In Great Britain from the 13th century, Midsummer was celebrated on Midsummer Eve (St. John’s Eve, June 23) and St. Peter’s Eve (June 28) with the lighting of bonfires, feasting and merrymaking.
In late fifteenth-century England, John Mirk of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, gives the following description:
“At first, men and women came to church with candles and other lights and prayed all night long. In the process of time, however, men left such devotion and used songs and dances and fell into lechery and gluttony turning the good, holy devotion into sin.”
The church fathers decided to put a stop to these practices and ordained that people should fast on the evening before, and thus turned waking into fasting .
Mirk adds that at the time of his writing,
“…in worship of St John the Baptist, men stay up at night and make three kinds of fires: one is of clean bones and no wood and is called a “bonnefyre”; another is of clean wood and no bones, and is called a wakefyre, because men stay awake by it all night; and the third is made of both bones and wood and is called, “St. John’s fire”.”
These traditions largely ended after the Reformation, but persisted in rural areas up until the nineteenth century before petering out.
637 – The Battle of Moira was fought between the High King of Ireland and the Kings of Ulster and Dalriada. It is claimed to be largest battle in the history of Ireland.
1314 –The Battle of Bannockburn concluded with a decisive victory by Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce, though England did not finally recognize Scottish independence until 1328 .
1374 – A sudden outbreak of St. John’s Dance caused people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapsed from exhaustion.
1519 – Lucrezia Borgia died.
1717 – The Premier Grand Lodge of England, the first Masonic Grand Lodge in the world (now the United Grand Lodge of England), was founded in London, England.
1901 – Birth of Harry Partch, American composer
1916 – The First Battle Of The Somme began.
1916 – Mary Pickford became the first female film star to sign a million dollar contract.
1935 – Birth of Terry Riley, American composer
1947 – The modern UFO age could be said to have begun – Kenneth Arnold, flying near Mount Rainier, Washington State, USA, encountered 9 unidentified flying objects.
He was later to describe their motion as: “like a saucer would if you skipped it across water” – and thus the term Flying Saucer was born.
Personally, I like another quote he made to reporters: “It seems impossible, but there it is.” A good motto for Forteans everywhere.
1968 – Death of Tony Hancock, British comedian
1985 – STS-51-G Space Shuttle Discovery completed its mission, best remembered for having Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the first Arab and first Muslim in space, as a Payload Specialist. And maybe a contender for the title of astronaut with the longest name ?
2007 – Death of Derek Dougan, Northern Irish footballer. The name might not mean much to you, but he was my first sporting idol, playing for Wolverhampton Wanderers. I wrote asking him for his autograph, and he sent a signed photo back – pretty thrilling for a 9- or 10-year old. I’d like to say that I still have the photo, but sadly it vanished over the intervening years.