In a replay of the Old Testament Jewish exile, the Alhambra Decree came into effect today in 1492, expelling practising Jews from the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. The decree, issued by Isabella of Castile (above) and Ferdinand of Aragon, created a refugee crisis, with thousands of Jewish refugees initially migrating to Portugal, Italy and North Africa, and later into Northern Europe. The Ottoman Empire sent its navy to offer safe passage to Jews who wanted to settle in what is now Turkey and Greece. It is estimated that somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 Jewish people were expelled from Spain due to the decree. The explusion disseminated the distinctive customs and liturgy of the minority Sephardic tradition of Judaism throughout the Jewish world.
A plane carrying Pope Paul VI landed at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, today in 1969, making him the first ever Roman Catholic Pope to visit Africa. He celebrated mass with 100,000 people in Namugongo, where in 1882, 32 young men, Catholic and Anglican, had been martyred for refusing to renounce their Christian faith. The visit was wildly popular. Time magazine reported that the papal merchandise included Pope Paul coins and stamps, and that ‘shop door signs along the papal route proclaimed “Pepsi Welcomes the Pope”.’
‘Should a Christian be a coward? Should he be afraid? Should he betray his own faith? No! Of course not! Your martyrs teach us just how true Christians should be, especially young Christians, African Christians.’ Pope Paul VI, Homily at Namugongo
It is the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, the dynamic Basque theologian and founder of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits. The society was (and remains) dedicated to teaching and mission, but Loyola also wrote the highly influential Exercitia Spiritualia (‘Spiritual Exercises’), a practical manual of prayer, meditation, and spiritual practice, including the examen, or examination of conscience. The Spiritual Exercises are widely used in modern times by Christians of many denominations. Loyola died of malaria in Rome today in 1556, and is buried in the Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the Jesuits.
‘Imagine Christ our Lord suspended on the cross before you, and converse with him in a colloquy: How is it that he, although he is the Creator, has come to make himself a human being? How is it that he has passed from eternal life to death here in time, and to die in this way for my sins?’ Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, translated by George E Ganss
Today in 1009, Pope Sergius IV ascended to the throne of St Peter. He was known popularly by his nickname, Pietro Martino Buccaporci, which means, Peter Martin Pig-snout.
St Germanus of Auxerre, the 5th century bishop of Gaul who was so tough he slept on a bed of compacted ashes with nothing but rough sacking beneath him, also has his feast day today. His greatest moment came when he and a fellow bishop were called to Britain to lend a hand in fighting the Pelagian heresy. They were mobbed by huge crowds of Britons in the fields and at the crossroads, and stirred up a revival of faith through their preaching and miracles. Germanus was preparing to return to Gaul when the Saxons and Picts threatened to invade. Noticing that the battle would be fought in a deep, narrow valley, he taught the British warriors to shout Alleluia! three times as a battle cry. They did this, and the echoing shouts sent their enemies fleeing in panic.
‘The enemy were panic-stricken, thinking that the surrounding rocks and the very sky itself were falling on them. Such was their terror that no effort of their feet seemed enough to save them. They fled in every direction, throwing away their weapons and thankful if they could save at least their skins. Many threw themselves into the river which they had just crossed at their ease, and were drowned in it.’ Constantius of Lyons, The Life of St Germanus