‘Days and months are itinerants on an eternal journey; the years that pass by are also travellers’. – Matuso Bashō (1644-94)
I noted this quotation a few years ago; a dozen in fact. Reading it last night triggered thoughts that spawned a few more. I wish you good luck on this eternal journey.
It’s amazing to me that so many people on different continents came to live in caves carved from volcanic tuff. The Puebloans or Anasazi in New Mexico, Etruscans in Italy, and the Cappadocians in Turkey spring to mind. Each realised, independently, that tuff was relatively easy to carve into negative moulds for habitation. Conversely, the Rapa Nui on Easter Islander chose to cut positive shapes from similar material.Presumably their moai have religious purpose. While time may travel, coeval independent solutions seem to occur quite frequently.
The Puebloans or Anasazi also integrated astronomy into their religious affairs. The Milky Way would have been their night ceiling and perhaps inspired thoughts unlikely to occur to the 52% of today’s population who are urban and rarely see the night sky. An eternal journey, dharma and even the idea of nirvana may look different from rural and urban perspectives. Is the electric light a reason for the decline in religious persuasion in urban centres?
The Greek astronomer Meton observed in 432 BC that there was a lunar cycle with a period of 19 years. He noted there were 235 lunations, or synodic months, after which period the Moon’s phases repeat. We call this the Metonic Cycle and it has been at the core of religious chronology and debate ever since.
Coevally perhaps but certainly independently, the Anasazi in Chaco, New Mexico had aligned a slit among rocks with a spiral petroglyph carved on a tuff wall. The slit generates a beam of sunlight at the solstices that acts like the hand on a clock, a sun dial revealing the time. It also acts as a calendar and more curiously, it also shows they knew about and used the Metonic Cycle.
Both of these observations are the more remarkable when you consider that life expectancy in these Athenian and Anasazi communities could not have been more than two of these cycles.
If you know anything about Easter, you know that the the modern computation of the Metonic Cycle is 19 years which is 6,939 days and 16.5 hours. You’ll know the date for Easter is based on Passover because that’s how the crucifixion was recorded, a few days before Passover. It got messy over the centuries. Really messy. The eastern Christians leaders liked Easter’s Resurrection celebration to be the 14th of Nissan no matter the day of the week. Western Christian authorities preferred it to be the Sunday of Passover week.
It was agreed around 325 AD that Quartodecimians had defeated the Quintodecimians, that is to say, the western interpretation relative to the Jewish day prevailed. The Jewish day is sunset to sunset, so some wondered if the evening-time of the crucifixion might have been the 14th of Nissan or the Julian day before. The scholars in Rome favoured the evening of the day before while the wise in Constantinople liked the more literal interpretation of the 14th. Except for Britain, that is. Showing an early tendency to exceptional behaviour, British monastics went with the eastern interpretation. I could go on but this took centuries to resolve and I’ll cut to the chase.
A lunar table was prepared to assist the non-astronomers with planning for Easter. An underlying problem was that the Metonic Cycle was in error by eight days every 2500 years. You guessed there’d be something like this because you know the solar cycle is 365.2422 days which creates a need for the adjustments of leap years and seconds. A second table was prepared. And so it went, on and on. Easter was all over the place not just because of the moon. There was the Julian calendar too.
A New Style Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1582 in France, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain. Two years later, Belgium and The Netherlands follow suit. Two centuries later, the British (1752) and the Germans (1776) adopted the Gregorian calendar. Then Japan came on calendar in 1873 while, oddly, Greece only came on board in 1923.
You’ve lost the thread of this because it’s all a bit dense. But you see the big picture. Easter still isn’t fixed, just like Christmas isn’t fixed. The western Catholics are a week earlier for Easter and of course, they take their Xmas tree down on Orthodox Christmas. That’s because the Julian calendar is still in use and is 13 days later than Pope Gregory’s version. Don’t do the maths because they don’t work yet.
As many have written before, time is relative. And this is just the Christian calendar. None of this makes sense to my desire for rational explanations though I’d be the first to admit that the injustices and financial hardships that might arise from calendar changes aren’t fun.
While thinking about this, I remembered we had occasion to attend an interesting celebration in Westminster Cathedral a couple of years ago. One of my colleagues got us a some tickets to a three hour mass. He was conducting the choir at the concelebrated Pontifical Divine Liturgy to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Ukrainian Catholic Exarchate in Britain. His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav, His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Most Reverend Edward Joseph Adams, Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain were there in full pomp and regalia. Three hours of song alternated in three languages and the choir weren’t even mentioned in the programme.
Архиєрєйська Божественна Літургія, Вестмінстерській Катедрі will take you to the first part of the service and Cardinal Nichols welcomes everyone after 45 minutes. It can’t be very often that you’d see a Patriarch, Cardinal, Nuncio and so many bishops in the one place. Frankly, I was surprised they all showed up on the same day but I came to understand that was because all of the Bishops were bussed in together.
We must have enjoyed being in Westminster because coincidentally, an office move in 2018 caused Westminster Cathedral to become the half-way mark between my bedroom and office.