Current Essays

002 Founding

From 6th March 1985
My fellow Rochestarians, good morning.
I just learned that we have been celebrating the centenary of the city or something like that. I do wish that someone had told me sooner, because I so hate to miss these things, and anyway I could have told them that it was all a bit of a waste of time because, as I thought everyone knew, Rochester was really founded simply ages and ages ago.

Do you remember all that kerfuffel about the Norse remains in Newfoundland at L’anse-aux-medows? Well, before that the only evidence for Norse settlement in America was found in their Sagas and histories. The most important source being the Landnámabók of Ari Frode (the Learned), a sort of Mediæval Notional Geographic without the Kodachromes, which tells of a land to the west of Vinland the Good where Ari Marsson was forcibly baptized by Irish monks around the year 985.

This land, called by Ari Hvitramannaland, has long been recognized by historians as the Ür settlement of Rochester. The name Hvitramannaland means 'white man’s land' which is by no means a racial epithet. It refers instead to the visible results of the monks habit of standing outside in all weathers for hours on end preaching to passing wild creatures and plants. Even though this was the time of the climatic optimum, when grapes grew in Newfoundland, Rochester still got a lot of lake-effect snow which would build up on the monks’ heads and shoulders as they preached, and often last well into June or July. As what were to become native Americans passing eastwards met them they of course thought of them as “the old-white-men-who-wear-igloos” which is the indubitable origin of the term Ari picked up. Not only that but they even borrowed a term from the monks' Latin for the monks' habit, translating “old white man” as "Senex Candida". Out of respect and astonishment they came to apply the name to the region too, and later even adopted it for themselves. Worn down in time by syncopation and apocopation it became the familiar Seneca which they use to this day to commemorate the first inhabitants of Rochester. Since Ari Marsson had his unfortunate tussle with the monks when they were in the first flush of excitement over the founding of their community its reasonable to suppose that Rochester was founded that year which would make 1985 Rochester's millennium.

At a later date I will tell you more about early Rochester, about Neatanniel, its founder, and about the original Rochester song, which as you probably know survives in a copy written in the 14th century, but for now I will leave you with one last thought.
Swillburg, which is where I live, was of course the original settlement and was named, not as so many claim after the pig-keeping that was once practiced there, but yet again from the one of the habits of the monks, who, ever mindful of the temptations of the flesh, would only eat the simplest, not to say the most obnoxious, food available.

Cheerio for now.


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