Total Pageviews

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Gingerbread was brought to Europe by an Armenian Monk. Whaaat?

The following blurb is copied from Wikipedia.  Another thing we Armenians can brag about. 

Gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 by the Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis (Gregory Makar) (Grégoire de Nicopolis). He left Nicopolis Pompeii, to live in Bondaroy (France), near the town of Pithiviers. He stayed there 7 years, and taught the Gingerbread cooking to French priests and Christians. He died in 999.[1][2][3]During the 13th century, it was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. Early references from the Vadstena Abbey show how the Swedish nuns were baking gingerbread to ease indigestion in 1444.[4] It was the custom to bake white biscuits and paint them as windowdecorations.
The first documented trade of gingerbread biscuits dates to the 17th century[citation needed], where they were sold in monasteries, pharmacies and town square farmers' markets. One hundred years later the town of Market Drayton in ShropshireUK became known for its gingerbread, as is proudly displayed on their town's welcome sign. The first recorded mention of gingerbread being baked in the town dates back to 1793; however, it was probably made earlier, as ginger was stocked in high street businesses from the 1640s. Gingerbread became widely available in the 18th century.

Originally, the term gingerbread (from Latin zingiber via Old French gingebras) referred to preserved ginger. It then referred to a confection made with honey and spicesGingerbread is often used to translate the French term pain d'épices (literally "spice bread") or the German term Lebkuchen (bread of life, literally: cake of life) or Pfefferkuchen (pepperbread, literally: pepper cake). The term Lebkuchen is unspecified in the German language. It can mean Leben (life) or Laib (loaf), while the last term comes from the wide range of spices used in this product.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

"Saint Agnes's Eve" – January 20 – St Agnes, Patron of LOVE for Catholics – St Sargis Patron of LOVE for Armenians

The  night of January 20 is "Saint Agnes's Eve", which in Europe is regarded as a time when a young woman dreams of her future husband. In Armenian tradition we have a similar night about which, last February, I wrote on my blog. 

This superstition has been immortalized in John Keats's poem written in 1819 – "The Eve of Saint Agnes".  

St. Agnes, the patron saint of virgins, died a martyr in 4th century Rome. The eve falls on January 20; the feast day is on the 21st.  

According to tradition, Saint Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility born circa 291 and raised in a Christian family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian on 21 January 304.

Here is the story.  
(When you're done reading the story of St. Agnes continue to read about a similar tradition in Armenian culture)

On the twenty-first of January in what is customarily believed to be the year 304 A.D., a thirteen-year-old Christian girl, Agnes of Rome, was martyred when she refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods and lose her virginity by rape. She was tortured, and though several men offered themselves to her in marriage, either in lust or in pity ("Catholic Forum"), she still refused to surrender her viriginity, claiming that Christ was her only husband. She was either beheaded and burned or stabbed (sources vary), and buried beside the Via Nomentata in Rome. She became the patron saint of virgins, betrothed couples, and chastity in general, and iconographers almost always represent her with a lamb, which signifies her virginity. The eve of her feast day, January 20th, became in European folklore a day when girls could practice certain divinatory rituals before they went to bed in order to see their future husbands in their dreams. Fifteen hundred years after her death, St. Agnes' Eve would translate itself into one of the richest and most vivid literary and artistic themes in John Keats' poem. 

(John Keats has been my favorite English poet – In my Romantic years, eons ago. I was obsessed with Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn.") – 

The Catholic Encyclopedia says: Of all the virgin martyrs of Rome none was held in such high honour by the primitive church, since the fourth century, as St. Agnes.

The following story on Armenian Saint, the patron of LOVE.


             We Armenians have our own patron of LOVE, and he is Sourp (Saint) Sargis. The origins of the beautiful legend of Sourp Sargis are unknown, but this legend has made him the most popular saint for Armenians.

             There are a few different versions of the Sourp Sargis tale. I like the one which portrays St. Sargis or "Sergius" as a Roman commander a miracle worker whose army of 40 soldiers defeated an enemy of 10,000.

             According to the legend, after the great feast to celebrate their victory, all forty soldiers and St Sargis himself were tricked and intoxicated by a "ruler" who then asked forty damsels to thrust sharp daggers into the hearts of sleeping young men and kill them (and we complain of violence in today’s movies!). Just one of the girls, enchanted by the beauty of Sargis, disobeys the order and instead of killing St. Sargis, she kisses him. Sargis awakes, and distraught by what he sees, he jumps on his white horse, not forgetting his savior (of course), and dashes away while a powerful storm rages outside...

             Since then, a rider on a white horse has become the symbol of love in Armenian culture. The holiday of Saint Sargis doesn't fall on a specific date, but is tied to the calendar in a similar fashion as Easter. It always falls on a Saturday, usually during the first week of February. It is believed that the night before St. Sargis Day is the coldest night of the year. That superstition was certainly true in Tehran as I was growing up, but it is not always true in Southern California.

              There is an interesting tradition in Armenian culture (same as European) connected to St. Sargis day. On the evening before the holiday, unmarried girls and guys pray to the saint, asking for his help in their love affairs. Before they go to bed they eat a special salty cake with no other food or drink, so that in their dreams they will see their destined lover or their future spouse giving them water.

              My mother remembers one night when she had not yet met my Dad. On the Friday of Sourp Sarkis, after her aunt made her eat the salty cake, she dreamed that she was at work. She used to work at the Iranian National Railroad as a draftswoman. In Iran, at work places it was customary to have a guy to serve tea to workers. Mom dreamed that she was very thirsty and she asked the guy in charge of the teahouse to give her water.

              The following morning her aunt asked her if she had had a dream. She answered that she had seen Mammy (the guy at the teahouse) giving her a glass of water. Little did my mother know that she would meet my Dad at her office and they would get married. At the age of 92, she still remembered the glass full of clear water that Mammy gave her in her dream.

              My Sourp Sargis dream came to me a few years before I met my husband. In my dream I was in a store and I was negotiating with the owner of the store, who was a young guy. When I told my dream to my mom the next morning she said maybe you'll meet a young businessman and marry him. That's what happened! I met the most ambitious guy who at age 21 had his own advertising business.

              When I was raising my own family here in America (as we say "Odar aperoom" on foreign shores), I was somehow distracted by daily challenges and never told my daughters about the tradition of Sourp Sargis. So they never had significant dreams foretelling their future husbands.

              In Armenia it is acceptable to celebrate the Feast of St. Sargis not only according to church rites and prayer, but also according to various folk traditions. This year the holiday fell on February 4, and I was lucky to find a clip on the Internet showing a reenactment of the legend outside of the Sourp Sarkis church in Yerevan. At the end of the ceremony, which included dances and a play, a young guy dressed in costume as the Saint, rode on his white horse. The audience, parents and youngsters, were outside of the church watching the play. They were all bundled in warm clothes from head to toe.

              Don't you think, there must be a connection between all these traditions? The Armenian Saint Sargis, the American St. Valentine and St. Agnes. Another version of the legend tells that St. Sargis same way as St. Valentine was martyred by an Iranian king.  And isn't that interesting that all of those holidays fall in the dead of the winter? You be the judge...