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Parental Guidance

  • Siobhan O'Shea
  • January 17, 2019 10:11:40 AM
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Horrible History, mythology, and folklore for Adults All history is interesting if looked at in the right way. Think of the weirdest, grossest, bizarre thing you can and multiply it by infinity. That's how weird history is. Did you know.... The CIA's had a secret spy cat project. Victorian fashionistas wore live insect jewellery. The East German police stole people's underwear. Tobacco smoke enemas were a polular medical treatment in the 18th century. We tell you the history your teacher never told you..and you wish they did!

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Oomancy is the act of reading the future by inspecting a poached egg Your future - it's all ova

Oomancy is foretelling the future with eggs. The usual method is to drop the egg white in a plate with water and look for the future in the swirls. In England, the best time is New Year’s Eve; in Spain on Midsummer’s Eve; in Scotland on Halloween.   One writer explains that a Columbian New Year custom is to have your fortune told by raw eggs in water.  Your swirls describe your future husband or reveal if you have the evil eye trained on you. They could even somehow reveal the...

Oomancy is foretelling the future with eggs. The usual method is to drop the egg white in a plate with water and look for the future in the swirls. In England, the best time is New Year’s Eve; in Spain on Midsummer’s Eve; in Scotland on Halloween.

Oomancy or foretelling the future using eggs

Does this egg spell L.A. to you? Aura thinks so.

 

One writer explains that a Columbian New Year custom is to have your fortune told by raw eggs in water.  Your swirls describe your future husband or reveal if you have the evil eye trained on you. They could even somehow reveal the next possessor of the oomancy powers.

But watch out: the next step was to knock back your glass of congealed, wobbling raw egg. Salud! I predict lots of (egg) white faces.

The Venus Glass

The Venus Glass, the game to find out the profession of your future spouse, has a macabre history. To play, you drop egg whites into a clear glass of water and divine the profession of your future spouse.

This innocent game may have played a part in egging on the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s. Young Salem residents (possibly Abigail Williams and her cousin Betty Parris) played Venus Glass with a catastrophic outcome.

One of the girls saw the shape of a coffin and took this to mean that she would die before being married:

“There came up a coffin, that is, a spectre in the likeness of a coffin. And she was afterward followed with diabolical molestations to her death; and so died a single person.”

In any case, soon after the girls began to show symptoms of agitation, struck dumb, limbs flailing and striking unusual postures.  Physician William Griggs was the first to suggest they could be the victims of witchcraft…

Which came first: The chicken or the egg?

Oomantia was often used in ancient times was to predict the gender of an unborn child. According to folklore, you can foretell much about a birth if you roll a hen’s egg of a hen on the tummy of a pregnant woman and then carefully break it onto a saucer. 

For instance, a single yolk indicated the birth of one child while a double yolk would suggest twins. Beware if the egg yolk was streaked with red. That was seen as a bad omen, indicating the possibility of a miscarriage or complications during.

Another more bizarre version of Oomancy involved pregnant women incubating a hen’s egg between their breasts. The chick’s gender would match the unborn child.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, gives an account of this divination in Ancient Rome. According to him, the Roman Empress Livia Drusilla was extremely anxious to know whether her unborn child would be a girl or boy.

She took a hen’s egg and kept it carefully between her hands or her bosom, depending on the version. Eventually, a chick came out sporting a dazzling cockscomb; this meant a male child.

(In fact, it was. He became Emperor Tiberius.)

Oomance is not dead

Source

Here’s an old English superstition: if you’re a girl who wants to see who your true love is, place an egg in front of your fire on a stormy night. As the storm howls, the man you will marry will come through the door and pick up the egg. In an Ozark version, a girl boils and egg and then removes the yolk, filling the core with salt. At bedtime, she eats the salted egg, and dreams about a man bringing her water to salve her thirst. This is her future husband.

Another British tale was popular among sailors. It warns that after you eat a boiled egg, you should always crush up the shells. Otherwise, evil spirits and witches could sail the world snug in the shell cups, and use dark magic to sink entire fleets! 

Some eggs are more equal than others. Owls’ eggs are said to be a cure for alcoholism, when cooked up and fed to someone with a drinking problem. Dirt found under a mockingbird’s egg could heal sore throats. To appease witches in Appalachia, toss a hen’s egg can be tossed on the roof of your house. If a woman throws an egg shell into the fire on May Day and spots blood on the shell, it means her days are numbered.

A seemingly innocent egg when left in the home, will draw all negative energy into itself. This may be why there are rules about disposing of the eggs used in future predictions. Discard the egg in a pot of soil. Take it far away and bury it deep in the earth.

Forgot to get eggs? You can read your future using cheese.

 

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Auto Polo, polo with cars instead of horses, was played until the late 1920s The Lunatic game

Auto Polo or automobile polo was basically horseback polo but replace the horse with horse power. This “lunatic game” was popularized by an car salesman named Ralph “Pappy” Hankinson as a publicity stunt for Ford cars. One of the earliest Auto Polo matches took place in 1902, when polo player Joshua Crane Jr. swung at balls with a mallet – while steering a car with the other hand! “If you don’t die of fright, you’ll laugh yourself to death, “ a fan told the Miami...

Auto Polo or automobile polo was basically horseback polo but replace the horse with horse power. This “lunatic game” was popularized by an car salesman named Ralph “Pappy” Hankinson as a publicity stunt for Ford cars.

  • Auto Polo

One of the earliest Auto Polo matches took place in 1902, when polo player Joshua Crane Jr. swung at balls with a mallet – while steering a car with the other hand!

“If you don’t die of fright, you’ll laugh yourself to death, “ a fan told the Miami News in 1924. “..If you have a weak heart and cannot stand excitement, Auto Polo is a good sport to stay away from.”

Auto Polo

The Auto Polo field was usually about 300 feet long  by 120 wide, with 2 goal areas marked by stakes driven into the ground 15 feet apart at each end. The aim of the game was to dribble your ball past your four-wheeled opponent and wallop it home.

Often, a driver’s strategy on entering the field was to ignore the ball and ram their opponents to flip them over. The unfortunate referee had to dodge vehicles on foot while calling time to allow vehicles to untangle themselves or for the mallet man to reclaim his seat after being ejected.

In 1913, a team from Wichita played for King George. What did he make of the upgrade to the “Game of Kings”? Unfortunately, one does not know. What we do know is that auto polo was so successful that the Wichita team continued on a 2 week tour of Europe. The Auto” magazine reported that the new sport was  ”very impressive” – and hoped it wouldn’t catch on in Britain.

Ralph Hankinson’s team in 1924 reported 538 burst tires, 66 broken axles, 1, 564 broken wheels, 10 cracked engines and 6 cars totally destroyed. The game was so catastrophic that Hankinson patented the first roll bar on the back of the vehicle to prevent players being crushed. Even LLoyds of London wouldn’t insure auto polo players.

By the 1903’s, enthusiasm for the sport had waned, probably due to its ridiculously high cost (to human and car), but also competition from new novelty sports like Auto Rodeo, in which cowboys lassoed and rounded up steers from motor cars.

Perhaps Auto Polo was the inspiration for MarioKart?

Images from Library of Congress on Flickr

 

Sources:

Fox Tossing, Octopus Wrestling and Other Forgotten Sports By Edward Brooke-Hitching

Hidden History of Kansas By Adrian Zink

BEYOND THUNDERDOME: VINTAGE IMAGES OF THE DEATH-DEFYING SPORT KNOWN AS ‘AUTO POLO’

 

 

 

The post Auto Polo, polo with cars instead of horses, was played until the late 1920s <br /><span style='font-size: 18px;'>The Lunatic game</span> appeared first on Interesly.


The first airline stewardesses were all nurses

The first airline stewardesses were all nurses and were called the Sky Girls.     The Sky Girls Airlines weren’t interested in women pilots in 1930. Ellen Church, qualified pilot and nurse, was determined to get into the skies somehow. She pestered Stephen Stimpson, the manager at Boeing Air Transport (predecessor of United Airlines), with her idea of hiring nurses as airline stewardesses. Stimpson had been thinking of hiring young Filipino men as “cabin boys”. Until...

The first airline stewardesses were all nurses and were called the Sky Girls.

 

The Sky girls, airline stewardesses in the 1930s

1930, the first female flight attendants. Source

 

The Sky Girls

Airlines weren’t interested in women pilots in 1930. Ellen Church, qualified pilot and nurse, was determined to get into the skies somehow. She pestered Stephen Stimpson, the manager at Boeing Air Transport (predecessor of United Airlines), with her idea of hiring nurses as airline stewardesses.

Stimpson had been thinking of hiring young Filipino men as “cabin boys”. Until Ellen Church convinced him to hire herself and her 7 hand-picked Sky Girls.

In a memo to his boss Stimpson wrote: “Imagine the national publicity we could get from it and the tremendous effect it would have on the travelling public. Also imagine the value they would have to us, not only in the neater and nicer method of serving food but in looking out for the passengers’ welfare.”

The reply was a curt, one-word reply: “No!” Boeing were concerned that “girls” would interfere with discipline on a plane; pilots scorned “flying nursemaids”. Nevertheless, Stimpson and Church persisted and eventually were granted a three  month trial.

After the trial period, the carrier hired 20 more women, and by 1933, it employed more than 50.

Their jobs were more grit than glamour. Those swirling capes were designed for pockets to hold a spanner and a screwdriver to secure the passengers’ wicker chairs to the floor of the cabin. 

The Sky Girls’ tasks included:

sweeping and dusting cabins

bolting in seats

cleaning lavatories

helping to refuel planes

rolling planes into hangars

restraining passengers from throwing cigarette butts out open windows

swatting flies

keeping passengers from swiping “souvenirs”

watching to make sure no-one mistook the exit for the lavatory

 

In addition, they were expected to entertain bored and frankly terrified customers.

When Delta first hired female flight attendants in 1940, it asked for “Eight Hostesses:  Can you qualify?…Prefer Poise, Personality, Pulchritude.” Not only qualified nurses, they also had to be “knowledgeable about current affairs [and to] carry on an intelligent conversation.”  Keeping up with baseball, notably the Atlanta Crackers, was a plus for job applicants!

But most of all, Airline hostesses had to be attractive, as described in a 1936 New York Times article:

“The girls who qualify for hostesses must be petite; weight 100 to 118 pounds; height 5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches; age 20 to 26 years. Add to that the rigid physical examination each must undergo four times every year, and you are assured of the bloom that goes with perfect health.”

And they must be single. (Apparently, during the initial trial the husband of the one stewardess would persistently telephone and pester Stimpson whenever his wife’s flight was delayed and she was late coming home.)

Some airlines required Sky Girls to sign an agreement not to get married for 18 months. And, naturally, they had to resign when they got married.

Don’t use the lavatories

Airlines weren’t so much in competition with each other in the 1930’s – their big rival was the railroad. The railroad offered security, safety, and comfort, and similar travel times. Airlines even mimicked the railcar in their cabin layout.

For all the airlines did to suggest otherwise, flying was still a risky business. If today’s airline passengers were subject to 1929 air crash rates, seven thousand of them would die every year in the United States alone.

Sky girls carried rail timetables with them in case a plane was grounded. In this case, they were expected to accompany the inconvenienced passenger to the nearest station.

British Airways Empire Class planes in the 1930s came equipped with three fancy flying lavatories, but those in the knew understood that it was better to avoid using them.

Oxygen tank-assisted breathing was common. And sudden drops of altitude in unpressurized planes could rupture one’s eardrums.

Luckily, air sickness bowls were available under each seat.

Stewardesses sometimes left behind

if the plane was too heavy, stewardesses were left behind. Mail was the priority.

At United, Airline stewardesses weren’t allowed to mix with pilots or passengers while off-duty. At Delta, pilots and stewardesses stayed in separate hotels, when on a layover.  Despite all of these constraints, one of United’s original workers, Inez Keller, remembers that pilot’s wives were suspicious:

 

 

Co-pilots, happy to be freed from hosting duties, were more welcoming.

These Sky Girls became an icon in Depression era America, where they were better paid than nurses, teachers, or secretaries.

A whole new genre of novels appeared about bold young women who found liberation in the skies (and love, of course).

If you enjoyed this, you might like reading about the days when airplanes had beds.

Main Sources:

Working the Skies: The Fast-Paced, Disorienting World of the Flight Attendant By Drew Whitelegg

Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants By Kathleen Barry

Hired for Their Looks, Promoted For Their Heroism: The First Flight Attendants by Jennifer Latson

 

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Medieval Tomb Raider: When the Middles Ages were The Wild West for relic theft

The Middle Ages was the wild west for relic theft. Carrying off saints’ bits was so common in the Middle Ages that they called it “furta sacra” (holy theft). Relic Theft Relics MADE the town and brought in pilgrims – and their money. Avid collectors of relics didn’t ask too much questions. When a relic hunter, Felix, stole the remains of a saint from a monastery in Ravena, the buyer (an Archbishop) provided a get-away horse. As they ran low on merchandise, relic...

The Middle Ages was the wild west for relic theft. Carrying off saints’ bits was so common in the Middle Ages that they called it “furta sacra” (holy theft).

The elaborately dressed skeleton of St Valentine can be found in a Cistercian nunnery in Bavaria called Waldassen Abbey. (Photo by Toby de Silva).

Relic Theft

Relics MADE the town and brought in pilgrims – and their money.

Avid collectors of relics didn’t ask too much questions. When a relic hunter, Felix, stole the remains of a saint from a monastery in Ravena, the buyer (an Archbishop) provided a get-away horse.

As they ran low on merchandise, relic dealers often sold the bones of a saint many times over – and not just by dividing it up. Hence the expert’s quip: Some saints have 28 legs”.  In the case of Saint Ursula, one mis-translation and her and “11 virgin-martyr” ladies-in-waiting became “11,000 virgins.” 11,000 virgins made a much better story than 11, and now, according to church records, there are 30 tons of bones displayed all over the world belonging to them.

One church proudly displayed the brain of St. Peter until the relic was accidentally moved and revealed to be a piece of pumice stone.

Nearly 100 accounts of relic theft exist dating from the reign of Charles the Great to the Age of the Crusades. Relics were often burgled by other churches and monasteries.  Far from being ashamed, nuns and meticulously recorded these “liberations” in artwork, manuscripts, and hagiographies (biographies).

The relics had powers, after all —if they didn’t want to be stolen, they wouldn’t allow it.

A typical excuse was used to justify the theft of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter : they were neglected in Rome. It was better that they were “acquired”  to give them the respect and veneration that holy saints deserved.

Reasons to loot saints’ bodies included:

To establish new religious foundations

To outdo rival churches

To channel popular devotion

To focus on a particular saint

To compensate for loss of revenue

To provide protection during political turmoil

The Church canon of  401 demanded that each church altar had to have a relic. A new twist (from 794) was that the relic and any new saints had to be officially recognized by the church. While the church was trying to put a dampener on new saints popping up daily, this caused relics to become scarce luxury commodities.

Ironically, the story of a theft attached to a relic actually increased its value. In fact, having a relic that was stolen became such a popular social tradition that Vézelay falsely claimed their relic was stolen.

Legend has it that when Venetian merchants stole the body of Saint Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria at night, they hid the remains in a cargo box. When Islamic customs officials asked what was in the box, the Venetian merchants wittily responded that they were carrying pork products. The Alexandrians believed them and let the Christians go.

In 1087, The Italian town of Bari commissioned a team of thieves to obtain the remains of Saint Nicolas (that’s Santa Claus to us) from the Turkish town of Myra. The thieves of Santa Claus became famous locally, and for centuries their descendants received a percentage of the offerings given on the saint’s feast day.

Being alive was no protection. The remains of Simon Stylites and Francis of Assisi were eagerly sought after before they were even dead.  There was a real danger of someone murdering an aging holy man in order to acquire his remains, or stealing his body as soon as he was dead.

Here’s an example of a more typical relic theft: A monk named Balgerus is impressed by the relics of Saint Lewinna in an isolated monastery.  He enters the monastery late and night and attempts to take the relic. At first thwarted by the miraculous resistance of the saint, he wins her over by prayer. She agrees to accompany him, and he “liberates” her off to his nearby ship.

Tomb Raider

Deusdona was a famous tomb raider and relic dealer.

A ninth century church deacon or clerk, he may have lived (conveniently for relic theft) near the Basilica of St Peter in Chains.

He made an excellent living stripping relics from the catacombs of Rome, through which he guided clients as well as tourists.

Another notorious relic monger is Felix who’s been recorded selling some of the exact saints as Deusdona.

In Winter, Deusdona and his associates raided relics from one of the Roman cemeteries. They focused on a different area of the city each year, probably to avoid trouble.

If buyers couldn’t come to Rome, Deusdona went to them, with a few grisly samples- arms, cheek bones, toes – and a list of what was available. (A kind of catalogue of bones.) He also did the rounds of Monastic fairs, and has been compared to a contemporary art dealer travelling to Art Basel, FIAC, or Frieze. He even timed his travels to coincide with important saint’s feast days at their customers’ monasteries.

Deusdona supplied the bodies of the saints Peter, Marcellinus and Hermes to Einhard, who was a major relic-collector in the court of Charlemagne. For a monk named Theotmar, he sourced saints Alexander, Sebastian, Fabian, Urban, Felicissimus, Felicity, Emmerentina and others.

Michael Spring has written a very entertaining (fictional) novel based on the life of Deusdona. In “Sacred Bones”, he’s portrayed as a kind of lovable rogue :

 

“Abbots and emperors, with their insatiable lust for relics and their blind, superstitious faith in bones and sacred dust, bought virtually everything I offered them: Matthew’s earlobe, John’s kneecap, Mary’s nose…. It didn’t hurt that I was a Roman citizen in the employ of the Church. It gave me a competitive edge.”

 

And if the bones Deusdona passes off as the brittle finger of Saint Ursula is actually the tail joint of a catacomb rodent, what really matters is the buyer’s faith that the holy remains will bless his church.

If you enjoyed this, you might try St. Guinefort, the strangest Medieval Saint.

 

Sources/Links:

Skulls and Skeletons: Human Bone Collections and Accumulations

By Christine Quigley

Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages – Revised Edition

By Patrick J. Geary

Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages

By Patrick J. Geary

BONES OF CONTENTION:
THE JUSTIFICATIONS FOR RELIC THEFTS IN THE MIDDLE AGES

by Gina Kathleen Burke

The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective

edited by Arjun Appadurai

The Business of Bones: Relic Trafficking in the Middle Ages

by D. Manns in Atlas Obscura

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Dangerous and Insane – Tea drinking in the 19th century You won't, you won't, you won't

  In the 19th century, tea drinking was regarded as reckless, uncontrollable and a waste of precious time for poor women in Great Britain and Ireland. The tea habit The habit spread quickly during the 1870s and 1880s. Nurses, female pupils and ward maids at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin were allowed 4 ounces of tea a week in 1883. That’s roughly 2 gallons a week: more than 70 cups a week, or 10 cups a day. Dr. Charles Brown complained about “the abuse of tea” in Ireland and England....

 

ladies drinking tea 19th century

In the 19th century, tea drinking was regarded as reckless, uncontrollable and a waste of precious time for poor women in Great Britain and Ireland.

The tea habit

The habit spread quickly during the 1870s and 1880s. Nurses, female pupils and ward maids at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin were allowed 4 ounces of tea a week in 1883. That’s roughly 2 gallons a week: more than 70 cups a week, or 10 cups a day.

Dr. Charles Brown complained about “the abuse of tea” in Ireland and England. Not only was the amount being consumed alarming, the usually stewed or overdrawn beverage was “far from wholesome”.

The medical profession blamed this over stewing  for many ailments:

“Much of the anemia, dyspepsia, and gastric derangement a doctor sees in hospital and dispensary practice chiefly amongst young women and very often children is a result of this pernicious tea drinking habit”.

While the Inspectors of Lunatics (1894) named excessive use of tea as a contributor to insanity, Browne himself was more inclined to blame whiskey. Other thought that tea was the new gin.

Tea and The Chambers of Death

John Wesley, founding father of Methodism, became a tea-totaller in 1746, after observing that the nerves of the the London poor were “all unstrung, bodily Strength quite decayed”. As an alternative beverage, he recommended “small” (weak) beer.

He wasn’t alone on recommending beer. William Cobbett pointed out in his “Cottage Economy” that beer is much cheaper than tea, and “suitable for all except the youngest child”. He recommends five quarts a day (just over a pint) as sufficient for all “except drunkards”.

In Wesley’s “Primitive Physick”, he clearly states that “coffee and tea are extremely hurtful to Persons who have weak nerves”. He warned a friend in “A letter to a friend on concerning Tea” in 1748 that “when you drink tea it has brought you near the chambers of death”. In his talks, he even counsels abstainers on how to politely refuse a cup. One wonders how many listened!

Eventually, Wesley changed his mind on the cuppa, and began using it as a weapon in his battle for temperance.

So relieved was Josiah Wedgwood that he presented Wesley with the (then) largest teapot in the world, able to hold a gallon-worth (Sufficient for even a Dublin nurse for half a week!).

 

The Queen and The Duke

In 1699, John Ovington, Chaplin to William III, advised Queen Mary that tea was a universal cure for everything from “gravel [to] vertigo” to “nauseous humours that offend the stomach”.

Perhaps what really won over Queen Mary was the notion that the brew “reconciles men to sobriety”, “changing the beast into man”.

The Duke of Wellington liked to drink tea from a Wedgwood teapot during his battles, because it kept is head clear. His traveling canteen includes plates and serving dishes, beakers and tumblers, knives and spoons – and a silver tea set.

He wrote that whilst planning the [Spanish] Battle of Salamanca, “Tea cleared my head and left me with no misapprehensions.”

For the upper classes, tea didn’t pose a danger to their time or money.

Death by Tea

One argument was that an excess of hot drinks caused the blood and insides to heat up. This excess of Heat was even claimed to be the most “common cause of sickness and death’. Dr. Daniel Duncan in “Wholesome Advice against the abuse of hot liquors” (1706) pointed to Methuselah as an example : he never drank hot liquors and lived to be a thousand years. Hot-tempered Rachel of Bible fame took years to conceive – because hot liquors overheat the womb.

The Quaker,John Lettsom, believed that a steaming brew had its good and bad points. He relates a story about an eminent tea-broker, a Mr. Marsh, who after sniffing one hundred chests of tea, suffers from giddiness, headache, spasms, loss of memory, and speech. Listed cause of death was “effluvia of tea”. In a similar case, the patient was bled and electrified, but still died. Lettsom granted that it may have been the shocks (“directed through his head”) that killed him.

In “An essay on tea”, the author whips himself into a frenzy about addicted nurses putting their charges in danger. I’ll leave this one to steep with you:

 

 

If you like this, you might enjoy reading about the everyday things that could get you thrown into a lunatic asylum in the 18th century, including drinking tea.

 

All interspersed quotes are from “An essay on tea : considered as pernicious to health, obstructing industry, and impoverishing the nation : with a short account of its growth, and great consumption in these kingdoms : with several political reflections : in twenty-five letters addressed to two ladies / [H*****].” The full text is digitised online here.

Other Sources:

Tea: A Very British Beverage

By Paul Chrystal

Feast and Famine: Food and Nutrition in Ireland 1500-1920

by Leslie Clarkson, Margaret Crawford

The Irish Times: A history of Irish lunacy: inter-marriage, tea-drinking and eating potatoes

The post Dangerous and Insane – Tea drinking in the 19th century <br /><span style='font-size: 18px;'>You won't, you won't, you won't </span> appeared first on Interesly.


Saint Bearded Lady – the Medieval female saint with the beard It's hard out there for a bearded virgin.

The cult of a bearded female saint called Wilgefortis once nearly rivaled that of the Virgin Mary. Wilgefortis was often depicted as a Portuguese, sometimes septuplet, princess distinguished by a large beard. In the legend, the beard (and possibly body hair) grew overnight. Wilgefortis, who had taken a vow of perpetual virginity, prayed God to disfigure her to repulse a potential husband. This indeed disinclined the groom to marry, but disposed her father to crucify her. She is the patron saint...

The cult of a bearded female saint called Wilgefortis once nearly rivaled that of the Virgin Mary.

German image of St Wilgefortis. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

German image of St Wilgefortis. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Wilgefortis was often depicted as a Portuguese, sometimes septuplet, princess distinguished by a large beard. In the legend, the beard (and possibly body hair) grew overnight.

Wilgefortis, who had taken a vow of perpetual virginity, prayed God to disfigure her to repulse a potential husband. This indeed disinclined the groom to marry, but disposed her father to crucify her.

She is the patron saint of monsters, people who suffered from deformities, and women seeking refuge from abusive husbands. Not to mention the patron saint of facial hair.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describe her as “a fabulous female saint known also as UNCUMBER, KUMMERNIS, KOMINA, COMERA, CUMERANA, HULFE, ONTCOMMENE, ONTCOMMER, DIGNEFORTIS, EUTROPIA, REGINFLEDIS, LIVRADE, LIBERATA, etc.”

According to David Williams, author of Deformed Discourse, those chapels where her image was found sometimes had mysterious underground passages associated with them.

Darker Legend

This statue is in Westminster Abbey in London, in the Henry VII Lady Chapel. Source

In darker versions of the Wilgefortis legend , it’s her own father who wishes to marry Wilgefortis. A Benedictine monk identified her as a maiden “whose father desired to marry her, intending to force her; but God heard her prayer and transformed her female figure into that of a man so that she developed, overnight, hair and beard, and looked like a man.”

Texts in 1651 and 1712 also mention incest in the Wilgefortis story.

Only recently have we learned to associate Hirsutism with either psychological (traumatic stress) or medical (hormonal imbalances) causes.

Yet legends of the past often linked Hirsutism with traumatizing incidents of rape, incest or torture.

How deep did Wilgefortis’s significance to other abused women go? In 1678, an Augsburg Jesuit Benigius Kybler says that her image could be found “in almost every church.”

A statue of her even stands in the Henry VII chapel in Westminster.

Miraculous Beards

AN EARLY ILLUSTRATION OF SAINT WILGEFORTIS.

AN EARLY ILLUSTRATION OF SAINT WILGEFORTIS. Source.

In Medieval times, miraculous beards like Wilgefortis were seen as divine gifts. Not only did they protect the female’s virginity, they made her look more like (the bearded) Christ. Wilgefortis was not the only female saint to be so lucky : St. Paula of Avila and St. Galla of Rome were described as being bearded. St. Agnes was apparently able to cloak her entire body in hair; St. Mary Magdalene and St. Mary of Egypt were said to have sprouted wooly body hair.

The Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut (ruled 1490 – 1470 BC) is often pictured as wearing a ceremonial beard attached to her chin. She also insisted on being called “His Majesty” and declared herself the “son” of the Sun God Ra.

In ancient times, a beard symbolized virility and power and was often included in depictions of certain androgynous, and even female, deities.

Uncumber me

As late as the 19th century, women prayed to Wilgefortis for children and “as a source of fertility,” writes Williams. “As a sign of this, votives in the form of a toad were hung under her image.”

On the other hand, they appealed to her to be rid of old,abusive, or impotent husbands. Thus her French name “Debarras”  was inspired by the prayer “Debarrase-moi de ca”, or across the channel “Uncumber me of this.”

By 1529 Sir Thomas More was accusing English women of changing Wilgefortis’s name to Uncumber “bycawse they teken that…she wyll not fayle to uncumber them of theyr husbondis.”

During the reformation, shrines to Wilgefortis were despoiled, including images of her in St. Pauls in 1538.

Before the Church removed her commemoration in ’69, July 20 was her feast day.

Who is this bearded woman?

Dr. Andrea D. Hawkes Micropaleontologis University of North Carolina Wilmington. Source

One theory about Wilgefortis is that the Medieval carving of Volto Santo of Lucca puzzled Northern Christians. It shows a a tunic-wearing, androgynous, crucified Christ. They asked: “Just who is this bearded woman and why was she crucified?” Somehow, the Wilgefortis legend was born.

The legend’s certainly not forgotten.

The Bearded Lady Project started out as a joke between paleontologist Ellen Currano, film director and producer Lexi Jamieson Marsh. Wouldn’t working life be easier with a beard? Paleontology idolizes large, grizzled or bearded men wielding large pickaxes, and moving boulders. On reflection, the joke turned real.

They traveled across the US and UK interviewing female paleontologists and, of course, taking portraits of scientists in the wild – with wild beards.

Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens mentions St. Wilgefortis:

“According to legend, Beryl was a young woman who was betrothed against her will to a pagan, Prince Casimir. On their wedding night she prayed to the Lord to intercede, vaguely expecting a miraculous beard to appear, and she had in fact already laid in a small ivory-handled razor, suitable for ladies, against this very eventuality; instead the Lord granted Beryl the miraculous ability to chatter continually about whatever was on her mind, however inconsequential, without pause for breath or food.”

You could also try the comic Castle Waiting. It’s mostly set in a Nunnery dedicated to St. Wigglefarts. All the Nuns have Beards.

Or just buy the t-shirt. You can get the Saint Wilgefortis Gender Equality and Protection T-shirt at Amazon.

However Wilgefortis came about, turns out she was the Saint women wanted and needed.

If you enjoyed this you might like the story of Saint Guinefort, who was both a Medieval Saint and a dog.

Sources:

“Beards” – The Paris Review

“The Tale of the Toad and The Female Bearded Saint” – Atlas Obscura

“Deformed Discourse”  by David Williams

The post Saint Bearded Lady – the Medieval female saint with the beard <br /><span style='font-size: 18px;'>It's hard out there for a bearded virgin.</span> appeared first on Interesly.


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