You Say Ragner, I Say Ragnar

You Say Ragner, I Say Ragnar

Eleanor Parker

The unlikely links between an obscure English saint and a Viking warrior.

History has many byways: paths which lead, by winding routes, to unexpected destinations. One such trail I followed while researching my recent book was the story of St Ragner of Northampton, an obscure, almost forgotten, saint who may, nonetheless, be linked to one of the most famous Vikings of medieval legend.Almost all we know about St Ragner comes from a short Latin text, surviving in two late-medieval manuscripts, which describes how his relics were supposedly discovered at St Peter’s Church in Northampton in the 11th century. The only information this text provides about Ragner’s identity is the claim that he was the nephew of the more famous St Edmund of East Anglia, who was killed by a Viking army in 869. It says that Ragner died alongside him and was therefore a martyr and saint, though no other source mentions this or gives Edmund a relation of this name.The text has much less to say about Ragner himself than about the discovery of his relics. This rather touching story involves a series of visions revealed to a simple but devout Norwegian man living in Northampton, who is miraculously shown where the martyr, unknown to anyone else, is buried in the church. He persuades the priest of St Peter’s to excavate the spot, where they find the relics and an inscription explaining the saint’s connection to St Edmund. It is a reward for the patient devotion of the unnamed Norwegian man, whom no one had taken seriously until his visions were thus proved true.In medieval hagiography these kinds of discovery stories are often linked to moments when churches were being remodelled, so this story (though the text sets it just before the Norman Conquest) may perhaps have emerged in the middle of the 12th century, when St Peter’s was rebuilt in splendid Romanesque style. The church has some of the finest Norman carvings in England, including a beautiful grave-cover which may be associated with St Ragner’s shrine.As well as this one short account, there is a reference to Ragner in a 12th-century text from Peterborough; otherwise he seems to be entirely unknown. There is no evidence that this saint was venerated anywhere other than Northampton, but his shrine endured there: in the 15th century the feast of St Ragner was being celebrated at St Peter’s on 21 November, the day after St Edmund’s.Who was this mysterious St Ragner? Since St Edmund was so popular, medieval hagiographers provided him with a number of saintly relations for whom there is no historical basis. But in Ragner’s case, his name and the connection to St Edmund hint at something more interesting: a possible link with medieval legends about the Viking hero Ragnar Lothbrok.The Ragnar of Old Norse sagas was certainly no saint, nor a relative of St Edmund. However, two men whom medieval legend called ‘the sons of Ragnar’, Ivar and Ubbe, were said in Scandinavian and English tradition to be responsible for St Edmund’s death and legend explained their relationship with him in various ways. Ragnar Lothbrok in medieval English sources, especially ones linked to the cult of St Edmund, is very different from the equivalent figure in Norse tradition, famous today from the TV series Vikings. In East Anglian stories Lothbrok sometimes appears not as a fearsome Viking but as Edmund’s friend and protégé, who turns up at his court by accident and is cruelly murdered by one of Edmund’s men. His murder leads his sons Ivar and Ubbe to avenge his death by killing Edmund and invading East Anglia in retribution.These stories about the ninth-century Viking invasions belong to a complex web of legendary history which circulated in the Middle Ages between England and Scandinavia and so it does not seem like a coincidence that it was a Norwegian man who was the impetus behind the cult of St Ragner in Northampton. Did this man know a Norwegian version of the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, which he combined with local traditions about St Edmund? It is a fascinating idea – the pagan Ragnar Lothbrok, scourge of churches, celebrated as a Christian martyr. We cannot know if there really is a link, but what I like about this story is that we have a glimpse here of a very local tradition – perhaps one man’s particular interest, a story he told to his neighbours in Northampton. We do not even know this man’s name, but this text has preserved his story for us to wonder about.Eleanor Parker is Lecturer in Medieval English Literature at Brasenose College, Oxford and writes a blog at aclerkofoxford.blogspot.co.uk.

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Today in History for 27th June 2018

Historical Events

1890 – George Dixon becomes 1st black boxing champ (Bantam weight)
1939 – Headley scores a cricket century in each innings v England at Lord’s
1942 – PQ-17 convoy leaves Iceland for Archangelsk
1978 – Soyuz 30 carries 2 cosmonauts (1 Polish) to Salyut 6 space station
1979 – Heavyweight Muhammad Ali confirms that his 3rd retirement is final (it isn’t)
1995 – Holland’s debut in English domestic comp (v Northants, NatWest)

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Famous Birthdays

1916 – Arthur Walter Lucas, picture restorer
1930 – Tommy [Tamio] Kono, weightlifter (Olympic gold 1952, 60), born in Sacramento, California (d. 2016)
1938 – Bruce E Babbitt, (Gov-D-AZ)/secretary of interior
1950 – Benjamin Peterson, American heavyweight boxer (Olympic gold 1972)
1985 – Nico Rosberg, German Finnish race car driver (F1 Champion 2016), born in Wiesbaden, West Germany
1990 – Aselin Debison, Canadian singer

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Famous Deaths

1458 – Alfonso V, King of Aragon/Sicily/Naples (Alfonso I), dies
1543 – Agnolo Firenzuola, Italian poet and litterateur, dies at 49
1864 – Charles Garrison Harker, US Union-brigadier general, dies in battle at 26
1944 – Vera Menchik, Russian 1st official women’s world chess champion (1927), dies in a London air raid at 38
2003 – David Newman, American filmmaker (b. 1937)
2005 – Domino Harvey, English-born bounty hunter (b. 1969)

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Today in History for 26th June 2018

Historical Events

1630 – Swedish troops under Gustaf II Adolf lands at Peenemunde
1797 – Charles Newbold patents 1st cast-iron plow, though farmers fear effects of iron on soil
1952 – Dutch social democratic party wins elections (29%)
1962 – Boston Red Sox Earl Wilson no-hits LA Angels, 2-0
1977 – Elvis Presley sings in Indianapolis, the last performance of his career
1982 – Carlos Lopes runs European record 10km (27:34.39)

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Famous Birthdays

1878 – Albert Siklós, Hungarian composer, born in Budapest, Hungary (d. 1942)
1895 – George Hainsworth, Canadian ice hockey player, born in Toronto, Ontario (d. 1950)
1909 – Betty Askwith, British writer and biographer (d. 1995)
1914 – Wolfgang Windgassen, tenor (Stuttgart Opera), born in Annemasse, France (d. 1974)
1924 – Peter Miles, British Army officer, businessman and courtier in the Household of Elizabeth II, born in Long Ashton, Somerset (d. 2013)
1976 – Chad Pennington, American football player

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Famous Deaths

1541 – Francisco Pizarro, Spanish conquistador who conquered the Inca Empire is assassinated in Lima by the son of his former companion and later antagonist, Diego Almagro the younger. Almagro is later caught and executed.
1848 – Stevenson Archer, American judge and Congressmen from Maryland, dies at 61
1948 – Lilian Velez, Filipno actress (Sa Kabukiran), murdered by former co-star Narding Anzures at 24
1967 – Errol Hunte, cricketer (WI batsman in 3 Tests v England 1930), dies
1993 – Roy Campanella, American Baseball Hall of Fame catcher (NL MVP 1951,53,55 Brooklyn Dodgers), dies of a heart attack at 71
2007 – Liz Claiborne, American fashion designer, entrepreneur and founder of Liz Claiborne Inc, dies of cancer at 78

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A History of Pizza

A History of Pizza

Alexander Lee

The world’s most popular fast food has ancient roots, but it was a royal seal of approval that set it on the path to global domination.

Pizza is the world’s favourite fast food. We eat it everywhere – at home, in restaurants, on street corners. Some three billion pizzas are sold each year in the United States alone, an average of 46 slices per person. But the story of how the humble pizza came to enjoy such global dominance reveals much about the history of migration, economics and technological change.People have been eating pizza, in one form or another, for centuries. As far back as antiquity, pieces of flatbread, topped with savouries, served as a simple and tasty meal for those who could not afford plates, or who were on the go. These early pizzas appear in Virgil’s Aeneid. Shortly after arriving in Latium, Aeneas and his crew sat down beneath a tree and laid out ‘thin wheaten cakes as platters for their meal’. They then scattered them with mushrooms and herbs they had found in the woods and guzzled them down, crust and all, prompting Aeneas’ son Ascanius to exclaim: “Look! We’ve even eaten our plates!”But it was in late 18th-century Naples that the pizza as we now know it came into being. Under the Bourbon kings, Naples had become one of the largest cities in Europe – and it was growing fast. Fuelled by overseas trade and a steady influx of peasants from the countryside, its population ballooned from 200,000 in 1700 to 399,000 in 1748. As the urban economy struggled to keep pace, an ever greater number of the city’s inhabitants fell into poverty. The most abject of these were known as lazzaroni, because their ragged appearance resembled that of Lazarus. Numbering around 50,000 they scraped by on the pittance they earned as porters, messengers or casual labourers. Always rushing about in search of work, they needed food that was cheap and easy to eat. Pizzas met this need. Sold not in shops, but by street vendors carrying huge boxes under their arms, they would be cut to meet the customer’s budget or appetite. As Alexandre Dumas noted in Le Corricolo (1843), a two liard slice would make a good breakfast, while two sous would buy a pizza large enough for a whole family. None of them were terribly complicated. Though similar in some respects to Virgil’s flatbreads, they were now defined by inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients with plenty of flavour. The simplest were topped with nothing more than garlic, lard and salt. But others included caciocavallo (a cheese made from horse’s milk), cecenielli (whitebait) or basil. Some even had tomatoes on top. Only recently introduced from the Americas, these were still a curiosity, looked down upon by contemporary gourmets. But it was their unpopularity – and hence their low price – that made them attractive.For a long time, pizzas were scorned by food writers. Associated with the crushing poverty of the lazzaroni, they were frequently denigrated as ‘disgusting’, especially by foreign visitors. In 1831, Samuel Morse – inventor of the telegraph – described pizza as a ‘species of the most nauseating cake … covered over with slices of pomodoro or tomatoes, and sprinkled with little fish and black pepper and I know not what other ingredients, it altogether looks like a piece of bread that has been taken reeking out of the sewer’.When the first cookbooks appeared in the late 19th century, they pointedly ignored pizza. Even those dedicated to Neapolitan cuisine disdained to mention it – despite the fact that the gradual improvement in the lazzaroni’s status had prompted the appearance of the first pizza restaurants.All that changed after Italian unification. While on a visit to Naples in 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita grew tired of the complicated French dishes they were served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hastily summoned to prepare some local specialities for the queen, the pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito cooked three sorts of pizza: one with lard, caciocavallo and basil; another with cecenielli; and a third with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The queen was delighted. Her favourite – the last of the three – was christened pizza margherita in her honour.This signalled an important shift. Margherita’s seal of approval not only elevated the pizza from being a food fit only for lazzaroni to being something a royal family could enjoy, but also transformed pizza from a local into a truly national dish. It introduced the notion that pizza was a genuinely Italian food – akin to pasta and polenta.Nevertheless, pizza was slow to move out of Naples. The initial spur was provided by migration. From the 1930s onwards, a growing number of Neapolitans moved northwards in search of work, taking their cuisine with them. This trend was accelerated by war. When Allied soldiers invaded Italy in 1943-4, they were so taken with the pizza they encountered in Campania that they asked for it wherever else they went. But it was tourism – facilitated by the declining cost of travel in the postwar period – that really consolidated pizza’s position as a truly Italian dish. As tourists became increasingly curious about Italian food, restaurants throughout the peninsula started offering more regional specialities – including pizza. The quality was, at first, variable – not every restaurant had a pizza oven. Nevertheless, pizza quickly spread throughout Italy. As it did so, new ingredients were introduced in response to local tastes and the higher prices that customers were now willing to pay.But it was in America that pizza found its second home. By the end of the 19th century, Italian emigrants had already reached the East Coast; and in 1905, the first pizzeria – Lombardi’s – was opened in New York City. Soon, pizza became an American institution. Spreading across the country in step with the growing pace of urbanisation, it was quickly taken up by enterprising restaurateurs (who were often not from an Italian background) and adapted to reflect local tastes, identities and needs. Shortly after the US entered the Second World War, a Texan named Ike Sewell attempted to attract new customers to his newly opened Chicago pizzeria by offering a much ‘heartier’ version of the dish, complete with a deeper, thicker crust and richer, more abundant toppings – usually with cheese at the bottom and a mountain of chunky tomato sauce heaped on top of it. At about the same time, the Rocky Mountain Pie was developed in Colorado. Although not as deep as its Chicago relative, it had a much wider crust, which was meant to be eaten with honey as a desert. In time, these were even joined by a Hawaiian version, topped with ham and pineapple – much to the bewilderment of Neapolitans.From the 1950s onwards, the rapid pace of economic and technological change in the US transformed the pizza even more radically. Two changes are worthy of note. The first was the ‘domestication’ of pizza. As disposable incomes grew, fridges and freezers became increasingly common and demand for ‘convenience’ foods grew – prompting the development of the frozen pizza. Designed to be taken home and cooked at will, this required changes to be made to the recipe. Instead of being scattered with generous slices of tomato, the base was now smothered with a smooth tomato paste, which served to prevent the dough from drying out during oven cooking; and new cheeses had to be developed to withstand freezing. The second change was the ‘commercialisation’ of pizza. With the growing availability of cars and motorcycles, it became possible to deliver freshly cooked food to customers’ doors – and pizza was among the first dishes to be served up. In 1960, Tom and James Monaghan founded ‘Dominik’s’ in Michigan and, after winning a reputation for speedy delivery, took their company – which they renamed ‘Domino’s’ – nationwide. They and their competitors expanded abroad, so that now there is scarcely a city in the world where they cannot be found.Paradoxically, the effect of these changes was to make pizza both more standardised and more susceptible to variation. While the form – a dough base, topped with thin layers of tomato and cheese – became more firmly entrenched, the need to appeal to customers’ desire for novelty led to ever more elaborate varieties being offered, so that now Pizza Hut in Poland sells a spicy ‘Indian’ version and Domino’s in Japan has developed an ‘Elvis’ pizza, with just about everything on it.Today’s pizzas are far removed from those of the lazzaroni; and many pizza purists – especially in Naples – balk at some of the more outlandish toppings that are now on offer. But pizza is still recognisable as pizza and centuries of social, economic and technological change are baked into every slice.A recipe for pizza marinaraAlexander Lee is a fellow in the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick. His latest book, Humanism and Empire: The Imperial Ideal in Fourteenth-Century Italy is published by OUP. 

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Today in History for 25th June 2018

Historical Events

1500 – Pope Alexander VI accept Treaty of Granada
1646 – Thomas Fairfax’s New Model Army occupies Oxford
1864 – Battle of Petersburg: Union forces begin digging tunnels under Confederate lines
1950 – North Korea invades South Korea, beginning the Korean War
1951 – 1st color TV broadcast-CBS’ Arthur Godfrey from NYC to 4 cities
1966 – Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” single goes #1 and stays #1 for 2 weeks

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Famous Birthdays

1907 – J Hans D Jensen, German physicist (atomic nucleus-Nobel 1963)
1925 – Ziggy Talent, singer (Vaughn Monroe Show), born in Manchester, New Hampshire
1964 – Phil Emery, cricketer (NSW wicket-keeper, Australia 1994)
1969 – Alina Ivanova, Ukraine, race walker (indoor 3K world record)
1972 – Mike Kroeger, Canadian musician (Nickelback)
1979 – Richard Hughes, Scottish footballer

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Famous Deaths

1830 – Ephraim McDowell, American Physician (pioneered abdominal surgery), dies at 58
1986 – Gery Florizoone, Flemish poet, dies at 63
1988 – Axis Sally, [Mildred E Gillars], US nazi propagandist (WWII), dies
1996 – Ray Howard-Jones, artist, dies at 93
2002 – Jean Corbeil, Canadian politician (b. 1934)
2011 – Margaret Tyzack, English actress (b. 1931)

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Today in History for 24th June 2018

Historical Events

1527 – Gustaaf I begins Reformation in Sweden, taking Catholic possessions
1748 – The Kingswood School is opened by John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley in Bristol. The school later moved to Bath
1866 – Second Battle at Custozza: the Austrian Imperial army, joined by the Venetian Army decisively defeated the Italian army, despite the Italians’ strong numerical advantage
1910 – 50th British Golf Open: James Braid shoots a 299 at St Andrews Scot
1970 – US Senate votes overwhelmingly to repeal Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
1983 – 7th Space Shuttle Mission-Challenger 2 lands at Edwards AFB

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Famous Birthdays

1832 – Edward Harland, American Brigadier General (Union Army), born in Norwich, Connecticut (d. 1915)
1906 – Willard Maas, American educator and experimental filmmaker (d. 1971)
1908 – Guru Gopinath, Indian classical dancer (d 1987)
1915 – Charles James Dunn, Japanese scholar
1922 – Jack Carter [Chakrin], American comedian and actor, born in Brooklyn New York (d. 2015)
1973 – Alexander Beyer, German actor

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Famous Deaths

1673 – John of Paffenrode, ruler of Ghussigny/poet, dies in battle
1913 – Frank Lynes, American composer, dies at 55
1938 – “Digger” Robertson, cricketer (Test for Australia 1885), dies
1973 – George “Bud” Hamilton, American film make-up artist (Westmore family), dies from a heart attack at 55
2009 – Roméo LeBlanc, 25th Governor General of Canada (b. 1927)
2013 – Alan Myers, American rock drummer (Devo), dies of cancer at 58

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Today in History for 23rd June 2018

Historical Events

1860 – US Congress establishes Government Printing Office
1917 – Ernie Shore replaces Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth with a runner on, he throws him out and retires all 26 he faces for a perfect game
1926 – 8th government of Briand van France forms
1947 – US President Truman’s veto of Taft-Hartley Act overridden by Congress
1972 – 22nd Berlin International Film Festival: “The Canterbury Tales” wins the Golden Bear
1980 – West German wins European soccer title (2-1 against Belgium)

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Famous Birthdays

1904 – Quintin McMillan, cricketer (South African leg spinner 1929-32)
1936 – Costas Simitis, Prime Minister of Greece
1945 – John Garang, Sudanese leader and politician (d. 2005)
1947 – Bryan Brown, actor (F/X, Gorillas in the Mist, Kim, Tai-Pan), born in Sydney, New South Wales
1956 – Tony Hill, American football player
1978 – Frédéric Leclercq, French bassist (DragonForce)

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Famous Deaths

1806 – Mathurin Jacques Brisson, French naturalist (b. 1723)
1888 – Emil Naumann, composer, dies at 60
1895 – Joseph Paul Skelly, composer, dies at 44
1958 – Edvard Armas Jarnefeldt, composer, dies at 88
1982 – Vincent Chin, Chinese-American hate crime victim (b. 1955)
2001 – Corinne Calvet, French actress (Phantom of Hollywood, Apache Uprising), dies of a cerebral hemorrhage at 76

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Today in History for 22nd June 2018

Historical Events

1596 – Cornelis de Houtmans fleet reaches Banten Java
1875 – Garonne Flood: great damage in Verdun and Toulouse, kills about 1,000
1947 – 12″ rain in 42 mins (Holt, MO)
1959 – “Class” by Chubby Checker peaks at #38
1973 – Skylab 2’s astronauts land
1984 – Carl Pohlad becomes CEO of Minnesota Twins

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Famous Birthdays

1674 – Jean Philippe Eugène de Mérode, Belgian marquis of Westerloo, born in Brussels (d. 1732)
1896 – Francis C Denebrink, US Naval officer (WW I, WW II, Korea)
1906 – Anne Morrow Lindbergh, American author and aviator (Gift from the Sea), born in Englewood, New Jersey
1911 – Guus Jansen, jazz pianist (Net als Toen)
1947 – Howard Kaylan, founding member of The Turtles
1964 – Mike Edwards, British rock vocalist (Jesus Jones-Devil you Know)

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Famous Deaths

1903 – George White, African American resident of Delaware, lynched
1931 – Armand Fallières, French president (1906-13), dies at 89
1950 – Julio Fonseca, composer, dies at 65
1996 – Arthur “T-Boy” Ross, American songwriter, brother of Diana, found murdered at 47
1996 – Tertius Metcalf, businessman, dies at 63
2014 – Teenie Hodges, American rhythm and blues guitarist, dies from complications from emphysema at 68

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