Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Legend of Pope Joan, Part 2

File:La Papessa.jpg

In 1996, the novel Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross was first published and as of this writing has sold millions of copies. Modern people are as fascinated by the story of Pope Joan as were those in the middle ages and, like their medieval counterparts, do not really care if the story is true. In my view this would be, for the most part, utterly harmless. Unfortunately, those who crusade for the ordination of women use the story of the Popess Joan to demonstrate the supposed backwardness of the Roman Church in this regard. Women are regarded as being bold, courageous and self-actualized only when they are assuming the roles traditionally given to men.

Such an attitude nullifies and denigrates the quiet fortitude of women who bring several children into the world in situations of economic desperation, of women who struggle to be patient wives, mothers and teachers, of consecrated virgins who sacrifice every worldly pleasure to glorify the divine Bridegroom. “Yes, it is precisely woman who is paying the greatest price,” says the future Pope Benedict XVI in The Ratzinger Report (1985). “Motherhood and virginity (the two loftiest values in which she realizes her profoundest vocation) have become values that are in opposition to the dominant ones.”(p.98) The dominant values, of course, are money, power, and pleasure. As long as worldly power and glory are our main goal, the crown of true glory, the royal honors of heaven, will elude us here and hereafter.

“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars….” (Apocalypse 12:1) In the era of radical feminism, it is interesting that we Catholics hail as our Queen a woman who, from a modern, rational, utilitarian point of view, did none of the things which people now consider to be of value and which characterize “strong” women. Rather, the Blessed Virgin Mary was a housewife and a mother, modest and reserved, of few words; humble and obedient, her main public appearance being when she stayed with her Son during His hideous execution as a condemned criminal. No earthly glory there, but the glory which is now hers far surpasses our limited ideas of happiness and personal fulfillment. As Mary continues to succor the Church as she did from the beginning, so do women sustain their families and communities. In the words of St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) in her Essays on Woman (ICS Publications, 1985): “This is expressed by the mysterious prophecy, become legendary, that woman would be engaged in battle against the serpent, and this prophecy is fulfilled by the victory over evil for all humanity through Mary, queen of all women….”(p.77)

Modern women are forced to subjugate their femininity in order to compete with men. It is not freedom or reality if a woman cannot be herself. According to The Ratzinger Report: “Woman, who is creative in the truest sense of the word by giving life….is being convinced that the aim is to ‘emancipate’ her to masculinize herself….” (p.98) The Catholic Church, like a loving mother, has always dealt with the realities of human nature both in her doctrine and traditional liturgical practice.

Ours is a cosmic struggle; the challenge lies not in masquerading as men in order to rule the church as did the Popess of legend, but in imitating Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth and the Mother of Jesus, to a heroic degree. To be a faithful Catholic woman may mean facing poverty, humiliation, ostracism and public ridicule, but in doing so we are, with the Woman clothed with the sun, a sign of the ultimate triumph of Church. Share

Thrifty Romantic Tips

Ten suggestions for priceless romantic interludes. Share

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Legend of Pope Joan, Part 1

I first read about the legend of “Pope Joan” in Ripley’s Believe It or Not when I was fourteen years old. My adolescent mind, fascinated with the lurid and romantic, was intrigued by the tale of the medieval girl who dressed like a man in order to pursue a scholarly career. She infiltrated the College of Cardinals and was unanimously elected to the Chair of Saint Peter, only to have her hoax betrayed when she had the misfortune to give birth to a child in the street during a procession.

The story, which to me in the 1980’s seemed a more racy version of the life of St Joan of Arc (of whom I was and am a passionate devotee), rendered it obvious that women were equal to men; that women were just as capable of being priests or popes as men. My intrigue continued as I dabbled in feminism while in college, as I read more about Pope Joan, and other icons of women’s liberation. However, my disillusionment and break with the feminist movement occurred during my senior year when I realized how radical feminism was entwined with abortion and sexual promiscuity. As I made a concerted effort to explore Catholic as well as historical truth, it became clear to me that lies about religion and lies about history march together on the wide slippery path to social and moral confusion. As Catholics, we have nothing to fear from historical accuracy; neither do women have to masquerade as men in order to be “real” women, which is the gist of the contemporary fascination with Pope Joan.

The problem with the torrid tale of the Popess Joan is not that it was completely impossible for a woman to have had such an adventure, but that there is no contemporary evidence that it ever occurred. The reigns of the popes were even in the Dark Ages extremely well-documented, not only by papal scribes but by papal enemies and secular rulers. The Popess story does not fit in anywhere. Also, as Patrick Madrid observes in Pope Fiction (1997), a female imposter candidate for the papacy, if elected, would have merely rendered the conclave invalid. Unfortunately, the Pope Joan legend, which began circulating in the high middle ages as a way of poking fun at the more decadent pontiffs, has since the Reformation been used as a way of attacking the Church. Although many Protestant as well as Catholic scholars have shown the story to be false, it is now used as a feminist vehicle to show that a woman is just as capable of being Pope as a man, with a recent best-selling novel, soon to be a major motion picture.

The origins of the satire of Pope Joan lie buried in the rather frantic sexual politics of tenth century Rome. Several wealthy and influential families vied with each other for high church offices, the papacy being the main prize. (This in itself makes a strong case against the Pope Joan myth being reality – no one from outside the clique was at the time able to infiltrate the higher echelons of power, least of all a poor English scholar without family or connections, as the Popess was portrayed in the various accounts which became popular in the high Middle Ages.) One of the most powerful of the rival clans was the Theophylact family, remarkable especially for its scheming, beautiful and corrupt female members, such as one Theodora, who saw to the election of her lover in 914 as Pope John X. Theodora’s daughter Marozia, mistress of Pope Sergius III, had her son by that pontiff elected under the name of Pope John XI. Indeed, Marozia was responsible for putting nine popes in office over a period of eight years; they were either murdered or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Later, Pope John XII allowed his favorite concubine Raineria to take over his administrative duties, to the scandal of Christendom. In the century that followed came drastic reforms in the entire Church by popes and saints, particularly the abolishment of clerical concubinage.

However, the specter of the mayhem that ensues when popes are not only unchaste but allow the women in their lives to govern the church continued to haunt the medieval psyche. Every fairy-tale is based upon some reality, be it a mere vestige of truth; the fairy-tale of the Popess is no exception. There were stories of a statue found on a side street near the Coliseum, representing a papal figure holding a child. The statue, which no longer exists, was discovered during the reign of Sixtus V (1585-90) and reputedly bore the inscription Pap.Pater partum proprie pecunia posuit which in other versions is rendered Petre Pater Patrum, Papisse Prodito Partum, meaning “O Peter, father of fathers, betray the child-bearing woman pope.” The narrow street where the statue was found was called “Vicus Papissa” after the prosperous family of Giovanni Pape who in the tenth century had a house and a chapel there. “Vicus Papissa” means the “street of Mrs. Pape” but in popular Roman parlance it came to mean the “street of the woman pope.” At the Lateran basilica was an ancient Roman imperial bathing or birthing chair said to be used in papal installations in order to check the gender of the pontiff, since it was whispered that once a woman had accidentally been elected. There is no official record of such a ceremony involving a “groping chair,” which would have been considered highly inappropriate.

The folklore of Rome and fading memories of Marozia, Theodora and Raineria were gradually woven into a thrilling and scandalous story of the forbidden. It was the duty of preachers and teachers to transform the legend into a morality tale, which taught as well as shocked. According to New Advent, the first version of the Popess legend was written by the Dominican Jean de Mailly in the thirteenth century. He placed the story at around the year 1100, when a woman scholar, whom he does not name, became a notary to the Curia, then cardinal, then pope. Stoned to death in the street while giving birth to a child, she was buried in the place where she died. It was a lesson to those who deceive as well as fornicate, especially if they happened to be prelates.

A few decades later, the second version of the Pope Joan myth was promulgated by another Dominican, Martin of Troppau (d.1278), in a volume of fables and popular legends, intended for the entertainment as well as the instruction of the pontiffs. (Since Martin was one of the Pope Clement IV’s personal chaplains as well as being a confessor at the Sacred Penitentiary, the edification and enlightenment of the papal household was his job.) According to Martin, Leo IV (847-855) was succeeded in the papal chair by the Englishman John of Mainz (Johannes Anglicus) who reigned for two years, seven months, and four days until it was discovered that the pontiff was a woman. As a girl, “John” or “Joan” was taken to Athens in men’s clothing by a male lover where she became an unequaled scholar. She journeyed to Rome where she taught science and became so well-respected that she was elected pope, her gender remaining undetected until the fateful day when she gave birth to a child during a procession from St Peter’s to the Lateran, somewhere between the Coliseum and St Clement’s. She died and was buried in the same place, and the route was henceforth avoided by the pontiffs.

In a later edition of Martin’s manuscript (which was probably closer to a modern historical novel than a serious history book) he changes the end of the story; instead of being stoned, the Popess was sent to a monastery where she gave birth to a son, who later became bishop of Ostia, and had his mother buried there. Other versions of the story have the child being a daughter, and in the medieval “Mirabilia” the Popess is given a choice in a vision between temporal disgrace and eternal damnation. She chooses disgrace, and so dies ignominiously in the street post partum.

None of the stories of Pope Joan, although popularly accepted in the Middle Ages before the dawn of historical criticism, were intended to glamorize women or extol their talents or potential. Indeed, the promulgation of the legend was intended to be a stern lesson to clergy and laity alike as to what happened when women were given too much power, especially in the Church, as well as the woeful consequences of the violation of celibacy in particular and chastity in general. It was what people now call misogynist literature and was anything but complimentary to women. That feminist novelists and historians should try to turn the Popess myth into a vehicle for showing that a woman was capable of being pope as well as exposing the cruelty of the male hierarchy is the farthest thing from the point of the original story. The crux of the matter, as far as the medievals were concerned, was not that a woman could not be Pope, but that she should not be Pope.

In the sixteenth century, Catholic scholars such as Panvinio, Baronius and St. Robert Bellarmine denied the historical authenticity of the story of Pope Joan, which was then being used by the Protestant reformers as an example that the Catholic Church was capable of error. Baronius theorizes that the tale arose from the weakness with which Pope John VIII (872-82) dealt with the Byzantines. Leo Allotius connects it with the false prophetess Theota, condemned at the synod of Mainz in 847. St. Robert Bellarmine thought perhaps the legend came from an incident that occurred in Constantinople, where eunuchs and ladies of the imperial court had often schemed to control the patriarchal chair. Protestant historians such as David Blondel (1590-1655) and Ignatius von Dollinger (1799-1890) also found the story untenable. Dollinger believed that the fable was built upon legends connected to the monuments of Rome, such as the enigmatic statue of the papal figure holding a child.

There is no mention of the popess incident in any contemporary sources (not even papal enemies, of which there were always many), neither does she fit chronologically between the reigns of any known popes, not in the ninth century, nor in the twelfth. There was no time between Leo IV and Benedict III, for Benedict succeeded Leo immediately in 855; charters and coins were issued in his name the same year of the conclave. The first written mention of her is in the mid-thirteenth century. The legend, nevertheless, continues to resurface. Feminists claim that the Vatican destroyed every trace of Joan which is why no records exist. Why the Vatican would try to do this while simultaneously allowing the work of a papal chaplain to continue to spread the legend is not explained. (To be continued....) Share

Keeping Warm

Jane Austen's World has an interesting post about how people kept warm in the good old days. Share

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Madame du Barry: Lessons for Life

Most people are not aware that Madame du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV, was raised in a convent and, in spite of her lifestyle, always considered herself to be a Catholic. This is not to mitigate the very real scandal that the King gave to his people by taking a mistress. In Madame du Barry's case, however, at least she was not actively working against the Church like Madame de Pompadour. It was Madame du Barry who built the chapel at Petit Trianon. She never tried to pretend to be anything other than a fallen woman and did not try to bend or break the laws of the Church in regard to reception of Holy Communion, as other people have done in her situation. Also, when Louis XV was dying, Madame du Barry gave no trouble about leaving the king's side so he could be reconciled with his Savior. Lauren reports, as follows:
The instruction Jeanne received when at the the Couvent de Sainte-Aure proved to have a powerful impact on the girl, and it really shaped the way she lived her life. She developed a profound respect, yes believe it or not, for the church and she made it her business to build private chapels in all the homes she occupied. (After she became the King's favorite of course!)

The first chapel she built was at her hotel at Versailles. She picked out many pieces of art work for it's walls, candles for devotion and ornaments to fill it with. She did the same at St Vrain and the last chapel she built was at Louveciennes.

She also continued to practice the lessons she learned in household management. In fact, when she was at her height of gaiety, and had more money to throw around than imaginable, the mistress of Louis XV treated her household at Versailles as if she were a bourgeois wife!

I Love Lent

Lent is one of the best seasons of the year for me. I never look forward to it the way I do to Christmas, but once Lent is underway, it is a happy and peaceful time. Facing reality can be both healing and satisfying. Lent is a public acknowledgment that life is a valley of tears, the world is a dangerous place, and we are all going to die. It is like one big AA meeting where, instead of admitting to alcoholism, everyone confesses to being a sinner, a dysfunctional being who has made a mess of his life and the lives of others. But Lent is here; recovery has begun. It is time to clean up the spilled milk, pick up the pieces, and start all over again. Lent is the hour of truth; staring the truth in the face can be disarming but it can also produce the peace and joy that only penitence in Christ can bring. Share

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.
Our forty days of penance commence with the reception of blessed ashes. The words from the book of Genesis (3:19) help us to think of the shortness of life, of our last end, and of that moment when each shall come before God to be judged. "Remember," wrote Saint Teresa of Avila, "that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; that there is only one glory, which is eternal."

Since Old Testament times, ashes have been a symbol of sorrow for sin. "For I did eat ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping." (Psalm 101:10) In the early Church, only "public" sinners, those guilty of murder, adultery, or idolatry, who had formally repented, would receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, they would humbly kneel at the doors of the church, not entering until they were given absolution on Holy Thursday. The famous liturgist, Abbot Gueranger, gives a description of the ceremony "of the Wednesday in Quinquagesima:"
Before the Mass of the day began, they [the penitents] presented themselves at the church....The priests received the confession of their sins, and then clothed them in sackcloth, and sprinkled ashes on their heads...the clergy and the faithful prostrated themselves and recited aloud the seven penitential psalms. A procession, in which the penitents walked barefooted, then followed; and on its return, the bishop then addressed these words to the penitents: 'Behold, we drive you from the doors of the church by reason of your sins and crimes, as Adam, the first man, was driven out of paradise....' The clergy then sang several responsories, taken from the book of Genesis....The doors were shut, and the penitents were not to pass the threshold until Maunday Thursday, when they were to come to receive absolution. (The Liturgical Year, Vol IV , p 204-205)
During the Middle Ages, it became the custom for all of the faithful to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. We are blessed that so many indulgences can now be gained with very little effort on our part. How light are the penances now demanded of us; what little fasting is required of us! Perhaps the best penance is the patient and loving endurance of hardships and sorrows which come our way; those unchosen mortifications can be heavy enough. Interiorly, we can share the contrition of the brave penitents of old by receiving the ashes with great love for Christ and a determination to follow Him, no matter what. It is time for a new beginning, and for trying, again, to be a disciple.

Lent is like a retreat for the entire church in which all Christians strive more vigorously against the world, the flesh, and the devil, our spiritual enemies. The three works which Holy Mother Church exhorts us to perform during Lent in order to overcome those enemies are prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Through prayer, we grow in strength to conquer the evil one. It is important to make more time for prayer during Lent because it arouses compunction, charity, humility, and other dispositions without which the other two practices would be empty of merit.

We fast in order to imitate Our Lord's forty day fast in the desert. Unlike Him, we need to tame the concupiscence of the flesh, acquire self-discipline, and atone for our personal sins. It was by breaking God's commandment to abstain from eating a certain fruit that Adam and Eve lost the earthly paradise. Both Moses and Elias fasted for forty days before encountering the living God. (Exodus 24:18 and 3 Kings 19:8)

In former times, every day of Lent (except for Sundays and first-class feasts) was a fast day. Now, only two fast days remain -- Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence from meat, as are all Fridays of Lent. Many people think that the Second Vatican Council did away with Friday abstinence, but it did not. Every Friday of the year is a day of abstinence from meat unless the bishops of the country decide to substitute another form of penance. In the United States, it is up to every individual to perform some other Friday penance if they are not able to abstain from meat. However, every Friday of Lent remains a day of strict abstinence.
The third Lenten good work is almsgiving, by which we overcome the "world," that is, the love of riches, luxuries, and honors. Through almsgiving we not only help the poor, the missions, and the temporal needs of the Church, but we mortify any inordinate desires for material things. By having Masses offered, our alms can assist the "Church Suffering" in purgatory. As the aged Tobias said to his son: "Prayer is good with fasting and alms more than more than to lay up treasures of gold. For alms delivereth from death, and...purgeth away sins." (Tobias 12:8-9) As Jesus commands in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday: "Let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing." (Matthew 6:3) It is most important that all our good works are accompanied by charity, humility, and the desire to please God alone.

(Artwork courtesy of Micki) Share

The Name Game

Mary Jo Anderson shows how language shapes our understanding of reality.
The essential intent of phrases such as "freedom of choice" or "compassionate death" is to deceive. When our language is engineered to hide the truth about the action it describes, it does so precisely because the truth is found to be too disconcerting. Those who seek to reset our cultural standards know that an emotionally comforting phrase must be found to substitute for a frank description of the actual act that is cloaked in soft language.
In "freedom of choice," the baby has no choice; thus, the procedure is simply a "might makes right" move against an innocent being. No one speaks of abortion in straightforward terms: "This baby is inconvenient and I have the power to terminate it, so I will." Once power is the premise, removing the infirm, the old, or the inconvenient is less difficult: The premise of might over right is established, and the culture grows comfortable with it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Enchanted April (1992)

Enchanted April

There are times when winter seems endless, not only winter the season, but winter the state of mind, the "winter of my discontent," as Shakespeare put it. Enchanted April is about four women who feel trapped by the various winters of life: Lottie and Rose by their futile and unhappy marriages, Mrs. Fisher by old age, and Lady Caroline by boredom and dissipation. They decide to rent a castle in Italy for the month of April to escape their troubles. The castle has a sun-bathed garden full of wisteria; in the gallery is an ancient but serene portrait of the Virgin, whose blessing seems to emanate upon the company. The women are rejuvenated and begin to experience hope.

The film is based upon a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. According to Turner Classic Movies:
An Australian born British novelist, von Arnim was as flamboyant as the heroines of her romantic yet psychologically probing novels. Her first husband was a Prussian count, and she lived a life of privilege, writing about it in her autobiographical first novel, Elizabeth and her German Garden (1898). Left penniless by her husband's death in 1910, she turned to writing full time. After an affair with novelist H.G. Wells ended in 1916, she impulsively remarried. That marriage was a disaster, and in 1919 she fled to Portofino, Italy, where she stayed in a castle that inspired her to write the novel about the power of beauty to soothe and transform troubled souls.
Just as there are seasons of coldness and death, there are seasons of life and regeneration. There are times of retreat and spiritual renewal, which can occur in a place of exterior beauty, or in the interior castle of the soul. To me, Enchanted April celebrates that certain season of grace which comes to those who sincerely seek it, especially those who are ready to be healed.

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday is the feast of the Holy Face of Jesus. Don Marco has some excellent meditations on this beautiful devotion.

The image to the left is the representation of the imprint of Our Lord's face on the Veronica veil, as it is venerated in the Carmelite Order, and propagated by Sister Marie de Saint Pierre and Venerable Leo Dupont.

Here is the prayer of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux to the Holy Face:
O Jesus, who in Thy bitter Passion didst become "the most abject of men, a man of sorrows," I venerate Thy Sacred Face whereon there once did shine the beauty and sweetness of the Godhead; but now it has become for me as if it were the face of a leper! Nevertheless, under those disfigured features, I recognize Thy infinite Love and I am consumed with the desire to love Thee and make Thee loved by all men. The tears which well up abundantly in Thy sacred eyes appear to me as so many precious pearls that I love to gather up, in order to purchase the souls of poor sinners by means of their infinite value. O Jesus, whose adorable Face ravishes my heart, I implore Thee to fix deep within me Thy divine image and to set me on fire with Thy Love, that I may be found worthy to come to the contemplation of Thy glorious Face in Heaven. Amen.
Here is a formula from the ancient Ambrosian liturgy, as quoted by Abbot Gueranger in The Liturgical Year for Shrove Tuesday:
Sweet is this present life, but it passes away; terrible, O Christ is thy judgment, and it endures forever. Let us, therefore, cease to love what is unstable, and fix our thought on what is eternal: saying: Christ, have mercy upon us!
Now the time has come to go into the desert, the desert of Lent.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Watch the Skies

The green"two-tailed" comet is passing by. More HERE. Share

The Young Victoria (2009)

The Young Victoria

There is a new film about Queen Victoria debuting this year. Judging from the trailer, it looks quite good.(Via Passages to the Past) Whatever one might think of Victoria, her influence upon our time cannot be overlooked. More information HERE.


Lewis and Moore

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand discusses the strange relationship of the young C.S. Lewis with his friend's mother, Mrs. Moore. Share

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mogambo (1953)

Eloise Kelly: [to Linda Nordley] Remember, I came here to be your friend. For your sake. And I'm keeping the offer open... It'll be rugged, but I'll keep it open.~from Mogambo (1953)

<span class=

Director John Ford departed from his usual western adventures to film a story set in Africa, involving conflicting passions during a safari expedition. Mogambo is a technicolor remake of Red Dust (1932) which also starred Clark Gable, but had a South East Asian backdrop. In Mogambo, Gable plays Victor Marswell, a big game hunter who is hired by naive scientist Donald Nordley to help him research African wildlife. Donald's prim wife, Linda Nordley (Grace Kelly) feels quite secure in her virtue and therefore is unprepared for the test which lies ahead. Grace possessed the perfect amount of stiffness to make a credible Linda Nordley, who when she falls, falls hard.

On the other hand, Ava Gardner's combination of easy charm and vulnerability made her well-suited for the role of Eloise Kelly, the fast-living, wandering party girl who also is smitten by Victor. Eloise is the fallen woman who seeks and finds redemption, and through her own redemption she is able to rescue the other characters from their entanglements. While on safari she encounters a priest and goes to confession, which is the catalyst for the gradual reformation of her character. Eloise tries to save Linda from Victor's clutches but Linda is too proud to listen to her warning.

The only thing that is annoying about the film is how the clips of wildlife were spliced onto the footage. According to The Stop Button:
The film...mixes naturally-lighted footage of gorillas with the actors on a set. It doesn’t work at all; there’s no energy in the gorilla shots and so Ford gives no energy to the cut-away shots of the actors. Worse, even when there aren’t gorillas around, studio shots mix in with location footage, removing the Hollywood realism aura–awkward as it was–the film created for ninety-five minutes. The film worked its best in the first half, before the location-filled safari....
In spite of the faulty technology which replaced on-location shots, Mogambo is a movie worth seeing, for the human drama that simmers along, punctuated with clever dialog and plenty of action. John Ford usually worked Catholic spirituality into his films, showing how God works in mysterious ways, with unlikely people, seeking out the lost.

Quinquagesima Sunday

It is Quinquagesima Sunday. According to New Advent:
The period of fifty days before Easter. It begins with the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, called Dominica in Quinquagesima....

For many early Christians it was the beginning of the fast before Easter....For some, Quinquagesima marked the time after which meat was forbidden....In many places this Sunday after and the next two days were used to prepare for Lent by a good confession; hence in England we find the names Shrove Sunday and Shrovetide.

As the days before Lent were frequently spent in merry-making, Benedict XIV by the Constitution "Inter Cetera" (1 Jan., 1748) introduced a kind of Forty Hours' Devotion to keep the faithful from dangerous amusements and to make some reparation for sins committed.

In the words of Dom Gueranger for Quinquagesima Sunday:
We are commanded to use this world as if we used it not; to have an abiding conviction of our not having here a lasting city, and of the misery and danger we incur when we forget that death is one day to separate us from everything we possess in this life.
~from Abbot Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol. IV

Pornography and Deicide

Robert R. Reilly explores the connections between pornography, murder, and social disorder. To quote:
Pornography has been deliberately used as a social and political dissolvent during periods of revolutionary change. To prepare for the French Revolution, the radical Jacobins flooded Paris with pornography. Who would know the politics of pornography better than that greatest of pornographers, the Marquis de Sade? De Sade desired to indulge his sexual passions without moral restraint and saw clearly what that ultimately meant. In The Philosophy of the Boudoir, de Sade wrote that the murder of King Louis XVI was insufficient to bring about the desired revolutionary freedom. The morality of the social and political order had survived the King's beheading. How could it finally be destroyed? In the first known use of the phrase, de Sade wrote that the murder of the King must be followed by the "murder of God." Only when the morality represented by Divine Kingship was abolished could man express himself in the fullness of pornographic existence. This would include, after regicide and deicide, homicide. De Sade perceived and approvingly depicted in his works the inexorable logic of pornography: sex outside of the moral order ultimately leads to murder and death. The Marquis would not be surprised by the FBI study on homicide that found that pornography is the most common interest among serial killers. As one convicted murderer and child molester told the Meese Commission: "[Pornography's] effect on me was devastating. I lost all sense of decency and respect for human life."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Killer Robots

Star Wars is getting a bit too close for comfort. (Via Platonic Shift)
Autonomous military robots that will fight future wars must be programmed to live by a strict warrior code or the world risks untold atrocities at their steely hands.

The stark warning – which includes discussion of a Terminator-style scenario in which robots turn on their human masters – is issued in a hefty report funded by and prepared for the US Navy’s high-tech and secretive Office of Naval Research .

The report, the first serious work of its kind on military robot ethics, envisages a fast-approaching era where robots are smart enough to make battlefield decisions that are at present the preserve of humans. Eventually, it notes, robots could come to display significant cognitive advantages over Homo sapiens soldiers.


Midwifery in the Deep South

Linda has a series of posts on Mrs. Maude Callen, a registered nurse who ministered to the health needs of the rural poor in South Carolina in the early 1950's. Mrs. Callen delivered babies in quite primitive conditions, which is how much of the world was born until modern times. In many places, such conditions still exist. Share

Blood from a Stone

John Zmirak on Fr. Maciel and the great deception. Share

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dick Whittington and His Cat

Poor Whittington was severely beaten at home by his tyrannical mistress the cook, who used him so cruelly, and made such game of him for sending his cat to sea, that at last the poor boy determined to run away from his place.... He traveled as far as Holloway, and there sat down on a stone to consider what course he should take; but while he was thus ruminating, Bow bells, of which there were only six, began to ring; and he thought their sounds addressed him in this manner:"Turn again, Whittington, Thrice Lord Mayor of London."

"Lord Mayor of London!" said he to himself, "what would not one endure to be Lord Mayor of London..!" So home he went....
~from "Dick Whittington and His Cat"
We had a beautifully illustrated storybook about Master Whittington and his cat that was read to us often as children. Something about the story stayed with me. I suppose that the image of Dick Whittington the scullery boy, beaten, starving, cold and hopeless, was one that could be easily conjured up in bleak moments of existence, along with the words chimed by the Bow bells: "Turn again, Dick Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London." Unlike other fairy tales, the idyll does not have its roots in classical or medieval legends, but in the life of one Richard Whittington (c.1354–1423), four times elected Lord Mayor of London. Whittington rose from the mercer's guild to become one of the wealthiest merchants in England, famous for his charities, some of which exist to the present day. The existence of the cat which he sold to the rodent infested land of Barbary is bit dubious, although a small statue of it still exists on Highgate Hill in London. What strikes me now about the tale is that it shows that it was possible for people to rise socially as well as financially in feudal times, contrary to the popular image of an intransigent class system. What is more, Whittington was considered a great man by his contemporaries not merely because of his wealth and political power but because of the generous use he made of what he had received.

File:Richard Wittington and his Cat.jpg Share

Requiem for the West

British journalist John Laughland describes a visit to the cathedral in Orléans, France.
Recently I visited Orléans cathedral. It is one of the largest cathedrals in a country of huge ones, a magnificent late Gothic construction whose interior soars more dramatically than the heavier interiors of Chartres or Notre Dame de Paris. Orléans is also one of the most dramatic towns in French history, the site of the greatest battle of the Hundred Years War when Joan of Arc, “the Maid of Orléans”, defeated the English and thereby ensured the liberation of her country from the foreign invader.

I have had few sadder disappointments than when I entered the cathedral. Not the architecture, to be sure, which is magnificent, but the ambience. It was like entering a morgue. There was not a soul to be seen. No clerics bustled about; no women arranged flowers; no one came and went to choir practice. There was certainly no Mass in progress or even, it seemed, in prospect. The side-altars had evidently not been used for decades. The magnificent Gothic revival confessionals gathered dust silently in the cold. The only sounds came from the rainwater which leaked copiously through the roof to form an enormous puddle by one of the columns, and the ridiculous sound of a CD playing, round and round, Verdi’s requiem. It was like a scene from a cheap movie in which frightened travellers stumble across a recently abandoned house, but it was frighteningly easy to imagine the cathedral, a few decades hence, completely ruined as so many cathedrals and former abbeys are elsewhere in Europe.

The choice of the requiem was, of course, sinisterly apt. The cathedral is its present state is nothing but a magnificent mausoleum to a dead Christian culture – with the only difference that, in modern mausoleum’s like that of Lenin and Atatürk, the dead man inside is venerated for his political action to this day. By contrast, the Christian culture of Europe has died not with a bang but a whimper.

The Neighborhood Dive

Charles Coulombe remarks upon the fascinating social life that can be found in small, neighborhood taverns, "where everybody knows your name." Even as a university student, I could never stand trendy bars with a huge cover charge, where the music was so loud that conversation was rendered impossible. Unfortunately, such pretentious places abound in university towns. To this day, my husband and I enjoy a little pizza pub in Bellefonte called The Hofbrau, less than a block from our parish church. We often go there with friends after the Miraculous Medal novena on Monday nights. Although the decor has not changed much since the early 1940's, as I have been informed by certain inhabitants of Bellefonte, the food is good, simple tavern fare. As in many old Pennsylvania taverns, there are two entrances, one which leads directly into the bar, which in former times was only for men. The main entrance opens into the "dining area" to be used by ladies and families. The Hofbrau is a great place to talk for hours, solving the problems of the world. Share

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Adélaïde de Bourbon-Penthièvre, Duchesse d'Orléans

On the opposite wall, gazing rather sadly at the portrait of the Duc, was a Vigée-Lebrun original of a lady who bore a marked resemblance to Louis XIV. In Turkish dress, her high, frizzled coiffure artfully stuffed into a turban with long, dark ringlets flowing to her waist, the lady's face glowed with quiet resignation, shadowed only by the melancholy sweetness of her smile....
~ from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal
Since the prologue of Madame Royale opens with a description of the portrait of the Duchesse d'Orléans, I was delighted to find that Catherine Delors has written a post about the duchess' fascinating life. To quote Madame Delors:
Yet the story of Adélaïde began in a very ordinary fashion, insofar as the destiny of a princess can be deemed ordinary. Of the eight children of her parents, she was the only daughter to survive to adulthood. Her father was the Duc de Penthièvre, grandson of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. Her mother was an Italian princess, Marie Thérèse Félicité d'Este-Modène. Her only surviving brother, the Prince de Lamballe died at the age of twenty, leaving a young widow who would become one of Marie-Antoinette's closest friends.
This left Adélaïde, known as Mademoiselle de Penthièvre, the sole heiress to the largest fortune in France, and one of the most marriageable princesses of her time. As fate would have it, her father, when she was sixteen, arranged a match with another member of the royal family, Louis-Philippe d'Orléans, Duc de Chartres. The wedding was duly celebrated in the Royal Chapel of Versailles.
The young couple settled in the Palais-Royal, in the heart of Paris. And they had many children (six in eight years.) Were they happy? Not quite. Adélaïde's husband, now Duc d'Orléans, was a libertine who found his lovely bride very boring. He preferred the company of many mistresses, including the infamous Comtess de Genlis, by whom he had an illegitimate daughter named Paméla. Unfortunately not a unusual occurrence for princely and aristocratic marriages in the 18th century.

Carnival of Venice

Lucy reports on the famous Carnival of Venice, past and present and the masks which enchant us all.

More HERE.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Case of the "Cottingley Fairies"

Our friend Richard discusses the hoax which seems obvious to us, although at the time so many people were dabbling in spiritualism; they were willing to believe anything. Share

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The War on the High Life

Charles Coulombe laments the demise of civilized dining, in his own inimitable fashion. Share

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Domestic Church: Room by Room

The Domestic Church: Room by Room A Mother's Study Guide

One of the hardest tasks in the world is to stay home alone all day with small children, doing all the minuscule yet vital tasks which keep a family physically and spiritually healthy, but which the world no longer values. Work is measured in terms of how much money it makes. It is forgotten that children have only one childhood and the love they don't get from their parents they will never get at any other time. What greater success in life is there than the raising of happy, faith-filled children? To do that properly requires one's entire being.

There is a wisdom about life and people which can only be learned by being a mother. The Domestic Church: Room by Room by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle is redolent with such wisdom. We have forgotten the secret to sanctity that past generations possessed. Holiness is to be found in the present moment, in the humblest tasks which, when performed with love, are of greater merit in the eyes of God than works that are magnificent but loveless. Donna-Marie discusses the nature of a mother's sacrificial love, as follows:
The list of sacrifices and sufferings is endless, as is a mother's love. If we really love our children properly, there must be sacrifice; otherwise, there is no real love. A mother's connectedness to her child, which continues even after the umbilical cord has been severed, allows her to truly experience a sacrificial love- a love that puts her own interests and needs on hold, a love that continues to give even when it hurts. (pp. 156-157)
Donna-Marie explores many issues which at times beset mothers of families, saying:
Mothers, as we know, have a difficult job in the home coupled with the fact with the fact that society oftentimes demeans the role of a mother by 'measuring' her worth by the size of her paycheck. There are areas that a mother may try to 'escape' to in order to feel more accomplished while inadvertently neglecting her family....

Diapers, demands, laundry, and dishes are not the only activities filling a mother's time. However, a mother may begin to feel frustrated and dwell on what she feels is her lack of accomplishments. She may also fail to see Our Lord's hand in her housekeeping because of the mixed messages from our society aimed at mothers and also because she may be exhausted and in need of encouragement. Mothers should strive to help one another with Christian camaraderie and encouragement for the journey. (pp. 113-114)
The book integrates the basics of Christian spirituality with the practical side of running a home. Although the means of giving apostolic witness may seem limited for housewives, we are reminded about the power of the little things which are at our disposal. To quote:
While remembering that our example speaks louder than our words, we can feel confident that even out at the grocery store, the post office, the bank, and other places where we do our errands, God is sure to put people in our path. A simple smile, a door held open, a listening ear to someone we meet who has an immediate need, giving a hand to a mother with many children in tow- all kinds of situations arise in which we can lend a hand....Through little acts of kindness, miracles do happen. A simple smile and a kind word may have been just the little act of love that a lonely person absolutely needed so as not to fall into despair that particular day.... (p.213)
Donna-Marie is an excellent teacher; after reading The Domestic Church it came as no surprise to discover that the author is a lay Missionary of Charity, following the path of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. I am especially impressed by the order and clarity with which this book is written, complete with study guide that would make it perfect for a parish discussion group or a wonderful companion on a retreat. Quotes from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI about the condition of marriage and family life in the modern world make the book particularly relevant to the present time. I am looking forward to next reading Donna-Marie's newest book, Grace Café.

(*The Domestic Church was sent to me as a gift by the author.)

Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, April 2009

I am happy to announce that I have been invited to speak at the Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, New Zealand. The dates of the convention are April 17, 18, and 19. I look forward to visiting such a beautiful country and reaping the spiritual benefits of the convention. For those from New Zealand who have read my books and who visit this blog, I look forward to meeting you in person. Please pray for a safe journey. I have never been so far from home before, although my mother the world traveler assures me that there is nothing to it at all. At any rate, going to Colorado to visit my sister will now seem like nothing. Share

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fireproof (2008)

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle reviews the recent film, saying:
This movie has it all. Not only does it attract men as a “guy flick” because of the action, the firehouse banter, fires and rescues; it is also all about relationships, romance, emotional real-life struggles, and the meaning behind the covenant of marriage.

A Word on Fr. Maciel

Fr. Blake weighs in and such is the excellence of his words that I for one will be reading his post more than once. As Father writes:
One of the mysteries of the Christian life is, "where sin is, there grace abounds," or "God writes straight with crooked lines". In the second half of the twentieth century there where extra-ordinary founders like Escriva, Theresa of Calcutta, and yes, Marcial Maciel, maybe even Lefebvre could be included. There were also movements like Charismatic Renewal, Liberation Theology, the Ecumenical Movement and more localised movements like Taize or Medjugorge, possibly even the personal devotion to JPII himself.

It was an age in which the person was pushed to the fore, and in which we looked for immediate fruit and bathed in the charisms of others and searched anxiously for own. We disregarded the "charism" of being a good husband or wife, mother or father, or even just a good person and promoted the extra-ordinary. In the secular world too it was the age of the celebrity and the sound-bite.

I hope we are moving away from all that with the aid of a bit of healthy Augustinian skeptical pessimism, a return to Tradition, to a close examination of texts, to the law and what it says.

The change from the age of John Paul "the Great" to that of Benedict, described by one French journalist as, "the Ordinary" in a way epitomises the transition of the 20th to the 21st century, it is movement to solid ground.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Friendly Persuasion

Jessamyn West's 1946 novel was the inspiration for William Wyler's film about an Indiana Quaker family during the Civil War. Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire star as Jess and Eliza Birdwell, whose austere way of life and commitment to pacifism are tested by the encroachments of mainstream society and the violence of war. Each member of the family has a unique test to face. Jess' love of buggy racing and music bring him into conflict not only with the Quaker elders but with his headstrong wife. Eliza, who is a Quaker minister, is terrified not only of what people will think but of her own human weakness. The oldest son, Josh (Anthony Perkins) is not certain whether his commitment to pacifism is sincere or whether he is just afraid to fight. Maddie, the grown daughter, finds herself in love with a Union officer, whose ways are not the ways of the Quakers. Even the youngest, Little Jess, has his conflict with his mother's pet goose, with whom he absolutely does not want to get along.

The film is fraught with humor which lends poignancy to the serious questions the characters must face. What I always liked the best was the often playful, sometimes stormy but always loving relationship of the parents, Jess and Eliza. Their commitment to each other and to the proper raising of their children were aspects of life once taken for granted but now regarded as high virtue, and inspiring to watch. All of this is expressed in the theme song which Pat Boone croons at the beginning of film. (Yes, it is pure 1950's sentimentality but sweet.)
Thee is mine, though I don't know many words of praise
Thee pleasures me in a hundred ways
Put on your bonnet, your cape, and your glove
And come with me, for thee I love.
Steve Greydanus has some insightful reflections on Friendly Persuasion:

Friendly Persuasion, William Wyler’s popular adaptation of Jessamyn West’s tales of Quaker life, is a warm, gently satiric portrait of a family of the "Friendly Persuasion" living in the shadow of the Civil War. Gary Cooper plays Jess Birdwell, a less than entirely devout Quaker farmer whose pious wife Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) is a minister at their local "meeting house."

Scenes of silent, unstructured Quaker meetings are contrasted without comment or judgment to the boisterous singing of the local Methodist church, but — despite Eliza’s best efforts — the film is largely an account of the compromises the Birdwells are and aren’t willing to make. Their principles are repeatedly put to the test, at the local fair, on the Sunday morning ride to the meeting house as a smug neighbor blows past Jess’s slow horse every week, and so on. One of the best vignettes concerns an impasse between Jess and Eliza over the shocking purchase of an organ, and the delightful way the conflict is finally resolved.

The film’s main weakness is the way it handles the theme that most interested the director, the conflict between Quaker pacifism and nonviolence and the practical necessities of wartime. Here the film becomes muddled, and does justice neither to Quakerism nor to just-war principles. A truly thoughtful Hollywood look at religious nonviolence would have to wait until Peter Weir’s Witness, starring Harrison Ford.

In spite of this, Friendly Persuasion’s warm affection for its subjects makes it worthwhile viewing.

I agree. The film explores the fact that in a time of crisis, not even the most committed Christian knows for certain how they will respond when their principles are tested. Humility, and trust in God rather than in self, are necessary before stepping into the fray.

"A Certain Element of Dress"

The world has changed. How we now despise the little things which once added grace and charm to the natural order. I wonder~ is it because we have grown too sophisticated to worry about the details? Or perhaps we are not sophisticated enough....Under the Gables quotes from My Year 1955, reminiscing about some of the cultural transformations of the last half century:
One can see little bits here and there of the changing times. I am constantly amazed by the growing and changing things occurring here in 1955. Amongst the happy plastic people we always picture for this decade, we see the ruffling of the feathers of the great bird of change getting ready to take wing. I think, as many of you must feel, that with that flight was lost many honest and simple things which we, as humans, find ourselves longing for. Courtesy, trust, love of the fellow man, love of home and family even fashion and formality. I see that we, none of us, want to return to a time of segregation and distrust, but there is a certain element of dress which leads to courtesy and kindness that seems to be lacking from our modern world. Maybe I am just, as so many before me have, romanticizing the past, but I KNOW that when I make sure I look 'done' before leaving the house I get a different response from people (mostly positive) and that I, in turn, am more positive. With my increasing interest in my home as a place of comfort and style and my skills in the kitchen, I find myself wanting to know my neighbors and get involved in my community. To share these things. This is really something new to me. It somehow seems to be magically linked with these other things which can seem superficial: your wardrobe, your homes decor, your cooking skills.....

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

Here's a little history. (Via Lew Rockwell)
While the Greeting Card Association of America does admit that Valentine’s Day is second only to Christmas in the volume of cards sent (an estimated one billion valentines will be sent this year!), they refuse to take credit for the creation of the day itself. That honor goes to the Catholic Church, which, as it did on several occasions, decided to combine some existing pagan rituals with some newer Christian ones. Throw in a saint, a few miscellaneous legends and traditions, and, voilà! Valentine’s Day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Next Thursday evening the White Bear came to fetch her. She seated herself on his back with her bundle, and thus they departed. When they had gone a great part of the way, the White Bear said: "Are you afraid?" ~ from "East of the Sun, West of the Moon"
"East of the Sun, West of the Moon" seems to be a favorite tale of many of the readers of this blog; it certainly is one of mine. It is a Scandinavian version of the myth of "Cupid and Psyche" from which many other tales flowed, including "Beauty and the Beast." According to SurLaLune:
The tale of Cupid and Psyche is considered by many scholars to be one of the first literary fairy tales. Written by Lucius Apuleius in the second century A.D.... the tale features many characters from Greek/Roman mythology, although earlier records of this tale are not known. Cupid and Psyche was translated into English in 1566 by William Adlington and was well-known throughout Europe. For example, John Milton refers to the story in his Comus, first performed in 1634 and published in 1637....The tale is a direct ancestor of the French Beauty and the Beast tale. However, it bears even closer resemblance to East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
Many such stories involve a prince who has been changed into an animal and whom only sacrificial love can restore to human form. It also has many resemblances to "Snow White and Rose Red," in that a bear shows up at the door of a humble cottage one night. The peasant family pities the bear, who is really a prince in disguise. In "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" the parents entrust their daughter to the bear and she goes off with him. Instead of coming to a predictably dreadful end, the girl finds wealth and love, which she comes close to losing forever through giving in to curiosity. I never understood why the girl should be blamed for wanting to see what the prince looks like. Fairy tales, however, are not always reasonable; this particular one is latent with symbolism, all of which is explained HERE.

Artist Kay Nielsen illustrated the story quite magnificently.

Drying Clothes on the Line

It saves power and money. (Via Lew Rockwell)
When clothes dryers account for at least 6% of the electricity used by U.S. households, is it any wonder that line-drying is coming back? In places where the practice is banned as an unsightly nuisance to neighbors, right-to-dry activists and blogging eco-moms are forming an alliance. Their cause: to reduce energy consumption and to call upon sunlight rather than bleach to get those whites even whiter.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"The Harvest" by Leprince

February 13 being the anniversary of the assassination of the Duc de Berry at the Opera, I thought it was interesting that I came across this painting which had belonged to his wife, Caroline of Naples. The description of the painting mentions the novel Madame Royale, saying:
In The Harvest, a dog runs over a bridge towards the harvesters, giving a sense of urgency to the toil which must be completed before the impending storm breaks. The dark grey clouds are rolling in fast and the family of workers are hurriedly stacking the hay bale from the horse cart. Here, Auguste Xavier Leprince has chosen to depict rural labourers as the backbone of France under the Bourbon dynasty. The landscape is rich and plentiful; in a reflection of the idyllic and industrious farmers there is a chicken and her chicks feeding below the cart.

The Harvest
was previously owned by Marie-Caroline of Bourbon-Sicily, Duchess de Berry. The works of Leprince were particularly appreciated by Charles X and the Duchess de Berry (1798-1870); the latter had several paintings by the artist in her collection. Marie-Caroline of Bourbon-Sicily had married Charles-Ferdinand d’Artois, Duke de Berry and the future Charles X, who was an important patron of the arts with a vast collection of paintings. The Duke de Berry married the young Princess Marie-Caroline of Bourbon-Sicily in 1816, when she was just 18. In the four years from then, until the Duke’s assassination, the couple had two children: a daughter, Louise; and son Henri, who became Duke de Bordeaux, then Count de Chambord. A painting of the Duchess with her children, dated 1822 is illustrated here (see fig.1 in exhibition cat.). The Duke and Duchess acquired the old castle of Sully in August, 1818, though they spent summers at the Elysée Palace. On 13 February, 1820, the Duc de Berry was murdered, apparently stabbed by a madman, on the steps of the Paris Opera whilst helping his pregnant wife into a carriage. The particulars of the assassination are told in the novel Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal (Neumann Press, 2000).

Families Touched by Autism

From a perspective of faith, Heidi Saxton discusses the agony endured by many. Share

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Madame Sophie de France

Catherine Delors discusses yet another of Louis XVI's famous and annoying Aunts (although Madame Sophie was probably the most innocuous.) Share

Cosmic Events

I have never heard of the comet "Lulin" so this is all new to me, and quite interesting. Share

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Madame Royale in Old Age

In 1851, the year she died, the Duchesse d'Angoulême was visited at her villa in Frohsdorf, Austria by the Comte de Falloux. The Comte described the aged daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette as follows:
Madame la Dauphine was, if I may express it, pathos in person. Sadness was imprinted on her features and revealed in her attitude; but, in the same degree, there shone about her an unalterable resignation, an unalterable gentleness. Even when the tones of her voice were brusque, which often happened, the kindness of her intention remained transparent. She liked to pass in review the Frenchmen she had known; she kept herself closely informed about their family events; she remembered the slightest details with rare fidelity: 'How Madame loves France!' I said to her one day. 'That is not surprising,' she replied. 'I take it from my parents.' At Frohsdorf she was seated nearly the whole day in the embrasure of a certain window. She had chosen this window because of its outlook on copses which reminded her a little of the garden of the Tuileries; and if a visitor wished to be agreeable to her, he remarked upon the resemblance.

Our Lady of La Salette

Sarah Reinhard describes the events which shook the mountain village of La Salette in 1846. More HERE. Share

German Shepherd Among Wolves

Our Holy Father is surrounded by enemies. More HERE. Share

Monday, February 9, 2009

Suicide of the Christian West

Scott Richert discusses how the contraceptive mentality will destroy us all. Share

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

February 8 is the anniversary of the execution of Mary Stuart in 1587. The Queen of Scots, having been unjustly imprisoned by her cousin Queen Elizabeth of England for twenty years, was beheaded after a sham trial. According to an eye-witness account:
Then she, being stripped of all her apparel saving her petticoat and kirtle, her two women beholding her made great lamentation, and crying and crossing themselves prayed in Latin. She, turning herself to them, embracing them, said these words in French, 'Ne crie vous, j'ay prome pour vous', and so crossing and kissing them, bad them pray for her and rejoice and not weep, for that now they should see an end of all their mistress's troubles.

Then she, with a smiling countenance, turning to her men servants, as Melvin and the rest, standing upon a bench nigh the scaffold, who sometime weeping, sometime crying out aloud, and continually crossing themselves, prayed in Latin, crossing them with her hand bade them farewell, and wishing them to pray for her even until the last hour.

This done, one of the women have a Corpus Christi cloth lapped up three-corner-ways, kissing it, put it over the Queen of Scots' face, and pinned it fast to the caule of her head. Then the two women departed from her, and she kneeling down upon the cushion most resolutely, and without any token or fear of death, she spake aloud this Psalm in Latin, In Te Domine confido, non confundar in eternam, etc. Then, groping for the block, she laid down her head, putting her chin over the block with both her hands, which, holding there still, had been cut off had they not been espied. Then lying upon the block most quietly, and stretching out her arms cried, In manus tuas, Domine, etc., three or four times. Then she, lying very still upon the block, one of the executioners holding her slightly with one of his hands, she endured two strokes of the other executioner with an axe, she making very small noise or none at all, and not stirring any part of her from the place where she lay: and so the executioner cut off her head, saving one little gristle, which being cut asunder, he lift up her head to the view of all the assembly and bade God save the Queen. Then, her dress of lawn [i.e. wig] from off her head, it appeared as grey as one of threescore and ten years old, polled very short, her face in a moment being so much altered from the form she had when she was alive, as few could remember her by her dead face. Her lips stirred up and a down a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off.
There is a great deal of similarity between Mary of Scotland and her descendant, Marie-Antoinette. Both possessed immense beauty, charm, and joie de vivre, along with the ability of inspiring either great love or great hatred. Both are icons of romance and passion, when, in all probability, they had very little actual romance or passion in their personal lives, especially when compared to the sorrows they had to bear. Mary and her first husband, Francis II of France, seemed to have a deep and genuine affection for each other, in spite of the fact that he was afflicted with health problems (like many of the Valois.) Her other two husbands, however, were total and complete wretches, who made Mary's life a living hell. Antonia Fraser, in her stellar biography of Mary, conjectures that the Scottish queen fell in love with her cousin Darnley, before she found out what he was. Other biographers, such as Alison Weir and John Guy, believe that she married Darnley not out of love but to solidify her claim to the English throne, since Henry Stewart was also an heir. At any rate, Darnley was abusive in every way, and unfaithful. He plotted against her, threatening to declare her child illegitimate, telling the Pope and the King of France that she was a bad Catholic, while participating in the murder of her secretary David Rizzio before her eyes. (I might have been tempted to put gun powder under his bed, too.) However, there is overwhelming proof that Mary had nothing to do with Darnley's death, as Fraser, Guy, and Weir all describe in detail. I would especially recommend Alison Weir's excellent Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, in which the events of Kirk o'Field are retraced with precision, exonerating Mary beyond all doubt. Weir shows how Mary was planning to reconcile with Darnley and live with him again, for their son's sake, when the Scottish lords had Darnley strangled, before blowing up his house. As for the marriage with Bothwell, all three biographers mentioned above believe that Mary was kidnapped and raped by him; when she discovered that she was pregnant she assented to a wedding. There was no great romance. She later tried to have the marriage annulled. 
 Mary should have returned to France after the defeat at Carberry Hill and her subsequent escape from her initial captivity. In France, she had lands as Dowager Queen, and her grandmother was still alive. Instead, she chose England and throwing herself upon Elizabeth's mercy. Big mistake. But I think she did not want to be too far from her infant son James, with whom she hoped to be reunited, as only a mother can hope. Mary, like Marie-Antoinette, is often dismissed as being stupid. She did make some imprudent choices, that's for certain. John Guy's biography carefully offers proofs that, in spite of everything, Mary often showed herself to be an astute politician, who successfully played her enemies against each other, avoiding some potential disasters early in her rule. The fact that her personal reign lasted as long as it did, in the turbulent era of the Scottish Reformation, when she was surrounded by those who believed she was Jezebel just because she was Catholic, is remarkable. She would have had to have been more ruthless and cruel, less merciful and tolerant, to have been a successful monarch in that particular time and place. Her abdication, and many of the disastrous decisions she made in those fateful months, happened when she was recovering from assault and a miscarriage/stillbirth. She was obviously going through some kind of breakdown. Almost half of Mary's life was spent as a prisoner, separated from her only surviving child, who was taught to despise his mother as a harlot. When accused of plotting Elizabeth's murder, forged letters were used against her, and she was deprived of counsel. As she declared at her trial:
I do not recognize the laws of England nor do I understand them, as I have often asserted. I am alone without counsel or anyone to speak on my behalf. My papers and notes have been taken from me, so that I am destitute of all aid, taken at a disadvantage.
Before her execution, Mary was told that her life would be the death of the Protestant religion, but her death would be its life. The ultimate reason for her demise was the fact that she was a Catholic queen. With that in mind, she approached the scaffold.