While I try to explain unfamiliar terminology in context, some of these terms have different meanings today and may cause confusion. Here’s what the words mean to my characters, not necessarily to me. Some items link to illustrations.
- Absolution: forgiveness of sin. See also Penance.
- abstinence: giving up something, often for a limited period of time. For example, abstaining from meat, eggs, or dairy products on holy days. Related to fasting.
- Act of Contrition: a prayer that expresses a penitent‘s remorse for his sin and his resolve to do better
- ajoupa: a hut. Haitian Creole.
- amalgamation: intimate relations between people of different races. A synonym for miscegenation, a word that wasn’t invented till 1863.
- aspergillum: an instrument for sprinkling holy water, such as a brush or a perforated metal ball with a handle
- aspersorium: a vessel used to contain holy water
- atone: to make amends for a wrongdoing
- Baptism: a Catholic sacrament that washes away the original sin of humanity, usually performed shortly after a baby’s birth.
- belvedere: the upper story of a house with many windows, affording a view of the grounds
- ceallúnach: a graveyard for unbaptized children. Unconsecrated ground. Irish.
- claire-voie: a French loan word used as a gardening term. An opening in a wall or door that allows you to see a vista or into the next “garden room.” The most literal translation is “clear way,” but “claire” also means “light.”
- colored: in 19th century United States, this meant “having African blood.” Before the Civil War, usually applied to people with mixed blood and to free people of color rather than enslaved people. Sometimes extended to all non-whites. Also used as a noun.
- Communion: literally, coming together. See Eucharist.
- Confession: see Penance.
- consecrate: to make holy, to set apart for a sacred purpose
- continence: abstinence from sexual activity
- contrition: regret/remorse for your sin
- Creole: before Emancipation, this meant 1. a person with European ancestry born in the New World and 2. the New World dialect that combined a European language, especially French, with African languages. After Emancipation, Creole came to mean people with mixed black and white ancestry.
- discipline: a small scourge with which a Catholic might flagellate (whip) himself as a Penance
- dispensation: permission granted by a clergyman for a person not to follow the Church’s usual rules in a particular instance
- Emancipation: the act of setting free or the state of being set free from slavery
- Eucharist: literally, the bread (usually a wafer) and/or wine consumed during the sacrifice of the Mass. Catholics believe in Transubstantiation, that this bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Therefore, the Eucharist is also called the Real Presence and Holy Communion. One of the seven Catholic sacraments and often called simply the Blessed Sacrament.
- fasting: limiting your intake of food as a mortification. A fasting person may consume only a single full meal and two collations (snacks) during a day. Traditional Catholics fasted many times during the year, not only during Lent.
- griffe (masculine) / griffonne (feminine): a person whose heritage is 3/4 black and 1/4 white. French origin.
- Host: see Eucharist.
- incontinence: until the late 19th century, this did not mean “inability to control your bladder”; it meant “inability to control your sexual urges” and thus “sexual immorality.”
- Independence Rock: an irregular, mostly bare granite mound along the Overland Trail. Used as a landmark and stopping place since it borders the Sweetwater River. Emigrants along the trail enjoyed climbing Independence Rock for the view and leaving their names carved into or painted onto the granite. Jesuit missionary Pierre-Jean De Smet called Independence Rock “the Great Register of the Desert.” American Indians also left marks on the rock. Its highest point is as tall as a twelve-story building, and its circumference is more than a mile. Today, Independence Rock is a State Historic Site in Wyoming.
- indulgence: a pardon that reduces a person’s time in Purgatory. Traditional Catholics believed that God granted indulgences for certain prayers or for acts of mortification.
- Lent: the forty days before Easter, in which traditional Catholics fasted and might practice other types of mortification as a way of acknowledging their sins and thanking Christ for His sacrifice. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
- Limbo: a place where the unbaptized go after death even if they have personally committed no sins. Because original sin condemns their souls forever, they will never achieve Heaven.
- Madâme: the Haitian Creole spelling of Madame, which is the French form of Missus/Mrs.
- Mass: for Catholics, this is not merely a coming together of believers or a worship service. It is a reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The priest consecrates the bread and wine by calling on Christ to transform them into His body and blood, thus offering Himself again for humanity’s sins.
- medicine: this word has multiple meanings in my work. Two of my main characters, René Lazare and his grandson David Lazare, are Euro-American doctors trained in Parisian medical schools. To the Cheyenne Indians and other Native Americans, “medicine” has a spiritual meaning as well: power and mystery. Ultimately, love is the greatest, sweetest medicine for my characters.
- monstrance: a sacred vessel for displaying the Eucharist (the Body of Christ in the form of a wafer). Often made of gold and inlaid with jewels. Solar is a popular form, with gold rays radiating from the Eucharist.
- mortal sin: a serious sin. If a person dies without confessing a mortal sin, he will be damned. Mortal sins meet the following conditions: they are “grave matter” (such as murder or adultery); the person commits the sin with “full knowledge” that he is doing evil; and he “deliberately consents” (freely chooses) the sin.
- mortification: punishing the body for sins committed in order to become more holy. An example of mortification is using a discipline to flagellate (whip) yourself. Traditional Catholics believe such practices grant a person indulgences and lessen his time in Purgatory. Fasting is another form of mortification.
- mulatto: a person with one black African parent and one white parent. Often broadened to mean a person with any mixed-race ancestry. The term is usually considered offensive today, and it does derive from the Latin word for “mule.” However, some mixed-race people have reclaimed the term.
- mulâtresse: the French feminine form of mulatto, that is, a woman with both black and white heritage
- negro/negress: a person of black African origin or descent. During the period of my saga, the term was usually used for enslaved people rather than free people and for people with little or no mixed blood. Negro was not capitalized during the 19th century.
- octoon, later octoroon: a person whose heritage is 1/8 black and 7/8 white.
- original sin: the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when they chose to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, thus disobeying God. Catholics believe all humans are born with this stain on their souls, the idea being that if they got the chance, they would sin too. Traditional Catholics believe that if a person—even a baby—dies without Baptism washing away original sin, the person is damned (doomed to spend eternity suffering in Hell).
- Overland Trail: the land routes across the Western territories of the United States. These began at points along the Eastern frontier such as St. Joseph, Missouri; followed rivers such as the Platte across the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains; and ended along the Western coast in destinations such as Oregon and California. Since my characters are headed for California, I cannot call their route the familiar “Oregon Trail.” Later, these overland trails would be used by stagecoaches and eventually railroads instead of wagon trains.
- Penance: one of the seven Catholic sacraments. A Catholic confesses his sins to a priest, who stands in for God, advises the penitent, and imposes a Penance so that the penitent can atone for his sins. This Penance may be a series of prayers, good deeds, or acts of mortification.
- penitent: a person who confesses his sins
- piazza: the Charleston term for a porch. Piazzas were typically built on the west or south sides of houses in order to catch sea breezes, and they were often two or three stories high, stacked on top of each other. The front door of a Charleston house was usually placed in the center of its first-floor piazza.
- prie-Dieu: a kneeler for praying, usually resembling a chair with extremely short legs. The top contained an arm or book rest. From the French, literally “pray [to] God.” Traditionally, every devout Catholic family of means would have at least one prie-Dieu in their home.
- Purgatory: a place where sinners go after death if their unconfessed sins were only venial. In Purgatory, they may suffer for centuries to atone for their sins, but they will eventually reach Heaven.
- pyx: a small vessel in which a Catholic priest carries the Eucharistic wafer
- quadroon: a person whose heritage is 1/4 black and 3/4 white. The French equivalent is quarteron.
- Sacrament: Catholics believe in seven sacraments, rites that confer the grace of God upon humanity and help people live holy lives. The sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (also called Communion), Penance (also called Confession), Anointing of the Sick (also called Extreme Unction), Matrimony, and Holy Orders (also called Ordination, as of a priest). Catholics often capitalize the sacraments, so I do so in my work.
- sacrilege: using something sacred for an unholy purpose
- saint: any person who achieves Heaven. Catholics look to saints recognized by the Church as examples to follow, but all humans are capable of achieving sainthood.
- Saint-Domingue: the western half of the island of Hispaniola. Part of the Greater Antilles, which are part of the West Indies, which are part of the Caribbean. From 1659 to 1803, Saint-Domingue was inhabited by French colonists. Many were sugar and coffee planters and forced enslaved Africans to work their land. After the Haitian Revolution, the enslaved peoples claimed their freedom and created the country of Haiti where Saint-Domingue had been.
- soutane: the closed black robe a priest wears over his clothes and beneath his vestments. Often has thirty-three buttons down the front to symbolize the thirty-three years of Christ’s earthly life. Also called a cassock.
- stole: a vestment similar in form to a long, flat scarf worn around a priest’s neck and draped down his chest.
- surplice: a tunic of white linen or cotton, usually decorated with embroidery or lace along the hem, worn by priests and altar servers during sacred ceremonies
- Transubstantiation: a theological difference between Protestants and Catholics. Protestants believe that the bread and wine consumed during Communion are symbolic of Christ’s body and blood. Catholics believe that the bread and wine actually transform into Christ’s body and blood.
- triple-hung window: a tall window with its sill at floor level. Such windows aided air circulation, and they could be used as doors onto verandas or piazzas. Also called triple-sash windows or jib windows.
- venial sin: a sin that does not meet the criteria for a mortal sin. People who die after committing unconfessed venial sins will still go to Heaven, but after they suffer in Purgatory to purge these venial sins.
- veranda: a roofed space lined with columns running around the outside of a dwelling. Larger than a piazza, which extends along one side only. I use the term exclusively for the Stratfords’ plantation house on the Ashley River.
- vestments: the outer garments a priest wears while performing sacred ceremonies. Vestments include stoles, cinctures, albs, dalmatics, and chasubles. In wealthy parishes, these are often embroidered with gold symbols such as crosses. The main color of vestments changes throughout the liturgical year.
- Zizistas: the Cheyennes’ name for themselves. In the modern Cheyenne alphabet, this should technically be spelled “Tsétsėhéstȧhese”; but when said aloud, this sounds like “Zi-zis-tas.” I have used a simplified spelling in order to ease pronunciation.
Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)
Catholicism for Dummies (2003) by Reverend John Trigilio Jr. and Reverend Kenneth Brighenti
Haitian Creole – English Dictionary by Jean Targète and Raphael G. Urcilio
Larousse Dictionnaire Français-Anglais
Online Etymology Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary (subscription)
and my own memory after two plus decades of research.
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