Onesimus Nesib, who translated the Bible (the Macafa Qulqulluu) into the Africa langauge of Oromo, the most widely spoken language of Ethiopia, died today in 1931. Kidnapped by slave traders in his early teens, he passed through the hands of eight owners until he was rescued and educated at a Sweden mission. Because he was a natural linguist, he set out to translate the Bible into the language of his people, and worked in partnership with another freed slave, Aster Ganno, also a brilliant linguist, who was producing the first dictionary of Oromo. Their Bible, published in 1899 and printed in the Ge’ez alphabet, had the same effect on Oromo as Luther’s Bible on German, stablising and expanding the language. Today, Nesib and Ganno’s Macafa Qulqulluu is available as a smartphone app.
The foundation stone of the new St Paul’s Cathedral, London, was laid today in 1675. Almost all of London’s churches had been burnt in the Great Fire, in 1666, and the disaster gave Sir Christopher Wren the perfect opportunity to replace them with the latest and greatest that baroque architecture had to offer. He modelled St Paul’s on St Peter’s in Rome, but had to make changes when disgruntled Protestants noticed. One of the designs he developed for St Paul’s, but wasn’t able to use, ended up in his design for the spire of St Bride’s, the ‘wedding cake’ church.
Paul VI was elected Pope today in 1963 on the sixth ballot of the conclave. It is said that near the end of the process, he started to get to his feet to tell the cardinals not to vote for him, but the Patriarch of Venice pulled him back down, saying, ‘Eminence, shut up!’ Paul inherited the revolution that had been started by his charismatic predecessor, Pope John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council. Under Paul, Latin was dropped from the Mass, the Index of Forbidden Books was abandoned, and new conversations were opened with Protestants, Jews and even Marxists. However, Paul was enough of a conservative to issue the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1967, banning Catholics from using contraception. He was the first Pope ever to leave Europe.
John Henry Newman, the Cambridge theologian, future Cardinal and Britain’s most celebrated convert to Catholicism (in a violently anti-Catholic century) was put on trial for libel on this day in 1852. He had accused a monk-turned-Protestant Giacinto Achilli of seducing and raping a string of young women across Europe. Despite several of the women testifying, Newman was found guilty. He should have gone to prison but was let off with a £100 fine on account of his being obviously innocent.