It is the feast day of St Stephen. He was stoned to death in Jerusalem, having been convicted of blasphemy, with the aid of a man who was later to become St Paul (but was for now called Saul). Although there is no reason to think Stephen died today, it was with deliberate irony that the church started celebrating the death of the first Christian martyr immediately after the birthday of the Saviour. In fact, the annual celebrations of saints’ martyrdoms were originally called their ‘birthdays’.
Cardinal József Mindszenty (pictured above), leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary, and vocal opponent of the Communist government, was arrested on a charge of treason today in 1948. He was tortured and sentenced to life in prison, but was released in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
Time magazine proclaimed Pope John Paul II ‘Man of the Year’ today in 1994. As well as calculating that he had been ‘seen by more people than anyone else in history’, Time claimed that he wore white sneakers with yellow laces.
The English poet Thomas Gray was born today in 1716. His most famous poem, ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’, a meditation on death and memory, was an instant hit when it was published.
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Thomas Gray, opening lines of ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’
Image: Fotograaf Onbekend/Anefo on Wikimedia Commons