In a Word . . . Equinox

Quartodecimanism stands for ‘the 14th’, with the -ism suggesting ideology

Sunshine illuminates the back stone at the 5,000-year-old burial chamber at the start of the spring equinox at Loughcrew. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sunshine illuminates the back stone at the 5,000-year-old burial chamber at the start of the spring equinox at Loughcrew. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Quartodecimanism, now there’s a word. All of 16 letters. One more than Ballaghaderreen. But not as meaningful!

Quartodecimanism stands for “the 14th”, with the -ism suggesting ideology/controversy. Ballaghaderreen means “A Way Through the Little Oak Wood”, with no ideology or controversy!

Definitively, it is in Roscommon (even if its GAA club is in Mayo).

Quartodecimanism refers to the custom of early Christians marking the crucifixion on the eve of the 14th day of the first month in the Hebrew calender. It was the day Jesus was crucified, according to John’s gospel.

Other gospels say he was crucified on the 15th day.

Cue a row. Wherever two or three are gathered.

Some celebrated Easter on that 14th day, whatever the day, and were therefore known as Quartodecimani (“Fourteenthers”).

Others insisted Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday, as Jesus rose on that day and as decided at the Council of Nicea in AD 325.

It would be AD 664 before these islands came into line with that.

The western church celebrates Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. The Orthodox and other churches in the East do so the following Sunday. They follow the Julian calendar.

Since October 1582 the western church has followed the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it.

The Gregorian calendar was a reform of the Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC). This was because of a calculated 10-day drift between calendar date and the reality, so that October 4th, 1582, in the Julian calendar was followed by October 15th, 1582, in the new Gregorian one.

There has never been an October 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th or 14th, 1582, in the West. Great room for a trick pub-quiz question there.

Pope Gregory’s concern, however, was not with pub quizzes but with establishing the mathematically correct date for the spring equinox, so the date for Easter Sunday would be correct.

In the East, though, the churches decided to stick with the Julian calendar, which is why their Easter Sunday falls on April 19th this year, compared with April 12th in the West.

Why am I telling you this? Because the spring equinox was last Thursday, March 19th. In fact at 11.50pm that night.

Equinox, from Latin aequus + nox, for “equal night”.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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