Archive for May, 2011

Ancient Irish Pilgrimage Site believed to be entrance to Hell

By: The Scribe on May, 2011

Each year, thousands of religious pilgrims make a journey to Station Island, a small island located near County Donegal in Ireland. On the island is a chapel that had been built over a cave or pit in the ground. They spend three days there, fasting and praying at several sites around the island. In the past, pilgrims would journey to the island as a way to atone for sins or evil deeds that they may have committed but according to religious history, the site was established for a slightly different reason.This Saint is the Patron Saint of Ireland

According to religious lore, the site (which is known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory) was shown to Saint Patrick in the fifth century. Christ allegedly revealed the site to Saint Patrick and informed him that it was a literal entrance to hell. It was believed that the site was a cave or pit although some individuals believe that it may actually have been the remnants of a much older structure such as a sweat lodge. According to religious history, the site was referred to as Purgatory by God when the site was being revealed to the saint. It was believed that by showing individuals that Purgatory was real that it would be easier to make the people of Ireland find faith and be converted to the Christian faith.

Saint Patrick lived from 387 CE to 493 CE and was a Briton of Roman descent. He had originally lived in Scotland but was captured by raiders and taken to Ireland when he was approximately sixteen years of age. He lived there as a slave for six years after which he was able to escape and return to Scotland. He was ordained as a bishop after entering the Church and, as a result, was sent to serve in northwest Ireland.

Early Christian converts were full of doubt and, after a while, Saint Patrick began to become discouraged by their constant demands for proof of God. Patrick prayed for God to send him the proof that the people were demanding and, after that, the site on Station Island was revealed to him.

The site originally consisted of a cave but after 1632 pilgrims could no longer access it directly. The site had a narrow entrance which led into a small cave that was divided into two niches. Both were extremely small and only had enough room to kneel and pray in.

Pilgrims visit the church which stands over St. Patrick's PurgatoryWhile it was widely viewed as an entrance to Hell, some historians and archaeologists have taken a different view of the site. Originally, a “purgatorium” was not somewhere that punishment took place. Instead, it had a more positive reputation. Individuals would often journey to a purgatorium in order to be cleansed and then healed either physically or spiritually.

Regardless of what the original use for the cave was, it is now a place that is visited by people of all faiths and is now used as a place of prayer, meditation and contemplation. They journey to the island by boat and spend three days with very little food. The pilgrimage involves moving around the island barefoot while a number of prayers and liturgies are recited. This ritual has been taking place for more than 1500 years and shows no sign of slowing down today.

2000-year old Saints’ Bones discovered in Italy

By: The Scribe on May, 2011

There are many stories and legends surrounding the deaths of early Christian saints. Early saints often came from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. In some cases, their decision to become Christian led to their torture and execution. In other cases, their choice to convert others or (in the case of Saint Valentine) other actions during their lifetime caused them to meet unpleasant ends.

The two early saints were buried alive in a sand pitThe early saints were killed in a variety of unpleasant ways. According to legend, two early saints named Chrysanthus and Daria were buried alive. Chrysanthus was the son of an Egyptian patrician. He and his father lived during the reign of Numerian, a Roman Emperor who reigned from 282 to 284 CE. The family was moved to Rome from Alexandria and Chrysanthus’ marriage to a Vestal Virgin named Daria was arranged. Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta. She was a Roman goddess of the hearth. The priestesses kept a sacred fire burning and were also responsible for a number of other rituals as well.

Women were given to the priesthood before they entered puberty and were required to remain celibate and serve the priesthood for thirty years. After their thirty years were up they could then marry but this was quite rare. Many of the women had enjoyed their time of freedom from the social restrictions placed on women at the time and their life of luxury while acting as priestesses. It was because of this that they usually chose to stay on even after their term of service was up.

According to legend, Chrysanthus had remained a virgin after his conversion to Christianity despite his father’s attempts to tempt him with prostitutes and other secular pleasures. After his marriage, things did not change much for Chrysanthus or Daria. Chrysanthus did manage to convert Daria to Christianity but they continued to live in a state of chastity despite their marriage.

Chrysanthys didn’t end his converting ways after his success with Daria. Instead, he continued to work on other Romans, an act that was highly illegal. He was arrested and subjected to torture. Miraculously, his prison turned into a garden. According to legend his wife was sent to live as a prostitute but was able to remain pure due to the intervention of a lioness. When it was seen that this treatment did not break her faith, she was stoned and buried alive with her husband.

A skull, believed to be that of the Christian saint ChrysanthusThe legend of these two saints grew over time. Their grave was a sand pit near the Roman catacombs. Over time, as pilgrimages to the site increased, a church grew up over their grave. Recently, the remains of the skeletons were analyzed by scientists. They had been sealed off in the Italian cathedral that had been built over their grave.

Tests that were performed on the skeletons support many of the details surrounding Chrysanthus and Daria’s life and their death as well. The female skeleton showed she lived a life of ease and that she belonged to the upper class. The male skeleton was of a younger man and both dated from the period between 80 and 340 CE. While it is impossible to definitively identify the remains as being those of Chrysanthus and Daria, the results which were released in April of 2011 show that many of the details definitely support the information about their life and their death as well.

An Unpleasant End for Vikings in Britain

By: The Scribe on May, 2011

The Vikings were not popular people. When you have the habit of raiding people, burningThe skulls were piled neatly beside the Vikings' other remains their homes and killing them indiscriminately, your arrival is not usually met with joy and anticipation. A 2009 discovery in southern Britain shows just how some locals chose to treat the Vikings when they appeared on British shores.

Archaeologists have discovered a pit near the town of Weymouth. The remains of 51 skeletons were found in the pit. They had all been decapitated before being placed in the pit and the heads had been stacked to the side. Although the remains had been discovered in 2009, it took several years to determine that they were, in fact, Vikings and not the remains of the ancient Anglo-Saxons who had lived in the area at the time.

Living in ancient Britain had its challenges. The weather in some areas was somewhat inhospitable. Living near rivers was thought to be a good idea up until the Vikings began moving away from the coast in order to attack more inland settlements. They were able to sail up many of the rivers and were quite willing to walk to others in order to raid them for food and other valuables. Often the sheer numbers of Vikings made them an unbeatable force. It became common knowledge that living anywhere within 20 miles (32 km) of the English coast meant that you were susceptible to Viking raids and attacks.

The remains that were found in the Weymouth pit seem to have met a painful and thoroughly unpleasant end. Many of the skeletons have marks on them that showed they were struck repeatedly with axes and other weapons. Several of the skeletons show defensive wounds and one had several fingers on one hand sliced through. The skeletons also bear marks that showed their heads were hacked off rather than removed cleanly.

This image shows Vikings in their longshipsThere were many signs that the individuals in the pit were not well-liked. The first is that they had their heads piled to one side. This may have been a form of display that celebrated a victory over the Viking invaders. Another sign was that they were buried on a hilltop. The pit was located near the main road to Weymouth. Victims of the Vikings were usually left where they fell and were often located in villages or on the beaches where the Vikings landed.

The victims were also buried naked which was unusual. This made it difficult for scientists to determine whether the victims were Vikings or were Anglo- Saxons. Archaeologists often use items such as clothes, weapons and other items in order to tell where a victim may have been from. The lack of any clues made it difficult to tell whether the bodies were Vikings or not.

Recently, scientists were able to test the teeth from the skulls found in the pit. This gave them a large amount of information about the individuals buried there. Tests showed that the skulls belonged to individuals who lived in climates that were much cooler than those in ancient Britain. They also showed clues about the diet that sustained the men in the pit which was also different than that of the Anglo-Saxons living in Britain at the time.

Cinqo de Mayo and other Mexican Celebrations

By: The Scribe on May, 2011

Each year on May 5th, many Mexican-Americans (and some Mexicans) gather together toFour thousand Mexican troops defeated 8,000 French soldiers celebrate Cinqo de Mayo. Compared to some celebrations it is a fairly modern one. The celebration celebrates the victory that Mexican troops had during the French occupation of Mexico.

On May 5th, 1862, a force of 8,000 French troops attacked the Mexican army. The odds seemed overwhelmingly in favor of the French. After all, the Mexicans only had about 4,000 troops in their army and the French had proven undefeatable in battle. In the fifty years preceding the battle, no army had managed to defeat the French. Things seemed hopeless.

And yet, they weren’t. Even though the Mexican army was much more poorly equipped, they not only defeated the French they were able to crush them. The battle was known as the Battle of Puebla. In modern times, while the celebration of the Mexican victory is still celebrated by the people of Puebla, Cinqo de Mayo is not celebrated on a massive scale throughout the rest of Mexico. It is, however, being celebrated by many Mexican-Americans who are currently living in the United States. The day has, for them, become a way to celebrate their Mexican heritage.

Cinqo de Mayo is a modern celebration but there are other celebrated traditions that are much older. One perfect example is the Danza de los Voladores or Dance of the Flyers. This is a tradition that has its roots in the time predating the Spanish presence in Mexico. While it is performed in Mexico, the tradition has actually spread throughout much of Mesoamerica.

The practice is a spectacular one. A team of five dancers scales a pole that is 30 meters in height. Four of the participants attach themselves to ropes and the fifth balances on top of the pole. The man on the pole dances and plays a flute, all the while remaining balanced at the top. While he does so, the other four participants (who are known as voladores) launch themselves from the top of the pole. They descend from the top of the pole with only ropes to keep them from falling to their death.

Four voladores ritualistically descend a 30 meter pole While the five individuals are traditionally men, women have recently been allowed to take part in the ritual. Women were first trained as voladores starting in 1972 although their participation in the ritual is still quite rare.

The modern version of this ritual was started as a way to appease the gods after a brutal drought that happened approximately 450 years ago. The four voladores represent the elements of earth, water, air and fire. In more ancient versions of the ritual there were taboos and other aspects attached to performing the ritual. In the past, the voladores did not represent the elements. Instead, they would often be dressed in bird costumes instead. There was also much more ritual attached to the harvesting and preparation of the tree that would form the pole used in the ritual.

Different areas of Mexico and Mesoamerica celebrate this practice differently. There are often differences in the shape of the pole

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