Today is Pentecost, which marks the end of the Easter season – its name means “the fiftieth”, because it is 50 days after Easter Sunday. It is the Greek name for the Hebrew festival of Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, a harvest festival which also commemorates the traditional anniversary of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God. In this case, the name comes from being 50 days after Passover.
Pentecost became a key date in Christianity because of an event related in the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles states that about 120 of the disciples of Jesus were gathered together to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, 50 days after the Resurrection of Christ, and ten days after he ascended into Heaven. By tradition, it was the large upper room in which the Last Supper took place, and which the disciples continued to use as a place for meeting and prayer.
The Bible records that suddenly there came a noise like a mighty wind which filled the entire house, and upon each of them sat something which looked like a tongue of fire. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and were able to speak in different languages. This drew a large crowd, to whom the Apostles preached, and which was so impressed by the demonstration that about three thousand people were baptised, forming the beginnings of the Christian church.
A major feast day from the very earliest times, Pentecost is celebrated as a joyous occasion, and can be seen as the “birthday” of the church. The colour red is used to symbolise the Holy Spirit descending as fire, and there may be red banners, flowers, candles, balloons, and other decorations. Doves are also a prominent motif in reference to the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is a popular day to be baptised or confirmed, and as it occurs during spring in the northern hemisphere, this affirmation of youth and new life seems very appropriate.
In Britain, Pentecost became known as Whitsun, perhaps because of the white clothes worn by those preparing for baptism or confirmation (another interpretation is that it is from the “wit” given to the disciples by the Holy Spirit). In England, Whitsun was historically a major holiday, incorporating some of the traditions of the pagan summer festival, Beltane; there might be parades, music and singing, morris dancing, sports and games, and village fairs. The time around Pentecost is still often celebrated by pagans.
In the southern hemisphere, Pentecost arrives during late autumn or early winter, but this ties in quite well with the original idea of a harvest festival, as there are often food and fresh produce fairs at this time of year. Autumn is also the breeding season for several species of native doves, giving another connection to the day. Bright red autumn leaves and red poinsettia flowers can be used as decorations, and to feel a mighty wind, there are freezing gusts in some areas, freshened with snow!
So we say farewell to Easter, which ends with a bang, not a whimper, and look forward to the cold days and nights of winter.
Ignatius is derived from the Roman family Egnatius, of unknown meaning, and presumed to be of Etruscan origin, although the Egnatia were Samnites from southern Italy, so may be Oscan instead. From early on, folk etymology connected it to the Latin word ignis, meaning “fire”, which makes it a good choice to cover for Pentecost.
There were quite a number of prominent Romans with the name Egnatius, and it rather amuses me that the first ever fire fighting service was organised in ancient Rome by Egnatius Rufus – Rufus means “red”, of course. Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus was the Emperor Gallienus, the son of the Emperor Valerian. A father and son of the Egnatii were killed with a single blow as enemies of the state, and died locked together, each trying to shield the other from harm.
There are a number of saints named Ignatius, with the earliest being Ignatius of Antioch, a first century bishop believed to be a disciple of St John the Apostle. He was one of the church’s earliest theologians, and is important to Catholicism, as he was the first known writer to use to word catholic, meaning, “universal” to describe Christianity (although from his phrasing, it would seem to have been a term already widely in use).
One of the most famous of saints of this name is Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century Spanish knight who was converted while recovering from battle. He founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), and was a church leader during the Counter-Reformation. Known for his zeal and complete devotion to the church, he was brought before the Inquisition a couple of times due to concerns he might be overdoing it (being too religious was one of the many things the Inquisition tried to stamp out). He wrote a book of simple prayers and meditations that is still used for spiritual retreats by both Catholics and non-Catholics.
Ignatius of Loyola is the main influence on the use of the name Ignatius, which is somewhat ironic, as his name wasn’t really Ignatius. He was named Íñigo, a Spanish name recently covered on the blog meaning “my dear one”, but used the Roman name Ignatius instead as he thought it would be more widely understood. Writers on Ignatius of Loyola often connect the “fiery” meaning of his name with the saint’s “fiery” zeal, overlooking the fact that Ignatius wasn’t his real name, and “fiery” isn’t the real meaning of Ignatius.
Ignatius (said ig-NAY-shus) has been used as an English name since at least the 16th century, in honour of St Ignatius of Loyola. A few Australian examples are Depression-era politician Ignatius Boyle, headmaster Ignatius O’Connor, rugby player Ignatius “Iggy” O’Donnell, and former pop singer and events director Ignatius Jones (born Juan Ignacio Trápaga, the brother of childrens’ presenter Monica Trapaga). Actress Cate Blanchett has a son named Ignatius.
Ignatius is around the 400s and is more popular in Australia than in the UK or the US, allowing for differences in population size. In 2013, 4 boys were named Ignatius in England/Wales, while last year 40 boys were given the name Ignatius in the US.
Ignatius isn’t a common name, but isn’t rare enough to seem strange or outrageous either. Australia’s strong Irish heritage gives the name plenty of recognition, and being chosen as a celebrity baby name certainly hasn’t hurt. Once seen as a Catholic name, Ignatius is beginning to be appreciated by a wider variety of parents, just as happened with Xavier, and now makes a rather hip choice. Iggy is the obvious nickname, but Nate and Ace are also possibilities.