Monday, November 11, 2013

Armistice/Veterans' Day, , the "Eleventh Hour," St. Martin of Tours, and Old Agricultural Practices, posted by Melinda

(photo source)
"The eleventh hour...": perhaps you've heard that phrase, as in "Wow, you sure waited till the 11th hour to get *that* done!" The phrase goes back to the Bible (Matthew 20:6, in the parable of the vineyards--click here), but in succeeding millenia, the notion of 11 o'clock, especially on November 11th, took on further meaning. As food blogger/photographer Cynthia Bertelson notes (click here for her blog), it was on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 that Marshall Foch declared that all hostilities would cease at 11:00 a.m., French time, and would not resume until further notice. (For her post on Armistice Day and St. Martin of Tours, click here--hers is one of the most beautiful blogs we follow; it's called "Gherkins and Tomatoes," and you'll see it in the blog list at lower left.) About a century earlier, all Prussian serfs also had been freed on November 11th (probably because of the date's connection to both agriculture and religion); Bertelsen lists other military treaties, too, that were signed over the years on November 11th, beginning in 1500 CE.

So what has this to do with St. Martin of Tours and old agricultural observances?  As Bertelson explains, the choice of the 11th hour on the 11th day reveals the Catholic traditions that many of the Allies shared, in particular that November 11th is the Feast Day of St. Martin of Tours, patron saint of soldiers, beggars, vintners, innkeepers, and geese (yes, there's a Martinist story behind the geese, those darn loud-mouths [!], which you can read on Bertelson's post!). The significance of beggars hired to work in the vineyards is clarified if you read all of Chapter 20 in Matthew--see here--e.g., he who is last shall be first, "for many are called but few chosen," a notion that also has been applied at times to soldiers.

Jean-Francois Millet, Killing the Hog, National
Gallery of Canada, late 1860s (source)
For our purposes, in the context of farming, November 11th--Martinmas--was regarded as the beginning of winter and the day that religious rites connected with Advent began. Martinmas marked the seeding of wheat for the following year, as well as the grape harvest and production of new wine, and the slaughter and preservation of wheat-fattened hogs, calves, geese, and other animals to provide meat over the winter. (The connection to wheat and grapes, of course, has religious overtones, as does the concept of slaughter/sacrifice.)

Many of us don't like to think about such slaughter, but it was a necessity at the time to put food by to get through the lean winter ahead. (The Bible often uses harvest and slaughter as parables for the cycle of life-death-life; even Jesus was not a vegetarian--click here for a Red Hill Root article on the controversy over Jesus' dietary habits; see page 5.) Hence the harvest also was a time of feasting for all (starting at the 11th hour), including beggars and serfs, with goose often featuring in the feast. I have to say, however, that Millet's painting, above, always makes me sad, as pigs and hogs are such intelligent animals, and the hog knows what's coming up (or coming down) for him or her. The children watching in the background are there to reinforce the notion of cyclical life-death-life, as, when they mature, they too will kill the hog.

Finally, the wheat that had been harvested, again reinforcing both pre-Christian and Christian concepts of life-death-life, was baked into bread loaves shaped like humans, as shown in this lovely, atmospheric photograph by Cynthia Bertelsen.
Martinmas bread, photo by Cynthia Bertelsen (source)

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