History

Who Was Saint Elmo?
Saint Elmo's Fire was also a movie released in 1985.

Saint Elmo’s Fire is a phenomenon when a glowing ball of light occurs because of an electrical discharge in the atmosphere.

Pop culture often has references to objects or people of the past. You might have heard of the movie “Saint Elmo’s Fire,” a 1985 coming-of-age drama from the Brat Pack genre. Maybe you know that Saint Elmo is the patron saint of sailors. David Foster and John Parr composed and wrote the song “Saint Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” for Canadian athlete Rick Hansen to use in his mission to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries. The song went on to be used for the movie of the same name.

Do you know what Saint Elmo’s fire is? It is a phenomenon in weather that sometimes appears on ships at sea during a thunderstorm. A glowing ball of light occurs because of an electrical discharge in the atmosphere. It typically happens at the top of a sharp or pointed object, like the tops of the sails at sea, but it can also occur on aircraft wings, chimneys and spires.

How Did the Phenomenon Come to Be Known as Saint Elmo’s Fire?

To understand the roots of St. Elmo’s Fire, you have to know about Erasmus of Formia, who was also called Elmo. No one knows what year Erasmus was born or died, but it’s thought that he passed away around 303 A.D. He was Bishop of Formium, Italy, during a time when the emperors persecuted Christians. Erasmus hid for a period of seven years before being counseled by an angel to return to his diocese.

On his return, Erasmus met soldiers who questioned him. When he admitted his faith, he was brought to the Eastern Roman Emperor Diocletian. Christians had been discriminated against in the Roman empire before this time, but Diocletian had Christians tortured and killed. He was tortured before being put in chains and placed in prison, but he escaped with the help of an angel.

Arrested?

Erasmus is said to have raised up the son of an important citizen in Lycia, which brought him to the attention of the Western Roman Emperor Maximian. Erasmus was again arrested for his faith. Maximian forced Erasmus to go to a temple of an idol, but when he got to the temple, a fire came. Erasmus was tortured in a barrel of protruding spikes. After his release, he was healed by an angel before experiencing more tortures, from which he was always healed. Finally, Maximian threw Erasmus into prison, expecting him to die of starvation, but Erasmus escaped.

Erasmus Still Preaching

Erasmus did not let the Roman Empire stop him from preaching. He went to Illyricum, which is modern day Croatia, and continued to convert people to Christianity. At his death, legend says that his intestines were wrapped around a windlass, the winch that lifts anchors or heavy weights. In one story, before Erasmus died, he is said to have continued preaching to sailors even after a lightning bolt struck beside him. He is widely associated with the sea due to these two legends.

About 25 years following Erasmus’ death, the Christian Emperor Constantine reversed the persecution of the Christians, returning confiscated property and making Christianity the preferred religion of the region. If Erasmus had lived in a later time, it’s possible that he would not have been a Christian martyr.

References to Saint Elmo

If you read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in high school or college, you might remember this reference:

“About, about, in reel and rout, The death fires danced at night; The water, like a witch’s oils, Burnt green and blue and white.”

In literature, St. Elmo’s fire is associated with a bad omen or divine judgment. The reference appears in “Moby-Dick,” “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “The Tempest.” The next time you hear an allusion to St. Elmo’s fire, you know more of the story and can appreciate its history.

9 Movies for Black History Month
Black History Heading showing Africa and North America.

Here in North America, we dedicate the month of February to celebrating Black History.

Like the United States, Canada celebrates Black History Month during February. This month was chosen because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The roots of Black History Month began in the early 20th century, but it was in the 1970s when the observance picked up momentum. In Canada, it was in the mid-1990s when the month was officially recognized.

Black History Month has its critics. There are some who say black history is history; it shouldn’t be relegated to one month. Even so, it’s good to remember the contributions of people who often get overlooked in the history books. Not everyone can be remembered in one history text or class. In honor of Black History Month, here are some movies you should see:

Classic Movies About Black History

  1.    “Gone With the Wind” (1939)Margaret Mitchell’s epic book that was made into a movie has its critics. However, what’s interesting to note is that Hattie McDonnell, the actress who played Mammy, was the first black person to receive an Oscar. The producer had to call in a special favor to get permission for McDaniel to be allowed into the no-blacks Ambassador Hotel to accept the prize.
  2.    “Lilies of the Field” (1964)Sidney Poitier became the first black man to receive an Oscar, nearly 25 years following McDaniel’s win. This 1964 classic might seem tame compared to today’s blockbusters, but it’s a great lesson in humility and faith in accomplishing goals.
  3.    “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)Poitier was a big name in Hollywood, and in 1967, he starred as a detective from the North who had to help a racist cop in the South track down a murderer. Through the course of the film, the two men begin to develop mutual understanding. The film represents the changing social-political climate actually occurring throughout the United States.
  4.    “The Color Purple” (1985)This movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, was a highly acclaimed film of its time. It was Whoopi Goldberg’s breakout role, but more importantly, it focused on the plight of the African-American woman. See it in film, read the book or attend the theater version.

More Recent Movies About black History

  1. “Boyz N the Hood” (1991)John Singleton kicked off a decade that gave us many movies about black men just trying to survive in their own urban city under the veil of violence and discrimination. He was the first and youngest African-American to be nominated for Best Director.
  2. “Malcolm X” (1992)This film was placed on the National Film Registry because of its historic significance. Denzel Washington lost the Academy Award for Best Actor that year, but he still took many other awards for his role. The film is highly acclaimed and well received, and it’s a must-see for everyone to understand this man who changed history.
  3. “Hidden Figures” (2016)Released last year, this movie recognizes the contribution of black women to the United States’ space program. It’s based on the true story of three Virginia women who changed history by believing they could.
  4. “Ray” (2004)Ray Charles is one of the most acclaimed musicians in the world, but he came from very humble beginnings. At the age of seven, Charles went completely blind. Still, he overcame his disability and his heritage to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. This film is a story of his perseverance during a difficult time in history.

There are many other movies that give us glimpses into the history of African-Americans. Spike Lee has made many movies that did not fit on this list. Watch some of these great flicks during Black History Month.