May 122017

Today is the feast day of Saint Pancras whose life I will focus on briefly.  Chiefly, though, I want to talk about the area of London, St Pancras, that is informally named for him, in part because I stayed there a couple of months ago and found it somewhat appealing (and rather new to me), especially because of the grand old Victorian train station.

St Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded for his faith at the age of 14 around the year 304. Traditionally, St Pancras is the second of the Ice Saints. The Ice Saints’ days span May 11th to 13th which, in many northern European countries, are superstitiously considered to be a time when the spring experiences a cold snap (the opposite of Indian Summer in autumn).

Because he was said to have been martyred at the age of 14 during the persecution under Diocletian, Pancras would have been born around 289, at a place designated as “near Synnada,” a city of Phrygia Salutaris, to parents of Roman citizenship. His mother Cyriada died during childbirth, while his father Cleonius died when Pancras was 8 years old. Pancras was entrusted to his uncle Dionysius’ care. They both moved to Rome to live in a villa on the Caelian Hill. They converted to Christianity, and Pancras became a zealous adherent of the religion.

During the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, around 303 he was brought before the authorities and asked to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Diocletian, impressed with the boy’s determination to resist, promised him wealth and power, but Pancras refused, and finally the emperor ordered him to be beheaded on the Via Aurelia, on 12 May 303.  This traditional year of his martyrdom cannot be squared with the saint’s defiance of Diocletian in Rome, which the emperor had not visited since 286. A Roman matron named Ottavilla reputedly recovered Pancras’ body, covered it with balsam, wrapped it in precious linens, and buried it in a newly built sepulchre dug in the Catacombs of Rome. Pancras’ head was placed in the reliquary that supposedly still exists today in the Basilica of Saint Pancras.

Devotion to Pancras definitely existed from the 5th century onwards, because the basilica of Saint Pancras was built by Pope Symmachus (498-514), on the place where the body of the young martyr was supposed to have been buried. Pope Gregory the Great (540 – 604) gave impetus to the cult of Pancras, sending Augustine to England carrying relics of that saint and including his legend in Liber in gloria martyrum (for this reason, many English churches are dedicated to Pancras.

St Pancras Old Church in London is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. Information panels outside the church today state that it “stands on one of Europe’s most ancient sites of Christian worship, possibly dating back to the early 4th century” and has been a “site of prayer and meditation since 314 AD.” The case for these claims seems first to have been argued by local historian Charles Lee in 1955, who wrote:

There can be little doubt that a Roman encampment was situated opposite the site of St Pancras Church about this period, and that the church is on the site of a Roman Compitum, which served as a centre of public worship and public meeting… It seems probable that the Roman Compitum at St Pancras was adapted to Christian worship shortly after the restoration of religious freedom in 313 (taking its name from the recently-martyred Pancras).

Lee’s “Roman encampment” was “Caesar’s Camp at Pancras called the Brill”, identified by the antiquary William Stukeley in the 1750s. However, even Stukeley’s contemporaries could see no trace of this camp, and considered that Stukeley had let his imagination run away with him. Gillian Tindall has suggested that the lumps and bumps in the fields to the west of the church that Stukeley interpreted as a Roman camp were actually traces of the original medieval village of St. Pancras, before the center of the settlement moved north to the area now known as Kentish Town.

Originally, the parish of St Pancras stretched from close to Oxford Street almost to Highgate. In the early Middle Ages there was a center of population in the vicinity of what is now known as the old church. However, in the 14th century the population abandoned the site and moved to what is now Kentish Town. The reasons for this were probably the vulnerability of the plain around the church to flooding (the River Fleet, which is now underground, runs through it) and the availability of better wells at Kentish Town, where there is less clay in the soil. The church subsequently fell into disrepair. Towards the end of the 18th century, services were only held in the church on one Sunday each month; on other weeks, the same congregation would use a chapel in Kentish Town. It lost its status as the parish church when the New Church on what was to become the Euston Road was consecrated in 1822, and became a chapel of ease.

St Pancras railway station is a Victorian gem which in the 1960s (when most people, myself included, considered it a gaudy monstrosity) was scheduled to be demolished. Instead, it was smartened up and renovated. Now I find it quite attractive (still a bit gaudy), and glad it was preserved to represent Victorian London – the kind of railway station Sherlock Holmes would have used (Baker Street is not far away). The station was commissioned by the Midland Railway in the 1860s. Before then the company had a network of routes in the Midlands, and in south and west Yorkshire and Lancashire but no route of its own to the capital. Up to 1857 the company had no line into London, and used the lines of the London and North Western Railway for trains into the capital. After 1857 the company’s Leicester and Hitchin Railway gave access to London via the Great Northern Railway.

In 1862, traffic for the second International Exhibition suffered extensive delays over the stretch of line into London over the Great Northern Railway’s track; the route into London via the London and North Western was also at capacity, with coal trains causing the network at Rugby and elsewhere to reach effective gridlock. This was the stimulus for the Midland to build its own line to London from Bedford.

The station was designed by William Henry Barlow. The approaching line to the station crossed the Regent’s Canal resulting in the level of the line at St Pancras being 12 to 17 ft (3.7 to 5.2 m) above ground level. Initial plans were for a two or three span roof with the void between station and ground level filled with spoil from tunneling to join the Midland Main Line to the St. Pancras branch. Instead, due to the value of the land in such a location the lower area was used for freight, in particular beer from Burton.  As a result the undercroft was built with columns and girders, maximizing space, set out to the same plans as those used for beer warehouses, and with a basic unit of length that of a beer barrel.

I’ve called on Mrs Beeton for a suitable Victorian recipe, and come up with gravy soup. In some ways this soup reminds me of the potential for English cooking to be questionable, and for railway cafeterias to perpetuate that idea. But . . . it has interesting (and redeeming) features. The quantities alone suggest to me that Beeton copied this recipe from an older cookbook used for giant households. But she gives a note on endive, as it is used in the recipe, noting that it was a very common ingredient in and around London at the time.  She also uses two sauces in the recipe: Harvey’s and Leamington. Harvey’s sauce was a proprietary brand made by fermenting anchovies, and for Leamington sauce she specifically notes that this is her own recipe. I’d suggest giving it a go, but cutting down on the 11 pounds of meat. Below her recipe for Leamington sauce I give a 19th century recipe for Harvey’s sauce.


  1. INGREDIENTS.—6 lbs. of shin of beef, a knuckle of veal weighing 5 lbs., a few pieces or trimmings, 2 slices of nicely-flavoured lean, ham; 1/4 lb. of butter, 2 onions, 2 carrots, 1 turnip, nearly a head of celery, 1 blade of mace, 6 cloves, a hunch of savoury herb with endive, seasoning of salt and pepper to taste, 3 lumps of sugar, 5 quarts of boiling soft water. It can be flavoured with ketchup, Leamington sauce (see SAUCES), Harvey’s sauce, and a little soy.

Mode.—Slightly brown the meat and ham in the butter, but do not let them burn. When this is done, pour to it the water, and as the scum rises, take it off; when no more appears, add all the other ingredients, and let the soup simmer slowly by the fire for 6 hours without stirring it any more from the bottom; take it off, and let it settle; skim off all the fat you can, and pass it through a tammy. When perfectly cold, you can remove all the fat, and leave the sediment untouched, which serves very nicely for thick gravies, hashes, &c.

Time.—7 hours. Average cost, 1s. per quart.

Seasonable all the year.

Sufficient for 14 persons.

ENDIVE.—This plant belongs to the acetarious tribe of vegetables, and is supposed to have originally come from China and Japan. It was known to the ancients; but was not introduced to England till about the middle of the 16th century. It is consumed in large quantities by the French, and in London,—in the neighbourhood of which it is grown in abundance;—it is greatly used as a winter salad, as well as in soups and stews.

LEAMINGTON SAUCE (an Excellent Sauce for Flavouring Gravies, Hashes,

Soups, &c.).

(Author’s Recipe.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Walnuts. To each quart of walnut-juice allow 3 quarts of vinegar, 1 pint of Indian soy, 1 oz. of cayenne, 2 oz. of shalots, 3/4 oz. of garlic, 1/2 pint of port wine.

Mode.—Be very particular in choosing the walnuts as soon as they appear in the market; for they are more easily bruised before they become hard and shelled. Pound them in a mortar to a pulp, strew some salt over them, and let them remain thus for two or three days, occasionally stirring and moving them about. Press out the juice, and to each quart of walnut-liquor allow the above proportion of vinegar, soy, cayenne, shalots, garlic, and port wine. Pound each ingredient separately in a mortar, then mix them well together, and store away for use in small bottles. The corks should be well sealed.

Seasonable.—This sauce should be made as soon as walnuts are obtainable, from the beginning to the middle of July.

Original Recipe from Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cooker‘ (Philadelphia, 1851)


Dissolve six anchovies in a pint of strong vinegar, and then add to them three table-spoonfuls of India soy, and three table-spoonfuls of mushroom catchup, two heads of garlic bruised small, and a quarter of an ounce of cayenne. Add sufficient cochineal powder to colour the mixture red. Let all these ingredients infuse in the vinegar for a fortnight, shaking it every day, and then strain and bottle it for use. Let the bottles be small, and cover the corks with leather.

Feb 192016


Today is the birthday (1473) of Nicolaus Copernicus a Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at the center of the universe. The publication of this model in his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) just before his death in 1543 is considered a major event in the history of science, triggering the Copernican Revolution and making an important contribution to the Scientific Revolution. Here, mostly, I want to continue a discussion I began in this blog some time ago, trying to dispel some trenchant misconceptions about the reception of Copernicus’ work. It was NOT all scientists on one side (the “right” side) and all clergy on the other side (the “wrong” side). Many clergy were sympathetic to Copernicus and many scientists opposed him. This was abundantly clear when Galileo was tried for heresy:

Copernicus was born and died in Royal Prussia, a region that had been a part of the Kingdom of Poland since 1466. He was a polyglot and polymath who obtained a doctorate in canon law and also practiced as a physician, classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat, and economist. Like the rest of his family, he was a third order Dominican.


In Copernicus’ time, people were often called after the places where they lived. Like the Silesian village that inspired it, Copernicus’ surname has been spelled variously. The surname likely had something to do with the local Silesian copper-mining industry, though some scholars assert that it may have been inspired by the dill plant (in Polish, “koperek” or “kopernik”) that grows wild in Silesia. Numerous spelling variants of the name are documented for the astronomer and his relatives. The name first appeared as a place name in Silesia in the 13th century, where it was spelled variously in Latin documents. During his childhood, about 1480, the name of his father (and thus of his son) was recorded in Thorn as Niclas Koppernigk. At Kraków he signed himself, in Latin, Nicolaus Nicolai de Torunia (Nicolaus, son of Nicolaus, of Toruń). At Bologna, in 1496, he registered in the Matricula Nobilissimi Germanorum Collegii as Dominus Nicolaus Kopperlingk de Thorn. At Padua he signed himself “Nicolaus Copernik,” later “Coppernicus” His Latinized generally had two “p”s (in 23 of 31 documents extant), but later in life he used a single “p”. On the title page of De revolutionibus, Rheticus published the name as (in the Latin genitive) “Nicolai Copernici”.


Some time before 1514 Copernicus made available to friends his “Commentariolus” (“Little Commentary”), a forty-page manuscript describing his ideas about the heliocentric hypothesis. Thereafter he continued gathering data for a more detailed work. About 1532 Copernicus had basically completed his work on the manuscript of Dē revolutionibus, but despite urging by his closest friends, he resisted openly publishing his views, not wishing—as he said—to risk the scorn “to which he would expose himself on account of the novelty and incomprehensibility of his theses.” His fears were justified. His heliocentric (sun-centered) hypothesis was elegant but lacked all proof. If the earth moves why don’t we fall off? What is pushing the earth if it moves? What keeps it in orbit? Copernicus and his contemporaries had no answers to these fundamental questions, nor did Galileo when he was put on trial for supporting Galileo. It was well over a century before Isaac Newton solved the puzzle.

Copernicus’ “Commentariolus” listed the “assumptions” upon which his heliocentric theory was based, as follows:

  1. There is no one center of all the celestial circles or spheres.
  2. The center of the earth is not the center of the universe, but only of gravity and of the lunar sphere.
  3. All the spheres revolve about the sun as their midpoint, and therefore the sun is the center of the universe.
  4. The ratio of the earth’s distance from the sun to the height of the firmament (outermost celestial sphere containing the stars) is so much smaller than the ratio of the earth’s radius to its distance from the sun that the distance from the earth to the sun is imperceptible in comparison with the height of the firmament.
  5. Whatever motion appears in the firmament arises not from any motion of the firmament, but from the earth’s motion. The earth together with its circumjacent elements performs a complete rotation on its fixed poles in a daily motion, while the firmament and highest heaven abide unchanged.
  6. What appear to us as motions of the sun arise not from its motion but from the motion of the earth and our sphere, with which we revolve about the sun like any other planet. The earth has, then, more than one motion.
  7. The apparent retrograde and direct motion of the planets arises not from their motion but from the earth’s. The motion of the earth alone, therefore, suffices to explain so many apparent inequalities in the heavens.


These are, for the most part, quite reasonable assumptions and make the mathematics of the solar system so much simpler and more accurate. The latter pleased many clergy whose job it was to keep the calendar accurate and to set the timing of Easter annually based on equinoxes and full moons.

In 1533, Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter delivered a series of lectures in Rome outlining Copernicus’ theory. Pope Clement VII and several Catholic cardinals heard the lectures and were interested in the theory. On 1 November 1536, Cardinal Nikolaus von Schönberg, Archbishop of Capua, wrote to Copernicus from Rome:

Some years ago word reached me concerning your proficiency, of which everybody constantly spoke. At that time I began to have a very high regard for you. For I had learned that you had not merely mastered the discoveries of the ancient astronomers uncommonly well but had also formulated a new cosmology. In it you maintain that the earth moves; that the sun occupies the lowest, and thus the central, place in the universe. Therefore with the utmost earnestness I entreat you, most learned sir, unless I inconvenience you, to communicate this discovery of yours to scholars, and at the earliest possible moment to send me your writings on the sphere of the universe together with the tables and whatever else you have that is relevant to this subject.

So much for the false notion that the church opposed Copernicus. By then Copernicus’ work was nearing its definitive form, and rumors about his theory had reached educated people all over Europe. Despite urgings from many quarters, Copernicus delayed publication of his book, perhaps from fear of criticism—a fear delicately expressed in the subsequent dedication of his masterpiece to Pope Paul III. Scholars disagree on whether Copernicus’ concern was limited to possible astronomical and philosophical objections, or whether he was also concerned about religious objections. I’d like to believe that Copernicus, as a good scientist, was less concerned about religious objections than about objections from other scientists because his hypothesis was devoid of proof from the physics of the day.


Copernicus was still working on De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (even if not certain that he wanted to publish it) when in 1539 Georg Joachim Rheticus, a Wittenberg mathematician, arrived in Frombork. Philipp Melanchthon, a close theological ally of Martin Luther, had arranged for Rheticus to visit several astronomers and study with them. Rheticus became Copernicus’ pupil, staying with him for two years and writing a book, Narratio prima (First Account), outlining the essence of Copernicus’ theory. In 1542 Rheticus published a treatise on trigonometry by Copernicus (later included in the second book of De revolutionibus).

Under strong pressure from Rheticus, and having seen the favorable first general reception of his work, Copernicus finally agreed to give De revolutionibus to his close friend, Tiedemann Giese, bishop of Chełmno (Kulm), to be delivered to Rheticus for printing by the German printer Johannes Petreius at Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Germany. While Rheticus initially supervised the printing, he had to leave Nuremberg before it was completed, and he handed over the task of supervising the rest of the printing to a Lutheran theologian, Andreas Osiander.

Osiander added an unauthorized and unsigned preface, defending the work against those who might be offended by the novel hypotheses. He explained that astronomers may find different causes for observed motions, and choose whatever is easier to grasp. As long as a hypothesis allows reliable computation, it does not have to match what a philosopher might seek as the truth.

Toward the close of 1542, Copernicus was seized with apoplexy and paralysis, and he died at age 70 on 24 May 1543. Legend has it that he was presented with the final printed pages of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium on the very day that he died, allowing him to take farewell of his life’s work. He is reputed to have awoken from a stroke-induced coma, looked at his book, and then died peacefully. This is a quaint story, even if fictitious, leading me to observe as a young professor that to get tenure I had to publish OR perish, but Copernicus published AND perished.


Copernicus was reportedly buried in Frombork Cathedral, where archaeologists for over two centuries searched in vain for his remains. Efforts to locate the remains in 1802, 1909, 1939 and 2004 had come to nought. In August 2005, however, a team led by Jerzy Gąssowski, head of an archaeology and anthropology institute in Pułtusk, after scanning beneath the cathedral floor, discovered what they believed to be Copernicus’ remains. The find came after a year of searching, and the discovery was announced only after further research, on 3 November 2008. Gąssowski said he was “almost 100 percent sure it is Copernicus.” Forensic expert Capt. Dariusz Zajdel of the Polish Police Central Forensic Laboratory used the skull to reconstruct a face that closely resembled the features—including a broken nose and a scar above the left eye—on a Copernicus self-portrait. Zajdel also determined that the skull belonged to a man who had died around age 70—Copernicus’ age at the time of his death.

Polish cooking has evolved considerably since the time of Copernicus, and is markedly similar to the cuisines of Slavs and Germans in many respects. Rosół is a traditional Polish meat soup. The most popular variety is rosół z kury, or clear chicken soup. It is commonly served with fine noodles, in other words, chicken noodle soup. It is one of the most popular Polish soups and is served on family dinners and also is a traditional soup for weddings. It is also said to be a great remedy if one catches a cold. The name “rosół” derives from a dish made of salted meat (used for preservation before refrigeration) cooked in water to make it more edible. Later fresh meat was used instead of salted. Much later that dish of cooked meat became a soup.

There are lots of types of rosół, such as: rosół królewski (royal rosół), made of three meats: beef or veal, white poultry (hen, turkey or chicken) and dark poultry such as duck or goose, a few dried king boletes, one single cabbage leaf and variety of vegetables as parsley, celery, carrot, leek. The cooking must take at least six hours of sensitive boiling on small fire.

Rosół myśliwski (hunter’s rosół), made of variety of wild birds as well as pheasant, capercaillie, wood grouse, black grouse or grey partridge, with a small addition of roe deer meat, wild mushrooms, and 2-3 juniper berries.

Here is a rough translation of a recipe from 1682:

This is the way to cook Polish rosół: take beef meat or veal, hazel grouse or partridge, and whatever meat that can be cooked in rosół [not pork]. Soak it, lay in a pot, then strain and pour over meat, add parsley, butter, salt, and skim well. One has to know what to put in the rosół for it not to smell, that is, dill, onion or garlic, nutmeg, rosemary or pepper. Lime would spoil any rosół as well.


In essence, therefore, you are talking about a Polish version of pot-au-feu. So your task is simply to choose your meats and vegetables, and take your time. I’d use equal quantities of stewing beef, bowling fowl, and duck. Place them in a big stock pot, cover with light stock or water, add coarsely cut carrot, celery and leek, plus some dried mushrooms, bring very slowly to a gentle simmer, and cook over the lowest heat for 6 hours. Skim the top as needed.

Refrigerate overnight.

In the morning remove any congealed fat. Reheat the pot and debone all the meats. Then serve meats, vegetable and broth in deep bowls with dark rye bread. You’re aiming for a very clear, clean, but flavorful broth.