Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Red Shoes (1948)


Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?
Vicky: Why do you want to live?
Lermontov: Well, I don't know exactly why, but... I must.
Vicky: That's my answer too.
~The Red Shoes
Directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Red Shoes explores the delicate balance between art and obsession. As film critic Ian Christie wrote:
More than any other film, The Red Shoes deals with the dangerous, magical process by which art is distilled from preparation and effort. And, not content with creating and showing at full length “The Red Shoes” ballet which links all the characters’ destinies, it dares to take us into the inner world of fantasies which art can unleash.

That such an unleashing can often lead to obsession and death is not lost upon the viewer. When art replaces religion, it can become a demon, like the shoemaker who tempts and enthralls the young maiden with the bewitched red shoes. Where to draw the line between art and reality, between superlative achievement and living a normal life, is the challenge offered by the drama.

The Red Shoes is a marvel of a film, one which I am happy to own, for it is worth watching over and over again; there is always something more to be revealed. Not only does it include snippets from some of the great ballets, but combines several powerful performances to create a most tragic love story. On one level The Red Shoes examines the inner workings of a ballet company comprised mostly of Russian émigrés. This in itself is fascinating to watch, since for all of their French-speaking and living in Paris and Monte Carlo, the émigrés remain uniquely Russian, dedicated to their art with an almost mystical fervor.

The heart of the tale, however, concerns a young British ballerina who joins the company, played by the Scottish dancer Moira Shearer, who is torn between two loves. According to The City Review:

One dwells on [Moira Shearer's] beauty because it is so incandescent that it almost lulls one into overlooking how great the movie is. Indeed, what makes The Red Shoes extraordinary, however, is that not only does it have incredible performances by several of the foremost and most legendary ballet dancers of its era, but also great acting. Bravura abounds. It is contagious. No one can view the movie and not be profoundly affected, for the better.

Vicky Page (Shearer) is chosen and groomed by the brilliant impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), head of the company, who when he first meets Vicky tells her that ballet is his "religion." To this religion he displays the devotion of a monk, ignoring his initial attraction to Vicky when he discovers that she has the potential to become a great dancer. Lermontov is an aristocrat of the old school, and a Russian aristocrat at that, with his silk Tartar robe, his samovar, his velvet peasant shirt. Underneath the refinement is a tough, uncompromising character, who thinks he has subdued all human passion to his work. The scene in which Lermontov watches Vicky dance Swan Lake is pure electricity since he is captivated not only by her beauty as a woman but by the spirit and passion which make her a good dancer. As Vicky's eyes meet his in the dingy theater, understanding flashes between them, and a connection is forged.

When Lermontov invites Vicky to his villa in the lush countryside outside of Monte Carlo, she thinks it will be a formal and intimate occasion, and dresses like a princess. It is an ethereal scene, as described thus:

In gala haute couture she is driven in his open-top car high above the Mediterranean coast. The music builds to a climax. The chauffeur deposits her at a half-closed palace gate, behind which a brick staircase is covered in weeds. It’s as if she had arrived at Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

“Montez, mademoiselle,” the chauffeur says, and he leaves her there. Suddenly it’s near silence. Then, as she starts to climb the staircase, her cloak billowing behind her, we hear, inexplicably, a distant soprano voice in sirenlike song. As Vicky reaches the top and approaches the house, we see the sea.

The whole scene is the most mythic part of the film. Vicky seems to be moving into fairy tale, legend, out of time. Where is her journey leading? What’s funny — and it is one of the many examples of how “The Red Shoes” manages to transcend its own melodramatic and kitschy nature — is that what awaits her inside the house are men at work in their shirt sleeves. Lermontov offers her the central role of the new ballet he is preparing with full sense of its importance, but he and his colleagues are men at work, and they soon allow her to depart.

I never understood how Vicky could fall in love with the petulant young composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) when she had Lermontov around. It almost as if she uses Julian as an outlet for an unrequited and subliminal passion. At any rate, Craster loves her as a woman, and only as a woman. This should have been enough except the Vicky has become quite intoxicated with the ballet. Julian, however, cares nothing for her dancing; he scorns ballet as "second rate form of expression." With such an attitude, his affair with Vicky probably would have soon died out on its own, if Lermontov had not made such an issue of the relationship, expelling Julian from the company. By acting thus, Lermontov pushes Vicky into Julian's arms, and into an ill-advised marriage with the boy wonder, disaster written all over it. Lermontov's feelings over the marriage are expressed quite aptly in the manner in which he smashes the mirror in his Paris apartment. He has lost not only a great dancer, and the chance to create magnificent ballets with her. He has lost a woman whom at any moment he could have made his own, had he not been been so restrained for the sake of his art and hers.

As Vicky's disappointment spirals into despair, she becomes victim of an emotional tug-of-war between the two men who claim to care about her. It is incomprehensible why Julian would not allow her to dance one more performance of the ballet of the Red Shoes, except that he was afraid of losing her to dancing and to Lermontov. At any rate, she literally and figuratively finds herself at the precipice, and the film comes to its devastating finale.


Ad te levavi

It is the First Sunday of Advent. Here is the Entrance Antiphon:
Unto you have I lifted up my soul. O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed.
V. Make your ways known unto me, O Lord, and teach me your paths (Ps 24:1-4).

Many people struggle with loneliness during this season of the year. Here are some words from the great Benedictine Dom Hubert van Zeller:
After sin, the three evils most to be dreaded are doubt, fear and loneliness. Of these, loneliness is the worst. Loneliness can give rise to doubt and fear, while if a man knows he is not alone he can fight his doubt, and disguise- which is half the battle- his fear. We can force ourselves to laugh at our doubts and fears, but loneliness forbids laughter. Loneliness is an echoing ache in the soul, it hollows out the heart and scoops away at our reserves. It even communicates itself to the senses, and all the outer world seems indifferent and hostile. We must have something with which to meet this evil. We must find something which will turn it into good....

This is where we need to have faith. This is where we pull ourselves up and cry "It's a mood. It will pass. It is only a mood." That désespoir des lendemains de fête will melt away in time, giving place to color and light and normality and, finally, joy.

~ Dom Hubert van Zeller's We Die Standing, pp.62-63

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Advent Wreath

Tell us if you are he w
ho is to reign over the people of Israel?
--from The Roman Breviary, Matins responsory, First Sunday of Advent
Here is a link from Fish Eaters about making an Advent wreath, with accompanying meditations. And Fr. William Saunders gives some background as well:
The Advent wreath is part of our long-standing Catholic tradition. However, the actual origins are uncertain. There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of Spring. In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.

By the Middle Ages, the Christians adapted this tradition and used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. After all, Christ is “the Light that came into the world” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. John 3:19-21). By 1600, both Catholics and Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.


Raise A Glass of Bourbon

In honor of Louis XVI. Share

Friday, November 28, 2008

Madame Henriette de France

The daughter of Louis XV who died at age twenty-four after being thwarted in love. Share

Smelling Salts and Rose Water

Some Regency-era beauty hints.

To make Rose Water.
Gather roses on a dry day, when they are full blown; pick off the leaves, and to a peck put a quart of water, then put them into a cold still, make a slow fire under it, the slower you distil it the better it will be; then bottle it, and in two or three days you may cork it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Read all about it.
Turkeys are native to the United States and Mexico and are a food that was part of the traditional culture of the native Americans. Christopher Columbus brought turkeys back with him to Europe upon his return from the New World and by the 16th century, turkeys were being domestically raised in Italy, France and England. At first, they were reserved for the banquet tables of royalty, but they soon became more widespread throughout societies.

Turkey has long been associated with American history. Think turkey and images of Pilgrims and Thanksgiving dinners are evoked. Benjamin Franklin must have felt that the turkey was all-American because he wanted it to be our national bird and was upset when the eagle was chosen instead. But the turkey as an icon of America and freedom doesn't stop there - Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate roasted turkey (well, space food roasted turkey) as part of their first meal on the moon.

Today, the countries that consume the most turkey per person include Israel, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Pilgrims and Democracy

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Laudem Gloriae discusses the origins of our American Thanksgiving.

More HERE.
The persistence of American Thanksgiving customs is impressive. While cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie may not have been on the menu at Plymouth in 1621, when venison and an unspecified "fowle"; graced the communal table, Americans have celebrated their unique holiday for giving thanks to God in ways that are highly recognizable from generation to generation, from century to century.

Isabel of France

St. Louis' sister was also a saint. Share

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Revisiting Whittaker Chambers

photo detail of Whittaker Chambers during the Hiss Case (1949)

I went to high school with the grandchildren of Whittaker Chambers. At the time, I only knew the Chambers boys to be brilliant students and pleasant young gentlemen. It was only later, after I had read Witness and the Tanenhaus biography, that I was discussing Whittaker Chambers with another childhood friend, who said to me: "Well, you know, you went to school with his grandchildren." It was quite a revelation. Recently, courtesy of Facebook, I reconnected with former classmate David Chambers. David has started to write about his grandfather, setting the record straight on some misconceptions. Here is David Chambers' review of the recent Andrew Meier's book The Lost Spy. To quote:
The Lost Spy retraces the careers of Isaiah ("Cy") Oggins and wife Nerma Berman Oggins, two Americans who joined the Soviet underground in 1926, soon stationed in Europe and the Far East. In 1938, the Soviet government asked Cy Oggins to "remain" in Moscow. In February 1939, they arrested, sentenced, and sent him to the Norilsk gulag. When his sentence ended, the Soviets decided to liquidate him, rather than send him back to an America amidst HUAC investigations that might take interest in him. Wife Nerma had taken their young son home to the States and remained silent on the subject for the rest of her life (like many wives of liquidated spies). The Ogginses had all but disappeared from history -- until former TIME correspondent Andrew Meier picked up their trail....

Importantly, The Lost Spy demonstrates that Whittaker Chambers's fears of liquidation were all too real -- Cy Oggins gruesome death is proof. Poisonings and other assassinations emanating from Russia continue to the present day: President Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev (2004), ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in London (2006), American intelligence expert Paul Joyal in Adelphi, MD (2008). Former KGB spy Oleg Gordievsky warned of continued poisonings -- only to be poisoned himself, along with, it seems, British intelligence chief Alex Allan.
David Chambers also has some interesting comments on an interview the the author of The Lost Spy:
During Power Line's interview on September 21, 2008, The Lost Spy author Andrew Meier made an inaccurate assertion:
[Whittaker] Chambers always said that he had been sent to Europe, and it's a big debate among sort of scholars of the Hiss Case. It's never been proven that he did go overseas.
Allow me to attempt to set the matter straight to the best of my knowledge.

Whittaker Chambers (my grandfather) claimed quite the opposite, that he had never gone overseas for the Soviets: others claimed he did.

The issue came up over postcards he had had sent to art historian (and lifelong friend) Meyer Schapiro and artist (and New Masses colleague) Jacob Burck -- as a joke -- as if he too had gone to Moscow as so many Americans were, publicly, in the 1930s. People very close to them had gone: Langston Hughes, with whom my grandfather -- and Jacob Burck -- had planned a "Suitcase Theater," had traveled to the Soviet Union the year before, in 1932 (and coincidentally toured the USSR with Arthur Koestler).

Allen Weinstein (Perjury, pp. 113-114) and Sam Tanenhaus (Whittaker Chambers, pp. 88) among others take these postcards seriously. Weinstein takes them so seriously that he attempts to expand upon my grandfather's supposed but in fact spurious visit to Moscow as part of otherwise unsubstantiated training he received there. More judiciously, Tanenhaus merely mentions the postcards and the supposed visit without elaboration.

More of David's reviews and collected articles about his grandfather, HERE.


How to be a Good Host

Some tips for gentlemen (and ladies, too.) Share

Monday, November 24, 2008

La Reine Claude

Writing the Renaissance has a brief but compelling sketch about Claude de France, the gentle, oft-forgotten queen of Francis I. She was the daughter of Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne. Anne Boleyn was one of her maids of honor.
Claude was plain, her body contorted by scoliosis--a stark contrast to the stunning women who surrounded François at court. Yet her sweet nature and pleasant conversation made up for her lack of physical beauty. A visitor to court described her thus: "The Queen is young and though very small in stature, plain and badly lame in both hips, is said to be very cultivated, generous and pious." He also noted that "It is a matter of common report that he [the king] holds his wife the Queen in such honour and respect that when in France and with her he has never failed to sleep with her each night."

Constantly pregnant or recovering from birth and by nature drawn to spiritual matters, Queen Claude withdrew from the hedonistic glamor of François's court. Her household, which included Anne Boleyn (Anne was the same age and probably served Claude as an English translator), spent most of the time in retirement at Amboise and Blois. Claude only rarely participated in public events, although she did appear, heavily pregnant, at the Field of Cloth of Gold, the famous meeting between François and Henry VIII of England at Calais in 1520.

The Holidays Are Upon Us

Thanksgiving wine etiquette.
Basically, my advice is simple. If you are a host, keep it low-key. If you are a guest, try not to burden your hosts with sudden changes and demands like showing up with a half case of wine that needs to be chilled and announcing cheerfully that you thought this would go great with dinner.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Marie-Antoinette and Politics

The following is an excerpt of a letter from Marie-Antoinette to her mother Empress Maria Theresa, written on February 17, 1777. Marie-Antoinette was twenty-one years old and had been Queen of France for almost three years. It demonstrates that in spite of the popular perception of being a nitwit, the young Queen had an awareness of the political situation in Europe. At the time the letter was written, Marie-Antoinette was at the height of the partying phase of her life, and not actively engaged in political affairs; Louis XVI encouraged her not to become involved. He knew that his Queen, as an Austrian Archduchess, was pressured by her family to influence him to undertake policies favorable to Austrian interests. He tried to keep her from meddling by isolating her at Petit Trianon, surrounding her by a circle of friends (the Polignacs) who owed everything to himself. That she had a basic sense of what was going on, long before the Revolution when she played a larger role in the political scene, shows that she had inherited some of her mother's astuteness.

When she says that "it would be the greatest good fortune if these two sovereigns [her husband and her brother Joseph]...could trust each other" she is referring primarily to the fact that Louis did not trust the Emperor and would not go along with his plans. She was also acutely aware of the intrigues of the court and accurately predicted that the appointment of Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan as Grand Almoner would bring "many intrigues;" it certainly brought about the Diamond Necklace fiasco.

Although I have very little experience of politics, I cannot help being worried about what is happening everywhere in Europe. It would be very terrible if the Turks and the Russians went back to war. At least here I am very sure they want to keep the peace. If my brother had come, I think, like my dear Mama, that his acquaintance with the King would have been very useful for the general good and quiet. It would be the greatest good fortune if these two sovereigns, who are so close to me, could trust each other, they could settle many things together and would be protected from the lack of skill and the personal interests of their ministers.

The Grand Almoner is at death's door; Prince Louis [de Rohan] will replace him in that office. I am really annoyed by this, and it will be much against his own inclination that the King will appoint him; but two years ago he allowed himself to be surprised by M. de Soubise and Mme de Marsan into a half promise, which they converted into a full one by thanking him, and which they have just now used to the full. If he [Rohan] behaves as he always did, we will have many intrigues.
(~from Secrets of Marie Antoinette: A Collection of Letters, edited by Olivier Bernier. New York: Fromm International, 1986, pp. 211-212)


Feast of Christ the King

It would be a grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power. Nevertheless, during his life on earth he refrained from the exercise of such authority, and although he himself disdained to possess or to care for earthly goods, he did not, nor does he today, interfere with those who possess them. Non eripit mortalia qui regna dat caelestia.[27]

Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: "His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ."[28] Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society. "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved."[29] He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation. "For a nation is happy when its citizens are happy. What else is a nation but a number of men living in concord?"[30] If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ. What We said at the beginning of Our Pontificate concerning the decline of public authority, and the lack of respect for the same, is equally true at the present day. "With God and Jesus Christ," we said, "excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation."[31]
~Pope Pius XI "Quas Primas"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saint Cecilia

While in Rome, my mother bought me a small statue of Saint Cecilia, the Roman martyr from the turn of the early third century. It is based on the life-size one in her basilica, sculpted after her incorrupt body was exhumed in the sixteenth century. She is lying on her side in her dressing gown with her neck half-severed. Cecilia was killed in her bathroom, and the executioner who hacked at her neck was put off by her calm dignity. It took her three days to die. The prelude to her ordeal was an attempt to scald her, which was why she was found near the bath - one of those huge Roman baths. For Cecilia belonged to one of the ancient Roman families and possessed great wealth. She was young, beautiful, and desired, but she died because she refused to renounce her Savior.

While journeying through life it is easy to understand why so many of the martyrs were very young. When people are young they do not understand what it is to lose life. Sacrifices are easier when you do not fully grasp what is being renounced. There is a special valor, a reckless courage, possessed by young soldiers which old soldiers do not always have. And yet Christians of every age are called to be soldiers of Christ and martyrs in spirit if not in body. The fortitude that seemed so effortless in my grandparents in their old age I see now was no small thing.

As Abbot Gueranger wrote in The Liturgical Year, Vol XV :
The lesson will not be lost if we come to understand this much: had the first Christians feared, they would have betrayed us, and the word of life would never have come down to us; if we fear, we shall betray future generations, for we are expected to transmit to them the deposit we have received from our fathers.
Those who had faith and courage, whether it was Saint Cecilia in her agony, or my grandmothers in their nursing homes, where they spent many years before they died, have passed on to me a priceless gift. Share

Voting in America

It used to be dangerous. (Thanks, Alexandra!)
The United States was founded as an experiment in eighteenth-century republicanism, in which it was understood that only men with property would vote, and publicly, since they were the only people who could be trusted to vote with the commonweal, and not private gain, in mind. What went on in 1859 was something altogether different: voting was still public, but all white men could vote, and nearly seventy per cent of them managed to do so in the congressional elections that year, pistols and fisticuffs notwithstanding.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Presentation of Mary

Father Mark offers some history and thoughts to ponder on the feast commemorating Our Lady being taken to the Temple at the age of three by her parents.
The new Temple, the all-holy Virgin, is shaped and formed in the old Temple. She who is destined to be the living Temple of the Word dwells in the Temple of the Old Dispensation. She hears the chanting of the psalms, the prophets, and the Law. She smells the incense and the burnt offerings. She observes the faithful of Israel streaming towards Zion, filling the Temple, seeking the face of the Lord. Priest, altar, and oblation are not unfamiliar to the Virgin who will take her place at the foot of the Cross and, gazing upon her Son, recognize in Him the Eternal priest, the Altar of the New Covenant, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
This feast is a wonderful prelude to Advent. According to Dom Gueranger:
Mary, led to the Temple in order to prepare in retirement, humility, and love for her incomparable destiny, had also the mission of perfecting at the foot of the figurative altar the prayer of the human race, of itself ineffectual to draw down the savior from heaven. (From Abbot Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol XV )

One World Religion, Or Else.....

Two global initiatives to keep an eye on..... Share

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Now, Voyager (1942)

The untold want by life and land ne'er granted, 
Now, voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find.
~"The Untold Want" from Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"

It is perhaps one of Bette Davis' best films, one in which she reputedly became quite caught up in the role, playing an active part in the production decisions. Perhaps that is why the sets, costumes, and screenplay, as well as the flawless acting, raise Now, Voyager above the soap operatic level to a serious drama exploring the psychological implications of certain moral decisions. Although Bette could be convincing as a Southern Belle, playing New England spinster Charlotte Vale, a Daughter of the Pilgrims, suited her mannerisms and natural accent impeccably. However, it is Bette's ability to depict Charlotte's transformation from a weepy neurotic into a vibrant and enthusiastic life participant that makes the film so engaging.

Now, Voyager, based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, shows the fascination with psychiatry that would come to consume America, beginning in the 1920's, so that in some circles it became a pseudo-religion. When used in the proper context, as a tool for healing, not as a substitute for Divine grace, psychiatry can certainly help people with emotional and mental problems. Charlotte Vale, the heroine of Now, Voyager, is certainly put back on course by the
compassionate Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), whose firmness, wisdom and tough love counteract the emotional abuse leveled upon her by her mother. The film is, overall, a study in bad parenting and good parenting. Charlotte's healing is completed not by psychotherapy but by nurturing a disturbed child.

That is not to ignore the powerful love story which forms the basis of Now, Voyager. While on a cruise to South America to recuperate from a nervous breakdown, Charlotte meets and falls in love with Jerry (Paul Henreid), an unhappily married man. They decide not to pursue the relationship so as not to break up Jerry's family and traumatize his children. Knowing that Jerry loves her from afar gives Charlotte courage, although the sorrow at not having him in her life intensifies, especially after her mother dies of a heart attack during a quarrel. Overwhelmed by guilt, Charlotte flees to Dr. Jaquith's sanatorium, where instead of having another breakdown, she finds Jerry's young daughter Tina, who is there for treatment. The mothering which Charlotte gives Tina is redemptive for both herself and the girl.

Later, when Charlotte and Jerry are reunited, she insists upon a platonic friendship, for the sake of Tina's fragile psyche. That is when Charlotte says the famous line:
"Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon... we have the stars." It is fascinating that in a film which was actually quite worldly for its time, and did not purport to be religious, the needs of children are placed before adult passions. The adults find fulfillment not in seeking their own happiness, but in doing what is right for the youngsters, in spite of the personal sacrifice required. How different from the contemporary pursuit of pleasure in which our society drowns.

The New Barbarians

Alas, the Brave New World comes in with the fog on little cat feet.... Share

Reading for Advent

Christ in His Mysteries.jpg

And for the entire liturgical year. Share

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Death of Mary Tudor

November 17 was the anniversary of the death of Queen Mary Tudor. Mary I (1516-1558) was the only surviving child of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, his Queen. She was the heir to the throne and her mother was raising her to be a great ruler, like her grandmother Queen Isabella of Spain. However, as a teenager, her life was destroyed by her parents' separation. Anne Boleyn had stolen her father's affections and in his efforts to annul his marriage to Katherine so he could marry his favorite, he broke away from the Church. Mary lost her status, was kept from seeing her mother, and had to be lady-in-waiting to Anne's daughter Elizabeth. Mary had gone from being the cherished princess to being a servant.

Mary clung to the old Faith. I think that like many Catholics today, who often are the lone members of their families to practice their religion, Mary endured a great deal of isolation coupled with frustration. She was also a child of divorce, with all of the feelings of confusion and betrayal that people who come from a broken home often experience. She was not able to marry until her late thirties; motherhood was denied her. Nevertheless, she showed great love for her half-siblings Elizabeth and Edward, as well as for all of her stepmothers (except for Anne Boleyn.) She was instrumental in converting Anne of Cleves to the Catholic religion, according to Alison Weir in The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

In 1553, Mary ascended the throne. Her reign of five years, in which she tried to restore the Church in England, was marked by disappointment, failure, and tragedy. Mary Tudor is infamous because of the 277 people burned at the stake during her reign. Sadly, those horrible deaths, which occurred towards the end of her life, overshadow everything else. It was a tragic and bitter mistake; it did not lead people back to the Church. How could it have? According to New Advent:
It seems to be generally admitted now that no vindictive thirst for blood prompted the deplorable severities which followed, but they have weighed heavily upon the memory of Mary, and it seems on the whole probable that in her conscientious but misguided zeal for the peace of the Church, she was herself principally responsible for them. In less than four years 277 persons were burned to death. Some, like Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, were men of influence and high position, but the majority belonged to the lower orders. Still these last were dangerous, because, as Dr. Gairdner has pointed out, heresy and sedition were at that time almost convertible terms. In regard to these executions, a much more lenient and at the same time more equitable judgment now prevails than was formerly the case. As one recent writer observes, Mary and her advisers "honestly believed themselves to be applying the only remedy left for the removal of a mortal disease from the body politic...What they did was on an unprecedented scale in England because heresy existed on an unprecedented scale" (Innes, "England under the Tudors", 232; and cf. Gairdner, "Lollardy", I,327).
Mary was only 41 when she died, in a state of deep repentance. Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson describes her death in a compelling essay, in which he contrasts her passing with that of her sister Queen Elizabeth I, many years later. (Monsignor Benson points out that Elizabeth had many Catholics killed in a grisly manner.)
Of the final scene of Mary's life we have a tolerably detailed account, taken down from the relation of Jane Dormer herself, who was one of the few friends who remained with Mary to the end. Most of her other attendants had already made their way to Hatfield, to pay their court to the Princess who would presently be in power. This account is an interesting comment on the way in which Mary's religion was a support to her in the crisis, and forms an agreeable comparison with the same element in her sister's death nearly fifty years later. Of course Mary's devotion in no way proves the truth of her faith; it is only an evidence of her absolute and serene sincerity.

"That morning hearing Mass, which was celebrated in her chamber, she being at the last point (for no day passed in her life that she heard not Mass), and although sick to death, she heard it with good attention, zeal, and devotion, as she answered in every part with him who served the Priest, such yet was the quickness of her senses and memory. And when the priest came to that part to say, 'Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,' she answered plainly and distinctly to every one, 'Miserere nobis, Miserere nobis, Dona nobis pacem.'

"Afterwards, seeming to meditate something with herself, when the Priest took the Sacred Host to consume it, she adored it with her voice and countenance, presently closed her eyes and rendered her blessed soul to God. This the Duchess =Jane Dormer= hath related to me, the tears pouring from her eyes, that the last thing which the Queen saw in this world was her Saviour and Redeemer in the Sacramental Species, no doubt to behold Him presently after in His glorious Body in heaven. A blessed and glorious passage, 'Anima mea cum anima ejus.'" =From Life of Jane Dormer, quoted by Miss Stone.=

Mary thought it her duty also, in common with most Christian people, to make some provision for the disposal of her body and her goods after her death -- again offering a comparison with Elizabeth's action. She had already impoverished herself with efforts to restore to the service of God what her father had taken "to his own use"; and on her death-bed she made further dispositions in the same direction. In her will and codicil, every page of which she signed painfully with her own hand, she bequeaths her soul to the mercy of Almighty God, and to the "good prayers and help of the most pure and blessed Virgin St. Mary, and of all the Holy Company of heaven"; and her body to be buried at the discretion of her executors. She leaves large sums to the poor, to the Religious Houses which she had re-founded, to the poor scholars at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and to Hospitals, especially to one for disabled soldiers; she also leaves legacies to her ladies and her servants, as well as to her husband and executors. This will was entirely disregarded by Elizabeth, and lay, as Miss Stone remarks, in obscurity for over three hundred years.

So far, then, we are agreeably surprised. There is no terror of the future, or agonised remorse; there is repentance, of course, and confession of sin and shortcomings, but that is scarcely to Mary's reproach. There is tranquil confidence in religion and the mercy of God; she encourages her friends, makes her will, trusts her sister, and gives up her soul during what was to her, throughout her life, the most sacred and holy action of the day. Whether or not her religion was true is not our affair now; we are only concerned with the way in which it was her support during her last moments, and even if we are not satisfied as to its objective truth, we can at least be satisfied with its power to uphold one who believed in it with all her heart. In this sense, if in no other, we can say, with Jane Dormer, "A blessed and glorious passage! May my soul be with hers!"

A Legendary Jewel

The Hope Diamond. (Via Platonic Shift) Share


The new Babylonian captivity. (Via Feminine Genius)
For all of President-elect Obama’s wafting language about bringing us together, healing divisions, and so on and so on, if he seriously intends to follow through on his extremist abortion views, we are headed for the intensification of an American version of the Kulturkampf that Bismarck came to rue. The focus is on FOCA, the Freedom of Choice Act, that Obama says he wants to sign on his first day in office. This act would eliminate the very modest restraints and regulations established by states, provide government funding for abortions, and in its present form, require religiously sponsored hospitals and clinics to perpetrate abortions or go out of business.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Duchess of Parma

Catherine Delors discusses the eldest daughter of Louis XV, Madame Elisabeth of France, the Duchess of Parma. To quote:
On August 14, 1727, Queen Marie Leszczynska gave birth to twin girls, the first born being Marie-Louise-Elisabeth, known as Madame Elisabeth, or simply, as the King's eldest daughter, Madame. Louis XV, who was only seventeen, had of course been hoping for a male heir, but he was nonetheless delighted by the birth of the girls. "People said I could not have children," he went around repeating, "and see, I made two!"

Elisabeth is his darling, his Babette. She has never been considered pretty, but she is bright, vivacious, willful. Yet dynastic politics lead Louis XV to arrange her marriage to her cousin, Philippe de Bourbon, younger son of the King of Spain. It is considered a mediocre match for a Fille de France ("Daughter of France") to marry a foreign prince unlikely to succeed to any throne, but Louis XV wants to reinforce the family ties with the Spanish Bourbons.

The bride is only twelve, and she is heartbroken when she must leave Versailles and her twin, Madame Henriette. "Tis forever, my God, tis forever," she sobs in the arms of her sister. Indeed it was often true at the time: as a rule a princess, once married abroad, never set foot again in her native country. That is, for instance, what happened to Marie-Antoinette. But, as she shall see, Madame Elisabeth will never allow herself to be bound by rules applicable to ordinary princesses.

The Whitewashing of Stalin

He had the blood of millions on his hands, yet Joseph Stalin has escaped Hitler-style demonization.

Eric Margolis discusses the myths of World War II.
In the end, Churchill and US President Franklin [Roosevelt] were so obsessed with crushing Germany, and so seduced by "Uncle Joe" Stalin, they handed half of Europe to the Soviet Union....
Have we learned nothing from the 20th Century’s apocalyptic wars? As Buchanan says, Churchill’s giveaway of Eastern Europe at Moscow and Yalta was a far graver blunder than Chamberlain’s concessions at Munich in 1938.

Monday, November 17, 2008

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

On November 17 the Church gives us the feast of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) who in her twenty-four years on earth embodied virtues which in today's world have almost ceased to exist: honesty, modesty, courage, chastity, self-denial and fidelity. She was not queen of Hungary, as many people think, but a princess. Her parents were the king and queen. Being
royal in those days meant that your life was not your own. Marriages between two ruling families would form an alliance between countries and keep two countries from going to war. So from her infancy, Elizabeth was a living pledge of peace, since she was promised in marriage to the heir of Thuringia.

Elizabeth was sent to Germany at the age of four to be raised in the household of her betrothed, Louis of Thuringia, as was the practice of the time. It was heartbreaking for her parents' to separate from their lively, dark-haired little girl, but they commended her to God and Our Lady. Louis' family disliked her, as was often the case with foreign royal brides, but he always cherished and protected his little fiancée. Elizabeth, although far from home, was a Magyar princess, and there was an intensity in her commitment to God and her husband which was repugnant to the placid Thuringians. They were married when Elisabeth was fourteen and Louis was about seventeen; he had inherited the dukedom of Thuringia from his father by then. Thuringia is roughly where Hesse-Darmstadt is now. In the thirteenth century it was a prosperous and powerful territory, although Louis was a duke, not a king.

Elizabeth had always shown a strong inclination toward piety as well as a great love of helping the needy and downtrodden. She opened a hospital for the poor in one of her castles and ran a soup kitchen. She was passionately in love with her husband, which is one of her most appealing aspects - she was a saint but she was also very much a woman. Louis truly loved his wife and sought for a fervent priest to guide her spiritual life. Unfortunately, her later confessor, the overzealous Conrad of Marburg, was excessively harsh with Elizabeth.

As Duchess, she established the Franciscan order in Thuringia and became herself a tertiary (with St. Louis of France, she is the patroness of tertiaries.) . Louis and Elizabeth had three children.

When Elizabeth was twenty, her husband died while on crusade. She ran shrieking through the castle, as if she had lost her mind. Her brother-in-law coveted the inheritance; he evicted Elizabeth and her three small children from their home. He forbade everyone in Thuringia to give them shelter. The little family had to hide in a pig pen from the rain. Poverty, loss and persecution did not embitter Elizabeth, as it would have embittered others, especially when it involved the suffering of her small children. She accepted everything from the hand of God.

Finally, someone got word to Elizabeth's father the King of Hungary, and he prevailed upon the Holy Roman Emperor to intervene. Elizabeth's lands were restored to her but she voluntarily chose holy poverty. After securing her children's welfare, she lived in a small room in the hospital she had founded and cared for the sick and the lepers. That would be like someone
going to live with AIDS patients today.

Emperor Frederick begged for Elizabeth's hand in marriage but she refused. She died at the age of twenty-four and as she passed from this world a great light filled the room. Many miraculous cures were reported at her grave site. She was buried wearing the imperial crown which she had refused in life.

Thinking of St Elizabeth can help us when ever we feel afraid of poverty, or of being alone. Her spirit of humility and the renunciation of worldly honors can be imitated by all. Share

The Common Enemy

If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. John 15:18 Share


A final solution. 50,000 Hindu fundamentalists demonstrate in favor of religious intolerance. Share

Sunday, November 16, 2008

St. Margaret of Scotland

St. Margaret (1045-1092) was a royal Saxon princess. From a dethroned and exiled family, riches and power meant nothing to her, for she saw how quickly such things can pass away. Consequently, she was deeply drawn to the monastic life. However, the Scottish King Malcolm Canmore sought her hand in marriage, so attracted was he by her beauty and virtue. They were married. Malcolm was on the wild side, but he and Margaret loved each other completely, and died three days apart.

As Queen of Scots, St. Margaret bore eight children, was devoted to the poor, and helped to reform the liturgy. As one article states:
Under Queen Margaret's leadership Church councils promoted Easter communion and, much to joy of the working-class, abstinence from servile work on a Sunday. Margaret founded churches, monasteries and pilgrimage hostels and established the Royal Mausoleum at Dunfermline Abbey with monks from Canterbury. She was especially fond of Scottish saints and instigated the Queen's Ferry over the Forth so that pilgrims could more easily reach the Shrine of St. Andrew.

Mass was changed from the many dialects of Gaelic spoken throughout Scotland to the unifying Latin. By adopting Latin to celebrate the Mass she believed that all Scots could worship together in unity, along with the other Christians of Western Europe. Many people believe that in doing this, it was not only Queen Margaret's goals to unite the Scots, but also Scotland and England in an attempt to end the bloody warfare between the two countries.

In setting the agenda for the church in Scotland Queen Margaret also ensured the dominance of the Roman Church over the native Celtic Church in the north of the country.

It is interesting how St Margaret championed the practices of the Roman rite over the Celtic traditions, although I have no doubt that the Celtic liturgy and devotions were quite beautiful. St. Margaret, however, saw the importance of harmony of worship for the people of her country, especially after the upheavals of their century. Share

Priestly Celibacy

Fr. Blake explains.
The custom in the early Church seems to have been that although married men were ordained, after marriage they were expected to remain celibate, as were the priests of the Old Testament during their time of service in the Temple.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Shades of Mourning

Catherine Delors offers this lovely portrait of the young Marie-Antoinette in "light mourning." As Queen, she would also wear the deuil blanc, or "white mourning," as was customary for queens of France, when remembering the deceased. Share

In Defense of Adoption

Some Catholics are against it. Heidi explains why adoption is a valid and effective Christian response. More HERE. Share

Friday, November 14, 2008

Marie-Antoinette's Farewell to her Daughter

Often, when closing her eyes, she vividly saw her mother's face as at the moment when the guards had come to take the Queen to the Conciergerie. Then she would see the alabaster skin, the large, blue eyes blood-shot from weeping, the face framed by the black mourning veil.
"Do not let this crush you," Maman had said. "You have faith. It will sustain you."
~from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal, Chapter 1, "The Emigrants"

Shattered Innocence

Protecting our children.
A state of blessed “unknowingness” that is markedly different from ignorance. So many of our children are increasingly subjected to sights, sounds, and situations which may mar or altogether destroy their innocence. Most Catholic parents are vigilant keepers at the gates of the family castle, seeking to provide a refuge against the irreligiosity of the world and its seductive whispers. We set up filters on computers, block-out television channels or eliminate commercial programming completely, screen videos and literature, and make every effort to know as much as possible about our childrens’ friends. Additionally, some of us have chosen “the road less traveled”: educating our children at home to shelter them from the storm of secularism and accepting the monumental responsibility that is inherent in being the primary role model of the seven cardinal virtues.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Great Velázquez

Some of his paintings, HERE. The painting above is Las Meninas, showing the little Infanta Margarita, daughter of Philip IV of Spain, surrounded by her attendants. Margarita married Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I; she died at age twenty-one. Her older sister the Infanta Maria Theresa became the Queen of Louis XIV.

The WebMuseum says of Velázquez:

Velázquez (or Velásquez), Diego (1599-1660). Spain's greatest painter was also one of the supreme artists of all time. A master of technique, highly individual in style, Diego Velasquez may have had a greater influence on European art than any other painter.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velasquez was born in Seville, Spain, presumably shortly before his baptism on June 6, 1599. His father was of noble Portuguese descent. In his teens he studied art with Francisco Pacheco, whose daughter he married. The young Velasquez once declared, "I would rather be the first painter of common things than second in higher art." He learned much from studying nature. After his marriage at the age of 19, Velasquez went to Madrid. When he was 24 he painted a portrait of Philip IV, who became his patron.

The artist made two visits to Italy. On his first, in 1629, he copied masterpieces in Venice and Rome. He returned to Italy 20 years later and bought many paintings--by Titian, Tintoretto, and Paolo Veronese--and statuary for the king's collection.

Except for these journeys Velasquez lived in Madrid as court painter. His paintings include landscapes, mythological and religious subjects, and scenes from common life, called genre pictures. Most of them, however, are portraits of court notables that rank with the portraits painted by Titian and Anthony Van Dyck.

Duties of Velasquez' royal offices also occupied his time. He was eventually made marshal of the royal household, and as such he was responsible for the royal quarters and for planning ceremonies.

In 1660 Velasquez had charge of his last and greatest ceremony--the wedding of the Infanta Maria Theresa to Louis XIV of France. This was a most elaborate affair. Worn out from these labors, Velasquez contracted a fever from which he died on August 6.

Velasquez was called the "noblest and most commanding man among the artists of his country." He was a master realist, and no painter has surpassed him in the ability to seize essential features and fix them on canvas with a few broad, sure strokes. "His men and women seem to breathe," it has been said; "his horses are full of action and his dogs of life."

Because of Velasquez' great skill in merging color, light, space, rhythm of line, and mass in such a way that all have equal value, he was known as "the painter's painter." Ever since he taught Bartolomé Murillo, Velasquez has directly or indirectly led painters to make original contributions to the development of art. Others who have been noticeably influenced by him are Francisco de Goya, Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and James McNeill Whistler. His famous paintings include The Surrender of Breda, an equestrian portrait of Philip IV, The Spinners, The Maids of Honor, Pope Innocent X, Christ at Emmaus, and a portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresa.



The accumulation of things can never be equated with personal wealth. Share

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Polish Queen

Catherine Delors has an excellent post on Queen Marie Leszczynska, long-suffering wife of Louis XV. More HERE. Share

How to Give Criticism

And how to receive it with grace. Share

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


It is the feast of St. Martin of Tours, the great thaumaturge who converted large parts of France. The cloak of St Martin was one of the most precious relics of France, borne before her armies, hence the word chape gave rise to our English words "chaplain" and "chapel." St. Martin spoke out against capital punishment for heretics. The shrine of St. Martin at Tours was one of the holiest of French pilgrimage sites; he is considered one of the patrons of the Holy Face devotion which also originated there. According to New Advent:
The Church of France has always considered Martin one of her greatest saints, and hagiographers have recorded a great number of miracles due to his intercession while he was living and after his death. His cult was very popular throughout the Middle Ages, a multitude of churches and chapels were dedicated to him, and a great number of places have been called by his name. His body, taken to Tours, was enclosed in a stone sarcophagus, above which his successors, St. Britius and St. Perpetuus, built first a simple chapel, and later a basilica (470). St. Euphronius, Bishop of Autun and a friend of St. Perpetuus, sent a sculptured tablet of marble to cover the tomb. A larger basilica was constructed in 1014 which was burned down in 1230 to be rebuilt soon on a still larger scale This sanctuary was the centre of great national pilgrimages until 1562, the fatal year when the Protestants sacked it from top to bottom, destroying the sepulchre and the relics of the great wonder-worker, the object of their hatred. The ill-fated collegiate church was restored by its canons, but a new and more terrible misfortune awaited it. The revolutionary hammer of 1793 was to subject it to a last devastation. It was entirely demolished with the exception of the two towers which are still standing and, so that its reconstruction might be impossible, the atheistic municipality caused two streets to be opened up on its site. In December, 1860, skilfully executed excavations located the site of St. Martin's tomb, of which some fragments were discovered. These precious remains are at present sheltered in a basilica built by Mgr Meignan, Archbishop of Tours which is unfortunately of very small dimensions and recalls only faintly the ancient and magnificent cloister of St. Martin. On 11 November each year the feast of St. Martin is solemnly celebrated in this church in the presence of a large number of the faithful of Tours and other cities and villages of the diocese.

(Artwork from The Western Confucian) Share

The Last to Die

Remembering the Fallen of the First World War. (Via Lew Rockwell.) Share

Monday, November 10, 2008

Juarez (1939)

The 1939 film Juarez depicts the debacle of the French attempt to establish hegemony in Mexico under the auspices of Maximilian von Habsburg. The unlikely combination of characters involved in the fiasco shows that once again truth is stranger than fiction. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, styling himself as Emperor of the French, was the master manipulator of the affair which sent the Austrian Archduke Maximilian to his doom. Maximilian's consort was the intelligent and mercurial Charlotte (Carlota) of Belgium, a granddaughter of Louis-Philippe, the Citizen-King. Although Juarez is a simplification of an extremely complicated series of events, it brings to life the historical reality of such fascinating personalities coming together.

I personally think that the film was misnamed; it should have been called Carlota, since Bette Davis turned her supporting role as the Empress of Mexico into the heart and soul of the drama. In typical Bette fashion, she upstages everyone else, including the great Paul Muni as Benito Juarez. Brian Aherne is perfection as the noble, charming and romantic Maximilian, the most hapless of Habsburgs, and one of the most liberal, too. The film does not show his marital infidelities, but it does play up the irony that Maximilian's reforms were similar to those proposed by Juarez. This did not endear the Emperor to the wealthy landowners and he lost their support. The real struggles of Maximilian and Carlota with their childlessness is poignantly portrayed, as is their genuine horror when they realize that they have been duped by Napoleon III. Maximilian perceives that the imperial Mexico of his dreams is nothing but a cruel charade, and that the original plebiscite that brought him there had been rigged. Nevertheless, he and Carlota have fallen in love with their new country and have come to identify so deeply with Mexico's agonies that there is no turning back.

The gradual disintegration of Carlota's sanity is perhaps one of Bette's greatest achievements as an actress. Carlota's breakdown at the Tuileries is a heartrending scene, with Bette authentically capturing the mannerisms of a person descending into mental illness. In actuality, Carlota's complete psychological collapse occurred not at the Tuileries but in Rome, where Pope Pius IX sighed:
Nothing is spared me in this life, now a woman has to go mad in the Vatican." The Empress never saw her husband again; he was shot by order of Juarez, while Carlota spent the next sixty years secluded in a Belgian castle. As for Mexico, in years to come the Church would be persecuted there; many of the faithful would be martyred.

The scene of the most stunning beauty is one earlier in Juarez where Carlota in black is praying at the foot of the statue of Our Lady. The prostrate Empress begs to have a child, and for the success of the Mexican enterprise, surrounded by the votive candles, with darkness hovering beyond the small sphere of light. Her faith in the face of insurmountable difficulties is all the more radiant if the viewer knows that her prayers will not be answered according to her heart's desires. Her posture of supplication communicates a total oblation of self to the will of God. Once again it is demonstrated that sometimes God chooses not to save a people or a nation through political means. Rather, He intends to sanctify in the crucible of sacrifice.