Come Out, Come Out …

That hollow column on the right is a “priest-hole,” a hiding place for Catholic priests, who were hunted with Elmer-Fudd-like tenacity when Elizabeth took the English throne around 1560. A “papist” could be hanged for saying mass; converting a Protestant was high treason.

Fortunately, the priests had a Bugs Bunny in the shape of Nicholas Owen, a Jesuit laybrother who spent his life devising secret chambers and hiding places for persecuted Catholics. “Pursuivants” could spend as much as a fortnight fruitlessly tearing down paneling and tearing up floors while the priest held his breath a wall’s thickness away.

Ickily, some of these hidden priests starved to death.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is fear of the number 666, which is linked to Satan and the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation.

Unfortunately, it’s rather hard to avoid. 666 is the sum of the squares of the first seven primes:

666 = 22 + 32 + 52 + 72 + 112 + 132 + 172


666 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 567 + 89

= 123 + 456 + 78 + 9

= 9 + 87 + 6 + 543 + 21

= 13 + 23 + 33 + 43 + 53 + 63 + 53 + 43 + 33 + 23 + 13

In 1989, after his second term as president, Ronald and Nancy Reagan moved to a new home in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles. They had the address, 666 St. Cloud Road, changed to 668 St. Cloud Road.

“Odd Bill for Repairs”

One meets with curious things in the old church registers of England. The subjoined, in the Record Office of Winchester Cathedral, dated 1182, is certainly unique. It is a bill for work done: —

To soldering and repairing St. Joseph, 0 l. 8 d.
To cleaning and ornamenting the Holy Ghost, 0 l. 6 d.
To repairing the Virgin Mary and cleaning the child, 4 l. 8 d.
To screwing a nose on the Devil, and putting in the hair on his head, and placing a new joint in his tail, 5 l. 6 d.

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical (1882)

Oh Well

In the early 1960s, a computer analysis showed that six different authors had written the Epistles of St. Paul.

That would be big news, but it also showed that James Joyce’s Ulysses had been written by five people — none of whom had composed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Holiday for Vowels

“In an old church in Westchester county, N.Y., the following consonants are written beside the altar, under the Ten Commandments. What vowel is to be placed between them, to make sense and rhyme of the couplet?”


— Charles Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1860

Click for Answer