Monday, August 31, 2009


In imperial China. Share

Faked Photos

An article about public manipulation through manufactured realities. (Via Ted Kaiser Photo) Share

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More about Potatoes in France

Madame Delors explores the origins.
Potatoes, native to the Andes in South America, were introduced in Europe in the mid-17th century. To say that they did not take the Old Continent by storm would be an understatement. When they were cultivated at all, they served as hog feed. Yet in the course of the 18th century they slowly made their way into the culinary habits of Irish peasants.

At the same time, however, the French still viewed this crop with deep suspicion. It was a racine (literally a "root," like carrots, turnips, etc.) and thus reserved for the poorest of the paupers. A person who had to eat racines was only one step away from starvation. Why? Medical and popular opinion accused plants that grew underground of causing "phlegmatic" diseases, which ran the gamut from leprosy to hemorrhoids. Accordingly regulations banned the cultivation of potatoes, even for animal consumption, in some parts of France.

Enters Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, Apothecary of the Invalides Hospital in Paris. Parmentier, as a military pharmacist, had been captured during the Seven Years War in Westphalia, where both prisoners of war and hogs were fed potatoes. Not only did he remain free of any phlegmatic disease, but he came to appreciate the flavor and nutritive qualities of the tubers.

Parmentier, once repatriated in France, tirelessly lobbies the Faculty of Medicine of Paris to change its stance on the supposed dangers of potatoes. That august body, after much deliberation, issues in 1771 an opinion admitting that "the flesh of potatoes is good and healthy, it is in no way toxic and can even be very useful."

Emboldened, Parmentier proceeds to plant potatoes on a plot near the Invalides, but all he gains is the enmity of the landladies, the nuns of a nearby convent, and a dismissal from his position of Apothecary of the Invalides. He is not easily discouraged. He invites the best scientists of the time, such as Laurent Lavoisier and Benjamin Franklin, to dinners where guests are served potatoes. This is, after all, the Enlightenment, and no assumption goes unquestioned.

Official consecration comes at last. In 1785, four years before the Revolution, Louis XVI grants Parmentier two acres at the Sablons, then west of Paris, for him to grow potatoes for human consumption on a trial basis.

In a stroke of genius, Parmentier has the field heavily guarded by soldiers during daytime, and left unattended at night. Of course the neighbors soon surmise this is a particularly valuable crop, and steal plants under the cover of darkness. The following year, Parmentier heads for Versailles to present the King with a bouquet of potato flowers. Marie-Antoinette wears these simple and lovely blossoms on her hat and fine ladies follow suit. Parmentier's allotment at the Sablons is increased to 37 acres, and potatoes are now grown in the King's gardens. in a few years, thanks to Parmentier, the potato has gone from botanical pariah to the height of fashion.

Rape of New Orleans

A sad chapter, often forgotten, but well-portrayed in the film Band of Angels. Share

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Louis VIII of France and Blanche of Castile

Christine has a post on the parents of St. Louis IX, which is of special interest to me since they are mentioned in my new novel. To quote:
It was St. Louis' mother who left the deepest impression on his faith. She told him often as a child, Je t'aime, mon cher fils, autant qu'une mère peut aimer son enfant; mais j'aime mieux que tu soit mort à mes pieds que tu commettes un péché mortel. ("I love you my dear son, as much as a mother can love her child; but I would rather see you dead at my feet than that you should commit a mortal sin.")

New Photography Blog

As anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time has discovered, I have lots of cousins. One of my talented Canadian cousins is a photographer and has finally, after much urging from me, started his own blog. For anyone interested in the art of photography it will be a place to visit often. Share

Friday, August 28, 2009

Military Iconography and Louis XVI

Monsieur Buvat de Virginy gives a fresh interpretation. To quote:
For many, Louis XVI does not often conjure up much in the way of martial prowess or skill. However, like his famed Bourbon predecessors Henri IV and Louis XIV, he used military allegory and iconography to strengthen the image of kingship embodied by Versailles. As an absolute monarch from 1774 to 1789 and even during his rule as a constitutional sovereign from 1789 to 1792, representations and allegories of the king with military themes were used to reinforce manifestations of the royal power and control. In the wake of France’s victory in the American War of Independence, the image of royal authority under Louis XVI was strengthened not only through martial prowess on the battlefield and high seas, but also within the context of absolutist Bourbon imagery, royal commissions and architecture....

Unveiled in 1777, the white marble portrait of the king by Lucas combines military allegory with that of French prosperity and wealth. The king, dressed as a Roman emperor complete with a cuirass or classical breastplate, sword, and laurel crown, rests his right hand on a horn of abundance. Defaced during the Revolution, it is conjectured that the left hand originally brandished a scepter. In this example from the early part of the king’s reign, the use of such martial iconography is readily apparent and follows the tradition of Bourbon absolutist imagery while incorporating the commemoration of his perceived enlightened acts as king.

A Homeschooling Lifestyle

Some valuable advice from veteran mother/teacher Cay Gibson, who says:
Some parents believe in the Better Late Than Early approach. Just because a new child in a new school doesn't know the regimented information when he/she goes into a classroom doesn't mean he/she won't know it tomorrow. If one little fourth grader is taught about electricity in her science class while another little fourth grader is taught about space, it doesn't make the other one uneducated. It means she was only taught something different at a different time than the other. But America's educational system wants everyone on the same page, or at least in the same book.

Homeschoolers prefer to read a different book entirely.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Our Fairy Tale Romance

Our Fairy Tale Romance by Andrew Schmiedicke is a short but poignant, funny, and utterly romantic account of a young man's search for his bride, the bride in this case being author Regina Doman. A contemporary story which reflects the struggle many young people have in finding a spouse, it is nevertheless a timeless tale of awakening love, of a knight finding his lady. According to Fairy Tale Novels:
At the time the story begins, Andrew is a bachelor in his mid-twenties, living back at his parents' house after a series of failed relationships and employment endeavors. Despite a passionate desire for marriage, Andrew wonders if circumstances and God's plan are conspiring to keep him a bachelor. But after an unexpected phone call, Andrew sets off on a spiritual and physical journey across hundreds of miles in search of a spouse and "happily ever after".

The author shares the touching story of how he met and married his wife, a "princess in disguise": young adult author Regina Doman (author of Angel in the Waters and the Fairy Tale Novels) in this inspirational booklet.

There was so much about Andrew's book with which I could totally identify, especially the parts about living in a cave-like basement apartment and making novenas to St. Raphael the Archangel. The moment of knowing that you know you have found your spouse is vividly described and how well I recall that moment in my own life. As entertaining as Andrew's story is there is a great deal of wisdom as well, and some guidance about how to discern a path in life.

Above is a lovely picture of Regina in her wedding gown, based upon a dress of Marie-Antoinette's.

(*Our Fairy Tale Romance was sent to me as a gift from the author Andrew Schmiedicke.) Share

A New Poll

How opinions about the Latin Mass have changed in recent times. Share

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A New CD

Australian writer and composer R.J. Stove, a reader of this blog, sent me information about a new CD featuring the famous portrait of Marie-Antoinette à la rose by Madame Vigée-Lebrun. Since Haydn was patronized by Marie-Antoinette's mother and the young archduchess grew up listening to his music, it is fitting to see her picture on the cover. (Haydn's Symphony No. 85 is named "reine" for Marie Antoinette herself.) According to a review of the CD:
As a companion to the 2CD set of “Paris” Symphonies, this CD presents the rest Ansermet’s Haydn recordings – two symphonies (recorded in 1965), the Trumpet Cocnerto (dating from 1957) and as a pendant, the Hummel Trumpet Concerto (recorded in 1968). The readings are certainly on a larger scale than that which we expect today, but are no less gallant or refined for that.
For parents looking for educational resources, Mr. Stove is the author of the highly recommended book A Student's Guide to Music History.

Here is an article called "Haydn and the Habsburgs" from History Today. Share

Political Religions

Here is a fascinating article on how utopian political movements adopt their own dogmas and strict tenets of belief. (Via Richard) Share

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Woes of Mary Stuart

Christine reminds us of the many trials endured by Mary Queen of Scots:
If ever you start feeling sorry for yourself for hardships you're enduring, think of Mary Queen of Scots, and count your blessings. Here was a woman who:

was widowed by the age of nineteen;

inherited a throne of a people who did not want her because she was "foreign" and Catholic;

married a man who plotted to overthrow and imprison her while she was pregnant with his child;

was forced to marry her third husband, after her second husband's untimely death, because he had allegedly taken her by force;

was betrayed by her closest advisors in an uprising, and deposed;

when seeking refuge in England under her cousin Queen Elizabeth, was imprisoned unjustly instead;

languished in prison for nineteen years, much of that time suffering from gastric disorders that occasioned bouts of vomiting and fever, only to be told by her jailers she was faking it;

was betrayed by her only son (raised a Puritan in Scotland) when he secured an alliance with Queen Elizabeth;

was lured into the Babington plot by the machinations of Walsingham, and beheaded for it;

and whose last wishes, including a Catholic burial, were never honored by Queen Elizabeth.

When they arrested her shortly before her execution, Mary cried, "I desire neither goods, honours, power nor worldly sovereignty, but only the honor of His Holy Name and His Glory and the liberty of His Church and of the Christian people." Queen Mary died with the courage of a martyr, and Pope Benedict XIV noted that nothing stood in the way of declaring her a martyr for the faith except for lingering historical doubts about her second husband Darnley's death. Mary's confessor, however, proclaimed her absolute innocence in the matter.

Maria Regina Scotorum, ora pro nobis.

More HERE. Share

Hitler's Forgotten Victims

An aspect of Nazi eugenics which is largely forgotten. (Via Monsieur Gillibrand) Share

Monday, August 24, 2009

Slacks vs. Dresses

Occasionally on the internet and elsewhere, there are discussions about whether slacks are modest enough for women to wear to church, or are dresses and skirts preferable. As anyone can see, slacks, as long as they are not skin-tight, are certainly more modest than short skirts or revealing dresses. However, one day I decided to see if there was any teaching by a saint or any official personage about women's apparel, other than all the writings on modesty.

Let me digress and say that in my final year of college (1984) I decided that I did not like to wear slacks anymore. Perhaps it was a form of rebellion against the feminist movement which I felt was ruining many people's lives. I found jeans to be uncomfortable, anyway, except for one shabby pair of overalls. Skirts looked better on me and I decided to start wearing only dresses and skirts, and have continued to do so.

Although I prefer more traditional feminine clothing, I think other women should wear whatever they like. Since the chosen apparel of most of the devout mothers with families at daily Mass in our town seems to be jeans and a blousy tee-shirt, I have almost come to see such costume as a badge of piety. I am a bit amused, however, when I go to a play group in an unremarkable sweater and skirt, and am met with the exclamation: "You're dressed up!" A skirt, no matter how cheap or old or covered with pills, is considered formal attire by many.

I found an article by Father Hathaway, FSSP.
Now concerning women wearing pants at church: On June 12, 1960 Giuseppe Card. Siri authored the document Notification Concerning Men’s Dress Worn By Women. Card. Siri says wearing pants is not a grave offense against modesty as such what to him seems the gravest issue with pants is that it affects the woman’s identity in how she understands herself, in how she relates to her husband, and in how she relates to her children.

I recognize that since Card. Siri’s time there are now modest feminine pants on the market. And I recognize that there are certain occupations for which pants may be more suited than a dress. It is my belief, however, that a woman should wear a dress more often than pants... namely for the reasons Card. Siri mentions and especially at holy Mass as a dress more identifies the woman....
I wanted to read more about what Cardinal Siri said and found it in Colleen Hammond's excellent book Dressing With Dignity. Dressing With Dignity (TAN Books and Publishers, 2005) is a life-changing book, inspired by Colleen's conversations with Dr. Alice von Hildebrand. Even reading a few pages will open the reader's eyes to some of the issues at the heart of the culture of death, namely, the decline of modest and feminine dress and manners. It is a positive, challenging book with many creative ideas and I think it is a good companion to Genevieve Kineke's The Authentic Catholic Woman.

Colleen has the entire Notification Concerning Men's Dress Worn by Women in the appendices of Dressing With Dignity. Apparently, the cardinal was concerned about lady tourists wandering around Rome in slacks and Capri pants during the summer of 1960. The cardinal feared that more masculine apparel would effect the psychology of women: "....The clothing a person wears...modifies that person's gestures, attitudes and comes to impose a particular frame of mind on the inside." (p.129)

Cardinal Siri prophesied that the masculinization of women's attire would alter their relationships with men, since the attraction between men and women is due to their diversity; they complement and complete each other. "If then this diversity becomes less obvious because one of its major external signs is eliminated...what results is the alteration of a fundamental factor in the relationship." The de-feminization of women will diminish the relationships between men and women to "pure sensuality, devoid of all mutual respect or esteem." (pp130-131)

The cardinal insisted the male dress would harm the dignity of the mother in her children's eyes. "What matters is to preserve modesty, together with the eternal sense of femininity which, more than anything else, all children will continue to associate with the face of their mother." (p.134) He mentions how the violation of the natural order, even in small ways, leads to social disorder.

Aligned on the wrecking of the eternal norms are to be found the broken families, lives cut short before their time, hearths and homes gone cold, old people cast to one side, youngsters willfully degenerate and, at the end of the line, souls in despair and taking their own lives.... (p.133)
Well, all of the above has certainly happened since the sexual and feminist revolution of the 1960's and 70's. Women wearing slacks to church was a minor change, although a cardinal of the Church seemed to think that female attire plays no small part in the general scheme of things.

Young Maria Theresa

Lauren has a post about the youth of the great Empress Maria Theresa.
Early on Maria Theresa was taught several languages. Most importantly she learned to speak Latin fluently. As a ruler she would learn not to trust translators who may have alternative motives, and this gives an idea of the spectrum of languages the little girl learned. Her teachers were the most notable persons at the time, and she learned liberal arts such as religion, history, math, painting, music etc.

Hat Craze

Are hats for men coming back? If so, I hope they remember to remove their hats in church and in private residences, and in the presence of ladies. Share

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Red Violin (1998)

A review of The Red Violin by Catherine Delors. According to Madame Delors:
Taken individually, these short films, engrossing as they are, signify nothing. Together, they serve as a reminder of the passage of time, the power of music, the tenuous quality of human existence and even history. The disjointed narrative leaves us with brief, poignant images, snapshots of grief: the profile of Brother Kristof during the funeral of his former pupil Kaspar, the gaping holes of the violated tombs in the monastery’s graveyard, Ming’s frozen face when he realizes that he has betrayed his mother’s most precious and dangerous secret.

A Happy Marriage

From a woman's point of view. Share

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Marie-Antoinette's Chapel at Petit Trianon

The chapel at Petit Trianon was used by Marie-Antoinette during her stays there. Sometimes she would visit her country house for an afternoon but other times she would remain there for a month. The altar painting (1774) by Joseph-Marie Vien portrays Saint Louis IX and Queen Marguerite visiting Saint Thibauld, whom they were asking to pray for them to have a child. What a very appropriate subject for the chapel of a Queen who spent many years praying for children herself! The statues on either side of the altar of "St. Anne" and "Christ in the Garden of Olives" by Jacques-Augustin Dieudonné were added by King Louis-Philippe in the mid-nineteenth century. The chapel is decorated in a simple style so cherished by Marie-Antoinette, as is the rest of Petit Trianon. There is a tiny onion dome over the chapel roof reminiscent of Austria.

(Photos) Share

States' Rights

The tradition that nobody knows. An article by Thomas Woods. Share

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kitty Foyle (1940)

A review of the tragic story of an Irish girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Philadelphia from the Classic Movies Digest. Share

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Seaside Fashion, Regency Style

A delightful post from Jane Austen's World.
The lady in the illustration is dressed for the evening, perhaps for a fete on a public pier, who knows? Either way, she is dressed to be seen in high style, even if the tiered lacy hems of her bloomers are showing....
Famed illustrator James Gillray showed seaside fashion in all its glory. From the high tide hem of the lady in the center, to the completely covered up garb of the women sitting on the beach. This lovely illustration from 1810, “The Calm,” shows the seashore on a calm day, with our fashionable miss as exposed as she can decently be – her arms and neck bare, her head covered by a small straw bonnet, and her tiny parasol barely protecting her delicate skin from Sol’s harmful rays.


Marie-Antoinette Postcards and Stamps

Just for fun. Share

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mad Men

Different views. Share

American Resorts

Edwardian Promenade reports on Newport.
Newport, known as the Queen of Resorts, or as Elizabeth Drexel Lehr stated ironically in her memoirs: “the very Holy and Holies, the playground of the great ones of the earth from which all intruders were ruthlessly excluded,” was transformed each summer for the sole and very conspicuous consumption of New York’s most exclusive society. Entree into this tiny kingdom by the sea was highly sought after, and nothing–not wealth, lavish entertainments, nor even making a splash in the highest European circles could crack this nut–as the grand doyenne of Chicago society, Mrs Potter Palmer, soon discovered when she made her first foray into the city. But Mrs Palmer was made of sterner stuff and she kept battering the gates of social recognition until the Mrs Astor had to acknowledge her Midwest counterpart. Many others, however, were not so determined nor so successful in their attempts to enter Newport society, and defeated and with lightened pockets, they were apt to sail away to more congenial climes, perhaps even Narragansett Pier, a smart Rhode Island city, though not as smart as Newport, of course.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

La Méridienne

The petit appartement de la reine was a suite of rooms at Versailles used by the Queens of France in their private hours. Since the state rooms were open to the public, even the Queen's bedroom, it was necessary to have a place to go for minimal privacy. In Marie-Antoinette's time the petit appartement de la reine consisted of two libraries, a bathroom, le Salon Doré and the boudoir, called la Méridienne. In 1781 Louis XVI ordered the architect Mique to design the small octagonal chamber for Marie-Antoinette in honor of birth of their first son the dauphin Louis-Joseph. It was a place for the Queen to rest in the afternoons after dinner and before the festivities of the evening. It was also the place where she received her dressmaker and decided which clothes she was going to wear to certain events. The Salon Doré on the other hand, was where the Queen would recieve guests and those who sought her patronage or benefaction.

La Méridienne was decorated in grenadine blue silk and in spite of the destruction of revolutions and centuries, has been skillfully recreated by French craftsmen.

(Photos) Share

Julie and Julia (2009)

A review from Heidi Saxton, who says:
It isn’t often that you get such a moving, honest portrayal of not one but two marriages, both of them happy in their own way. It’s refreshing to see a couple face the dragons together instead of turning them on one another. And I found it interesting that each of these women — though presumably they never met one another — became a kind of nurturing mentor through their literary “children,” and through giving of themselves to friends and family through the simple tools of domesticity: the saucepan, the roaster, and a really good bottle of wine.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Romance of Ironing

Linda has a post on ironing. It is amazing how artists can capture the beauty of mundane tasks, a beauty which is often hidden from us. It certainly is hidden from me most of the time because I forget that little things done with love are great in the eyes of God.



I find it a bit confusing when perusing the Catholic internet and finding that "piety" has become a dirty word. I have sometimes seen writings of Catholic authors praised for being free of piety. It seems that people have forgotten that piety is a gift of the Holy Spirit. According to Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.:
By means of the gift of piety, the Holy Spirit gives a new touch to our spiritual life, a touch of delicacy and sweetness which perfects and simplifies our relations with God and our neighbor....Under its influence our prayer will become more affectionate, more filial, and we shall attend with greater facility to all that concerns the divine worship. Let us ask for this gift, especially when we seem to be very dry and cold, so that in times of trial and interior suffering by its help we shall go to God as a child to its Father. Furthermore, our diligent, constant application to prayer, notwithstanding the lack of sensible devotion, is one of the best dispositions for bringing upon us the life-giving breath of the gift of piety. ~ Divine Intimacy, pp.910-911
So genuine piety is a precious gift, something to cultivate and pray to God for. I think what many people may react against is not piety but the "pietism." Pietism is, according to
  1. Stress on the emotional and personal aspects of religion.
  2. Affected or exaggerated piety.
Perhaps some people would classify any work of devotion or traditional piety as being "pietistic." But there is another side to it as well. With the upheavals in the church in the past forty years, many people have replaced solid doctrine and spirituality with emotional experiences. It is easy for feelings to take the place of authentic faith, faith which is often unfelt, especially in stressful times. Feelings do play a part in the spiritual life and the journey of prayer, as long as it is kept in mind that feelings "do not have brains," as a priest once told me. If given free rein, feelings can lead down the primrose path to moral laxity and spiritual disaster.

Piety, however, can counteract pietism, but it requires some participation on the part of the free will. To quote Fr. Gabriel once more:
The gift of piety perfects justice in our relations with others by helping us smooth over differences and overcome feelings of reserve and coldness which, in spite of ourselves, may remain in our conduct, particularly to those who are disagreeable and unfriendly. The gift of piety inspires a sense of the divine paternity, not only in respect to ourselves, but in respect for others....

If we wish to respond to the inspirations of the gift of piety, we must make every effort to be kind and gentle, and to form the habit of seeing in everyone, even in those who may be opposed to us, a child of God and our brother. ~Divine Intimacy, p. 911

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Seal Maiden

Alexandra shares some Celtic folklore.
The Silkie Wife:

Those in Shetland and Orkney Islands who know no better, are persuaded that the seals, or silkies, as they call them, can doff their coverings at times, and disport themselves as men and women. A fisher once turning a ridge of rock, discovered a beautiful bit of green turf adjoining the shingle, sheltered by rocks on the landward side, and over this turf and shingle two beautiful women chasing each other. Just at the man's feet lay two seal-skins, one of which he took up to examine it. The women, catching sight of him, screamed out, and ran to get possession of the skins. One seized the article on the ground, donned it in a thrice, and plunged into the sea; the other wrung her hands, cried, and begged the fisher to restore her property; but he wanted a wife, and would not throw away the chance. He wooed her so earnestly and lovingly, that she put on some woman's clothing which he brought her from his cottage, followed him home, and became his wife.

Some years later, when their home was enlivened by the presence of two children, the husband awaking one night, heard voices in conversation from the kitchen. Stealing softly to the room door, he heard his wife talking in a low tone with some one outside the window. The interview was just at an end, and he had only time to ensconce himself in bed, when his wife was stealing across the room. He was greatly disturbed, but determined to do or say nothing till he should acqui
re further knowledge. Next evening, as he was returning home by the strand, he spied a male and female phoca sprawling on a rock a few yards out at sea. The rougher animal, raising himself on his tail and fins, thus addressed the astonished man in the dialect spoken in these islands:--"You deprived me of her whom I was to make my companion; and it was only yesternight that I discovered her outer garment, the loss of which obliged her to be your wife.

I bear no malice, as you were kind to her in your own, fashion; besides, my heart is too full of joy to hold any malice. Look on your wife for the last time." The other seal glanced at him with all the shyness and s
orrow she could force into her now uncouth features; but when the bereaved' husband rushed toward the rock to secure his lost treasure, she and her companion were in the water on the other side of it in a moment, and the poor fisherman was obliged to return sadly to his motherless children and desolate home.

For a creative retelling of the silkie (selkie) legend, I highly recommend the charming film mentioned by Alexandra, The Secret of Roan Inish. Share

Queen of Courtesy

Some reflections on the connection between holiness and courtesy from Mary Victrix. To quote Fr. Angelo: "Don’t forget when we say 'Our Lady,' (Domina Nostra), it implies both a reverence for her queenship and her femininity. She is the ideal woman, and the Queen of Courtesy." Share

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arrest of Cardinal de Rohan

It is tragic and ironic that the scandal that led to the fall of the French monarchy would explode on the patronal feast day of the kingdom, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is an additional irony that a Cardinal of the Roman Church was instrumental in the culmination of the scandal through his own unworthy and imprudent conduct. Here is Madame Campan's account of the Cardinal's arrest:

On the following Sunday, the 15th of August, being the Assumption, at twelve o’clock, at the very moment when the Cardinal, dressed in his pontifical garments, was about to proceed to the chapel, he was sent for into the King’s closet, where the Queen then was.

The King said to him, “You have purchased diamonds of Boehmer?”

“Yes, Sire.”

“What have you done with them?”

“I thought they had been delivered to the Queen.”

“Who commissioned you?”

“A lady, called the Comtesse de Lamotte-Valois, who handed me a letter from the Queen; and I thought I was gratifying her Majesty by taking this business on myself.”

The Queen here interrupted him and said, “How, monsieur, could you believe that I should select you, to whom I have not spoken for eight years, to negotiate anything for me, and especially through the mediation of a woman whom I do not even know?”

“I see plainly,” said the Cardinal, “that I have been duped. I will pay for the necklace; my desire to please your Majesty blinded me; I suspected no trick in the affair, and I am sorry for it.”

He then took out of his pocket-book a letter from the Queen to Madame de Lamotte, giving him this commission. The King took it, and, holding it towards the Cardinal, said:

“This is neither written nor signed by the Queen. How could a Prince of the House of Rohan, and a Grand Almoner of France, ever think that the Queen would sign Marie Antoinette de France? Everybody knows that queens sign only by their baptismal names. But, monsieur,” pursued the King, handing him a copy of his letter to Baehmer, “have you ever written such a letter as this?”

Having glanced over it, the Cardinal said, “I do not remember having written it.”

“But what if the original, signed by yourself, were shown to you?”

“If the letter be signed by myself it is genuine.”

He was extremely confused, and repeated several times, “I have been deceived, Sire; I will pay for the necklace. I ask pardon of your Majesties.”

“Then explain to me,” resumed the King, “the whole of this enigma. I do not wish to find you guilty; I had rather you would justify yourself. Account for all the manoeuvres with Baehmer, these assurances and these letters.”

The Cardinal then, turning pale, and leaning against the table, said, “Sire, I am too much confused to answer your Majesty in a way–”

“Compose yourself, Cardinal, and go into my cabinet; you will there find paper, pens, and ink,–write what you have to say to me.”

The Cardinal went into the King’s cabinet, and returned a quarter of an hour afterwards with a document as confused as his verbal answers had been. The King then said, “Withdraw, monsieur.” The Cardinal left the King’s chamber, with the Baron de Breteuil, who gave him in custody to a lieutenant of the Body Guard, with orders to take him to his apartment. M. d’Agoult, aide-major of the Body Guard, afterwards took him into custody, and conducted him to his hotel, and thence to the Bastille....

The moment the Cardinal’s arrest was known a universal clamour arose. Every memorial that appeared during the trial increased the outcry. On this occasion the clergy took that course which a little wisdom and the least knowledge of the spirit of such a body ought to have foreseen. The Rohans and the House of Conde, as well as the clergy, made their complaints heard everywhere. The King consented to having a legal judgment, and early in September he addressed letters-patent to the Parliament, in which he said that he was “filled with the most just indignation on seeing the means which, by the confession of his Eminence the Cardinal, had been employed in order to inculpate his most dear spouse and companion.”

Fatal moment! in which the Queen found herself, in consequence of this highly impolitic step, on trial with a subject, who ought to have been dealt with by the power of the King alone. The Princes and Princesses of the House of Conde, and of the Houses of Rohan, Soubise, and Guemenee, put on mourning, and were seen ranged in the way of the members of the Grand Chamber to salute them as they proceeded to the palace, on the days of the Cardinal’s trial; and Princes of the blood openly canvassed against the Queen of France.

Here is additional information about the Cardinal, who was tried but acquitted, and a line which I found interesting:

Rohan’s acquittal did not stop the king from banishing him to Chaise-Dieu. During the French Revolution, Rohan left France for Germany. His character improved and he spent the remains of his wealth providing for the poor clergy around him. The Rohan family spent decades paying off the debt of the diamond necklace–they were honor-bound to pay the 1.6 million francs owed for the necklace since Cardinal Rohan had been guarantor.


The Purity of Mary

Lately I have had any number of discussions with various friends and acquaintances about whether the Blessed Virgin Mary struggled with the concupiscence of the flesh. Let us begin with the definition of concupiscence as given in the Catholic Encyclopedia:
In its widest acceptation, concupiscence is any yearning of the soul for good; in its strict and specific acceptation, a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason. To understand how the sensuous and the rational appetite can be opposed, it should be borne in mind that their natural objects are altogether different. The object of the former is the gratification of the senses; the object of the latter is the good of the entire human nature and consists in the subordination of reason to God, its supreme good and ultimate end. But the lower appetite is of itself unrestrained, so as to pursue sensuous gratifications independently of the understanding and without regard to the good of the higher faculties. Hence desires contrary to the real good and order of reason may, and often do, rise in it, previous to the attention of the mind, and once risen, dispose the bodily organs to the pursuit and solicit the will to consent, while they more or less hinder reason from considering their lawfulness or unlawfulness. This is concupiscence in its strict and specific sense. As long, however, as deliberation is not completely impeded, the rational will is able to resist such desires and withhold consent, though it be not capable of crushing the effects they produce in the body, and though its freedom and dominion be to some extent diminished. If, in fact, thewill resists, a struggle ensues, the sensuous appetite rebelliously demanding its gratification, reason, on the contrary, clinging to its own spiritual interests and asserting it control. 'The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.'
According to Fr. John Hardon, S.J. in his classic work The Catholic Catechism: "From the time of her conception, Mary was freed from all concupiscence and also (on attaining the use of reason) free from every personal sin during the whole of her life." (The Catholic Catechism, p.158) In The Glories of Mary, St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, writes of Mary:
Mary certainly could not be tormented at death by any remorse of conscience, for she was always pure, and always free from the least shade of actual or original sin, so much so, that of her it was said: 'Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee.' From the moment that she had the use of reason, that is, from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception, in the womb of Saint Anne, she began to love God with all her strength, and continued to do so, always advancing more and more, throughout her whole life, in love and perfection. All her thoughts, desires, and affections were of and for God alone: she never uttered a word, made a movement, cast a glance, or breathed, but for God and His glory; and never departed a step, or detached herself for a single moment, from the Divine love. (The Glories of Mary, p. 351)
Here are excerpts of what the Fathers wrote of Mary and her purity (one gets the distinct impression that they did not view her as a typical teenage girl):

Patristic writings on Mary's purity abound.

  • The Fathers call Mary the tabernacle exempt from defilement and corruption (Hippolytus, "Ontt. in illud, Dominus pascit me");
  • Origen calls her worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, most complete sanctity, perfect justice, neither deceived by the persuasion of the serpent, nor infected with his poisonous breathings ("Hom. i in diversa");
  • Ambrose says she is incorrupt, a virgin immune through grace from every stain of sin ("Sermo xxii in Ps. cxviii);
  • Maximus of Turin calls her a dwelling fit for Christ, not because of her habit of body, but because of original grace ("Nom. viii de Natali Domini");
  • Theodotus of Ancyra terms her a virgin innocent, without spot, void of culpability, holy in body and in soul, a lily springing among thorns, untaught the ills of Eve, nor was there any communion in her of light with darkness, and, when not yet born, she was consecrated to God ("Orat. in S. Dei Genitr.").
  • In refuting Pelagius St. Augustine declares that all the just have truly known of sin "except the Holy Virgin Mary, of whom, for the honour of the Lord, I will have no question whatever where sin is concerned" (On Nature and Grace 36).
  • Mary was pledged to Christ (Peter Chrysologus, "Sermo cxl de Annunt. B.M.V.");
  • it is evident and notorious that she was pure from eternity, exempt from every defect (Typicon S. Sabae);
  • she was formed without any stain (St. Proclus, "Laudatio in S. Dei Gen. ort.", I, 3);
  • she was created in a condition more sublime and glorious than all other natures (Theodorus of Jerusalem in Mansi, XII, 1140);
  • when the Virgin Mother of God was to be born of Anne, nature did not dare to anticipate the germ of grace, but remained devoid of fruit (John Damascene, "Hom. i in B. V. Nativ.", ii).
  • The Syrian Fathers never tire of extolling the sinlessness of Mary. St. Ephraem considers no terms of eulogy too high to describe the excellence of Mary's grace and sanctity: "Most holy Lady, Mother of God, alone most pure in soul and body, alone exceeding all perfection of purity ...., alone made in thy entirety the home of all the graces of the Most Holy Spirit, and hence exceeding beyond all compare even the angelic virtues in purity and sanctity of soul and body . . . . my Lady most holy, all-pure, all-immaculate, all-stainless, all-undefiled, all-incorrupt, all-inviolate spotless robe of Him Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment . . . flower unfading, purple woven by God, alone most immaculate" ("Precationes ad Deiparam" in Opp. Graec. Lat., III, 524-37).
  • To St. Ephraem she was as innocent as Eve before her fall, a virgin most estranged from every stain of sin, more holy than the Seraphim, the sealed fountain of the Holy Ghost, the pure seed of God, ever in body and in mind intact and immaculate ("Carmina Nisibena").
  • Jacob of Sarug says that "the very fact that God has elected her proves that none was ever holier than Mary; if any stain had disfigured her soul, if any other virgin had been purer and holier, God would have selected her and rejected Mary". It seems, however, that Jacob of Sarug, if he had any clear idea of the doctrine of sin, held that Mary was perfectly pure from original sin ("the sentence against Adam and Eve") at the Annunciation.
Paul Haffner in his book The Mystery of Mary offers a brilliant discussion about Mary and concupiscence which I recommend reading in full. Haffner says: Not only was Our Lady freed from original and actual sin, but also from concupiscence....The Angelic Doctor offers the various opinions of absence of concupiscence in Mary....Either that concupiscence was entirely taken away from her by her first sanctification or it was fettered. (The Mystery of Mary, pp 93-94)

As for the relationship of Our Lady and St. Joseph, St. Augustine of Hippo (who was not the first Calvinist as some people seem to think, but a Father, Doctor, Bishop and Saint of the Church) remarks that theirs was a true marriage, albeit unconsummated according to the flesh. To quote St. Augustine (I know, he would not be popular on the preaching circuit today):
The entire good, therefore, of the nuptial institution was effected in the case of these parents of Christ: there was offspring, there was faithfulness, there was the bond. As offspring, we recognise the Lord Jesus Himself; the fidelity, in that there was no adultery; the bond, because there was no divorce. [XII.] Only there was no nuptial cohabitation; because He who was to be without sin, and was sent not in sinful flesh, but in the likeness of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3 could not possibly have been made in sinful flesh itself without that shameful lust of the flesh which comes from sin, and without which He willed to be born, in order that He might teach us, that every one who is born of sexual intercourse is in factsinful flesh, since that alone which was not born of such intercourse was not sinful flesh. Nevertheless conjugal intercourse is not in itself sin, when it is had with the intention of producing children; because the mind's good-will leads the ensuing bodily pleasure, instead of following its lead; and the human choice is not distracted by the yoke of sin pressing upon it, inasmuch as the blow of the sin is rightly brought back to the purposes of procreation. This blow has a certain prurient activity which plays the king in the foul indulgences of adultery, and fornication, and lasciviousness, and uncleanness; while in the indispensable duties of the marriage state, it exhibits the docility of the slave. In the one case it is condemned as the shameless effrontery of so violent a master; in the other, it gets modest praise as the honest service of so submissive an attendant. This lust, then, is not in itself the good of the nuptial institution; but it is obscenity in sinful men, a necessity in procreant parents, the fire of lascivious indulgences, the shame of nuptial pleasures. Wherefore, then, may not persons remain man and wife when they cease by mutual consent from cohabitation; seeing that Joseph and Mary continued such, though they never even began to cohabit?
St Alphonsus Liguori has a more poetic approach (which is why I long ago took him for my spiritual father) especially when discussing anything to do with the Most Holy Virgin. Of Our Lady's marriage to St. Joseph he says:
By reason of her purity, the Blessed Virgin was also declared by the Holy Ghost to be beautiful as the turtledove : 'Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtle-dove's.'7 'Mary,' says Aponius, 'was a most pure turtle-dove.'8 For the same reason she was also called a lily : 'As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters.' 9 On this passage Denis the Carthusian remarks, that Mary was compared to a lily amongst thorns, because all other virgins were thorns, either to themselves or to others ; but that the Blessed Virgin was so neither to herself nor to others, for she inspired all who looked at her with chaste thoughts. This is confirmed by Saint Thomas, who says, that the beauty of the Blessed Virgin was an incentive to chastity in all who beheld her. Saint Jerome declared that it was his opinion, that Saint Joseph remained a virgin by living with Mary ; for, writing against the heretic Helvidius, who denied Mary's virginity, he says, ' Thou sayest that Mary did not remain a Virgin. I say, that not only she remained a Virgin, but even that Joseph preserved his virginity through Mary.'3 An author says, that so much did the Blessed Virgin love this virtue, that to preserve it, she would have been willing to have renounced even the dignity of Mother of God. This we may conclude from her answer to the archangel: 'How shall this be done, because I know not man ?'3 and from the words she afterwards added: 'Be it done to me according to thy word,'4 signifying that she gave her consent on the condition that, as the angel had assured her, she should become a Mother, only by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost. (The Glories of Mary, pp. 457-458)
I think we are safe in assuming that the love Our Lady and St. Joseph had for each other was the love of true spouses but the love which spouses share in heaven. Because of Mary and Joseph's unique mission as parents of the Son of God, they began to live the life of Heaven even amid the many perils, trials, and sufferings of earth.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Gosford Park (2001)

Mrs. Wilson: I'm the perfect servant; I have no life.
~Robert Altman's Gosford Park (2001)
Watching Gosford Park is like being one of the guests gathering at an English country house for a shooting party in the early 1930's; whispered portions of conversations can be overheard, as the pieces of the puzzle gradually come together. One is privy to the secrets, sordid and sublime (mostly sordid) of both the upstairs and downstairs worlds at the estate of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon). Sir William is a new money entrepreneur who through his wealth (and a game of cards) married into the aristocracy. He is a boorish brute; no one likes him but Elsie the housemaid (Emily Watson), with whom he is currently cavorting, and his brat of lap dog. Sir William made free with the girls in his factory over the years, the repercussions of which will come back to haunt him on the momentous weekend of the shoot. As the guests arrive, one views the drama mostly through the perspective of the innocent Scottish maid of Lady Constance (Maggie Smith). Lady Constance is the aunt of the family; her remarks about the various goings on remind me of a droll, one-woman Greek chorus and could only be delivered with the right amount of humor and irony by Dame Maggie Smith.

According to a review in the New Yorker:
The year is 1932, and Constance, barely hanging on to her feudal prerogatives, knows very well that the art of the masses can have nothing but a levelling effect on English manners. Like the other members of the weekend mob at Gosford Park, Constance depends heavily on the largesse of Sir William, a school teacher's son who made his pile as a factory owner and bought his way into the aristocracy. Sir William is a rapacious old dog who has victimized some of the guests and some of the household staff, too. His wife, Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas), detests him, and amuses herself with the better-looking male servants. She has quite a number to choose from: for the weekend party, there are, by my count, twenty-nine servants in attendance on fourteen people—and I'm not including the beaters, who chase pheasants through the brush.

Many of the guests arrive with their own help. How to keep the names straight? As Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren), the chief housekeeper, explains, the visiting servants, for simplicity's sake, will be known "belowstairs" by the names of their employers. For instance, Parks (Clive Owen), the handsome and self-possessed valet of Lord Stockbridge (Charles Dance), is known as Mr. Stockbridge. At dinner, the servants are arrayed according to their status. With a start, we realize that they have established their own class system, imitating the ranks and privileges—and humiliations—of their employers. The butler (Alan Bates) bullies the first footman (Richard E. Grant), who bullies the second footman (Jeremy Swift), and so on. In the course of the weekend, however, some of the servants assert who they are and what they want. A murder is committed, an act of personal vengeance that vibrates with decades-old class and sexual antagonisms.

Not only are the Americans and the movies taking over but Hitler is coming, and, after the war, a Labour government, all of which will curtail the elaborate life of the great country estates. Yet "Gosford Park" is neither an elegy nor a Marxist attack. It's too bitter to be the first, too witty to be the second. The movie is a very high-style and amusing genre entertainment that, at the same time, has its roots planted deep in social reality. Call it an Agatha Christie house-party picture that reveals the intricacies of class and sex in a way that Christie never could. "Gosford Park" is based on an idea of Altman and Bob Balaban's and was written by the English actor and screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who is clearly a very talented man. The filmmakers begin by nesting comfortably in the most familiar of conventions. There's the large group of swells and underlings. There are motives and clues (knife, poison, shattered cup), a tomblike library, footsteps in the night—the entire creaking paraphernalia of the English murder mystery. Only this time nothing creaks. Instead, the movie flows with an almost erotic intensity from room to room, from upstairs to downstairs, from master to servant, from tender intimacy to public humiliation. All this traffic is selected and combined by the greatest flow-master in movie history.

Throughout the drama it becomes clear that, in spite of the strict distinctions of rank and class, the lives of the McCordle family and their guests are inextricably entwined with those of their servants. Although there has been exploitation and manipulation all around, there has also been a great deal of mutual support and deep trust between the family and the staff that the visiting Americans cannot fully grasp. The persons who are treated with the most contempt are not the domestics but guests who are seen as being parvenus, such as the vile American actor who infiltrates the servants' quarters. One of the most sympathetic characters is Mrs. Nesbitt, the daughter of a glove manufacturer who was married for her money but ended up being poor. Her husband despises her and so does everyone else; her bourgeois ways are a source of continual mockery. By the end, however, Mrs. Nesbitt finds the strength to rise above it all.

It is hinted that Isobel, Sir William and Lady Sylvia's rather lost-looking daughter, has been seduced by nasty Mr. Nesbitt and has secretly had an abortion. I find that particular situation an interesting contrast with the tragedy of the housekeeper Mrs. Wilson, who as a young girl had a child out of wedlock whom she put in an orphanage, thinking that the baby would be adopted and have a better chance of survival. "His all that ever mattered," she sobs to her sister, after much that was hidden has been revealed.

There are innumerable memorable lines in Gosford Park; one of my favorite are the words of Dorothy the housemaid to one of the guests who has sought refuge in the pantry to console himself with some homemade jam. Dorothy says: "I believe in love. Not just getting it, but giving it. I think that if you're able to love someone, even if they don't know it, even if they can't love you back, then it's worth it."

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No Scientific Explanation

The mysterious image of Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to elude scientists. Share

Thursday, August 13, 2009

La Comtesse du Nord

In May of 1782 Paris was in a flurry over the visit of the "Comte and Comtesse du Nord," the pseudonyms adopted by Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna, future Tsar and Empress of Russia. The imperial couple traveled incognito so as to lessen the formality of their European tour, which otherwise would have entailed a variety of stiff state receptions. As it was, the young pair were able to meet with other royals, such as Louis and Antoinette, on a more informal basis. They even won the approval of the Orléans clan by sending calling cards to all the Princes of the Blood the day after their arrival in Paris. Although Paul was called a "Tartar," Maria's tact and wit made the visit of the Russian heirs a social success.

Grand Duke Paul, the son and heir of Empress Catherine the Great, was known for his mercurial temperament and general oddness. He was loved, however, with unconditional and endless devotion by his second wife, Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg, who upon her conversion to Orthodoxy became "Maria Feodorovna." When Maria married Paul in 1776 she was hailed as "an angel incarnate." They made family life a priority and had ten children, two of whom later became Tsars of Russia. Maria Feodorovna had a tenuous relationship with her mother-in-law Empress Catherine, whom she rivaled in both intellect and sense of style. Maria was a skilled horticulturist and the gardens she created at the imperial palace of Pavlovsk lasted for generations to come.

Like many who traveled to the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette (except perhaps for Emperor Joseph and Thomas Jefferson) "the Nords" were impressed with the magnificence of the royal palace and the gracious conduct of the sovereigns. Marie-Antoinette was uncomfortable at first, since she had heard that the Grand Duchess was an intellectual. As one biographer describes the meeting:
At first sight the grand-duchess, who had a beautiful figure, though somewhat too fat for her age, and who was stiff in her bearing, and fond of displaying her learning, had displeased [Marie-Antoinette]. By an unusual accident, the queen, whose manners were easy, and who had always an amiable word to say, had been embarrassed before these imperial visitors; she had retired to her chamber as though overcome with faintness, and had said, on asking for a glass of water, that she had just discovered that the role of queen was more difficult to play in the presence of other sovereigns, or of princes destined to become sovereigns, than before courtiers. This embarrassment, however, was but momentary; and her reception of her new guests was, on the whole, as affable and gracious as usual....

The first interview was cold; the queen, as we have said, was disturbed ; the king appeared timid, as usual. That evening, at dinner, all embarrassment disappeared. The grand-duchess exhibited wit; the grand-duke, who was extremely ugly, and had a face like a Tartar, made up for his ugliness by the vivacity of his eyes and conversation. The queen, 'beautiful as the day,' animated all by her presence.

Marie Antoinette could not fail to do the honours of Trianon for her guests. There was given in the theatre 'Zemire et Azor' by Gretry, and 'Jean Fracasse au Serail,' a ballet by Gerdet; the dances were gay, the costumes very rich, the actors excellent. After the play there was supper; after the supper an illumination. The garden looked like fairy-land; the queen enjoyed all these splendours, which were hers, and her grace and kindness and delicate thoughtfulness added to them. 'How much I should like to live with her!' the Comtesse du Nord said, on the day following this entertainment. 'How glad I should be if Monsieur le Comte du Nord were dauphin of France!'

Then on Saturday, June 8, there was a fancy-dress ball at Versailles. The salons, and especially the gallery, were beautifully decorated with a profusion of candles and girandoles. The whole court was in full dress, the king having ordered that every one should be as brilliant as possible, or not appear. The ladies who danced wore dominoes of white satin....But [Marie-Antoinette] outshone every one. 'She had a manner of walking,' an eye-witness said, 'a graceful majesty in the carriage of her head, which was peculiar to her.'
The garden party at Trianon has been written of here before and Madame Campan's remarks on such occasions are always worth a glance. As recorded in her infamous Memoirs:
Brilliant entertainments were given at Court in honour of the King of Sweden and the Comte du Nord. They were received in private by the King and Queen, but they were treated with much more ceremony than the Emperor [Joseph], and their Majesties always appeared to me to be very cautious before these personages. However, the King one day asked the Russian Grand Duke if it were true that he could not rely on the fidelity of any one of those who accompanied him. The Prince answered him without hesitation, and before a considerable number of persons, that he should be very sorry to have with him even a poodle that was much attached to him, because his mother would take care to have it thrown into the Seine, with a stone round its neck, before he should leave Paris. This reply, which I myself heard, horrified me, whether it depicted the disposition of Catherine, or only expressed the Prince’s prejudice against her.
The Comte and Comtesse du Nord eventually took leave of France and visited several other countries before returning to Russia. In 1796 they became Tsar and Empress at the death of Catherine the Great. Tsar Paul and Empress Maria gave sanctuary in their empire to the orphaned daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, as well as to Louis XVIII. Maria Feodorovna's life was shattered when her husband Paul was brutally murdered in 1801. Not someone to be swept out of the way, she continued to exert considerable influence as dowager Empress and as a patroness of the arts and of many charities. Her combination of beauty, grace and brains even into old age made her a force with which to be reckoned, although she tempered majesty with gentleness, kindness and wit. Empress Maria died in 1828 at the age of sixty-nine at her beloved Palovsk, where she had raised most of her children with the husband whom she found immensely lovable even if no one else did. Share