sources: Examiner, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, via AlphaGalileo and Science Daily

Stonehenge and Ancient Britain Tours
HisTOURies UK – Mystical Landscape, Magical Tours

Read Full Post »

Three very different national histories are marred by their refusal to admit neighbours into the narrative, writes David Cannadine from the Financial Times.

“There are,” John Julius Norwich notes with pardonable exaggeration in his lively and engaging volume on the subject, “a thousand histories of England, ranging from the scholarly to the popular, the impartial to the tendentious, the consistently riveting to the utterly unreadable.”

The Venerable Bede was the first in the field with his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in AD731. Almost 1,200 years and much more history later, another Northumbrian, G.M. Trevelyan, produced the defining account of the national past, not only for his generation but for the next as well. Yet few histories of England have ever attained the canonical status of Bede or Trevelyan, and the best put-down to what has all too often been a formulaic, parochial and self-satisfied genre remains 1066 and All That by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman. In a bravura display of historical comedy, they unrelentingly sent up the conventional national narratives built around dates and dynasties, which categorised all people and events as either “good” or “bad”, which chronicled England’s pre-destined rise to being “top nation”, and which lamented that history came to a “full stop” when that pre-eminence was given up at the close of the first world war.

Sellar and Yeatman published their incisive masterpiece of historical hilarity in 1930 but it would be another 50 years before the no-longer-deniable decline of Britain as a great power, and the growing demands for devolution in Wales and Scotland, combined with the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, encouraged a fundamental rethink of the traditional English national narrative – a reappraisal beginning in 1984 with the Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, developed by Hugh Kearney in his “four nations” history of the British Isles, and brought to broader public attention either side of the millennium by Norman Davies in The Isles: A History and by Simon Schama in his television series History of Britain.

As they saw it, the history of England was no longer the right way to define, approach or understand the national past: instead, they urged a more complex and nuanced treatment, exploring the relations between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, recognising the constructed and contingent nature of “Britishness” and paying appropriate attention to the constant interactions between the British and continental Europe and the wider world beyond. Thus understood, the English past was merely one specific component of a much bigger history and multilayered narrative.

“We are told that Hampshire is ‘older’ than France – but what exactly does that mean, and do the French know or care?”

But if the three books under review here are any indication, English history has carried on regardless: for their authors are wholly unengaged with or unimpressed by the scholarly rethinking and upscaling of what constitutes our national past that has by now been going on for three decades and more. John Julius Norwich would shed no tears if Scotland became independent and he focuses exclusively on England because writing its history in one hundred places was just about possible, whereas dealing with Britain as a whole with the same number was not.

For Simon Jenkins, too, England is the subject of his concern. Wales, Scotland and Ireland are separate countries with separate histories, which have only occasionally connected with England: Wales was “a thorn in the side of Norman monarchs”; Scotland had an unrivalled “capacity for causing trouble” for the English; while after the Act of Union, Ireland was “a curse on British political leaders”. And although he had thought of including the histories of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, Peter Ackroyd also concentrates on England, on the grounds that a broader approach would run the risk of “their seeming to become merely extensions of England” – which is exactly how he treats them anyway.

So here, once again, are three little England histories: 1066 and All That, but without the jokes. In A Short History of England, Simon Jenkins provides a brisk and confident narrative from the Saxon dawn beginning in 410 to David Cameron exactly 1,600 years later. He focuses on high politics: kings and queens, war and peace, with (as might be expected of a National Trust chairman) occasional allusions to landscape, churches and country houses. There is nothing here that is new and his account is devoid of context, analysis or explanation, falling back on such banalities as “England had a genius for opportunistic social change” and “new forces were now coming into play”. The Black Death, the “rising middle classes” of Tudor and Stuart times, and the Industrial Revolution are dismissed in little more than a few lines. The marriage of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer is thought of more importance than the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species or the Indian Mutiny. If the book has a theme, it is the growth of parliament, but this is insufficiently developed. In the conclusion, we are told on one page that no extra-parliamentary movement has ever acquired political traction but, soon after, we learn that progress in England has always been the result of social, economic and political change welling up from below. It is impossible to make sense of such contradictory signals.

Peter Ackroyd’s Foundation is not only on a larger scale than Jenkins’ brief canter across the centuries, it is also the first of a projected six-volume history of England, which will test the stamina not only of the author but also of his readers. In this opening instalment, he takes us from pre-Stonehenge times to the death of Henry VII in 1509. As with Jenkins, the narrative is built around the reigns of kings and queens, and their interminable quarrels, and even Ackroyd’s talents as a storyteller are taxed when he takes us through the Wars of the Roses, where everyone seems to have been called Henry or Edward or, alternatively, Norfolk or Suffolk, or Gloucester or Salisbury. These chapters stress chance, contingency and unintended consequences, and he interleaves them with accounts of the ordinary lives of ordinary people: religion, family, education, crime, medicine and so on. According to Ackroyd, it is in the deep continuity of ordinary people’s lives and circumstances, rather than in the chaos and confusion of royal politics and dynastic quarrels, that the essence of English history and national identity is to be found. But he offers no convincing explanation as to how or why this has been true or could be true; and he seems unaware of the fact that the job of the historian is at least as much to investigate and question identities as to support and create them.

Like Jenkins, Ackroyd adopts a traditional style of exposition, and tells us little that is new, whereas John Julius Norwich adopts a wholly novel approach, whose obvious indebtedness to Neil MacGregor’s recent History of the World in 100 Objects in no sense diminishes his own book’s interest. In A History of England in 100 Places, he takes us from Stonehenge to the Gherkin, via Offa’s Dyke, Bodiam Castle, Blenheim Palace, Ironbridge, the Albert Memorial and the National Theatre; but he also includes such unexpected places as Brick Lane Mosque in London, Old Sarum in Wiltshire, the Liverpool houses in which John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up, and Greenham Common. In these short histories, Norwich succeeds in conveying the complex texture and endless fascination of English history in ways that elude both Jenkins and Ackroyd. He has wise things to say about, for example, the general ghastliness of medieval life and medieval monarchs, the splendours of the King James Bible (“the only world-class masterpiece ever created by a committee”), the limitations of the English educational system, and the inexcusable destruction of Dresden by the allies during the second world war (though he does harbour a particular – and unexplained – animus against Queen Anne).

Despite their differences of scale and approach, dates and names and kings and queens loom very large in all three of these books. Ackroyd takes us through English history from the Saxons to the Yorkists reign by reign; Norwich prints a list of monarchs from Offa to Elizabeth II; and Jenkins not only has his own table of English sovereigns but also adds the names of all prime ministers from Sir Robert Walpole to David Cameron, along with his choice of 100 key dates, which he regards as “the finger-posts of history”, and as “the most important turning points in the national story”.

No one would deny that names and dates, narrative and chronology, are important in our past or in that of any other nation. But as these lists serve eloquently (and inadvertently) to show, without context and explanation, so-called “finger posts” and “turning points” can be as meaningless as the names and numbers in a telephone directory. When some politicians call for a “return” to history taught around kings and queens, they need to be reminded that such calls have repeatedly been made for the best part of a century, and that all too often, the cult of names and dates can be a substitute for teaching or learning history, rather than opening up the real thing itself.

In addition to their excessive stress on kings and queens, all three authors go too far in asserting the singular importance and identity of England. Ackroyd tells us that Hampshire is “older” than France (but what exactly does that mean, and do the French know or care?). Jenkins insists that England’s history is “the most consistently eventful of any nation on earth” (he does not seem to have heard of China or Iran). And while writing his book, Norwich was constantly struck by “how unlike the English are to any of their neighbours” (though most of their neighbours would probably say the same thing about themselves).

But while these claims to exceptionalism seem overstated and, indeed, inappropriate to the middle-ranking European power that Britain has for several decades been, all three authors are to be congratulated for offering relatively even-handed accounts of the national past, and for avoiding the sort of cheerleading propaganda that some politicians are also again urging. Each of these books describes extraordinary achievements and (on occasions) admirable and exemplary lives. But they also describe poverty and suffering, cruelty and destruction, duplicity and aggression on a scale that calls to mind what is happening in the most impoverished and war-ravaged parts of the world today.

By focusing as they do so specifically on the history of England, all three authors are in ignorant or deliberate denial of a generation’s scholarship that has done so much to make us aware of the many and more complex interactions between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, between Britain and France, Scandinavia and Germany, and between Britain and the wider world beyond. A national narrative that gives no more than walk-on parts to the rest of the British Isles, to continental Europe, to the British Empire, and to those places that were never coloured red, is in too many ways a contradiction in terms.

Little England has always been part of a bigger world and, for good or ill, English history has taken place in many parts of the globe beyond its boundaries and its shores. It was Rudyard Kipling (among other things the author of a distinctly tendentious national history) who once inquired: “What do they know of England who only England know?” As these three books inadvertently make plain, there are two very different answers to that question. The first is “a considerable amount”. But the second is “not nearly enough”.

Sir David Cannadine is Dodge professor of history at Princeton University. His ‘The Right Kind of History’, co-authored with Jenny Keating and Nicola Sheldon, is published in November by Palgrave Macmillan

Foundation: The History of England, Volume 1, by Peter Ackroyd, Macmillan, RRP£25, 352 pages

A Short History of England, by Simon Jenkins, Profile, RRP£25, 384 pages

A History of England in 100 Places: From Stonehenge to the Gherkin, by John Julius Norwich, John Murray, RRP£25, 512 pages

The Best Tours in British History
HisTOURies UK – Priveat guided sightseeing tours of Britain

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: