On the 16th September 1978, filming began on Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Seen by some as the greatest comedy film of all time, the film has courted controversy since its release due to its satirical portrayal of religion that is interpreted by some as blasphemous.
Life of Brian was the third motion picture to be released by the Monty Python comedy troupe, and is said to have had its origins in the publicity circuit accompanying their previous film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The box-office success of Holy Grail had proved that there was significant demand for feature-length creations from the group, and soon the idea of lampooning organised religion became a focus for development.
Two members of Monty Python, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, dismissed the idea of a direct satire of Jesus Christ since they agreed that – despite both being non-believers – there was nothing to mock in his teachings. Therefore they settled on the idea of his neighbour, Brian, being mistaken for the Messiah despite not wanting the attention.
It took just over a year for the script to be completed, and EMI Films had been lined up to fund the project. However, just two days before filming was due to begin the funding was withdrawn on direct orders of the company chief executive. Faced with catastrophe Eric Idle confided in his friend, ex-Beatle George Harrison, who stepped in to save the film by providing £3 million through his production company HandMade Films. It grossed over $19 million in America alone during its first year of release.
The Adi Granth, the original holy scripture of Sikhism now known as Guru Granth Sahib, was first installed at the Harmandir Sahib Golden Temple.
Beginning with Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, the gurus had distributed collections of hymns to distant Sikh communities. The Adi Granth was a compilation of these texts assembled by Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh Guru, who had inherited the role from his father, Guru Ram Das, in 1581.
While collating the work of his predecessor, Guru Arjan realised that some of the legitimate writings had been infiltrated by forged works from other people who sought the guruship. Keen to stop the illegitimate texts from spreading, Guru Arjan set about compiling the writings of Guru Ram Das and the first three gurus into a single volume.
The Adi Granth manuscript was completed in 1604 and it was installed at the Golden Temple, which Guru Arjan had also designed, on 1 September that year. Copies were sent to Sikh communities across northern India while the book remained unchanged until the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, added the writings of his predecessor to it. Guru Gobind Singh later ended the human line of gurus by announcing the text itself as his successor on 20 October 1708. Consequently this second rendition of the Adi Granth became known as Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Gobind Singh instructed Sikhs to respect the Guru Granth as an embodiment of the ten Gurus who had come before it. Consequently Guru Granth Sahib is considered within Sikhism to be the final Guru, since it contains answers to all questions regarding religion and morality.
On the 18th August 1612, the trials of nine Lancashire women and two men known as the Pendle Witches began. Accused of various murders, twelve people were charged of whom was found not guilty and another died in prison before going to trial. The other ten were found guilty and executed by hanging.
The trials of the Lancashire witches are not only some of the most famous, but also some of the best recorded witch trials in British history. This is due to a published account called The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster by Thomas Potts, the clerk to the Lancaster Assizes where all but one of the trials took place.
One of the most interesting things about the trial is that the majority of the defendants self-identified as witches, or at least as village healers who practised what they referred to as ‘magic’ in return for payment. A number of the accused even admitted to Roger Nowell, the justice of the peace for Pendle and chief prosecutor at the trials, that witchcraft had been practised by a number of people in the area around Pendle Hill for many years.
In historical terms, the Pendle Witch trials were significant for their scale. Despite a popular belief that witch trials were a common occurrence in the early modern period, only around 500 people were executed for witchcraft throughout the 300 year period when they were carried out. This means that the ten found guilty in Pendle represented an astounding 2% of all British witches to face trial during the period.
The Islamic calendar was dated to start with the first new moon after the Prophet Muhammad and his followers migrated to Medina.
The calendar begins with the Prophet’s Flight as this is a key event in Islamic history for which all early followers could agree on the specific date. There was disagreement over the exact date of other events, such as the birth of the Prophet or when he first received the Divine message.
Known as the Hijra the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Mecca to Medina, which at the time was called Yathrib, due to rumours of an assassination plot against him. Despite the migration taking place in 622, this year was only set as the start of the Islamic calendar by the Caliph Umar in 638 due to the pressing need to have a formalised dating system to improve administration. Until then the Muslim community had identified years according to a key event that took place within it – such as ‘the year of permission’.
While the Islamic calendar is linked to the Hijra, the actual start date is based on the beginning of the month of Muharram in the year of the Prophet’s arrival in Medina. This lunar month was already important to pre-Islamic Arabs and so served as a sensible demarcation, especially as it had been named by Allah in the Quran as one of the four sacred months.
16 July 622 was only identified on the Western Julian calendar during the medieval period. Muslim astronomers created a tabular Islamic calendar that they then projected backwards to identify the equivalent date on the Julian calendar. A tabular Islamic calendar relies on arithmetical rules to determine the length of the months, rather than astronomical calculations. Lunar observations are still used to specify the correct date of Islamic holidays and rituals.
On the 15th July 1834 the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, otherwise known as the Spanish Inquisition, was disbanded. Originally established in 1478 by the Catholic Monarchs, the Spanish Inquisition came under the direct control of the Spanish monarchy rather than the church which meant it was used as both a religious and political organization. By the time it was abolished, up to 150,000 people had been tried by the Spanish Inquisition, of whom somewhere between two and five thousand were executed.
The Spanish Inquisition’s main task was to regulate and maintain Catholic orthodoxy within the dual kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. Their main focus was therefore on Jews who outwardly converted to Christianity but continued to practice Judaism. Known as Crypto-Jews, this group was disproportionately targeted by the Inquisition, especially after Ferdinand and Isabella ordered all Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave the country in decrees issued in 1492 and 1501. The British historian Henry Kamen estimates that up to 90% of Inquisition trials were for conversos.
The Enlightenment had a significant impact on the activity of the Spanish Inquisition, as the government gradually became more secular. The fact that many of the Enlightenment texts were being brought in to Spain by influential nobles meant the ideas that would previously have been policed by the Inquisition had to be increasingly tolerated. Although the Inquisition made a short comeback after Napoleon Bonaparte’s older brother Joseph dissolved it during his short time as king, the Inquisition was finally abolished by Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies.
Moscow’s Trinity Church, later renamed Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat and better known as Saint Basil’s Cathedral, was consecrated.
Ivan the Terrible had originally constructed a series of small wooden memorial chapels as a way to commemorate his numerous military successes against the Tatars. These were built next to the original Trinity Church in the centre of the marketplace near the Moscow Kremlin. Ivan ordered the construction of the new stone church in 1555 to commemorate his capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.
What later became Saint Basil’s Cathedral is therefore a more lavish replacement of an earlier building. Little is known of its construction, with even the identity of the architect a mystery. Tradition dictates that two architects, Barma and Postnik, built the church although later writers have suggested that these are simply different names for the same person.
The building itself consists of eight outer churches arranged around a ninth central one, and is constructed on top of a white stone foundation that matches the nearby Kremlin. A series of later developments led to the nine separate structures becoming joined into a single building, and the bright colours that decorate the walls of the cathedral were added from the late 17th until the middle of the 19th century. These are said to reflect the colours of Heaven described in the Book of Revelation. Before they were repainted, the domes were uniformly decorated with gilded tin.
The Cathedral was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox Church as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution and introduction of state atheism. It continues to function as a public museum.
Born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, Pius IX’s election by the Papal conclave of 1846 came at a time of significant political unrest across Europe. A particular issue facing the 50 members of the College of Cardinals who attended the conclave regarded the future governance of the Papal States, which the new Pope would rule. A conservative faction wished to see the continuation of a policy of papal absolutism, while more moderate cardinals hoped for some liberal reforms.
Going against the general mood of the rulers of Europe who wished to see a conservative Pope, the moderate Cardinal Bernetti successfully persuaded other like-minded cardinals to vote for Mastai-Ferretti. The papal historian Valérie Pirie wrote that, as one of the scrutineers responsible for recording the votes of the conclave, Mastai-Ferretti therefore proclaimed his own election.
His appointment was met with enthusiasm from European liberals, and he was celebrated by English Protestants as a ‘friend of light’. Having named himself Pius after Pope Pius VII, the first years of the new Pope’s rule saw a number of liberal actions including the release of political prisoners and the beginnings of a constitution for the Papal States. However, the revolutions of 1848-49 and a number of nationalist terrorist attacks began to turn him away from this initially liberal agenda.
By the 1850s Pius IX had become more conservative, and he began to consolidate the power of the Church. The capture of the Papal States by the Italian Army in 1870, however, led to him declaring himself the ‘Prisoner of the Vatican’.
On the 30th May 1431, Joan of Arc was executed by being burned at the stake. The Maid of Orleans had been found guilty of heresy for a second time, which made it a capital offence.
Although Joan was accused of being a witch and a heretic due to the voices she heard and visions she witnessed, the crime that condemned her to death was that of wearing men’s clothing. Joan had worn male military clothing and armour during campaigns against the English army in the Hundred Years War, and this was deemed heretical.
At trial, Joan faced 70 charges relating to heresy and witchcraft. These gradually dwindled to 12 but, having been found guilty of these crimes and afraid of immediate execution if she continued to plead innocence, Joan admitted her guilt and also promised to stop wearing men’s clothing.
However, a few days later Joan said the voices told her she had made a mistake. Additionally, although she began to wear female clothing again in prison, she said that someone had attempted to rape her in her cell and so began to again wear men’s clothing to deter further attacks. Combined with the voices this was interpreted as a relapse into heresy, and she was condemned to death.
Joan died of smoke inhalation before the flames fully consumed her, but her remains were burned a further two times to reduce them to ashes. They were scattered in the River Seine. On the 7th July 1456, after a retrial, Joan was declared to have been innocent.
The Covenant of Perfectibility, the forerunner of the original Bavarian Illuminati, was founded by Adam Weishaupt in Ingolstadt.
Weishaupt had become a professor of Canon Law at the University of Ingolstadt in 1773, having graduated with a doctorate of law five years earlier. The university was controlled by the Jesuits but, not being a cleric himself, Weishaupt found himself increasingly frustrated by the religious authorities.
Having been inspired by the Enlightenment, Weishaupt set up his own secret society to spread its ideas. Beginning with just five members, the early years of the society saw it expand so slowly that by the summer of 1778 there were still only 27 members. In an attempt to develop his own organisation, in 1777 Weishaupt was initiated into a lodge of the Freemasons and the following year he formally renamed his society the Order of Illuminati.
Despite the order’s humble beginnings, the early 1780s saw the Illuminati began to establish bases in other Bavarian cities. The library contained books and other literature that were banned in Bavaria due to their ‘liberal’ content, and this formed the basis of the society’s beliefs and goals.
As recruitment increased throughout the early 1780s, the Illuminati attracted the attention of the government. The exposure of a number of members who held powerful civic and governmental positions fuelled criticisms that the society was undermining Bavaria.
In response the state’s ruler Charles Theodore, who had suppressed liberal thought since his succession in 1777, issued an edict in 1784 that banned the Bavarian Illuminati. After the collapse of the society, Weishaupt fled Bavaria and never returned.
On the morning of 14th April 1561, the people of Nuremberg in Germany witnessed a “dreadful apparition” in the sky. Modern UFO enthusiasts have used the Nuremberg celestial phenomenon as evidence of extra-terrestrial life, although scientists have also put forward their explanation of why hundreds of people saw what they described as an aerial battle raging in front of the sun.
The spectacle was recorded by the artist Hans Glaser who lived in Nuremberg and so presumably witnessed the event himself. He published a woodcut and text in a ‘broadsheet’ – a kind of newspaper that reveled in reporting strange or violent stories. The woodcut shows cylindrical objects; multiple-coloured discs and globes, crosses, and even tubes that look like cannon barrels all moving in the sky.
There’s no way of knowing how accurate the woodcut is, or what caused the shapes in the sky, but recent science has pointed towards atmospheric phenomena. UFO-skeptic Frank Johnson has written a convincing argument suggesting that the people of Nuremberg witnessed a parhelion, otherwise known as a sundog, caused by light refracting through clouds of ice crystals, along with other atmospheric tricks of the light including a low viewing angle of the sun. Others suggest a city-wide outbreak of ergotism, where fungus growing on grain can cause hallucinations.
Whatever the cause, the celestial phenomenon terrified the people of Nuremberg who interpreted it as a warning from God.