This day in history: May 12

304: Martyrdom of St. Pancras: The Roman Emperor Diocletian proclaims that the 14-year-old Pancras is to be beheaded for converting to Christianity. He was brought before Diocletian and asked to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Pancras refused. Diocletian was impressed, and offered young Pancras wealth and prestige. When Pancras refused again, the Emperor ordered his beheading. Pancras, along with  St. Mamertus and Servatius, are known in Central Europe as “Ice Saints,” because their feast days (May 11, 12, and 13) had a history, at least in medieval times, of being uncharacteristically cold.

1865: Battle of Palmito Ranch: The first day of the last battle with casualties during the American Civil War actually resulted in a Confederate victory. Union general Theodore Barrett lead a battalion of black troops, and the Confederate forces, led by John “Rip” Ford, had Benevides Regiment, which was made up of Spanish-speaking Texans called Tejanos. Ironically enough, General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse the month previous, and historians debate why the battle even took place.

1935: “… And I’m an alcoholic”: Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith meet for the first time in the home of Henrietta Siberling in Akron, Ohio. AA grew out of an earlier nondenominational Christian group called the Oxford Group. Wilson and Smith separated from the Oxford Group to focus on AA with its own methodology and way of treating alcoholism.

1941: First Computer: The German Konrad Zuse presented the Z3, which was the first programmable, fully automatic computer. It was used by the Nazi government to perform statistical analysis, but was abandoned as not being important to the war effort. The fact that it was developed by an enemy government made the US and the UK slower to adopt the new technology. Konrad Zuse is now regarded as the inventor of the digital computer.

1982: Attempted stabbing of St. Pope John Paul II: A little over a year after the Pope was shot by Turkish nationalist Mehmet Ali Agca, an ultraconservative Spanish priest attempted to stab the Pope with a bayonet during a visit to Fatima, Portugal. The priest, Juan Maria Fernandez y Krohn, was a member of the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist society frequently at odds with the hierarchy. Krohn was expelled after the attempt. He believed that John Paul was an agent of the Soviets, and was trying to infiltrate communism into the Vatican and the Church. He served three years of a six-year sentence and later left the priesthood to become a lawyer.

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