Saturday, December 31, 2011

Social Media and Martin Luther

How social media is really nothing new. (Via Writing the Renaissance.)
Modern society tends to regard itself as somehow better than previous ones, and technological advance reinforces that sense of superiority. But history teaches us that there is nothing new under the sun. Robert Darnton, an historian at Harvard University, who has studied information-sharing networks in pre-revolutionary France, argues that “the marvels of communication technology in the present have produced a false consciousness about the past—even a sense that communication has no history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the days of television and the internet.” Social media are not unprecedented: rather, they are the continuation of a long tradition. Modern digital networks may be able to do it more quickly, but even 500 years ago the sharing of media could play a supporting role in precipitating a revolution. Today’s social-media systems do not just connect us to each other: they also link us to the past. (Read entire article.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Biography of the Great Catherine

I want to read this book, as unedifying as it will indubitably prove to be. Here is an excerpt of a review from the New York Post:
Robert K. Massie, author of “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” gives readers true insight into this fascinating ruler, who started her life in 1729 as Princess Sophia of the tiny Prussian kingdom of Anhalt-Zerbt only to hit the jackpot as a teenager when she is selected by Empress Elizabeth of Russia to marry her heir, the man who would be Peter III, albeit briefly.

The details of Catherine’s disastrous marriage to her mentally unstable cousin Peter are the stuff of legend.  Catherine finds herself wed to a smallpox-scarred nincompoop who plays with puppets in bed, tortures dogs and worse, refuses to sleep with her.

Thus the [grand duchess], under extreme pressure to produce an heir, begins to take lovers who will become the father of her children.  Later, when her husband takes the throne, she stages a coup  with the help of men like Gregory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin who would also alter the face of Europe.

Catherine, who wrote that she ‘could not live a day without love’ also loved absolute power but enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the philosophers of the day such as Diderot and Voltaire.  Throughout her 34 year reign, she remained witty, cynical, lovestruck and often deeply disappointed by her political and romantic failures. (Read entire review.)

Mayans in Georgia

An extraordinary find.
Archaeologists have discovered the ruins of an ancient Mayan city in the mountains of North Georgia believed to be at least 1,100 years old. According to Richard Thornton at, the ruins are reportedly what remains of a city built by Mayans fleeing wars, volcanic eruptions, droughts and famine.
In 1999, University of Georgia archeologist Mark Williams led an expedition to investigate the Kenimer Mound, a large, five-sided pyramid built in approximately 900 A.D. in the foothills of Georgia’s tallest mountain, Brasstown Bald. Many local residents has assumed for years that the pyramid was just another wooded hill, but in fact it was a structure built on an existing hill in a method common to Mayans living in Central America as well as to Southeastern Native American tribes.

Speculation has abounded for years as to what could have happened to the people who lived in the great Meso-American societies of the first century. Some historians believed that they simply died out in plagues and food shortages, but others have long speculated about the possibility of mass migration to other regions.
When evidence began to turn up of Mayan connections to the Georgia site, South African archeologist Johannes Loubser brought teams to the site who took soil samples and analyzed pottery shards which dated the site and indicated that it had been inhabited for many decades approximately 1000 years ago. The people who settled there were known as Itza Maya, a word that carried over into the Cherokee language of the region.

The city that is being uncovered there is believed to have been called Yupaha, which Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto searched for unsuccessfully in 1540. So far, archeologists have unearthed “at least 154 stone masonry walls for agricultural terraces, plus evidence of a sophisticated irrigation system and ruins of several other stone structures.” Much more may still be hidden underground.

The find is particularly relevant in that it establishes specific links between the culture of Southeastern Native Americans and ancient Mayans. According to Thornton, it may be the “most important archeological discovery in recent times.” (Read entire post.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Betrothal of Archduke Imre

Archduke Christoph with Mademoiselle Adélaïde Drapé-Frisch and Archduke Imre with Miss Kathleen Walker
I was delighted to receive news of the recent engagement of H.I.R.H Archduke Imre of Habsburg-Lorraine, to whom my family once had the honor of being presented, to Miss Kathleen Walker. Miss Walker is an American pro-life activist and journalist who often writes for The Integrated Catholic Life. The Archduke's betrothal coincides with that of his brother, the Archduke Christoph, to Mademoiselle Adélaïde Drapé-Frisch.The Archdukes are the sons of Their Imperial and Royal Highnesses Archduke Carl Christian of Austria and Archduchess Marie-Astrid of Luxembourg, who recently visited Washington, DC on the occasion of the feast of Blessed Emperor Karl von Habsburg. Blessed Karl is the great grandfather of the young Archdukes.

Here is an announcement in German and Le gotha has a detailed report in French.

Some commentary from Royal World. Share

Russian Enamels at the Walters

An exhibit worth visiting (or at least reading about).
Enamels, made by fusing powdered glass onto metal in a kiln, are one of Russia’s most well-known art forms. Enamels can be created in a variety of colors and works can take many forms. Producers included Faberge, which was known for its elaborate egg-shaped artworks incorporating enamel as well as jewels....

Highlights include a filigree enamel tankard inspired by a 17th-century Turkish prototype from the Kremlin Armory and a beaker with a design outlined in metal and filled with colored enamels without a backing, creating a stained glass effect. Twelve pieces are currently on display and the museum said it is developing an exhibition that will open in the spring of 2015 and later go on tour.

Johnston said the Riddell works are mainly from Moscow, which was undergoing a revival of tradition Russian enamel making in the 19th century. The most distinctive method used filigree in which twisted wires rather than flat strips of metal were attached to a silver base to separate the various colored enamels.

“It was characteristic of Moscow enamels in the 17th century, so that’s why they revived it,” Johnston said. “The wire protrudes above the surface and it has a decorative effect.” (Read entire article.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Louis XVI in the Temple Prison

From Vive la Reine. Louis shown writing his last will and testament in which he rejected the errors of the Revolution and affirmed his loyalty to the Holy Father in Rome. Share

Mental Health Care Crisis

A recent spike in psychiatric emergencies.
Across the country, doctors like Sullivan are facing a spike in psychiatric emergencies - attempted suicide, severe depression, psychosis - as states slash mental health services and the country's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression takes its toll. This trend is taxing emergency rooms already overburdened by uninsured patients who wait until ailments become acute before seeking treatment.

"These are people without a previous psychiatric history who are coming in and telling us they've lost their jobs, they've lost sometimes their homes, they can't provide for their families, and they are becoming severely depressed," said Dr. Felicia Smith, director of the acute psychiatric service at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. (Read entire article.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Death of Pretty

What happened to being pretty?
Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence.  I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is.  But some things were different in the back then.  First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue.  And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.

By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact.  That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.
Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different.  When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.

As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend.  Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity.  Its value is temporary and must be used.  It is a consumable.

Nowhere is this pretty deficit more obvious than in our “stars,” the people we elevate as the “ideal.”  The stars of the fifties surely suffered from the same sin as do stars of today.  Stars of the fifties weren’t ideal but they pursued a public ideal different from today.

The merits of hotness over pretty is easy enough to understand, they made an entire musical about it.  Who can forget how pretty Olivia Newton John was at the beginning of Grease.  Beautiful and innocent.  But her desire to be desired leads her to throw away all that is valuable in herself in the vain hopes of getting the attention of a boy.  In the process, she destroys her innocence and thus destroys the pretty.  What we are left with is hotness.

Hotness is a consumable.  A consumable that consumes as it is consumed but brings no warmth. Most girls don’t want to be pretty anymore even if they understand what it is.  It is ironic that 40 years of women’s liberation has succeeded only in turning women into a commodity.  Something to be used up and thrown out.

(Image) Share

Medieval People and the Bible

The American conquest of the Middle Ages. (Via Joshua.)
The very term “Middle Ages,” in fact, implies that the period is significant merely as an interruption, or at best a transition, between the vital culture of the Greco-Roman world and the “rebirth” of that culture in the Renaissance. When the Middle Ages do come up in popular discourse, the terms are almost never complimentary. Last year, for instance, Cogan University Professor Stephen Greenblatt published his widely acclaimed book The Swerve, which tells the story of the Italian Renaissance’s rediscovery of the Roman poet Lucretius (see “Swerves,”  July-August 2011, page 8). Central to Greenblatt’s argument is the idea that the Renaissance represented a long-overdue return to reason and sanity after the long religious delirium of the Middle Ages, a time of “societies of flagellants and periodic bursts of mass hysteria.”

Clearly, the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) has its work cut out for it. Launched last year by HUP under the general editorship of Porter professor of Medieval Latin Jan Ziolkowski, DOML gives the Loeb treatment to classic texts from the Middle Ages, aiming to fill the gap between the ancient world and the Renaissance—both on the library shelves and, if possible, in the minds of students and readers (see “A Renaissance for Medieval Classics,”  November-December 2010, page 64). “For reasons both economic and cultural,” Ziolkowski writes, “the variety and distinction of the Latin literature written in the Middle Ages have yet to receive the recognition they merit….[M]y dream is that this series of publications will help to improve the situation by furnishing prospective readers with both well-known classics and lesser-known mysteries and masterpieces.”

If the Loebs have been around for a hundred times as long as DOML, that seems a fair reflection of the importance of classical versus medieval literature in our culture. This may be especially true for American readers. After all, American civilization never had a medieval period: our country is a product of the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment era, when the reputation of the Middle Ages and everything they stood for was at its lowest ebb.

True, the United States has no direct inheritance from the classical world, either—but thanks to the Founding Fathers, we are in many ways Romans by adoption. When the Founders made the American Revolution and framed the Constitution, they had the Roman Republic in mind—just look at the way the Federalist Papers constantly refer to Roman history. And Washington, D.C., is a showcase of neo-Roman architecture; not for nothing is our government run from the Capitol, named for Rome’s Capitoline Hill. Gothic and Romanesque buildings are much thinner on the ground.

The great literary scholar Ernst Robert Curtius reflected on this absence in his 1948 magnum opus, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. “What strikes me most is this: The American mind might go back to Puritanism or to William Penn, but it lacked that which preceded them; it lacked the Middle Ages,” Curtius wrote. “It was in the position of a man who has never known his mother.” Yet he saw this lack as an opportunity for American scholarship. “The American conquest of the Middle Ages,” he observed, “has something of that romantic glamor and of that deep sentimental urge which we might expect in a man who should set out to find his lost mother.” That “conquest” began, in his view, with the “cult of Dante” that sprang up among the New England poets of the nineteenth century, above all Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who translated the Divine Comedy. (Read entire article.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Baby Girl

A statue of Madame Royale as an infant. Share

The Empty Manger

A Christmas reflection by John Zmirak.
The God we Christians adore climbed down from the pillar of fire, emerged from the burning bush, to walk among us. He didn’t, like Zeus, impersonate a swan or bull, or like Apollo a golden youth. Instead, He lay down as a helpless infant among the beasts, and placed Himself entirely at our mercy. So likewise would He, one day, lay down His life.

Herein lies a paradox. Because the dominant note in the life of Jesus, for all His tenderness toward sinners and humble victimhood, was not passivity or surrender. He knew Himself the son of kings and Son of God, and so He spoke “as one with authority.” He challenged the men of might and Mammon who’d hijacked their ancestral religion for pride or gain. He displayed a healthy loyalty first to fellow members of His noble, ancient race—but compassion toward foreigners—as with the gentile woman who sought her daughter’s healing:

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.  (Matt. 15:24-28)

He rebuked the wind and waves, drove demons out, threatened to tear down Solomon’s temple, then emptied it of moneychangers with a whip of knotted cords. With His life at stake, He displayed neither fear nor fawning—deigning only to speak to the procurator of mighty Rome a few sarcastic words. And death itself, which claimed Him gruesomely, He shook off like an ill-fitting coat, to emerge alive from the underworld—as Byzantine icons wonderfully depict—leading an army of the righteous dead, from Adam to Abraham, Melchizidech to the Maccabees.

Knowing all this, one awaits the Infant with a hint of fear. When the babe is laid at last in the straw, it seems to radiate. The awe on the Wise Men’s faces now makes perfect sense—as if they hear in the Child’s heartbeat the ticking of a clock, which once it stops will blast apart the sinews of the world. (Read entire post.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Civil War Christmas

Christmas of 1861 described by a lady of Virginia.
A devout Roman Catholic, Anita Dwyer Withers, wife of a United States and Confederate army officer, lived at her home in San Antonio, Texas, and briefly in Washington, D.C., before the Civil War, and in Richmond, Virginia, during the war, before returning to Texas in 1865. The diary, 4 May 1860-18 June 1865, mainly records her life in the Confederate capital, her concerns for her husband, John (d. 1892) and children, social visits, the Catholic Church, news from battles, rumors and threats of approaching federal troops, and temporary visits away from the city. See Documenting the American South (, a digital publishing initiative of the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Christmas Day 25th. [Dec.] Wednesday. [1861]
We went to Church at 10 O'clock. Father McMullen preached a very good sermon. After Church we all went to Mr. John Purcell's and took a glass of egg-nog, and from there we went to see the Sisters, Mrs. Randolph took us ladies in her carriage. (The Stable of Bethlehem was beautiful.) The little Orphans sang for us. About five we walked up to Mr. Menard's to dine--we returned about nine..."

"Christmas day I went to Church at half past ten. My Husband was busy and could not go--he had to attend to every thing for Mrs. Whiting, her husband had to be buried the same afternoon--It was the saddest Christmas I ever spent--no person dined out, though many were invited. We were to have dined at Mr. John Purcell's." (Read entire post.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Lord of Misrule Comes to Court

Christmas, 1551:
In December 1551, as Edward VI’s uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, sat in the Tower of London awaiting execution, the king’s court was preoccupied with another matter entirely: the Lord of Misrule. Some time before Christmas, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, sent a letter “scribbled in haste” to Thomas Cawarden, the Master of the Revels, announcing the appointment of George Ferrers as Lord of Misrule, to serve for the twelve days of Christmas. Ferrers was a courtier and poet who later contributed to A Mirror for Magistrates, described by Scott Lucas as a “compendium of tragic monologues” by a series of historical personages.

Ferrers began his reign by, as he recalled later, “coming out of the moon.” Despite this auspicious start, not all went smoothly at first. Ferrers wrote to complain to Cawarden that although his own costume was satisfactory, the same could not be said for the apparel of the gentlemen who were to accompany him on his grand entry into London.  Cawarden also was expected to come up with, among other items, “counterfeit harness and weapons,” a hobby-horse, eight vizers for a “drunken masque,” and eight daggers and swords for the same purpose. Meanwhile, lest Cawarden fail to get the point of Ferrers’s missive, the king’s council, including the Duke of Northumberland, wrote a stern letter on January 3, 1552, expressing its disapproval of Cawarden’s having “prepared not aptly” for the Lord of Misrule’s entourage. (Read entire post.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Book about Philip of Spain

Here is an extremely interesting review about a new biography of Philip II as the consort of Mary I of England. To quote:
There have been several calls for a study of Philip of Spain’s time as King of England over recent years. This is hardly surprising. Present-day scholarship of Mary’s reign is continuously growing, drawing attention to remaining overlooked areas. Interest in queenship, especially during the Tudor period, has increased. Yet examinations of Mary’s status as England’s first crowned queen regnant can only progress so far without a comprehensive study of her consort. Research into the Marian Church is also somewhat affected by the lack of work on Philip. We have come to recognise the influence some within Philip’s retinue exerted. The decision to return to Rome under Mary was certainly not the policy of these men alone, nor were they chiefly responsible for the measures implemented by the queen and her government, but the case of Friar Bartolomé Carranza alone indicates the significant role some played.1 An oversight of a more important figure – Mary’s own husband – is nonsensical. Finally, Philip was England’s first king-consort. Matilda in the twelfth-century and Jane Grey/Dudley in 1553 both were married at the time they made a bid for the throne but neither were crowned and Jane, acknowledged as queen at one point, never conferred upon her husband the title of ‘king’. Philip, on the other hand, married Mary around year after she became queen, was acknowledged as her lawful husband and thus king by all. Yet he was also refused a coronation, faced numerous limitations on his powers and had a complex relationship with his new subjects the English that continued long after Mary’s death. This is interesting stuff and should be examined in its own right.

So Philip Kelsey’s study, Philip of Spain, King of England: The Forgotten Sovereign, should be a welcomed addition to the numerous works already published on Mary’s reign. Anna Whitelock’s review on the dust-jacket promises the book to be ‘a timely attempt to place him [Philip] centre stage’. Sadly I was unable to agree. (Read entire review.)

Henry Adams on the Virgin Mary

From the Pittsford Perennialist:
Without Mary, man had no hope except in atheism, and for atheism the world was not ready. Hemmed back on that side, men rushed like sheep to escape the butcher, and were driven to Mary; only too happy in finding protection and hope in a being who could understand the language they talked, and the excuses they had to offer. (Read entire post.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

The Bells of St. Mary's is often referred to as the film which most exemplifies the mythological Church of pre-Vatican II days, the Church That Never Was, so to say. It is seen as idealizing priests and nuns and parish life when in reality, as we are continually being told, priests were abusive monsters and nuns were shrewish old hags. However, every time I see The Bells of St. Mary's I am struck by how many things about the film resonate with my own experience of Catholicism over four and a half decades. The nun friends that I have had laughed together just like those in the film, especially in the scene when the cat got inside Fr. O'Malley's hat on the mantelpiece. And the striving of the parish to keep the school open is not unreal either.

Here is one brief synopsis:
Produced in 1945, “The Bells of St. Mary’s” is the sequel to the 1944 Academy Award winning Best Picture “Going My Way.” Bing Crosby returns to his role of Father Chuck O’Malley. Father O’Malley has just been transferred to a new church, St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s is a church and school in disarray and without enough funds to even make basic repairs. In fact the parish is in serious danger of being shut down. While at St. Mary’s, Father O’Malley comes in to constant conflict with the school’s head nun, Sister Benedict, played by Ingrid Berman. He thinks she is too tough on the kids, she thinks he is too soft.
Making matters worse is crotchety, old Mr. Bogardus (Henry Travers) who is building a nice new office building next door to St. Mary’s and would like to see the parish torn down as the eye sore it is and turned into a parking lot for his new building. But Sister Benedict and the other nuns pray each day for Mr. Bogardus to somehow give the new building over to St. Mary’s so they may have a new place for their school. Father O’Malley thinks the nuns are wasting their time until of course the miracle of all miracles rewards the sisters’ faith.
It is always surprising how familiar some of the characters in the film are to me. Yes, when I went to parochial school there were some cranky old nuns. My husband has stories of his school days and encounters with grouchy teaching sisters that make one's hair stand on end. All the same, over the years I have known several nuns like Sr. Benedict, energetic, cheerful, and beautiful in every way. I have certainly encountered priests of the Fr. O'Malley variety, full of blarney at times, but able to connect with people from all walks of life. And what rectory does not have the occasional eccentric characters associated with it, such as the St. Mary's housekeeper Mrs. Breen, played to the hilt by the pixillated Una O'Connor. "You don't know what it's like to be up to your neck in nuns," she warns Fr. O'Malley, as he readies himself to embark on one of the most famous power struggles in filmdom.

Bing Crosby is not half so annoying as he was in Going My Way, the prequel of Bells. The fact that Ingrid Bergman was not a raised a Catholic and was not an especially devout person is testimony to her superb acting ability. Her composed deportment is right on target, restrained without being stiff. Sr. Benedict is able to gently impose a sense of discipline and order on the children while at the same time letting them know that they are loved unconditionally. I have known nuns just like her. She is based upon director Leo McCarey's aunt, a nun who helped to build Hollywood's Immaculate Heart Convent before dying of typhoid fever.

Sr. Benedict and Fr. O'Malley, like so many dedicated religious and clergy with whom I have been acquainted, interact with a variety of people with a plethora of problems, from the troubled young girl to the cranky old Bogardus. The story is fictional, meant to be entertaining and light-hearted but it touches upon very real quandaries. Sr. Benedict, who after overcoming many obstacles saves the school, has to lose it by going away. She is heartbroken and finds it hard to give up her own will, thinking that Fr. O'Malley has arranged her transfer on purpose. Discovering the truth at last helps her to accept everything that has happened in a spirit of faith. The look she gives Fr. O'Malley before walking away, eyes full of tears but radiant with peace, contains in it an ocean of sacrifice. In that sense, The Bells of St. Mary's is not only about the Church that was, it is about the Church that is, and that ever will be. Share

A Short History of Fascism

Some reflections from History and Other Thoughts.
Fascism is a complex and controversial subject. There are those who condemn it, there are even those who admire it and Mussolini (can't personally see why) but most of these opinions are acritical and based on emotions. Very few people know what Fascism really was and understand its causes, its consequences, its motives, its nature and its rise to power. Being Italian, this is a topic that has obviously always interested me and I've been reading everything I could get my hands on on the subject. A book I would recommend to those who are just starting out to study fascism is Breve Storia Del Fascismo (Short History Of Fascism) by Renzo De Felice (I'm not sure if the book has ever been translated into English or other languages, but I found a French version on

Renzo De Felice was an Italian historian, specializing in the Fascist era. Anyone who is familiar with his work knows that it's no easy read. The sentences are very long and the language quite complicated and no always clear. You need to read his books very carefully, which can put some people off. You'll be happy to know that this book is written in a much simpler style and is easy to follow. There are some complicated passages (but then Fascism is a complicated matter) but the book flows easily and is not so hard to understand. That's because the book was born from a series of documentaries about the history of Italy on which De Felice was working shortly before his death, so the style is more similar to that of a journalist than that of a historian. (Read entire post.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Skating in Norman England

Medieval ice skates
And other winter sports.
When the great marsh that washes the northern walls of the city is frozen, dense throngs of youths go forth to disport themselves upon the ice. Some gathering speed by runs, glide sidelong, with feet set well apart, over a vast space of ice. Others make themselves seats of ice like millstones and are dragged along by a number who run before them holding hands. Sometimes they slip owing to the greatness of their speed and fall, everyone of them, upon their faces. Others there are, with more skill to sport in a public place, who fit to their feet shinbones of beasts, lashing them beneath their ankles. With iron shod poles in their hands they strike ever and anon against the ice and are borne along swifter than a bird in flight or a bolt shot from a mangonel. But sometimes by agreement they run one against the other from a great distance and, raising their poles strike one another. One or both fall, not without bodily hurt, since falling  they are borne a long way in opposite directions by the force of their own motion; and wherever the ice touches the head, it scrapes away the skin entirely. Often he that falls breaks shin or arm, if he fall upon it. But  youth is an age greedy for renown, yearning for victory, and exercises itself in mimic battles that it may bear itself more boldly in true combat. (Read entire post.)

Fantasy and the Pre-Raphaelites

An article which is very informative.
The Pre–Raphaelite movement was officially begun in the middle of the last century by seven young artists, barely into their twenties at the time. Painting, as it was taught back then (at London's Royal Academy), was bound by a strict series of rules, formulas, and conventions which determined what these artists could paint and exactly how they could paint it. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Millais were at the core of this group of friends who defied the art establishment by exhibiting subversive, scandalous paintings signed with the mysterious letters "PRB". The initials stood for the group's nom de guerre: the Pre–Raphaelite Brotherhood. They chose this name because they worshipped early Italian and Flemish art — the art before Raphael. The Brotherhood never set out to mimic the style of this early art, but rather they sought to evoke a similar spirit of freedom and simplicity: primarily by the radical concepts of painting directly from nature, out–of–doors; and by painting with bright, translucent colors straight onto a white background (rather than with the subdued Academy palette, painted light on dark). (Read entire post.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Abdication of Edward VIII

I wonder what made him never grow up.
There have been many accounts of the abdication crisis which make for interesting reading, but I was struck by this portrait of the King by his former secretary Sir Alan Lascelles which I found on the internet "Prince Charmless: A damning portrait of Edward VIII". Lascelles expressed his view of Edward that "for some hereditary or physiological reason his normal mental development stopped dead when he reached adolescence." 
There are varying interpretations of the life and character of King Edward VIII and Lascelles' view may not be definitive, even if as a former Private Secretary it tends to the authoratative. There is an interesting similarity to a view I have seen of the other English King who was the eighth of his name* - King Henry VIII has been presented as a monarch whose accession at the age of almost eighteen had the effect of stunting his development - not that he was not intelligent, but that he stopped developing emotionally. An interesting, if coincidental, similarity perhaps - and in both cases matrimonial difficulties were to follow. (Read entire post.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

St. Adelaide

I always thought her life would make a great movie.
The death of our saint’s husband, which happened about the year 949, left her a young widow, and the afflictions with which she was visited contributed perfectly to disengage her heart from the world, and make her devote herself to the practice of piety, which had been from her infancy the ruling inclination of her heart. Berengar (Berengarius) III, margrave of Ivrea, possessed himself of all Lombardy, and succeeded to the title of king of Italy. This prince, who had always been the declared enemy of his predecessor’s family, cast Adelaide into prison at Pavia, where she suffered the greatest hardships and indignities. She at length found means to make her escape, and fled towards Germany; but was met by the Emperor Otto I, who, at the solicitation of Pope Agapetus II, was marching at the head of an army of fifty thousand men to do her justice. He made himself master of Pavia and other places, and married Adelaide(2), but restored the kingdom to Berengar, upon condition he should hold it of the empire. Berengar soon forgot his engagements; whereupon Otto, at the earnest request of Pope John XII, sent his son Luitolph against him; and Luitolph, after gaining many victories, dying, the emperor went in person into Italy, made Berengar prisoner, and banished him into Germany, where he died at Bamberg. After this victory, Otto was crowned emperor at Rome by the pope in 963. (Read entire post.)

Book Recommendations

Books about the Petit Trianon.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

The American Concentration Camps

Some prominent Japanese Americans speak out.
‘Sulu’ on where no man or woman should ever have gone. FDR’s government (can’t blame the Old Right) put him, an American, in concentration camps during WWII for ‘looking like the enemy’....Fact: J. Edgar Hoover opposed it. Because he thought his FBI could deal with any sabotage (there wasn’t any from Japanese-Americans, and in Hawaii, where there were many, I think they were left alone because moving them was impossible) and he was enough of a gentleman of the old republic to know it was wrong. No, the progressives used blatant racism to get what they wanted. (Read entire post.)
I must say that since my family suffered in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation I am glad the U.S. government did intervene. I guess it was necessary after they bombed us. Share

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Christmas Tree

The following is a history of the Christmas tree:
In the 7th century a monk [St. Boniface] from Crediton, Devonshire, went to Germany to teach the Word of God. He did many good works there, and spent much time in Thuringia....Legend has it that he used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God's Tree, as they had previously revered the Oak. By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime in Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity....

In the mid 16th century, Christmas markets were set up in German towns, to provide everything from gifts, food and more practical things such as a knife grinder to sharpen the knife to carve the Christmas Goose! At these fairs, bakers made shaped gingerbreads and wax ornaments for people to buy as souvenirs of the fair, and take home to hang on their Christmas Trees.
The best record we have is that of a visitor to Strasbourg in 1601. He records a tree decorated with "wafers and golden sugar-twists (Barleysugar) and paper flowers of all colours". The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden. The many food items were symbols of Plenty, the flowers, originally only red (for Knowledge) and White (for Innocence).
Tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610. At that time real silver was used, and machines were invented which pulled the silver out into the wafer thin strips for tinsel. Silver was durable, but tarnished quickly, especially with candlelight. Attempts were made to use a mixture of lead and tin, but this was heavy and tended to break under its own weight so was not so practical. So silver was used for tinsel right up to the mid-20th century.
The First English Trees
The Christmas Tree first came to England with the Georgian Kings who came from Germany. At this time also, German Merchants living in England decorated their homes with a Christmas Tree. The British public were not fond of the German Monarchy, so did not copy the fashions at Court, which is why the Christmas Tree did not establish in Britain at that time. A few families did have Christmas trees however, probably more from the influence of their German neighbours than from the Royal Court.
The decorations were Tinsels, silver wire ornaments, candles and small beads. All these had been manufactured in Germany and East Europe since the 17th century. The custom was to have several small trees on tables, one for each member of the family, with that persons gifts stacked on the table under the tree.
The Victorian and Albert Tree
In 1846, the popular Royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were illustrated in the Illustrated London News. They were standing with their children around a Christmas Tree. Unlike the previous Royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at Court immediately became fashionable - not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. The English Christmas Tree had arrived!
Decorations were still of a 'home-made' variety. Young Ladies spent hours at Christmas Crafts, quilting snowflakes and stars, sewing little pouches for secret gifts and paper baskets with sugared almonds in them. Small bead decorations, fine drawn out silver tinsel came from Germany together with beautiful Angels to sit at the top of the tree. Candles were often placed into wooden hoops for safety. (Read entire article.)
More about Christmas trees in modern times, HERE. And about Victorian Christmas trees, HERE.


A Revolutionary Converts

The extraordinary journey of Lev Alexandrovich Tikhomirov.
Tikhomirov’s dissident activities did not go unnoticed and in 1873 he was arrested for advocating subversive activity and sentenced to four years in Sts Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg. His confinement and eventual release had little effect on him, if anything it was viewed as something of a right of passage in revolutionary circles and he climbed all the higher in the dissident hierarchy because of that. He became one of the leaders of “Land and Liberty” (part of the Narodniki) and in 1879 joined the terrorist group “The People’s Will”. During this time, the Narodniki had become increasingly radical and inclined toward violence. Their efforts to inspire the peasants to rise up and overthrow the monarchy had failed miserably. They blamed “superstition” on the part of their supposedly imbecilic countrymen. The truth was that the Russian peasants were deeply religious people who, according to the dictates of the Orthodox faith, viewed their Tsar as occupying a sacred place and they were devoutly loyal to their monarch who they lovingly referred to as “The Little Father”. (Read entire post.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Allegory

Allegory of the return of the Bourbons April 24, 1814: Louis XVIII of France under its ruins by Louis-Philippe Crépin (from Vive la Reine).

The fat, half-naked woman is supposed to be France. I think she ruins the picture, and detracts from the lovely image of the daughter of Louis XVI all in white.


A. A. Milne's "King John"

I am glad to know that I am not the only one who loved this poem as a child. (It still brings tears to my eyes, too.)

King John was not a good man –
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air –
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon…
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his live aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
F. Christmas in particular.”
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “Jack.”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man –
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to this room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now!”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow –
The first I had for years.”

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man,
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts!
I haven’t got a pocket-knife —
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas, had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red,
india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all …
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!

And oh Father Christmas,
My blessings on you fall
For bringing him a big, red,
India-rubber ball!

(From Now We Are Six)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Trianon in Ruins

An 1803 account of a visit to Trianon.
Still, where else would we find this description of the tattered remains Marie-Antoinette's Petit Trianon at Versailles, which Carr visited less than a decade after her death? This excerpt and the illustration, above, are both from The Stranger in France, published in 1803 – and, if you'd like to read more, it's available on-line free as a Project Gutenberg Ebook here. (Read entire post.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marie-Antoinette's Daughter in Prayer

The duchess d’Angoulême praying to St. Geneviève. (From Vive la Reine.)

Marie, icône de mode

People have often asked me what became of Marie-Antoinette's gowns. I know that those that were not given to her ladies-in-waiting were made into church vestments. We also know that one of them at least was made into a dress for a statue of the Virgin and is now on display. There is an exhibition in Lyon, France at the Musée des Tissus about garments that were made to honor a venerable statue of Our Lady. I do not know which one belonged to Marie-Antoinette.
LYON, France — For 700 years Catholic faithful expressed their devotion to the Virgin Mary by creating an elaborate wardrobe for the mother and child, on display in a new exhibit in the French city of Lyon.
Playfully entitled "Fashion Icon", the show explores how from the 12th to the 19th centuries, clothes were cut to adorn the Virgin, sometimes becoming objects of worship in their own right.

"When you clothe a statue you give it a powerful presence -- and since the fabrics used were extremely precious, you also introduce a distance," explained Maximilien Durand, director of the Lyon fabric museum and curator of the show, which runs until March 25.

"Clothes were cut for all kinds of statues -- from great icons in sanctuaries and the mannequins used in religious processions, down to the tiny statues of Mary worshipped in convents and household chapels."
The practice spread massively from the 13th to 15th centuries, but come the 16th century, with the Roman Catholic Church under attack from Protestant critics, the clergy started to worry the statues of Mary had become indecent.

"They were dressed like real women, like fashion icons, with real hair, wigs, even make-up," Durand said. In 1530, Catholic authorities ruled that the Virgin could be dressed -- so long as the clothes were not too close-fitting -- allowing the practice to thrive until the 19th century when the Church turned against it. "The clothes people gave were always special, either precious or because they symbolised a key moment in their lives," said Durand. "Women would often donate their wedding dresses for the statues, symbolically a way of holding onto their own virginity."

When Marie-Antoinette's eldest daughter was born, the French queen asked her dressmaker to fashion a costume for the Virgin in Monflieres north of Paris, from one of her own dresses.

"Today it is the only surviving dress known to have belonged to Marie-Antoinette, since her entire wardrobe has since been lost," said Durand.

The exhibit features a wardrobe of tiny statue dresses from Marie-Antoinette's day, cut from a man's waistcoat or a court apron.

Other costumes were specially made, embroidered with flowers that in the 17th and 18th centuries suggested the virtues of the Virgin: violets for modesty, lilies for purity, roses for charity. The show spotlights the wardrobe of one particular statue -- the black Virgin from the Daurade basilica in Toulouse in southwestern France -- with more than a dozen metre-high triangular robes and matching baby Jesus outfits.
The first dresses date from the 18th century, up to the present day with a collection created for her two years ago by eight fashion designers, including Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Franck Sorbier. One dress is typical of the era of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, with Chinese-inspired motifs and ribbon-tied bunches of flowers.

"You can see from the folds that it was a French-style dress that was turned into a statue's costume," Durand said.

Another is cut from a high-quality cashmere shawl, the ultimate fashion accessory in the early 19th century, imported from India and brought into style by the Empress Josephine.

The Virgin's changing dress mirrors the colours of the Catholic liturgy, with white for feasts, green for everyday, red to commemorate martyrs, purple for Lent and black for mourning.

The contemporary costumes are also rich in subtext.

Castelbajac clothed her in camouflage print above a glittery band suggestive of a snake's scales, an allusion to depictions of the immaculate conception in which the Virgin tramples the serpent underfoot. (Read entire article.)

The complete brochure is online, HERE, with photos of the stunning gowns. More HERE. Share

Cardinal Siri Revisited

Cardinal Siri and his words about masculine attire for women have been discussed before on this blog and elsewhere on the internet.The Cardinal made some excellent points in 1960 when he composed his Notification Concerning Men's Dress Worn by Women. It is not dogma and was never even meant for public consumption but worthy of consideration nevertheless. The Cardinal did not think slacks on women were immodest but feared they were a symptom of the eventual and overall masculinization of women to the detriment of their role in the family and in society. In many ways, his words were prophetic. What the late prelate said is usually met with ridicule in the Catholic media but finally we have an intelligent article, and from the wonderful Catholic Herald. To quote:
Cardinal Siri’s argument is that “male dress tends to vitiate relationships between men and women”; when women wear trousers, it flattens out the natural distinction between the sexes and thus helps “to pull down the vital defence-works of the sense of shame”. He believes, in short, that “the changing of feminine psychology does fundamental, and in the long run, irreparable damage to the family, to conjugal fidelity, to human affections and to human society.”

This is a large claim. Yet when I described the Notification as a “wonderful document” I was not poking fun at it. Of course the language used is quaint and old-fashioned and I feel sure the late cardinal would have been somewhat out of sympathy with “the spirit of Vatican II”; that Council was just two years in the future when he wrote down his thoughts. Indeed, he might seem – to modern eyes – as a reactionary old blimp. But he was writing in the days when bishops and cardinals took seriously their responsibility before God of their fatherhood of their diocesan flock. And was he entirely wrong in what he wrote?

Several years ago (long before I realised that Cardinal Siri and I were on a similar wave-length) a friend gave me a book about purity and women’s dress. It actually persuaded me to chuck out all my trousers and slacks for good. Friends and family were naturally aghast: had I gone mad? I could see all the reasonable arguments against me: modest Muslim women are allowed to wear baggy trousers; women’s slacks are not the same as men’s trousers and can be feminine; in very cold countries they are the only way to keep one’s legs warm; what do you wear when you are skiing or riding etc.

But I stuck to my guns – if this isn’t too unfeminine a metaphor. Why? Well, when I was a student at Cambridge in the 1960s I had worn mini-skirts – then the fashion – most of the time; this was sheer immodesty, though I wouldn’t have thanked Cardinal Siri for pointing this out to me then. When I wasn’t wearing mini-skirts I was trying to look like a character from a Hemingway novel: T-shirt, jeans and keeping a crumpled packet of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes in my hip pocket. I was, as Siri points out, deliberately dressing “like a man”. (There was a very brief interlude when I went into shiny black PVC from top to toe; goodness knows what the cardinal would have made of that.)

I decided there and then I ought to make reparation for my sartorial sins and those of others. “Reparation” is a very Catholic idea: making amends and sacrifices to atone for sin. I know it doesn’t fit into a Darwinian scheme of things but it makes a lot of sense to me. And as soon as I began to wear skirts – midi and maxi this time – I began to notice the ugliness of modern female dress: most women I saw, unless they were very elderly, were wearing tight jeans with a large expanse of flesh exposed at the midriff; unflattering and unfeminine at the same time.

Feminism, a huge subject, also comes into this debate. I suspect Cardinal Siri was right to suggest that the women’s movement was not doing women any favours. I am not talking here about the right to vote and equal pay for equal work; I am talking about the situation today when, if you try to say publicly that a “right” to abortion harms women or that staying at home when one’s children are young might be a good thing, the fearsome army of the feminist sisterhood simply shouts one down. (Read entire article.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Our Lady and General de Sonis

General de Sonis was a Third Order Carmelite. Here is a story from his life:
 Back on the battlefield, a strange thing happened. The Virgin Mary appeared to the wounded General Sonis, assuring him that all was not lost and that France would survive. A scattering of soldiers milled around the former battle; only the Zouaves and a very few other units retained their order and discipline. The remnant of the 17th Corps retreated to Poitiers. When the surviving Zouaves reached this refuge, they were welcomed deliriously by the townspeople. Deeply saddened by the plight of his former paladins, Pius IX sent a message to them: “Tell Charette and his heroic sons as speedily as possible that my wishes, prayers, and remembrances constantly follow them wherever they go; that as they were, and still are, present with me, I am also with them in heart and soul, ever entreating the God of all mercy to protect and save both them and their unhappy country, and to bless them as fully and as specially as I do this day, in His name and with the warmest effusion of my heart.” (Read entire post.)


Christina Rossetti

The Pre-Rapahelite movement and Catholicism.
Christina Rossetti, the pre-Raphaelite poet and sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the movement's founders, was born on December 5, 1830. She is best known for her book of poetry Goblin Market and Other Poems, published in 1862 and for two Christmas Carols: "In the Bleak Midwinter" and "Love Came Down at Christmas":

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
(Read entire post.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Reporting from Night

The more leaves are lost,
the more lights we see at night.
In the cold,
the city glimmers through the trees. 
~from "Ravine" in Reporting from Night by Kateri Lanthier
There are realities that lie beneath the surface of the seen world that poetry, paintings and music can help us to make sense of. The arts can open up the way to inner healing, becoming conduits of grace. Poetry is an especially vital art form that enables people to understand the truths about themselves and the universe. I recently read the newly released Reporting from Night by Canadian poet Kateri Lanthier. The poems contained therein are rich  reflections on the journey through life and death as the author ponders the mysteries of daytime and nighttime. An extraordinarily gifted wordsmith, Kateri breathes new meaning into ordinary words and phrases, so that the reader is given fresh insights into otherwise mundane occurrences. Hers are poems to read over and over again. 
While Kateri's poems are often whimsical and full of sly humor, as she allows us to accompany her through her youth to womanhood and motherhood, they unflinchingly deal with the dark moments of existence as well as those of joy. The following is an excerpt from a  poem about a mother stopping in the midst of dinner preparations to dance with her little boy.
I sweep him up
my tiny partner
so light off his feet.
Sky dark,
plates bare.
I ask,
“Why did we dance?
“Because because
of the sun
in the music
on the radio.”
Art has the power to transform. I will never look at trees, darkness, night and winter in the same way ever again. I will never look at motherhood in quite the same way. Kateri has given me a lot to ponder. The poetry is bold yet enchanting and meant to be savored; I am still in the process of absorbing it.
Kateri Lanthier
Kateri is my cousin and the sister of novelist Jennifer Lanthier whose wonderful book The Mystery of the Martello Tower I have also reviewed on this blog. Kateri's poems have also been published in London Magazine (England, ed. Alan Ross), The Antigonish Review, U.C. Review, Saturday Night, Descant, Grain, Poetry Canada Review, Writing Women (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England), The Toronto Quarterly, The Toronto Star, Poetry’z Own.
Reporting from Night is available, HERE. (I am honored to have been mentioned in the  acknowledgments!)

Death of Prince Albert

Author Christina Croft explores the cause of his death.
From the first history books I ever read as a child, right through to those written today, it was repeatedly stated that Prince Albert died of typhoid, probably due to the dirty drains at Windsor. Though I have no proof, I seriously suspect that this is a myth. The prince, I believe, was suffering – and had been for a long time – from some more pernicious illness which, combined with his mental state, eventually led to his premature death.

One of the things which first struck me about the story of his death was the fact that no one else in the household was reported as suffering from typhoid (yet it usually occurs in epidemics) and, more noticeable, was the fact that his family – including four-year-old Beatrice – came to him during his last illness, held his hand, kissed him and sat on his bed. Would anyone let a four-year-old child approach a person with an infectious and potentially fatal fever? 
It then occurred to me that – from what I had previously read of typhoid – Prince Albert’s symptoms did not quite ‘fit’. He certainly had the high temperature and weakness but there is no mention of the purplish rash that sometimes occurs on the chest, or any sign of delirium. To his last breath he was speaking coherently with his daughter, Alice, and with the Queen. (Read entire post.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

David, Delacroix, and Revolutionary France

An exhibit of drawings from the Age of Revolution is showing in New York through the month of December.
One of the cheeriest faces in New York right now can be found at the Morgan Library & Museum, in an exhibition of drawings on loan from the Musée du Louvre. It’s Pierre-Paul Prud’hon’s black-and-white chalk rendering of his pupil, fellow artist and eventual lover, Constance Mayer, dating from around 1804. She seems almost bursting with devotion and joy.

Yet she appears in the exhibition, "David, Delacroix, and Revolutionary France: Drawings from the Louvre.” The show is a survey of works produced during years of political turmoil that stretched from 1774, with the ascension to the throne of King Louis XVI, through the French Revolution, Napoleon’s Consulate, Empire, abdication and exile, the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy, the Second Republic under Louis Napoleon, and ending finally with his becoming Napoleon III in 1852. (Read entire article.)


The Last Abbot of Colchester

John Beche was martyred for the Catholic faith under Henry VIII.
John Beche (alias Thomas Marshall) was executed for treason on December 1, 1539--the last abbot of Colchester's Benedictine abbey. He had previously been the abbot at St. Werburgh's abbey in Chester. In 1534, he took Henry VIII's Oath of Supremacy, but after the executions of the Carthusians, Thomas More, and John Fisher in 1535, he began to speak of them as martyrs of the Faith. His comments were reported to Henry VIII and when he refused to surrender the Abbey of St. John in Colchester, he was arrested and held in the Tower of London. John Beche was returned to Colchester to face charges of treason against Henry VIII's role as Supreme Head and Governour of the Church in England and found guilty. He was hung, drawn, and quartered in Colchester on December 1, 1539. (Read entire post.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Queen in Mourning

Wracked by loss and sorrow, Marie-Antoinette reached the heights of courage, determination, and Christian fortitude. (Via Vive la Reine.) Share

Our Lady in Russia

The Holy Virgin is manifested to her people. Gareth Russell reports.
An ancient relic, long venerated as a girdle or belt which belonged to the Virgin Mary, has completed its ten city-tour of Russia, after being loaned to the Russian Orthodox Church by the famous Mount Athos monastery in Greece, where it is usually kept and guarded. 

In an extraordinary display of the strength and vitality of Christianity in Russia after the downfall of the Soviet system, nearly half a million people queued for days in sub-zero temperatures to see the relic when it made its final stop in Moscow. The Church authorities were forced to extend its display in the cathedral by three days, whilst the secular authorities had to introduce fifteen hundred more police onto the street and re-route traffic. (Read entire post.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Life of Eleanor the Queen, Part 3

A conclusion of the articles about Eleanor of Aquitaine by Gareth Russell.
Richard had been in France when he heard the news that his father was dead and he was now King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine and Count of Nantes. It would take him some time to make the journey back to England for his coronation and in his absence, he showed his trust and love for his mother by giving her the power that both of her husbands had denied her. Freed from captivity, Eleanor was immediately appointed Regent of England and she moved quickly to London to undertake the business of government. And for someone who technically had very little experience of ruling in her own right, Eleanor showed herself to be remarkably good at it in a remarkably short period of time. It leaves the historian wondering what her husbands might have been able to achieve with her at their side, if they had only trusted her enough. The monk and chronicler, Matthew Paris, later wrote that Eleanor's time as Regent after her son's accession made her 'exceedingly respected and beloved' by the people. 

Eleanor's political skill in leading the English government during Richard's short absence before the coronation was theoretically a dress rehearsal for a much longer stint in control. Two years before, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, known in the West as "Saladin," had inflicted a terrible defeat and massacre on the Christian orders of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller in the Holy Land. Now, as it had been in the time of Eleanor's first marriage, the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem was under threat and, with crusading apparently running in his blood, Richard was determined to go East and finish the job his mother's first husband had so spectacularly failed at - he aimed to crush the Islamic caliphates and secure the supremacy of Christianity in the Middle East. He also hoped that in doing so, he would guarantee immortal salvation for his soul and glory for his name. (Read entire post.)

Lessons in Psychological Warfare

At Jasna Góra, 1655.
 Meanwhile, the Swedes reached the foot of Jasna Gora. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. General Miller sent a written peace proposal with a delegation, proposing the peaceful capitulation of Jasna Gora, to avoid “unnecessary bloodshed”… The declared adversary also pretended to be merciful. The enemy troops had already taken up positions for the siege of the walls, and were studying the positions of the cannons of the fortress.

“It did not seem fitting to answer that letter in writing,” reported Fr. Kordecki. “It was no longer the hour to write, but to take up arms… We answered by the muzzles of our cannons…” (pg. 109).

The answer was so convincing, that, at nightfall, Miller had to beg for a truce, and he took advantage of the occasion to assure the friars that he did not want to do any damage to the sanctuary. Since the Swedish troops had occupied granaries belonging to the convent and located outside the walls, the defenders bombarded them at night with incendiary projectiles, so that they could not be used to supply the enemy.

The following day, Miller hid his artillery in the nearby village of Czestochowa, whence he bombarded Jasna Gora. When the religious realized this, they considered that the destruction of the village was of no importance in comparison with the defense of the sanctuary of Our Lady, and, directing their artillery in that direction, they set the thatched houses on fire. Many of the Swedes in their surprise ran out into the open where they were brought under the fire of the monastery’s defenders. (Read entire article.)


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Impressions of Madame du Barry

Madame LeBrun reflects:
It was in 1786 that I went for the first time to Louveciennes, where I had promised to paint Mme. Du Barry. She might then have been about forty-five years old. She was tall without being too much so; she had a certain roundness, her throat being rather pronounced but very beautiful; her face was still attractive, her features were regular and graceful; her hair was ashy, and curly like a child's. But her complexion was beginning to fade. She received me with much courtesy, and seemed to me very well behaved, but I found her more spontaneous in mind than in manner: her glance was that of a coquette, for her long eyes were never quite open, and her pronunciation had something childish which no longer suited her age. (Read entire post.)

The Eleanor Crosses

In memory of Eleanor of Castile.
When Edward I's consort Eleanor of Castile died on November 28, 1290, the royal couple were travelling near Lincoln. After her body was transported from Lincoln to Westminster, Edward I had crosses set up along the stages of that journey. Twelve crosses marked the twelve stops--at Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St. Albans, Waltham, Westcheap, and Charing. This site provides a great deal of detail, including a map and several images, of the Eleanor Crosses. (Read entire post.)