October 27th 312: Constantine’s vision
On this day in 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine I had his famous ‘Vision of the Cross’. The vision occurred before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in which Constantine would fight Maxentius. Constantine supposedly saw a cross in the sky with the words ‘By this sign conquer’. He was commanded by the Christian God to draw the mark of Christ on his soldiers’ shields in order to secure victory. Constantine then proceeded to win the battle and many consider this a pivotal moment in his conversion to Christianity. Constantine’s conversion led to the end of Christian persecution in the Roman Empire and, through imperial patronage, Christianity spread throughout Europe and became the dominant religion.
September 22nd 1827: Smith finds the golden plates
On this day in 1827, Joseph Smith Jr. claimed to have found the golden plates on which the third book of the Bible is written. Smith said he was visited by an angel called Moroni who told him where they buried. Joseph Smith translated the golden plates and had them published as ‘The Book of Mormon’ and thus founded the Latter Day Saint movement. Smith never allowed anyone to see the golden plates, and thus many question whether they ever existed. Mormons believe that Jesus came to America and the Book tells the history of an ancient Judeo-Christian civilisation in America. Smith led his followers West, but along the way encountered much hatred from Christians and Smith was eventually killed by a mob in 1844 aged 38.
July 12th 1536: Erasmus dies
On this day in 1536, the Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus died in Basel aged 69. Erasmus was a prominent humanist thinker, and advocated religious toleration. Whilst not an ally of Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Erasmus did advocate Church reform to combat corruption. The Erasmus programme, which enables European university students to travel and learn in different universities around Europe is named after him.
May 25th 1085: Pope Gregory VII dies
On this day in 1085 Pope Gregory VII died in Salerno. He became Pope in 1073 and was known for his advocacy of Church reform such as ending the practice of simony and ensuring clerical celibacy. Gregory VII was crucial in the Investiture Controversy which was a dispute between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over who had the power to invest bishops with the symbols of their office. Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV twice, and some considered acts such as these an over-extension of papal power over secular matters.
February 18th 1546: Luther dies
On this day in 1546 the German monk and leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, died aged 62 in Eisleben. Luther broke with the Catholic Church after he became disillusioned with Church corruption like the sale of indulgences and concubinage. Luther believed that the only way to salvation was through God’s grace and faith. His writings against the Church led to his excommunication by Pope Leo X in 1520.
November 27th 1095: First Crusade launched
On this day in 1095 Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont. The Council was gathered to discuss the issue of Muslims in the Holy City of Jerusalem and its surrounding lands. At the end of the council, on November 27th, the Pope gave a speech calling for the taking back of the Holy Land through force. Many then volunteered to travel towards Jerusalem and they captured the city in 1099, massacring its inhabitants.
"Christians, hasten to help your brothers in the East, for they are being attacked. Arm for the rescue of Jerusalem under your captain Christ. Wear his cross as your badge. If you are killed your sins will be pardoned."
- Pope Urban II
September 10th 1946: Mother Teresa’s vision
On this day in 1946 the nun Sister Teresa Bojaxhiu, whilst on a train from Calcutta to Darjeeling, claimed to have heard God telling her to leave her convent and help the poor. She followed the command and lived among the poor in India, later becoming known as Mother Teresa. She established the Catholic group Missionaries of Charity. Her efforts were noticed, and she rose to prominence and fame for her work with the poor, ill and starving. Mother Teresa died on 5th September 1997, aged 87.
"I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith."
- Mother Teresa on her message from God
March 26th 1830: The Book of Mormon is published
On this day in 1830, the Book of Mormon was first published at E.B Grandin’s New York bookstore. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith Jr, claimed that he had been visited by an angel called Moroni who told him of ancient writings on golden plates which described people who God led to the Western hemisphere before the birth of Jesus Christ. Smith said he was told by Moroni to translate the plates into English and publish them. Smith initially struggled to find someone to publish the book as many considered it risky, fraudulent and blasphemous. Smith and his friend Martin Harris began work on translating the Book of Mormon, but when Harris’s wife stole some pages, work halted. Translation recommenced in 1829 and was soon finished and ready for publication in March 1830. It had taken eight men and boys working 12 hours a day, six days a week, for almost eight months to print the 5,000 copies. Upon the book’s publication Smith said he returned the plates to Moroni. The building in New York where the Book of Mormon was first published and sold is now the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site.
October 3rd 1226: Francis of Assisi dies
On this day in 1226, the Italian friar and preacher Francis of Assisi died whilst listening to a reading of Psalm 140 he had requested. Francis is best known for his attempts to encourage Catholics to be more humble. He had a privileged upbringing but later moved away from materialism and decided to live in poverty. He was made a saint in 1228 and remains one of the most influential and venerated figures in religious history. The current Pope took his name from St. Francis and Pope Francis has been emphasizing the importance of abandoning materialism.
August 26th 1910: Mother Teresa born
On this day in 1910, Mother Teresa was born in Macedonia. Her birth name was Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She became a nun when she was 18 and joined the Sisters of Loreto. In 1946 she claimed that she had a vision of God telling her to leave the convent and help the poor. She obeyed and lived among the poor in India and it was during this time that she went from Sister Teresa to Mother Teresa. In 1950 she established Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic congregation which helps the poor, the ill and the homeless. Members of the order make four vows, the last of which is to give “Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor”. Her work drew great international attention and in 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa died in Calcutta on 5th September 1997, aged 87.
June 27th 1844: Joseph Smith murdered
On this day in 1844, the founder of Mormonism Joseph Smith Jr and his brother Hyrum were killed by an anti-Mormon mob in Carthage, Illinois. They were attacked at the prison where they was held on charges of conspiracy and treason. Smith claimed to have had visions telling of Golden Plates which contained the true gospel, which he translated and published as the Book of Mormon in 1830. Many feared his power and criticised his practice of polygamy. Tensions came to a head when, in 1844, a mob repeatedly shot Smith at the prison, and he died when he fell from his window. The Church of the Latter Day Saints consequently saw the brothers as martyrs.
"Oh Lord, my God!"
- Joseph Smith’s last words
April 24th 2005: Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated
On this day in 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was inaugurated as the 265th Bishop of Rome, thus becoming Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict was elected on 19th April in a papal conclave (voting by the College of Cardinals), following the death of Pope John Paul II on the 2nd April. He served as Pope until the 28th February 2013 when he retired from the papacy, the first to do so voluntarily since Pope Celestine V in 1294. He was succeeded by Pope Francis, the first Pope from the Americas, on 13th March 2013.
January 3rd 1521: Martin Luther excommunicated
On this day 1521, Pope Leo X issued the papal bull ‘Decet Romanum Pontificem’ which excommunicated Martin Luther. Luther was a German monk who became disillusioned from the Catholic Church due to its corruption, such as taking money from people as a guarantee into heaven. Luther protested this corruption by famously writing his ‘95 Theses’ in 1517, an event which symbolically began the Protestant Reformation. The Pope did not accept Luther’s anti-Catholic writings and eventually expelled him from the church in 1521.
October 31st 1517: Luther posts his 95 theses
On this day in 1517, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of a Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This event is generally considered the start of the Protestant Reformation. The theses expressed Luther’s dissatisfaction with the corruption and materialism of the Catholic Church, especially the sale of indulgences (essentially selling a ticket to heaven). He instead believed that eternal salvation can only be guaranteed by God. On the same day as supposedly posting the 95 theses on the church door, he sent his writings to bishops. The writings were gradually translated and spread throughout Europe, accelerated by the use of the printing press, and his ideas transformed Europe. The Reformation led to the establishment of Protestantism.
June 27th 1844: Joseph Smith murdered
On this day in 1844, the founder of Mormonism Joseph Smith Jr and his brother Hyrum were killed by an anti-Mormon mob in Carthage, Illinois. They were attacked at the prison where he was held on charges of conspiracy and treason. Smith claimed to have had visions telling of Golden Plates which contained the true gospel, which he translated and published as the Book of Mormon in 1830. Many feared his power and criticised his practice of polygamy. Tensions came to a head when, in 1844, a mob repeatedly shot Smith at the prison, and he died when he fell from his window. The Church of the Latter Day Saints consequently saw the brothers as martyrs.
"Oh Lord, my God!"
- Joseph Smith’s last words