What’s in a name?

Portiuncula Chapel Assisi

Portiuncula Chapel Assisi

On this day in the year 1781 a group of Spaniards founded the settlement they called  El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula.  As the name of a small village it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.  It took longer to say the name of the village than it took to ride through it on a horse.

Over the years the village grew and the name got shorter.  It became the city of Los Angeles.  At this stage it is a huge metropolis and the name has contracted further so that most of us just call it L.A.

Portiuncula is the Italian for a small portion of land.  Such a small portion was given to the hermits of the Valley of Josaphat in the 4th century where they built a small chapel.  The chapel fell into disrepair but was renovated by St Francis of Assisi who had a vision from God telling him ” go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins”.  Francis sold his horse and some of his fathers cloth to pay for the repairs.

After a row with his father and the local bishop Francis cast off his finery and became a beggar.  He took the message from God to refer to the church in its entirety, rather than the small chapel of Portiuncula.  Because of this story there is a river in California, a  Basilica in Brazil and a Hospital in County Galway, Ireland named after the small chapel repaired by St Francis.

The Spanish name for LA translates as “The settlement of our lady the queen of angels of Portiuncula”

’tis but thy name that is my enemy;
thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? Tt is nor hand, nor foot,
nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet;
so Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
retain that dear perfection which he owes
without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
and for that name which is no part of thee
take all myself……………………Juliet, Act II Scene ii, Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare

Mid-Point

July 2nd is an interesting day in the calendar.  In a normal (non leap) year it is the midpoint of the calendar year.  There are 182 days before and 182 days after July 2nd.

It was on this mid-point day in the year 1494 that Castille signed the treaty of Tordesillas.  The treaty was designed by the pope to avert military conflict between Castille and Portugal over newly discovered lands.  Only two years after Columbus discovered the new world it looked like the new lands would spark a global war between the two superpowers of the Christian world.  In effect the treaty divided the “New World” in half, giving half to each kingdom.

It is because of this treaty that the Brazilians speak Portuguese while the other South Americans mostly speak Castilian Spanish.

A subsequent treaty, the treaty of Zaragoza in 1529, set down the anti-meridian in the pacific ocean and had the effect of making the Philippines Spanish while East Timor and Japan fell under Portuguese influence.

500 years later these events continue to have ramifications for the people in these countries.

In Japan deep fried food, tempura, is known as the Portuguese method!

Prawn Tempura

Prawn Tempura

Dumb diversions.

Everyday is a schoolday.  Today I learned about a Bull.  That’s Bull with a capital B, as issued by the Pope.  It is called a Bull because the latin for the seal, which authenticates its origin, is a “bulla”.

The Bull I learned about today was issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452.  It was called Dum Diversas.  This Bull supplied the authority of the church for Catholics to engage in the slave trade.  “We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.”

It was a bid to  incite a new crusade, to save Constantinople from the Turks and to sweep the last of the Iberian muslim kingdoms into the sea.  No great crusade emerged and Constantinople fell the the Ottomans the following year.  Their most Catholic Majesties of Spain soldiered away until they reconquered Al-Andalus in 1492.

Subsequently great empires were built on the backs of the slave trade.  First the Spanish in the Canary Islands, then the Portugese in West Africa.  They were followed by the Dutch, the French, the British and the Belgians.  Fortunes were made, colonies created, new lands were brought to the plough.  Out went a river of blood and back came the fruits of their labour, Coffee, Tea, Tobacco, Sugar, Molasses, Rum, Cotton, Rubber, Spices, Silk and the dangerous fruits of the mining industries, Gold, Silver, Lead, Copper, Tin, Diamonds.

Yup, those Popes knew a thing or two when it came to economics.  And look at all the souls that were saved.  Why practically all those slaves went on to become good Christians.

The Quadroon Girl;  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Slaver in the broad lagoon
Lay moored with idle sail;
He waited for the rising moon,
And for the evening gale.

Under the shore his boat was tied,
And all her listless crew
Watched the gray alligator slide
Into the still bayou.

Odors of orange-flowers, and spice,
Reached them from time to time,
Like airs that breathe from Paradise
Upon a world of crime.

The Planter, under his roof of thatch,
Smoked thoughtfully and slow;
The Slaver’s thumb was on the latch,
He seemed in haste to go.

He said, “My ship at anchor rides
In yonder broad lagoon;
I only wait the evening tides,
And the rising of the moon.”

Before them, with her face upraised,
In timid attitude,
Like one half curious, half amazed,
A Quadroon maiden stood.

Her eyes were large, and full of light,
Her arms and neck were bare;
No garment she wore save a kirtle bright,
And her own long, raven hair.

And on her lips there played a smile
As holy, meek, and faint,
As lights in some cathedral aisle
The features of a saint.

“The soil is barren,–the farm is old,”
The thoughtful planter said;
Then looked upon the Slaver’s gold,
And then upon the maid.

His heart within him was at strife
With such accurséd gains:
For he knew whose passions gave her life,
Whose blood ran in her veins.

But the voice of nature was too weak;
He took the glittering gold!
Then pale as death grew the maiden’s cheek,
Her hands as icy cold.

The Slaver led her from the door,
He led her by the hand,
To be his slave and paramour
In a strange and distant land!