Saturday, March 31, 2018

Hot Cross Buns for Easter Week

Hot Cross buns are older than Christianity - pagan celebrants ate wheat cakes at their spring festivals, and the Greeks, Romans and Ancient Egyptians all had buns with a cross etched on the top. The round bun represented the full moon, and the cross divides the bun into the four lunar quarters. Traditional buns have the cross cut into the dough or pricked out with a pin. The icing pastry bands are a more recent thing.
Since before medieval times, marking baked goods (like breads, buns and cakes) with the sign of a cross was a common thing for a homemaker or baker to do – the cross was said to ward off evil spirits which could affect the bread and make it go mouldy.

Kate Colquhoun, writes in her book, Taste: The Story Of Britain Through Its Cooking (2007), "In honour of Eastre, goddess of spring and the dawn, [Anglo-Saxon] bread dough could be studded with dried fruits and baked into small loaves that, as Christianity spread, began to be marked with a cross by monks: the earliest form of hot-cross bun.”

However, during the 1600s, under the influence of the Puritans, (a reforming movement within the Protestant Church of England) the practice of marking a cross on baked goods was condemned as Popish or Popery (Catholic behavior), and it was dropped.
“They are suspicious of ceremonial in worship, partly because they are suspicious of everything they have learned to associate with what, no doubt, they called Popery. They are apt to see Popery in talk about altars or in a cope or in the sign of the cross. One may, at this point, be reminded of Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, finding Popery in gingerbread and talking sad nonsense in Bartholomew Fair.” From, English Political Thought, 1603-1660, by John William Allen, published 1664.

So it is at this point in time, from the late 1600s, that only bread, cakes and buns made on Good Friday continued to bear a cross, in token of the Crucifixion, and with Puritan blessings. The Cross Bun became a special and unique bread. Other regional superstitions and customs saw the continuation of the cross being made in Soul Cakes for All Souls Day, although this practice was not as widespread.

From the late 1600s a tradition and custom grew whereby a particular spiced bun, Good Friday Buns, (becoming more commonly referred to as Cross Buns or Hot Cross Buns) made with a cross on them, were eaten for breakfast on Good Friday.

From the diary of Samuel Pepys we know that on Good Friday in 1664, he ate buns (or ‘wiggs’) but rather than for breakfast, he had them just before he went to bed, with some ale, which he called a ‘Lenten supper.’ “So home to dinner, and had an excellent Good Friday dinner of peas porridge and apple pye...then to walk in the garden with my wife, and so to my office a while, and then home to the only Lenten supper have had of wiggs and ale, and so to bed.” (Recipes for regional wiggs show they are a spiced fruit bun, similar to a later Hot Cross Bun, or a plainer caraway seed bun, similar to an earlier Good Friday Bun).

Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) on Easter & England's Public Pleasure Gardens

Rotunda at Ranleigh by T Bowles 

Unconventional right from his odd-sounding first name—which was his mother’s maiden name—Gouverneur was never a governor, but he did serve in the Continental Congress, Constitutional Convention and U.S. Senate.  Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) was born into a prominent New York family, he earned election to the state’s provincial congress, and signed the Articles of Confederation as a New York delegate to the Continental Congress.  Morris served as American minister to France from 1792-94, and as a New York senator from 1800-03.

On visiting London during Easter, he wrote “The Amusement here is to walk round till one is tired and then sit down to Tea and Rolls,” wrote Gouverneur Morris of a later visit to the Rotunda of Ranelagh, am elegant public pleasure garden for the decorous once located in the present grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Ranelagh opened for the season on this date, Easter Monday. A newspaper reported that the music “was extremely well performed” and, “considering that it is not the fashion to be there the first week, a very respectable company graced the room” (Morris, Diary, i, 525 description begins Gouverneur Morris, A Diary of the French Revolution, ed. Beatrix Cary Davenport, Boston, 1939, 2 vols.description ends; London Chronicle, 18 Apr. 1786).

1811 John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) writes his mother, Abigail Adams (1744-1818) of Easter traditions in Russia & Greece

1818 John Quincy Adams by Gilbert Stuart

From John Quincy Adams to Abigail Smith Adams, 24 April 1811

St: Petersburg 12/24 April 1811.

The Russian People pass their lives in a continual and alternate succession of feasting and fasting. Every individual whether of high or low degree celebrates two days in every year; one for his birth and the other for his baptism, which is called his name day, and is kept on the day marked in the Calendar, as devoted to the Saint of the same name; for it is a religious principle that every body must be named after some Saint, and a rule of the Greek Church never to give more than one Christian name to the same person—

The days of public solemnity are all of a religious character, and all annually return—The ecclesiastical year commences at Christmas, which is celebrated the 25th: of December—From this day the people are allowed to eat flesh untill eight weeks before Easter; that is for a time of varying duration, Easter being in the Greek as well as in the Latin Church a moveable feast—It is the Sunday following the full moon which happens on or next after the twenty-first day of March—

Christmas day and two or three after it are Holidays during which the People amuse themselves with various sports, and drive in procession sleighs, round a Corner of the Winter Palace in this City—For a week before Christmas there is a market of frozen meat brought from distant parts of the Empire, and from which the lower classes of People in St: Petersburg stock themselves with their whole Winter’s provision of fresh meat—The bullocks, sheep and Swine are all brought in sledges and without being cut up into quarters—Most of the Marketmen think it a good piece of wit, or at least an expedient to attract notice to set them upon their legs, and it is a curious show for a stranger to walk through a succession of fleeced and embowelled flocks and herds, and droves, amounting to many thousands.

The Russian Calendars all inform the people how long they may eat meat—Thus in the almanacs of the present year it is announced that meat may be eaten 6 weeks and one day—That is from and including Christmas day to the 5th: of February—Then began what they call the Butter-week; that is a sort of ambiguous week, half fast and half feast, during which they must renounce flesh, but may eat fish, and butter, (from which it has its name) and when the Christmas sports, the races and Ice hills upon the river, and the processions of sleighs before the Imperial Palace are resumed with double ardour—The Butter-week is extended to the Sunday which succeeds it, and from that day follow seven weeks of rigorous lent, called by the Greek Church the great lent, during which according to the severity of the Church rules they should eat absolutely nothing but bread and salt.—

Something of this rigour is however abated in practice in the interval between the first and last day of these seven weeks, and among the highest class of the nobility there are persons not extremely scrupulous about observing the fast at-all.—This laxity however affects their reputation in the popular opinion, and there are few even of the highest ranks, but choose to be thought regular in their practice—

The Imperial family are punctilious in setting the example—During the last year’s lent the Empress-Mother, and her unmarried daughter the Grand-Duchess Ann, paid a visit to the Grand-Duchess Catherine, a Sister of the Emperor’s, who is married to a Prince of Oldenburg, and usually resides at Twer, a City between this place and Moscow—On their way they pass’d through the City of Novogorod the antient metropolis of Russia—They were received and entertained by the magistrates of that place, in the most distinguished manner. That is to say, the magistrates met them at the gates of the City, accompanied them to Church where they attended the divine service, and afterwards presented them—bread and salt.—All which was publicly announced in the official Court Gazette—

During the whole seven weeks of Lent, all the Theatres are closed—The only species of public amusements, that are allowed, are Concerts and Oratorio’s—No entertainments are given, and the families which profess to be scrupulous in their duties neither pay nor receive visits—

There are religious solemnities three or four times a week throughout Lent, and in the last or Passion-week every day—On the Thursday of Passion-week, the Metropolitan of St: Petersburg the highest ecclesiastical parsonage of the Empire washes the feet of twelve poor persons, in commemoration of the same act, performed by our Saviour to his Apostles the day before his crucifixion.—

The next day, that is on Good-Friday, there are in the Churches religious ceremonies specially allusive to the crucifixion, and a regular funeral procession to a place within each church where a scenical representation of the holy sepulchre is exhibited, and remains, lighted with lamps untill Easter day—

I saw this scene on the last Good-Friday, at the Roman Catholic Church in this City—It was in a chapel adjoining the great altar. In the middle of the Chapel was a transparent tomb within which was the image of a corpse, large as a man’s body. In the background was a view of Calvary with three Crucifixes standing and at a distance the temple of Jerusalem—At the foot of the tomb were the figures of two women, the Virgin Mary in the attitude of fainting, and Mary Magdalen: at the head were the images of two Angels, one of them bearing a canvass unrolled with the head of John the Baptist painted on it and in front of each end of the tomb, at a small distance from the figure of a soldier in the antient Roman armour to represent the guard mentioned in the gospels.—

This and similar exhibitions in all the Greek Churches are preparatory to the solemnities of Easter which celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and which are the most remarkable of all—

They begin precisely at Midnight by a religious ceremony which lasts between three and four hours—The signal for their Commencement in all the Churches of this City, is a Cannon fired from the fortress.—

I attended this year the celebration at the chapel in the Imperial Palace, where the foreign Ministers are not on this occasion invited, but where they are admitted and have a good stand secured to them as Spectators, if any of them chuse to be present—

I say a good stand, because it is one of the peculiarities of the Greek Church, that all their religious acts are performed standing—The only exceptions are occasional kneeling, and prostrations; but no person is ever allowed to sit—there is neither chair nor bench, nor seat of any kind in the Church. Between eleven and twelve at Night of Saturday, the day preceding Easter, I went to the Palace in full dress as to Court, and just before the Ceremony began was introduced into the Chapel, and placed at a station the most advantageous for witnessing all that was to take place.—

Precisely at Midnight the Cannon sounded from the fortress, and the Emperor entered the Chapel. He was accompanied by his Mother, and followed by two of his brothers, one Sister, and all his Court.—He took his stand within the Chancel on the right hand; and his Mother stood at his left—The princes and princess stood without the Chancel surrounded by the crowd of Ministers, Generals and Courtiers which filled the Chapel—

Eight or ten officiating Priests stood in a line before the Sanctuary, the doors of which on this occasion alone are open—and a Quire of Male singers was stationed behind a railing on either side of them—The singers are partly men grown and partly children; but the Greek Church allows no instrumental music, and no female voices.—

Some of the attendants in waiting, presented immediately to the Emperor and Empress Mother, and then to every other person in the chapel a small lighted wax taper, which every person took and held in hand during a part of the Ceremony—

Then the Quire of Singers commenced chanting a hymn, and marched out in procession, followed by the Priests, and the Emperor and Imperial family, walking two by two, and every one with the lighted taper in the hand—

They went out of the Chapel, and performed three times the round of three or four halls adjoining the Chapel, into which they then returned in the same order & resumed their respective Stations—

At the ordinary Churches this procession marches out into the Church-yard, or Street, and thrice round the building itself. It was followed at the Chapel by what I believe was a Mass; for my total ignorance of the language in which the solemnities are performed prevents me from understanding any thing that is said or sung—

At the close of it however, seven of the Priests ranged themselves in a line, each of them having a holy relic in his hand—The Emperor went up and kiss’d the relics and afterwards embraced the Priests themselves—The Empress mother and the other members of the Imperial family followed in succession and went through the same process, excepting that the Priests instead of being embraced by the Ladies, kiss’d their hands.—This however is a recent innovation, as the antient rule was that the women as well as the men should always on this occasion salute one another with a holy kiss.—

And the ceremony being considered as emblematical of the primitive equality of all Christian believers, and of the purity of Christian innocence, I find many persons here and of various ranks in Society who are by no means edified at the substitution of hand-kissing, for the good old smack upon the cheek and lips, which they boast of as having always been given at Easter, by the Empress Elizabeth, with indiscriminating favour, alike to men and women. The kissing is not confined to the Priest-hood—

Every individual in the chapel (not including strangers) was understood to have the privilege of going up and embracing the Emperor, and so many of them exercised it, that for a full hour he was employed in bestowing this mark of kindness upon everyone who chose to approach him—At the same time in every part of the chapel each individual was exchanging embraces with all the others around him, and in the course of the hour, I was witness to a multitude of kisses which it seemed to me would have satiated the greediness of Joannes Secundus—

After this operation was over a new religious ceremony began, the most remarkable part of which was the reading of the four gospels—There are four of the Priests, standing at desks, each one with his face towards one of the Cardinal points, who read in alternate succession, and by three verses at a time, a chapter from each of the four gospels, beginning with the first Chapter of St John—

This is meant to commemorate, and mark the fulfillment of the Saviour’s injunction to his disciples to preach the gospel to all the Nations of the Earth—It concluded by the Principal Priest’s taking the Communion; but without administering it to any other person. We came home between three and four in the Morning.—

This was the mere introduction to the Easter Holidays—I shall give you an account of them in another letter—The time draws near when I hope to have opportunities of writing to you directly—The lock of ice upon the Neva river was last-night broken open.—We are all Well.

From John Quincy Adams to Abigail Smith Adams, 
St: Petersburg 2. May 1811.

The religious ceremony of which in my last Letter I gave you an account, began at Midnight and terminated between three and four in the morning.—

It was accompanied by a Salute of 21. Guns fired from the Fortress, two or three times, at particular stages of the performance—This was conformable to the customary practice; which always ushers in Easter day at St: Petersburg with an expence of gunpowder and a volume of Sound, equal to that which in the good Town of Boston, introduces our Independence-Day—

This is only one of many particulars in which there are characteristic resemblances in the celebration of the two days—Thus, for example, they are both days of military Parade—At ten in the morning the Emperor reviewed all the troops then in this Metropolis, amounting to more than thirty thousand Men—Our military exhibitions are not so numerous, nor so splendid; but of these thirty thousand heroes, how many may never stand again to be reviewed on Easter-day!

In front of the Imperial Winter-Palace is a large and Magnificent Square, connected by a public walk in front of the Admiralty, with another square equally spacious and magnificent; In the centre of which is the marble Church of St: Isaac; with the incomparable equestrian Statue of Peter the Great before it, and further on in the same line a Bridge of Boats crossing the Neva, and the commencement of the Granit-sided Quay, which is one of the wonders of the reign of Catherine.—

A minute and sufficiently correct description of all these objects is contained in Porter’s sketches, which in one of your letters to me, you mention having read.—It is on these two Squares that the troops are drawn up, when reviewed by the Emperor, which he usually does every Sunday morning; but with peculiar solemnity on Easter-day—

But besides the splendor of appearance derived from this Parade, the Square of St: Isaac on these occasions is the scene of all the popular amusements which enliven the festivities of the Season—A number of slight buildings are erected on one side of the Square, in which from Easter-day untill and including the ensuing Sunday, continual exhibitions during the day-time are presented of Rope-dancers, Chinese-Shadows, puppet-shows, mechanical and optical representations, strange animals, and the like delights of the Populace, to the successive Crowds of People, who can afford a few copeeks for admission to each of these places of entertainment—

And to some of these temporary theatres, there are adjoined, an external stage or Balcony, upon which Punch and his wife, Jack-Pudding and Merry-Andrew occasionally sally from within, to allure by their antic tricks and the delicious sample of their Sports, the wavering Prudence of the simple youths, whose parsimony struggles with their love of pleasure, and whose Copeeks still linger in their pockets.—On each side of the Church are raised a number of Swings and Whirligigs, filled by a succession of men, women and children who keep them in perpetual motion,—The Swings consist of a suspended plank upon which three or four persons sit side by side, while upon each end of them stands a man or woman, who by the alternate pressure of their own weight keep the vibration constant from side to side, untill weariness puts an end to their sport.—

The Whirligigs are cross bars something like the wings of a wind-mill, with a large chair, or bucket suspended at the ends of each bar; in each of which two or three persons are seated, and which are swung round perpendicularly by machinery.—

Twenty or thirty of these two sorts of machines are ranged along close to one another, and intermixed together, which from Noon to Sun-set of every day, are incessantly whirling and balancing, all together, and as one set of the occupiers tires, instantly filled with another—Beyond them, on the side of the Equestrian Statue, are two sliding hills, another of the amusements peculiar to this Country.—

At the amusements of the Butter-week, which are in February, they are erected on the river, and are called ice-hills—an accurate description, is given of them in Porter’s 15th: letter, and they have indeed so often been described that I shall spare you the repetition of the same thing here—At Easter–time the Ice upon the river is usually so much weakened, and the weather in the day time so warm, that the real Ice–Hills can no longer be enjoyed—But so fascinating is this pastime to the common People here, that they substitute these artificial Imitations of the Ice-hills in their stead—

The Construction of the Stages is the same—But the inclined planes down which they slide, and the flat between the Stages at their feet, are laid with Planks, and the sledges upon which the Sliders go down are upon little wheels or rollers, confined on each side by a small channel in which they must run.—Of these Sports, only the lowest classes of the People partake; but every afternoon during the week, the People of better condition, that is every body who owns or can hire a Carriage, ride in procession round the two Squares for two or three hours, beholding all these amusements of the nobility, and at the same time exhibiting themselves, and their Carriages, and Liveries and Horses, in Spectacle to one Another—

The Imperial family occasionally appear two or three times every year in these processions, and the Emperor himself sometimes attends them on horseback.

On Monday, the day after Easter, a levee or Diplomatic Circle is held by the Emperor, at the Winter Palace, where according to the appropriate phrase of Etiquette, he and the Imperial family receive the felicitations of the foreign Ministers.—Felicitations for what? do you ask?—For the Resurrection of Christ: to the celebration of which all these festivities are devoted—

In all the religious ceremonies and in all the traditionary usages of this Week, there is some allusion to that great event.—The kiss promiscuous, so disgusting to Porter, and so delightful to Carr, (for these two British travellers, both rapturous sentimentalists, were very differently affected by a fashion, which custom here soon flatters into indifference as much to those who behold, as to those who practice it)_this kiss which levels all distinctions both of rank and sex, and which the Imperial Consort of Russia must in the rigour of principle bestow upon the meanest moozhik who presents her an egg, is nothing more than a recognition of that universal equality and brotherhood which Jesus came to proclaim to the whole human race; and as to the egg, which puzzles all the travellers so much to account for, what more expressive emblem could have been chosen to express that eternal life, bursting from the shell of mortality, of which the Resurrection of Jesus was the first fruit, and the most precious pledge?—

The custom of giving eggs, is as universal as that of kissing—Servants give them to their masters—Friends interchange them with one another, and it is an act of delicate gallantry from a Gentleman to a Lady—On presenting the egg, the giver pronounces the words “Christos Voskrest”—Christ is risen—to which the receiver answers “Voistinnoi Voskrest”—He is indeed risen; and then the salutation succeeds. The common people who can afford no more, give real, hard boiled hens eggs, with the shells dyed red—But persons in easier circumstances give artificial eggs, of paste-board, wood, glass, marble, porcellain, candied sugar, and in short of almost every material that can be fashioned into the shape—

Boxes of Sugar-plums assume this form in presents for children, much to the entertainment of master Charles; and it can take even the shape of a Lady’s work-bag; not to call it on so serious an occasion a Ridicule—The windows of innumerable shops in the City are decorated with multitudes of these artificial eggs, of various sizes, suspended by silk ribbons of all the gaudy Colours, and of various prices from five Copeeks to a hundred rubles—

They are also hawked about the streets by the Carriers of Ginger Bread, and sugar-candy—In short these objects are so multiplied at these times before the eyes of a Stranger to the Custom, that he would almost be induced to believe that in Russia, breeding eggs, and kissing, was the business of human life.

On Easter-day the seven-weeks Fast is at an end. Many of those whose abstemiousness has been carried to an excess which physical Nature can scarcely support, now plunge into the other excess, of bestial gluttony and drunkenness. The habits of intoxications to which the Russian Populace are addicted, have often been noticed—It is the natural vice of those who have not the means of indulging others.—

But there is a singular character of harmlessness in the ebriety of this People—Among the multitudes whom I daily meet staggering and sprawling about the Streets, I have never witnessed any thing like a fray, and scarcely ever any thing like a brawl—This quietude is partly owing to the submissive Spirit of the Nation, and partly to the rigorous vigilance of the Police—

Every Police officer, of the lowest class has the privilege of using the cudgel over the backs of the populace at discretion; and so faithfully is the privilege exercised, and so numerous are the Police–Officers, that on the slightest symptom of disorder by a moozhik in the Streets, he receives the immediate admonition of a severe bastonade, from some little, spare green-coated Beadle, who seems as if to start out of the ground for that single purpose, administers the discipline without speaking a word, and then vanishes with as little noise as he appeared. The regularity and absolute power of the Police is equally visible in the tranquility with which the crowds of People assembled at the Sports disperse immediately after Sun-set—

In the course of half an hour the sliding-hills are deserted, the Whirligigs and Swings are emptied and unmoveable, the hundreds and even thousands of equipages have retired, the bustle of the throng has given place to silence and Solitude, and the Square just swarming with festive myriads is as quiet and unfrequented as the Streets of an American City On a Sunday.—

The change of its appearance after the close of the Holidays is still more remarkable—In twenty-four hours the Sliding-hills, the whirligigs, the Swings and the Theatres have all disappeared, the Square resumes its customary appearance, and not a trace remains of the motley multitudes which have been eight-days reveling upon it.

Besides the Great Lent, before Easter, there are three other fasting terms in the course of the year—One called the Fast of St: Peter—thirty–one days in May and June—One from the 1st: to the 15th: of August, called the Fast of the Mother of God—and the fourth from the 15th: of November to Christmas day—They are not quite so rigorously kept as the great one, but they are all preceded and followed by one or more days of festivity and intemperance.

Thus much for Russian Holidays and Fasts—If you incline to slumber over this account of them, or any other of my frequent letters, I can only beg you to consider them as apologies for repeating to you as often as possible, that we are well, and ever faithfully your’s.

“From John Quincy Adams to Abigail Smith Adams, 24 April 1811,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-03-02-1956.

SPRING Personification Martin Droeshout 1601-1639

Martin Droeshout (British printmaker, 1601-c 1639) Spring

Centuries of Celebrating Spring

May Day, usually the 1st of May, celebrates the onset of summer, the height of Spring, & the flowering of life. The ancient European festival of spring, Beltane, features a goddess which manifests as the May Queen & Flora. A god also emerges as the May King & Jack in the Green. In ancient European festivals of spring, Beltane, the dance around the Maypole represents their unity with the pole itself being the God & the ribbons that encompass it, the Goddess. Mayday is a festival of flowers, fertility, sensuality, & delight.

Some festival celebrants believed that on May Eve, you could bless your garden in by making love there with your partner. Union with the land was a May 1 focus, often with actual mating outside on other lands to bless fields, herds, home. Revellers welcomed May at dawn with singing & dancing. Later communities celebtated with Morris Dancers & more formal pageants featuring Jack-in-Green& a May Queen to awaken the fertility in the Land.

In ancient springtimes, gathering & exchanging of Flowers & Greens was common on May Eve. Merrymakers decorated homes, barns, & other buildings with green budding branches. Men & women made garlands & wreaths of Flowers & Greens. Early communities prepared a May basket by filling it with flowers & goodwill & then giving it to someone in need of healing & caring. Women in early cultures formed wreaths of freshly picked flowers to wear in the hair to radiate joy & beauty. Early groups often danced the Maypole to feel the balancing of the Divine Female & Male within.

In Pagan Rome, Floralia, from April 27-May 3 was the festival of the Flower Goddess Flora & the flowering of Springtime. Roman Catholic traditions of adoring statues of Mary with garlands of flowers on May 1 have Roman Pagan roots. On May 1, offerings were made to Bona Dea (as Mother Earth), the Lares (household guardian spirits), & Maia (Goddess of Increase) from whom May gets its name. On May 1, early cultures followed a pastoral tradition of turning sheep, cows, other livestock out to pasture. In early Scandinavia, mock battles between Winter & Summer were enacted at this time. Maypoles in Spain sometimes were topped with a male effigy which was later burned. In Germany, Fir trees were cut on May Eve by young unmarried men, branches removed, decorated, put up in village square, & guarded all night until dance occurred on May Day. In England , permanent Maypoles sometimes were erected on village greens. In some villages, there also were smaller Maypoles in the yards of households.

Fire was a common accompaniment to many May celebrations. Celebrants marked the holiday by lighting fires, dancing, feasting & often performing fertility rites. Many built a bonfire & then moved through it or danced clockwise around it. Livestock was driven around a Beltane fire or between 2 fires for purification & fertility blessings. In ancient times Druid priests kindled it at sacred places. In later times, Christian priests kindled their spring fires in fields near the church after performing a Christian church service. Branches & twigs often were carried around these fire 3 times, then hung over hearths to bless homes.  Risk-takers made a wish for good luck before jumping a bonfire or the flame of a candle. Some believed during May the veil between the human & supernatural worlds is at its thinnest, making them potent days for magic. Beltane may refer to the “fires of Bel,” in honor of the Celtic sun god, Belenus. Some pagans believed fire has the power to cleanse, purify & increase fertility.

Morning Madonna

Giampietrino, possibly Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli (active 1495–1549), Madonna and Child 1520s

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Friday, March 30, 2018

1460 Good Friday Crown of Thorns

1460-75. Philadelphia Museum of Art Christ Crowned with Thorns. Artist unknown, Austrian

In the Christian religion, Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. As early as the 1C, the Christian church set aside every Friday as a special day of prayer and fasting. It was not until the 4C, however, that Christians began observing the Friday before Easter as the day associated with the crucifixion of Christ. Good Friday is the most solemn day in the Christian calendar.  First called Holy or Great Friday by the Greek Church, the name "Good Friday" was adopted by the Roman Church around the 6C or 7C.

There are two possible origins for the name "Good Friday". The first may have come from the Gallican Church in Gaul (modern-day France and Germany). The name "Gute Freitag" is Germanic in origin and literally means "good" or "holy" Friday. The 2nd possibility is a variation on the name "God's Friday," where the word "good" was used to replace the word "God," which was often viewed as too holy to be spoken aloud.

Good Friday rituals and traditions are somber. To many Christians, Good Friday is a day of sorrow mingled with hope, a time to grieve for mankind's failings and for the suffering of Jesus and to meditate upon the ultimate redemption of loving and of forgiving ourselves and others.

Illuminated Manuscripts - Good Friday

Missal and Book of Hours, Lombardy ca. 1385-1390 (Paris, BnF, Latin 757, fol. 79r)

Good Friday marks the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross for the sins of the the people of the world. Good Friday is a day of mourning and sorrow over the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. It's also a day of gratitude for the supreme sacrifice that he made.


The St Albans Psalter, owned by St Godehard's Church, Hildesheim now at University of Aberdeen, Scotland The Deposition from the Cross


Prayer Book (Use of Rome), Entombment, Walters Manuscript W.438, fol. 354vb11

Giotto 1267-1337 looks at Good Friday

Good Friday marks the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross for the sins of the the people of the world. Good Friday is a day of mourning and sorrow over the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. It's also a day of gratitude for the supreme sacrifice, that he made.
1305  Giotto di Bondone (Florentine painter, c 1267-1337). The Crucifixion


1303 Giotto di Bondone (Florentine painter, c 1267-1337). The Lamentation

Duccio 1255-1319 looks at Good Friday

1308-11 Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319)  (Italian artist, 1255-1319) Jesus Accused by the Pharisees


1308-11 Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319)  (Italian artist, 1255-1319) The Flagellation

Good Friday marks the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross for the sins of the the people of the world. Some believe that its name was originally God's Friday, which, over the years, became its present name. Good Friday is a day of mourning and sorrow over the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. It's also a day of gratitude for the supreme sacrifice that he made.


1308-11 Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319)  (Italian artist, 1255-1319) Crown of Thorns


1308-11 Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319)  (Italian artist, 1255-1319) The Carrying of the Cross


1308-11 Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319)  (Italian artist, 1255-1319) Deposition

1200 Mosaic of the Crucifixion

Burial vault mosaic (detail), Basilica di San Marco, Venice, c.1200

1268 Cimabue Jesus on the Cross

Cimabue (Italian Byzantine Style Painter, 1240-1302) Crucifix (detail) 1268-71 

1510 Lucas Cranach the Elder Christ Crowned with Thorns

Lucas Cranach the Elder (German Northern Renaissance Painter, 1472-1553) Christ Crowned with Thorns c 1510

1500s Unknown Flemish painter, Jesus on Good Friday

Unknown Flemish painter, Jesus 

1445 Petrus Christus Head of Christ

Petrus Christus (Netherlandish painter, active c 1444–1476 Bruges) Head of Christ c 1445

1460 Giovanni Bellini Christ's Blessing

Giovanni Bellini (Italian painter, 1430-1516) Christ's Blessing 

1500 Sandro Botticelli Christ Crowned with Thorns.

Sandro Botticelli (Italian Early Renaissance Painter, c 1445-1510) Christ Crowned with Thorns. 1500

1616 SPRING , Summer, & Autumn - Locus amoenus, Allegories by Jan Brueghel the Elder 1568-1625 & Hendrick van Balen 1575-1632

Jan Brueghel the Elder 1568-1625 & Hendrick van Balen 1575-1632 Spring, 1616

As in these paintings, allegorical characters in stories & in art of this period were often located in garden settings. The locus amoenus was one of the traditional locations of epic & chivalric literature. As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a type of prose & verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of Medieval & Early Modern Europe.  Locus amoenus (Latin for "pleasant place") is a literary term which generally referring to an idealized place of safety or comfort, usually a beautiful, shady parkland or open woods, sometimes with connotations of Eden. A locus amoenus usually has 3 basic elements: trees, grass, & water. 


Often, the locus amoenus garden will be in a remote setting & with only components or suggestions of a more formal, geometric, walled garden, such as the flower pots seen above. The locus amoenus can also be used to highlight the differences between urban & rural life or be a place of refuge from the processes of time & mortality. In some works, such gardens also have overtones of the regenerative powers of human sexuality marked out by flowers, & goddesses of springtime, love, & fertility. Ernst Robert Curtius formulated the concept's definition in his European Literature & the Latin Middle Ages (1953). 
Jan Brueghel the Elder 1568-1625 & Hendrick van Balen 1575-1632 Summer, 1616


Jan Brueghel the Elder 1568-1625 & Hendrick van Balen 1575-1632 Autumn, 1616

Morning Madonna

Workshop of Gerard David (Netherlandish, ca. 1460–1523), Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1514.

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Last Supper by Stanley Spencer 1922

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) The Last Supper

The Last Supper

1325 Ugolino da Siena (Italian, Sienese, active 1315–30s) The Last Supper

Francesco Bassano the Younger (1563-1570) Last Supper

Illuminated Manuscripts - The Last Supper

Manuscript European Bible (Ottheinrich) 15C p 85 The Last Supper

The Last Supper

1308-11 Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian artist, 1255-1319) Washing of the Feet

Maundy Thursday refers to Jesus as a servant and calld for his followers to do the same. It also draws a connection between the Passover sacrifice, a Jewish tradition, & the imminent sacrifice of Jesus. The night before Jesus was crucified, he had a Passover supper with his disciples. (Passover is a Jewish holy day that celebrates God's deliverance of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.) After supper, Jesus knew that this would be his final opportunity to instruct his disciples before the crucifixion, so he talked at length about his purposes, what his followers should do in response, and the promise of the Holy Spirit to come. He then washed his disciples' feet in a demonstration of humility and servant-hood. Finally, he gave bread and wine to his disciples and asked them to partake of it in remembrance of him. The act of partaking bread and wine is called Communion (or the Last Supper) today. 

The word Maundy (pronounced mawn-dee) comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means "command." The command that this holy day refers to is the one that Jesus gave to his disciples during the Last Supper: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. — John 13:34–35

The last meal Jesus shared with His disciples was the Passover meal. Jesus was the host: he washed the feet of His followers, & served them at the table. He broke bread with His betrayer, Judas; With His denier, Peter; with the "friends," who would sleep when He needed comfort & run, as he was facing death. Yet Jesus still ate with them, Prayed with them, sang a hymn with them. That meal Jesus over and gave them a new command:  "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. "
1308-11 Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian artist, 1255-1319) The Last Supper

Footwashing & Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is the common name for Holy Thursday & marks the beginning of the 3 day celebration of Easter in the Christian church. It commemorates the day of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles & gets its name from the Latin word mandatum, which means "commandment."
Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles by Meister des Hausbuches (German painter active between 1470-1505)

Near the end of the Last Supper, after Judas had departed, Christ said to His disciples, "A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another."

During the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples' feet. In England, this act was adopted politically as a way of reminding rulers, that they are here to serve their subjects, until1689. Up until then the King or Queen would wash the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday in Westminster Abbey.  Throughout the 17C
& earlier, the King or Queen would wash the feet of the selected poor people as a gesture of humility in remembrance of Jesus' washing the feet of the disciples. The last monarch to do this was James 2. The English ceremony of the monarch giving money to the poor on this day dates back to Edward 1.

The ceremony originated in the Roman Catholic Church inspired by the events that occurred during the night Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples. The symbolic washing of feet, which was begun around the 4C, involved a bishop or cardinal washing the feet of the priests & acolytes. The abbot of a monastery would wash the feet of all the monks. While in Rome, the Pope would wash the feet of selected Cardinals. This was seen as fulfilling the mandate, that the greatest among the brethren will be the servant of all.

SPRING 1670s Personification

Female personification of Spring, seated, garlands of flowers on head and body, holding bunch of flowers, one hand on infant similarly draped in flowers; large vase with flowers on wall to right; a garden fountain. Unknown artist.  Sold by P Van Somer, 1674-1694 London. 

Morning Madonna


Jacob van Oost the Elder (Belgian artist, 1601–1671) The Holy Family

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

SPRING 1620 Personification

1620 Follower of Abraham Janssens, also called Abraham Janssens Van Nuyssen Flemish artist, 1573-1632) Portrait of a Lady as Spring

Centuries of Celebrating Spring


May Day, usually the 1st of May, celebrates the onset of summer, the height of Spring, & the flowering of life. The ancient European festival of spring, Beltane, features a goddess which manifests as the May Queen & Flora. A god also emerges as the May King & Jack in the Green. In ancient European festivals of spring, Beltane, the dance around the Maypole represents their unity with the pole itself being the God & the ribbons that encompass it, the Goddess. Mayday is a festival of flowers, fertility, sensuality, & delight.
Some early celebrants believed that on May Eve, you could bless your garden in by making love there. Union with the land was a May 1 focus, often with actual mating outside on other lands to bless fields, herds, home. Revellers welcomed May at dawn with singing & dancing. Later communities celebtated with Morris Dancers & more formal pageants featuring Jack-in-Green& a May Queen to awaken the fertility in the Land.

In ancient springtimes, gathering & exchanging of Flowers & Greens was common on May Eve. Merrymakers decorated homes, barns, & other buildings with green budding branches. Men & women made garlands & wreaths of Flowers & Greens. Early communities prepared a May basket by filling it with flowers & goodwill & then giving it to someone in need of healing & caring. Women in early cultures formed wreaths of freshly picked flowers to wear in the hair to radiate joy & beauty. Early groups often danced the Maypole to feel the balancing of the Divine Female & Male within.

In Pagan Rome, Floralia, from April 27-May 3 was the festival of the Flower Goddess Flora & the flowering of Springtime. Roman Catholic traditions of adoring statues of Mary with garlands of flowers on May 1 have Roman Pagan roots. On May 1, offerings were made to Bona Dea (as Mother Earth), the Lares (household guardian spirits), & Maia (Goddess of Increase) from whom May gets its name. On May 1, early cultures followed a pastoral tradition of turning sheep, cows, other livestock out to pasture. In early Scandinavia, mock battles between Winter & Summer were enacted at this time. Maypoles in Spain sometimes were topped with a male effigy which was later burned. In Germany, Fir tree was cut on May Eve by young unmarried men, branches removed, decorated, put up in village square, & guarded all night until dance occurred on May Day. In England, permanent Maypoles sometimes were erected on village greens. In some villages, there also were smaller Maypoles in the yards of households.

Fire was a common accompaniment to many May celebrations. Celebrants marked the holiday by lighting fires, dancing, feasting & often performing fertility rites. Many built a bonfire & then moved through it or danced clockwise around it. Livestock was driven around a Beltane fire or between 2 fires for purification & fertility blessings. In ancient times Druid priests kindled it at sacred places. In later times, Christian priests kindled their spring fires in fields near the church after performing a Christian church service. Branches & twigs often were carried around these fires 3 times, then hung over hearths to bless homes.  Risk-takers made a wish for good luck before jumping a bonfire or the flame of a candle. Some believe during May the veil between the human & supernatural worlds is at its thinnest, making them potent days for magic. Beltane may refer to the “fires of Bel,” in honor of the Celtic sun god, Belenus. Some pagans believe fire has the power to cleanse, purify & increase fertility.

Morning Madonna

Jaume Serra (Catalonean artist, d c 1405) Virgen de Tobed 1359

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Illuminated Manuscript - Passover & Holy Week

On Palm Sunday, Christians celebrate the Lord's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem for Passover, where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him & laying down palm leaves before him. His appearance marks the beginning of Holy Week. But Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem is only part of the Easter Week story. 
Passover. Preparation for the Seder, from the Golden Haggadah. Additional 27210 f. 15

The Galileans, the pilgrim crowd, acclaimed Jesus, & the local Judeans did not. By Palm Sunday, many of the Jews were filled with hate & anger for Jesus. They wanted to see him stoned, calling Him a blasphemer, after offering proof of His Divinity during a winter visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication. After this, Jesus went to Perea, where he was summoned to Bethany. There he raised Lazarus from the dead, a miracle which won Him renown among certain Pharisees; that they decided finally to end His life.

Jesus took refuge at Ephrem - returning 6 days before Passover to Bethany, & triumphantly entered Jerusalem. That evening, He left Jerusalem & returned Monday. He spent time with Gentiles in the Temple, & on Wednesday He left for the Mount of Olives. Here He told the apostles of the events of the next several days, including His impending death. He returned to Jerusalem on Thursday, to share the Last Supper with His apostles. He was subsequently arrested & tried. He was crucified at Calvary on Friday, outside the gates of Jerusalem. He was buried the same day, & arose three days later, on Easter Sunday.

Passover was only 4 days away, when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem.  He entered the city on the 10th day of the month. We can see the significance of this in Exodus 12:3, 5-6, which says, Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house.. . ..Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.

As Jesus was riding in and the people were crying “Hosanna in the highest,” symbolically selecting the paschal lamb for sacrifice.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Palm Sunday - Jesus' 1st official appearance as The Messiah.

1308 Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319)  (Italian artist, 1255-1319) Entry into Jerusalem

The Passover story from the Old & New Testaments in the Bible relates that God had sent Moses to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt & bring them into the Promised Land.  But Pharaoh refused to let them go, saying “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him & let Israel go? I do not know the Lord & I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh considered himself to be a god, & therefore equal to any other god.

And so, it is written in The Bible, God had brought a series of plagues against Egypt.  He turned their water to blood.  He caused an infestation of frogs, then one of gnats, & after that, one of flies.  He made their livestock drop dead.  He caused an outbreak of painful boils, a great hailstorm that destroyed their crops, a plague of locusts that ate what was left, & another of darkness. Through these 9 plagues, Pharaoh had remained just as obstinate as God had predicted, & refused to let the Israelites go.

The Lord had said to a worried Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh & on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, & when he does, he will drive you out completely.” (Exodus 11:1-2). The 10th plague, the death of all the firstborn, would break Pharoah’s will & free the Israelites from their bondage, but first they had to be protected from it. On the 10th day of the 1st month God had them select a male lamb for each household & inspect it for 3 days to be sure it had no blemish or defect. Then it was slaughtered, & its blood was applied to the door posts of their homes. Sunset brought the 14th of the month, & after cooking the lamb, each family gathered behind closed doors in their own house, & ate it quickly with some bitter herbs & unleavened bread, not venturing outside.  It is reported that at midnight the destroying angel came through Egypt & took the life of the first born of every family, except for those who had covered their door posts with lamb’s blood (Exodus 12:1-13, 21-23, 28-30).

Two years after the exodus from Egypt the Lord had Moses take a census of the all the people, listing by name every male 20 years old or older who could serve in the army. The number of those who met the requirements totaled 603,550 (Numbers 1:1-46).  Most scholars agree that the total Israelite population would have been about 1.5 million at the time.

On the first Christian Palm Sunday, the 10th day of the 1st month, another Passover Lamb was selected by allowing people to hail Him as Israel’s King for the first & only time in His life. When the Pharisees told him to rebuke His disciples for doing so, He said if they kept silent the very stones would cry out (Luke 19:39-40). This was the day ordained for His official appearance as their Messiah. For the next 3 days, He was subjected to the most intense questioning of His entire ministry lest there be any defects found in His words or deeds. Then on the 14th day, He was crucified.

1595 Music & Courting in SPRING Garden

Spring - Artwork after Hendrick Goltzius; print by Saenredam 1595

Centuries of Celebrating Spring

May Day, usually the 1st of May, celebrates the onset of summer, the height of Spring, & the flowering of life. The ancient European festival of spring, Beltane, features a goddess which manifests as the May Queen & Flora. A god also emerges as the May King & Jack in the Green. In ancient European festivals of spring, Beltane, the dance around the Maypole represents their unity with the pole itself being the God & the ribbons that encompass it, the Goddess. Mayday is a festival of flowers, fertility, sensuality, & delight.

Some early celebrants believed that on May Eve, you could bless your garden in by making love there. Union with the land was a May 1 focus, often with actual mating outside on other lands to bless fields, herds, home. Revellers welcomed May at dawn with singing & dancing. Later communities celebtated with Morris Dancers & more formal pageants featuring Jack-in-Green& a May Queen to awaken the fertility in the Land.

In ancient springtimes, gathering & exchanging of Flowers & Greens was common on May Eve. Merrymakers decorated homes, barns, & other buildings with green budding branches. Men & women made garlands & wreaths of Flowers & Greens. Early communities prepared a May basket by filling it with flowers & goodwill & then giving it to someone in need of healing & caring. Women in early cultures formed wreaths of freshly picked flowers to wear in the hair to radiate joy & beauty. Early groups often danced the Maypole to feel the balancing of the Divine Female & Male within.

In Pagan Rome, Floralia, from April 27-May 3 was the festival of the Flower Goddess Flora & the flowering of Springtime. Roman Catholic traditions of adoring statues of Mary with garlands of flowers on May 1 have Roman Pagan roots. On May 1, offerings were made to Bona Dea (as Mother Earth), the Lares (household guardian spirits), & Maia (Goddess of Increase) from whom May gets its name. On May 1, early cultures followed a pastoral tradition of turning sheep, cows, other livestock out to pasture. In early Scandinavia, mock battles between Winter & Summer were enacted at this time. Maypoles in Spain sometimes were topped with a male effigy which was later burned. In Germany, Fir tree was cut on May Eve by young unmarried men, branches removed, decorated, put up in village square, & guarded all night until dance occurred on May Day. In England, permanent Maypoles sometimes were erected on village greens. In some villages, there also were smaller Maypoles in the yards of households.

Fire was a common accompaniment to many May celebrations. Celebrants marked the holiday by lighting fires, dancing, feasting & often performing fertility rites. Many built a bonfire & then moved through it or danced clockwise around it. Livestock was driven around a Beltane fire or between 2 fires for purification & fertility blessings. In ancient times Druid priests kindled it at sacred places. In later times, Christian priests kindled their spring fires in fields near the church after performing a Christian church service. Branches & twigs often were carried around these fires 3 times, then hung over hearths to bless homes.  Risk-takers made a wish for good luck before jumping a bonfire or the flame of a candle. Some believe during May the veil between the human & supernatural worlds is at its thinnest, making them potent days for magic. Beltane may refer to the “fires of Bel,” in honor of the Celtic sun god, Belenus. Some pagans believe fire has the power to cleanse, purify & increase fertility.

Morning Madonna


Benedetto Bonfigli (c. 1420–1496) Madonna and Child with Angels

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Monday, March 26, 2018

SPRING 1580 Personification Flora, Goddess of Flowers

1580 Dutch Personification of Flora - Spring

Centuries of Celebrating Spring

May Day, usually the 1st of May, celebrates the onset of summer, the height of Spring, & the flowering of life. The ancient European festival of spring, Beltane, features a goddess which manifests as the May Queen & Flora. A god also emerges as the May King & Jack in the Green. In ancient European festivals of spring, Beltane, the dance around the Maypole represents their unity with the pole itself being the God & the ribbons that encompass it, the Goddess. Mayday is a festival of flowers, fertility, sensuality, & delight.

Some early celebrants believed that on May Eve, you could bless your garden in by making love there. Union with the land was a May 1 focus, often with actual mating outside on other lands to bless fields, herds, home. Revellers welcomed May at dawn with singing & dancing. Later communities celebtated with Morris Dancers & more formal pageants featuring Jack-in-Green& a May Queen to awaken the fertility in the Land.

In ancient springtimes, gathering & exchanging of Flowers & Greens was common on May Eve. Merrymakers decorated homes, barns, & other buildings with green budding branches. Men & women made garlands & wreaths of Flowers & Greens. Early communities prepared a May basket by filling it with flowers & goodwill & then giving it to someone in need of healing & caring. Women in early cultures formed wreaths of freshly picked flowers to wear in the hair to radiate joy & beauty. Early groups often danced the Maypole to feel the balancing of the Divine Female & Male within.

In Pagan Rome, Floralia, from April 27-May 3 was the festival of the Flower Goddess Flora & the flowering of Springtime. Roman Catholic traditions of adoring statues of Mary with garlands of flowers on May 1 have Roman Pagan roots. On May 1, offerings were made to Bona Dea (as Mother Earth), the Lares (household guardian spirits), & Maia (Goddess of Increase) from whom May gets its name. On May 1, early cultures followed a pastoral tradition of turning sheep, cows, other livestock out to pasture. In early Scandinavia, mock battles between Winter & Summer were enacted at this time. Maypoles in Spain sometimes were topped with a male effigy which was later burned. In Germany, Fir tree was cut on May Eve by young unmarried men, branches removed, decorated, put up in village square, & guarded all night until dance occurred on May Day. In England, permanent Maypoles sometimes were erected on village greens. In some villages, there also were smaller Maypoles in the yards of households.

Fire is a common accompaniment to many May celebrations. Celebrants mark the holiday by lighting fires, dancing, feasting & often performing fertility rites. Many built a bonfire & then moved through it or danced clockwise around it. Livestock was driven around a Beltane fire or between 2 fires for purification & fertility blessings. In ancient times Druid priests kindled it at sacred places. In later times, Christian priests kindled their spring fires in fields near the church after peforming a Christian church service. Branches & twigs often were carried around these fires 3 times, then hung over hearths to bless homes.  Risk-takers made a wish for good luck before jumping a bonfire or the flame of a candle. Some believe during May the veil between the human & supernatural worlds is at its thinnest, making them potent days for magic. Beltane may refer to the “fires of Bel,” in honor of the Celtic sun god, Belenus. Some pagans believe fire has the power to cleanse, purify & increase fertility. 

Morning Madonna

Cimabue, Santa Trinita Madonna (Madonna and Child Enthroned), 1280-90

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.