Sunday, November 30, 2014

Traditional Irish Clothing


In the fifteenth century Henry VIII passed laws in Ireland forbidding the traditional Celtic garb of the people. There were many reasons for such prohibitions; breaking the spirit and sense of unity of the Irish by destroying their culture certainly was one. The Irish manner of dressing was adapted as much as possible to the English way so that most of the trademarks of the ancient attire slipped into oblivion. Scholars have done some amazing research and discovered the traits of the antique Irish costume, many of which would seem as outlandish to us as to the English invaders of past centuries.

Irish women wore a sort of linen headdress like a turban; they did not wear corsets, and so the English described them as being immodest. Married women always covered their heads but young, unmarried girls let their hair flow loose. Men had long braided hair, which was strictly forbidden by the English. Men and women wore voluminous linen shirts or tunics called leine, often dyed yellow in saffron. The linen shirts had full, flowing, often pleated sleeves. Men wore wool trousers called trews. Women wore long gowns over the leines. Both genders wore mantles or cloaks called brats. The color and quality of the fabric often depended upon the individual's wealth and/or social standing. In spite of the proscriptions, the Irish culture was not destroyed, and most importantly, the Catholic faith of the people survived for many generations.

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Facebook and Politics

From The Washington Post:
Political campaigns are obsessed with two things: Telling every possible voter exactly what they want to hear in order to get them to the polls and cast the "right" vote, and telling them that message for as close to zero dollars as possible.

It's not a surprise, then, that Facebook has focused its social-Sauron eye on the world of politics. Already a focal point of political activity (of varying quality), the site has shifted its toolset to let campaigns target extremely specific audiences with very specific messages, for prices somewhat north of zero dollars. The end goal for the company seems clear: Replace, as much as possible, expensive, blanketed television advertising with much more immediate, much more specific ads appearing in users' feeds -- and then cash a whole lot of checks.

This is not as far in the future as you might think. (Read more.)
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Quasars

There is order in the universe, and wherever there is order, there is intelligence. (I refer to the Creator.) From ESO:
New observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have revealed alignments over the largest structures ever discovered in the Universe. A European research team has found that the rotation axes of the central supermassive black holes in a sample of quasars are parallel to each other over distances of billions of light-years. The team has also found that the rotation axes of these quasars tend to be aligned with the vast structures in the cosmic web in which they reside.

Quasars are galaxies with very active supermassive black holes at their centres. These black holes are surrounded by spinning discs of extremely hot material that is often spewed out in long jets along their axes of rotation. Quasars can shine more brightly than all the stars in the rest of their host galaxies put together.
A team led by Damien Hutsemékers from the University of Liège in Belgium used the FORS instrument on the VLT to study 93 quasars that were known to form huge groupings spread over billions of light-years, seen at a time when the Universe was about one third of its current age.

The first odd thing we noticed was that some of the quasars’ rotation axes were aligned with each other — despite the fact that these quasars are separated by billions of light-years,” said Hutsemékers.
The team then went further and looked to see if the rotation axes were linked, not just to each other, but also to the structure of the Universe on large scales at that time.

When astronomers look at the distribution of galaxies on scales of billions of light-years they find that they are not evenly distributed. They form a cosmic web of filaments and clumps around huge voids where galaxies are scarce. This intriguing and beautiful arrangement of material is known as large-scale structure.

The new VLT results indicate that the rotation axes of the quasars tend to be parallel to the large-scale structures in which they find themselves. So, if the quasars are in a long filament then the spins of the central black holes will point along the filament. The researchers estimate that the probability that these alignments are simply the result of chance is less than 1%. (Read more.)
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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lisa Holloway Photography

From The Huffington Post:
There’s something dreamy, almost otherworldly about the portraits captured by Nevada-based photographer Lisa Holloway; and that, it seems, is exactly as she intended.
“I want to try to bring a little bit of magic into the world through my work,” she told The Huffington Post of her lush portraiture, mostly of children and families. “I’m inspired by the beauty, colors, and textures in nature. I believe the saying that the 'eyes are the window to the soul' and I try to capture that in my [photographs].” (Read more.)
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Irish Artisanal Cheeses

From The Wall Street Journal:
In the burgeoning world of artisanal cheese, Ireland is a land of legend. Starting in the 1970s, a small group of self-taught cheesemakers, centered in the western reaches of County Cork, helped usher in a fine-food revolution by turning an eccentric hobby into an influential craft. By adapting Continental cheesemaking techniques to their remote maritime setting, they managed to transform obscure Celtic names—like Gubbeen, Durrus and Milleens—into internationally recognized gourmet brands.

Now Irish farmhouse cheeses have grown up, as a second generation of cheesemakers has reached adulthood and often diversified their businesses. Along the way, several of Ireland's best cheesemakers have opened up their farms to visitors, making it possible to tour the country with nothing but fine cheese on your itinerary.

"Ireland would be one of the fun tours," says Rob Kaufelt, the owner of Murray's Cheese Shop, a prime New York cheesemonger, talking about options for cheese-loving travelers. The country is a great choice, he says, "because of the people," and because of the uniqueness of the cheese itself. "Irish grass is noteworthy," he says, and he wouldn't "mistake Irish cheese for anything else." (Read entire article.)

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Dresses for Little Grand Duchesses

They belonged to the daughters of the last Tsar. (More HERE.) I am always amazed that anything survived. Share

The Home of Gregorian Chant

From Regina Magazine:
It was 1833, and Solesmes Abbey had long been abandoned and left in ruins. A young secular priest, Prosper Guéranger, a bishop’s secretary in Paris, learned that disaster was looming — Solesmes was slated to be destroyed for lack of a buyer. 

With his bishop’s approval and God’s grace, Guéranger collected enough money to rent the property, and moved in with three friends on July 11, 1833.  He received a canonical dispensation to become a Benedictine monk, and soon had many French and English benefactors for this fledging community.  
In 1837, Dom Gueranger went to Rome to ask for official recognition of the priory.   Rome granted him instead recognition as an abbey, making Solesmes the head of the new Benedictine Congregation de France. On July 26, Dom Guéranger made his solemn profession in the presence of the Abbot of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

Over the years, daughterhouses have been founded from Solesmes, in many cases old monasteries being restored: Ligugé (1853), Silos in Spain (1880), Glanfeuil (1892), and Fontanelle (1893); also new foundations at Marseilles(1865), Farnborough in England and Wisque (1895), Paris (1893), and Kergonan (1897).  In the 20th century, sixteen more houses were founded. (Read more.)
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Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Pumpkin

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Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.
On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.
Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?
Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,--our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!
Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own pumpkin pie!
By John Greenleaf Whittier (Via Recta Ratio)
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Franklin and the Turkey

From Slate:
Franklin’s lament of the choice of bald eagle comes from a letter he wrote in 1784. He was remarking upon the medal of the Society of the Cincinnati, which representatives of the new nation were taking to France to bestow upon those who had helped in the American Revolution. The medals depicted a bald eagle that some people thought looked more like a turkey. The suggestion sent Franklin into a thorough drubbing of the eagle’s merits as a symbol. He called it “a Bird of bad moral Character” that “does not get his Living honestly.”
You may have seen him perch’d on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk [Osprey]; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
Sick burn, Franklin! Stealing food out of a baby’s mouth! Got anything else?
Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District.
Bam! Franklin is being pretty selective with his facts, though. While, yes, bald eagles will steal food from ospreys and eat carrion, they’re excellent fishermen. Additionally, birds of prey—including hawks and owls—are constantly being harassed by smaller birds. In fact, birders know to follow the sound of scolding birds in order to find these larger birds.
What about turkeys, Ben?
For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America. He is besides, tho’ a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.
(Read more.)
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Thanksgiving Dinner: Using Our Best Holiday Manners

A reader once asked for some posts on etiquette for the up-coming holidays and holy days. All the theology in the world, all the lovely traditions and the most ethereal spirituality, are nothing if not accompanied by charity towards our neighbor. Love is expressed in thoughtfulness and consideration, in small kindnesses and courtesies, which is what good manners should be. It has occurred to me over the last few years that many people mistake gentleness and courtesy for weakness, just as they mistake brutality and rudeness for strength. No, it requires strength and discipline, as well as fortitude and courage, to be kind to everyone, to greet people who are obnoxious, to show love to everyone. Neither is it being obsequious or condescending to be polite to the rude, which does not, of course, mean being a doormat to bullies. They need to be handled, kindly but firmly.

Here is a practical, contemporary guide from Bon Appétit:
➤ Invite at least one non-family member to ensure that everyone is on their best behavior, help temper tensions, and extend the bread and salt of welcome to neighbors and friends. It’s especially fun to ask those, like the British, for whom Thanksgiving is a curious novelty.

➤ There must be music: a music-less house is missing something. Selections should be unobtrusive, fitting, and as far from a “holiday” or “dinner party” soundtrack as possible....

No scented candles! Roasting turkey and stuffing should be the only aromas.

Clean, tidy, clean again. Pay extra attention to your bathrooms, which should be well stocked and absolutely spotless.

Organize your home so there is room for coats, a place for children to play, and somewhere for the adults to escape. (It’s perfectly acceptable to pile all of your junk into one room and declare it out of bounds.)

➤ Skip the flowers and decorate your table with seasonal finds from the garden (or farmers’ market). Twigs, pinecones, gourds, leaves: anything autumnal, unscented, and low enough to allow sight lines across the table.

➤ The ideal schedule allows adequate time for prepping and cooking and lets you eat early enough to avoid indigestion but late enough to end the day on a congenial note. (If the meal wraps up at 4 p.m., you are both stuffed and starving by 8 p.m.)

➤ In communicating timing, be sneaky. Don’t say when the meal is to be served, or your guests will arrive at the last moment.

➤ Ask some close friends or good conversationalists to come early and be the first guests. This deflects the awkward early phase and allows you to get on with prep.

➤ On Thanksgiving, your sartorial efforts should match the exertions of the cook. Make the dress code smart and let guests interpret that as they see fit.

➤ Guests should be prompt but never early. It matters not if you’ve flown around the world or braved the elements—wait in your car, or stroll round the block, until the appointed hour. Remember: The unexpected early guest is a pest.

➤ If invited to a Thanksgiving where you won’t know many people, do some recon on your fellow guests to help break the ice. (Read more.)
More HERE. Share

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Harvest Decorations

From Victoria:
A cache of well-hunted finds—from rustic Americana to polished Old-World antiquities—captures the sentiment of gracious entertaining so often attributed to the season. The gracefully distressed pine hutch, showcases a medley of English blue-and-white transferware collected by way of many treks to Texas’s famed Round Top Antiques Fair. (Read more.)
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Zeugma’s Mosaics

Ancient Roman mosaics are found in southern Turkey. From Archaeology:
It wasn’t good policy that saved ancient Zeugma. It was a good story. In 2000, the construction of the massive Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River, less than a mile from the site, began to flood the entire area in southern Turkey. Immediately, a ticking time-bomb narrative of the waters, which were rising an average of four inches per day for six months, brought Zeugma and its plight global fame. The water, which soon would engulf the archaeological remains, also brought increasing urgency to salvage efforts and emergency excavations that had already been taking place at the site, located about 500 miles from Istanbul, for almost a year. The media attention Zeugma received attracted generous aid from both private and government sources. Of particular concern was the removal of Zeugma’s mosaics, some of the most extraordinary examples to survive from the ancient world. Soon the world’s top restorers arrived from Italy to rescue them from the floodwaters. The focus on Zeugma also brought great numbers of international tourists—and even more money—a trend that continues today with the opening in September 2011 of the ultramodern $30 million Zeugma Mosaic Museum in the nearby city of Gaziantep. 

But Zeugma’s story begins millennia before the dam was constructed. In the third century b.c., Seleucus I Nicator (“the Victor”), one of Alexander the Great’s commanders, established a settlement he called Seleucia, probably a katoikia, or military colony, on the western side of the river. On its eastern bank, he founded another town he called Apamea after his Persian-born wife. The two cities were physically connected by a pontoon bridge, but it is not known whether they were administered by separate municipal governments, and nothing of ancient Apamea, nor the bridge, survives. In 64 b.c., the Romans conquered Seleucia, renaming the town Zeugma, which means “bridge” or “crossing” in ancient Greek. After the collapse of the Seleucid Empire, the Romans added Zeugma to the lands of Antiochus I Theos of Commagene as a reward for his support of General Pompey during the conquest.  (Read more.)

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Place Settings

 Some great ideas from Southern Living.





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On the Radio with Dorothy Pilarski

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by author and radio host Dorothy Pilarski of Dynamic Women of Faith. To listen, click HERE.The interview was about my new novel The Paradise Tree, available on US and Canadian Amazon, as well as all the other Amazons.

Then I remembered that Goodreads has a page with recordings of some of my other talks, HERE. The talks are about Marie-Antoinette. Louis XVI and the French Revolution, as well as the sufferings of the Irish in the penal times. For more information about my novels, please visit my Amazon Author's page. Share

Changing Constellations

From The Atlantic:
Not only does Space Time reveal that in the 1800s B.C., when the Babylonians were first developing the star charts that the Greeks later adopted and passed down to us, the stars were in slightly different places. And when anatomically modern humans arose in the form of Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago, the stars were in vastly different places. Should we humans manage to not destroy ourselves in the coming 200,000 years, our ancestors will look up into the sky and see not a scorpion and a bear, but a totally different arrangement of stars. The constellations we see today (which already, if we’re honest, don’t actually look like bears or scorpions or any of those things) will be even harder to identify (Read more.)
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Monday, November 24, 2014

Recreation

I always thought the gown in this picture was green. It seems I was wrong.  It is blue. The shimmer of the moonlight makes it iridescent. Below is a recreation of the gown:


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Dealing With Dietary Restrictions

Some holiday advice from Southern Living:
In the South, good manners are passed down like a treasured family recipe for pecan pie. However, unlike the formula for a favorite after-dinner treat, guidelines to being well-mannered are changing with the times. With the abundance of social gatherings the holidays bring, many of our etiquette conundrums surface, and we are left feeling confused about how to be a gracious host or guest. Each week during the holiday season, Erika Preval of Charm Etiquette school in Atlanta, will answer a question that helps us navigate the grey area of modern etiquette.

 [....]

Over the years, food choices have been guided by various lifestyles or beliefs. For some, that allows freedom to enjoy a wide variety of fares. For others, it means sticking to a very specific and restricted diet. While dietary choices can be a matter of personal preference, there are times when they are the result of a doctor’s recommendation. We certainly have to consider your optimal health as you navigate holiday gatherings with your new diagnosis.

Please know that a host’s first priority is the happiness of their guests. Don’t hesitate to make your host aware of your restrictions, upon RSVP, and offer to bring a dish that fits those parameters. Doing so will allow the host ample time to ensure that your addition fits into the overall planning of the meal. Yours should be sharable and ready to go straight to table: requiring minimal re-heating and in a clear glass dish that will match any tablescape.

A note for hosts: The comfort of your guests is always top of mind when entertaining. While you should take into consideration your guests’ dietary preferences, the expectation is not to craft an entire meal around said restrictions. A simple solution would be to offer a vegetable-only salad. This is something that falls within the parameters of most diets including vegan, gluten-free, low-calorie, and the like. You’ll find it easy to prepare and most appreciated by your guests. (Read more.)
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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Aunt Ellen

Over the course of many vacations, when going to the lake in Ontario where my uncle had his summer cottage, we would watch for Long Point Farm where my great-grandfather had been born. Across the meadow could be seen Aunt Ellen's house and the Saddle Rock, a huge boulder on which rested a stone saddle, carved by nature. Her house was then no more than a ruin, but it had once been very charming. While perusing my Uncle Ferg's memoirs, he, my grandmother and their siblings also watched for Aunt Ellen's house as children:
Aunt Ellen's house was seen, across the field as we drove down Ellisville Road, before we saw the farm house and Dad was always informed by the chorus when the house was seen. It was directly across from the barn where her horse and her cow, usually a Jersey, were kept with the other farm animals. She knew where the best berries were around the farm and many landed in her cellar for winter consumption. Her cow was a tea milk cow. This was the cow whose milk was saved for the house. (From Because You Asked For It by Dr Fergus James O'Connor, p. 107)
Aunt Ellen was long dead when I used to watch for her house, and her livestock gone. But because of the stories I was told, it was not difficult to picture her walking across the fields, always with a pail of cookies for the children. She was the maiden aunt of the O'Connor family, the only one of old Daniel's seven daughters not to marry. Many families in those days had such aunties who were not called to either matrimony or religious life, but to live the single life in the world. Not that where Aunt Ellen lived can be considered "the world;" in some ways she was a bit like an Irish anchorite of old.

Two of the other sisters, Lottie and Annie, married late in life; Aunt Ellen's house was originally built for the three of them. Uncle Ferg describes it as a "great little house" with a loom house behind the kitchen, and a cellar "deep enough so that it was cold but frost free. The front lawn was beautifully kept. Lilac trees typical of all early Ontario houses. Peonies, narcissus towards either side and other flowers but I do not remember the types." (O'Connor, p 107)

Aunt Ellen (or "Eleanor O'Connor of Long Point" as she signed her name in her sister's autograph album) was born on the old homestead in 1839, the third child and second daughter of Daniel and Brigit Trainor O'Connor. She and her brothers and sisters were educated by an old Scottish professor named Duncan Cameron Horn whom Daniel hired and he boarded with the O'Connors. Horn had allegedly been one of Napoleon's guards on Saint Helena but otherwise would not tell much about his past. He wrote poetry to one one of Daniel's daughters; in The Paradise Tree I have him writing to Joanna, the eldest. He was very learned and instructed the whole family; it was as close as they ever got to a university. All but two of the children became schoolteachers, including Ellen, who was known for her correct and precise manner of speaking.

At one point, when she was a young woman, Ellen went to work in upstate New York, probably as a domestic or even as a governess since she was educated. All we have from that time is an undated letter from Daniel to Ellen and her younger sister, Mary O'Connor Desmond, who had married and was also living in New York state. Daniel was quite concerned about his maiden daughter's virtue, as he expressed in the letter.
My dear Ellen, as your lot is cast among strangers by practicing this precept as you have been taught by the church and by your parents, you will gain the respect and esteem of those who can appreciate virtue. You know it is the duty of servants either man or woman to obey their employers in all lawful actions. If however, they solicit you to commit sin in order to do anything wrong or sinful do not then, but resist all evil. Consider the family you work for as your own, look to their interest, let nothing go to loss that is under your care. I hope you will keep Sundays holy, shun every dangerous party, and also associates who are addicted to immoralities of any kind. (Letter from Daniel O'Connor to two daughters)
Ellen returned from New York with her virtue unscathed, and lived for the next six decades in her little house on the family farm. Her youngest brother Charles and his wife Emily built a house down the road from hers and they saw each other daily. Ellen sometimes annoyed Charles, as he records in his diary on December 8, 1906: "My birthday and a Holy Day. Ellen here for the day but she always casts a gloom on my day by recalling 'poor father died on your birthday.'" Nevertheless, they all saw each other through the many trials and labors that were part of living on the farm. Charles and Emily's son, my great-grandfather Fergus Joseph, described winter time on the farm in his memoirs:
Winters on the farm were rather dreary yet were possibly the busiest days and nights of the year. So much had to be prepared in the winter for the summer season....One of the main resources of the farm itself was the production of wool and woolen goods. During the summer time the sheep were shorn and the wool was washed and taken to the carding mill and was returned to the farmers in strips of wool....These strips all had to be spun on the old high wheeled spinning wheel into yarn...all through the winter the women of the house were busy doing this sort of work. Then, of course, the yarn was made into socks and mittens and into underwear....
Another task was the preparing of apples for keeping into the spring time. We'd peel the apples....then the apple was cored and the pieces split into various sizes and and strung on a long string.. Every house and every kitchen had two or three hooks inserted in the kitchen ceiling....from these hooks strings would come down and...the apples dangling would be left there to dry....Those apples would be used in the months of April, May, June right up until the fresh apples were free. (from Grandfather Remembers by Dr. Fergus Joseph O'Connor)
Pumpkins were also hung up and dried, and pumpkin sauce and pies were practically a staple. There was the loom house, where old rags were dyed and woven into rugs, as well as quilting. At the end of the winter would be the sugar-making out in the woods. It was a self-sufficient life of many and varied never-ending tasks.

In the photo to the left is Aunt Ellen (seated in the front center) surrounded by some of her brothers and sisters. Considering how hard life was then, it is amazing that they all lived to be ancient. Aunt Ellen entertained a great deal. Friends and relatives often stopped by for tea. She was famous for keeping her Christmas fruit cakes soaking in a crock of rum for years. Uncle Ferg recalls eating a five year old cake at Aunt Ellen's "as perfect a cake as possible." (Because You Asked For It, p 107) At my grandmother's seventh birthday, Aunt Ellen showed the children how to braid daisies into chains to decorate the table. "A beloved old aunt" is how her niece Madeline O'Connor described her.

The unmarried vocation, however, has many challenges, as Aunt Ellen certainly found. In her journal, written in her flowing, meticulously even script, she often penned the words "all alone again" after visitors left. She obviously had the battle with loneliness that is part of the celibate vocation. In her diary are poems copied from the English Catholic poetess Adelaide Proctor.
Only to rest where He puts me
Only to do His will

Only to be what He made me

Though I be nothing still.

Only to take what He gives me
Weak as a little child
Questioning nought the reason
Joyful and reconciled.

Only to look to Him ever
Only to rest at His feet
All that He sayeth to do it
Then shall my life be complete.
Aunt Ellen may not have lived in a convent, but she was certainly a consecrated soul, one of those unknown souls whose prayer and humble life had an impact on those around her. She remained in her little house into her nineties, when she finally went to live with one of her younger sisters in Gananoque, where she died in the 1930's. Her house is no more, but in her diary are printed the words PER PACEM AD LUCEM, followed by this verse by Adelaide Proctor:
For one thing only, Lord, dear Lord, I plead
Lead me aright
Though strength should falter and though heart should bleed
Through peace to light.
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The Death of Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart



The Duchess of Alba has died. She was a direct descendant of Mary Queen of Scots, whom I think she resembled, before the dreadful surgery, that is. From The Guardian:
The 18th Duchess of Alba, who has died aged 88, was one of Spain’s best-known public figures. Her frizzy hair (sometimes dyed red), waxen skin and querulous voice uttering forthright opinions made her instantly recognisable. Never camera-shy and a frequent participant in high-society events, she was a darling of the gossip magazines, television shows and, in her later years, satirists.

The duchess, known as Cayetana de Alba, was fabulously rich and Spain’s biggest private landowner. She had palaces throughout the country, including the Palacio de las Dueñas in Seville, her main residence, and the Palacio de Liria, where she was born, in Madrid. The castle to which she owed her title is in Alba de Tormes, Salamanca. She usually spent the summer at her house in Ibiza or another in Marbella.

The dukedom of Alba goes back to the 15th century, but Cayetana de Alba was only the third female member of the dynasty to be duchess in her own right. Her godparents were King Alfonso XIII and Victoria Eugenie, his English queen. She was a grandee of Spain 14 times over and possessed 46 noble titles, including Duchess of Berwick, a Jacobite title, as she was a descendant of James II (VII of Scotland) and his mistress Arabella Churchill. Her titles gave her several arcane privileges, such as not having to kneel before the pope and being permitted to ride a horse into Seville Cathedral.

Cayetana’s early life was not quite as easy as her background suggests. The 1931 declaration of the Spanish republic resulted in the expulsion of the royal family and social conflict as landless peasants fought to occupy aristocrats’ often uncultivated estates. She hardly saw her mother, María del Rosario de Silva, who was ill with tuberculosis and died when Cayetana was eight.

She had a peripatetic childhood travelling with her father, Jacobo, the 17th Duke, until he became Franco’s representative in London during the 1936-39 civil war and ambassador there from 1939 to 1945. In London, the future duchess received a broader education than she would have had in postwar Spain, and hobnobbed with her poor relations the Churchills. Her adored father introduced her into the world of painting and the arts in general; the huge Alba private collection includes paintings by El Greco, Velázquez, Titian, Rembrandt and Goya. (Read more.)
Pictures from funeral Mass, HERE.
At first wedding in 1947
With first husband
With first husband Luis de Irujo and their six children


With Queen Sofia and the family portait of Goya's Cayetana de Alba
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Incompatibility

Science may have found the key to Henry VIII's marital woes. From the SMU blog:
Blood group incompatibility between Henry VIII and his wives could have driven the Tudor king’s reproductive woes, and a genetic condition related to his suspected blood group could also explain Henry’s dramatic mid-life transformation into a physically and mentally-impaired tyrant who executed two of his wives.

Research conducted by bioarchaeologist Catrina Banks Whitley while she was a graduate student at SMU and anthropologist Kyra Kramer shows that the numerous miscarriages suffered by Henry’s wives could be explained if the king’s blood carried the Kell antigen. A Kell-negative woman who has multiple pregnancies with a Kell-positive man can produce a healthy, Kell-positive child in a first pregnancy; But the antibodies she produces during that first pregnancy will cross the placenta and attack a Kell-positive fetus in subsequent pregnancies.

As published in The Historical Journal (Cambridge University Press), the pattern of Kell blood group incompatibility is consistent with the pregnancies of Henry’s first two wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. (Read more.)
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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Auction

From Vive la Reine: "A poster announcing the auction of furniture from the estate of the Petit Trianon, authorized by the act of June 10th, 1793." Share

Pope Francis and Science

From The New Yorker:
Last month, Francis made a lot of news when, in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he said, essentially, that the Catholic Church had no problem with evolution or with the Big Bang theory of the origins of the universe. “When we read the account of Creation in Genesis, we risk imagining that God was a magician, complete with an all-powerful magic wand. But that was not so. … Evolution in nature does not conflict with the notion of Creation,’’ Francis said.

This comment was widely interpreted as a radical departure for the Church. It wasn’t, as Kara Gordon, among others, has pointed out in compelling detail. The Church has, for decades, taken the position that faith and science need not be opposed to one another. As the Catechism states, “methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.”

Still, this Pope made a point of talking about evolution—and to do so at a time when the men and women we have chosen to represent us in Washington often equate support for Darwinism with eternal damnation. After all, according to a Gallup poll earlier this year, forty-two per cent of American adults believe that “God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Among some groups—Republicans, for example—the figure is much higher. Perhaps we should at least be thankful that Congressman Paul Broun, of Georgia, who described evolution and the Big Bang theory as “lies straight from the pit of Hell,’’ lost his Senate race. (Read more.)
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Friday, November 21, 2014

"Marie Antoinette at the Petit Trianon"

A nineteenth century print by Joseph Bouvier. Share

The Intensity Gap

From The New Yorker:
Dannenfelser didn’t start out pro-life: she grew up in Greenville, North Carolina, in a devout Episcopalian family that was conservative but pro-choice. In college at Duke, she was a pro-choice leader of the College Republicans. After graduating, she fell in with a crowd of Catholic intellectuals who converted her first to the pro-life cause and, eventually, to Catholicism; like many converts, she found that her new faith was stronger than her old one. (Although the S.B.A. List is strictly focussed on abortion, Dannenfelser personally believes in a “culture of life,” the Catholic teaching that also opposes contraception, euthanasia, and the death penalty.) She has a knack for shifting, almost imperceptibly, between passionate paeans to human life and dispassionate analyses of political realities, often delivered with a crooked smile. “When I was really strongly pro-choice, I didn’t go to bed thinking, Oh, my gosh, women can’t be free unless they have abortion; what am I going to do tomorrow?” she says. “Now I’m going to sleep thinking, Oh, my gosh, thirty-eight hundred children are going to die tomorrow. What am I going to do to actually save some of them?” She calls this phenomenon “the intensity gap”—a simple way of understanding why her side hasn’t lost this war, and may yet win it. (Read more.)
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Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Low Road

The latest in a series of mystery novels about Scotland, The Low Road once again features the intrepid newspaper reporter John McAllister, whose approaching marriage fills him with doubts. The disappearance of his friend, the Scottish Traveller Jimmy McPhee, brings McAllister out of his quiet life in the Highlands back to his former life in crime-ridden Glasgow. Thrown into the company of Mary Ballantyne, a young and lovely journalist, McAllister finds himself struggling with feelings of new love as well as with many old demons. His atheism seems to cast a darkness and hopelessness over his entire approach to life, mirrored by the grayness and grime of the post-war Glaswegian slums. His social prejudices cause him to be wary and critical of anyone who comes from what he views as the upper class. In the meantime, he must decide whether or not to go ahead with his wedding. A man of honor, McAllister tries to take the high road of decency while surrounded by cutthroats. The graphic descriptions of violence and dirt do not make the book an advertisement for a summer holiday in Glasgow. Nevertheless, the suspense keeps the reader surprised and curious to see what will happen next. Each character comes with a unique mystery, which in itself makes The Low Road a pleasure for lovers of a good thriller.

 This review originally appeared in the November 2014 edition of the Historical Novels Review.

(*NOTE: The Low Road was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)

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Escaping Under the Berlin Wall

From The Smithsonian:
After the wall’s construction, politically sensitive youth, people whom countless failures did not dissuade, quickly concerned themselves with devising passageways between East and West Berlin. As a university student in West Berlin, Neumann had no trouble finding groups of students who were trying to open escape routes for East Germans.

“When I build a political system from which people try to escape, then I have to think about why they want to escape,” Neumann said, explaining how so many people were drawn to the cause. “And the GDR said, it doesn’t matter a bit why they’re leaving, we’ll close down and then they’ll stay here.”

The GDR’s stubbornness and authoritarian rule, unyielding to the demands or desires of their citizens, found its most apt metaphor in the Wall and its fortifications that jutted into and split apart Berlin’s neighborhoods. “Our current president [Joachim Gauck] once said that the construction of the wall turned the residents of the GDR from citizens of the state into inmates of the state,” said Ralph Kabisch, one of the men with whom Neumann built Tunnel 57. “No other idea is as perfect to describe how the wall changed things.”

Armed with this conviction, Neumann, Kabisch and more than a dozen other men burrowed down 11 meters into the ground from a bakery close to the border, and dug a rectangular opening wide enough for one person to slither through on hands and knees parallel to the ground above. This continued under Bernauer Strasse, under the 12-meter-high wall, under a signal fence that activated an alarm when touched and under the so-called “Death Strip” – a wide no man’s land carpeted by steel spikes and overseen by floodlights and guard towers – until slowly slanting up toward the surface of the earth.

The digging took five months, and it was grueling work. The men slept in the abandoned bakery for weeks-long shifts, piling up sacks of dirt in flour sacks and occasionally rinsing off the encrusted mud from their bodies with buckets of water (“We stunk,” Neumann observes now, laughingly).  They weren’t sure where exactly they would emerge on the eastern side, and considered themselves lucky when, upon breaking ground, they found themselves inside an old outhouse behind an apartment building at Strelitzer Strasse 55. (Read more.)
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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Drogheda

Stephanie Mann discusses the bloody siege on that dark day in Irish history.
According to the conventions of 17th century warfare, a besieged city that refused a summons to surrender and was then taken by storm could expect no mercy. Cromwell regarded the massacre at Drogheda as a righteous judgment on the Catholics who had slaughtered Protestant settlers in the Irish Uprising of 1641, a view that was probably shared by most Protestants at the time. He also considered that the example of Drogheda would serve as a warning to other garrisons in Ireland to surrender rather than risk a similar fate, thus preventing bloodshed in the long run. However, the massacre of Drogheda left an indelible stain on Cromwell's reputation. It has lived on in Irish folk memory, making his name into one of the most hated in Irish history. (Read entire post.)

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The Nazis Next Door

From NPR:
In his new book, The Nazis Next Door, Lichtblau reports that thousands of Nazis managed to settle in the United States after World War II, often with the direct assistance of American intelligence officials who saw them as potential spies and informants in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Lichtblau says there were whole networks of spy groups around the world made up of Nazis — and they entered the U.S., one by one.

"They sort of had put in their service," Lichtblau tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "This was their 'reward' ... for their spy service ... coming to the United States and being able to live out their lives basically with anonymity and no scrutiny."

Most Americans knew little about the Nazis among them. And then in 1979, media reports and congressional interest finally spurred the creation of a Nazi-hunting unit with the Justice Department.
That prompted the first wave of Nazi-hunting, Lichtblau says.

"You had teams of lawyers and investigators and historians at the Justice Department who began ... looking at hundreds and hundreds of names of suspected Nazis and Nazi collaborators who were living all around the country, in Queens, in Baltimore, in Florida and Chicago," he says.

And, in some cases, the CIA had scrubbed the Nazis' files, Lichtblau says.

"They actively cleansed their records," Lichtblau says. "They realized that guys who had been involved at senior levels of Nazi atrocities would not pass through immigration at the INS — and they basically removed a lot of the Nazi material from their files." (Read more.)
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Village of Secrets

Caroline Moorehead’s profound scholarship brings to light an episode of the Second World War that would have remained shrouded in the mist of legend if not for her efforts. In the mountains of eastern France, the rugged villagers of Chambon, as well as the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside, devised an ingenious network in order to hide Jewish children and others being hunted by the Gestapo. Most of the villagers and farmers belonged to various Protestant sects while others were Catholic. Their leaders saw hiding Jews as a basic human duty, not as anything heroic. In contrast to what was going on in other parts of France, where Frenchmen were collaborating with the Nazis in order to round up the Jews, most of the villagers of Chambon indeed shine forth as examples of Christian fortitude. Hiding the Jewish children did not mean merely keeping them in the attics; it meant clothing, feeding, and educating them. When the Gestapo became aware of their work, the villagers had to lead the children over the mountains into Switzerland. Many were captured, tortured and killed. Village of Secrets shows both the best and the worst of humanity.

This review originally appeared in the November 2014 edition of the Historical Novels Review.

(Village of Secrets was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

Women Explorers

From Mental Floss:
A contemporary and colleague of T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia), Gertrude Bell was a writer and archaeologist who traveled all around the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Her books gave the people of Great Britain a clear concept of the empire's outer territories and are still studied today.

An Oxford graduate who was fluent in Persian and Arabic, she met Lawrence while working in the Arab Bureau in Cairo during World War I. She's best known for her contribution to the Conference in Cairo in 1921, where the beginnings of Iraq as a nation were forged. She'd later pioneer the school of thought that relics and antiquities should be preserved in their home nations. The National Museum of Iraq was born from her efforts. (Read more.)
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Monday, November 17, 2014

Tudors Versus Stewarts

Linda Porter’s new tour de force covers ground left out of most histories of the Tudor period while not constantly rehashing well-known information. Tudors Versus Stewarts, published in the UK as Crown of Thistles, gives an in-depth look at the turbulent Stewart dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries, and how the fluctuations of power in England influenced the Stewarts and the people of Scotland.

I learned a great deal more about the monarchs of Scotland, their dealings with the Reformation and with the Tudors, all of which build a stage for the tragic destiny of Mary Queen of Scots. The reign of Mary Stewart is placed in a fresh context in which to discover her anew. After spending time with Mary’s grandparents and great-grandparents I feel that I am finally becoming acquainted with her. One is also treated to the doings of the French court and the Empire, and Henry VIII’s endless connivances. If it was not already clear, it is now abundantly so, that having a male heir was the obsession of every monarch in Europe, to which the love of women was secondary. Porter’s research is seemingly inexhaustible for presenting intriguing new facts, along with a storyteller’s gift for a heartrending tale.

*Note: This book was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.

(This review originally appeared in the November 2014 edition of the  Historical Novels Review.) Share

The Pope's Astronomer

From Aleteia:
This week at the 46th annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Scientists in Tucson, Arizona, Brother Guy Consolmagno will receive one of planetary science's most prestigious awards, the Carl Sagan Medal.  The award was created in 1998 in commemoration of astronomer Carl Sagan, whose popular TV series “Cosmos” helped to generate enthusiasm for science and for space travel.  The Sagan Medal “recognizes and honors outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public, and is awarded to scientists whose efforts have significantly contributed to a public understanding of, and enthusiasm for, planetary science.”

Brother Guy is the first religious brother to receive the Sagan Medal.  The American Astronomical Society, in announcing the award last July, said that Consolmagno "occupies a unique position within our profession as a credible spokesperson for scientific honesty within the context of religious belief."

Consolmagno is one of twelve Vatican astronomers. For two decades, he has served as curator of the Vatican's extensive meteorite collection.  He's been a worldwide lecturer, and is one of four Jesuits in history to have had an asteroid named after them—4597 Consolmagno, also known to scientists as “Little Guy.”

Consolmagno has authored or co-authored several books, including his most recent "Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial" as well as "Turn Left at Orion: Hundreds of Night Sky Objects to See in a Home Telescope—And How to Find Them," "God's Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion," "The Heavens Proclaim: Astronomy and the Vatican," and "Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist." (Read more.)
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When Catholics Capitulate

Or even appear to capitulate. From First Things:
Creighton, like nearly all American Catholic institutions, is run by upper-middle-class Americans. They are more loyal to their class and its values than the Catholic Church, which over the last fifty years has for the most part renounced its own intellectual and moral culture. This doesn’t mean Catholic leaders lack faith. What it means is that it’s existentially painful for them to be out of sync with dominant opinion. Like all normal people, they want to avoid pain, and so they find ways to conform while pretending to be dissenters, a trick Americans perform very well. Expect more announcements that conformity to the gay liberation project doesn’t constitute “approval.” (Read more.)
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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Madame de Lamballe Condemned

It is terrible how that guard is holding her in such a familiar manner. (Via Vive la Reine.) Share

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A New Wedgwood Pattern

From Architectural Digest:
British designer Kit Kemp—who, with husband Tim, owns the popular brand Firmdale Hotels—has partnered with British tabletop company Wedgwood on a new design. The Mythical Creatures collection, which debuted earlier this fall, is based on Kemp’s identically named embroidered fabric line for Chelsea Textiles. The bone-china pieces, from plates and platters to tea and coffee accessories, are adorned with whimsical characters and hand-painted gold detailing that recalls a blanket stitch. Kemp has always been one to embrace color, pattern, and texture, and this newest project is no exception. (Read more.)
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Magnesium

From Wellness Mama:
Magnesium is necessary for hundreds of functions within the body, but is especially important for:
  • Gives rigidity AND flexibility to your bones (more important than Calcium in many cases)
  • Increases bioavailability of calcium
  • Regulates and normalizes blood pressure
  • Prevents and reverses kidney stone formation
  • Promotes restful sleep
  • Helps prevent congestive heart failure
  • Eases muscle cramps and spasms
  • Lowers serum cholesterol levels and triglycerides
  • Decreases insulin resistance
  • Can prevent atherosclerosis and stroke
  • End cluster and migraine headaches
  • Enhances circulation
  • Relieves fibromyalgia and chronic pain
  • Treats asthma and emphysema
  • Helps make proteins
  • Encourages proper elimination
  • Prevents osteoporosis
  • Proper Vitamin D absorption
  • protection from radiation
  • To aid weight loss
  • Lessen or remove ADD or ADHD in children
  • in proper digestion of carbohydrates
  • emerging evidence is showing a preventative role in many cancers
  • (source)
(Read more.)
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Friday, November 14, 2014

Birth of 18th Century Design

Mechanical Roll-Top Desk
A new exhibit at Versailles.
he exhibition offers a glimpse of the ingenuity of a bygone era viewed from a present-day perspective and showcases the innovative and avant-garde nature of the shapes, techniques, decorations and materials used in 18th century furniture.
The exhibition includes around 100 major works from collections at the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre Museum, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Palace of Fontainbleau and the Getty Museum, alongside works from private collections which will be on show to the public for the first time.
Cabinets, desks, writing tables, commodes and console tables, but also sofas, armchairs, folding chairs and seating chairs will testify to the revolution that the 18th century brought about in the history of furniture, a reflection of the evolving tastes of a society enamoured by modernity and wanting to live in comfort and luxury.
- See more at: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/news-/events/expositions/18e-aux-sources-du-design-en#sthash.8V24b9MG.dpuf

Madame de Mailly's Commode

he exhibition offers a glimpse of the ingenuity of a bygone era viewed from a present-day perspective and showcases the innovative and avant-garde nature of the shapes, techniques, decorations and materials used in 18th century furniture.
The exhibition includes around 100 major works from collections at the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre Museum, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Palace of Fontainbleau and the Getty Museum, alongside works from private collections which will be on show to the public for the first time.
Cabinets, desks, writing tables, commodes and console tables, but also sofas, armchairs, folding chairs and seating chairs will testify to the revolution that the 18th century brought about in the history of furniture, a reflection of the evolving tastes of a society enamoured by modernity and wanting to live in comfort and luxury.
- See more at: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/news-/events/expositions/18e-aux-sources-du-design-en#sthash.8V24b9MG.dpuf
he exhibition offers a glimpse of the ingenuity of a bygone era viewed from a present-day perspective and showcases the innovative and avant-garde nature of the shapes, techniques, decorations and materials used in 18th century furniture.
The exhibition includes around 100 major works from collections at the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre Museum, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Palace of Fontainbleau and the Getty Museum, alongside works from private collections which will be on show to the public for the first time.
Cabinets, desks, writing tables, commodes and console tables, but also sofas, armchairs, folding chairs and seating chairs will testify to the revolution that the 18th century brought about in the history of furniture, a reflection of the evolving tastes of a society enamoured by modernity and wanting to live in comfort and luxury.
- See more at: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/news-/events/expositions/18e-aux-sources-du-design-en#sthash.8V24b9MG.dpu
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Jerusalem and Babylon

 From Vultus Christi:
From the Exposition of Psalm 63 by St Augustine, Bishop & Doctor

The Israelites were taken captive and transported from the city of Jerusalem to a life of servitude in Babylon. The holy man Jeremiah, however, prophesied that seventy years later they should return from captivity and the city of Jerusalem, over whose fall into enemy hands he had lamented, should be restored.  At that time there were Prophets among the captive people in Babylon, and one of these was Ezekiel.  The people were looking forward to the end of the seventy years predicted by Jeremiah: and indeed when the seventy years were up, the majority of the people did return and the Temple which had been destroyed was rebuilt. But since the Apostle says: “These things happened to them as a warning, and were written down as a lesson for us upon whom the end of the ages has come,” we too must first be aware of our captivity and then of our liberation; we must be aware of Babylon, where we are enslaved, and of the Jerusalem, to which we long to return.

Consider the names of these two cities, Babylon and Jerusalem. Babylon means “confusion”, Jerusalem “vision of peace”; now take note of the city of confusion in order to understand the vision of peace.  You endure the former while you long for the latter.  How can these two cities be told apart?  Can we possibly separate them from one another in this world?  They are intermingled; they have been from the very origin of the human race, and shall remain so until the end of time.  What proof have we now then that they are intermingled?  The Lord will make it plain when he places some at his right hand and others at his left; Jerusalem will be on his right, Babylon on his left. Jerusalem will hear him say: “Come, you who have my Father’s blessing, take possession of the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” Babylon will hear: “Depart into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Read more.)
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