Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức burned himself to death at a busy crossroads in Saigon.
Quảng Đức’s self-immolation came in response to the persecution of Buddhists by the government under Diệm, who belonged to the Catholic minority and was supported by the USA. Buddhists were regularly subjected to discriminatory policies that ranged from limited access to United States aid to employment. Even the military saw some Buddhists convert in order to improve their chance of promotion.
In early May 1963 the government banned the Buddhist flag. This coincided with Phật Đản, otherwise known as Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. Buddhists were incensed by the ban and, on 8 May, a number of Buddhists in the city flew the flag and later marched on the government-controlled radio station where government troops repelled the protesters with live ammunition. Nine people were killed, but Diệm blamed the violence on the Viet Cong. His refusal to hold the local authorities to account or to grant religious equality triggered more protests around the country.
On the morning of 11 June, 350 Buddhist monks and nuns processed along the road outside the Cambodian embassy in Saigon. Thích Quảng Đức calmly emerged from a car and adopted the lotus position on a cushion in the intersection where he was doused in petrol from a five-gallon can. After chanting a prayer he struck a match and his body was engulfed in flames.
Photographs of the act shocked the world, and increased international pressure on Diệm who failed to implement reforms that he promised in the aftermath. On 1 November he was overthrown in a coup and assassinated the following day.
The Indian Mutiny, also known as the First War of Indian Independence, began in Meerut.
By the middle of the 19th century, the British East India Company ruled two thirds of the Indian subcontinent on behalf of the government. The remainder paid tribute to the British, but there was increasing discontent among native rulers about their rapidly declining position. For ordinary Indians there were also concerns about the pace of Westernisation that threatened local traditions and ignored religious practices.
Against these undercurrents of hostility the East India Company relied on its sizeable army to maintain order. Although figures vary between sources, by 1857 up to 300,000 Indian sepoys had been recruited to the army alongside approximately 50,000 European troops. While this meant the Company relied on local troops to maintain control, this presented few problems until the introduction of the Enfield P53 rifle in 1856.
The new rifle required soldiers to bite the end off a pre-greased cartridge to release the powder and load the weapon, but rumours began circulating that the grease was made from cow and pig fat. The former was offensive to Hindus, while the latter was offensive to Muslims. On 9 May 1857, 85 seepoys of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry were court marshalled in the garrison town of Meerut, 40 miles northeast of Delhi, for refusing to use the new cartridges.
Sentenced to up to ten years’ imprisonment, their comrades broke them out of jail the next day. They killed a number of Europeans, as well as up to 50 Indian civilians, before marching to Delhi from where the uprising spread throughout northern India. The response from the British was brutal, but it still took them more than 18 months to regain control.
On the 7th May 1794, just a few weeks before the Law of 22nd Prairial that created the Great Terror, Maximilien Robespierre formally announced the creation of the Cult of the Supreme Being in a meeting of the National Convention.
The Cult had been devised almost exclusively by Robespierre, and followed a period of dramatic de-Christianisation that had seen the French Church stripped of its authority. The Republic had fought hard to remove the influence of the Church from politics, with even the calendar being changed to remove all religious connotations.
What made the Cult of the Supreme Being unique as the state religion was that it recognised that God had created the universe, but that he did not interfere or intervene in its operation. Therefore, humans were responsible for their own actions and destinies. In the words of Robespierre, the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul were, “constant reminders” of the virtuous way people should live their lives in the Republic.
A month later, on the 20th Prairial (otherwise known as the 8th June 1794), Robespierre ordered a national celebration known as the Festival of the Supreme Being. The most significant celebrations were in Paris, where a huge man-made papier-mâché mountain was built on the Champs de Mars. This event is seen by many as marking the pinnacle of Robespierre’s influence. However, within just 8 weeks the Thermidorian Reaction had removed him from power and executed him.
On the 7th April 1498, a group of Franciscan monks met their Dominican rivals in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence to take part in the first trial by fire in 400 years. The belief was that God would intervene to protect the rightful side from the flames as they walked over them. But the trial never went ahead.
The Dominican friar Savonarola had built a powerful following in Florence with his passionate sermons against vices and luxuries that tempted people to sin. The previous year he had been excommunicated for defying Pope Alexander VI’s order to stop preaching sermons in which the Pope himself was criticized for corruption and greed. However, Savonarola ignored the Pope’s order and continued to preach and to celebrate mass. Combined with his support for the French invasion of northern Italy, which he claimed was God’s punishment for the Florentines’ sinful past, Savonarola began to face a large and vocal opposition.
When he hinted at having performed miracles, monks from the rival Franciscan order proposed a trial by fire to prove Savonarola’s holiness. When the two sides met on the 7th April, they squabbled for so long that a rainstorm eventually led to the cancellation of the event.
With Savonarola unable to prove his claim, the crowd turned against him. The next day his convent was stormed by an angry mob and he was arrested. Within six weeks he and two fellow friars had been executed for heresy.
(The image shows Savonarola’s execution, but we can’t find any of his trial by fire.)
The Book of Mormon is a key sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement that was published by Joseph Smith, the founder of the movement, when he was twenty-four years old. He claimed to have been visited by the angel Moroni who showed him the location of a buried book etched on golden plates in a previously unknown language referred to as ‘reformed Egyptian’. He translated the plates into English with the help of special spectacles or seer stones, and dictated the resulting text to a scribe.
Smith approached the printer and publisher Egbert B. Grandin after work on the book was completed in 1829. He was eventually persuaded to print 5,000 copies, but only went through with the full task after prosperous local farmer and early Mormon convert Martin Harris mortgaged his farm to cover the $3,000 security payment. It took Grandin’s staff of eight men and boys under the oversight of chief compositor John H. Gilbert almost eight months of working 12 hour, six day weeks to complete the job.
Concerned that the book might undermine existing Christian beliefs, and could even be blasphemous, local people in Palmyra organised a boycott. With thousands of original copies remaining unsold, the financier Martin Harris was later forced to sell his farm to cover to outstanding debt.
The original building in which Grandin printed and sold the first edition of the Book of Mormon was bought by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October 1978. It was subsequently restored to its original layout and appearance, albeit with the addition of a visitors’ centre.
On the 23rd March 1540, Waltham Abbey in Essex became the last abbey to be dissolved by Henry VIII. Henry had visited the abbey a number of times and is known to have stayed there with Queen Anne Boleyn in 1532. However, despite surviving for a number of years Waltham Abbey eventually succumbed to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This caused an economic disaster in the town, which had grown prosperous as a result of pilgrims visiting the abbey.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the more than 850 religious houses that existed in England at the start of Henry VIII’s reign disbanded and their property taken by the crown. Although only some of these were actual ‘monasteries’, England’s religious houses together owned between a quarter to a third of all the land in England. Furthermore, many of them were rumoured to tolerate decidedly un-monastic behaviour.
Having severed his ties with the Catholic Church in the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry was free to deal with religious houses without needing approval from the Pope. Within two years his ministers began to shut down religious houses on financial grounds, and by 1540 all the abbeys except for Waltham had been closed. Abbot Robert Fuller surrendered the abbey and its property on the 23rd March 1540, and within just a few years all the buildings except for the parish nave were demolished or collapsed due to neglect. The Dissolution of the Monasteries was completed in less than four years, but brought Henry significant income as well as suppressing political opposition from those who might have sided with the Pope.
On the 17th March 1766, the first recorded St Patrick’s Day parade took place…in New York. Irish soldiers serving in the British Army led the parade which, due to the high number of Irish immigrants in the city, quickly became an annual tradition. The first parade in Ireland didn’t take place until 1903 in Waterford.
St Patrick was a Romano-British Christian missionary who converted thousands of Irish Pagans before his death in 461. Although he didn’t really rid Ireland of snakes, since Ireland never contained any snakes, he was responsible for driving out Paganism from almost the entire country. The 17th March, the reputed date of St Patrick’s death, was being marked with feasting by the end of the 10th Century. However, it was not officially recognised by the Catholic Church until the early 17th Century.
Within a century, however, Irish immigrants to America had begun to mark the date in their own ways. Significantly, the early settlers were predominantly Protestant and this helps to explain why many St Patrick’s Day celebrations are largely secular in nature as they are associated more with celebrating Irish culture than the Catholic Saint. This also became an official approach of the Irish Government in the mid-1990s, who established the St Patrick’s Festival to showcase Irish culture.
However, the secularisation of St Patrick’s Day has drawn criticism from some Church leaders who have criticised its “mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry”. In the past, pubs and bars in Ireland had actually been required to close on the 17th March due to concerns over excessive drinking. However, that law was repealed in the 1970s.
On the 1st March 1692, the Salem witch trials began when Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba were brought before local magistrates in Salem Village, Massachusetts. The paranoia and hysteria that ensued eventually led to the executions of twenty men and women, and the deaths of seven more accused whilst in prison.
Salem’s witch hysteria began in January 1692 when the daughter and niece of the Reverend Samuel Parris began to suffer violent fits. The local doctor couldn’t find a physical cause for their illness, and so blamed the supernatural. Other young girls in the community soon began to display similar symptoms, and three local women were accused of bewitching them.
Significantly, the three women were all in some way social outcasts – Tituba was a slave; Sarah Good was a homeless beggar and Sarah Osborne was a poor elderly woman who rarely attended church. They were brought in front of local magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, and although both Good and Osborne denied their guilt Tituba confessed to being “the Devil’s servant”. The reason for her confession is unclear, but it is presumed that she sought to act as an informer in a bid to save herself.
Over the next few weeks dozens more people were accused of witchcraft including the four-year old Dorothy Good, Sarah’s Good’s daughter, who was imprisoned for nine months before being released on bond for £50.
Of the three women first accused of witchcraft in Salem, only Sarah Good was executed. Sarah Osborne died in jail while on trial while Tituba was eventually freed from jail after an anonymous person paid her fees.
On the 23rd February 1455, tradition dictates that Johannes Gutenberg published his printed Bible – the first book to be produced with moveable type in the West. Although there is no definitive evidence for this publication date, numerous secondary sources state it and therefore it is accepted by most people.
Gutenberg was not the first person in the world to use moveable type, and nor was the Bible his first foray into printing with it. He didn’t even produce that many copies, with estimates ranging from 160 to 185 Bibles of which only twenty-three complete copies survive. However, the process with which Gutenberg printed his Bible revolutionised the production of books and is viewed by many as crucial to the developments that followed in the Renaissance and the Reformation.
The earliest examples of moveable type – the use of individual components that can be ordered to produce a printed document – date back to China’s Northern Song Dynasty at the turn of the last millennium, but the enormous number of characters in scripts based on the Chinese writing system made the system unwieldly. Gutenberg therefore benefited from the much smaller number of characters in the Latin alphabet, but also invented a reliable way to cast large numbers of individual metal letters using a device called the hand mould. Furthermore, he developed an oil-based ink that was optimised for metal-type printing onto paper.
With 1,286 pages a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible is now estimated to be worth up to $35 million dollars, but the value of the printing press itself is immeasurable. Gutenberg’s creation was responsible for an intellectual revolution.
On the 13th February 1689, William and Mary became co-regents of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland after agreeing to the Declaration of Right. On the 5th November the previous year William, the head of state of the Dutch Republic, landed at Torbay after being invited by a group of English Parliamentarians to invade England. His Dutch fleet and army went on to oust the Catholic King James II, his wife Mary’s father, in the so-called Glorious Revolution. James was allowed to flee the country and later took up exile in France.
The Declaration of Right, which became a Bill after it was formally passed on the 16th December, joined other documents such as Magna Carta and the Petition of Right as a central part of the uncodified British constitution. The Declaration placed limits on the monarch’s power and confirmed Parliament’s own rights, ensuring that it was free to function without royal interference. Furthermore, it banned Catholics from the throne.
Parliament originally only wanted to offer the crown to Mary, with William as Prince Consort, but the couple pressed for co-regency. Parliament agreed, and so on the 13th February the couple was declared king and queen. Their coronation took place on the 11th April.
The Glorious Revolution was not seen as such by everyone. The Bill of Right was both politically and religiously divisive, laying the foundations for generations of conflict. Beginning with the Williamite–Jacobite War that confirmed British and Protestant rule in Ireland, the Protestant Ascendancy established political, economic and social domination of the country for over two centuries.