St. Merida?

There are two names at issue here. One is Merida without an accent mark, as in the Disney/Pixar movie, Brave. The other is Mérida with an accent mark, as in the cities in Spain and Mexico.

So let’s look at them both. Are they okay as Christian baptismal names? Are there patron saints associated with them? What name day would you celebrate?

Let’s start with the newer one.

The Disney/Pixar Scottish princess, “Merida,” has (in some ways) a totally new name. Like Fiona and other names from literary sources, it’s not Scottish Gaelic (or it wasn’t, until now). If you give your daughter this name today, everybody is going to know that it’s a Disney princess name.

However. Disney/Pixar production sources have revealed that she was originally going to be named Mairghread, Mhairghread, or Mairead, all of which are Gaelic forms of the name “Margaret.” Staff decided that all those forms were too long, too hard to remember, or too weird to pronounce, so they coined the name “Merida” instead.

This is not a totally implausible form of Margaret for a native early medieval Gaelic speaker to come up with, especially as a diminutive form, baby mispronunciation, or nickname. Just as people got away with “Fiona” because it was similar to “Fionna,” it is likely that “Merida” will become a pretty normal form of “Margaret” in Scotland and around the world. So it’s not a bad name, and you can definitely use it as a baptismal name. (Might be better to call the girl Margaret and just use Merida as a nickname. Heck, she might turn out to be more of a a Meg or Peg or Margita, for all you know.)

You are spoiled for choice, when it comes to patron saints. There are a lot of St. Margarets, all around the world. The name means “pearl,” and is associated with the “pearl of great price” parable.

The most famous is the original St. Margaret, an early Christian martyr from Antioch in Pisidia (today’s Antakya, Turkey), who is also known as “St. Marina the Great” in the East. Legend shows her slaying a dragon with her Bible. Her feast is July 17 or July 20.

In Scotland, however, the most famous St. Margaret is St. Margaret of Scotland, the Scottish queen who helped the poor and raised good kings. She was a Saxon princess from England. Her branch of the family fled to Hungary to escape royal displeasure, and was later invited back by the saintly King Edward the Confessor. She was then sent north to Scotland to marry their king and bring peace, which she did. Unfortunately, William the Conqueror showed up pretty soon afterward… but hey, she did her part. Anyway, three of her sons were known for being good men and good kings, and that’s a pretty good record. But people really loved her because she helped the poor, acting as both a generous queen and a humble Catholic woman. Her feast day was June 10 (the translation of her relics and a nicer day for Scottish festivals), but has been moved to her death day of November 16 on the new calendar (so people can freeze instead of celebrating, I guess).

There must be something in the water in Hungary. A lot of pious queens have lived there.

Now for the Spanish Mérida!

Mérida with an accent mark is the name of the city of Mérida, Spain. It is also the name of a colonial city in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and a lot of folks with Mexican family are being named after that city.

“Mérida” comes from the old Latin name of the Spanish city, Emerita Augusta. The colonia city of Emerita Augusta was founded in 25 BC by the Emperor Augustus, as a home for retired (“emeriti”) legionaries. However, the feminine form of the name means that it is named for the Empress (“Augusta”) Livia Drusilla, aka Julia Augusta. In this context, and since she wasn’t retired, “Emerita” would mean something like “deserving woman” or “woman of merit.”

There were many land grant cities like this, typically created or enlarged, and with the soldiers given farmland all around in the surrounding countryside. Sometimes these were in undeveloped areas; sometimes they were an attempt to beef up Roman garrisons with a loyal and well-armed citizenry. Emerita Augusta was settled by members of the 10th Gemina and the 5th Alaude Legions, two legions which had done a lot of fighting in the area. (Guys from XX Valeria Victrix may have settled there, too.) Even today, Mérida boasts a huge Roman bridge and a really big Roman theater, as well as a lot of other Roman things.

Mérida in the Yucatan was settled by Spanish people from the Spanish Mérida, and it apparently is a very lovely and historic place.

So who is the patron saint for this kind of Mérida?

Obviously, St. Eulalia of Mérida (the patron saint of Mérida, Spain) has a pretty good claim, especially with all the Catholics naming kids “Siena” after St. Catherine of Siena. St. Eulalia was an early Christian virgin martyr, under the Emperor Diocletian. She was eager to be martyred and got her wish despite her youth, being burned alive. Her corpse was exposed to be eaten by birds, but a timely snowfall kept her body safe and uncorrupted until Christians could spirit it away. Her feast day is December 10.

However, there is also a very early St. Emerita or Emerentiana, who was the sister of an early Christian king in Britain, St. Lucius. She is listed in catalogs of Welsh saints. Some say she just lived out a holy life in Gloucester or Glastonbury. Others say that St. Lucius resigned his throne and went off with her as missionaries to Switzerland, where they became martyrs. (Diane Duane uses this story in her Rhaetian Tales.) Her feast day is May 26 or December 3.

The most famous St. Emerentiana is the one in Rome who was the foster sister of St. Agnes. She was a still-unbaptized catechumen when she was stoned to death by pagans, after being discovered in the act of praying at St. Agnes’ tomb. Her feast is January 23.

So if you want to use either “Merida” or “Mérida” as a baptismal name, you have a pretty good argument.

And if you are already named “Mérida,” you have some awesome patron saints and name days to choose from.

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Yup, Still Alive

I was sick for about six weeks with that thing that’s going around, mostly because we were understaffed at work and I was thus unable to take sick days or get much rest. So I think I have a good excuse for not keeping up with the blog. Or calling anyone. Or doing much of anything.

However, I did have one very fun time during my recuperation period. I got to get off from work and go to a little bit of Marcon, in pursuit of publicity for my brother Kevin’s book, The Sculpted Ship. Marcon isn’t as overly crowded these days, to the point that I am worried about it; but it has a very pleasant atmosphere and the company is good. (At least for the few hours I was there.)

I also visited Blessed Margaret of Castello’s shrine up in Columbus, which is quite close to the convention center, and prayed for a friend who is getting big foot surgery this month. (Please pray for her too. The first surgery was successful, but they’re doing the other leg next.)

I am trying to get all the way well, and I mean to write more stuff.

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Boy Detective Day!

Today’s daily Mass readings include almost an entire chapter of the Book of Daniel — the exciting story of Susanna and the Elders!

Susanna is the gorgeous and pious young wife of Joachim, a rich Jewish man even in Babylon. Joachim holds open house for the elders of the community, but they repay his hospitality by lusting for his wife. They plot to surprise her alone in her garden while her husband is not home, then extort her into sleeping with them.

St. Susanna refuses, reasoning that it is better to be threatened by men than to do wrong before God. She screams for help. (Thus claiming legal protection and refusal to go along.) The elders double down when help comes, and claim that they saw her committing adultery under a tree. (The classic Bible prostitution as pagan worship scenario.) Acting as false judges, they order her to be stoned to death.

And then, who should speak up but young Daniel, a little boy, sent by God to prove Susanna’s innocence?

To make a long story short, Daniel persuades the crowd to separate the elders and take their testimony separately. He asks them each about what kind of tree Susanna was under, when they saw her doing the hanky-panky. Each one answers quickly and definitely — but one says it was a mastic tree, while other says it was an oak.

St. Susanna is saved, and the elders are punished instead. God has judged the matter fairly, through the wit and wisdom of the boy Daniel.

This shows the close Biblical relationship between prophecy and judgment.

You also get a comparison with the Gospel reading with Jesus saving the woman caught in adultery. She really was guilty, but Jesus judged that she should receive mercy and that the crowd be forced to judge themselves guilty. In each case, only a few words are needed to show the truth.

The Lord God is a sleuth of minds and hearts. He walked down those mean streets, but was not Himself mean. He is the Mystery with the ultimate happy ending.

But He is also the stern just Judge, Who will make sure that the wicked get what’s coming to them. Maybe not the ones we assume, maybe not the way we think, but soon and forever.

May You count us among Your clients, O Great Detective.

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TV to Adapt Japanese Light Novels about Vatican Investigators

Yes, my children, it’s that time again. It’s time to enjoy or shudder at the Japanese pop culture idea of Catholicism!

Anime company J.C. Staff is making a Gothic/horror/mystery anime called Vatican Miracle Investigators (Bachikan Kiseki Chousakan).

Behold. There is a trailer.

Fr. Joseph Kou Hiraga is a brilliant scientist. Fr. Roberto Nicholas is an expert in archives, paleography, and codes. Together, they investigate miracles!

(Yeah, that’s not how priests usually look. Albeit priests sent to the Vatican to study for the Vatican diplomatic service often are attractively presentable.)

To be fair, they are giving these guys some interesting features. Fr. Hiraga has a twelve year old brother with terminal bone cancer. (Ow.) Fr. Nicholas the archives researcher is an Italian bon vivant, as opposed to the more serious Fr. Hiraga.

The light novels by Rin Fujiki have been running since 2007, so there should be plenty of backstory to work with.

So yeah, it’s gonna be a doozy. Coming this July to a computer screen near you!

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Awesome Churchill Deal!

If you like Winston Churchill, you may know that he also wrote history books.

You may not know that, during his “exile” years between the wars, Churchill wrote Marlborough: His Life and Times, a four volume biography of his famous ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. It is extremely informative on a wide range of subjects and a broad expanse of English and European history. You meet royal mistresses and Puritan widows, D’Artagnan, the Duke of Monmouth, and all manner of other people of note. You meet the original Winston Churchill and find out about his descent from a blacksmith who married well. You also hear from Marlborough’s redoubtable wife Sarah, a woman of strong opinions who, in old age, talked back to the historians.

But you also see our Churchill being quite open about drawing comfort from the lessons of history. He celebrates the stubborn persistence of John Churchill in the long years of disappointment after early success, and his readiness to respond to his country’s need after all that time. He draws parallels between WWI and the various messy European wars, often fought at the same messy places. He describes Marlborough’s long changeover from hardcore Tory to Whig. Finally, he points out that you don’t become the winningest general in a big swath of history by being lazy or an idiot.  (Throughout the entire book, he conducts a big feud against Macaulay on this point. Yeah, it is family pride, but backed up with documentation.)

By defending Marlborough, Churchill seems to work off some of his ire against his own critics. But he also seems to measure himself pretty sternly against his peers in the past, along with all of modern times. In short, it is the old concept of history as a mirror or a yardstick, but Churchill’s use of it is a little more naked to our eye than Tacitus or other great historians.

We sometimes forget that Churchill was a socialist of sorts. His blended admiration of France under the Sun King as collectivist, and hatred of it as anti-liberty, will strike you as weird. This is balanced by his Whig/Protestant view of history, which is equal parts old-fashioned and wrongheaded, but also very devout and sincere. Finally, his defense of some of Marlborough’s less glorious moments is downright eyeroll-worthy. “Betraying the king while you live under his roof is totally justified if your heart is pure.” Sure, Churchill, just keep telling yourself that.

(After hearing this detailed account of the work done before the “Glorious Revolution,” I don’t want to hear anybody from the UK talking about the American Revolution as treacherous. Our folks were extremely open and aboveboard about their actions. The lords who threw the Glorious Revolution were snakes.)

OTOH, you really can’t beat a Parliament politician’s insider ideas about Parliament’s history of wheeling and dealing. If he’s wrong about this stuff, it’s a very knowledgeable way of being wrong. You also learn a great deal about his sources for writing about Marlborough and his contemporaries. He is excellent at using period sources to make his portrait of Marlborough more accurate and more human, and he delights in the odd coincidences and fun bits of history.

You won’t be sorry if you get this book. You may spend large parts of some chapters having to listen to the book somewhere that you can growl back at Churchill, but you won’t lose by it.

If you already subscribe to Audible, you can get all four volumes of Marlborough: His Life and Times for one credit. That’s 81 hours, folks.

The downside of the audiobook is that you do not get footnotes.

The upside is that the narrator does a really good job with Churchillian prose, without being super-blatant about the fact he is doing a Churchill imitation.

So consider checking it out.

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The Green Dragon on Pub Signs

If you see an English pub name that consists of an animal and a color, it usually has something to do with heraldry. If it’s not a modern name that somebody pulled out of his butt, then the original namegiver was usually expressing his loyalty to his local lord, or to a hero he supported, or to the king. It was often a sign of what kind of customers he wanted to attract.

“The Green Dragon” has long been a popular pub name in the UK. A few years back, one newspaper counted 41 Green Dragons. Tolkien also gave the name to the inn in Bywater where Sam often resorted, which made it a popular name around the world. And of course, Americans should know that Boston’s Green Dragon was one of the cradles of the American Revolution, the favorite tavern of people like Paul Revere.

Now, mind you, there was a Masonic lodge that met in an upstairs room in the Green Dragon. So I recently read a paranoid author not just complain about the role of Freemasonry among the Founding Fathers (which was justified), but claim that the Green Dragon was a sign that the pub was dedicated to Satan.

Arrrrrgh.

As I have pointed out before, there are a lot of English, Scottish, and Irish heraldic associations with dragons. Arthur Pendragon and the Red Dragon of Wales were symbols of the good guys, associated textually with Mordecai’s dream vision of himself in one version of the Greek Book of Esther, as a good guy dragon/snake fighting the evil dragon/snake of Haman. Dragons were a symbol of heroic and fierce fighters, as well as the Roman imperial cavalry. They were also borne in arms by those whose ancestors had legendarily slain dragons, or in places where dragons had legendarily dwelt.

The usual explanation for the Green Dragon name was that pub owners were showing support for the Earl of Pembroke and his family, the Herberts. The green dragon was not his arms, but it was his livery badge (along with a bloody arm usually being eaten by the dragon – sadly I have found no pictures of this!). Pembroke had supported Henry VIII and his son Edward. After a lot of stuff happened, he had supported Queen Mary’s right to rule over the pretensions of Lady Jane Grey. He supported Elizabeth too. Pembroke held extensive lands both in Wales and in England.

But there were other heraldic green dragons. The Maules of Scotland have a green dragon, emitting flames before and behind. (From the tip of the dragon’s curly tail, not in a farting way.) The Ely/O’Neylan O’Carrolls bear a green dragon spitting flame in a more conventional manner. More relevant to Tolkien, the Tames of Oxfordshire bear a green dragon, which is part of the joke behind his fun little story, Farmer Giles of Ham.

Some have suggested that later Green Dragons may have been subtly expressing support for King Charles II’s Catholic queen, Catherine of Braganza. She bore her family’s badge, the Green Wyvern. After the restrictions of Cromwell’s time, a lot of pub signs honored Charles II; so honor to his queen would not have been surprising.

In Boston, the tavern was founded in 1657 and had an elaborate copper sign shaped like a dragon. Of course within a few days it had oxidized green, so it was obviously a Green Dragon.

Not particularly Satanic, guys. (And it’s an awful idea for any Tolkien fan to swallow.)

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Pea Butter and Medieval Lent

In the 1995 book The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, Terence Scully apparently talks a lot about how European medievals coped with Lent. Back then, we Latin Catholics had the same tough fasting regulations as Eastern Catholics do. In other words, it was forty days without milk, butter, lard, or eggs, as well as without meat.

It is well known that medieval cooks used almond milk as a dairy substitute.

What Scully points out is that there was also a butter substitute, and it wasn’t olive oil. (Olive oil was used more like shortening, at least by Northern European cooks who usually stuck to butter.)

The butter substitute was “pea-paste,” also known as “pea butter.” It was so common that medieval cookbooks don’t even bother to tell you how to make it. You already knew. And even peasants could afford pea butter. Food historians were a bit mystified.

Cut to modern times. Apparently the techie foodies have rediscovered pea butter. (Of course they do it with a centrifuge running for hours, but the medieval peasant version wouldn’t have been quite so pure and perfection-happy. It was probably more like pea guacamole.)

How do you make it?

First, take peas, preferably nice sweet green spring peas. (Fresh or frozen, or possibly dried and reconstituted if you’re medieval and the spring peas haven’t sprouted yet. The foodies say it actually works better with frozen peas.)

Mash and beat the heck out of the peas, or stick them in your blender. (Or your centrifuge, in which case you should add water.)

Strain out the pea solids, like the skins, and the pea juices that are too sloppy. (Or watch them magically separate in your centrifuge.)

Everything else is pea butter.You can eat it on bread, or even cook with it to a limited extent. (Obviously it will burn a lot faster than real butter.)

(And if you don’t feel like straining out the skins, I guess you don’t have to; it will be tasty pease-camole. But it might be a lot more spreadable if you get out the cheesecloth. Medieval cooks loved straining things, I’m telling you.)

So… if you are an Eastern Catholic who wants to get in touch with your European side, or if you are a Latin/Roman Rite Catholic with kids or a blender that need occupation, you can make pea butter for Lent. Or just for spring yumminess.

If you don’t like green butter or you’d rather not get out the blender/minions, here’s a modern recipe for a peanut butter substitute, a “roasted pea butter” made with yellow peas. It seems pretty simple. The agave would definitely make it sticky like peanut butter. (But then, so would sugar.)

Not to be confused with butter peas, which I think are a New World vegetable.

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