Sunday, November 05, 2006

Michelle Styles: Bonfire Night

Remember, Remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should e'er be forgot.
--traditional nusery rhyme

On 5 November 1605 Guy Fawkes or Guido Fawkes as he is sometimes known was arrested for attmpting (and very nearly succeeding) in blowing the Houses of Parliament during the state opening. The act was supposed to be the prelude of a Catholic uprising. In fact, it became the pretext for fierce supress of the Roman Catholic faith..
Guy Fawkes was an unlikely terrorist -- born of protestant parents in York in 1570, he converted to Catholicism sometime in his late teens/early 20s.
The plot was discovered when one of co-conspirators, Francis Tresham, wrote to his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend. There was speculation that the government allowed the plot to continue to ensure the maximum amount of public humiliation.

Bonfire night or Guy Fawkes night combines the memory of the act with the fire festivals that have been popular at this time of year since time immemorial. Communiites up and down Britain have a bonfire, complete with an effigy or Guy (formerly the pope or another unpopular political figure) and set off fireworks. It is a time of raucous drunkenous, and there are regular warnings about the hazards of fireworks. The good part is that due to the darkness coming early, the bonfires are lit about 6 o'clock, and the fireworks light the sky from about 7, making it much easier if you have small children.

Last night I attend the bonfire in Hexham, which was set ablaze on a hill overlooking the 6th century abbey. The effigy was a woman on top of a Roman temple so I am not entirely sure what the representation was. About 17,000 good natured revellers turned out to watch the fireworks and money was raised for local charity. But as I watched the sparks disappear up into the night sky, I reflected how bonfires had been lit in this place for hundreds of years, probably thousands of years. In Fourstones village where I used to live, the bonfire for the 50th anniversary of VE day in 1995 was lit on top of Warden Hill, where a Neolithic site stands. You could see the blaze for miles -- think Lord of the Rings when they light the beacons and you will get the idea. Whenever I go to these things, I am reminded of my small part in the human continum.

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