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of them may be found in old works; which shows the value set upon the most trifling and insignificant article. But I perceive there are the anniversary days of two very great and important characters to notice; we will, therefore, attend to your accounts of them, William.
William. You mean the apostles St. John and St. Peter:—we will attend to them directly, Sir. But before doing so, I must just mention that the 21st of this month is called the Longest Day; though it is not exactly the fact, since the days do not vary in length from th« 18th to the 26th; and the variation for three days before, and as many after these, is but a single minute. It must therefore be considered the medium of the Summer solstice, in the same way as we consider the 21st of December, or the Shortest Day, to be the medium of the Winter solstice. Midsummer Day is also mentioned as being on the 24th; and as the term speaks for iiself, I shall proceed to notice the two last-named festivals of this month. That on the 24th is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of our blessed Lord. He was the son of Zacharias (the last of the Jewish prophets,) and Elizabeth, who was one of the daughters of Aaron. His birth was foretold by an angel, who appeared to his father, declaring that his wife should bear him a son, whom he should name John. Agreeably to this prediction, Elizabeth was safely delivered, in the year of the world 4004.
Mr. Constance. And which was about six months before the birth of our Saviour, I believe. He therefore became the " harbinger of Christ," as was foretold by the prophets. How did he pass his early days?
William. Chiefly in a wilderness; to which, it appears, he had retired to avoid the cruel decree of Herod. Here he lead a life of. sanctity and forbearance, subsisting upon locusts and wild honey, and clothed with a rough garment of camel's hair, tied with a leathern girdle. At the age of thirty-three he was called to the ministry, in which he was most successful, and so continued for the space of thirteen months; when he repaired to the court of Herod Antipas, and boldly censured him for various enormities, particularly for his marriage with his brother's wife, Herodias, by whose arts John was at last beheaded.
Charles. Was St. John imprisoned for his boldness in reproving the king?
William. Yes:—although, at first, Herod seemed inclined to bear the rebuke of the saint, "knowing that he was a just man and holy;" but the malignant Herodias at length instigated the king to sentence him to bondage, far from the people who had witnessed his piety, and benefited by his instructions. Nearly a year was passed by him in prison, when he became the subject of one of the most barbarous and wanton acts of female depravity ever recorded. On the occasion of the king's birthday, a grand feast was held at the fortress in which St. John was confined, when Herod, being ensnared by the beauty of Salome, the daughter of Herodias, by a former husband, declared, with an oath, that he would grant whatever she should require, even to the half of his kingdom. The daughter applied to her mother to instruct her in her choice, when Herodias, with that barbarous malignity which she had hitherto displayed towards St. John, directed Salome to demand " the head of John the Baptist in a charger"! The order was given, and speedily executed; and when Salome delivered the bleeding head over to her brutal mother, it was received with a savage delight, and gazed upon by her with a look of satisfied revenge. But, the more to show her diabolical spirit, she pulled out the tongue which had so much incensed her, and pierced it with a bodkin.'
Maria. Oh! William, how can you relate such a deed: the thought of it makes me shudder.
William. It was indeed an act of the blackest dye, and I could have wished that I had not been compelled to name it: but it is a fact recorded in Scripture, and is no doubt familiar to you.
Mr. Constance. The barbarous disposition of Herod was manifested by many atrocious deeds, but in the instance of St. John's death, he appears to have been afterwards troubled with several compunctious visitings of conscience ; and it is only just to recollect, when speaking of this murder, that his consent to sacrifice John to the vengeance of his incestuous wife, was wrung from him by stratagem, and followed by remorse. And Josephus, who gives a circumstantial account of the miseries which afterwards befel Herodias and her husband, attributes them all to the murder of St. John.
Mrs. Constance. That Herod should have held the character of St. John in esteem, is not surprising, since it is possible for hearts the most obdurate to be softened by a continued example of such virtues as were practised by that amiable character. His humility, disregard of worldly luxuries, and patient resignation, caused multitudes to flock to his ministry, and the true ministers of Christ to imitate his actions.
Mr. Constance. You will observe that the festival appropriated to St. John, is in honour of his birthday or nativity, and not of his martyrdom.
William. I noticed that, Sir, and intended asking you what occasions the distinction.
Mr. Constance. You remember, no doubt, that when we first commenced these Conversations it was asked, if the days observed by our church, in honour of the several saints, were their birthdays; when I explained to you that they were only called so, as alluding to those pious sufferers being born in Christ on those particular days; for that they were, in reality, the anniversaries of those saints' martyrdom. Now the only exception to this rule which has hitherto come before us, was that of St; Paul, whp is not commemorated by his death, but, as you already know, by his miraculous conversion.
William. Then, I suppose, in like manner, it is the extraordinary nativity or birth of St. John which is intended to be commemorated.
Mas. Constance. You are right; it is so: and as you have already made us acquainted with that fact, proceed to notice the biography of St. Peter noted on the 29th.
William. Peter, or Simon Peter as he is frequently called in Scripture, was the brother of Andrew, and both followed the occupation of fishing. They were the sons of Jonah, (probably a fisherman) of Bethsaida, a city of Upper Galilee. The history of St. Peter is interesting in the highest degree: he was the disciple on whose fidelity and firmness, as on a rock, Christ declared that he would build his church. Jesus, therefore, when Simon was introduced to him by his brother Andrew, called him Cephas, implying in the Syriac (the language of the Jews) a rock. The name of Peter is from the Greek, having the same meaning. He was the senior apostle, and always appeared as the principal speaker among them. He was about ten years older than the Messiah. After the resurrection, St. Peter preached at Jerusalem and other places, and made thousands of converts. Asia, Africa, and Europe were each blessed by his presence. It is even asserted, that he visited this island. In the year 64, he settled at Rome, where he continued his labours in establishing Christianity. He was there particularly opposed by a pretender named Simon Magus, to whom an altar had been erected as to a deity, and whose impostures Peter finally detected and exposed: in consequence he fell under the severe displeasure of the cruel Nero, who, falsely accusing the Christians of setting fire to the city, began a dreadful persecution against them. After having confined St. Peter for nine months, the Emperor ordered him out for execution, which took place on the top of the Vatican Mount
Charles. By what means did he suffer?
William. By the cross: having previously been severely scourged. It is recorded, by some authors, that he was condemned to die with his head downwards: whilst others state, that it was at his own request he so suffered, considering himself unworthy of meeting death in the same posture as our Lord.
Angelina. Was the church of St. Peter, at Rome, built in honour of the apostle you are now speaking of?
William. Yes; and it is considered the largest building that was ever erected, excepting, of course, the temples of Solomon and Herod at Jerusalem.
Maria. This apostle, 1 believe, is held in great veneration by Roman Catholics: can you tell the reason why?
Mr. Constance. Because he was the senior apostle, and much favoured by our Saviour. The Popes of Rome have, therefore, arrogated to themselves the title of Representatives of St. Peter, and change their names, in imitation of the change of the name of that apostle; though it is remarked, that no pope was ever known to assume tht name of Peter, while several have, in modest diffidence, laid it aside upon their elevation to the papal chair.
Angelina. Some of the emblems of this apostle are more frequently alluded to than any other: pray explain their meaning.
Mr. Constance. He is represented as holding in his hand a scroll of paper and a bunch of keys: the former signifying his contributions to the books of the New Testa