John Arnold: When the Emperor, Saint and Pope meet at Heaven’s open day

In his weekly column John Arnold reflects on the modernisation of Heaven and Hell.
John Arnold: When the Emperor, Saint and Pope meet at Heaven’s open day
A famous painting of Napoleon riding his horse Marengo, which was reportedly bought at a Cork horse fair.

IN Hell, you get to go to the bathroom once every six years. The toilet can be used as required but the bathroom with the shower and the bath is like the ‘inner sanctum’ of Hell — by Invitation only.

Like everywhere, Hell and Heaven have modernised a lot, changed with the times, you might say.

Now the Bible mentioned that up above or down below time, as we know it on earth, doesn’t exist. After all if one is there for eternity a decade here or a century there makes very little difference at all, at all.

As I say, nothing stands still, change is all around us and it’s mainly called progress. We have a huge problem at present with climate change whereas in Heaven it’s idyllic — just perfect.

Now you might say ‘twould be very boring to be in a place for ages and ages and have the same weather every single day for eons of years. In Dante’s famous novel The Inferno (nothing to do with the film Towering Inferno) he claims there are nine different kind of Divisions in Hell. It’s not like a hurling or a football league where you’d have the first and second and third Divisions and so on. No, these divisions are based on the gravity of your sin and why you are Down There in the first place.

The same applies to Paradise and Purgatory. Things have changed a bit in recent times as Purgatory and Limbo seem to have gone into decline. The terms are seldom used now.

Getting back to the weather wasn’t last Monday night woeful? We had an inch of rain here. The Met Office told me onetime that an inch of rain is equivalent to a Hundred Tonnes of Water falling on an acre. Now it’s easier to think of water in gallons rather than tonnes but if the water was frozen you could envisage what a hundred tonnes of ice would be like. According to Dante when the Fires of Hell are going well, fanned by a south-easterly breeze you could do with some of that ice Down There!

One of the big changes they made in eternity in the early Middle Ages was the introduction of Open Days - on the last Friday of every month. When we think of Open Days we might imagine going to such an event in the Cork Public Museum or in Moorepark or to some newly opened attraction like Fota Wildlife Park. These Open Days are happy, interesting and pleasurable events. Not so in Eternity. You see as an additional little punishment and ‘slap on the wrist’ those in Hell have to come up to the Open Day in Heaven when their number is called. The whole idea is, as if eternal damnation and hell fires weren’t enough, that the damned are forced to see how ‘the other half lives’ above in heaven. On the last bus down on the last Friday of every month, lads, you should hear the weeping and moaning and the gnashing of teeth. Most of them are singing ‘If I Had My Life To Live Over’.

The Bible tells us that ‘the eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard’ the good things prepared in Heaven. So on the Open Days there’s a mighty spread laid on, lashings of food of every imaginable kind with music and poetry and fun and games- even story-telling. All the Hell’s angels up for the day can see everything but the heavenly folk can’t see the visitors who have to wear masks and visors. Attendance at the Open Days for hell’s residents is compulsory. Lucifer has a Register (probably an App nowadays) and anyone who misses a trip upstairs will have to wait twelve years for a shower or a bath if they committed more ‘horizontal’ sins.

Imagine Napoleon Bonaparte and Saint Bartholomew having a chat outside the Lift on the last Friday of some month! The reason I mention that pair is because without them my home place of Bartlemy wouldn’t be as famous all over the world as it currently is. Back in the 1880’s there were plans for a Railway here, linking Midleton and Fermoy but ‘twas shelved around 1900.

In the 1940’s a Creamery was mooted but the sites suggested had one prerequisite missing - a water supply! We never had an Airport though the Scanlon brothers Tom and Martin did have an Airstrip complete with hangar in the parish in the 1980’s.

St Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles and was often called Nathaniel. Some modern scholars even claim they were two different men but I don’t think so. Bartholomew spread Christianity in China. When he departed that country he took a week’s supply of rice with him thus inventing the Chinese take-away. In fairness Bartholomew might have fared better if he stayed and set up a Monastery near the Great Wall. He didn’t however and he moved to Armenia to spread the Faith - he was in India too but never seemed to curry up much support there. He persuaded Polymius the Armenian king to become a Christian but the jealousy of the kings brother resulted in the death of Bartholomew. It’s said he was skinned alive and then beheaded. His Feast day is August 24th - next Monday.

Back in Ireland the coming and goings continued. St Patrick, the Danes, the Normans and others came - some on holidays but others with a more sinister motive. Christianity took root here despite a strong Pagan and Druidic tradition. Those ‘faiths’ had many Gods - the sun, moon, stars and of course water. There was small ‘babbling brook’ in a deep glen here in this parish. We can’t be sure but it might have been a pagan well and when the Christians came things changed.

St Patrick was a cute man and his philosophy of ‘if we can’t bate ‘em join ‘em’ worked well. He simply changed Pagan places of worship into Christian ones - like ‘holy’ wells. The people flocked here doing the rounds and taking the water. A market then a Fair started nearby. Over a few centuries this Fair grew to be one of the biggest in Europe.

On St. Bartholomew’ s Day August 24th 1572 one of the major events of the French Religious Wars began. A Massacre of Huguenots by Catholics started in Paris and in a few weeks it spread to different parts of France. Some say 5,000 were slaughtered, others claim the death toll was over 20,000. One way or another it was a savage sectarian conflict. Remembrance events started in France to commemorate and remember the awful events of that bloody St. Bartholomew’ Day. These gradually became known as Bartholomew Festivals and even Fairs and were replicated all over Europe including a huge event in London. In 1723 a wealthy Youghal businessman Henry Rugge who had ‘acquired’ land in this area was given a Royal Charter by English King Charles I to hold two annual fairs here. This was 150 years after the Paris massacre but perhaps the ‘Bartholomew Fair’ movement was by then only catching on here in Ireland. Rugge held the fairs close by where the Holy Well is and was.

This is where the bould Napoleon comes in. He heard about the Fair and sent over horse buyers on the ferry. Huge numbers of horses were needed for his army. We all know that amongst the animals bought here was a white charger bred in Co Wexford which was later named Marengo ridden for years by Napoleon. He was still on Marengo when he met his Waterloo - actually ABBA had a hit song about Waterloo so there’s another link with Bartlemy.

If Bartholomew had stayed in India or China he might never have been killed. Maybe we wouldn’t then have had a ‘Bartholomew Fair’ here and if we hadn’t we’d be living in a place with no name. I know you can say - sure Napoleon could have got a good horse somewhere else - in Cahermee or Ballinasloe, but ‘twas Marengo won most of his battles for him - the horse was of good bone with great stamina having grazed here for two months before taking the boat to France.

Pope Gregory XIII is another man with local links. The Fair was always held here on St Bartholomew’s Day, August 24th or it’s Eve. Then in October 1582 the Pope decided to sort out the problem with the Calendar. He shortened the year by .0075 days to straighten things out. He did all that on Thursday October 4, 1582 and to settle the whole matter ten days were lost so October 4 was followed by October 15! Handy enough solution wasn’t it! It had major repercussions here in Bartlemy. August the 24 now became September 4 and from 1582 onwards Bartlemy Fair held onto that date of September 4.

Imagine it now, at the Open Day in Heaven on Friday week as the Emperor, the Saint and the Pope have a chat. I’d say Napoleon would break the ice with a comment like ‘Lads, I hear the blackberries are good in Bartlemy this year’.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more