The Western Wall

The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall and in Islam as the Buraq Wall is a portion of ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem that forms part of the larger retaining wall of the hill known to both Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount. Just over half the wall’s total height, including its seventeen courses (continuous horizontal layers of similarly sized building material) located below street level, dates from the end of the Second Temple period, and is believed to have been begun by Herod the Great. The very large stone blocks of the lower courses are Herodian, the courses of medium-sized stones above them were added during the Umayyad period (661–750), whilst the small stones of the uppermost courses are of more recent date, especially from the Ottoman period. The Western Wall plays an important role in Judaism due to its proximity to the Temple Mount. Because of the Temple Mount entry restrictions, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray outside the previous Temple Mount platform, as the presumed site of the Holy of Holies, the most sacred site in the Jewish faith, lies just behind it. The original, natural, and irregular-shaped Temple Mount was gradually extended to allow for an ever-larger Temple compound to be built at its top. The earliest source mentioning this specific site as a place of Jewish worship is from the seventeenth century. The term Western Wall and its variations are mostly used in a narrow sense for the section of the wall used for Jewish prayer and called the “Wailing Wall”, referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site. During the period of Christian Roman rule over Jerusalem (c. 324–638), Jews were completely barred from Jerusalem except on Tisha B’Av, the day of national mourning for the Temples. The term “Wailing Wall” has historically been used mainly by Christians, with religious Jews generally considering it derogatory. In a broader sense, “Western Wall” can refer to the entire 488-metre-long (1,601ft) retaining wall on the western side of the Temple Mount. The classic portion now faces a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, whilst the rest of the wall is concealed behind structures in the Muslim Quarter with the small exception of an 8-metre (26ft) section, the so-called Little Western Wall or ‘Small Wailing Wall’. This segment of the western retaining wall derives particular importance from never been fully obscured by medieval buildings, and displaying much of the original Herodian stonework. In religious terms, the ‘Little Western Wall’ is presumed to be even closer to the Holy of Holies and thus to the ‘Presence of God’, and the underground Warren’s Gate, which was out of reach for Jews from the twelfth century until its partial excavation in the twentieth century. Whilst the wall was considered an integral part of the property of the Moroccan Quarter under Muslim rule, a right of Jewish prayer and pilgrimage has long existed as part of a ‘status quo’ between the two states. This position was confirmed in a 1930 international commission during the British Mandate period. With the rise of the Zionist movement in the early twentieth century, the wall became a source of friction between the Jewish and Muslim communities, the latter being worried that the wall could be used to further Jewish claims to the Temple Mount and thus Jerusalem. During this period outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall became commonplace, with a particularly deadly riot in 1929 in which 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed, with many more people injured. After the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the eastern portion of Jerusalem was occupied by Jordan and under Jordanian control Jews were completely expelled from the Old City including the Jewish Quarter. Jews were also barred from entering the Old City for nineteen years, effectively banning Jewish prayer at the site of the Western Wall. This period ended on June 10, 1967, when Israel gained control of the site following the Six-Day War. Three days after establishing control over the Western Wall site, the Moroccan Quarter was bulldozed by Israeli authorities to create space for what is now the Western Wall plaza.

The Western Wall and Dome of the Rock.

The term Western Wall commonly refers to a 187-foot (57m) exposed section of a much longer retaining wall, built by Herod on the western flank of the Temple Mount. Only when used in this sense is it synonymous with the term Wailing Wall. This section faces a large plaza and is set aside for prayer. In its entirety, the western retaining wall of the Herodian Temple Mount complex stretches for 1,600 feet (488m), most of which is hidden behind medieval residential structures built along its length. There are only two other revealed sections: the southern part of the Wall which measures approximately 262 feet (80m) and is separated from the prayer area by just a narrow stretch of archaeological remains and another, much shorter section, the Little Western Wall, which is located close to the Iron Gate. The entire western wall functions as a retaining wall, supporting and enclosing the ample substructures built by Herod the Great around nineteen BC. Herod’s project was to create an artificial extension to the small quasi-natural plateau on which the First Temple stood, finally transforming it into the almost rectangular, wide expanse of the Temple Mount platform visible today.

Engraving in 1850 by Rabbi Joseph Schwarz.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Solomon’s Temple was built atop what is known as the Temple Mount in the tenth century BC and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the Second Temple completed and dedicated in 516 BC. Then around 19 BC Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount. In addition to fully rebuilding and enlarging the Temple, he artificially expanded the platform on which it stood, doubling it in size. Today’s Western Wall formed part of the retaining perimeter wall of this platform. In 2011, Israeli archaeologists announced the surprising discovery of Roman coins minted well after Herod’s death, found under the foundation stones of the wall. The excavators came upon the coins inside a ritual bath that predates Herod’s building project, which was filled in to create an even base for the wall and was located under its southern section. This seems to indicate that Herod did not finish building the entire wall by the time of his death in 4 BC. The find also confirms the description by a historian which states that construction was finished only during the reign of King Agrippa II, Herod’s great-grandson. Given this information, the surprise mainly regarded the fact that an unfinished retaining wall in this area could also mean that at least parts of the splendid Royal Stoa and the monumental staircase leading up to it could not have been completed during Herod’s lifetime. Also surprising was the fact that the usually very thorough Herodian builders had cut corners by filling in the ritual bath, rather than placing the foundation course directly onto the much firmer bedrock. Some scholars are doubtful of the interpretation and have offered alternative explanations, such as, for example, later repair work. Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Romans, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70 AD during the First Jewish–Roman War. During much of the second to fifth centuries, after the Roman defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD, Jews were banned from Jerusalem. There is some evidence that Roman emperors in the second and third centuries did permit them to visit the city to worship on the Mount of Olives and sometimes on the Temple Mount itself. When the empire started becoming Christian under Constantine I they were given permission to enter the city once a year, on the ‘Tisha B’Av’, to lament the loss of the Temple at the wall. In the fourth century, Christian sources reveal that the Jews encountered great difficulty in buying the right to pray near the Western Wall, at least on the ninth of Av. In 425 AD, the Jews of the Galilee wrote to the Byzantine empress seeking permission to pray by the ruins of the Temple. Permission was granted and they were officially permitted to resettle in Jerusalem.

Wailing Wall, Jerusalem by Gustav Bauernfeind (Nineteenth century).

In 1517, the Turkish Ottomans conquered Jerusalem from the Mamluks who had held it since 1250. Selim’s son, Suleiman the Magnificent, ordered the construction of an imposing wall to be built around the entire city, which still stands today. Some folklore relates to Suleiman’s quest to locate the Temple site and his order to have the area “swept and sprinkled, and the Western Wall washed with rosewater” upon its discovery. At the time, Jews received official permission to worship at the site and an Ottoman architect built an oratory for them there. Over the centuries, land close to the Wall became built up. Public access to the Wall was through the Moroccan Quarter, a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. In May 1840 a ‘firman’ or royal decree forbade the Jews to pave the passageway in front of the Wall. It also cautioned them against “raising their voices and displaying their books there.” They were, however, allowed “to pay visits to it as of old”. Over time the increased numbers of people gathering at the site resulted in tensions between the Jewish visitors who wanted easier access and more space, and the residents, who complained of the noise. This gave rise to Jewish attempts at gaining ownership of the land adjacent to the Wall. In 1895 there was a failed effort to purchase the Western Wall and the attempts of the Palestine Land Development Company to purchase the environs of the Western Wall for the Jews just before the outbreak of World War I also never came to fruition. In the first two months following the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the First World War, the Turkish governor of Jerusalem offered to sell the Moroccan Quarter, which consisted of about twenty-five houses, to the Jews in order to enlarge the area available to them for prayer. He requested a sum of £20,000 which would be used to both rehouse the Muslim families and to create a public garden in front of the Wall. However, the Jews of the city lacked the necessary funds. A few months later, under Muslim Arab pressure on the Turkish authorities in Jerusalem, Jews became forbidden by official decree to place benches and light candles at the Wall. This sour turn in relations was taken up by the Chief Rabbi at the time who managed to get the ban overturned. In 1915 it was reported that the wall was closed off ‘as a sanitary measure’.

The wall in 1920. From the collection of the National Library of Israel.

In December 1917, Allied forces captured Jerusalem from the Turks. It was pledged “that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred”. In 1919 the Zionist leader approached the British Military Governor of Jerusalem and offered between £75,000 and £100,000 (approx. £5m in modern terms) to purchase the area at the foot of the Wall and rehouse the occupants. The Governor was enthusiastic about the idea because he hoped some of the money would be used to improve Muslim education. Although they appeared promising at first, negotiations broke down after strong Muslim opposition. In early 1920, the first Jewish-Arab dispute over the Wall occurred when the Muslim authorities were carrying out minor repair works to the Wall’s upper courses. The Jews, whilst agreeing that the works were necessary, appealed to the British that they be made under supervision of the newly formed Department of Antiquities, because the Wall was an ancient relic. In 1926 an effort was made to lease the Maghrebi, which included the wall, with the plan of eventually buying it. Negotiations were begun in secret by a Jewish judge, with financial backing from an American millionaire. The chairman of the Palestine Zionist Executive explained that the aim was “quietly to evacuate the Moroccan occupants of those houses which it would later be necessary to demolish” to create an open space with seats for aged worshippers to sit on. However, the price became excessive and the plan came to nothing. The Va’ad Leumi, against the advice of the Palestine Zionist Executive, demanded that the British expropriate the wall and give it to the Jews, but the British refused. In 1922, an agreement issued by the mandatory authority forbade the placing of benches or chairs near the Wall. The last occurrence of such a ban was in 1915, but the Ottoman decree was soon retracted. In 1928 the District Commissioner of Jerusalem acceded to an Arab request to implement the ban. This led to a British officer being stationed at the Wall making sure that Jews were prevented from sitting. Nor were Jews permitted to separate the sexes with a screen. In practice, a flexible modus vivendi had emerged and such screens had been put up from time to time when large numbers of people gathered to pray. From October 1928 onward, a Mufti organised a series of measures to demonstrate the Arabs’ exclusive claims to the Temple Mount and its environs. He ordered new construction next to and above the Western Wall. The British granted the Arabs permission to convert a building adjoining the Wall into a mosque and to add a minaret. A muezzin (the person who proclaims the call to the daily prayer) was appointed to perform the Islamic call to prayer and Sufi rites directly next to the Wall. These were seen as a provocation by the Jews who prayed at the Wall. The Jews protested and tensions increased.

British police at the Wailing Wall, 1934.

In the summer of 1929, the Mufti ordered an opening be made at the southern end of the alleyway which straddled the Wall. The former cul-de-sac became a thoroughfare which led from the Temple Mount into the prayer area at the Wall. Mules were herded through the narrow alley, often dropping excrement. This, together with other construction projects in the vicinity, and restricted access to the Wall, resulted in Jewish protests to the British, who remained indifferent.
On August 14, 1929, after attacks on individual Jews praying at the Wall, 6,000 Jews demonstrated in Tel Aviv, shouting “The Wall is ours.” The next day, the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av, three hundred youths raised the Zionist flag and sang ‘Hatikva’, the national anthem of the state of Israel, at the Wall. The day after, on August 16, an organised mob of two thousand Muslim Arabs descended on the Western Wall, injuring the beadle and burning prayer books, liturgical fixtures and notes of supplication. The rioting spread to the Jewish commercial area of town, and was followed a few days later by the Hebron massacre. One hundred and thirty-three Jews were killed with many more injured in the Arab riots. This was by far the deadliest attack on Jews during the period of British Rule over Palestine. In 1930, in response to the 1929 riots, the British Government appointed a commission “to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall”, and to determine the causes of the violence and prevent it in the future. The League of Nations approved the commission on condition that the members were not British.

Members of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry at the Western Wall in 1946.

The Commission concluded that the wall, and the adjacent pavement and Moroccan Quarter, were solely owned by the Muslim ‘waqf’, a Jordanian-appointed organisation responsible for controlling and managing the Islamic edifices on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, though Jews had the right to “free access to the Western Wall for the purpose of devotions at all times”, subject to some stipulations that limited which objects could be brought to the Wall and forbade the blowing of the shofar, an ancient musical horn (typically made of a ram’s horn), which was made illegal. Muslims were also forbidden to disrupt Jewish devotions by driving animals or other means. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War the Old City together with the Wall was controlled by Jordan. Neither Israeli Arabs nor Israeli Jews could visit their holy places in the Jordanian territories, though an exception was made for Christians to participate in Christmas ceremonies in Bethlehem. Some sources claim Jews could only visit the wall if they travelled through Jordan (which was not an option for Israelis) and did not have an Israeli visa stamped in their passports. Only Jordanian soldiers and tourists were to be found there. A vantage point on Mount Zion, from which the Wall could be viewed, became the place where Jews gathered to pray. For thousands of pilgrims, the Mount, being the closest location to the Wall under Israeli control, became a substitute site for the traditional priestly blessing ceremony which takes place on the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. During the Jordanian rule of the Old City, a ceramic street sign in Arabic and English was affixed to the stones of the ancient wall. It was made up of eight separate ceramic tiles and said ‘Al Buraq Road’ in Arabic at the top with the English “Al-Buraq (Wailing Wall) Rd” below. When Israeli soldiers arrived at the wall in June 1967, one attempted to scrawl Hebrew lettering on it. The Jerusalem Post reported that on June 8, Ben-Gurion went to the wall and “looked with distaste” at the road sign, saying “this is not right, it should come down” and he proceeded to dismantle it. This act signalled the climax of the capture of the Old City and the ability of Jews to once again access their holiest sites. Emotional recollections of this event were related by David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.

Israeli soldiers shortly after the capture of the Wall during the Six-Day War.

Following Israel’s victory during the 1967 Six-Day War, the Western Wall came under Israeli control. Forty-eight hours after capturing the wall, the military, without explicit government order, hastily proceeded to demolish the entire Moroccan Quarter. The narrow pavement, which could accommodate a maximum of 12,000 people per day, was transformed into an enormous plaza that could hold in excess of 400,000. Several months later, the pavement close to the wall was excavated to a depth of two and half metres, exposing an additional two courses of large stones. The section of the wall dedicated to prayers was thus extended southwards to double its original length. The narrow, pre-1948 alley along the wall, used for Jewish prayer, was enlarged with the entire Western Wall Plaza covering 20,000 square metres (4.9 acres), stretching from the wall to the Jewish Quarter.

Torah Ark inside the men’s section of Wilson’s Arch.

In 2005, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation initiated a major renovation effort under the then Rabbi-of-the-Wall. Its goal was to renovate and restructure the area within Wilson’s Arch, the covered area to the left of worshipers facing the Wall in the open prayer plaza, in order to increase access for visitors and for prayer. On July 25, 2010, a ‘ner tamid’, an oil-burning ‘eternal light’ was installed within the prayer hall within Wilson’s Arch, the first eternal light installed in the area of the Western Wall. According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, requests had been made for many years that an olive oil lamp be placed in the prayer hall of the Western Wall Plaza, as is the custom in Jewish synagogues, to represent the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem as well as the continuously burning fire on the altar of burnt offerings in front of the Temple, especially in the closest place to those ancient flames.

Assistant U.S. Sixth Fleet Chaplain leads an interfaith service.

A number of special worship events have been held since the renovation. They have taken advantage of the cover, temperature control, and enhanced security. However, in addition to the more recent programmes, one event occurred in September 1983, even before the modern renovation. At that time U.S. Sixth Fleet Chaplain, Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff was allowed to hold the first interfaith service ever conducted at the Wall during the time it was under Israeli control, and that included men and women sitting together. The ten-minute service included the Priestly Blessing recited by Resnicoff, who is a Kohen (priest). A Ministry of Religions representative was present, responding to press queries that the service was authorised as part of a special welcome for the U.S. Sixth Fleet. Many contemporary Orthodox scholars rule that the area in front of the Wall has the status of a synagogue and must be treated with due respect, and this is the view upheld by the authority in charge of the wall. As such, men and married women are expected to cover their heads upon approaching the Wall, and to dress appropriately. When departing, the custom is to walk backwards away from the Wall to show its sanctity. On Saturdays, it is forbidden to enter the area with electronic devices, including cameras, which infringe on the sanctity of the Sabbath. Some Orthodox Jewish codifiers warn against inserting fingers into the cracks of the Wall as they believe that the breadth of the Wall constitutes part of the Temple Mount itself and retains holiness, whilst others who permit doing so claim that the Wall is located outside the Temple area. In the past, some visitors would write their names on the Wall, or based upon various scriptural verses, would drive nails into the crevices. These practices stopped after rabbis determined that such actions compromised the sanctity of the Wall. Another practice also existed whereby pilgrims or those intending to travel abroad would hack off a chip from the Wall or take some of the sand from between its cracks as a good luck charm or memento. In the late nineteenth century the question was raised as to whether this was permitted and a long ‘responsa’, the term used to describe decisions and rulings made by scholars in historic religious law, appeared in the Jerusalem newspaper Havatzelet in 1898. It concluded that even if according to Jewish Law it was permitted, the practices should be stopped as it constituted a desecration. More recently a ruling was given that it is forbidden to remove small chips of stone or dust from the Wall, although it is permissible to take twigs from the vegetation which grows in the Wall for an amulet, as they contain no holiness. Cleaning the stones is also problematic, as sadly blasphemous graffiti once sprayed by a tourist was left visible for months until it began to peel away.

The faithful remove their shoes upon approaching the Wall, c.1880.

There was once an old custom of removing one’s shoes upon approaching the Wall. A seventeenth-century collection of special prayers to be said at holy places mentions that “upon coming to the Western Wall one should remove his shoes, bow and recite…”. Over the years the custom of standing barefoot at the Wall has ceased, as there is no need to remove one’s shoes when standing by the Wall, because the plaza area is outside the sanctified precinct of the Temple Mount. According to Jewish Law, one is obliged to grieve and rend one’s garment upon visiting the Western Wall and seeing the desolate site of the Temple.

The separate areas for men (top) and women, as seen from the walkway to the Dome of the Rock.

Although during the late nineteenth century no formal segregation of men and women was to be found at the Wall, conflict erupted in July 1968 when members of the World Union for Progressive Judaism were denied the right to host a mixed-gender service at the site after the Ministry of Religious Affairs insisted on maintaining the gender segregation customary at Orthodox places of worship. The progressives responded by claiming that “the Wall is a shrine of all Jews, not one particular branch of Judaism.” In 1988, the small but vocal group called Women of the Wall launched a campaign for recognition of non-Orthodox prayer at the Wall. Their form and manner of prayer elicited a violent response from some Orthodox worshippers and they were subsequently banned from holding services at the site. But in 1989 the Women of the Wall petitioned to secure the right of women to pray at the wall without restrictions. Quite a story, but I hope you’ve found it interesting.

This week… a quote I am reminded of.
“Change is the essential process of all existence.”
~ Spock, Star Trek.

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Flat Earth

‘Flat Earth’ is an archaic and scientifically disproven conception of the Earth’s shape as a plane or disc. Many ancient cultures subscribed to a flat-Earth cosmography.

A Flat Earth map drawn by Orlando Ferguson in 1893.

The above map has several references to biblical passages as well as various jabs at the “Globe Theory”. However, the idea of a spherical Earth appeared in ancient Greek philosophy with Pythagoras as far back as the sixth century BC. Except many folk of the sixth and fifth century BC retained the flat-Earth model. In the early fourth century BC, Plato wrote about a spherical Earth and by about 330BC, his former student Aristotle had provided strong empirical evidence for a spherical Earth. Knowledge of the Earth’s global shape gradually began to spread beyond the Hellenistic world and by the early period of the Christian Church, the spherical view was widely held, with some notable exceptions. It is a historical myth that medieval Europeans generally thought the Earth was flat and it is said that this myth was created in the seventeenth century by Protestants to argue against Catholic teachings. Despite the scientific fact and obvious effects of Earth’s ‘sphericity’, pseudoscientific flat-Earth conspiracy theories are espoused by modern flat Earth societies and, increasingly, by unaffiliated individuals using social media.

‘Imago Mundi’, a Babylonian map, sixth century BC.

The Babylonian Map of the World (or ‘Imago Mundi’) is a Babylonian clay tablet written in the Akkadian language. Dated to no earlier than the ninth century BC (with a late eighth or seventh date being more likely), it includes a brief and partially lost textual description. The tablet describes the oldest known depiction of the known world. Ever since its discovery there have been a variety of divergent views on what it represents in general and about specific features in particular. The map is centred on the Euphrates river, flowing from the north (top) to the south (bottom). The city of Babylon is shown on the Euphrates, in the northern half of the map. The mouth of the Euphrates is labelled “swamp” and “outflow”. Susa, the capital of Elam, is shown to the south, Urartu to the northeast, and Habban, the capital of the Kassites is shown (incorrectly) to the northwest. Mesopotamia is surrounded by a circular ‘bitter river’ or Ocean, and seven or eight regions, depicted as triangular sections, are shown as lying beyond the Ocean. It has been suggested that the depiction of these regions as triangles might indicate that they were imagined as mountains. In early Egyptian and Mesopotamian thought, the world was portrayed as a disk floating in the ocean. A similar model is found in the Homeric account from the eighth century BC in which it was thought that “Okeanos, the personified body of water surrounding the circular surface of the Earth, is the begetter of all life and possibly of all gods”. The Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts of ancient Egypt show a similar cosmography, where ‘Nun’ (the Ocean) encircled ‘Nbwt’ (“dry lands” or “Islands”). The Israelites also imagined the Earth to be a disc floating on water with an arched firmament above it that separated the Earth from the heavens. The sky was a solid dome with the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars embedded in it. Both Homer and Hesiod, another Greek poet generally thought to have been active between 750 and 650BC described a disc cosmography on the Shield of Achilles.

Possible rendering of Anaximander’s world map.

Several pre-Socratic philosophers believed that the world was flat. One thought that the Earth floated in water like a log, but it has been argued that he actually believed in a round Earth. There were others, with perhaps fanciful ideas. Belief in a flat Earth continued into the fifth century BC and another even believed that the flat Earth was depressed in the middle like a saucer, to allow for the fact that the Sun does not rise and set at the same time for everyone. The ancient Norse and Germanic peoples believed in a flat-Earth cosmography with the Earth surrounded by an ocean, with the ‘axis mundi’, a world tree or pillar in the centre and in the world-encircling ocean sat a snake. There is a a Norwegian didactic text in Old Norse from around 1250 that deals with politics and morality. It was originally intended for the education of King Magnus Lagabøte, the son of King Håkon Håkonsson, and it has the form of a dialogue between father and son. The son asks, and is advised by his father about practical and moral matters, concerning trade, chivalric behaviour, strategy and tactics. Parts of this work deal with the relationship between church and state and explains the Earth’s shape as a sphere in this way: “If you take a lighted candle and set it in a room, you may expect it to light up the entire interior, unless something should hinder, though the room be quite large. But if you take an apple and hang it close to the flame, so near that it is heated, the apple will darken nearly half the room or even more. However, if you hang the apple near the wall, it will not get hot; the candle will light up the whole house; and the shadow on the wall where the apple hangs will be scarcely half as large as the apple itself. From this you may infer that the Earth-circle is round like a ball and not equally near the sun at every point. But where the curved surface lies nearest the sun’s path, there will the greatest heat be; and some of the lands that lie continuously under the unbroken rays cannot be inhabited”. Meanwhile in ancient China, the prevailing belief was that the Earth was flat and square, whilst the heavens were round, an assumption virtually unquestioned until the introduction of European astronomy in the seventeenth century. An English sinologist (a person who studies China) emphasised the point that there was no concept of a round Earth in ancient Chinese astronomy and it seems that Chinese thoughts on the form of the Earth remained almost unchanged from early times until the first contacts with modern science through the medium of Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century. Whilst the heavens were variously described as being like an umbrella covering the Earth (the Kai Tian theory), or like a sphere surrounding it (the Hun Tian theory), or as being without substance while the heavenly bodies float freely (the Hsüan Yeh theory), the Earth was at all times flat, although perhaps bulging up slightly.

An illustration based on that of a twelfth-century Asian cosmographer.

The model of an egg was often used by Chinese astronomers to describe the heavens as spherical, such that ”The heavens are like a hen’s egg and as round as a crossbow bullet, the Earth is like the yolk of the egg and lies in the centre”. The analogy with a curved egg led some modern historians to conjecture that Chinese astronomers were, after all, aware of the Earth’s sphericity. The egg reference, however, was rather meant to clarify the relative position of the flat Earth to the heavens, as in a passage of Zhang Heng’s cosmogony he himself says: “Heaven takes its body from the Yang, so it is round and in motion. Earth takes its body from the Yin, so it is flat and quiescent”. The point of the egg analogy is simply to stress that the Earth is completely enclosed by Heaven, rather than merely covered from above as the Kai Tian describes. Chinese astronomers, many of them brilliant men by any standards, continued to think in flat-Earth terms until the seventeenth century; this surprising fact might be the starting-point for a re-examination of the apparent facility with which the idea of a spherical Earth found acceptance in fifth-century BC Greece. When Chinese geographers of the seventeenth century, influenced by European cartography and astronomy, showed the Earth as a sphere that could be circumnavigated by sailing around the globe, they did so with formulaic terminology previously used by Zhang Heng to describe the spherical shape of the Sun and Moon, i.e. that they were as round as a crossbow bullet.

Semi-circular shadow of Earth on the Moon during a partial lunar eclipse.

Pythagoras in the sixth century BC and Parmenides in the fifth century BC stated that the Earth is spherical and this view spread rapidly in the Greek world. Around 330BC, Aristotle maintained on the basis of physical theory and observational evidence that the Earth was spherical, and reported an estimate of its circumference. This circumference was first determined around 240BC by Eratosthenes and by the second century AD, Ptolemy had derived his maps from a globe and developed the system of latitude, longitude and climes. His Almagest, a second-century work only written in the Greek language was a mathematical and astronomical treatise on the apparent motions of the stars and planetary paths, and only translated into Latin in the eleventh century from Arabic translations. In the first century BC, Lucretius opposed the concept of a spherical Earth because he considered that an infinite universe had no centre towards which heavy bodies would tend. Thus, he thought the idea of animals walking around topsy-turvy under the Earth was absurd. By the first century AD, Pliny the Elder was in a position to say that everyone agreed on the spherical shape of Earth, though disputes continued regarding the nature of the antipodes and how it is possible to keep the ocean in a curved shape.

The Thorntonbank Wind Farm near the Belgian coast with the lower parts of the more distant towers increasingly hidden by the horizon, demonstrating the curvature of the Earth.

The Vedic texts depict the cosmos in many ways, and one of the earliest Indian cosmological texts picture the Earth as one of a stack of flat disks. In these texts, ‘Dyaus’ (heaven) and ‘Prithvi’ (Earth) are compared to wheels on an axle, yielding a flat model. They are also described as bowls or leather bags, yielding a concave model. By about the fifth century AD, the astronomy texts of South Asia, particularly of Aryabhata, assume a spherical Earth as they develop mathematical methods for quantitative astronomy for calendar and time keeping. The medieval Indian texts called the Puranas describe the Earth as a flat-bottomed, circular disk with concentric oceans and continents. This general scheme is present not only in the Hindu cosmologies, but also in Buddhist and Jain cosmologies of South Asia. However, some Puranas include other models. The fifth canto of the Bhagavata Purana, for example, includes sections that describe the Earth both as flat and spherical. During the early period of the Christian Church, the spherical view continued to be widely held, with some notable exceptions. Athenagoras, an eastern Christian writing of around the year 175AD, said that the Earth was spherical. The influential theologian and philosopher Saint Augustine, one of the four Great Church Fathers of the Western Church, similarly objected to the ‘fable’ of antipodes, saying that “But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the Earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours that is on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the Earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other; hence they say that the part that is beneath must also be inhabited. But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the Earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled. For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, gives no false information; and it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man”. Some historians do not view Augustine’s scriptural commentaries as endorsing any particular cosmological model, endorsing instead the view that Augustine shared the common view of his contemporaries that the Earth is spherical, in line with his endorsement of science in ‘De Genesi ad litteram’.

Ninth-century Macrobian cosmic diagram showing the ‘sphere of the Earth’ at the centre (‘globus terrae’).

Medieval Christian writers in the early Middle Ages felt little urge to assume flatness of the Earth, though they had fuzzy impressions of the writings of Ptolemy and Aristotle, relying more on Pliny. But with the end of the Western Roman Empire, Western Europe entered the Middle Ages with the great difficulties that affected the continent’s intellectual production. Most scientific treatises of Greek classical antiquity were unavailable, leaving only simplified summaries and compilations. In contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire did not fall, and it preserved the learning. Still, many textbooks of the Early Middle Ages supported the sphericity of the Earth in the western part of Europe, though a few of the scholars at that time still thought of the Earth as in the shape of a wheel.

Isidore’s portrayal of the five zones of the Earth.

A possible non-literary but graphic indication that people in the Middle Ages believed that the Earth (or perhaps the world) was a sphere is the use of the ‘orb’ in the regalia of many kingdoms and of the Holy Roman Empire. It is attested from the time of the Christian late-Roman emperor Theodosius II (423) throughout the Middle Ages. However, the word ‘orbis’ means circle and there is no record of a globe as a representation of the Earth since ancient times in the west until 1492, when Martin Behaim, a German textile merchant and cartographer who served King John II of Portugal, was an adviser in matters of navigation and participated in a voyage to West Africa. A recent study of medieval concepts of the sphericity of the Earth noted that “since the eighth century, no cosmographer worthy of note has called into question the sphericity of the Earth”. However, the work of these intellectuals may not have had significant influence on public opinion, and it is difficult to tell what the wider population may have thought of the shape of the Earth, if they considered the question at all.

Picture from a 1550 edition of On The Sphere Of The World, the most influential astronomy textbook of thirteenth century Europe.

Portuguese navigation down and around the coast of Africa in the latter half of the 1400s gave wide-scale observational evidence for Earth’s sphericity. In these explorations, the Sun position moved more northward the further south the explorers travelled. Its position directly overhead at noon gave evidence for crossing the equator. These apparent solar motions in detail were more consistent with north–south curvature and a distant Sun, than with any flat-Earth explanation. The ultimate demonstration came when Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition completed the first global circumnavigation in 1521 and one of the survivors of the voyage recorded the loss of a day in the course of the voyage, giving evidence for east–west curvature. In the seventeenth century, the idea of a spherical Earth spread in China due to the influence of the Jesuits, who held high positions as astronomers at the imperial court. The astronomical and geographical treatise ‘Gezhicao’ written in 1648 by Xiong Mingyu explained that the Earth was spherical, not flat or square, and could be circumnavigated.

Logo of the Flat Earth Society.

In the ninteenth century, a historical myth arose which held that the predominant cosmological doctrine during the Middle Ages was that the Earth was flat. However, subsequent studies of medieval science have shown that most scholars in the Middle Ages, including those read by Christopher Columbus, maintained that the Earth was spherical. In 1956, Samuel Shenton set up the International Flat Earth Research Society, better known as the “Flat Earth Society” from Dover, England, as a direct descendant of the Universal Zetetic Society. The availability of communications technology and social media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have made it easy for individuals, famous or not, to spread disinformation and attract others to erroneous ideas, including that of the flat Earth. So, to maintain a belief in the face of such overwhelming contrary, publicly available empirical evidence accumulated in the Space Age, modern believers must generally embrace some form of conspiracy theory out of the necessity of explaining why major institutions such as governments, media outlets, schools, scientists, and airlines all assert that the world is a sphere. They tend to not trust observations they have not made for themselves, and often distrust or disagree with each other. For young children who have not yet received information from their social environment, this can mean that their own perception of their surroundings may often lead to a false concept about the shape of the Earth. They can think that the Earth ends at the horizon and that one can fall off the edge. The proper education they receive then helps them to gradually change their false concepts into one of a truly spherical Earth as well as space and other planets.

This week… A quote I like.
“The road to success is always under construction”
~ Unknown.

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A History Of Tobacco

Tobacco and tobacco-related products have a long history that stretches back to 6,000 BC. The plant today known as tobacco, or Nicotiana tabacum, is a member of the nicotiana genus, a close relative to the poisonous nightshade and could previously only be found in the Americas. It may surprise many to learn just how long tobacco has been known of here on Earth. Research shows that Native Americans first start cultivating the tobacco plant as far back as 6,000 BC. By around 1 BC, indigenous American tribes started smoking tobacco in religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. After that, little was known or at least recorded about tobacco, but archeological finds now indicate that humans in the Americas began using tobacco as far back as 12,300 years ago, thousands of years earlier than had previously been documented. It has been found that tobacco was first discovered by the native people of Mesoamerica and South America and later introduced to Europe and the rest of the world.

Christopher Columbus with native Americans. Artist unknown.

So in 1492, Columbus was warmly greeted by the Native American tribes he encountered when he first set foot on the new continent. They brought gifts of fruit, food, spears, and more and among those gifts were dried up leaves of the tobacco plant. As they were not edible and had a distinct smell to them, those leaves, which the Native Americans have been smoking for over two millennia for medicinal and religious purposes, were thrown overboard. However, Columbus soon realised that dried tobacco leaves were a prized possession among the natives, as they bartered with them and often bestowed them as a gift. That same year, the tobacco plant and smoking was introduced to Europeans but it was not until 1531 that Europeans started the cultivation of the tobacco plant in Central America. Then in 1558 the first attempt at tobacco cultivation in Europe began but failed. Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres are the first Europeans to observe smoking. This was on Cuba and Jerez becomes a staunch smoker, bringing the habit back with him to Spain. However, Jerez’s neighbours were so petrified of the smoke coming out of his mouth and nose that he was soon arrested by the Holy Inquisition and held in captivity for nearly 7 years. However, thanks to a lot of seafarers at the time, smoking became an entrenched habit in both Spain and Portugal before long. Soon Portuguese sailors were planting tobacco around nearly all of their trading outposts, enough for personal use and gifts. They started growing tobacco commercially in Brazil, where it was soon a sought-after commodity and traded across the ports in Europe and the Americas. By the end of the sixteenth century, tobacco plant and use of tobacco were both introduced to virtually every single country in Europe. Tobacco was snuffed or smoked, depending on the preference and doctors claimed that it had medicinal properties. Some, such as Nicolas Monardes in 1571, went as far as to write a book to outline 36 specific ailments that tobacco could supposedly cure, from toothache to lockjaw and cancer. So tobacco had already long been used in the Americas by the time European settlers arrived and took the practice to Europe, where it became popular. Eastern North American tribes have historically carried tobacco in pouches as a readily accepted trade item, as well as smoking it in pipe ceremonies, whether for sacred ceremonies or those to seal a treaty or agreement. In addition to its use in spiritual and religious ceremonies, tobacco has been used for medical treatment of physical conditions. As a pain killer it has been used for earache and toothache and occasionally as a poultice. Some indigenous peoples in California have used tobacco as one ingredient in smoking mixtures for treating colds, where it is usually mixed with the leaves of the small desert sage, or the root of Indian balsam, or cough root (the addition of which was thought to be particularly good for asthma and tuberculosis). In addition to its traditional medicinal uses, tobacco was also used as a form of currency between Native Americans and Colonists from the 1620s as it was considered a monetary standard that lasted twice as long as the gold standard. Tobacco also has ceremonial use and religious use of tobacco is still common among many indigenous peoples in America. For example amongst the Cree and Ojibwe of Canada and the north-central United States, it is offered to the Creator with prayers, and is used in pipe ceremonies as well as being presented as a gift. This is especially traditional when asking an Ojibwe elder a question of a spiritual nature.

The earliest image of a man smoking a pipe, from ‘Tabaco’ by Anthony Chute (1595).

Greek and Roman accounts exist of smoking hemp seeds, and a Spanish poem c.1276 mentions the energetic effects of lavender smoke, but tobacco was completely unfamiliar to Europeans before the discovery of the New World. Bartolomé de las Casas described how the first scouts sent by Christopher Columbus into the interior of Cuba found “men with half-burned wood in their hands and certain herbs to take their smokes, which are some dry herbs put in a certain leaf, also dry, like those the boys make on the day of the Passover of the Holy Ghost; and having lighted one part of it, by the other they suck, absorb, or receive that smoke inside with the breath, by which they become benumbed and almost drunk, and so it is said they do not feel fatigue. These, muskets as we will call them, they call ‘tabacos’. I knew Spaniards on this island of Española who were accustomed to take it, and being reprimanded for it, by telling them it was a vice, they replied they were unable to cease using it. I do not know what relish or benefit they found in it.” Following the arrival of Europeans, tobacco became one of the primary products fuelling colonisation, and also became a driving factor in the introduction of African slave labour. The Spanish introduced tobacco to Europeans in about 1528, and by 1533, Diego Columbus mentioned a tobacco merchant of Lisbon in his will, showing how quickly the traffic had sprung up. The French, Spanish, and Portuguese initially referred to the plant as the “sacred herb” because of its valuable medicinal properties. Meanwhile the Japanese were introduced to tobacco by Portuguese sailors from 1542, and tobacco first arrived in the Ottoman Empire a few years later, where it attracted the attention of doctors and became a commonly prescribed medicine for many ailments. Although tobacco was initially prescribed as medicine, further study led to claims that smoking caused dizziness, fatigue, dulling of the senses and a foul taste/odour in the mouth. Then a French ambassador in Lisbon named Jean Nicot sent samples to Paris in 1559. Nicot sent leaves and seeds to Francis II and the King’s mother, Catherine of Medici, with instructions to use tobacco as snuff. The king’s recurring headaches (perhaps sinus trouble) were reportedly “marvellously cured” by snuff. However, Francis II nevertheless died at seventeen years of age on 5 December 1560, after a reign of less than two years. French cultivation of ‘herbe de la Reine’ (the queen’s herb) began in 1560. By 1570 botanists referred to tobacco as Nicotiana. In 1563, the Swiss doctor Conrad Gesner reported that chewing or smoking a tobacco leaf “has a wonderful power of producing a kind of peaceful drunkenness”. In 1571, Spanish doctor Nicolas Monardes wrote a book about the history of medicinal plants of the new world. In this he claimed that tobacco could cure thirty-six health problems and reported that the plant was first brought to Spain for its flowers, but “Now we use it to a greater extent for the sake of its virtues than for its beauty”.

“Raleigh’s First Pipe in England”, included in Frederick William Fairholt’s ‘Tobacco, its History and Associations’.

Sir Walter Raleigh introduced Virginia tobacco into England, and a naval commander by the name of John Hawkins was the first to bring tobacco seeds to England. William Harrison ’s ‘English Chronology’ mentions tobacco smoking in the country as of 1573, before Sir Walter Raleigh brought the first “Virginia” tobacco to Europe from the Roanoke Colony, referring to it as ‘tobah’ as early as 1578. In 1595 Anthony Chute published ‘Tabaco’, which repeated earlier arguments about the benefits of the plant and emphasised the health-giving properties of pipe-smoking. A popular song of the early 1600s by Tobias Hume proclaimed that “Tobacco is Like Love”. But the importation of tobacco into England was not without resistance and controversy. King James I wrote a famous polemic entitled ‘A Counterblaste to Tobacco’ in 1604, in which the king denounced tobacco use as “a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible smoke of theStigian pit that is bottomelesse.” That year, an English statute was enacted that placed a heavy protective tariff on tobacco imports. The duty rose from 2p per pound to 6s 10p, a 40-fold increase, but English demand remained strong despite the high price and Barnabee Rych reported that 7,000 stores in London sold tobacco and calculated that at least 319,375 pounds sterling were spent on tobacco annually. Because the Virginia and Bermuda colonies’ economies were affected by the high duty, in 1624 King James I instead created a royal monopoly. No tobacco could be imported except from Virginia, and a royal license that cost 15 pounds per year was required to sell it. To help the colonies, King Charles II banned tobacco cultivation in England, but allowed herb gardens for medicinal purposes. Meanwhile, it seems that tobacco was introduced elsewhere in continental Europe more easily. Iberia exported “ropes” of dry leaves in baskets to the Netherlands and southern Germany; for a while tobacco was in Spanish called ‘canaster’ after the word for basket (‘canastro), and influenced the German ‘Knaster. In Italy, Prospero Santacroce in 1561 and Nicolo Torbabuoni in 1570 introduced it to gardens after seeing the plant whilst on diplomatic missions. Cardinal Crescenzio introduced smoking to the country in about 1610, after learning about it in England. The Roman Catholic Church did not condemn tobacco as James I did, but Pope Urban VIII threatened excommunication for smoking in a church. In Russia, tobacco use was banned in 1634 except for foreigners in Moscow. Peter the Great, who in England had learned of smoking and the royal monopoly, became the monarch in 1689 and revoking all bans, he licensed the Muscovy Company to import 1.5 million pounds of tobacco per year, with the Russian Crown receiving 28,000 pounds sterling annually. It was in 1633 when Sultan Murad IV banned smoking in the Ottoman Empire. When the ban was lifted by his successor, Ibrahim the Mad, it was instead taxed. In 1682, Damascene jurist Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi declared: “Tobacco has now become extremely famous in all the countries of Islam … People of all kinds have used it and devoted themselves to it … I have even seen young children of about five years applying themselves to it.” There are many events too numerous to detail here on tobacco, so here are just a notable few, with occasional explanations. 1624 saw the Popes ban use of tobacco in holy places, considering sneezing (snuff) too close to sexual pleasures. In 1633, Turkey introduced a death penalty for smoking but it didn’t stay in effect for long and was lifted in 1647. In 1650, tobacco arrived in Africa as the European settlers grew it and used it as a currency. Then in 1700 the African slaves were first forced to work on tobacco plantations, years before they became a workforce in the cotton fields. 1730 saw the first American tobacco companies open their doors in Virginia and in 1750, a Damascene townsmen observed “a number of women greater than the men, sitting along the bank of the Barada River. They were eating and drinking, and drinking coffee and smoking tobacco just as the men were doing”. In 1753 a Tobacco genus was named by a Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, ‘nicotiana rustica’ and ‘nicotiana tabacum’ named for the first time. Then in 1791, British doctors found that snuff leads to an increased risk of nose cancer. There was the first American tobacco tax in 1794 and in 1826 the alkaloid Nicotine was isolated for the first time. A few years later, in 1847, Philip Morris opened their first shop in Great Britain, selling hand-rolled Turkish cigarettes. Around 1861 the first American cigarette factory produced 20 million cigarettes and in 1880 the first cigarette-rolling machine was developed. Then in 1890, the American Tobacco Company opened its doors. In 1912 there is the first reported connection between smoking and lung cancer, but by 1918 an entire generation of young men returned from war, addicted to cigarettes. This meant that in 1924 over 70 billion cigarettes were sold in the United States. But by 1950 it seems that 50% of a cigarettes included a filter tip. Things were changing, as in 1967 there was a definitive link between smoking to lung cancer and evidence was presented that it was causing heart problems. In 1970 the tobacco manufacturers became legally obliged to print a warning on the labels that smoking is a health hazard and between 1970 and 1990 the same companies were faced with a series of lawsuits. Courts then limited their advertising and marketing, which had an effect on certain sports, like motor racing where advertising was no longer allowed. Then in 1992 the Nicotine patch was introduced and in the following years more cessation products were starting to be developed. In 1996, researchers found conclusive evidence that tobacco damages a cancer-suppressor gene. Then in 1997, tobacco companies were hit with major lawsuits, ordering them to spend large amounts of money on anti-smoking campaigns over the next 25 years which was predominantly focused on educating the young on dangers of smoking. Also from 1990, bans on public smoking came into effect in most states in America, as well as in other countries in the world.

A tobacco plantation in Queensland, Australia in 1933.

Meanwhile, cigarettes were gaining in popularity. In fact, they came to the height of their popularity during the First and Second World Wars. Tobacco companies sent millions of packs of cigarettes to soldiers on the front lines, creating hundreds of thousands of faithful and addicted consumers in the process. Cigarettes were even included into soldiers’ C-rations – which contained mostly food and supplements, along with cigarettes. The 1920s were also the period when tobacco companies started marketing heavily to women, creating brands such as ‘Mild as May’ to try to feminize the habit and make it more appealing to women. The number of female smokers in the United States tripled by 1935. Then in the mid-twentieth century, medical research demonstrated the severe negative health effects of tobacco smoking, including lung and throat cancer, which has led to a sharp decline in tobacco use. In addition, tobacco and tobacco products are more regulated today. Companies have lost countless lawsuits and are now forced to clearly label their products as having a detrimental effect on the health of a person. Also, tobacco advertising is severely limited and regulated. Still, tobacco companies make a great deal of money every year, destroying the health of others and it is estimated that there are around one billion tobacco users in the world today. The damage caused by this addiction amounts to massive health expenses and environmental damages and more effort has still to be made to educate people, especially teenagers and young adults, about the dangers of smoking. There is help and alternatives to smoking, for example various Nicotine replacement therapies such as skin patches. When I was in my twenties I tried smoking a pipe just once but was ill, so never did that again. I was also a keen singer as well as playing a trumpet in a local brass band, so wouldn’t smoke just to be the same as a couple of my friends! Still, I developed asthma which may not have been helped as my father smoked. In fact we are sure it was that which brought about his death just a few months before his seventieth birthday. My mother, who did smoke on rare occasions when she was younger, survived until she was ninety-five. I think that says it all.

This week…
There was an engineer who regularly made house calls to help fix computer problems for people. Afterwards, he had to write a report on what the problem had been and sometimes he would simply put ‘PICNIC’. One day he was asked what was meant by this, and he explained: “Problem In Chair, Not In Computer”…

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Good Friday

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter, which is calculated differently in Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity. Easter falls on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, the full moon on or after 21 March, taken to be the date of the vernal equinox. The Western calculation uses the Gregorian calendar, whilst the Eastern calculation uses the Julian calendar, whose 21 March now corresponds to the Gregorian calendar’s 3 April. The calculations for identifying the date of the full moon also differ. In Eastern Christianity, Easter can fall between 22 March and 25 April on Julian Calendar (thus between 4 April and 8 May in terms of the Gregorian calendar, during the period 1900 and 2099), so Good Friday can fall between 20 March and 23 April, inclusive, or between 2 April and 6 May in terms of the Gregorian calendar. Good Friday itself is a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary and it is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum. Members of many Christian denominations observe Good Friday with both fasting and church services. In many Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist churches the ‘Service of the Great Three Hours’ Agony’ is held from noon until 3:00pm, the time duration that the Bible records as darkness covering the land to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, whilst the Communicants of the Moravian Church have a Good Friday tradition of cleaning gravestones in Moravian cemeteries. The date of Good Friday varies from one year to the next in both the Gregorian and Julian calendars. However, Eastern and Western Christianity disagree over the computation of the date of Easter and therefore of Good Friday, which is regarded as a widely instituted legal holiday around the world, including in most Western countries and twelve U.S. states. Some predominantly Christian countries, such as Germany, have laws prohibiting certain acts such as dancing and horse racing, in remembrance of the sombre nature of Good Friday. The name ‘Good Friday’ comes from the sense ‘pious, holy’ of the word “good”. Less common examples of expressions based on this obsolete sense of “good” include “the good book” for the Bible, “good tide” for “Christmas”. A common folk etymology incorrectly analyses “Good Friday” as a corruption of “God Friday” similar to the linguistically correct description of “goodbye“ as a contraction of “God be with you”. In Old English, the day was called “Long Friday”, and equivalents of this term are still used in Scandinavian languages and Finnish. I have learned that in Latin, the name used by the Catholic Church until 1955 was “Friday of Preparation [for the Sabbath]”), then in the 1955 reform of Holy Week, it was renamed “Friday of the Passion and Death of the Lord”, then in the new rite introduced in 1970, shortened to “Friday of the Passion of the Lord”. In Dutch, Good Friday is known as ‘Goede Vrijdag’, in Frisian as ‘Goedfreed’. In German-speaking countries, it is generally referred to as ‘Karfreitag’’, or “Mourning Friday”, with ‘Kar’ from Old High German ‘kara’‚ “bewail”, “grieve”‚ “mourn”, which is related to the English word “care” in the sense of cares and woes), but it is sometimes also called ‘Stiller Freitag’ (“Silent Friday”) and ‘Hoher Freitag’ (“High Friday, Holy Friday”). In the Scandinavian languages and Finnish it is called the equivalent of “Long Friday” as it was in Old English (“Langa frigedæg”). In Irish it is known as ‘Aoine an Chéasta’, “Friday of Crucifixion”, from ‘céas’, “suffer;” similarly, it is ‘DihAoine na Ceusta’ in Scottish Gaelic. In Welsh it is called ‘Dydd Gwener y Groglith’, “Friday of the Cross-Reading”, referring to ‘Y Groglith’, a medieval Welsh text on the Crucifixion of Jesus that was traditionally read on Good Friday. In Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Breton and Armenian it is generally referred to as the equivalent of “Great Friday” whilst In Serbian, it is referred either as “Great Friday” or, more commonly, “Loved Friday”. In Bulgarian, it is also called “Great Friday”, or, more commonly, “Crucified Friday”. In French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese it is referred to as “Holy Friday”, and in Arabic, it is also known as “Great Friday”.

‘The Judas Kiss’ by Gustave Doré, 1866.

According to the accounts in the Gospels, the royal soldiers, guided by Jesus’ disciple Judas Iscariot, arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas received 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus and told the guards that whomever he kisses is the one they are to arrest. Following his arrest, Jesus was taken to the house of Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, Caiaphas. There he was interrogated with little result, bound and sent to Caiaphas where the Sanhedrin, an assembly of elders known as rabbi’s who were appointed to sit as a tribunal in every city in the ancient [Land of Israel, had assembled. Conflicting testimony against Jesus was brought forth by many witnesses, to which Jesus answered nothing. Finally the high priest adjured Jesus to respond under solemn oath, saying “I adjure you, by the Living God, to tell us, are you the Anointed One, the Son of God?” Jesus testified ambiguously, “You have said it, and in time you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Almighty, coming on the clouds of Heaven.” The high priest condemned Jesus for blasphemy and the Sanhedrin concurred with a sentence of death. One of the disciples of Jesus, Peter, who was waiting in the courtyard, also denied Jesus three times to bystanders while the interrogations were proceeding just as Jesus had foretold. In the morning, the whole assembly brought Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate under charges of subverting the nation, opposing taxes to Caesar, and making himself a king. Pilate authorised the Jewish leaders to judge Jesus according to their own law and execute sentencing, but the Jewish leaders replied that they were not allowed by the Romans to carry out a sentence of death. Pilate questioned Jesus and told the assembly that there was no basis for sentencing. Upon learning that Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate referred the case to the ruler of Galilee, King Herod, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. Herod questioned Jesus but received no answer so sent Jesus back to Pilate, who told the assembly that neither he nor Herod found Jesus to be guilty. Pilate resolved to have Jesus whipped and released, but under the guidance of the chief priests, the crowd asked for Barabbas, who had been imprisoned for committing murder during an insurrection. Pilate asked what they would have him do with Jesus, and they demanded, “Crucify him”. Pilate’s wife had seen Jesus in a dream earlier that day, and she forewarned Pilate to “have nothing to do with this righteous man”. Pilate had Jesus flogged and then brought him out to the crowd to release him. The chief priests informed Pilate of a new charge, demanding Jesus be sentenced to death “because he claimed to be God’s son.” This possibility filled Pilate with fear, and he brought Jesus back inside the palace and demanded to know from where he came.

Antonio Ciseri’s nineteenth century depiction of Jesus with Pontius Pilate.

Coming before the crowd one last time, Pilate declared Jesus innocent and washed his own hands in water to show he had no part in this condemnation. Nevertheless, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified in order to forestall a riot. The sentence written was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Jesus carried his cross to the site of execution (assisted by Simon of Cyrene), called the “place of the Skull”, or “Golgotha“ in Hebrew and in Latin “Calvary”. There he was crucified along with two criminals. Jesus agonised on the cross for six hours and, during his last three hours on the cross, from noon to 3pm, darkness fell over the whole land. Jesus spoke from the cross, quoting the messianic Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then, with a loud cry, Jesus gave up his spirit. There was an earthquake, tombs broke open, and the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. The centurion on guard at the site of crucifixion declared, “Truly this was God’s Son!”. Then Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret follower of Jesus, who had not consented to His condemnation, went to Pilate to request the body of Jesus. Another secret follower of Jesus and member of the Sanhedrin named Nicodemus brought about a hundred-pound weight mixture of spices and helped wrap the body of Jesus. Pilate asked confirmation from the centurion of whether Jesus was dead. A soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a lance causing blood and water to flow out and the centurion informed Pilate that Jesus was dead. Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and placed it in his own new tomb that had been carved in the rock in a garden near the site of the crucifixion. Nicodemus also brought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes, and placed them in the linen with the body, in keeping with Jewish burial customs. They rolled a large rock over the entrance of the tomb, then they returned home and rested, because Shabbat had begun at sunset. Matt. 28:1 “After the Shabbat, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb”. i.e. “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week,…”. “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said….”. (Matt. 28:6)

A Crucifix, prepared for veneration.

The Catholic Church regards Good Friday and Holy Saturday as the Paschal fast. In the Latin Church, a ‘fast day’ is understood as having only one full meal and two ‘collations’ (a smaller repast, the two of which together do not equal the one full meal) – although this may be observed less stringently on Holy Saturday than on Good Friday. Interestingly the Roman Rite has no celebration of Mass between the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening and the Easter Vigil, unless a special exemption is granted for rare solemn or grave occasions by the Vatican or the local bishop. The only sacraments celebrated during this time are Baptism, for those in danger of death, Penance and Anointing of the Sick. Whilst there is no celebration of the Eucharist, it is distributed to the faithful only in the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, but can also be taken at any hour to the sick who are unable to attend this celebration. The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in the afternoon, ideally at three o’clock, however for pastoral reasons (especially in countries where Good Friday is not a public holiday) it is permissible to celebrate the liturgy earlier, even shortly after midday, or at a later hour. The celebration consists of three parts, these being the liturgy of the word, the adoration of the cross, and the Holy communion. The altar is laid bare, without cross, candlesticks and altar cloths. It is also customary to empty the holy water fonts, in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil. Traditionally, no bells are rung on Good Friday or Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil. The liturgical colour of the vestments used is red. Before 1970 vestments were black, except for the Communion part of the rite when violet was used and if a bishop or abbot celebrates, he wears a plain mitre. Before the reforms of the Holy Week liturgies in 1955, black was used throughout. The Vespers of Good Friday are only prayed by those who could not attend the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. Also the Three Hours’ Devotion that is based on the Seven Last Words from the Cross begins at noon and ends at 3pm, the time that the Christian tradition teaches that Jesus died on the cross.

The Great Intercessions, sung at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria.

There is also the Liturgy, which is a customary public ritual of worship that is performed by a religious group. The Good Friday liturgy consists of three parts, these being the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and the Holy Communion. The Liturgy of the Word consists of the clergy and assisting ministers entering in complete silence, without any singing. They then silently make a full prostration which signifies the abasement or fall of humans on Earth. It also symbolises the grief and sorrow of the Church. Then follows the Collect prayer, and the reading or chanting of Isaiah 52:13–53:12, Hebrews 4:14–16, Hebrews 5:7–9, and the Passion account from the Gospel of John, traditionally divided between three deacons, yet usually read by the celebrant and two other readers. In the older form of the Mass known as the Tridentine Mass, the readings for Good Friday are taken from Exodus 12:1-11 and the Gospel according to St. John (John 18:1-40); (John 19:1-42). The Great Intercessions, also known as ‘orationes sollemnes’, immediately follow the Liturgy of the Word and consists of a series of prayers for the Church, the Pope, the clergy and laity of the Church, those preparing for baptism, the unity of Christians, the Jews, those who do not believe in Christ, those who do not believe in God, those in public office, and those in special need. After each prayer intention, the deacon calls the faithful to kneel for a short period of private prayer, the celebrant then sums up the prayer intention with a Collect-style prayer. As part of the pre-1955 Holy Week Liturgy, the kneeling was omitted only for the prayer for the Jews. The Adoration of the Cross has a crucifix, not necessarily the one that is normally on or near the altar at other times of the year, solemnly unveiled and displayed to the congregation, and then venerated by them, individually if possible and usually by kissing the wood of the cross, whilst the ‘Improperia’ or Reproaches with the appropriate hymns are chanted. Holy Communion is bestowed according to a rite based on that of the final part of Mass, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, but omitting the ceremony of “Breaking of the Bread“ and its related acclamation, the Agnus Dei. The Eucharist, consecrated at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, is distributed at this service. Before the Holy Week reforms of Pope Pius XII in 1955, only the priest received Communion in the framework of what was called the ‘Mass of the Presanctified’, which included the usual Offertory prayers, with the placing of wine in the chalice, but which omitted the Canon of the Mass. The priest and people then departed in silence, and the altar cloth removed, leaving the altar bare except for the crucifix and two or four candlesticks.

In the Protestant church, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer did not specify a particular rite to be observed on Good Friday but local custom came to mandate an assortment of services, including the Seven Last Words from the Cross and a three-hour service consisting of Matins, Ante-communion (using the Reserved Sacrament in high church parishes) and Evensong. In more recent times, revised editions of the Prayer Book and Common Worship have re-introduced pre-Reformation forms of observance of Good Friday corresponding to those in today’s Roman Catholic Church.

The chancel of a Lutheran church.

The chancel of this Lutheran church is adorned with black paraments, or hangings on and around the altar, such as altar cloths, as well as the cloths hanging from the pulpit and lectern, this being the liturgical colour associated with Good Friday in the Lutheran Churches. Also, in Lutheran tradition from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, Good Friday was the most important religious holiday, and abstention from all worldly works was expected. During that time, Lutheranism had no restrictions on the celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday. On the contrary, it was a prime day on which to receive the Eucharist, and services were often accentuated by special music such as the St Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach.
More recently, Lutheran liturgical practice has recaptured Good Friday as part of the larger sweep of the great Three Days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter. Along with observing a general Lenten fast, many Lutherans emphasise the importance of Good Friday as a day of fasting within the calendar. ‘A Handbook for the Discipline of Lent’ recommends the Lutheran guideline to “Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday with only one simple meal during the day, usually without meat”.

The altar of a Methodist church on Maundy Thursday.

On Maundy Thursday, the altar of this Methodist church was stripped and the crucifix veiled in black for Good Friday, as black is the liturgical colour for Good Friday in the United Methodist Church. A wooden cross sits in front of the bare chancel for the veneration of the cross ceremony, which occurs during the United Methodist Good Friday liturgy. Many Methodist denominations commemorate Good Friday with fasting, as well as a [service of worship based on the Seven Last Words from the Cross. This liturgy is known as the Three Hours Devotion as it starts at noon and concludes at 3pm, the latter being the time that Jesus died on the cross. Other churches have practices only performed at this particular time, for example in the Moravian Church, communicants practice the Good Friday tradition of cleaning gravestones in Moravian cemeteries. It is also not uncommon for some communities to hold interdenominational services on Good Friday. As well as the United Kingdom, Good Friday is observed as a public or federal holiday in many other countries and territories with a strong Christian tradition such as Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, the countries of the Caribbean, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, the Scandinavian countries, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela. In the United States, just twelve states observe Good Friday as state holiday, these being Connecticut, Texas, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina and North Dakota.

A Good Friday service in Ireland.

In the Republic of Ireland, Good Friday is not an official public holiday, but most non-retail businesses close for the day. Up until 2018 it was illegal to sell alcoholic beverages on Good Friday, with some exceptions, so pubs and off-licences generally closed. Critics of the ban included the catering and tourism sector, but surveys showed that the general public were divided on the issue. In Northern Ireland, a similar ban operates until 5pm on Good Friday. Other countries also make Good Friday a public holiday or at least have ‘restricted trading’. In the United States, Good Friday is not a government holiday at the federal level but individual states, counties and municipalities may observe the holiday. Some Baptist congregations and some non-denominational churches oppose the observance of Good Friday, regarding it as a so-called “papist“ tradition, and instead observe the Crucifixion of Jesus on Wednesday to coincide with the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, to which a number of Christians believe is an Old Testament pointer to Jesus Christ). A Wednesday Crucifixion of Jesus allows for Him to be in the tomb for three days and three nights as he told the Pharisees he would be (Matthew 12:40), rather than two nights and a day by inclusive counting, as was the norm at that time if he had died on a Friday. Further support for a Wednesday crucifixion based on Matthew 12:40 includes the Jewish belief that death was not considered official until the beginning of the fourth day, which is disallowed with the traditional Friday afternoon to Sunday morning period of time.

Hot cross buns are traditionally toasted and eaten on Good Friday in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Here in the United Kingdom, Good Friday was historically a common law holiday and is recognised as an official public holiday, also known as a Bank Holiday. All state schools are closed and most businesses treat it as a holiday for staff, although many retail stores now remain open. Government services in Northern Ireland operate as normal on Good Friday, substituting Easter Tuesday for the holiday. Traditionally there has been no horse racing on Good Friday in the UK, but in 2008, betting shops and stores opened for the first time on this day and in 2014 Lingfield Park and Musselburgh staged the UK’s first Good Friday race meetings. The BBC has for many years introduced its 7am News broadcast on Radio 4 on Good Friday with a verse from Isaac Watts‘ hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross“. That is something I only found out as part of my research for this blog, but it really is a lovely hymn with very well-suited words.

This week…Walls Have Ears
Or, be careful what you say as people may be eavesdropping. It is said that the Louvre Palace in France was believed to have a network of listening tubes so that it would be possible to hear everything that was said in different rooms. People say that this is how the Queen Catherine de Medici discovered political secrets and plots.

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