Friday, December 22, 2017

The Story about the Church Bell begins a long, long time ago.......

Oudrup kirke, Himmerland/gb

The first Christian churches had no church bells, and since Christianity was considered an enemy of the state, services were performed in private homes or in secret. When Christianity was acknowledged in the year 313, churches were built everywhere, but without bells, since the bell ringing was considered a heathen custom. Paulinus (+431), a bishop in Nola in Campania was said to be the first to ring bells, shaped as bellflowers to call people to prayers. According to legend he was inspired to this because he fell asleep in a meadow where he was awakened by small ringing bells carried by angels. It was also said that Pope Sabinianus (+ 606) introduced bell ringing to call together for communion .

Hedeby klokken
The oldest preserved church bell in Denmark is the Haithabu bell (Hedebyklokken) from the 900s. Haithabu became bishopric already in 948. The bell was discovered in an archaeological excavation in 1978 in the water outside Hedeby where the harbour was situated in the Viking period. The well-preserved bell is today a part of the exhibition in the Haithabu/Hedeby museum. A copy is at the Klokke museum in Jels, Jutland. The Hedeby bell was not the first church bell in Hedeby, already in 854 Haarik 2. gave the inhabitants permission to ring a church bell. The rests of this bell formed in 1998 the base of a reconstruction of the socalled Ansgar-klokke. In 829 Haarik 1. had given permission to build Denmark's first church at Hedeby. The churches were at that time of wood and the church bells were placed in a wooden tower by the church. The wooden church itself could not carry such a heavy bell.(see also next chapter about Scandinavia)

I in 1526 the Danish king Frederic 1. ordered that if a church owned two bells the biggest one had to be delivered for making canons - if the church had three bells the biggest and the smallest had to be delivered. In the whole country were gathered 1.180 church bells with a collected weight of 375 tons.

In folklore the church bells' booming sound could drive away all evil from the parish. A little scraped rust from the church bell was considered a help in many diseases. It was said that when Thomas Beckett was murdered, the bells of the Canterbury cathedral began ringing by themselves. In France the bells are not ringing on Good Friday. The story goes that the bells flew to the Vatican. On Easter morning the children run out into the garden to look for the the bells coming flying home from Rome.

Scandinavia:There are 2 written sources and 2 archaeological finds about the very first church bells in the North.

1) From the bell-producing Fulda kloster (built 744) the abbot Hrabanus Maurus writes to bishop Gauthbert in Birka that he very soon will send"unnam gloggam et unnum tintinnabulum". This happens around year 831.
Sct Patrick's bell
2) At Ansgar's visit by the Danish king Haarik in 855/856: "He (Haarik II king 854-870) even allowed that a bell must ring by the church, a custom which the heathens (Vikings) considered illegal". (from Vita Ansgarii chapter 32 by Rimbert who became Ansgar's successor as archbisop in Hamburg- Bremen archbishopric).

1) One of the archaeological finds is the rest of a bell from excavations at Hedeby (Haithabu), an excavation which was led by dr. Hans Dresche, a famous bell-expert and earlier leader of the Helms-Museum in Hamburg/Harburg. The find is a melted bell -bronze which has flowed out upon a piece of charred oak from which is also a piece of a Carolingian profile. The reconstructed bell's diameter is 23,5 cm, a height of 21,5 cm and wall-thickness 4 mm. Inclusive the trifora the height is 28 cm. The metal alloy contains much lead, which gives the bell a very dumb and short after sound.

It is on exhibition in the foyer of Norddeutsche Kirkenamt.

(Deutsche Glockspielvereinigung, Mitteilung 38. The bell has the name " Ansgar's Bell."

2) The other find is the famous bell-find from the former Hedeby (Haithabu) at Slien, which was the most important Nordic trading town and transit harbour between east and west in the Viking Age. The find was a complete and almost unused bell with armatur that lay by a row of harbour poles. Hedeby was known for its until 60 meter long wharfs. It seems that the bell simply was lost down into the muddy water when it was being transferred to ship-transport. The profile of the bell belongs to the style from ab. year 950 - and it was supposedly a precursor for the later, but still very old "beehive- bell". The bell is on exhibition at the Viking Museum in Hedeby.


The first very early missions in the North (Scandinavia) were done by Irish and English monks who  landed with their small skin-boats (curraghs) at the west coast of Jutland and also often went out to all corners of the world on a dangerous journey. The monks were travelling in small groups and one monk probably carried a tintinnabulum. These early travels in the 600s were missions or exile/pilgrim-journeys with the mission as a byproduct if they met other people.

The pilgrim-journeys arose in order to replace the earlier socalled bloody "red" martyrdom with the "white" martyrdom . The "white" martyrdom was an idea about the voluntary excile being the highest Ascetism. In England and Ireland were already at that time thriving culture centres. Christianity had appeared to be quickly absorbed in the society by the druids, and their strong connection to the clans gave the hermit-monks the possibility to go on their pilgrim journeys.

The population was estimated to only 1-2 millions in Scandinavia in the 600s, most of them lived in easy available areas like Denmark, Scania (Skaane), Viken (Oslofjord). Additionally lived people on the Baltic islands like Bornholm, Øland and Gotland and in the area around Mälaren (near present Stockholm). The rest of the North was probably almost no man's land, only inhabited by skridfinner
( named like this because they transported themselves by the help of skis.

There were no inhabitants at Iceland when the Irish/English monks arrived there. When the first Vikings later came to Iceland they called the monks papar, the Greek-Roman word for priest ( ref. to the Icelandic island, papay, where they probably lived. The biggest city at that time was Byzans with 500.000 inhabitants, and the concept priest was not an unknown territory to the Vikings who were familiar with travels across the great rivers to the East.

The meeting between monks and Vikings were probably often fatal to the monks, and a procedure was made in order to make the meeting safer. If a king or a chief ( who was already a Christian) wished to establish a mission in a socalled heathen country, a delegation was appointed where the leader was a high level cleric, mostly a bishop. It was important that the leader of a mission-delegation had a high title, if the title was low it would seem insulting and not give any protection.

The mission-delegation with a leading bishop seeked at first the chief or regent of the country in order to win his interest and get protection and accomodations. A country was considered Christian if the regent was baptized. Thereafter the monks went back to their klosters with local boys who were educated to go on mission back in their homeland. Another method was that the monks simply destroyed the heathen shrines, which usually were placed outdoors in a grove or a moor, but this method was very riscy. Deviant religious imaginations were traditionally accepted in the North, but not desecration or disrespect to the old sacred places of society. In ab. year 710 the English missionary brother Willibrord was on a northern mission to the Frisian king Radbord in "the land of the wild Danes" and to the island Helgoland (Forsiteland). He was welcomed very friendly in Frisland and with honour by the king of the Danes Angantyr (Ongendus), but he had no luck in converting anyone. However Angantyr gave him 30 boys to be educated for the mission. On their way home the entourage stranded at Helgoland, where they slaugthered the holy cows and desecrated a sacred spring. For this offense some of them suffered a horrible death. Willibrord and many other monks had the custom to practise vandalism on the shrines of the heathens whereever they met them.

Maybe there is a clue of some form of retribution for these monks' desecrations of Scandinavian shrines, when the Vikings then started the violent attacks and destructions of klosters and the sale of Christian slaves during the next 200 years' lootings and ravaging. The monastery at the tidal island Lindisfarne in the northeastern England was one of the first klosters exposed to a Viking attack on the 6th of June 793. Several other Irish and English klosters were also exposed to attacks and ravage in the following period. The year 793 is traditionally specified as the beginning of the Viking Age.

The monkary, which came a little later, was reigned more directly from the papacy - and they were
Ansgar preaching at Harald Klak's yard
competing with the Irish/English monks. One of these from the new monkary was archbishop Ebo of Reims. He was in the summer 823 on a mission in the land of the Danes together with bishop Halitgar of Cambrai and Willerich of Bremen. According to their own reports they succeeded in baptizing many people during the long summer stay in 824-827. Ebo did however not succeed in converting any Danish magnate or any Danish king. The monk Ansgar was more lucky a few years later. He was named "the Apostel of the North" and he took over Ebo's missionary work. The first Danish king, who was baptized was Harald Klak. In 826 he was driven out of the land of the Danes by the Godfred-sons - and he arrived with his wife and a large entourage of 400 men, and they were all baptized. This happened at the castle Ingelheim at Mainz. The baptism abroad was a political action from Harald Klak to secure the help of the emperor Ludwig the Pious. In return Ludwig demanded Harald's son Godfred to stay as a hostage and a guarantee. Ansgar had to go with Harald Klak to Denmark. He was accompanied by his friend, the monk Authbert. They brought both church things and maybe a tintinnabulum in their luggage. 
In 827 Harald Klak had to escape southwards to his vasalry in Rüstringen in east Frisland between the rivers Ems and Weber, a county which was given to HK as a christening gift from the emperor. Ansgar and Authbert had to stay with Harald Klak and to follow him back to the Christian region. Here they bought children and established a Christian school for the boys, but only outside the land of the Danes. Brother Authbert got sick in 827, he went back to the kloster and died. In the same years delegates came from Svitjod (Sweden) to the emperor at the Reichstag in Worms. The delegates mentioned people in the northern part of Scandinavia who longed for a Christian worship.

Ansgar agreed to go to Sweden and was followed by a priest named Vitmar, while Harald Klak now had a priest called Gislemar. In 830 the travel began up to Birka in Sweden, but not on the usual and quick transit road west-east across Slesvig to Hedeby. This route was on the river Eider (called Fifeldor, later Egifor, Ægirs door, the sea god= the port of the sea) and up the side river Treene to Hollingsted with a reload to waggons and then a drive of 2 Danish miles (14 km) across land to the bottom of the Slien, in Hedeby was reloaded to ships and the sea travel to the east.

The Danish king Haarik I was Harald Klak's enemy, therefore Ansgar was not at all welcome to use the transit route across Slesvig to Hedeby. The ship had to sail around Jutland where it was attacked by Vikings on the halfway near the present Gøteborg. Ansgar and several others survived, they jumped overboard and swam to the coast. 40 books , all the luggage with the church things and the emperor's gifts were lost. If they had brought a bell and a tintinnabulum too they disappeared into the sea. Some of the merchants went back home, since they had lost their stocks, but Ansgar and Vitmar continued on foot through the land of the Goths, off and on taken onboard boats - in this way they crossed the big Swedish lakes. Finally they came to Birka where they were welcomed in a friendly way by king Björn. Birka was situated to the east on the birchtree-island Björkö. The trading town was at that time half the size of Hedeby. The king gave permission to the monks to preach and the king's friend and advisor, Herigar - who was the chief of Birka - was baptized and built a small wooden church by his farm.

Birka /museum)
Ansgar and Vitmar got in contact with several Christian prisoners who wanted to hear the evangelium. The prisoners were probably slaves from the southern regions since Birka was not at war with anyone, but the Vikings made a good profit by taking slaves on their lootings and transmit them to fx Byzans . Hedeby functioned as a transit harbour for this affair. Sweden or Svitjod meant at that time the region around Mälaren (near the later Stockholm). Ansgar and Vitmar stayed at Birka for 12 years and went back in the end of 831 with a runic letter, a message carved in a wooden stick from king Björn as a proof that they had accomplished something.

Ansgar was devoted to archbishop of the North in 831 with residence in Hamburg/ Hammaburg. He also got a kloster Turholt in Flandern as a refuge since Hedeby was dangerous place. At Turholt he established a boys' school for Normannic boys from the slave markets.There were peaceful times for a couple of years in Hamburg, but then a Danish fleet arrived to Frisland where they ravaged and looted the area and the town Dorestad each year. Haarik I Godfredsen (814-854) was king in Denmark, and he was not at all amused by the situation, so he was busy in sending messages to the emperor,ensuring him that he had nothing to do with these attacks. The exiled Harald Klak was - although christened - active in these loottings, and some of them probably came from the vasalry he had in east Frisland.

After the emperor's death in 840 the kingdom was divided in three parts, and the situation grew worse for Ansgar. His bishopric was by Ludwig the Pious' death now under king Ludwig the German as a part of east Franken. Ansgar's Turholt was now under Charles the Bald. Charles tried to befriend the very looting-active Regner Lodbrog (Reginar)by giving him Turholt. So Ansgar lost Turholt - and Reginar, who was not a friend of the Christians, closed the boy school and sent the boys out on field work. Ansgar's assisting monks left him and went home to old Corbien. Later Charles the Bald got angry with the uncontrollable Reginar and took back Turholt.

Emperor Lothar gave in 841 Harald Klak more land: Dorestad, the island Walkeren and the rest of Frisland as an attempt to stop the lootings which Harald did together with the Danish Vikings. In those years were many lootings - many klosters and churches were destroyed or exposed to ravage and many Christians were taken prisoners and sold as slaves.Ludwig the German went up to the other side of the Elben by the Abodrites to incorporate their country into his empire and to make them his taxpayers. This was too much for the Danish king Haarik I who considered both the Frisian and the Abodrites his taxpayers. He rearmed with 600 ships and sailed up the Elb to Hamburg which was plundered in 845. Ansgar's archbisopric was burnt down with the large "handwriting " library which Ludwig the Pious gave him. The Danes drove out Ansgar from the town, but a pious lady gave him the farm Ramsola ( about 30 km from Hamburg). In 847 Ansgar got instead the archbishopric Bremen which was put together with the rest of the archbishopric in Hamburg. After this Bremen- Hamburg was archbishopric in the North until 1104.

Regnar Lodbrog
One of the main persons behind the lootings was Regner Lodbrog. Historically speaking he returned home to king Haarik I's residence bragging with all the silver and gold he brought. Hearing this bragging were also Frankisch diplomats . The mightiest man in Saxony was their spoaksman. The presence of Franks by king Haarik indicated that they together with Haarik were clearing the outstandings with the Abodrites' tax and the burning of Hamburg. It seems however that the Viking, Regner Lodbrog was infected with a disease, many members from the expedition were also sick. According to the Franks Regner Lodbrog got a very unpleasant, but well-deserved death. King Haarik considered this a bad omen and took the opportunity to execute the Vikings who were not already dead from the disease. He released their Christian prisoners.

As the road was now cleared king Haarik sent for Ansgar and allowed him to build Denmark's first church and a house for the priest in Hedeby in 849. It was the first time in Denmark that Christianity was allowed in this way. There was however no permission for bell-ringing. In Hedeby was an active heathen opposition against Christianity, but Ansgar's church was built, and it was tolerated that the priests did missionary work, but Jarl Howi in the lead of the leading circles of the town forbid bell-ringing. Haarik shared in 830 the power with 2 nephews, but the Viking lootings went on. Ansgar visited often king Haarik in the king's last years.

replica, Viking church, Moesgaard, Aarhus/gb
In 854 came an army to Denmark led by Guttorm, possibly a nephew of Haarik. Almost the whole royal family and the nobility were killed in the 3 days long battle which followed. King Haarik I and Guttorm were killed - and a little boy was now king Haarik II. Jarl Howi and the leading circles in Hedeby took the opportunity and closed the church in Hedeby and drove out the priest. Denmark's first church was closed 5 years after the building. 

A messenger came in 855 from the new king Haarik II to Ansgar. Jarl Howi was thrown out of town. Ansgar went back to Hedeby ca. 856 and was welcomed by king Haarik. Christianity was again allowed, the church opened and the priest came back. Haarik gave permission to ring one bell in Hedeby. Ansgar got a piece of land in Ribe for the building of a new church and a house for a priest. The priest was allowed to do missionary work, but there was no permission for bell-ringing.

Ribe was founded between 704 and 710.

In general the mission tried to achieve allowance to build a church at places where Christian
Viking town/museum
merchants were, like in Hedeby and Birka. Hedeby was mentioned for the first time in 810; it was established as an international trading center. Hedeby and Birka were the largest cities in the Viking period and the most interesting areas for the mission. Birka was a fortified international trading center with own rights. It was situated inside Skærgården inside Mälaren, the fjord outside the present Stockholm and east of Björkö.

Ansgar sailed to Birka in 828 and went back to Saxony in 831. After Ansgar and Vitmar left Birka in 831, bishop Ebo sent a sister's son, bishop Gauthbert to Sweden together with the priest Nithard. Gauthbert was by Ebo equipped with everything for his important office, and there might have been bells in the luggage, according to information from the Fulda kloster.

In Sweden bishop Gauthbert was driven out of Birka by an exited crowd of people ab. 837-842. He might have bothered or purged the great heathen temple in Uppsala. His priest Nithard was killed. The expulsion of Gauthbert took place at the same time as king Haarik I's dissatisfaction with Ludwig the German's tax prints from the Abrodites and the retributive actions against Hamburg and its bishopric. Gauthbert became bishop in Osnabrück and did not go back to Sweden again. During the years 845-851 there was no priest in Sweden. After this pause of 7 years Ansgar sent in 851 a hermit Ardgar( or Hardegar) to Birka as a priest and to assist Heringar. When Heringar died in 851 the hermit went back home.

Ansgar went to Sweden in 852 together with the priest Frimbert (Erimebert), a nephew of Gauthbert and brother of the killed priest Nithard. They went together with a priest of Danish descent, Anfrid. Bishop Gauthbert was still missionary bishop in Sweden, a title he got from Ebo. This time the travel went via the transit route Hedeby and took only 20 days. The new Swedish king Olaf welcomed Ansgar in a friendly way; the king was baptized, and church and priest were allowed again. Ansgar went back home. Gauthbert's two delegates went back from Sweden 3-4 years later. Gauthbert died in 860. The next to be sent to Sweden by Ansgar was Ragebert, but he was attacked by Danish Viking pirates and died. A priest Rimbert of Danish descent was then sent to Sweden

In the northernest mission of Sweden - which probably was not a popular place of deployment - the mission died out with archbishop Unnes 17 september 936, and the land became heathen again. There was a pause of at least 100 years - and thereafter came the other competing Christian mission, the English missionaries and resumed the work. First of all Sct. Sigfrid who became bishop of Växjö.

The largest church bell in the world is the Zar bell, cast in 1733-35 in Moscow. It is now on exhinition at the Ivan Velikij bell tower in Kreml.It weighs 200 tons, is 14,6 m tall and with a biggest diameter of 6,6 m.

photo wikipedia
photo + text: grethe bachmann

Friday, December 08, 2017

Santa Lucia in Scandinavia (13.December)

The Scandinavion tradition with Lucia processions is relatively new and origins from 1928, where a Swedish newspaper graded "Stockholm's Lucia". Today each Swedish town has its own Lucia, who each year is graded Lucia long before 13 December. All the Lucias take part in a competition as "Swedens Lucia", a title which don't just mean to drive in a cortege to Skansen in Stockholm, but that the lucky girl gets a pr-tour to Italy and Syracusa where Lucia came from.

The Swedes have actually celebrated the Lucia night  ("lussenat") since the 1600-1700s, especially in the western part of the country, where tradition says that the young girls in the farm wake everyone with coffee and bread in the dark early morning. In Sweden the tradition has been cultivated with the special Lucia "lussebröd", a bun,  which is shaped like a wreath with four loops and spiced with saffron.

The Santa Lucia celebration song is a Sicilian folksong in the honour of Lucia, but the Scandinavian text is not so much about the historic Lucia, rather about the Swedish tradition where the Lucia Bride carries a tray with food to "those in need". Maybe this comes from the old legend, where Lucia brought food to the Christians in the catacombs during the persecutions. Lucia has nothing to do with Christmas which is seen in the Lucia songs. Sweden has lots of Lucia songs while the Danes only know a single one ( about the locality Lucia south of Napoli.) The first Lucia procession in Denmark was during the German occupation in WWII, and since then it has become a permanent part in Danish schools, but the Lucia feast in Denmark has never reached the same importance as in Sweden.

The story about Lucia begins in 283 at Sicily in the town Syracusa. Her family was well off and her  prospects were good, but at a young age Lucia conversed from the Roman religion and was baptized, which later cost her life. Sicily was a part of the Roman Empire -  and in order to maintain peace the inhabitants had to sacrifice to the emperor. The Christians denied to bring these sacrifices.

The Romans considered Christianity a dangerous religion and an enemy of the Roman empire, and the Christians were tortured and executed in the most brutal way. Many Christians lived a secret life where they either hid their faith or lived underground in the catacombs. Lucia helped her fellowmen. At night she brought food to the Christians in the catacombs -  and in order to find way in the dark she wore a wreath upon her head with lit candles.

According to customs she was promised to a man, who was a Roman from a reputable family, but she rejected the husband and the marriage. Her faith and her vow to God were incompatible with marriage, but in the eyes of the Roman her reasons were not just ridiculous, but also dangerous, and he indicated her to the authorities. Lucia would not sacrifice to the emperor and she was convicted guilty. At first she was sent to a brothel, but by divine intervention she was being protected. She was  then exposed to torture and sentenced to die at the stake, but once again God intervened. At last the judge took his sword and stuck her, and she died on 13. December year 304. 
Lucia was buried in her hometown Syracusa and as early as in the 400s she is mentioned in written sources. In the 600s where Christianity now was a state religion in the Roman kingdom she was a part of the Catholic liturgy. Her celebration day is the day of her death on 13. December, which is celebrated as a light feast in Scandinavia, especially in Sweden and Denmark. According to tradition the Lucia Bride walks in front of the light procession wearing a crown with candles upon her head. This is the virgin crown as a memory about Santa Lucia who gave her life to God as the bride of Christ .

Santa Lucia is connected to more than light and joy. She has become the patron saint for blind people and people with eye diseases. She is often displayed with a small bowl containing two eyes.

humorous drawing from 1848 by Fritz von Dardel

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Poinsettia/ Julestjerne

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Poinsettia/ Julestjerne  is an ornamental plant originally from Mexico . It is  a commercially important plant and is widely used in Christmas floral displays. It derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the US in 1825.

Poinsettia is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6–4 metres (2–13 ft). The plant bears dark green dentate leaves that measure 7–16 centimetres (2.8–6.3 in) in length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color.

Young plants are partly succulents. The short branches are from beginning herbel-like and juicy, but they gradually turn wooden-like. The barch is first olive green, but later greyish brown with crevices. The upperside of the leaves is dark green, while the underside is light green. 
The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.

Like in other plants of the spurge family (vortemælkfamilien) the juice is latex-containing and white. People with latexallergy must avoid to get the juice on their skin. The plant iself is only vaguely poisonous .

There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.

In areas outside its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the hotter part of the day. Contrary to popular belief, flowering poinsettias can be kept outside, even during winter, as long as they are kept frost-free. It is widely grown and very popular in subtropical climates.

The plant requires a daily period of uninterrupted long, dark nights followed by bright sunny days for around two months in autumn in order to encourage it to develop colored bracts. Any incidental light during these nights (from a nearby television set, from under a door frame, even from passing cars or street lights) hampers bract production. Commercial production of poinsettia has been done by placing them inside a greenhouse and covering the latter completely to imitate the natural biological situation.

Poinsettias are susceptible to several diseases, mostly fungal, but also bacterial and parasitic.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Guatemala.
The species is naturalized in many other tropic districts.  

The poinsettia has been cultivated in egypt since the 1860s, when it was brought from Mexico during the Egyptian campaign. It is called bent el consul, "the consul's daughter", referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett

The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl, meaning "flower that grows in residues or soil". Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as Flor de Noche Buena, meaning Christmas Eve Flower. In Spain it is known as Flor de Pascua or Pascua, meaning Easter flower.

In Chile and Peru, the plant became known as Crown of the Andes.  In Turkey, it is called Atatürk's flower because Atatürk, the founder of the Republic, liked this flower and made a significant contribution to its cultivation in Turkey.  In Hungarian, it is called Santa Claus flower, and it's widely used as a Christmas decoration.
The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar.  Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias.

From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the Blood Sacrifice through the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in homes, churches, offices, and elsewhere They are available in large numbers from grocery, drug, and hardware stores. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Mortensaften/ St. Martin's Evening!

Mortensaften 10. November is celebrated in memory of the bishop Martin of Tours, who really did not want to become a bishop and hid himself in a goose sty - which meant death to the noisy geese!

Morten Bisp/ Martin of Tours:
Martin of Tours, fresco, Elmelunde church, Møn/foto:gb
Martin of Tours lived in the 300s in the Roman Empire where he was born ab. 336 by Roman parents. He joined the Roman army when he was fifteen and came to Gaul, where the legends about him soon began to flourish. He helped the poor, healed the sick and woke up the dead, he became famous and was considered a holy man. When Martin was twenty years old, he left the army and became a monk. He returned to Hungary to try to convert his countrymen, but the story tells that he only succeeded in converting his mother. He was persecuted and droven back to Gaul, where he settled down in a monastery at Poitiers. He lived a pious and quiet life and won the reputation of being a good and holy man.

geese/ foto:gb
He was so popular that the people of Tours wanted to elect him bishop, but Martin was not interested. When the inhabitants of the town came to elect him, he hid himself in a goose sty, but the geese did not like this visit. They were cackling and screaming and Martin was revealed and forced to assume office as bishop of Tours. He had now the power to arrange a revenge: All households had to  - once a year - to slaughter at least one goose and eat it on the day where he was revealed in the goose sty. He got his revenge on the big-mouthed geese.

Martin was also called the apostel of Gaul. He died in Candes in France 8 November 397 and was buried in Tours 11 November. A big church was built over his grave and he was later canonized. His death date became his Saint's day, which is still celebrated all over Europe.

The story about Martin of Tours and the geese was printed in Denmark for the first time in 1616, a long time after the reformation. The St. Martin survived the reformation with a new Danish name: Morten Bisp. The night of 10th november, now called Morten's Evening, was appropriate, because November was perfect for a party, since the slaughter period in November was one of few times, where people had fresh meat before winter. Else they had salted food for months.

Goose was food for rich people :
Medieval feast/ wikipedia
The traditional food on Morten's Evening was goose or duck in the old days. The goose was not an ordinary dish in Denmark, it was rich people's food - and common people started eating other poultry instead. The story about Martin of Tours and the geese is probably much earlier than the traditional November-goose. In Germany and France the wine harvest is celebrated in November, which also is a slaughter-month since the animals are fat after a long summer's good food. Martin became the Saint of the wine growers, and gradually the roast goose and the wine drinking were connected to the Martin's festivals  - and a good story like the story about Martin and the geese is not to be scorned.

Italian kitchen,Ferrara 1549, Runeberg

16th century: The goose is one of the earliest domestic animals and one of the most important slaughter animals, although it was always food for the rich. The ordinary farmer's family might breed geese, but they sold them in the next town after having taken wings and feathers (for brooms and quills) and the down ( for duvets and pillow stuffing). They also kept the head, neck and craw to themselves for a good portion of giblet soup. If they kept a whole goose, the breast meat was removed and smoked as a cold cut for guests.

But according to the advertizing from the supermarkets no one eats goose today. There are lots of Morten's Ducks in the cold counters, but no Morten's Goose.  So the popular roast Mortensand, which we enjoy on Mortensaften 10th of November, was once a Morten's Goose.

Velbekomme - Mortensand

copyright grethe bachmann

source:;; Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16. århundrede,; 2640 online portalens almanak og kalender.  

photo: grethe bachmann; 
photo copies from wikipedia
drawing: Italian kitchen Ferrara in 1549, Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16 århundrede,

Friday, September 22, 2017

Quote of the Day - Astrid Lindgren

Astrid Lindgren/Photo: Den Store Danske

A childhood without books – that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.”

Astrid Lindgren

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Serious Insect Crisis

 When do we wake up?

Queen of Spain Fritillary/Storplettet Perlemorsommerfugl/ photo GB

Butterflies and other insects are rapidly declining everywhere in Europe - and not least in Denmark. Scientists point, among other things, to pesticides, monoculture and lack of space as reasons.
A new investigation published in the prestigious journal Science shows that the insects of Europe disappear -  this is even a talk about an ecological collapse. The German scientists have examined the insect occurrence in more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe - and the insects are extinct even in the nature reserves. The biomass of insects have fallen with more than 80 %.

The drastic decline for the insects of Europe could mean a decline in the number of birds, which has already been identified in Denmark, where since the 1970s four out of five partridges, three out of four lapwings and more than half the skylarks have disappeared. Huge areas - which earlier was nature- were ploughed without putting something else instead -  and at the same time we experience the climate changes.

Sad but true -many Danish politicians apparently do not care, on the contrary there is a support for that Denmark - as one of few countries of EU - fights against a ban on pesticides, ( because the Danish agriculture demands it), which could represent a risc both to ourselves and the wild bees.

It is said that the approval of spraying in Denmark is tough, but in the approval is alone considered if a substance is representing a risc for the ground water or if it is exceeding limits in our food. It is not  evaluated what happens upon the ground and it is not taken into account that herbicides like Roundup, which is the most used in Denmark,  simply removes all plant growth where it hits -  or that 2.500 tons various active substances are spread over 60 % of Denmarks area each year -  or that the agriculture is allowed to use almost 1.000 various products.

This means that organisms in the earth, the wild plants of the fields and the insects upon the plants and the birds who live by the insects are being pushed more and more in the intensive Danish farm land. This happens in a degree where we are the witness of a slow collapse of ecological balances in the whole open countryside. This also applies to nature reserves.


Source: Excerpt of article by Ella Maria Bisschop-Larsen, Præsident for Danmarks Naturfredningsforening, Journal "Natur og Miljø",  September 2017. 

Bumblebee/ photo:GB

An ecological study in Western Germany. 
The amount of insects collected by monitoring of traps in Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve in north west germany decreased by 78% in 24 years.

Each spring since 1989 insect traps have been set up in meadows and woodlands in Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve and 87 other nature areas in the West German state Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Recently the scientists presented alarming results: The average biomass of insects caught during summer was decreased from 1,6 kilo pr. trap in 1989 till only 300 gram pr. trap in 2014.

"The decline is dramatic and depressing and this applies to all kinds of insects, including butterflies, wild bees and hoverflies ", says Martin Sorg, who is entomologist from  Krefeld Entomological Society, which is responsible for the monitoring project.

Several other studies from the western part of the world support the results from Germany.

The insects disappear everywhere.

Grethe Bachmann
Source/ Natur og Miljø, September 2017 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

European Birthwort/ Hjertebladet Slangerod

Aristolochia clematitis

European Birthwort 1885/ wikipedia
The (European) birthwort, (DK: Hjertebladet Slangerod)  is a twining herbaceous plant in the Aristolochiae family, which is native to Europe. The leaves are heart-shaped and the (carrion smelling) pale yellow flowers are tubular in form. The plant seeks light by ascending the stems of surrounding plants. It is connected to light-open habitats with dry and warm soil which has a high contents of nutrients and calcium. In Denmark it is cultivated in gardens and parks and is sometimes seen growing wild, especially at kloster sites and castle ruins. Autumn colour yellow-brown.

European birthwort/wikipedia
The name Aristolochia comes from the Greek word aristos which means best and lochia which means birth. The plant was known in the classical antiquity to start births . The Danish name slangerod refers to its use against snake bites.

Folk Medicine 
Birthwort was used in a decoct which was drunk as a sweat- and diuretic means; a decoct was also drunk against against jaundice and leaves and roots for healing wounds. The plant contains a substance which activated the white blood cells.  The root was stuck in the abdomen to promote birth.

Because of similarity to slangeurt (Polygonum bistorta) and corydalis (lærkespore) it is in early literature difficult to identify the botanic species.

Kloster garden(/ photo: GB
Harpestræng ab. 1300:
The physicians often distinguished between the drugs Aristolochia longa (DK: lang hulurt) and Aristolochia rotunda ( DK: rund hulurt) and Aristolochia clematitis (European birthwort/hjertebladet slangerod.)
A. rotunda: to drink with wine after poisonous bite; it drives out the afterbirth; to drink with water for cough; crushed as a cover on gouts; mixed with honey as a wound healing cover; to drink for fever; used as a smoking against insanity.

Christiern Pedersen 1533:
crushed plant to drink with wine or beer for breast pain; vinegar decoct as a cover for stomach pain; crushed root with wine or beer against malaria , to drink with wine after snake bite.
Henrik Smid 1546:
cooked with myrrha and pepper in wine for drink to drive out the afterbirth and all filthiness; wine decoct cleans and heals all internal wounds and broken lungs, liver and uterus; fresh crushed root used as cover drives out thorns, arrows etc. from wounds and heals it. A. rotunda to drink with wine against the plague, drives out sweat and urine and counteracts jaundice; crushed seeds with a drink against diarrhea.  Barbers used the root to heal and dry all runny wounds.
Simon Paulli 1648:
root to make the flesh grow after abscesses; the root is good for itching and scabies; decoct of leaves and roots for bathing mange and wounds on hands and feet. Some say the leaves should be smoked under newborn babies if they looked fragile and sick.

The rootstock of Aristolochia longa and Aristolochia rotunda were written into the Pharmacopoeia in 1772. 

Livestock: the plant was also used in diseases of the livestock: cattle, horse, swine, sheep and poultry.

The plant was revered by ancient healing book- authors who recommended it against snake bites.  Having a root in the pocket as an amulet against toothache.

European Birthwort/ wikipedia
Poisonous Plant:
It was formerly used as a medicinal plant, though it is poisonous , and is now occasionally found established outside of its native range as a relic of cultivation. It is now thought to be the cause of thousands of kidney failures in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia where the plant is thought to be unintentionally consumed through contaminated flour. Urinary tract malignacies among those who have consumed the plant are also reported. The link between renal failure and aristolochid acid, which the plant contains, was discovered after a clinic for obesity in Belgium, some of the patients experienced kidney failure.

Because of its toxicity it must be warned to use the plant or parts of it as a natural medicine.

All parts of the plant are considered carcinogenic (kræftfremkaldende) and kidney damaging. 

Danske Klosterurter, Anemette Olesen, Aschehoug 2001. 
Brøndegaard, Dansk Etnobotanik, Folk og flora, bd. 3, 1978-80.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Friday, September 08, 2017

Anna Pavlova - a legendary Ballerina

Anna Pavlovna (Matveyevna) Pavlova was a Russian prima ballerina and the first ballerina to tour ballet around the world. She was born on February 12, 1881 in Saint Petersburg to a single mother. Anna's mother married when Anna was three years old, and her stepfather Matvey Pavlov adopted her and gave her his surname. Her mother took her to the theater to see the ballet "The Sleeping Beauty" and Anna never forgot. She wanted to be a ballerina and came on audition for the Imperial Ballet School, where she was accepted at age 10 in 1891. Her training years were difficult, but she did not give up the training in order to improve her technique. She took lessons from the best teachers. In 1898 was her final year at the Imperial Ballet School and she performed many roles with the principal company. She graduated in 1899 at age 18 and made her official debut. Her performance drew praise from the ctitics.

Pavlova performed in various ballets. Her enthusiasm often led her astray: once during a performance  she lost her balance, and she ended up falling into the prompter's box. Her weak ankles led to difficulty while performing as the fairy Candide in Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty . Once during class she caused her teacher to fly into a rage. He told her "you have to leave acrobatics to others. I beg you to never again try to imitate those who are physically stronger than you". Pavlova rose through the ranks quickly and she was named danseuse in 1902, première danseuse in 1905, and finally prima ballerina in 1906 after a resounding performance in Giselle.

Anna Pavlova is perhaps most renowned for creating the role of the Dying Swan, a solo choreographed for her by Mikhail Fokine . The ballet, created in 1905, is danced to Le Cygne from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. She also choreographed several solos herself, one of which is The Dragonfly, a short ballet set to music by Fritz Kreisler. In the first years of the Ballets Russes, Pavlova worked briefly for Sergei Diaghilev. Originally she was to dance the lead in Mikhail Fokine's The Firebird, but refused the part, as she could not come to terms with Igor Stravinsky's avant-garde score, and the role was given to Tamara Karsavina. All her life Pavlova preferred the melodious "musique dansante" of the old maestros and cared little for anything else which strayed from the salon-style ballet music of the 19th century.

By the early 20th century she had founded her own company and performed throughout the world, with a repertory consisting primarily of abridgements of Petipa's works, and specially choreographed pieces for herself. In 1916 she produced a fifty-minute adaptation of The Sleeping Beauty in New York City. Members of her company were largely English girls with Russianized names. She also performed many ‘ethnic’ dances, some of which she learned from local teachers during her travels. In addition to the dances of her native Russia, she performed Mexican, Japanese, and East Indian dances. In 1915, she appeared in a film, The Dumb Girl of Portici, in which she played a mute girl betrayed by an aristocrat. Pavlova was introduced to audiences in the United States by Max Rabinoff during his time as managing director of the Boston Grand Opera Company from 1914 to 1917 and was featured there with her Russian Ballet Company during that period.

Victor Dandré, her manager and companion, was her husband. He wrote of Pavlova's many charity dance performances and charitable efforts to support Russian orphans in post WWI, Paris...who were in danger of finding themselves literally in the street. They were already suffering terrible privations and it seemed as though there would soon be no means whatever to carry on their education. Fifteen girls were adopted into a home Pavlova purchased near Paris at Saint-Cloud. During her life she had many pets including a Siamese cat, various dogs and many kinds of birds, including swans. Dandré indicated she was a lifelong lover of animals and this is evidenced by photographic portraits she sat for which often included an animal she loved. A formal studio portrait was made of her with Jack, her favorite swan.
After leaving Russia, Pavlova moved to London, settling, in 1912, at the Ivy House on North End Road, north of Hampstead heath, where she lived for the rest of her life. The house had an ornamental lake where she fed her pet swans, and where now stands a statue of her. The house was featured in the film Anna Pavlova. While in London, Pavlova was influential in the development of British ballet. While touring in Hague Pavlova was told that she had pneumonia and required an operation. She was also told that she would never be able to dance again if she went ahead with it. She refused to have the surgery, saying "If I can't dance then I'd rather be dead." She died of pleurisy, in the bedroom next to the Japanese Salon of the Hotel Des Indes in The Hague, three weeks short of her 50th birthday. Victor Dandré wrote that Anna Pavlova died a half hour past midnight on Friday, January 23, 1931, with her maid Marguerite Letienne, Dr. Zalevsky and himself at her bedside. Her last words were, "Get my 'Swan' costume ready".

In accordance with old ballet tradition, on the day she was to have next performed, the show went on as scheduled, with a single spotlight circling an empty stage where she would have been. Memorial services were held in the Russian Orthodox Church in London. Anna Pavlova was cremated, and her urn was at Golders Green, adorned  with her ballet shoes (which have since been stolen).

The Pavlova Dessert is believed to have been created in honour of the dancer in Wellington during her tour of New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s. The nationality of its creator has been a source of argument between the two nations for many years.

The Jarabe Tapatio, known in English as the 'Mexican Hat Dance', gained popularity outside of Mexico when Pavlova created a staged version, for which she was showered with hats by her adoring Mexican audiences. Afterward, in 1924, the Jarabe Tapatío was proclaimed Mexico's national dance.

In 1980, Igor Carl Fabergé licensed a collection of 8-inch Full Lead Crystal Wine Glasses to commemorate the centenary of Anna's birth. The glasses were crafted in Japan under the supervision of The Franklin Mint. A frosted image of Anna Pavlova appears in the stem of each glass. Originally each set contained 12 glasses.

Pavlova's life was depicted in the 1983 film Anna Pavlova.

Pavlova's dances inspired many artworks of the Irish painter John Lavery. The critic of The Observer wrote on 16 April 1911: 'Mr. Lavery's portrait of the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova, caught in a moment of graceful, weightless movement … Her miraculous, feather-like flight, which seems to defy the law of gravitation'

When the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, opened in 1911, a gilded statue of Pavlova had been installed above the cupola of the theatre. This was taken down for its safety during WWII and was lost. In 2006, a replica of the original statue was restored in its place.

A McDonnell Douglas MD-11 of the Dutch airline KLM with the registration PH-KCH carried her name. It was delivered on August 31, 1995

Anna Pavlova appears as a character in Rosario Ferre's  novel Flight of the Swan.

Anna Pavlova appears as a character in the fourth episode of the British series Mr. Selfridge, played by real-life ballerina Natalia Kremen.

photo: from wikipedia