Friday, October 15, 2010

On This Day...

In 1582, the reformed Georgian calendar was put into effect by most Catholic countries. The reason for the reform was that the Julian calendar, which had been the calendar for most Western countries, contained an 11 minute error in the calculation of a year, an error that had resulted in a 10 day discrepancy in the date of the equinoxes. The vernal equinox, from which the date of Easter is calculated, should be occur on March 21st, but was actually being celebrated on March 10th. In order to correct this, ten days were dropped from the calendar, and that year, October 4th was immediately followed by October 15th.

Today is also the feast day of the great Carmelite reformer and mystic, St. Teresa of Avila. The only reason I remember anything about the reformation of the calendar (despite a vague memory of studying in school at some point), is because of and odd bit of trivia concerning St. Teresa – to wit, that she died on the night that the change went into effect, the night between October 4th and October 15th. Had the Georgian calendar been put into effect on any other day, we would be celebrating her feast day on October 5th

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Beauty of the World....

"Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun...."

I saw something that made those words by the Irish poet, Padraic Pearse, popped in to my head today. No, it wasn't a squirrel, or a ladybug, or a rabbit. It was just a tree and marvelous fall sky.

After a couple weeks of near-record high temperatures, the weather has suddenly turned, and become - well, not quite cold, but definitely chilly. We have had almost of week of rain, and very dramatic rain it has been too. There has been a good deal of lightening, and thunder. For a few days, the rain came down so hard, that it made a lively tattoo on the roof, and shattered itself to bits when it struck the road. There was hail once or twice, and a great deal of wind and commotion. It was delightful.

That particular weather system is being pushed out of the area, and we are supposed to me having somewhat warmer weather, with a good deal more sunshine. Today, however, though the rain had stopped, it was still prodigiously overcast. The sky was grey - that goes without saying - but it was not that flat, unbroken grey that stretches from horizon to horizon without variety. It was a sky jostled with great billows of deep smoke and violet, and a curious colour as close to blue as it is to grey. There were long, calm streaks of paler hues: dove, and cream and pearl. And, in one or two spots the clouds pulled themselves so thin, that ethereal blue pools appeared.

It was against this quintessentially autumn sky that I saw the tree. It was a maple tree, with small, delicate leaves, like bits of lace. It was flanked by two birches, whose branches had been turned into living gold by the cold. They were very beautiful, indeed, but the maple, towering above them, was lovelier still. For it hand not just turned to gold, but into a living flame, full of every shade of fire, from palest yellow to crimson. It burned against the riotous grey sky in singular glory, and at the sight of it, my heart was shaken by great joy, too.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Saint for Pipers?

It is surprisingly difficult to find an appropriate saint to pray to if you happen to be a piper. Of course, there is St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians. Somehow though, the sweet, brave Roman virgin and martyr doesn't seem to be the correct person to invoke when playing the pipes, which have long been associated with men in generally, and fighting men in particular. Still, I thought it ought to be fairly easy to come across someone more appropriate. There are a good number of soldier saints on the Catholic calendar - some of whom, no doubt were also musicians of some sort. And the pipes were an extremely popular instrument for centuries, especially during the Middle Ages, so the chances are that one of the great number of saints from that period would be associated with the pipes.

It was with a light heart, then, that I began a search for a piper saint, which has rapidly turned into something like an obsession. The only saint I have come across is was positively identified as a piper is St. Philemon, a pagan, who agreed to impersonate the Deacon Apollonius (who was afraid of martyrdom) and offer inscense to the gods in his place. This led to Philemon's dramatic public conversion, and the martyrdom of himself and Apollonius. Unfortunately, Philemon destroyed his pipes upon that conversion - no doubt from the holiest of motives - but this does rather disqualify him from being the patron of pipers.

Intensive searching did not produce another single piper saint... nor, for that matter, a saint who played any instrument related to the pipes. I ended up broadening my search to include just about any saintly musician I could find, warrior saints, just because, and Celtic saints in general, because piping today is almost exclusively associated with the Scots and Irish. What I ended up with was a list of possibles, some of whom were exceedingly unlikely. Here, in no particular order, is the list:

St. Dunstan: He is Saxon saint, a monk of Glastonbury, who became bishop of Worcester, and later, of London. He was a harper, not a piper, but he also was an instrument maker, so it entirely possible that he turned out a bagpipe or two in his life time, and therefore a reasonable candidate for a piper saint.

St. Gilbert of Caithness: He was the bishop of Caithness, and apparently an extremely outspoken individual. He is included primarily on strength of his being a highlander, and because he wrote a treaty in defense of Scottish liberty.

St. Thomas More: He is a stretch, of course. St. Thomas is best known for his defense of the papacy and the Catholic Faith against King Henry VIII. However, he is exactly the sort of person pipers of my acquaintance would enjoy keeping company with. In addition to being very learned and erudite, he had a tremendous sense of humour and of fun. Furthermore, he had a musical family - no pipers, but they could acquit themselves well on lutes and harps. Still, I can't help thinking that St. Thomas would be happy to assist any musician who employed his intercession.

St. Meriadoc: (or Meriasek, as it is often given.) Yes, there really is a St. Meriadoc, two of them actually. If my memory serves me aright, this particular saint ended up in a section of Brittany called Rohan. He was a Cornishman and there is a very old play, Beunans Meriasek, written in Cornish, chronicling his life. For reasons lost to obscurity, pipers were generally associate with the play, and associated so strongly that the Cornish pipers generally took him as their patron.

St. Joan of Arc: Who is probably the most unlikely of all the possible patron saints for pipers, but who also just might be the most logical. A little known fact in the life of St. Joan, is that she had a good number of Scots in her army - in fact, the victory of Orleans is due, in no small part, to the valour of the Scots. Once the city was taken from the English, the saint and her army marched in to it, accompanied by sound of bagpipes. Supposedly, the tune they marched in with, was an old tradition tune called, at the time, Hey Tuttie Taiti but better known today as Scots Wae Hae. (Some of you might be familiar with the poem which Robert Burns put to the tune.)

Friday, October 1, 2010


....but the best is autumn. It is mature, reasonable and serious, it glows moderately and not frivolously ... It cools down, clears up, makes you reasonable ..." - Valentin

I couldn't have said it better myself.