The Book of Days is proudly brought to you by the members of Emmitsburg. John Woodward, naturalist, , Derbyshire. James the Less, apostles. Saints Acius and Acheolus, martyrs, of Amiens, about Amator, Bishop of Auxerre, Briocus, of Wales, about Sigismund, King of Burgundy, about Marcon, abbot of Nanteu, in Normandy, Asaph, abbot and bishop at Llanelwy, in North Wales, about May 1st is a festival of the Anglican church, in honour of St. ASAPH Asaph is one of those saints who belong to the fabulous period, and whose history is probably but a legend altogether.
According to the story, there was, in the sixth century, a bishop of Glasgow called Kentigern, called also by the Scots St. Mungo, who was driven from his bishopric in , and took refuge in Wales with St. Kentigern also was a saint; so the two saints wandered about Wales for some time seeking unsuccessfully for a convenient spot to build a church for the fugitive, and had almost given up the search in despair, when the place was miraculously pointed out to them through the agency of a wild boar.
It was a piece of rising ground on the banks of the little river Elwy, a tributary of the Clwyd, and Kentigern built upon it a small church of wood, which, from the name of the river, was called Llanelwy, and afterwards established a monastery there, which soon became remarkable for its numerous monks.
Among these was a young Welshman, named Asaph, who, by his learning and conduct, became so great a favourite with Kentigern, that when the latter established an episcopal see at Llanelwy, and assumed the dignity of a bishop, he deputed to Asaph the government of the monastery. More than this, when at length St. Kentigern's enemies in Scotland were appeased or silenced, and he was recalled to his native country, he resigned his Welsh bishopric to Asaph, who thus became bishop of Llanelwy, though what he did in his episcopacy, or how long he lived, is equally unknown, except that he is said, on very questionable authority, to have compiled the ordinances of his church, and to have written a life of his master, St Kentigern, as well as some other books.
We can only say that nobody is known to have ever seen any such works. After his death, no bishops of Llanelwy have been recorded for a very long period of years—that is, till the middle of the twelfth century. The church and see still retained the name of Llanelwy, which, the supposed second bishop having been canonized, was changed at a later period to St. Asaph, by which name it is still known. It derived its name from the Gospel for the day, teaching us how we may ask of God so as to obtain.
In former times there was a perambulation, in the course of which, at certain spots, thanksgiving psalms were sung. Dying at thirty-seven, with a great reputation for sanctity and an infinite number of charitable works among the poor, his tomb in the cemetery of St. Medard came to be regarded with much veneration among such of the Parisian populace as had contracted any sympathies for Jansenism. Within about four years of his interment, this tomb was the daily resort of multitudes, who considered it a good place for their extra devotions.
It then began to be rumoured that, among such of these individuals as were diseased, miraculous cures took place at the tomb of Paris.
The French capital chanced to be then in want of a new sensation. The strange tales of the doings in the cemetery of St. Medard came very opportunely. It became a fashionable amusement to go there and witness the revivals of health which took place at the Deacon Paris's tomb.
Scores of people afflicted with deep-seated rheumatism, sciatica, and contractions of the limbs, or with epilepsy and neuralgia, went away professing to have been suddenly and entirely cured in consequence of their devotions at the shrine of this quasi-Protestant saint. The Jesuits were of course scornfully incredulous of miracles wrought at an opposite shop.
But nevertheless the cures went on, and all Paris was excited. In the autumn of , the phenomena began to put on an even more striking shape. The votaries, when laid on the deacon's tomb, which was one slightly raised above the ground, began to experience strange convulsive movements, accompanied by dreadful pains, but always ending in cure.
Some of them would be suddenly shot up several feet into the air, as by some explosive force applied below. Demonstrations of eloquence beyond the natural acquirements of the individual, knowledge of things beyond the natural scope of the faculties, powers of physical endurance above what seem to belong to human nature—in short, many of the phenomena alleged to happen in our own time under the influence of mesmerism—began to be exhibited by the convulsionaires.
The scenes then daily presented in the St. Medard churchyard became a scandal too great to be endured by the opponents of the Jansenism, and a royal decree was issued, shutting up the place except for its ordinary business of receiving the bodies of the dead. As the Parisian epigram went—for on what subject will not the gay ones of such a city make jokes? The convulsionaires continued to meet in private, and it was found that a few particles of earth from the grave of Paris sufficed to produce all the usual phenomena.
For years there continued to be assemblages of people who, under the professed influence of the deacon's miraculous power, could sustain enormous weights on their bellies, and undergo other tortures, such as human beings usually shrink from with terror.
The Jesuits, unable to deny the facts, or account for them on natural grounds, could only attribute them to the devil and other evil spirits. A gentleman of the name of Montgeron, originally sceptical, afterwards made a believer, employed himself for many years in collecting fully certified proofs of the St.
Medard cures and other phenomena. He published three large volumes of these evidences, forming one of the most curious books in existence; bearing with patience several imprisonments in the Bastile as the punishment of his interference.
There is no doubt of the sincerity of Montgeron. It cannot be disputed that few of the events of history are nearly so well evidenced as the convulsionaire phenomena. All that science can now say upon the subject is that the alleged facts are impossible, and therefore the evidence goes for nothing.
MAY DAY The outbreak into beauty which Nature makes at the end of April and beginning of May excites so joyful and admiring a feeling in the human breast, that there is no wonder the event should have at all times been celebrated in some way.
The first emotion is a desire to seize some part of that profusion of flower and blossom which spreads around us, to set it up in decorative fashion, pay it a sort of homage, and let the pleasure it excites find expression in dance and song. A mad happiness goes abroad over the earth, that Nature, long dead and cold, lives and smiles again. Doubtless there is mingled with this, too, in bosoms of any reflection, a grateful sense of the Divine goodness, which makes the promise of seasons so stable and so sure.
Amongst the Romans, the feeling of the time found vent in their Floralia, or Floral Games, which began on the 28th of April, and lasted a few days. Nations taking more or less their origin from Rome have settled upon the 1st of May as the special time for fetes of the same kind. With ancients and moderns alike it was one instinctive rush to the fields, to revel in the bloom which was newly presented on the meadows and the trees; the more city-pent the population, the more eager apparently the desire to get among the flowers, and bring away samples of them; the more sordidly drudging the life, the more hearty the relish for this one day of communion with things pure and beautiful.
Among the barbarous Celtic populations of Europe, there was a heathen festival on the same day, but it does not seem to have been connected with flowers. It was called Beltein, and found expression in the kindling of fires on hill tops by night. Amongst the peasantry of Ireland, of the Isle of Man, and of the Scottish Highlands, such doings were kept up till within the recollection of living people.
We can see no identity of character in the two festivals; but the subject is an obscure one, and we must not speak on this point with too much confidence. In England we have to go back several generations to find the observances of May-day in their fullest development.
In the sixteenth century it was still customary for the middle and humbler classes to go forth at an early hour of the morning, in order to gather flowers and hawthorn branches, which they brought home about sunrise, with accompaniments of horn and tabor, and all possible signs of; joy and merriment.
With these spoils they would decorate every door and window in the village. By a natural transition of ideas, they gave to the hawthorn bloom the name of the May; they called this ceremony 'the bringing home the May;' they spoke of the expedition to the woods as 'going a-Maying. In a somewhat earlier age, ladies and gentlemen were accustomed to join in the Maying festivities.
Even the king and queen condescended to mingle on this occasion with their subjects. In Chaucer 's Court of Love , we read that early on May-day 'Forth goeth all the court, both most and least, to fetch the flowers fresh. Such festal doings we cannot look back upon without a regret that they are no more. They give us the notion that our ancestors, while wanting many advantages which. They seem somehow to have been more ready than we to allow themselves to be happy, and to have often been merrier upon little than we can be upon much.
The contemporary poets are full of joyous references to the May festivities. How fresh and sparkling is Spenser's description of the going out for the May: To see these folks make such jouissance, Made my heart after the pipe to dance.
Then to the greenwood they speeden them all, To fetchen home May with their musical: And home they bring him in a royal throne Crowned as king; and his queen attone Was Lady Flora, on whom did attend A fair flock of fairies, and a fresh bend Of lovely nymphs—0 that I were there To helpen the ladies their May-bush to bear!
Shepherd's Calendar, Eclogue 5. Herrick , of course, could never have overlooked a custom so full of a living poetry. Some have dispatched their cakes and cream, Before that we have left to dream. The May-pole , as it was called, had its place equally with the parish church or the parish stocks; or, if anywhere one was wanting, the people selected a suitable tree, fashioned it, brought it in triumphantly, and erected it in the proper place, there from year to year to remain.
The Puritans—those most respectable people, always so unpleasantly shown as the enemies of mirth and good humour—caused May-poles to be uprooted, and a stop put to all their jollities; but after the Restoration they rites re-commenced. They must now be pretty old people who remember ever seeing one. Washington Irving , who visited England early in this century, records in his Sketch Book, that he had seen one: It was on the banks of the Dee, close by the picturesque old bridge that stretches across the river from the quaint little city of Chester.
I had already been carried back into former days by the antiquities of that venerable place, the examination of which is equal to turning over the pages of a black-letter volume, or gazing on the pictures in Froissart. The May-pole on the margin of that poetic stream completed the illusion.
My fancy adorned it with wreaths of flowers, and peopled the green bank with all the dancing revelry of May-day. The mere sight of this May-pole gave a glow to my feelings, and spread a charm over the country for the rest of the day; and as I traversed a part of the fair plains of Cheshire, and the beautiful borders of Wales, and looked from among swelling hills down a long green valley, through which "the Deva wound its wizard stream," my imagination turned all into a perfect Arcadia.
I value every custom that tends to infuse poetical feeling into the common people, and to sweeten and soften the rudeness of rustic manners, without destroying their simplicity. Indeed, it is to the decline of this happy simplicity that the decline of this custom may be traced; and the rural dance on the green, and the homely May-day pageant, have gradually disappeared, in proportion as the peasantry have become expensive and artificial in their pleasures, and too knowing for simple enjoyment.
Some attempts, indeed, have been made of late years by men of both taste and learning to rally back the popular feeling to these standards of primitive simplicity; but the time has gone by—the feeling has become chilled by habits of gain and traffic --the country apes the manners and amusements of the town, and little is heard of May-day at present, except from the lamentations of authors, who sigh after it from among the brick walls of the city.
Be it observed, the May Queen did not join in the revelries of her subjects. She was placed in a sort of bower or arbour, near the May-pole, there to sit in pretty state, an object of admiration to the whole village. She herself was half covered with flowers, and her shrine was wholly composed of them. It must have been rather a dull office, but doubtless to the female heart had its compensations. In our country, the enthronization of the May Queen has been longer obsolete than even the May-pole; but it will be found that the custom still survives in France.
The only relic of the custom now surviving is to be found among the children of a few out-lying places, who, on May-day, go about with a finely-dressed doll, which they call the Lady of the May, and with a few small semblances of May-poles, modestly presenting these objects to the gentlefolks they meet, as a claim for halfpence, to be employed in purchasing sweetmeats. Our artist has given a very pretty picture of this infantine representation of the ancient festival.