The Devil's Christmas Song

The Church has been responsible for the most inspiring Christmas music. They had the message to promote, the venues for the party, and the necessary cash to pay for it. Christmas music is terribly predictable; Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and angels are standard fare. How refreshing if you get an oratorio with a role for the devil.


The Feast of Epiphany and The Three Magi

Epiphany means the revelation of a man as God. The Christian feast is commemorated on the 6th of January (by Gregorian calendar). The Magi, or in European Continental standard the Three Holy Kings, form part of that legend. They gripped peoples’ imagination much more than the abstract revelation.



A Small Village with a Cathedral: Arlesheim Near Basel

The small village of Arlesheim is situated on the outskirts of the city of Basel in Switzerland. Mainly a farming community, it contains a cathedral and a town center built in the 17th century, two castles, and a large English garden. Arlesheim is worth a visit for its sights alone, but a must for music lovers to hear the world-famous Silbermann organ in the cathedral.



Palmanova: Italy's Star City

Towns are founded to succeed. Some do and grow out of all recognition. Some fail and disappear into the ground. Some few fall into a vegetative state and keep going without growing. They are the ones to visit like Palmanova in Italy. Like a time capsule, the town remains almost unchanged since the time of Napoleon. It was founded by the Republic of Venice as the ideal Renaissance town.


Saint Befana’s Day: Gifts From the Witch

In Italy and Southern Switzerland, January 5th is Befana’s Day. In the night before Epiphany, the witch Befana brings presents and sweets to children. If this reminds you of Saint Nicolas, Santa Claus, and Old Man Frost, then that’s no coincidence.


Royal Connections Can Be Deceiving

Royal families always seem quite remote and completely above board. Royal connections, though, can come in funny places. Titles can be deceiving, too, and are not always as high flying as they sound. Previous history might prove to be not so Royal after all. This is the story of the parents of Queen Mary of the United Kingdom.


History in The Alps: Forcellina and Lunghin Passes

The Forcellina and Lunghin Passes together build a crossroad with the Septimer Pass. The Forcellina Pass starts in the Avers Valley to end north of the culmination point of the Septimer Pass; the Lunghin Pass starts in the Engadin to reach a point slightly more to the north on the same pass. Like the Septimer Pass, they are a paradise for hikers and mountain-bikers.

Forcellina Pass

Santa Claus: Travel in Switzerland

This is the legend of Saint Nicolas (or Santa Claus) as it is told in Switzerland. The legend probably dates from the 11th century, sometime after the worship of Saint Nicolas was introduced into the Holy Roman Empire by Empress Theophanu. She had brought the saint's story and his worship with her from her native Constantinople.



Solothurn, Switzerland's Baroque Jewel

Everybody knows London, where the kings and queens of England were crowned and where the United Kingdom crowns kings and queens to this day. We know Rome where emperors were crowned for a thousand years. Most might know Aachen as the place where the kings of the Eastern Franks were crowned. But do you know Solothurn, where the kings of Burgundy were crowned for over 500 years?


The Athenian Navy Revisited

Good stories bear repeating; Athenian naval history during the Persian and Peloponnese Wars is such a story. John R. Hale is a maritime archaeologist. In his book, he manages to present encyclopaedic knowledge in a riveting ongoing storyline. History doesn't need to be dry and dusty.


The Origins of Santa Claus

Santa Claus, or more properly Saint Nicolas of Myra is one of many early church saints whose legend is better known than any historical facts. As many other saints revered in the Catholic Church, he was moved around in the calendar during the reformation instigated by Martin Luther. The reformers ditched the saints' days and he therefore started to appear on Christmas or New Year instead of December 6. As an early church saint, his devotional day is also strongly rooted in the Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe.


Naga Queen

She came from an exclusive English girls’ school. She traveled and fell in love with the hills on the border of India. Her excellent education and manners destined her to become a guerrilla leader there. She trained British troops in WWII and the Japanese set a price on her head. Her Name was Ursula Graham Bower, also known as the Jungle Queen.


How Migrants Save a Dying Language

Switzerland is a country with four main languages. 75 years ago, Romansh was recognized as the fourth national language by ballot. Since then, it has been declared a dead language many times over. If you visit the Engadin Valley in Grisons, it will show that the language is alive and kicking. It is alive thanks to the children of migrant workers living there.


1,000 Years of Fun at The Fair

Emperors, Kings, and other rulers had the prerogative of granting the right to hold markets and fairs. Markets were regular affairs held on a specific day of the week every week; fairs were intended to be much larger and would be held over several days or even weeks once a year. Both were intended to strengthen local business and provide additional tax income.




Awkward: Gestapo Burial in Berlin Jewish Cemetery

German history researcher Johannes Tuchel made a series of very awkward discoveries. The discoveries shed light on post-war Germany and how it was (not) run by the allies, on the the machinations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and on what happens when sloppy research replaces real hard graft. Now he did the real hard work and here is what he found.

Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Müller

Mysterious Anna, Empress of Rome

She was left out of most historical accounts and had the misfortune of ending up on the losing side twice over. But she was one of the few women in history (maybe even the only one) to be an Empress Consort twice. The historical traces of her are rare, and Wikipedia has her story mostly wrong in any language I am able to read. We talk of Princess Anna of Byzantium, Empress of Rome.

Vienne

How a House Became a Home in Georgian London

What is it that turns a house into a home? And if you don’t have a house, do you still have a home? And where is that? In her book, these questions were answered time subjectively by historian Amanda Vickery and illustrated together with some persistent medieval ideas that hamper our life still today.


Surviving Shipwreck Three Times

People think they are lucky when surviving ship wreck. What to say about Violet Jessop who survived no less than three major disasters on sea? Would you have gone back onto a ship after surviving the sinking of the RMS Titanic? Would you have gone onto the RMS Titanic in the first place after being in the collision of the RMS Olympic? And would your ship of choice have been the HMHS Britannic? Violet Jessop did all that.

Violet Jessop

Stirling Castle With Music in The Ceiling

Stirling Castle once was a Royal residence of the kings of Scotland. Being situated near the border to England, the castle was of strategic importance for centuries before it became the seat of kings. When the Scots started to convert it into a Royal residence, the builders included a curious code into the ceiling of the king’s bedchamber. The code was cracked to reveal the music hidden within.

Stirling Castle ceiling bedroom

Galileo Galilei: Master of Science and Self-Promotion

Galileo’s career started in a monastery in Florence; but his father saw a doctor in him. Defying his father, he studied mathematics instead of medicine. He made his first invention at 22. At 25, he was lecturing at the University of Pisa and building high class musical instruments. He had to move to Padova after being mobbed out from Pisa.


Lohengrin: Sweet History of Product Placement

We all know that the splendid knight Lohengrin was an invention. Created as a minor character for an epic poem written by Wolfram von Eschenbach, he entered as a mainstream hero by means of Richard Wagner's opera of the same name. If he was not a historical figure, what is this article doing on a history blog, you might ask. But there is a real history to tell about Lohengrin. It is all about Norway.


The Town of Baden in Baden

The German town of Baden-Baden acquired its name officially in 1931 with a formal decision of the town's council. Before that, it was simply called Baden and was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Baden until 1918. Baden was a bathing spa in Roman times and was known as Aquae like Bath in England. Aquae in Latin and Bath in English have the same meaning as Baden in German. How did Baden end up with the weird tautology of being called Baden-Baden?



History in The Alps: Bernina Pass

When looking for breathtaking views, travel the Bernina Pass. It connects the Engadin Valley with the Pushlav Valley in the canton of Grisons in Switzerland. Travelling by train or car will grant you the experience of a lifetime. 


Livia, First Empress of Rome

Livia was the first First Lady of Rome. As the wife of Octavian Augustus, she was the first Empress of Rome. She was grossly vilified by Roman writer Tacitus roughly a hundred years after the event. Matthew Dennison came to her rescue with a book about her life. The biography was intended to rectify some entrenched myths even historians had a problem leaving behind.

Livia Drusilla Julia Augusta

The Knights Templar in Switzerland

According to Swiss history writing, the foundations for modern Switzerland date to 1291. The date being conveniently close to the dissolution of the Order of the Knights Templar many see a connection between the two in later developments. Did the Knights Templar bring their legendary treasure to Switzerland and made it as rich as it is?


Cologne Cathedral: The Shrine of The Magi

The German city of Cologne on the Rhine houses one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Central Europe. In it, visitors will find one of the most extraordinary works of art in existence: The shrine of the three holy Magi. Shrine and cathedral draw thousands of worshipers as well as art lovers from all over the world.




Royal Changelings

While discussing the possibilities and impossibilities of exchanging Royal offspring and heirs in times of turmoil is amusing, it doesn't bring you much further in search for the truth. What you accept as possible is your point of view and so called proofs usually are pretty flimsy. Looking at the usual suspects, though, might give you some new ideas as to whether it should or could have been done or not.

Louis Charles and Marie-Therese

City on the Language Divide: Fribourg

The city of Fribourg is located only 20 miles from Bern, but is today mainly French speaking though it started out as a German (or Alemannic) speaking city. It boasts the only Catholic University in Switzerland and has retained its medieval character throughout the city to this day. If you want to get a feeling for the lifestyle 600 years back, this is the place to visit.




The Pirates of Barbary Coast

The Coast of Barbary extends from the Straits of Gibraltar to Tripoli. Barbary is derived from Barbarians, but in fact it shouldn't be applied to its inhabitants. The term describes the truly barbarian pirates operating from there who were for a greater part Europeans. 400 years ago, cruising in the Mediterranean Sea was not the ideal holiday destination.


Saint Helena, Empress of Rome

Flavia Iulia Helena is one of the few early saints that really existed. She must have been an energetic lady, and this into high age. She shared the Roman Emperors' penchant for building representative stone piles and went on a spending spree on churches. According to legend, she was the first archaeologists and an avid collector of assorted bric-a-brac.


How Many Monarchies Exist in Europe?

Looking for a good pub quiz question? This one might catch some people out. Europe has a surprising number of monarchies, ranging from the well known to the obscure. They cover the spectrum from constitutional monarch through power sharing to absolute ruler. The youngest monarchy was instituted in 1929 (and that's a clue).



The Queen Astrid Chapel

Queen Astrid of the Belgians was born a Royal Princess of Sweden. She married Prince Leopold of Belgium who would later become King Leopold III of the Belgians. She died aged 29 in a car accident in Switzerland while the Royal Family was on a holiday at their residence near Lake Lucerne.




Lausanne, World Capital of Sports

The Swiss city of Lausanne is best known as the world’s Olympic capital; sometimes it is called the World Sports Capital as well because it houses both the International Olympic Committee as well as the CAS. But it is also a charming small town on Lake Geneva with a friendly population that makes you feel very much at home anytime you visit.


Doors to The Otherworld

Besides many other jobs assigned to him by God, St Michael is the foremost door warden. As such, his churches and chapels may often be found on doorways to the Otherworld. Therefore, whenever you find some building dedicated to St Michael, it is worth while investigating its history. It might stand on one of the doorways to the Otherworld.


The Invention of George Eliot

In a time when open adultery was officially frowned upon and perpetrators faced social stigma and exclusion, (unlike to today when it is everyday life to a senile Italian prime ministers, dwarfish French presidents, and the despicable classe politique in general) George Eliot was born. He was to become one of the most read, most mocked, and best earning writers of the 19th century. Oh yes, and he was a she.


United Nations World Capital Geneva

Geneva is mostly seen as the seat of the United Nations and the International Red Cross. This is flattering, but it is also a very old city full of history with a unique international charm. At some time or another, it was capital to three kingdoms, home to a handful of saints and to many more less saintly. Situated on Lake Geneva (in French Lac Leman), it is a beautiful place to spend some days of a holiday.


The Race For The First Flight Over The Channel

The first flight over the Channel was not a sedentary affair. It was a race. And there were no rules. Read a book that gives the wider view rather than the known story behind Louis Blériot s first flight over the Channel. Barbara Walsh compiled the details on the life and career of Hubert Latham and many facts around the days leading up to the historic flight in 1909.


The Star Puzzle of Bethlehem

For years, astronomers have tried to puzzle out what made three astrologers travel from Persia to Israel at a certain date 2,000 years ago. Missing data, unclear sources, later additions and elisions, and religious bias make the job just more interesting. But are astronomers the right people to unravel an astrological puzzle?




Town of Embroidery: St Gallen

The Swiss city of St Gallen is linked with high quality embroideries used by leading fashion designers around the world. It is also a beautiful town with a long history and a picturesque historic city center. At its very center stands the magnificent monastery dedicated to St Gall with its baroque cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage library.


Bruce Castle or Lordship House

Bruce Castle is a misnomer, a historical cheat. It is a manor house in Tottenham in London and was just plain Lordship House for most of its existence. Trying to live up to a grand name, it does have some history and even a resident ghost, as well as quite a few historical questions that need to be worked out.




Lost and Found, Britannic's Organ

The ocean liner Britannic was the latest Olympic class passenger ship built by the White Star Line and the sister ship of the Titanic. Being unfinished at the start of the Great War, the ship was drafted into service as a hospital ship and sunk in the Mediterranean Sea in 1916. An Organ was obviously not needed on a hospital ship and it disappeared from history in 1914 to surface in Switzerland in 2006.


Robert Koch: With System Against Disease

May 27, 2010, marked the 100th Anniversary of the death of Nobel Laureate Robert Koch. He discovered the bacillus responsible for tuberculosis and laid the ground-work for modern bacteriology and epidemic research. His true ambition, though, had been to become an explorer and world traveler like Alexander von Humboldt. Instead, he became an accomplished explorer in the world of the microscope.




Museum City: Basel

Basel is a cultural center with more than 60 museums. The city's special geographical situation bordering both Germany and France has brought forth peculiarities, such as three railway stations in the town center and a trinational airport. It is also a city steeped in legend, most of which is fervently believed by its inhabitants.


The Sex Workers of Georgian London

If the word ‘Georgian’ brings pictures of lofty  buildings sporting large staircases and high ceilings to your mind, then it is time to look into the gutter of Georgian London. Observe the genteel people from Georgette Heyer's period novels in their time off the set meeting the people who never made it onto it.


Antoine De Saint Exupéry and The Lost Prince

60 years after his death, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, solved the riddle of the lost Hereditary Prince Alexis at Bentheim and at Steinfurt by default. This is for once not a ghost story or a conspiracy theory. Instead it is the story of two fighter pilots lost in World War II that never met in real life.




Zurich is More Than Banks

Zurich is the financial center of Switzerland. But it is much more than that; it is a beautiful town full of vibrant life. Rich in history and rich in money, it is listed every year in the top ten cities of the world, when it comes to the title ‘most expensive city’.


Queen Edith of the Eastern Franks

When German archaeologists found Queen Edith’s remains in 2008, they were baffled and confounded. The remains had been found in a grave in Magdeburg's cathedral. Nobody had expected the find. True, documents mention her grave in the cathedral, and the grave had been a prominent one marked with her name. Then why the confusion?


Prince and People of Liechtenstein

The Principality of Liechtenstein is sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland. It is a hereditary principality with political powers shared equally between the elected parliament and the prince. Nobody knows what happens if ever they should agree to disagree because there is no proviso for a resolution process. The prince is also head of state.




Wellingtons Through History

Weidenfeld & Nicholson published Wellington: A Journey Through My Family by Lady Jane Wellesley. Lady Jane is the daughter of the present 8th Duke of Wellington. Her book takes readers a bit haphazardly but amusingly on a ride through 200 years of family history spiced with many anecdotes.



French Princess or Changeling: The Sister of Louis XVII

Princess Marie-Thérèse of France was born the only legitimate daughter of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Together with her parents and her brother Louis XVII, she was imprisoned by the republicans in the Temple. Her illegitimate half-sister Ernestine wasn't imprisoned with them, though, and added another unsolvable puzzle to the French Revolution.