Wednesday, 22 June 2011

St John the Baptist's Day - 24 June

June 24 was the day of the solstice in Roman Pagan times and in Christianity is St John the Baptist’s Day. In ancient pagan times ceremonial bonfires were lit after sunset of the previous day. People would jump through the fires for blessings and good luck.

St John the Baptist’s Day is one of the quarter celebrations (equinoxes and solstices) associated with the gateway into the seasons. The other celebrations are Christmas (December 25), Annunciation (March 25) and Michaelmas (September 29).

The Gospel narrates that John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus, with whom there is a very intimate link. The strategic role of John the Baptist is to operate as a sort of Jesus’ double or shadow.

“I tell you with certainty, among those born of women no one has appeared who is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least important person in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)

For further information on John the Baptist and his symbolic and astrological associations see:
Whenever I hear about John the Baptist I cannot help remembering a thrilling episode occurred to me in 1976. At that time I was part of a Christian missionary group who  preached all over Italy, travelling on an old Volkswagen Type 2 van.

Every night we would arrive in a different town, setting up a tent, praying and sleeping a few hours. We would start our missionary work early in the morning and continue until late in the evening.

We would mainly eat only what we received from the people we met. I liked this a lot for it was like being nourished by God and according to his will. Indeed people would nearly always donate food, which made me feel most taken care of.

Only on one occasion offers of food were of a different nature, and this I associate with John the Baptist, who was surely not a champion in gourmet food. 

On some occasions we also held rallies. We would settle in the main square and start first with some chants, then, once attention was drawn and people had gathered one of us would deliver a sermon on our doctrine.

This is what we did one evening in the Sicilian town of Ragusa where the most vehement brother in our group decided to preach on the controversial issue of John the Baptist.

Contrary to traditional Christianity, according to our group the Baptist failed to support Jesus, which was the main cause that led to his crucifixion. Our preacher listed a lot of biblical evidence to support this thesis, repeatedly blaming John the Baptist.

It was a warm summer evening and the square was full of people. In the beginning they all appeared rather friendly. I mean when we were singing… Yet, as soon as our version of the Baptist’s story unveiled, their attitude began to change dramatically.

At first there was a just a frozen silence, with many people staring at us with wide open eyes and mouth. It seemed as if the sermon was having a profound effect on them, and this touched me deeply. Then some people began to shout in the local dialect, which we dared to interpret as a native sign of acclamation, until the first vegetables hit us…

After a few seconds we became the target of a mass launch of tomatoes, eggs and other splattering agents. Far from running away, we continued to hold the square, praying while our preacher kept speaking with increased fervour.

There was a crescendo in the launch, with people even throwing water melons, Sicilian cassata and arancini! Then harder objects began to arrive, and we were gradually introduced to a, yet definitively softer version, of the biblical practice of stoning. The situation became rather violent, until the police came and took us away.

We were formally expelled from the town, whose patron saint and main source of spiritual devotion, alas we laterdiscovered, happened to be Saint John the Baptist himself.

My heartfelt apologies to the town of Ragusa. 

Blessings, Franco Santoro

For some excerpts of a procession during the feast of St John the Baptist in Ragusa see video below.

 © Franco Santoro, Findhorn Foundation Cluny Hill, Forres IV36
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