April 1, 2024


On the top floor of the Castle is a room full of work-in-progress – furniture, propped up mirrors and paintings that are all not quite “placed”. One of these items is a three-sided table – I pop in every so often to look at it, bending down to examine the carvings and running my fingers slowly around the edges. It is in some ways a curio but looking at its unique shape, it always reminds me of the importance of the number three.

There are also larger triangular structures here too: Geordie’s ancestor, Robert Herbert, built a 3 sided folly three hundred years ago (the engraving in the top photo).

We al begin to learn to count by using our fingers and toes, hopefully progressing fairly quickly beyond the number three. Thereafter, maths lessons teach us arithmetic and beyond that to define, order and experiment with numbers.

“To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks” (AA Milne) but in fact 3 is a magic number, a divine number expressing things coming full circle and the list of its properties is extraordinary.

To begin with the number 3 is an integer, a natural number which can make up a set. Perhaps originally written with three parallel strokes, it then acquired curves and a rotation to create the shape familiar to most of us today.

Three is also a prime number and the only prime number before a square number. It is the second Fibonacci prime, (each number is the sum of the two preceding ones) and the first of five known Fermat Primes so there is a long list of its unique qualities.

Triangles have three sides and according to Pythagoras and the Pythagorean school, the number 3 is the noblest of all digits as it is the only number to equal the sum of all the terms below it and the only number whose sum with those below equals the product of them and itself. In addition, three is the number of non-collinear points needed to determine a plane, a circle and a parabola. We live in a three-dimensional world where there are three primary colours.

The number three is also in our everyday life and language. Good things come in three’s but on the other hand so do bad things! We have three meals a day, you can wear a three piece suit, there are three stumps on a cricket wicket, you might make it a hat trick, enter a three legged race, remember there are three feet in a yard before saying “3,2,1 Go!”, before also admitting that you are three sheets to the wind.

However, at this time of year, I and other Christians contemplate Easter and the three main days of celebration from Good Friday to Easter Monday. St Peter denied Jesus three times but affirmed his faith in him three times as well. During the “agony in the garden”, Christ asked three times for the cup to be taken from him and rose from the dead on the third day after his death.

At the centre of Christianity is the concept of the trinity, the doctrine which states that Christ performs the functions of prophet, priest and king and explains the three distinct divine persona – God the Father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit, a story which of course began with a birth heralded by the three Magi offering Christ the baby three gifts.

Easter Monday is both the day which marks the resurrection and a time to celebrate the rebirth of Spring. “Eostre”, from which the word Easter stems, is a Saxon celebration in northern climes whilst the traditions of “Paschal” (from the Greek and Aramaic ‘feast of Passover) leads the traditions and beliefs in many southern parts of the world. In every case the date of Easter is computed from the solar year and the Moon phase and so changes each year. In 725, Bede succinctly wrote, “The Sunday following the full Moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful Easter.” These days ecclesiastical rules ensure that it has to fall after March 21st and take place on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon. Thus, this year Easter is very early whilst next year it is very late – towards the end of April.

Here at Highclere, the Spring weather has been “a little damp”, not all the daffodils have bloomed and the tulips are still tightly folded. The blossom is just coming out but most of the lambs are still waiting to be born. As a result we have had our own personal 3 Easter challenges – muddy car parking for our visitors and guests, cold wet weather for lambing and difficult farming conditions.