Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Palais Royal

“And what are you writing in your memoirs, my dear?” asked the Duc d’Orléans of Madame de Genlis.
They had just finished an intimate supper in a secluded, upper chamber of the Palais Royal.  From an open window came sounds of merriment regardless of the season of Passiontide.  The cafés and theaters of the Duc d’Orléans’ palace courtyard were teaming with soldiers, streetwalkers, forgers, pickpockets, artisans and aristocrats.  A footman and a  waiting‑woman were quietly clearing away the crystal and porcelain from the linen-draped table, above which floated a chandelier shaped like Montgolfier’s balloon.  The Duc lounged in a brocaded chair; on the wall behind him hung a life-size portrait of himself in the full regalia of a Knight of the Holy Spirit, complete with velvet mantle, diamond cross, and powdered wig.  The man who sat beneath the painting, sipping cognac from a crystal snifter, his wig hanging over the back of the chair, was a study in contrasts with his own image.  With untied cravat, wrinkled, partially unbuttoned shirt, and tousled sandy hair, he looked breezy and unkempt in spite of his striped vest, yellow coat of oriental silk, and high English riding boots.  Only his aquiline Bourbon nose gave a certain doubtful dignity to his acne-scarred face, lined with self-indulgence.
~from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal

A post by Melanie about the palace that was the hub of social life and revolutionary activity in Paris.


The Sufis and the Cathars

I have been asked if there was a connection between the Sufis and the Cathars. It seems that there was, at least according to Mystagogue (a New Age site):
Of course I could not miss the fact that to the Sufi, the term baraka was symbolised by a boat and itself became fused with the symbol of the dove. The dove itself was the Christian and Gnostic symbol of the word or spirit of the Lord and hence it was the baraka. The later Gnostic Christian Heretics, the Cathars took this symbol and with their own links within Islam fused the two devices together:
“… One important Cathar symbol was the dove. It represented for them then, as it does for us today, the idea of ‘peace’ or, more accurately the more subtle concept of ‘grace’, that state of being in God’s love. After the first crusades, when the European Cathars in the entourage of Godfroi de Bouillon established some contact with the Sufi mystics of Islam, the symbolism of the dove sometimes became linked iconographically with the Islamic mystical idea of baraka, which also means ‘grace’ and with the idea that a person can be a ‘vessel of grace’… In some instance, the Cathar dove flying with its wings outstretched was rendered in an artistic motif very similar to the stylised ship meaning baraka in Sufi calligraphy, with the feathers of the dove and the oars of the vessel alike representing the flight and freedom of the soul.” [5]
Orthodox Christianity could not allow these ancient esoteric truths to be spread abroad as it had built its power base upon the literalism’s of the Bible and so they persecuted the Cathars and burnt them out of sight. However it does seem that these Cathars did hold the secret of the Temple of Solomon. They were the ‘perfecti’ who protected the esoteric wisdom of the Ark, for they were the Western version of the Eastern Sufi who themselves protected the ba-ra-ka. The only ‘vessel’ that they spirited away from their ill-fated Montsegur was the vessel of grace – knowledge. 

Once again it is demonstrated how Catharism was much closer to paganism, the occult and even to Islam than it was to anything remotely Christian, except for the Christian symbols which they appropriated. Share

Be Prepared

Some advice from our favorite farmer's wife in Scotland. I guess at this point we really do not know what will happen next. Share

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Louis XVIII and Napoleon

A correspondence.
In 1800 Louis XVIII was 45. He had been friendly to reform in the beginnings of the French Revolution. But as it took a more radical turn, he had fled at the same time as the royal couple. Only he had succeeded in reaching Brussels when Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were arrested near the border.
Since then, Louis XVIII had lived the unhappy life of an exile, at the mercy of the varying generosity of foreign sovereigns and the vagaries of international politics. In 1800 he was living under the protection of the Tsar of Russia.
Louis XVIII was by all accounts, like his elder brother, a man of superior intelligence, but he was a far more astute politician than Louis XVI. He was patient, ambitious, cunning, and determined to step some day unto the throne of his ancestors.
This is what he wrote Napoléon in September of 1800 (more)

No Longer Safe

Jews are being attacked in major Dutch cities. Sounds like the bad old days are returning.
Jews are no longer safe in major Dutch cities such as Amsterdam. Since 1999, Jewish organizations in the Netherlands have been complaining that Jews who walk the Dutch streets wearing skullcaps risk verbal and physical attacks by young Muslims. Being insulted, spat at or attacked are some of the risks associated with being recognizable as a Jew in contemporary Western Europe.

Last week, a television broadcast showed how three Jews with skullcaps, two adolescents and an adult, were harassed within thirty minutes of being out in the streets of Amsterdam. Young Muslims spat at them, mocked them, shouted insults and made Nazi salutes. “Dirty Jew, go back to your own country,” a group of Moroccan youths shouted at a young indigenous Dutch Jew. “It is rather ironic,” the young man commented, adding that if one goes out in a burka one encounters less hostility than if one wears a skullcap.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Murder of an Artist

Painter Rosalie Filleul.
Like most liberal, artistic members of French society, lovely, flirtatious Madame Filleul welcomed the Revolution when the Bastille fell in 1789 but she soon became disillusioned after the suppression of Christianity and then imprisonment of the royal family. She drew attention to herself when she wore mourning for Louis XVI on the anniversary of his execution in January 1794 and then again when she unwisely auctioned some old pieces of furniture from La Muette, which bore the royal insignia.

Rosalie was duly denounced to the Committee of Public Safety and put under surveillance by a certain Citoyen Blache. Arrest was inevitable and eventually she and her friend, Madame Chalgrin were both arrested, with execution following swiftly on the 24th June 1794 on the Place du Trône-Renversé.

Pornography and the Crisis of Masculinity

What to do about it. (Via Joshua Snyder.) Pornography destroys the possibility of genuine romance. It is as virulent on the spiritual and moral level as the oil spill is on the material level. According to Zenit:
We tell single young men that by engaging in pornography they're giving into profound selfishness, which is undermining their ability to relate in a healthy way to young women..

We tell them case studies of the growing problem of younger men, college students, who are incapable of relating to females. They lack confidence and subsequently have to struggle with anxiety.

Also, pornography use contributes to overreacting in anger as men lose a sense of refinement and true manly confidence in how to relate to a woman. The women they see in pornography don't have feelings, needs and opinions. When the men leave their fantasy world and meet a real woman who does have emotions and opinions, they often don't know how to deal with her, and withdraw due to insecurity or overreact in anger. 

Ted Kennedy and the KGB?

From the American Spectator. (Via Mulieris Dignitatem) Share

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Napoléon and Joséphine in 1800

A guest post by Madame Delors with interesting reflections about the historical background of her new novel For the King.
To quote:
In 1800 Bonaparte is only 31. His valet describes him as thin to the point of emaciation, with a sallow complexion, deep set blue eyes, a high forehead, and already thinning hair. He is of average height for the late 18th century (5 feet six and a half inches in English measurements.)

Josephine is 37, six years older than her husband, and the Bonaparte siblings, who hate her, calls her la vieille (“the hag.”) In fact she looks rather younger than her age, a gracious, elegant brunette.

What about the state of things between them? Sadly, the romance is gone. Oh, Napoléon was utterly smitten in the beginning of their marriage, but within a few months of the wedding, while he was waging war in Italy, she dashed his illusions by taking a lover. He retaliated in kind, and a string of mistresses ensued.

Now she is the one who is jealous. There are a few other clouds on the horizon: Bonaparte would like a son and heir, but a middle-aged Joséphine shows no signs of fertility. Yet Bonaparte’s immediate concerns are to consolidate his grip on power, not –quite yet- to establish a dynasty.

There is also the small matter that Joséphine receives enormous sums, 1,000 francs a day, from Fouché, the redoubtable Minister of Police, to spy on her husband. If Bonaparte knew about this, he would not take kindly to this new kind of betrayal, but the important thing is that he doesn’t know.

The truth of the matter is that Joséphine is a compulsive spender, far more so than Marie-Antoinette ever was, and that she is always in debt in spite of the generous stipend she receives as the wife of the First Consul. Bonaparte cannot comprehend where all that money goes, and she dreads asking for still more to pacify her creditors. This too creates great stress in their marriage.

But what matters in 1800 is that Napoléon and Joséphine are political allies. He knows he owes his rise in the army and national politics to her and her connections. Without those, it is unlikely that his coup would have succeeded. Napoléon and Joséphine planned it together, they would have shared the consequences of any failures, and now they bask together in the glow of success. He may no longer be madly in love, but he values his wife as his closest associate, and also, because he is very superstitious, his lucky star. Maybe, in his mind, she is the one who allowed him to escape the bomb detonated on their path on Christmas Eve 1800 . . . (Read More)

Venus: Past and Present

Was there once life on Venus? Share

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Katherine of Aragon before the Legatine Court

Author Stephanie Mann quotes Shakespeare's rendition of the dramatic moment when Queen Katherine appealed to Henry VIII. (Painting by Frank O. Salisbury)
Sir, I desire you do me right and justice;
And to bestow your pity on me: for
I am a most poor woman, and a stranger,
Born out of your dominions; having here
No judge indifferent, nor no more assurance
Of equal friendship and proceeding. Alas, sir,
In what have I offended you? what cause
Hath my behavior given to your displeasure,
That thus you should proceed to put me off,
And take your good grace from me?
Heaven witness,I have been to you a true and humble wife,
At all times to your will conformable;
Ever in fear to kindle your dislike,
Yea, subject to your countenance, glad or sorry
As I saw it inclined: when was the hour
I ever contradicted your desire,
Or made it not mine too? Or which of your friends
Have I not strove to love, although I knew
He were mine enemy? what friend of mine
That had to him derived your anger, did I
Continue in my liking? nay, gave notice
He was from thence discharged. Sir, call to mind
That I have been your wife, in this obedience,
Upward of twenty years, and have been blest
With many children by you: if, in the course
And process of this time, you can report,
And prove it too, against mine honour aught,
My bond to wedlock, or my love and duty,
Against your sacred person, in God's name,
Turn me away; and let the foul'st contempt
Shut door upon me, and so give me up
To the sharp'st kind of justice. Please you sir,
The king, your father, was reputed for
A prince most prudent, of an excellent
And unmatch'd wit and judgment: Ferdinand,
My father, king of Spain, was reckon'd one
The wisest prince that there had reign'd by many
A year before: it is not to be question'd
That they had gather'd a wise council to them
Of every realm, that did debate this business,
Who deem'd our marriage lawful: wherefore I humbly
Beseech you, sir, to spare me, till I may
Be by my friends in Spain advised; whose counsel
I will implore: if not, i' the name of God,
Your pleasure be fulfill'd!
 Stephanie also writes about the royal couple's happier days, when Henry thought his Queen to be "bonnier than any."


They are as nutritious as can be.
Blueberries are literally bursting with nutrients and flavor, yet very low in calories. Recently, researchers at Tufts University analyzed 60 fruits and vegetables for their antioxidant capability. Blueberries came out on top, rating highest in their capacity to destroy free radicals.
An Antioxidant Powerhouse
Packed with antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins, blueberries neutralize free radical damage to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, heart disease and cancer. Anthocyanins, the blue-red pigments found in blueberries, improve the integrity of support structures in the veins and entire vascular system. Anthocyanins have been shown to enhance the effects of vitamin C, improve capillary integrity, and stabilize the collagen matrix (the ground substance of all body tissues). They work their protective magic by preventing free-radical damage, inhibiting enzymes from cleaving the collagen matrix, and directly cross-linking with collagen fibers to form a more stable collagen matrix.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"An Intricate Love Story"

The following is a review of The Night's Dark Shade from Cross of Laeken:
I was delighted to read Elena Maria Vidal's latest novel, The Night's Dark Shade (2009). Like her earlier works, Trianon and Madame Royale, it is beautiful yet harrowing, vividly transporting the reader to other times and places and illustrating the dire religious, political and personal conflicts of the past while inspiring faith, hope and charity. In this case, we come face to face with the ravages of the Cathar heresy and the tragic and controversial Albigensian Crusade in 13th century southern France. Within this traumatic setting, beset with physical, moral and spiritual perils, Vidal sets forth the adventures of a lovely young noblewoman, the Vicomtesse Raphaelle de Miramande.

In Vidal's earlier novels, the protagonists were real people, and the plots closely followed historical events. In this book, the characters and their adventures are fictional, although inspired by the author's careful research and deep knowledge of the period in question. They spring from Vidal's rich imagination, spirituality and life experience. She weaves an intricate love story, in the highest sense of the term; not only a tale of romance and marriage but a portrayal of an earnest soul's purification in the love of God and man through joy and sorrow, suffering and triumph.

Raphaelle is an endearing heroine; tender, innocent, clever, brave and pious. She also has a deep capacity for passion and devotion which proves to be a dangerous blessing, nearly leading her to sacrifice her virtue for a forbidden love, yet ultimately enabling her to rise to remarkable heights of spiritual heroism in the face of cruelty, calumny, hatred and persecution.

After her father and her betrothed have been killed fighting in the Albigensian Crusade, the orphaned, vulnerable young heiress is obliged to leave her native Auvergne and travel to her uncle's castle in the Pyrenees to marry her cousin, Raymond. As if the loss of her loved ones and her home, and the perilous journey towards the unknown were not hard enough, the devout Catholic maiden soon discovers, to her horror, that her uncle's castle is a Cathar stronghold, ruled by her aunt, Lady Esclarmonde, a fanatical Cathar leader. The mysterious, sinister sect pours scorn upon all Raphaelle's most sacred religious and moral beliefs. Meanwhile, she is appalled by the poisoned fruits of Catharism. All in the name of the loftiest ideals, lust runs rampant, babies are murdered in the womb, the sick are starved to death....Does any of this sound familiar?

A harrowing series of adventures ensues, as Raphaelle struggles to break free of her betrothal to Raymond, himself a virulent Cathar. In a frightening betrayal of innocence and trust, those who ought to be Raphaelle's friends and protectors prove to be her deadliest foes. Her cold, ruthless aunt will stop at nothing to win her over to her purposes; when persuasion and imprisonment fail, she resorts to torture. Raphaelle also has to contend with Raymond's malice and violence, while her uncle, a weak Catholic, fails in his duty to defend her.

Raphaelle's traumatic experiences challenge, but ultimately strengthen, her religious faith. Through many trials, temptations and surprises, and some human failings, she matures into a worthy mother of a new family, and a worthy mother of her people, helping to heal a society shattered by heresy and warfare.

The Case Against School

 Being unschooled is not the same as being uneducated.
By the time I finally retired in 1991, 1 had more than enough reason to think of our schools – with their long-term, cell-block-style, forced confinement of both students and teachers – as virtual factories of childishness. Yet I honestly could not see why they had to be that way. My own experience had revealed to me what many other teachers must learn along the way, too, yet keep to themselves for fear of reprisal: if we wanted to we could easily and inexpensively jettison the old, stupid structures and help kids take an education rather than merely receive a schooling. We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight – simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Slave Children

A rare photo found in a North Carolina attic.
A haunting 150-year-old photo found in a North Carolina attic shows a young black child named John, barefoot and wearing ragged clothes, perched on a barrel next to another unidentified young boy.

Art historians believe it's an extremely rare Civil War-era photograph of children who were either slaves at the time or recently emancipated.

The photo, which may have been taken in the early 1860s, was a testament to a dark part of American history, said Will Stapp, a photographic historian and founding curator of the National Portrait Gallery's photographs department at the Smithsonian Institution.

"It's a very difficult and poignant piece of American history," he said. "What you are looking at when you look at this photo are two boys who were victims of that history."

Translation Wars

There appears to be some resistance to the new and more accurate English translation of the Roman missal. Fr. Peter Stravinskas responds to critics, saying:
        Let me say a word about what I’ve learned from the whole process and how I view things at this point. The first thing that surprised me – pleasantly – from the exchange in America was how the preponderance of bloggers there actually supported the new translation. Given the fact that America and its subscribers have never been accused of right-wing extremism, this was most interesting. That says to me that thinking people know that something had to be done to make our worship more transcendental, more beautiful, more faithful to the Tradition and, as the response-blog put it, “we’ve waited long enough.”
            Secondly, it seems to me that the Holy See should have been much more decisive much sooner in handling the “translation wars” and should not have been sending mixed signals for a long period of time. Of course, we cannot ignore how the divided-house phenomenon of the American bishops allowed confusion to persist as well. Thankfully, both sides of “The Pond” seem to be on the same page now.
            Finally, I believe some “product-testing” of the new translation would have been worthwhile. In all likelihood, that got ruled out when it became clear that an attitude of obstructionism would delay the process of promulgation and implementation until the Second Coming of Christ. (Read Entire Article.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Italian Porcelain

Made for Marie-Antoinette's sister, the Queen of Naples, and soon to be auctioned.
The highlights of the collection are the neo-classical pieces from Real Fabbrica Ferdinandea, many of which were created in a spirit of competition with Austria under the patronage of Ferdinand IV, King of Naples and the Two Sicilies and his consort Maria Carolina von Habsburg, sister of Queen Marie Antoinette of France. Maria Carolina of Austria married Ferdinand in 1768 and moved from her homeland of Austria to Naples. At the time Austrians were producing beautiful neo-classical porcelain, which also was sent to Naples, so perhaps in a spirit of competition, Maria Carolina and Ferdinand restarted their factory and encouraged porcelain production in the neo-classical style. The resulting works became world-renowned, not in the least when they started serving as diplomatic gifts to the Spanish court and as souvenirs for Lady Hamilton and other English nobility passing through Naples on their Grand Tour.

The Douay-Rheims Bible

The 400th anniversary. The Douay-Rheims-Challoner is my favorite translation by far. Share

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

St. Thomas More

Author Stephanie Mann honors the great statesman and martyr of the Faith. Share

The Templars and the Cathars

Contrary to popular mythology, there is no historical connection between the Cathars and the Military Order known as the Knights Templar. According to H.J.A. Sire in his book The Knights of Malta, during the Albigensian Crusade the Templars usually fought on the side of the French king, while the Hospitallers usually fought on the side of the southern lords. The divisions were according to region rather than creed, as I try to show in The Night's Dark Shade. The following excerpt from The Da Vinci Hoax by Robert M. Price discusses the errors concerning the Templars:
Who were the Templar Knights? They were a monastic order, the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, founded between 1110 and 1120. Their sworn duty was to protect Christian pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem. Over the years, as ascetic and admired religious groups tend to do, they acquired considerable fortunes and clout, eventually founding the practice of modern banking, as they used their vast funds to bail out the crowned heads of Europe. Finally, in 1308, Philip the Fair, King of France, subjected the Templars to a ruthless inquisition, stripping them of their moneys, the real object of his covetous lust. What was the pretext of the persecution? It is difficult to tell, precisely as in the case of the so-called witches persecuted in Europe. We can never know the degree to which tortured wretches eagerly signed any crazy-sounding confession shoved in front of them. The beleaguered Templar Knights "confessed" to blasphemies including the worship of a goat-headed demon statue called Baphomet and kissing its anus, as well as ritual homosexuality, trampling the cross, and eliciting oracles from a still-living severed head! Actually, "Baphomet" is, contra Baigent and company, almost surely an Old French spelling of "Mahomet" or "Muhammad."4 This in turn means the accusations against the Templars reflect not actual Gnosticism or even diabolism, but garbled French beliefs about Islam. In just the same way, the medieval Song of Roland (verses 2580-2591) imagines Muslims as worshipping idols and devils including Mohammed, Termagant, and Apollo.5
The Templars became lionized in folklore and in esotericist belief as adepts who guarded heretical secret doctrines which they had discovered, perhaps in the form of rediscovered manuscripts, while resident in Jerusalem. Baigent, Leigh, Lincoln, and Brown, echoing groundless speculations of various nineteenth-century eccentrics (including Joseph Hammer, The Mystery of Baphomet Revealed), link the Templars with the French Cathars (or Albigensians) wiped out in the Albigensian Crusade in 1209. These Cathars were Gnostics who had rediscovered or reinvented something like ancient Manichean Gnosticism.6 Legend claimed that during the Catholic siege of the Cathar mountain fortress of Montsalvat, a few Cathars escaped with the group’s great treasure, perhaps the Grail itself. But any link between the Cathars and the Templars is, again, part of the latter-day syncretism of modern occultists trying to cobble together an appearance of antiquity for their own inventions.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Mother's Advice

Here is another passage from Anna Bicknell's biography of Marie-Antoinette:
Before the last heartrending embrace, Maria Theresa gave her daughter a plan and rule of life "to be read over every month." Part of this seems to be the "cut-and-dried" advice taken from a devotional book; but here and there, more particularly in a private supplement of instructions, the eager, earnest tones, evidently of the Empress herself, are in marked contrast with the rest.
 "Have no curiosity — this is a point on which I have great fears for you. Avoid all familiarity with your subordinates. Ask Monsieur and Madame de Noailles, and even insist, that they should tell you what you ought to do; and request that they should warn you sincerely of anything to be corrected in your manner or your speech, or in any other respect. Do not be ashamed of asking advice, and do nothing out of your own head. At the beginning of every month I will dispatch a special messenger to Paris; meanwhile you can prepare your letters so as to send them immediately on the arrival of this messenger. Mercy will have orders for his return. You can also write to me by post, but only on unimportant matters such as every one may know. Destroy my letters, which will enable me to write to you more openly; I will do the same as regards yours. Say nothing about domestic affairs here; there is nothing but what would be uninteresting and even wearisome. Speak of your family with truth and moderation."

Elsewhere she says very sagely: " I should in no wise be desirous of your introducing any novelties or doing anything contrary to the custom of France; you must pretend to nothing peculiar to yourself, nor quote what is done here, nor try that such should be imitated.

It seems that neither mother nor daughter burned the letters.

De Gaullemania

The indomitable Charles de Gaulle.
In troubled economic times, and with politicians enjoying handsome perks at taxpayers’ expense, reaching for de Gaulle may also be a way for the French to invoke a model of integrity and modesty. Even as president, de Gaulle paid his gas and electricity bills himself. In 1958, unveiling an austerity programme, he announced: “Without an effort to regain control, without the sacrifice it requires and the hope it entails, we will remain a country that lags behind, swinging continually between drama and mediocrity.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Claude and Camille

Reading Claude and Camille, Stephanie Cowell's new novel about Monet, is like stepping into an artist's studio and finding oneself among the great Impressionists. The book captures the essence of la vie de Bohème, that life in which agony, struggle and turmoil are swiftly transformed into bliss, and vice versa. Renoir, Pissaro, Sisley, Bazille, Cézanne, Manet, Degas and Courbet are all there, sleeping on the floor, living on beans, wine, coffee and bread, avoiding the landlord, and celebrating each other's small triumphs. They are a band of brothers who mentor, guide and support their fellow artists, both materially and emotionally. It is a good thing, since flouting the conventions of both art and society make for a long and lonely road.

Into this Bohemian scene comes the enigmatic teenager Camille Doncieux from a proper bourgeois family against whom she is determined to rebel. Camille and Monet are swept into un fou d'amour and run away together, scandalizing everyone but Monet's artist friends. At first they exist only for the pleasure of the moment, but then winter comes and a baby, and there is no food or money. The lovers oscillate between ecstasy and misery, driving each other to the brink of insanity, and to the despair which too often is the flip side of unrestrained passion.

In spite of betrayals, lies and a suicide attempt, Claude and Camille remain attached to each other, as Camille becomes Claude's inspiration as well as his torment. Although there is no doubt they love each other, in so many ways they are unsuited for each other, both being moody and mercurial. While Monet is able to discipline himself when it comes to his art, Camille's equilibrium swings between extravagant highs and lows. She is as elusive to him as the light he tries to capture in his paintings.

In an effort to provide Camille and their son with much needed stability, Monet pushes himself artistically to exceed his former efforts and produce art works that are not only great but in demand. As family life becomes more precious to him, his art takes on an increasing emotional richness, and in the depth of each painting is the soul of his Camille. The scene in which Claude and Camille are married by a priest is profoundly moving for in that moment a wild love is tamed and sanctified at last.

Stephanie Cowell allows the reader to plunge into the paintings right from the tip of the artist's brush. Painting is how Monet deals with reality and his relationships. It is a relief when Alice, who will eventually become his second wife, enters the novel. Alice will someday provide Monet with the serene home life at Giverny which brings forth the fabulous water lily paintings. Camille, however, will always haunt him, as a muse and as a lover.

All the characters in Cowell's novel are vividly drawn. One of the most interesting is the young artist Frédéric Bazille, who alone among the band of friends has independent means, with which he is generous. It is his enthusiasm for his art and for the art of his friends, however, that makes him the heart and soul of the group. Frédéric has his own secrets that add an unexpected twist to the story.

Anyone who has ever struggled in their art, whatever it might be, who has ever been painfully in love, and who has struggled financially, will find Claude and Camille a highly relevant novel. To those who enjoy well-written historical fiction and a tragic romance I recommend it as well. Do have an art book or a website on Monet at hand. For readers who want more about Monet's later years, I would also suggest the short but exquisite novel Light by Eva Figes, which explores the deepening understanding of Monet of how even the darkness can be luminous.
(*Note: Claude and Camille was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.)

"Bazille's Studio" by Frédéric Bazille
 Camille Doncieux by Monet
 "Water Lilies" by Monet Share

Crucible of Faith

Reformation and Resistance in Northern England by Mary Sharratt. Part 2, HERE.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Swedish Royal Wedding

 Today I stumbled quite unintentionally upon the live footage of the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden via a Twitter link to Swedish television. In spite of the grandeur and pomp I felt as if I was privy to a private family event, and a very gracious and welcoming family at that. Most brides sparkle but Princess Victoria has a unique radiance. I could not help remembering that the princess is descended from both Josephine Bonaparte and Désirée Clary, two famously charming ladies. 

The way the ships in the harbor flew their flags, the sailors saluting the new royal couple, as they sailed across the bay on the royal barge, was like a vision from the ancien régime. The banquet following the ceremony was like something from a fairy tale. The wine flowed and there was dancing, both waltzes and folk dances.I lost track of all the courses that were served, but the dishes were exquisite. It was wonderful of the King and Queen and the Swedish people to share their Crown Princess' wedding with the world.

More pictures, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Désirée Clary Share

Betrothal of Marie-Antoinette

The following is an account from Anna Bicknell's 1897 biography. I find it interesting that Marie-Antoinette prayed in the Capuchin crypt before going to her wedding in France. (It was after I visited the same crypt in the mid-1990's that I felt compelled to write about her.)
On the 21st of January, 1770, Marie-Antoinette received the wedding-ring sent by the Dauphin. The 21st of January! On that very day, twenty-three years later, Louis XVI ascended the scaffold! But who could then foresee what the future would bring forth.
On April 16 the official demand was made to the widowed Empress, in the name of the "most Christian King," by the Marquis de Durfort. On the 17th the Archduchess solemnly renounced her rights in Austria. On the 19th a ceremony of marriage by proxy was performed (the Archduke Maximilian representing the Dauphin of France), and the official signatures were then appended to the imperial register of births, deaths, and marriages. It is said that through one of those mysterious forebodings which are sometimes felt on solemn occasions, the hand of Maria Theresa trembled as she signed her name to the record sealing her daughter's fate.
The young Princess was then required to spend three days in meditation and prayer, as a preparation for her future state. On April 21, after receiving holy communion, she was taken to pray before the tombs of her ancestors, where lay the father who had loved her with peculiar affection, and whom she had lost in her early childhood.
Then came the final parting from her mother, the last meeting in this world, for in those days few people traveled, and sovereigns never left their states. In the case of Marie-Antoinette not only her mother and the imperial family deeply felt the pangs attending such a separation, but the household and even the city of Vienna mourned the departure of the bright, amiable girl, whom all loved. But it must be; and, amidst the tears of all who knew and loved her, Marie-Antoinette went forth to her unknown fate.

Towards a Climate of Chastity

Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body into the Hermeneutic of Continuity.  A brilliant and insightful take on the matter based on genuine scholarship. And do visit Abbey-Roads for a lively discussion. Share

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Great La Hire

The Jack of Hearts, faithful captain of the Maid. Share

History of the Bogomils

People have been asking for more information on the Bogomils, whom I mention briefly in The Night's Dark Shade. Here is an article which makes some interesting points, tracing the origins and spread of the old dualism which later became known as Catharism. (Much of what it says about the Catholic Church is business as usual.) According to High Nicklin of the Ariège Aude Forum:
From very early times people had struggled with a theological problem. Assuming that there is only one God, and that He is all powerful and wholly good, where does Evil come from? An obvious response is to say that evil proves that there must be at least two Gods, and one of them must be bad. An idea like this which proposes two opposing principles in the world is said to be ‘dualistic’. The idea that there were two ‘Gods’ a good one and a bad one, was expounded by Zoroaster (c.12,000 BC) so ‘Zoroastrianism’ is such a religion. The idea that the material world is intrinsically evil was stated as early as 500 BC by the Buddha with the words ‘all life is suffering’. The Buddhist Heaven is ‘nothingness’. At about the time of Jesus ‘Gnostics’ made the acquisition of esoteric knowledge a feature of their theology. The main ingredients of the Cathar religion are, therefore, of great antiquity.
Christianity, the second oldest of the three great monotheistic religions, was boosted by being adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire which occurred in the reign of Constantine, around 330 AD. France became Christian as a result. One of the great early Christian church councils took place at Béziers in 356 AD. At about the same time, a Persian named Mani was also wrestling with the problem of evil. He agreed that it proved that a single God cannot be omnipotent. The word ‘Manicheanism’ came to represent all dualist theology. (It is as unjust as naming America after Amerigo Vespucci).
By the 500s the Roman empire had split in half. The Eastern half remained Christian and Roman, and both church and state were ruled by the Eastern Roman, or ‘Byzantine’ emperor. In this eastern half attention was focussed on ‘the problem of evil’ and dualist, ‘Manichean’ ideas were debated. The Byzantine emperors disliked their religion being criticised, so Dualists were exiled to Bulgaria, where they were called ‘Bogomils’. The Bogomil church flourished, and some of its members sneaked back from Bulgaria to the Mediterranean coast at Antioch....

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Élisabeth and Henriette

A look at Madame Élisabeth through the eyes of Henriette of Belgium.
Henriette had long campaigned (albeit in vain) for Élisabeth to be officially recognized as a saint, and the book ends with a resounding appeal for her canonisation. As she explains, Henriette wanted Élisabeth raised to the altar, in order that she might be publicly invoked in prayers for the resurrection of Catholic France.

In writing her account, Henriette draws upon the surviving letters of Madame Élisabeth, earlier biographies of the princess, the memoirs of her niece, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France, and the accounts of intimates of the royal family. Henriette supplements these sources with oral family tradition, based upon her ties of kinship with the reigning houses of France, Austria and Saxony. The result is a very powerful portrayal of the spiritual journey of a beautiful, intelligent and ardent royal lady.

By nature stubborn and imperious, Élisabeth became, through faith, prayer and good works, a gentle, humble young woman of immense charity. The same strong will and high spirit that made her a difficult child rendered possible her constant striving for perfection. Denied permission, despite her attraction to the religious life, to become a Carmelite nun like her Aunt Louise, she took on the challenge of living the virginal, consecrated life in the world. Amidst the splendors and temptations of Versailles, no less, she managed to be a model of piety, purity and charity to the poor. Throughout court intrigues and betrayals, even within the royal family, she remained a loyal and loving sister of the King and Queen. Ultimately, she would attain a sublime degree of spiritual heroism amidst the horrors of the Revolution, inconceivable tragedy, cruelty and humiliation, and, finally, a brutal, bloody and untimely death.

Bloody Sunday

The official report has finally been released. Share

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Catherine de Medici and François I

Since I am going to be reviewing C.W. Gortner's The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, I was delighted to find this essay by the author on the blog of Renaissance scholar Julianne Douglas. It concerns Catherine's relationship with her father-in-law François I. As Mr. Gortner says:
Among the many misconceptions about Catherine de Medici, surely one of the saddest is that she was an amoral woman without a heart, who ruthlessly eliminated anyone who stood in her way. Some even went so far as to say, she did not know how to love.

However, it is not too surprising, given her background and the unfortunate circumstances in which she rose to power. In truth, Catherine has been the target of a smear campaign that began in her lifetime; of Italian birth, she came to France while a teenager to wed King François I’s second son, who later became Henri II. (Read More.)

The Streets of Brooklyn

Still honoring the saints. (Via Serge.) Share

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Melanie in Paris

Author Melanie Clegg has just returned from visiting Paris with her family. As usual her blog is filled with exceptional pictures, in this case her moving photos of the statues Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at Saint Denis and of the Chapelle Expiatoire.
 More HERE and HERE.

Melanie also offers an extremely helpful Guide to Paris with Small Children. Share

Caribbean Jewish Communities

A glimpse of a little known history. Share

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sherlock Holmes: The Church Mysteries

 I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases.
Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Sherlock Holmes: The Church Mysteries by Ann Margaret Lewis (Wessex Press, 2010) will be released this coming August. I had the pleasure and honor of reading the manuscript. Based upon snippets in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ann Lewis has ingeniously woven tales of mystery amid the liturgical cadences of Pope Leo XIII's Vatican and against the backdrop of international intrigue. Holmes and Watson are there, just as Doyle created them; it is fascinating to see the famous duo in the corridors of the papal apartments, matching wits with Leo XIII himself.

Pope Leo comes convincingly to life in the stories so that I often felt that I was sitting in the same room with him, listening to his pithy insights, sparkling with humor, a very saintly old Italian gentleman. Holmes' own religious skepticism is confronted and for once in his life he realizes that there are places where his brilliant intellect and spectacular process of discernment cannot go. Another English detective, none other than Fr. Brown, appears in one of the stories, as Ann subtly mingles literature with history, pulling together many loose threads to make a living tapestry of the past.

Sherlock Holmes: The Church Mysteries is a welcome addition to Catholic-themed literature and to literature in general. As is the way with well-written books, it would be perfect for reading aloud at night by a roaring fire. I recommend it for all ages, especially for those who can never get enough of the one and only Sherlock Holmes.

(More HERE.) Share

How to Bake a Cake

This is one of the funniest things I have read in a long time. Share

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Return of Thomas Paine

A revolutionary hero and anti-monarchist who nevertheless tried to save King Louis XVI from death.
In France, he arrived to a hero’s welcome in Calais, and as their representative he took his seat at the Convention in Paris on September 19, 1792. Two days later the legislature formally abolished royalty in France. In the two months following, the Convention discussed what to do about their former king, Louis XVI. Paine rose to argue against executing him, saying the new French republic had an opportunity to inspire the world with its noble republican government. On January 15, Paine spoke again to the assembly, reminding them of Robespierre’s address two years earlier condemning capital punishment. He recommended sending the king and family into exile, where they would eventually be forgotten. Two days later the legislature voted narrowly in favor of death. Once again, Paine spoke to condemn this decision. The guillotine, he said, rose “from a spirit of revenge rather than from a spirit of justice.” Paine’s Convention enemies were already shouting their disapproval, but he refused to back down, saying,
If after my return to America, I should employ myself in writing the history of the French Revolution, I had rather record a thousand errors on the side of mercy than be obliged to tell one act of severe justice.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I see beyond the shimmers of my own small incremental thoughts: a sphere that engulfs the heavens with its wide and varied wonders. I see and understand that this astounding sphere of light, incessantly unfurling, is perfect Wisdom. Wide beyond all seeing sphere, as if a sun crouched down, a piece of wonder on a mountainside, deep-sunken and enormous, it bears its weight, its freckled, huge, illuminating weight upon the waves of matchless fivefold light. ~ from Fragile by Chris Katsaropoulos
Fragile (Luminis Press, 2009) is a work of literary fiction riven with scintillating poetic expression which hangs together in spite of the deliberately fractured nature of the book. At first I had trouble following the narrative which would break off in mid-sentence to become the running stream of consciousness of another character. It did not take me long, however, to get drawn into the rhythm of thought processes which, although resembling a shattered vessel, retain a coherent design.

The coherence is due to the character of Amanda, an aging and devout Catholic spinster who at first glance seems like the most insignificant and uninfluential person imaginable. Amanda, abandoned by her youthful sweetheart, decided long ago never to marry, and now, late in life, she feels the weight of her loneliness. She is overwhelmed by the failures and rejections of her past and present, as well as by the longing to see Tris, her lost love, one last time. It is not until the end of the book that the reader, and Amanda herself, see that Amanda's virginity has been fruitful rather than sterile. All the otherwise unconnected people and events find union and cohesion and meaning in light of her sacrificial lifestyle.

The most disturbed and disturbing character is Holly, who fixes Amanda's hair one day in the beauty salon. Holly's life is in a downward spiral as she uses sexuality in order to dull the pain of an abusive childhood. She is unable to accept the love of a noble and worthy man because she is only happy when she is destroying herself. Yet the day she meets Amanda her life begins to change.

Amanda's old flame is Tris, the harried businessman about to retire who, in spite of outward signs of success and one or two children, faces a life of true sterility, for it is bereft of spirituality and deep love. This is partly due to his wife, who has become more in tune with material things and less in tune with Tris. Perhaps that is because Tris did not marry her for love but because she reminded him of someone he had lost through his own cowardice and weakness. The emptiness of the relationship is symbolized by the use of contraceptives which strip the union of all passion and self-donation, reducing it to a transaction of lust. Tris' story is perhaps the saddest in the long run since, in spite of his prosperity and respectability, he seems to have nowhere to turn until he ends up at Amanda's church.

Fragile, as earthy as it is ethereal, shows that in spite of the bleakness and lovelessness of the modern world one hidden life of prayer and good works can have far-reaching effects upon the cosmos. And yet such souls must often struggle along in darkness, as Amanda does through most of the book, blind to her unique and radiant gifts, which shine forth at the finale.

(*Note: This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

A Chinese Jesuit

At the court of James II. Share

The Garnier Opera

A history in pictures. Share

Friday, June 11, 2010

La Reine Margot and the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

A first hand account from a notorious lady, who nevertheless saved the life of her husband Henri de Navarre, the future Henri IV.
Five or six days afterwards, those who were engaged in this plot, considering that it was incomplete whilst the King my husband and the Prince de Conde remained alive, as their design was not only to dispose of the Huguenots, but of the Princes of the blood likewise; and knowing that no attempt could be made on my husband whilst I continued to be his wife, devised a scheme which they suggested to the Queen my mother for divorcing me from him. Accordingly, one holiday, when I waited upon her to chapel, she charged me to declare to her, upon my oath, whether I believed my husband to be like other men. "Because," said she, "if he is not, I can easily procure you a divorce from him." I begged her to believe that I was not sufficiently competent to answer such a question, and could only reply, as the Roman lady did to her husband, when he chid her for not informing him of his stinking breath, that, never having approached any other man near enough to know a difference, she thought all men had been alike in that respect. "But," said I, "Madame, since you have put the question to me, I can only declare I am content to remain as I am;" and this I said because I suspected the design of separating me from my husband was in order to work some mischief against him....

Marguerite de Valois

A Stalin Memorial?

In Virginia?

Meanwhile, another mass grave has been found in Russia. Share

Out of the Depths

An excellent account about the spontaneity of the Counter-Revolution. To quote:
Accepted mythology about the French Revolution is that the people were oppressed to such an extent that, finally, they could no longer take it and rose up against the tyrant, or "Veto" as Louis XVI was called. The problem with such popular mythology is that, while it may be rooted in fact, it manages to give exactly the wrong idea of what happened.

Contrary to popular belief, the French Revolution was not a popular uprising. The image of bloodthirsty peasants rounding up and executing the detested "Aristos" (except for those rescued by the Scarlet Pimpernel or Sidney Carton) is extraordinarily misleading, to say the least. Most people guillotined during the Terror were ordinary people, some executed for nothing more than "insufficient revolutionary fervor."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Gnostic Jesus

Why did the Cathars claim to be followers of Christ? The Cathars were not Christian, since they rejected the major tenets of the Creed. They used Christian terminology to cloak their beliefs, which deceived many. Here is a concise summary of their beliefs (from a gnostic website):
The Cathars’ concept of Jesus is docetistic. The Cathars felt that Jesus was a manifestation of spirit, unbounded by the limitations of matter. Catharism completely rejected the Old Testament, and held the Gospel of John as their sacred text. Like other Gnostic groups, the Cathars held that the Old Testament God was synonymous with the devil, and proclaimed that there was another, higher, True God. The Cathars also held a maltheistic world-view, claiming that this present world was hell. Catharism taught that there was nothing to fear after death, except for reincarnation. Cathars also reject the trinity and the Eucharist.
Here is another site with information on the origins of the Cathar religion, which says the following:
The Cathar religion has its roots in eastern religions of 2500 years ago, with the ideas of Zoroastre (Zarathoustra) that the world consisted of two opposing forces, representing good and evil. Many subsequent religions take this starting point, and the Cathar religion that arrive in Europe via the Balkans in the 11th century is one of these.

The fundamental difference between a 'dualist' religion like the Cathars, and a religion like Christianity, is the importance given to the evil forces. Cathars and other dualists believe that these are of equal importance, whereas Christians believe that the forces of good are superior.

Although it shares many principles with Christianity, the Cathar religion differs from the Christian religion in some important respects. Marriage was outlawed, as was the private ownership of property. The Cathars believed in reincarnation as a path towards eternal life, were strictly vegetarian, and had to abstain from all sexual pleasures. The abstinence from sex was because the Cathars believed that a good soul, created by God, was trapped in an evil body, created by the devil. The goal was to reach heaven, not to perpetuate life on an evil earth.

 The Cathars were put to death because according to the secular law heresy was a capital crime. It is usually claimed that the Cathars were killed because they threatened the power of the Catholic Church. However, even at the height of their popularity, the Cathars and their supporters numbered roughly 10% of the population of Southern France. There were not enough of them to threaten temporal ecclesiastical power, but there were enough of them to sow religious confusion among the people, which they did. One has to get inside the medieval mind. To lead someone into a false belief system was seen as bringing death to a soul, and killing the soul was infinitely worse than killing the body. This is why, to our horror, the most extreme form of punishment was meted out for heresy. It should be remembered that the Pope and bishops tried every means of bringing about a reconciliation with the Cathars, but the Cathars responded with violence and murder. The war which followed became a struggle for dominion of the nobles of the north over the nobles of the south. Religion was just an excuse to fight. Share


Do not try to learn history from Glenn Beck. Share

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cradle of the Comte de Chambord

Above is the cradle of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte's beloved nephew, Henri, Duc de Bordeaux, later called the Comte de Chambord and pretender to the throne of France. The prince is shown with his sister, Louise d'Artois. Share

The Revolution Examined

The London Book Club reviews two books.
With bankruptcy the only alternative, the government of the French Bourbon king, Louis XVI, in 1788 called for a meeting of the estates-general, which had not met since 1614, with the aim of obtaining agreement to a plan to impose taxes on the nobility and clergy, who were tax-exempt.

When the estates-general met in May 1789, the situation rapidly ran out of the royal government’s control. The Third Estate asserted its own character – as the only elected estate – as representative of France as a whole, calling itself successively the ‘Commons’ (imitating Britain), the ‘National Assembly’, and finally the ‘Constituent Assembly’. The king’s decision to form a new government hostile to this assembly triggered more action: a Paris prison, the Bastille, was seized by mass action; in the countryside, peasant uprisings began to drive out the nobility and overthrow their feudal claims. The assembly formally abolished feudal rights and adopted a ‘Declaration of the rights of man and citizen’. A mass demonstration, reinforced by the ‘National Guard’ militia forced the king and his family to move to Paris, crippling attempts to mount a military resistance. Church property was nationalised.