The earliest records of a New Year celebration are from Mesopotamia around 2000 BC. Then about the time of Father Abraham, the new year was heralded not in mid winter, but at the Spring equinox in mid-March. Following these already ancient customs, the first Roman calendar had ten months and also recognized March as the beginning of the year. This is why September, October, November and December have their names: from March they were the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months.
The second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius added January and February to the calender1 and in 153 BC we have the first record of January first being celebrated as New Years’ Day. The change was decreed for civil reasons (the consuls began their term at that time) but many people still recognized March as the start of the year.2
When Julius Caesar replaced the old lunar based calendar3 in 46 BC with a solar calendar,4 he also formally established the beginning of January as New Year’s Day. As the Empire fell and Europe transitioned to the new religion and rule of Christianity, the vestiges of pagan culture were purged. New Years’ Day at the beginning of January was officially eliminated at the Council of Tours5 in 597, and across Europe the start of a new year was celebrated variously at Christmas, Easter or most significantly March 25.
The date of March 25 not only connected with the most ancient celebrations of the new year at the Spring equinox, but in the Christian calendar March 25 is the celebration of the Annunciation–the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would bear a son. The date of March 25 was determined by the Jewish belief that great men were conceived on the same day of the year as their death. Jesus Christ died on March 25, (so the theory goes) which means he was conceived on March 25. Incidentally this is also the origin for the traditional date of Christmas–nine months from March 25.
Medieval Christians understood that the beginning of the life of the Son of God in the Virgin Mary’s womb was the beginning of God’s work among mankind, the restoration and redemption of the world and the beginning of a new creation. It was therefore theologically fitting that March 25 or Ladyday (in honor of the Virgin Mary) should be celebrated as New Years’ Day. And so it was for a thousand years.
Then in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII tinkered with Julius Caesar’s ancient calendar. Because of imprecise calculations, the date of Easter had been drifting and the pope decided it needed fixing. Part of the reform was to re-establish January first as New Years’ Day. Seeing this as papal presumption, the Eastern Orthodox rejected the reform.6 Seeing this as not only papal presumption, but paganism restored, the Protestants also rejected the new Gregorian calendar. The British did not adopt the new calendar until 1752. The Greeks held out until 1923. The monks of Mt Athos still hold on to the Julian calendar.7
What about the fall of Sauron—the nemesis in The Lord of the Rings? J.R.R.Tolkien was very sly in the way he wove Christian symbolism into his epic myth. He records the dates of the great events in the cycle of the ring, and we discover that it is on March 25 that the ring of power is cast into the fires of Mount Doom, and so the destruction of Sauron heralds a new beginning for Middle Earth. Thus Tolkien gives a nod to the medieval Christian tradition that March 25 is the true New Years’ Day.
As you celebrate New Years’ Day remember that for one thousand years the welcoming of a new year was not just a calendar event, but a culturally religious event which linked the renewal of nature with the redemption of the world.
By tradition, Numa promulgated a calendar reform that adjusted the solar and lunar years, introducing the months of January and February (Livy’s History of Rome, 1:19).
The January Kalends came to be celebrated as the new year at some point after it became the day for the inaugurating new consuls in 153 BC. Romans had long dated their years by these consulships, rather than sequentially, and making the kalends of January start the new year aligned this dating.
In AD 567, the Council of Tours formally abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on December 25 in honor of the birth of Jesus; March 1 in the old Roman style; March 25 in honor of Lady Day and the Feast of the Annunciation; and on the movable feast of Easter. These days were also astronomically and astrologically significant since, at the time of the Julian reform, March 25 had been understood as the spring equinox and December 25 as the winter solstice. Medieval calendars nonetheless often continued to display the months running from January to December, despite their readers reckoning the transition from one year to the next on a different day.
Though all the monks on Mt. Athos follow the Old Calendar, there is a divide between those under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (new calendar) and those who adhere to other ecclesiastical jurisdictions not in communion with the churches that follow the new calendar.
As the controversial monk Pelagius was defending his views before a synod of bishops in Palestine in December 415, news arrived of miraculous events at the village of Caphargamala in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem.1 Impelled by a series of dream-visions of the New Testament rabbi Gamaliel, the local presbyter Lucianus had unearthed three burials – of Gamaliel himself, his fellow-rabbi Nicodemus, and (the real prize) of the first Christian martyr, St Stephen (whose place of burial had been unknown since the time of his death). The bishop of Jerusalem and others hurried to the scene to preside over the revelation of Stephen’s remains: Lucianus (to whose first-hand account we owe our knowledge of these events) describes the fragrance that filled the air as the tomb was opened, such that ‘we thought we were in paradise’. In this heady atmosphere seventy-three people (it is asserted) were cured of sundry ailments, before the martyr’s body was solemnly laid to rest in the great basilica on Mount Sion in Jerusalem, on his feast day of 26 December.2
The interment of Stephen’s remains in Jerusalem is far from the last word in the story. For, after his rediscovery, the first martyr was to become one of the most widely-travelled of Christian saints. According to a fifth-century sermon in praise of Stephen (attributed to bishop Basil of Seleucia) ‘every place is glorified and hallowed by your remains; your protection shines out overall the earth’. 3 Certainly it was not long before some of the relics reached Constantinople and the pious court of Theodosius II and his sister Pulcheria.4 The saint made a journey even further afield by the hand of the Spanish presbyter Orosius, on his return to Augustine in north Africa after the vindication of Pelagius by the Palestinian bishops;5 through this channel of distribution relics of Stephen were circulated among Christian congregations in Africa, where he effected miraculous cures and was believed to intervene in the life of the community in a variety of ways to alleviate day-to-day hardships (whether the consequences of nature or the Roman government).6 Orosius, unable to reach his native Spain, also deposited relics of Stephen on the island of Minorca, where the saint inspired the local congregation to an onslaught against their neighbouring Jewish population, and achieved a mass conversion.7
The distribution of relics
The widespread distribution of Stephen’s relics, and the miraculous achievements associated with them, illustrate what has become a ‘fact of life’ in the Christian Roman empire of the early fifth century. Christian saints escape from their tombs to become the possession of congregations far and wide.8 Churches denied traditions associating them with apostles and martyrs could acquire such pedigree by the import of relics, to lend authority and prestige: by such means, as is familiar, the city of Constantinople sought to make up for its lack of Christian history.9 In the era of St Ambrose, new churches were dedicated at Milan and elsewhere in northern Italy over the shrines of apostolic relics which had become the prize of eastern pilgrimages.10 So Gaudentius, bishop of Brescia, housed relics which he had himself acquired on such a journey;11 while the Holy Land pilgrim Silvia (whom tradition also associates with Brescia) is said to have promised her friends in the West that she would return with the remains of ‘many martyrs from the East,12 This traffic was predominantly, but not exclusively, from east to west – there was a ‘counter-flow’, for instance, in the sample of the remains of the three Christian missionaries martyred in 397 by the pagans of the Val di Non which was sent to John Chrysostom in Constantinople;13 or the Roman relics of Peter and Paul which Theodosius I’s praetorian prefect Fl. Rufinus (brother-in-law, incidentally, of the pilgrim Silvia) transported to grace his new church across the Bosphorus at Chalcedon.14 Clearly there was already a considerable One final example befits a symposium on the Byzantine saint: chief among the remains which Gaudentius carried back to Brescia were those of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, which he had acquired from the family of bishop Basil at Caesarea – both Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, in their sermons on these martyrs, acclaim the ubiquity of the soldier-saints: ‘they are offered hospitality in many places, and adorn many lands’.15
Concern about translations
It is not self-evident why this distribution and proliferation of relics should have arisen in the later fourth century, especially in view of the long-standing assumptions of antiquity about not interfering with the dead in their tombs. Laws continued to be issued in the late empire reaffirming the traditional prohibitions against tampering with the dead,16 and in 386 this was specifically applied to the martyrs; in a law addressed to the eastern praetorian prefect Theodosius ordered ‘no person shall transfer a buried body to another place [by the time of Justinian’s Code the clause ‘except with the permission of the emperor’ is added] ; no person shall sell the relics of a martyr; no person shall traffic in them […] ‘.17 Not only the powers of the state were marshalled to preserve the body in peace; on occasions the saints themselves communicated their wish not to be disturbed. As early as 259, at Tarragona in Spain, bishop Fructuosus made a post mortem appearance to prevent the separation of his ashes and to secure proper burial;18 while, in their so-called ‘Testament’, the Forty Martyrs leave specific directions against any division of their remains. 19 Delehaye long ago observed a difference of practice here between East and West, and that Western Christendom (far less richly endowed with tombs of apostles and martyrs) was reluctant to sanction the disturbance of precious remains: the Roman Church in the time of Gregory the Great was still affirming that the saints’ bodies were inviolable (though promoting sacred objects which had had contact with the remains as substitute relics).20 Not long before the bishop of Jerusalem was enthusiastically transferring Stephen’s newly-discovered relics into the basilica on Mount Sion, Exsuperius, bishop of Toulouse in Aquitania, had reluctantly contemplated the removal of the body of the local martyr Saturninus to a new church – he needed to be reassured by a dream, and by imperial authorisation.21 But if Ambrose’s energetic excavations of martyrs’ remains are any guide, not all western bishops were so particular in respecting the peace of the dead.22
Some church authorities strove at least to contain the enthusiasm for relics pervading their congregations. As the shrines and miraculous accomplishments of Stephen proliferated in the African province, Augustine instituted the practice of publicly authenticating and documenting the martyr’s achievements, both to give the miracles currency and also to guard against fraudulent claims23 he warned against bogus monks going the rounds with relics for sale, alleged to be those of martyrs.24 Similarly a council at Carthage in 401 had urged congregations against shrines and relics which were not authentic but merely the result of ‘dreams and empty revelations.’25 The search for authenticity and the acknowledgement of the possibilities of fraud only emphasise the degree to which the movement of relics was now incorporated into the life of the Church; as does its emergence as a subject of ecclesiastical debate. Jerome’s defence of the cult of relics against Vigilantius’ attacks on the veneration of mere ‘scraps of dust’ is perhaps the classic contemporary statement:
“While the devil and the demons wander through the whole world and present themselves everywhere, are martyrs after the shedding of their blood to be kept out of sight shut up in a coffin from whence they cannot escape?”26
Later Theodoret was to parade before pagan critics the salutary deeds of martyrs achieved through their scattered remains.27 One theme is common to all such treatises and sermons – and fundamental to the thinking behind the spread of relics: that the saint is indivisible and omnipresent, and wherever the smallest portion of his remains is to be found he is there in his entirety. Thus Gaudentius on his fragments of the Forty Martyrs, ‘pars ipsa, quam meruimus, plenitude est,.28With such an argument the Church came to terms with the increasing dismemberment of its treasured saints.
The influence of the pagan past
We may wonder, with Vigilantius, what was the attraction for pious individuals and congregations in the possession of these bones and ashes. In some respects it seems to represent only the thinnest Christian veneer veiling the traditional practices of pagan antiquity. When St Makrina, for example, like many others, kept by her precious fragment of the wood of the Cross, it functioned much as a pagan talisman – a good luck charm to keep misfortune at bay.29 Superstition knew no religious boundaries. Similarly, relics deposited in churches afforded potent collective protection for congregations, even (of course) whole communities. 30 Yet there was more to this than institutionalised superstition. The saints who were present in diverse places through the mobility of their remains turn out to be late Roman patroni par excellence; their intercessions would vanquish the influence of earthly potentes. The language of patronage pervades our accounts of the accomplishments of saints and martyrs through their relics: so Gervasius and Protasius in Milan would overwhelm the forces of the Arian court of Valentinian II;31 so, too, Stephen, in effecting the conversion of the Jews in Minorca, outclassed the worldly standing and aristocratic prestige of the Jewish leaders.32 The record, furthermore, of Stephen’s interventions at Uzalis in north Africa is that of the patronus communis of the Christian congregation, behaving as a leading local citizen protecting the interests of his clients in the community.33 Not for nothing is emphasis placed on the relics representing the physical praesentia of the saint in the earthly community – access to his influence and patronage demanded that he be present in their midst, and not confined in a distant (and unknown) grave.
The relics of the Holy Land
The experience of these late Roman congregations may be illuminated by reference to a specific group of relics which came to the fore in the fourth century those from the holy places of Palestine.34 St Makrina’s fragment was only one of the many pieces of the wood of the Cross scattered, according to bishop Cyril of Jerusalem, all over the Mediterranean world.35 The enthusiasm to possess a portion of the sacred wood is vividly glimpsed in the story, told to the pilgrim Egeria in Jerusalem, of the worshipper who had bitten off a piece as he knelt down to kiss the relic.36 As with the remains of apostles and martyrs, so the wood of the Cross came to adorn the foundation of new churches: a martyrium at Tixter in Mauretania, for instance (359), or Sulpicius Severus’ new basilica at Primuliacum in Gaul (c.400).37A close second in popularity to the True Cross was the earth from the Holy Land on which Christ had walked – St Augustine knew of an ex-official in his diocese who had a lump of Holy Land earth hanging in his bedroom.38 The favoured quarry for such soil was the spot at the summit of the Mount of Olives said to have borne Christ’s last footprints on earth before the Ascension (the footprints, like the True Cross in Jerusalem, were miraculously preserved despite the depradations of the relic-hunters).39 Another increasingly popular Holy Land relic (or very nearly a relic) was a small flask of oil from the lamps which burned at the Holy Sepulchre – the same variety of memento was favoured by devotees at the shrines of saints.40
We are in a position to understand something of the kind of devotion which surrounded the acquisition of these Holy Land relics thanks to the record of the early pilgrims at the holy places in the years after Constantine.41 There is already a clue in the ampullae, the oil-flasks mentioned above: surviving examples are distinguished by the realistic representations of the shrines at the holy places as they appeared to contemporary pilgrims – they give us an idea of what the holy places actually looked like.42 Pilgrims, we are reminded, went to the Holy Land not just to be there, where Christ had been, but also to see the evidence of his presence on earth before their eyes.43 For Jerome, it was the ‘eyes of faith’ which revealed to the pilgrim Paula the whole biblical scene in all its detail at the sites she visited – the Bethlehem manger and the surrounding characters assembled (even the star shining above), the Cross with Christ hanging upon it, and so on.44
Throughout her travels in the Holy Land hers was an essentially visual experience, conjuring up to a vivid imagination the biblical past in the Palestine of the present. The pilgrims’ experience was not confined to the New Testament: others, like Egeria, saw (for example) in the Sinai desert the very bush from which the Lord had spoken to Moses out of the fire, or saw in the sand on the shores of the Red Sea the tracks of the Egyptians’ chariot wheels disappearing into the waters.45 The imagination came to be aided not only by the constant reading of the appropriate biblical passages in situ but also, in Jerusalem, by the development of a distinctive church liturgy designed to re-enact, in strongly visual terms, the events of Christ’s life at the places where they had occurred.46 Egeria’s description of the round of worship in Jerusalem captures the immediacy and visual realism of experiences such as accompanying the bishop from the Mount of Olives into the city on Palm Sunday – a direct echo of Christ’s own entry into Jerusalem – or hearing the Passion narratives read at Golgotha on Good Friday: ‘you could hardly believe how every single one of them weeps during the three hours, old and young alike, because of the manner in which the Lord suffered for us.’47
The characteristic pilgrims’ response at the holy sites was thus, with the ‘eyes of faith’, to recreate the biblical past as a present reality; and to come away from the Holy Land with relics from the holy places, wood of the Cross, a portion of earth, was to enable that present reality to be recreated wherever the relics might come to rest. The experience of pilgrims in the Holy Land might thus become the experience of congregations far and wide, and of those who had never been anywhere near the holy places. The point is discussed by Paulinus of Nola in a letter he wrote to Sulpicius Severus to accompany a fragment of the Cross which he was sending for the dedication of Sulpicius’ new church at Primuliacum.48 All that Severus will see with the naked eye is a few scraps of wood: but his ‘interior eyesight’ will be stimulated to behold the whole series of biblical events surrounding the Crucifixion and their implications for belief – he will see ‘the whole force of the Cross in this tiny fragment’. Paulinus is sending the relic, he urges, so that Severus may possess the physical reality of the faith which he has long adhered to in the spirit. There seems little reason to doubt that Severus’ ‘interior eyesight’ here and the pilgrims’ ‘eyes of faith’ are one and the same; and that, through the medium of the relic of the Cross, the immediacy and vividness of the pilgrims’ experience is being reproduced far away from the Holy Land. The Cross and its implications are to be as present to the community in Aquitania as they are on Golgotha.
The part and the whole
Against this background the ubiquitous presence of the saint or martyr through the distribution of his remains becomes, I believe, less of an abstraction. Picture the scenes described by Jerome, as the remains of the prophet Samuel were transported from Palestine to the court of Arcadius at Constantinople: as the relics made their journey the route was lined by the faithful, linking the Holy Land to the Hellespont (so he asserts) in a unison chorus of acclamation; they were welcoming, not a casket of dust and ashes, but the prophet himself as though he were still among them ‘quasi praesentem viventemque’.49The fragmentary relics were the visible testimony of the prophet’s continued presence. The same kind of language will be found characterising the devotion to martyrs and their relics. Asterios of Amaseia pictured the tomb of the martyr Phokas as evoking a vision of the saint’s life and martyrdom – and he has an explicit parallel with pilgrims at the Holy Land site of Mamre visualising the biblical history of Abraham and the patriarchs which the shrine commemorated so Gregory of Nyssa portrays the faithful approaching a casket of relics of the martyr Theodore:
“Those who behold them embrace them as though the actual living body, applying all their senses, eyes, mouth and ears; then they pour forth tears for his piety and suffering, and bring forward their supplications to the martyr as though he were present andcomplete” […J. 51
Victricius bishop of Rouen, an enthusiastic collector of relics, justifies the practice in similar terms: the physical remains, the ‘blood and gore’ (‘cruor et limus’) are what the eye sees; yet through this visual experience the ‘eyes of the heart’ (another variant of the ‘eyes of faith’) are opened to apprehend the presence of the saint himself – ‘where there is any part, there is the whole’.52 Victricius’ relics of saints have the same capability as Sulpicius Severus’ fragments of the Cross: to engender the effective presence of the saint in the Christian community which possessed his relics.
The traffic in relics, then, may be seen to have originated from a species of devotion which hankered after physical objects and remains which could be seen to embody, for individual and community, the saint and his powers. That there were many whose piety had this concrete, visual propensity may be established from the evidence of pilgrims’ reactions to the holy places, and the evident reality, for them, of the biblical past which they commemorated. For the Church at large, the age of the martyrs was past; but that did not mean that their presence could not be revived (on a much more widespread scale than their previous earthly existence (through the circulation of their remains. It may be supposed that St Stephen was as real a presence to the Christian community in Minorca or to the congregations in north Africa as were the living holy men of Syria or Egypt – and his impact on local life comparable to theirs.
For a recent summary of the political background, see J .N.D. Kelly, Jerome: his life, writings and controversies (London 1975), 317ff.
The text of the Epistultz Luciani (Avitus’ Latin translation of the presbyter’s account) is to be found in PL 807ff.
Basil Seleuc. 42 (PC 85. 469).
Chronographia, s.a. 420 (ed. de Boor, 86-7): a fragment of Stephen’s right hand in return for Theodosius’ gift of a gilded cross for Golgotha.
For Orosius as the bearer of the relics, see Aviti, PL 41. 805-8.
For the arrival of the relicli in Africa, see Augustine, 317-8 (PL 38. 1435ff.), and the record of miraculous cures in Civ. Dei xxii.8. For incidents at Uzalis, De Miraculis S. Stephani (PL 41. 833ff.).
The events are described in the Letter of Severns, bishop of Minorca, PL 82Iff.
The classic study remains H. Delehaye, Les origines du culte des martyrs (SubsHag 20 (1933]), esp.ch.8 ‘Developpements du culte des martyrs’.
g. Philostorgius, HE iii.2 (Andrew, Luke, Timothy); cf. Jerome, Chron. (ed. Helm) s.a. 356, with G. Dagron, NaiSSllnce d’une capitale (Paris 1974), 409.
See E.D. Hunt, ‘St Silvia of Aquitaine’,JTS 23 (972),370-1.
Gaudentius, xvii. 14ff. (ed. Glueck, CSEL 68).
Not. Ep. 31.1. On Brescia, see iTS 23 (1972), 362ff. and P. Devos, ‘Silvie la sainte pelerine II’, AnalBolln (1974), 321ff.
Trident. Ep. 2 (PL 13. 552ft).
Callinicus, Vita Hypatii, 66 (ed. Bartelink [SC 177),98); on Rufinus, see John Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court (Oxford 1975), 134ff.
The story of the Forty Martyrs (its first appearance in the West) is the theme ofGaudentius, xvii (loc.cit); cf. Basil Caesar. at PC 31.521, and Greg.Nys. at PC 46. 784.
CTh 17, passim; e.g. ix.17.4 (356): ‘nothing has been derogated from that punishment which is known to have been imposed on violators of tombs’.
CTh 17.7, with Cl iii.44.14.
Martyrium Fructuosi, 3 (H. Musurillo, The acts of the Christian Martyrs [Oxford 1972], 182).
Testament of the Forty Martyrs, 3 (Musurillo, 354).
Delehaye, Les origines,
, 67 (citing the Acta Saturnini)
In addition to Sts Gervasius and Protasius, Ambrose brought to light Sts Vitalis and Agricola, and Sts Nazarius and Celsus; cf. F. Homes Dudden, The Life and Times of StAmbrose (Oxford 1935), 316ff., and Delehaye, Les origines, 75-80.
Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (London 1967), 414-5, based on fundamental studies by Delehaye. For the text of a libellus documenting authentic cures, see August. Serm. 322 (PL 38. 1443).
De opere monachorum, 36.
Carthag. 13 Sept 401 (CChr 149, 204)
Contra Vigil. 6; on the treatise in general, Kelly, Jerome, 286ff.
Theodoret, Cure of Pagan Ills, lO-ll (ed. P. Canivet [SC 57]): ‘no one grave conceals the bodies of each of them, but they are shared out among towns and villages, which call them saviours of souls and bodies, and doctors, and honour them as founders and protectors [… )’.
Civ. Dei, xxii.8 (CChr 48. 820); cr. the Donatists who venerated earth from the Holy Land, id. Ep. 52.2.
Sev. Chron. ii.33.8; cf. Paul.Nol. Ep. 31.6 (on the Cross)
On these flasks, cr. Anton. Placent. 20 (CChr 175. 139). Martyr-shrines: Joh.Chrys. Hom. in Martyres, PC 50. 665: ‘Lobe efaion hagion (…J’.
For the texts, see ltineraria et alia geographica (CChr 175 (1965]), and translations by J.D. Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels (London 1971) and Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades (Warminster 1978).
See A. Grabar, Ampoules de Te”e Sainte (paris 1958). For their use in reconstructing the original building at the Sepulchre, cf. Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels, , and ‘The Tomb of Christ’, Levant 4 (1972), 83-97.
Nol. Ep. 49.14
Jerome, 108.9ff; cf. Kelly, Jerome, U8ff., on Paula’s ’emotional transports’. For Jerome’s more succinct version of his own experience, see Apol.c.Ruf iii.22
Burning Bush: Eg. 4.6ff., Chariot tracks: Pet. Diac. (deriving from Egeria) Y5 (CChr 175. 100-1); Orosius, Hist. i.10.17, knew they were still visible.
The liturgy is described by Egeria, Eg, 24ff.; cf. Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels, 54ff. The best modern study is A. Renoux’s introduction to his edition of the Armenian Lectionary, PO 35 (1969). For Bible-reading, cr. It.Eg. 4.3 (10.7.
Palm Sunday: Eg. 31 (ND 31.3) Good Friday: ibid. 37.7.
Nol. Ep. 31.lff.; the fragment had been brought from Jerusalem by Paulinus’ kinswoman, Melania the elder.
Vigilant. 5. For Samuel’s arrival in Constantinople, cf. Chron. Pasch. s.a. 406 (ed. Dindorf,569).
ix, PG 40. 301-4: the worshippers become ‘spectators’ of the biblical record.
NOTE: The following article contains only a few of the numerous Orthodox Canons in The Rudderconcerning the Jewish religion and peoples. The canon forbidding Christians to go to Jewish physicians is now considered to be anachronistic, according to various monastics at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries for two reasons: “they don’t use black magic in their remedies anymore” and, as one Geronda stated, “Most of the doctors today are Jews. If we followed that canon strictly, we’d never be able to get medical treatment for anything.” When the monastics receive various accusations of being anti-Semitic, they sometimes respond with an air of triumph, “Geronda Ephraim’s personal physician is Jewish.”
If any Clergyman, or Layman, enter a synagogue of Jews or of heretics to pray, let him be both deposed and excommunicated.86 (Apostolic Canons VII, XLV, LXXI; Canon XI of the 6th Ecumenical Synod; Canon I of Antioch; Canons VI, XXXII, XXXIII, XXXVII, XXXVIII of Laodicea.)
The present Canon considers it a great sin for a Christian to enter a synagogue of Jews or of heretics in order to pray. “For what does a believer share with an infidel?” (II Corinthians 6:15), according to the divine Apostle. For the Jews themselves violating the Law by going into their synagogues and offering sacrifices, in view of the fact that the offering of sacrifices anywhere outside of Jerusalem is forbidden, according to the Law. This is testified by divine St. Justin in his dialogue with Tryphon, and by Sozomenos in his Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 21, and by St. Chrysostom in his second discourse against the Jews. Then how much greater violation is that of the Christian who prays together with the crucifiers of Christ? But it also must be emphasized that any churches of heretics, or any of their meetings, should not to be given honor or attended, because they believe things contrary to the beliefs of the Orthodox, but rather ought to be rejected. Thus it is that the present Canon ordains that if any clergyman or layman enters the synagogue of the Jews or that of heretics offering gracious prayers, that clergyman shall be deposed and at the same time excommunicated because that he has committed a great sin; but as for the layman he is only to be excommunicated, since, because being a layman, he has sinned to a lesser degree than has the clergyman, and as a layman he is not liable to deposition and cannot be deposed. Or more correctly, as others interpret the matter, the clergyman that enters a synagogue of Jews or heretics to pray shall be deposed, while any layman that does the same thing shall be excommunicated. Read also the Interpretation of Apostolic Canon VII and that of Apostolic Canon XLV.
APOSTOLIC CANON LXX (70)
If any Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, or anyone at all who is on the list of clergymen, fast together with Jews, or celebrates a holiday together with them, or accepts from them holiday gifts or favors, such as unleavened wafers, or anything of the like, let him be deposed. If a layman do likewise, however, let him be excommunicated. (Apostolic Canons VII, LXV, LXXI; Canon XI of the 6th Ecumenical Synod; Canons XXIX, XXXVII, XXXVIII of Laodicea; Canons LX, LXXXI, CXVII of Carthage)
In case anyone prays in company with excommunicated persons only, he is excommunicated; or if he does so with persons that have been deposed only, he is deposed: then how much more is it improper that any clergyman who fasts in company with the Christ-killing Jews or celebrates any festival with them ought to be deposed, or if any layman do the same, should he be excommunicated? Hence it is that the present Apostolic Canon ordains that if any bishop or priest or deacon, or anyone else at all that is on the clerical list fasts along with the Jews or celebrates Pascha along with them, or any other festivals or holidays, or accepts any strange gifts from them, such as unleavened wafers, 100 which they eat during their days of Passover; and on all their feasts and on the occasion of every sacrifice where they offer unleavened wafers, let him be deposed. If, on the other hand, any layman does the same, let him be excommunicated.
For even though those who accept such things and join in fasting or celebrating are not of the same mind as the Jews and do not entertain the same religious beliefs and views as the latter (for if they did, they ought not only to be deposed or excommunicated, as the case might be, but also to be consigned to anathema, according to Canon XXIX of Laodicea), yet, as a matter of fact, they do afford occasion for scandal and give rise to a suspicion that they are actually honoring the ceremonies of the Jews, a thing which is alien to Orthodoxy. I omit mention of the fact that such persons are also polluting themselves by associating with Christ-killers. To them God says: “My soul hates your fasting and your idleness and your festivals.” See also the Interpretation of Apostolic Canon VII.
APOSTOLIC CANON LXXI (71)
If any Christian conveys oil to a temple of heathen, or to a synagogue of Jews, in their festivals, or lights lamps for them, let him be excommunicated. (Apostolic Canons VII, LXV, LXXI; Canon XI of the 6th Ecumenical Synod; Canons XXIX, XXXVII, XXXVIII of Laodicea; Canons LIX, LXXXII, CXXIII of Carthage.)
This Canon too, like the one above, excommunicates any Christian who should offer oil to a temple of heathen or of idolaters, or to a synagogue of Jews, when they are having their festivals, or should light their lamps. For in doing this he appears to believe that their false ceremonies and rites are true, and that their tainted mysteries are genuine. Read also the Interpretation of Apostolic Canon VII.
Let no one enrolled in the clerical list, or any layman, eat the unleavened wafers manufactured by the Jews, or in any way become familiar with the Jews or call them in case of sickness, or take any medicines from them, or even bathe with them in public bathing beaches or bathhouses. If anyone should attempt to do this, if he is a, clergyman, let hint be deposed, or if he is a layman, let him, be excommunicated.
The present Canon commands that no person in Holy Orders and no layman may eat any unleavened wafers sent him by Jews, nor indeed be at all friendly with Jews nor when he finds himself ill may he call them and take their remedies18 or even bathe with them in baths and bathing places. In case anyone should do this, or any of these things, if he is a clergyman, let him be deposed; but if he is a layman, let him be excommunicated. Read also Apostolic Canon Canons VII and LXX.
NO TREATMENT BY JEWISH PHYSICIANS AND WHY
That is why St. Chrysostom says in agreement herewith for no one to go to Jewish physicians to be treated (page 360 of Volume VI).
NOTE: The above Canon is interesting considering the Wisdom of Sirach instructs Christians to honor doctors and physicians.
“Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him. For of the Most High cometh healing, and he shall receive honour of the king. The skill of the physician shall lift up his head: and in the sight of great men he shall be in admiration. The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them. Was not the water made sweet with wood, that the virtue thereof might be known? And he hath given men skill, that he might be honoured in his marvellous works. With such doth he heal men, and taketh away their pains. Of such doth the apothecary make a confection; and of his works there is no end; and from him is peace over all the earth, My son, in thy sickness be not negligent: but pray unto the Lord, and he will make thee whole. Leave off from sin, and order thine hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all wickedness. Give a sweet savour, and a memorial of fine flour; and make a fat offering, as not being. Then give place to the physician, for the Lord hath created him: let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him. There is a time when in their hands there is good success. For they shall also pray unto the Lord, that he would prosper that, which they give for ease and remedy to prolong life. He that sinneth before his Maker, let him fall into the hand of the physician. My son, let tears fall down over the dead, and begin to lament, as if thou hadst suffered great harm thyself; and then cover his body according to the custom, and neglect not his burial. Weep bitterly, and make great moan, and use lamentation, as he is worthy, and that a day or two, lest thou be evil spoken of: and then comfort thyself for thy heaviness. For of heaviness cometh death, and the heaviness of the heart breaketh strength. In affliction also sorrow remaineth: and the life of the poor is the curse of the heart. Take no heaviness to heart: drive it away, and member the last end. Forget it not, for there is no turning again: thou shalt not do him good, but hurt thyself. Remember my judgment: for thine also shall be so; yesterday for me, and today for thee. When the dead is at rest, let his remembrance rest; and be comforted for him, when his Spirit is departed from him. The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure: and he that hath little business shall become wise. How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied in their labours, and whose talk is of bullocks? He giveth his mind to make furrows; and is diligent to give the kine fodder. So every carpenter and workmaster, that laboureth night and day: and they that cut and grave seals, and are diligent to make great variety, and give themselves to counterfeit imagery, and watch to finish a work: The smith also sitting by the anvil, and considering the iron work, the vapour of the fire wasteth his flesh, and he fighteth with the heat of the furnace: the noise of the hammer and the anvil is ever in his ears, and his eyes look still upon the pattern of the thing that he maketh; he setteth his mind to finish his work, and watcheth to polish it perfectly: So doth the potter sitting at his work, and turning the wheel about with his feet, who is alway carefully set at his work, and maketh all his work by number; He fashioneth the clay with his arm, and boweth down his strength before his feet; he applieth himself to lead it over; and he is diligent to make clean the furnace: All these trust to their hands: and everyone is wise in his work. Without these cannot a city be inhabited: and they shall not dwell where they will, nor go up and down: They shall not be sought for in publick counsel, nor sit high in the congregation: they shall not sit on the judges’ seat, nor understand the sentence of judgment: they cannot declare justice and judgment; and they shall not be found where parables are spoken. But they will maintain the state of the world, and all their desire is in the work of their craft.” (Wisdom of Sirach, 38:1-34)
NOTE: This article is taken from Christology, pp. 35-41.
In the first few centuries of the Church, many pagan writers accused the Christians of plagiarism; i.e. “their Hebrew myths were copied from already existing myths and were rewritten for the Jewish peoples.” The early Fathers, to counteract these accusations, took all the pagan writings that fit or resembled Christian scriptures and prophecies (both in the Septuagint and New Testament writings) and claimed that the Holy Spirit was speaking through these pagans to prepare the Nations for the coming Messiah. Thus, in pre-Christian pagan writings and mythologies, anything that resembles or agrees with Christianity is considered God-inspired prophecies, and anything that disagrees or is contrary, demonic.
God-inspired men and women of the Gentile world foretold the future coming of the Redeemer of mankind. Preserved testimonies confirm the truth of these words. God, as a Father of the entire human race, guided even the Gentiles toward faith in the future Redeemer by revealing to them His upcoming arrival. Theophilos of Antioch expresses the same opinion in his epistle to Autoclytos. He attests: “But men of God carrying in them a holy spirit and becoming prophets, being inspired and made wise by God, became God-taught, and holy, and righteous. Wherefore they were also deemed worthy of receiving this reward, that they should become instruments of God, and contain the wisdom that is from Him, through which wisdom they uttered both what regarded the creation of the world and all other things. For they predicted also pestilences, and famines, and wars. And there was not one or two, but many, at various times and seasons among the Hebrews; and also among the Greeks there was the Sibyl;1 and they all have spoken things consistent and harmonious with each other, both what happened before them and what happened in their own time, and what things are now being fulfilled in our own day: wherefore we are persuaded also concerning the future things that they will fall out, as also the first have been accomplished.”2
Clement of Alexandria spoke in accordance not only concerning the prophets, but also the Greek philosophers themselves, such as Socrates, Plato, and others.3 Similarly, Origen acknowledges various degrees of divine inspiration even amongst the Gentiles. But why should we supposedly deny divine inspiration for the Gentiles? Does God show favoritism? Is He the Father of the Judaic nation only? Or would not the future Redeemer of mankind also be a Redeemer for all mankind? Or is God only for the Jews and not for the Gentiles? Why then should He abandon the nations to disbelief and despair? Why should he not likewise prepare them also to receive the future Savior and Redeemer, especially since He knew through His omniscience that the nations would glorify Him, worship Him, and believe in Him? Therefore, the nations received the gift of divine inspiration, and men among the Gentiles, who were godly inspired, foretold the arrival of a Redeemer and Savior of the world.
Tacitus,4 a Roman historian, attests that all the nations looked to Judea as an axis of their common hope, from where the awaited king was ready to appear: “Everyone in general was convinced about the belief of ancient prophecies that the East was about to overpower; and, that not long afterwards, they would see those who were about to rule the world coming from Judea.”5
According to Souidan and Nikifore Kallistos’ Ecclesiastical History, when Augustus traveled to Delphi to inquire of the oracle regarding the identity of his successor, he received the following response:
“A Jewish child, who is king of the blessed gods commands me to leave from this temple and to return to Hades again. Therefore, depart silently from our altars.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ was born during the reign of this Augustus; and our Church chants along with the Gospel according to Luke: “When Augustus reigned alone upon the earth, the many kingdoms of men came to end: and when Thou wast made man of the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed.”6 Such oracles referring to the expectation of the nations are numerous.7
The Roman historian Suetonius8 also bears witness to this same event with similar language. He says: “the entire East has been filled with talk of the ancient and steadfast opinion that it had been pre-determined from God that, during that time, they who were about to rule the world would appear from Judea.”9
While interpreting an oracle of ancient Sibyls that proclaims the arrival of a King, Whom all those wishing to be saved were obliged to recognize, and while unsuccessfully applying it to a certain young ruler of his epoch (whose name is not even recalled), the Roman poet Virgil9 says the following: “The years sung by the Sibyl have finally arrived. The infinite order of the ages is about to begin. Behold a new generation is being sent from heaven…The birth of this son, which will bring an end to the iron age and build the golden age all over the earth will be the basis of your favorable administration and pure freedom. This sign of the new age will appear during your reign, O Polion; and then, if there still remain traces of peoples’ transgressions, the entire earth will breathe because it will have been freed from the fear that held it for so many years in bondage.” Within this same poem he says: “He, through whom all these miracles are about to take place, will receive the life from the bosom of the godhead; he will be distinguished from all the heavenly beings and appear higher than them, and he will rule the world, having made peace through his father’s power…Therefore come desirable offspring of Heaven, great stem of Zeus! The announced time approaches; come to receive the great honor that belongs to you. Behold, all the world wavers at your arrival. The earth, the ocean, and the heavens shake; all things leap as the new age approaches.”
Plato spoke with inspiration.10 Let us hear him proclaiming, as the stentorian Isaiah, the crucified death of the righteous one, who suffers on account of righteousness: “we must strip him of everything except his justice, and our picture of him must be drawn in a way diametrically opposite to that of the unjust man. Our just man must have the worst of reputations for wrongdoing even though he has done no wrong, so that we can test his justice and see if it weakens in the face of unpopularity and all that goes with it; we shall give him an undeserved and life-long reputation for wickedness, and make him stick to his chosen course until death. In this way, when we have pushed the life of justice and of injustice each to its extreme, we shall be able to judge which of the two is happier…They will say that the just man, as we have pictured him, will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned, his eyes will be put out, and after enduring every humiliation, he will be crucified, and learn at last that one should want not to be, but to seem just.”11
Who does not see great similarity when comparing this with the words of Isaiah, who prophesies about the suffering of the lord, the only Righteous One who has appeared on the earth? Behold what the stentorian Isaiah prophesies about this righteous one: “I gave my back to scourges and my cheeks to blows: and I turned not away my face from the shame of spitting…He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities…He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation his judgment is taken away: who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death…for he practiced no iniquity, nor craft with his mouth…because his soul was delivered to death: and he was numbered among the transgressors” (Isa. 50:6, 53:3-12; cf. Mt. 27; Mk. 14; Lk. 22, 23; Jn. 19).
In the Dogmatic Theology of Makarios, Metropolitan of Moscow, we read the following concerning the expectation of the nations: “It was necessary for the truths of the faith and especially the promises about the redeemer, which were given in the beginning to the entire human race and which were transmitted through oral tradition from fathers to children, and from ancestors to descendants, to be spread throughout all the nations, even to those who subsequently moved on further to the roads of impiety and idolatry. Even though it was inevitable for these truths, which were mixed with the new beliefs of the Gentile nations, to gradually shed their original purity and integrity and to be altered, nevertheless, even within this altered form, these truths supported and sustained, for the Gentiles, the traditions concerning the genesis and the first state of man, the fall of the forefathers in paradise, and—the most significant of all—the tradition concerning the Redeemer of the human race and the expectation of His coming.”
1 Sybil, derived from the Greek word Σίβυλλα, means Dios’ desire, or God’s will. The Sibyls were individual prophesying women, usually priestesses of early times, who admittedly are known only through legend. Through their prophecies, they would influence the common opinion of the people. The most famous sibyl was connected with Erythrai, but a sibyl also reached Delphi; a Babylonian sibyl is also mentioned. The sibyl of Cumae that lived in the 6th century B.C. became most important by virtue of her influence on Rome. References to sibyls are made by Aeschylus (458 B.C.) as well as Virgil (70-19 B.C.). The preservation of oracular utterances was one of the earliest applications for the art of writing in Greece, which began to spread about 750 B.C.; later, cities began to make official collections of oracles. See Cumean Sibyl.
4 Tacitus was a native of Italy, born in 56 A.D. His reputation for eloquence was high, and he chose to write Rome’s history. He wrote various works in which he drew partly on historical works now lost, and partly on public records and his own experience.
6 The Festal Menaion, South Canaan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1998, p. 254.
7 In response to a philosopher’s claim that the Crucified One is not mentioned by any of the ancient teachers, St. Catherine the Great Martyr answered: “Yet to affirm the truth that the ancients did speak of Him, let us hear what the erudite writer Sibyl says about His divine Incarnation and salvific Crucifixion: ‘One appeared and walked upon this banished earth Who became flesh without sin and dissolved the incurable passions without toil by His divinity. Envied by an unbelieving people, He was also condemned to death and suspended.’ Hear the unfeigned words of Apollo who, against his own will, confessed the passionless God, constrained by His almighty power: ‘The One Who suffered is a heavenly Trinal Radiance. He that suffered is God, though the divinity was passionless. At the same time, He had a mortal body, yet was immortal. He is God and man. He bore mortality, the Cross, mockings, and burial…‘ and so forth. Thus, Apollo admitted that Christ is the true God and co-eternal with unoriginate Father, Who is the origin, source, and foundation of all good things” (The Lives of the Holy Women Martyrs, Buena Vista: Holy Apostles Convent, 1991, pg. 506)” (St. Nektarios pg. 37)
10 Virgil was born 70 B.C. He was influenced by Alexandrian ideals of poetry, and wrote works such as Early Poems, Eclogues, and the Aeneid.
11 When Christ descended into Hades to preach to the imprisoned souls, only they who had some seeds of piety and virtue within them while still living on the earth believed in his preaching and were liberated from Hades. St. Nicodemos says that such were all the righteous people who lived both prior to and after the law, as well as several of the Greeks and philosophers. He quotes the following noteworthy story concerning Plato, recorded by the wise Nikitas of Serres: “A certain Christian would condemn the wise Plato excessively, criticizing him as an atheist and an evil man. However, Plato appeared to this person in a dream and said to him: ‘Do not criticize me pointlessly, my dear man. I do not deny that I am a sinner; however, when Christ descended to Hades, I was the first to believe [in Him]” (An Interpretation of the General Epistles).
*Disclaimer* This article is in no way intended to proselytize for or against any religion, or to prove Ostara literally exists as a spiritual entity. This is an historical analysis of evidence that is often overlooked in the assessment of the historicity of the “cult” of Eostre/Ostara – i.e. was she worshiped historically by the Germanic people of Anglo-Saxon England and the Saxons on the continent.
[It should also be noted that the Greek Orthodox Church never used the word “Easter“–this is an Anglo-Saxon word. The Orthodox Church has always used Pascha or Πάσχα.].
In recent years a new holiday “war” has been brewing in the blogisphere. Around Eastertime blog posts and news articles spring up arguing either for or against the historicity of the cult of the worship of the Germanic Goddess Ēostre.
Although Northern European indigenous religion was actively repressed by the Church, modern Easter celebrations are still very much intertwined with the old pagan holiday. Since the holiday traditions could not be stomped out, it appears that the best way to combat a resurgence of ancestral European religion is to deny it ever existed.
So, let us explore the evidence, and see just how much there actually is.
IS BEDE A RELIABLE SOURCE?
The Venerable Bede is the source most often used in arguments both for and against the existence of the cult of Ēostre. The main opposing argument states that Ēostre is a “made up” goddess invented by the Medieval Church historian, Bede.
What this argument neglects to consider is that Bede was a Christian monk who was bent on driving paganism out of Britain. He wrote his book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in the 8th Century. This was a time when English Pagan customs still survived out on the outskirts and heaths.The term “heathen” refers to the country folk out on the heath practicing the “Old Ways”.
Eradication of the Old Religion was a main priority of the Church in this period. Why, then, would a Christian monk invent a pagan goddess to encourage pagan practice? His goal would be to downplay any Spring fertility goddesses and emphasize the resurrection of Christ.
BUT, WAIT. BEDE HAS BACKUP!
As it happens, another monk recorded a reference to Ostara which corroborates Bede’s claim. Einhard, in The Life of Charlemagne (written in the 9th Century), mentions that the month of April is known to the Saxons as Oster-monath (Ôstarmânot), backing up Bede’s mentioning of April as Ēastermōnaþ (Easter month).
The Anglo-Saxons in England were cousins to the German Saxons in continental Europe. They spoke a related language and practiced variations on the same religion. Ēostre to the English is the linguistic counterpart to Ostara of the continental Saxons. Both groups named the month that roughly corresponds with our April for the goddess whose festival was celebrated then.
THOSE MONKS WERE SNEAKY RASCALS
Scholars have suggested that the early Medieval Church in England actively studied Anglo-Saxon indigenous religion as a strategy to combat it.
Author and scholar Brian Bates explores this tactic in his best selling book, The Way of Wyrd. The author of this historical fiction novel conducted intense research as the framework he built his story around. Professor Bates is the leading scholar in Anglo-Saxon religion, and has taught courses on it at the University of Sussex. His research for the novel included extensive study of medieval manuscripts in the British Library.
The plot of his story revolves around an aspiring young monk in the Christian English kingdom of Mercia who is sent into Anglo-Saxon pagan territory on a stealth mission to learn the customs and religion of the pagans. The head of the monastery explicitly states that through learning the ways of the pagans, they can better combat the indigenous religion and replace it with the new one.
Granted, this is a work of fiction. But, as previously stated, it is a work of historical fiction written by a scholar and based on heavy research.
It is likely that Bede, like the monks in Bate’s story, was conducting his own research on the heathen people within his geographic vicinity. By understanding the elements of the Easter festival, the Church could incorporate some of the themes into the new Christian festival, thereby making the transition more palatable to the “natives.”
There are many factual examples to corroborate this proposed scenario. It is well known that during periods of conversion, pagan temples were destroyed while Christian ones were erected in their stead. Christian festivals were placed on the old pagan festival calendar, and elements of the original festivals were absorbed into the new ones.
We know that the Catholic Church’s “cult of the Saints” often allowed deities sacred to a locality be adopted as local saints or representations of the Virgin Mary.
There are many examples of this, but one that most people are familiar with is the Celtic goddess Brigid, who is still held in special esteem by Irish Catholics and Celtic Christians today as Saint Brigid.
CONGRUENCE WITH OTHER KNOWN EUROPEAN GODDESSES
Given that European pagans were so frequently portrayed with gross inaccuracy, it seems odd that a Christian monk would invent a gentle fertility goddess associated with things that elicit positive feelings, such as furry bunnies (more accurately, hares), flowers, fuzzy baby chicks, and eggs which symbolize new life, regeneration, and sustenance.
That Ēostre fits the mold of a gentle pagan springtime goddess perfectly, and is not morphed into some kind of monstrous beast is another testament to Bede’s reliability. Again, his bias would have him demonize pagan religion.
These things are associated with other known pagan goddesses. Brigid, again, serves as good example. She is another goddess who is associated with spring and patron of another pagan festival.
The Celtic holiday Imbolc was celebrated with the first signs of Spring. Symbols associated with Imbolc include newborn lambs, milk, other dairy products, and the flame. These things represent nurturing sustenance and new life, re-birth.
The Catholic holiday Candlemas was set in the religious calendar to replace Imbolc. The patron of Candlemas is Saint Brigid. (Are we seeing any parallels?)
An invented goddess, constructed by someone culturally separated from pagan culture, who has an intrinsic heavy bias, would likely fall outside of the paradigm of what we know of pagan spirituality. Ēostre does not. She is a perfect fit.
ETYMOLOGICAL CONNECTION TO OTHER SPRING/DAWN GODDESSES
Eostre and Ostara are etymological cousins of the Greek Eos, Roman Aurora, and Baltic Ausrine. If Bede were to invent a goddess, would he scratch his head and make sure his fake goddess lined up perfectly with similar goddesses of other Indo-European cultures?
Further, much work has been done to reconstruct the proto-Indo-European (PIE) pantheon. This is the language/culture group from which most of Europe descends. Aeusos or Ushas is the PIE goddess that the goddesses mentioned above descend from. The linguists show that Eostre and Ostara fit within the paradigm. Please see more about this in an excellent article that breaks it down on Proto-Indo-European Religion.This website also hosts a sub article on Eostre, which is worth reading.
So, we can see that:
A) Catholic (i.e. Orthodox) monks of this period, like Bede, were instructed to study local pagan customs.
B) Those local pagan customs were routinely absorbed into the new Christian holidays.
C) Pagans were usually portrayed negatively by Christian writers, so it makes little sense to invent a benevolent, nurturing pagan goddess.
D) The goal of the Church was to make pagans forget their religion – not revive it. So again, it makes little sense for a Christian monk to invent a new pagan goddess.
E) The goddess described by Bede fits within the established framework of other pagan goddesses in Europe at this time, giving strength to the idea that Bede described a deity with a very real local following rather than inventing one out of thin air.
MORE RECENT EVIDENCE
But let’s not stop there, for there is even more evidence! Jacob Grimm came along in the 19th Century, which saw a revival in local folk legends and mythology. Although the Grimm Brothers are famous for fairy tales, they also conducted important work in the burgeoning field of Folklore.
The brothers surveyed the local people all around Germany and in neighboring German speaking regions. Jacob Grimm analyzed his findings and wrote his masterpiece, Teutonic Mythology, an ambitious and comprehensive study of continental German mythology.
Through his study of oral history he discovered that the goddess Ostara was to be found in nearly all German speaking areas.
Very often folklore exists as the only surviving evidence from ages when there was no written record. The folklore recorded by Grimm demonstrated that people miles and miles apart retained shared cultural memories of the same goddess.
Grimm hypothesized that Ostara was a pan-Germanic goddess of fertility, the spring, and the dawn. If Bede invented her in England, then how did illiterate peasants in Germany know of her over one thousand years later? Either she was genuinely worshiped, or Bede had an excellent PR team!
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
It is important to note that all other Christianized countries in Europe refer to the Easter holiday with a variation of Pascha – which is related to the word Passover. Only languages where Ēostre/Ostara was honored have retained the word relating to her.
In German, Easter is called Ostern. However, the Norse version of Germanic paganism did not include Ostara in their pantheon. So what do they call the holiday in Scandinavia?
In Danish and Norwegian, it is called Påske – a variation of Pascha! This corroborates with the notion that the name of Easter is associated with the Old English Ēostre and Ostern with Ostara. **There is no other way to explain why English and German use Easter/Ostern while the Scandinavian languages use Pascha.**
NO EVIDENCE? YOU DECIDE.
We can see there is actually quite a bit of evidence to demonstrate that Ēostre/Ostara was, indeed, legitimately worshiped in both England and Germany.
People have been known to believe that certain other mythological figures literally walked the Earth with much less evidence. Whereas, nobody is debating whether Ēostre was or was not a real person – simply that there was a wide spread cult devoted to her veneration.
Yet, some people who believe so fervently in other modern mythologies, often with no evidence at all to back up their own beliefs, vehemently insist that Ēostre was invented by Bede.
Based on a review of the evidence, the only conclusion for such a heated rejection of fact is that the pagan Ēostre is still considered a threat to those who would appropriate her holy day.
Despite the efforts to erase her from history, she lives on not only in the symbols of Easter, but in the very word “Easter” itself.
Human nature often dictates that if you don’t like the truth, just deny it. Fortunately, historians, researchers, and scholars like Bede, Einhard, and Grimm have preserved and revived Easter’s origins.
Bethany (Arabic: al-Azariyya) is a Muslim and Christian Arab village (pop. 3,600) on the southeast slopes of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. Bethany was the home of the Lazarus, Mary and Martha and the setting for a number of New Testament events.
The Tomb of Lazarus in Bethany has long been venerated by Christians and Muslims alike, and a modern church dedicated to the resurrected saint stands on the site of much older ones. Several Christian churches have existed at the site over the centuries.
IN THE BIBLE
Bethany was the home of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:38-44), and his sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus often stayed in their home.
Jesus was anointed at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany (Mark 14:3) and returned to Bethany after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:11). According to Luke 24:50, Jesus ascended into heaven near Bethany (commemorated at the Chapel of the Ascension).
HISTORY OF THE TOMB OF LAZARUS
A village has been here since at least Roman times, and nearby was an Iron Age settlement that is believed to be the biblical Ananiah in the territory of Benjamin (Neh. 11:32) that is called Bethany in the New Testament (Beth Ananiah = Bethany).
There is no record of a church in Bethany in the 4th century, although both Eusebius the historian and the Bordeaux pilgrim (333) mention the tomb of Lazarus in a vault or crypt. Around 490 AD, St. Jerome recorded visiting the Tomb of Lazarus as the guest room of Mary and Martha, which is the Lazarium mentioned by the pilgrim Egeria in her account of the liturgy on Saturday in the seventh week of Lent:
This structure known as the Lazarium was destroyed in an earthquake and was replaced by a larger Church of St. Lazarus in the 6th century. The church was mentioned by Theodosius before 518 and by Arculf around 680, and survived intact until Crusader times.
During the Crusades, King Fulk and Queen Melisande purchased the village of Bethany from the Patriarch of the Holy Sepulchre in 1143 in exchange for land near Hebron. Melisande built a large Benedictine convent dedicated to Mary and Martha, extensively repaired the old church of Lazarus and rededicated it to Mary and Martha. She also built a new west church to St. Lazarus over his tomb; fortified the monastic complex with a tower; and endowed it with the estates of the village of Jericho.
The convent of Sts. Mary and Martha became one of the richest convents in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Melisande’s sister Joveta was elected abbess at the age of 24. Afer the fall of the Crusader kingdom in 1187, the nuns went into exile. The new west church was probably destroyed at this time, with only the tomb and barrel vaulting surviving; the 6th-century church and tower were heavily damaged but remained standing.
The village seems to have been abandoned thereafter, but a visitor in 1347 mentioned Greek monks attending the tomb chapel. By 1384, a mosque had been built on the site. In the 16th century, the Mosque of al-Uzair (Ezra) was built in the Crusader vault, which initially made Christian access to the tomb more difficult. However, the Franciscans were permitted to cut a new entrance on the north side of the tomb and at some point the original entrance from the mosque was blocked (photo, right).
In 1952-55 a modern Franciscan church dedicated to St. Lazarus was built over the Byzantine church of St. Lazarus and Crusader east church of Sts. Mary and Martha. In 1965, a Greek church was built just west of the Tomb of Lazarus.
WHAT TO SEE AT THE TOMB OF LAZARUS
The forecourt of the Franciscan Church of St. Lazarus stands over the west end of the older churches, from which parts of the original mosaic floor are preserved. The west wall of the forecourt contains the west facade of the 6th-century basilica, with three doorways.
The cruciform-plan church stands over the east end of the older churches. Trapdoors in the floor just inside reveal parts of the apse of the 4th-century church (the Lazarium), which was shorter than the 6th-century church. The modern church bears a mosaic on its facade depicting Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The interior is decorated with polished stone and mosaics.
Just up the hill on the left is the 16th-century Mosque of al-Uzair. The courtyard is in the Byzantine church atrium and the mosque is built in the vault that formerly supported the west end of the 12th-century church.
A further 25m up the hill on the left is the modern entrance to theTomb of Lazarus, which is accessed by 24 very uneven stone steps. This probably was a rock-cut tomb, but very little of its original form remains. The rock probably collapsed under the weight of the large Crusader church built above it.
The original blocked entrance can be seen in the east wall of the antechamber; this alignment suggests the tomb predates the Byzantine churches and may well be from the time of Lazarus.
Even further up the hill is a modern Greek Orthodox church that incorporates a wall of the Crusader church built over the tomb. Nearby are substantial ruins that belong to the Orthodox Patriarchate and are traditionally identified as the House of Simon the Leper(where Jesus was anointed) or the House of Lazarus. The remains of a tower belong to the Crusader monastery (c.1144).
The Saturday before Palm Sunday is “Saturday of Lazarus” and on this day it is tradition to make “Lazarakia” (literally meaning “Little Lazaruses”). These are traditional small, sweet and mildly spiced bread, made only once a year. They represent the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Each region of Greece has a variation of how they make them, however most have a similar sweet tasting flavour. They are of course Nistisima (Lenten) meaning they do not contain any dairy or egg products.
Every student of sociology is well aware of the inherent gregariousness of man. It goes far beyond the gregariousness of animals or birds, which is purely physical. In mankind it is physical, spiritual and mental. It is just as dominant a force, this gregariousness, in man’s make-up today as it was in the earliest stages of civilization, and in the Middle Ages. This gregariousness, which was at the root of those manifestations which, in past ages, have shown themselves as various communal manias, such as mass dancing, demonology, witchcraft, religious crusades, and in many other ways, is similarly at the root of many present-day mass phenomena such, for instance, as national advertising campaigns, the radio, television, the cinema, the Popular Press.
The response of masses of men and women to suggestion has always been the basis of every religious, political or social movement. The actions or responses of an individual member of society to given stimuli can never be foreshadowed with any degree of certainty; the actions or responses of mankind in the mass can be predicted with mathematical exactitude. It is to this more than to any other fact that charlatans, quacks, political mountebacks, dictators, revivalists, and other merchants of much, owe their success.
Now, of all movements which owed their inspiration to waves of emotion, none has ever transcended in spectacularness, fanaticism and (to observers in other ages) incredulity, the successive waves of voluntary flagellation which punctuated the annals of the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.
There seems to be some doubt as to where precisely the first public flagellating movement broke out, or who exactly was the individual responsible for the actual genesis of the idea; but certainly St. Anthony seems to have had a good deal to do with it. Unless the chroniclers of the age lie, he went about the country preaching to sinners about the wrath of God, on the need for repentance and atonement, much in the manner of a modern drum-banging revivalist; and, in the early twelve hundreds, he appears to have set in motion the first serious organised procession of men and women beating each other with the express object of establishing themselves in the good books of their God and earning a pass to Heaven.
Around the year 1260, fresh impetus was given to the movement through the efforts of an Italian hermit and fanatic by name Ramier, a Dominican. Italy at the time was passing under a black cloud. Her list of misfortunes, through one cause and another, was apparently endless. Ramier, in the true religious spirit of the age, argued that penance was the only way to avert disaster, and, at that, penance of such a widespread nature as would surely suffice to atone for all that was inducing the anger of Jehovah.
Men, women and children in their birthday suits, and carrying nothing but thongs of hide, walked in solemn procession, praying to God for forgiveness, weeping, groaning, and, every few moments, lashing the persons nearest them with the scourges they carried. These processions of penitents were everywhere. The priests, carrying banners and wearing crosses, made up the van of the procession. To the tune of ten thousand eager souls, they marched, these fanatics, through Italy; they crossed the Alps; they ‘invaded’ Bavaria, Alsace, Bohemia, Poland, and at every step and in each country, they gathered recruits, swelling their ranks enormously and rapidly. “Those who were at enmity with one another became friends. Usurers and robbers hastened to restore their ill-gotten riches to the rightful owners. Criminals confessed. The doors of the gaols were opened and the prisoners released, those who had been banished from the country were allowed to return. In short, Christian charity, humility and good will prevailed.”
But despite its remarkable popularity with the masses, the movement met with a good deal of opposition from the leaders of other and rival faiths. It met with a good deal of ridicule too. All this is not to be wondered at, being the common lot of most new religious cults. It has been the lot of the Mormons, of the Perfectionists, of the Spiritualists, of the Theosophists, of the Christian Scientists, of the Dukhobors, of the Shakers, et al. Two thousand years ago, it was the lot of Christianity itself.
In 1349 the movement swept through Germany like a whirlwind, however. At that particular time the country was being ravaged by a plague known as the Black Death. The German movement was apparently initiated in the town of Spira, where the Flagellants went through their ritual in full view of the onlookers who gathered to watch them. Divesting themselves of all their clothes except their shirts, they lay on the ground in various postures, and were whipped, either by the priest in charge or by one another, to the accompaniment of psalm-singing, prayers to God against the plague, and other appeals. When the flagellating performance was concluded, says Albert of Strasbourg, a contemporary historian:
“One of the brotherhood rose, and with a loud voice read a letter, which he pretended had been brought by an angel to St. Peter’s Church, in Jerusalem; the angel declared in it that Jesus Christ was offended at the wickedness of the age, several instances of which were mentioned, such as the violation of the Lord’s Day, blasphemy, usury, adultery, and neglect with respect to fasting on Fridays. To this the man who read the letter added, that Jesus Christ’s forgiveness having been implored by the Holy Virgin and the angels, he had made answer that in order to obtain mercy, sinners ought to live exiled from their country for thirty-four days, disciplining themselves during that time.”
From Spira they moved to Strasbourg, recruits joining, solidly and enthusiastically, on the way, so that by the time the procession left the latter town, it numbered all of a thousand strong.
After this, however, the sect met with constantly increasing opposition from influential quarters. The Pope opposed the movement; the Inquisition tortured and executed its leaders.
And so, for a time, the Flagellants were compelled to pursue their cult in secret and as best they could, until, towards the close of the 16th century, the movement again burst into activity. In France, in particular, the cult spread throughout the whole country, infecting Paris itself and attracting the attention of many influential personages. Then, with the conversion, first of the Queen-Mother to their tenets, and later of King Henry III himself, the supremacy of the Flagellants was complete and their standing assured for the time being. There were soon many different bands or branches operating in various parts of France. The King, in 1585, formed a new band known as the Brotherhood of the Annunciation Day, with the Cardinal of Lorraine, the Duke of Mayenne, the Cardinal of Guise, the leading courtiers and ministers, and other members of the aristocracy, as principal officials. The Cardinal of Lorraine, after one of the public demonstrations, took to his bed and died within a few days, and the tale is told that his fatal illness was due to severe whipping and exposure.
Following the example of their lords and masters, the women took up public flagellation, joining the processions. At first, the more bashful among them, it is true, waited until darkness provided a protective screen for their performances; others, with official approval, wore masks; others again contented themselves with the mere carrying of whips; but as the number of females, and especially of aristocratic ladies, taking part in these processions increased, they shed all decorum and bashfulness, in the end entering into the performance with all the zest and vigor of men. “After the death of the Guises,” says Cooper, “the fanatical mania for fleshly mortification revived, and this time women and maidens, naked to the shift, ran about with whips. Noble ladies showed themselves to the populace in a semi-nude state, and gave themselves the discipline, in order to encourage others by their example” [William M. Cooper, A History of the Rod, 1868, p. 111].
But although the cult was blessed with royal support, as it happened, this did not suffice to render it impregnable. King Henry III of France, his royal blood notwithstanding, was no Czar able to flaunt hostile criticism with impunity, or possessing the power to consign to prison, or to exile, those who failed to genuflect to him in word and deed. There was, at the time, an opposition element of some power, and the members of this opposing party did not fail both to criticize and to heap scorn upon the antics of the King and his associates. Also, as was natural, there was once again a good deal of opposition from the leaders of the orthodox religion. One opponent, John Gerson, no less a personage than Chancellor of the University of Paris, published a treatise pointing out the evils of flagellation, which he alleged was a cruel and an evil practice, contending that it should be held by the authorities to be as unlawful as castration or mayhem.
Others hymned the same tune until, in response to the gathering trend of public opinion, in the early sixteen hundreds, Parliament took action, prohibiting public flagellation and proclaiming all members of the sect to be heretics.
This, so far as France was concerned, was the beginning of the end. There were, true enough, for the finding, scattered remnants of the once powerful bands. These practiced their cult surreptitiously and behind closed doors, but no public demonstrations or processions flourished or were even attempted. In other parts of Europe there were sporadic efforts to revivify the movement, but they met with little success. Cooper mentions that Father Mabillion claimed to have seen “a scourging procession of the Flagellants at Turin on Good Friday 1689;” that in 1710 there were processions still to be seen in Italy; that Colmenar “mentions a procession taking place in Madrid;” that as late as 1820 Flagellants appeared in public in Lisbon [ibid.]. Long after this, too, private ‘whipping clubs’ flourished secretly, but it is highly probable that these were then, as certain somewhat similar ‘societies’ of today are now, using the cloak of religion to cover purely erotic purposes.
And so passed into oblivion as strange a manner of stimulating religious ecstasy and fervor as the world has ever seen.
In marvelling, in these supposedly enlightened days, over the survival for centuries of such a remarkable religious phenomenon, one must never overlook the fact that all religions owe much of their success to their spectacularness. The dramatic has always been an essential feature of any religious cult, and the more effective the show presented, the greater the success of the cult. All through the ages we see examples of this in the flourishing of half a hundred different faiths, all presenting the same fundamental quackeries, decked out in half a hundred different gaudy wrappings, and presented on half a hundred different dramatic stages. The Protestant faith always depended much on its ceremonial, its rubric, its empiricism, its ritual; the Roman Catholic faith outdid it, and thus scored a wider and a more lasting success. In the early days of Christianity, there was nothing else in the way of appeals to the dramatic that could, so far as the masses were concerned, move them to admiration and acceptance as did the shows staged by the Churches. Even today, when religion in Europe and America seems to be moribund or even gangrenous, any temporary flare-up that it is able to stage is connected with the putting on of a new and a free show. The showmanship of the Revivalists, of the Aimee MacPhersons, Billy Sundays, Woodbine Willies, Faith Healers, Billy Grahams, and so on, succeed in filling the temples, stadiums and arenas, spasmodically at least, simply because the old, old act is being staged in a new dress.
It will surely be evident that with the rivalry of the cinema, television, and a score of other appeals to the dramatic, the shows that the Churches can stage are, in the main, old-fashioned and crude. Moreover, the increased prosperity of the masses has largely negated the appeal of free entertainment. They prefer to pay to go to the theater or a night-club rather than accept anything which the Churches have to offer for nothing (except what is put in the collection plate).
The influence of suggestion still exists. It is still powerful. But it works in different ways; it calls for different modes of presentation. Newspaper and television campaigns, with their strong emotional appeals, today have largely taken the place once held almost exclusively by religion.
Looking back through the centuries, as history depicts them, it is easy for the student of sociology to understand which exhibitions of self-flagellation had upon the masses. Its dramatic element, and its suggestive powers, were considerable. Its reputed painful nature merely served to increase its dramatic effects. And much of the anguish associated with it was apocryphal. The ancient pedlars of religion staged their shows with all the skill of the moderns. There is a deliciously ironical suggestion about the account given by an eye-witness of one of the flagellating services held during Lent in the Church of the Cravita in Rome. The service lasted a quarter of an hour, during which time the church was in total darkness, and judging from the sounds, some worshippers were using whips and others their hands. “Hundreds,” says this writer, “were certainly flogging something, but whether their own bare backs, or the pavement of the church, we could not tell” [James Gardner, The Faiths of the World, p. 901].