Current Essays

022 Slightly Later

From 24th July 1985
My fellow Rochestarians, good morning.
In this our millennium we proudly present yet another in our series of Genesee-side chats.

(The story so far: Meg has quarreled with Ray whose child Donna is… Whoops! Sorry wrong piece of paper---that comes much later. Neatanniel has quarreled with Abbot Ginn of the Rocks over the siting of the settlement, but in a vote the monks side with Neatanniel and Rochester is founded at Swillburg. They have a celebratory feast of bread and water. And now today’s episode...)

The early history of this Ür settlement is a peaceful round of fasts, mortifications of the flesh and penances enlivened by the occasional forcible baptism, as of Ari Marsson whose Old Icelandic Arismál gives us our only undoubtedly accurate early portrait of Rochester’s founding fathers (actually we should say founding brothers since they were monks, but who cares after all this time) The other sources, notably the Navagatio Sancti Juniperii Petræ, which are so heavily overlain with hagiography are just not believable. In spite of that warning, we should pause a moment with the Navagatio for the delightful story of Abbot Ginn and the Coming of the Red Man. The Irish, as any of them will tell you, were in America long before the “Native Americans” and in the Navagatio we can catch a glimpse of an (at least apocryphal) first meeting.

After the debate on the siting of Rochester, Abbot Ginn left Neatanniel and the brothers busily building at Swillburg and went in to the woods around Vick Park B to preach to the wild animals who lived there on the text “The whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters” (Matt.viii.32). It was the middle of April so by the time he had got his homilia properly started, say within 3 or 4 hours, it had of course started to snow heavily. Several hours later, when he was just getting to a bit that was so exciting that he was almost dislodging some of the snow that had built up on his head and shoulders he looked up from the stone he was horating about liberum arbitrium1 to see with astonishment a pair of astonished eyes gazing back at him from the direction of Park Avenue. It was a momentous moment2 , the first meeting of Red Man and White (Though to be honest the Irish abbot’s complexion was the redder of the two for reasons we needn't go into here). They gazed at each other for a long moment of silence, as though drinking in the significance of their chance meeting, and then, as they hadn’t been introduced, they went their separate ways and as far as we can tell forgot about it.
Ginn and Watha, from a reconstruction3
at the actual site.

Cheerio for now
from Richard Howland-Bolton.


1 Liberum arbitrium: Thus (probably) getting the drop on Thomas Aquinas by a good 250 years, though it's not at all clear that he differentiated it from voluntas.

2 Ooh! Ooh!! I managed Polyptoton twice in two sentences!*

3 Reconstruction: Due to a limited budget and the fact that even these guys** weren't daft enough, the snow has been left out of the photo.


*   Bloody Hell and there's a third one---I should give up while I'm still ahead.

** Dramatis Personae

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