Sentamu knocks on the door of York Minster

30 November

John Sentamu was inaugurated as Archbishop of York (above) today in 2005, the first person of African heritage to become an English archbishop. Originally a barrister and judge, he came to Britain from Uganda in 1974 after he had been arrested and imprisoned for 90 days for refusing to do the bidding of the dictator Idi Amin. The service included the new Archbishop taking his oath on the 1,000 year-old York Gospels, but also shedding his mitre to join the band of African musicians and playing the drums.

‘Christians, go and find friends among Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, agnostics, atheists – not for the purpose of converting them to your beliefs, but for friendship, understanding, listening, hearing.’ John Sentamu, inauguration sermon, 2005

Jonathan Swift, the future satirist, cleric and author of Gulliver’s Travels, said that he was born in his uncle’s house in a Dublin alley today in 1667. His father had died seven months earlier – ‘just time enough to save my mother’s reputation’, as Swift later quipped. He was placed with a wet nurse who without warning took him away to Whitehaven in Cumberland at the age of one, because she couldn’t bear to be parted from him. When she brought him home to his family in Dublin three years later, he was able to read any chapter in the Bible.

Today in 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council issued the following decrees: no new monastic orders may ever be founded; no clergy may be surgeons, or hunt or gamble, or wear red or green; all Catholics must confess annually; and Jews and Muslims must dress distinctively so they can be persecuted more effectively.

‘Clerics shall not hold secular offices or engage in secular and, above all, dishonest pursuits. They shall not attend the performances of mimics and buffoons, or theatrical representations. They shall not visit taverns except in case of necessity, namely, when on a journey. They are forbidden to play games of chance or be present at them… They are not to use red or green garments or curiously sewed together gloves, or beak-shaped shoes or gilded bridles, saddles, pectoral ornaments (for horses), spurs, or anything else indicative of superfluity.’ Fourth Lateran Council, Canon 16

The American author and humourist (not to mention miner and riverboat pilot) Mark Twain was born today in 1835. A Presbyterian, he wrote critically and colourfully about organised religion, once saying, ‘If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a Christian.’

The eucharistic miracle of Avignon happened today in 1433, when a deluge of rain caused the River Sorgue to overflow its banks in Avignon, France. Flood water several feet deep entered the Chapel of the Grey Penitents, but stood back (like Moses and the Red Sea) on either side of the Chapel aisle so that the holy sacrament, displayed on the altar, was kept perfectly dry. When monks rowed to the chapel and discovered the miracle, they brought in some theologians to confirm it, which of course means it must have actually happened.

Image: York MinsterCC BY-SA 2.0

Time-travel news is written by Steve Tomkins and Simon Jenkins

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