Monday, March 31, 2014

What Did Thomas More Mean in "Utopia"?

Stephen Smith looks at Thomas More's Utopia in The Wall Street Journal, in its weekly Masterpiece column:

For some, "Utopia" provides a witty education in human nature for citizens and leaders, especially those who want to be "well and wisely trained." For others, "Utopia" heralds the glorious liberty of communism to come, or so the makers of Moscow's Memorial Obelisk thought when they engraved More's name there in 1918. In More's own words, Utopia is "a truly golden book, no less profitable than delightful," but what kind of education does this book really offer? While the word "Utopia" has long been shorthand for any ideal world, a careful reading of More's book offers a complex, and better, view.

Born in London in 1478, More distinguished himself in family life and friendship, in professional work and politics. Called by Erasmus "the only true genius in England," More published "Utopia" in Latin in 1516. He then entered King Henry VIII's service, and eventually became Lord Chancellor. During his maturity, the drama of Henry's divorce and the Reformation engulfed England. A supporter of neither, and a defender of English law, ancient liberty and the Catholic faith, More resigned his public office in 1532 after a controversial tenure. Later imprisoned, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to death in 1535. His last words—"I die the king's good servant, and God's first"—attest that he had served his old friend Henry with integrity throughout the storms.

Smith, a professor in English Literature at Hillsdale College, provides a summary of the conversation at the heart of Utopia and then concludes:

Surprisingly, "Utopia" concludes not with a cross-examination of Raphael, but with More thinking to himself that Utopia sounds "really absurd," a point often missed by those who wish to embrace its radical policies. Unsure that Raphael can "take contradiction in these matters," More decides to lead him to dinner instead. For Raphael, Utopia is over, and he may have placed himself beyond the reach of friendship, though More's charity creates hope. For readers, we are left with the challenge of responding to Raphael's claims and examining the sources of our own thoughts and first principles—and indeed, the clarity of our own self-knowledge. For Thomas More, his truly golden meditation on service and Utopia would meet its end only years later, alone atop a scaffold on Tower Hill.

Read the rest here. That last paragraph reminded me of Pope Benedict XVI's address to Politicians, Diplomats, Academics and Business Leaders in Westminster Hall, City of Westminster, on Friday,  September 17, 2010:

In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process. . .  .

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Marie de Medici, Arthur Rimbaud, and Les Filles du Calvaire

On our way from the Hotel de Ville to the Luxembourg Gardens a couple of weeks ago, we passed by some familiar sights and also saw some things for the first time. We walked across the parvis of the Hotel de Ville from the metro, and then across the bridges over the Seine to the Ile de la Cite and to the Left Bank, stopping at Le Depart de St. Michel as we always do, this time for a couple of cafe cremes. After enjoying some people watching on that busy corner, we started down Blvd. St. Michel.

We took a little jaunt off St. Michel to the Place St. Andre des Arts and then headed down Rue Danton to Blvd. St. Germain, pausing to notice the statue of Danton proclaiming "Il nous faut de l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace!

A left turn on Rue de Seine/Rue de Tournon gave us an opportunity for some window shopping: shoes and books:

Finally reaching Rue de Vaugirard, we ducked into the Jardins du Luxembourg on our way to lunch at a cafe we've been to before, and visited the Medici fountains, with bronze Polyphemous discovering marble Acis and Galatea:

After lunch, we returned to Rue Vaugirard. Walking toward the Musee du Luxembourg, we saw the entrance to the Convent of the Filles du Calvaire, the congregation founded by by Antoinette of Orléans-Longueville in 1617 in Poitiers. This convent was built in 1625, and Marie de Medici's initials and face are featured prominately on the door and above the entrance:

Les Filles du Calvaire, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, were founded for more strict observance of the Benedictine Rule after Antoinette had worked to reform the famous Abbey of Fontevrault. This famous double monastery was the site of the graves of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard I and other English royalty--but their bodies were desecrated during the French Revolution when the monasteries--like the convent at the Palais du Luxembourg--were suppressed in 1792.

After we toured the Josephine exhibit at the Musee du Luxembourg--and that was a very appropriate venue for the exhibit because she was held in the Palais du Luxembourg while it served as a prison during the French Revolution--we decided to ride a taxi back to Hotel de Ville for an easier trip back to the apartment. On the way to the taxi stand in front of St. Sulpice, we saw this poem of Arthur Rimbaud, "The Drunken Boat"/"Le Bateau Ivre" drawn on the wall along Rue Ferou:

I who trembled, to feel at fifty leagues' distance
The groans of Behemoth's rutting, and of the dense Maelstroms
Eternal spinner of blue immobilities
I long for Europe with it's aged old parapets!

I have seen archipelagos of stars! and islands
Whose delirious skies are open to sailor:
- Do you sleep, are you exiled in those bottomless nights,
Million golden birds, O Life Force of the future? -

But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking.
Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter:
Sharp love has swollen me up with heady langours.
O let my keel split! O let me sink to the bottom!

If there is one water in Europe I want, it is the
Black cold pool where into the scented twilight
A child squatting full of sadness, launches
A boat as fragile as a butterfly in May.

I can no more, bathed in your langours, O waves,
Sail in the wake of the carriers of cottons,
Nor undergo the pride of the flags and pennants,
Nor pull past the horrible eyes of the hulks.

It is amazing how much beauty and history we find on any walk in Paris: I guess that's why we keep going back! All photos (C) Mark U. Mann, 2014.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

English Colonies in the New World

From the archives of History Today, how the Tudors (and the Stuarts) passed up the opportunity to colonize the New World:

But the English crown was not itself prepared to invest either men, material or money in such overseas enterprises. Henry VIII’s ambitions began and ended in France; the youthful Edward reigned for too short a time; Mary could not act so as to upset her Spanish husband; Elizabeth disguised parsimony as prudence; while James I signed a peace treaty with the nation’s colonial rival. Given such state disinterest, America remained peripheral to English policy while paramount for the Spanish purse.

Given a free hand, neither did English adventurers ever match the horizon-stretching deeds awarded to them on paper. Cabot, granted a continent, ventured inland “the shooting distance of a crossbow” before retreating to his ship. So, 150 years later, no Englishman had settled beyond the reach of the tide and all looked to the waterways for their succour: none had broken out from their beachhead to make the land their own.

In contrast to Spain, England did not find the New World a source of wealth and gold--except when English pirates seized gold from Spanish ships. Also, the English colonists did not export religion--rather they sought freedom from England's state church:

Given a religious homogeneity at home, Spain also exported Jesuits to proclaim and convert natives, often brutally, to the one true faith. By contrast, although every English Royal Charter included a paragraph on the need to spread the gospel, few English missionaries sailed to North America. 

[That little dig, "often brutally" is an automatic anti-Jesuit response--since the topic is North America, I think the author should have included consideration of French Jesuit missionaries. Even Francis Parkman admitted that the French missionaries respected and treated the native Americans well. I don't think Blessed Junipero Serra is known for brutality toward the natives, nor Father Kino--and the author certainly forgets that Spain sent Dominican and Franciscan friars too! It certainly means the author ignored the great Bartolomé de las Casas, O.P., "Protector of the Indians", who protested against Spanish colonists' abuse of the natives. Those words "often brutally" just betray sloppy anti-Catholicism, in my opinion.]

Indeed, the New World was seen as a place to despatch (sic) those, either Catholic or dissenting who, irritatingly, held to a doctrine deemed false. The export of such nonconformists began with the voyage of Mayflower in 1620 and reached a climax during the reign of Charles I, when thousands crossed the Atlantic to Massachusetts to escape from the persecution being instigated by Archbishop Laud. A similar exodus was to take Catholics to Maryland and Quakers to Pennsylvania.[Please see my article on Maryland here--I would say that the Catholics were not so much "despatched" as allowed to emigrate because of George Calvert, Lord Baltimore's past loyalty to James I.]

These people could not consider themselves to be sojourners; they had no future other than in the New World. However difficult life became, they had to make it work to survive because there was no going back. Their loyalties were to their community and they made their own laws to ensure that they could live and survive together. From rules, such as the Mayflower Compact, democracy in America was born. Thus, ironically, the future of the English New World was assured by those who arrived carrying the curse rather than the blessing of the court.

Although the phrase ‘British empire’, coined in 1577 by John Dee, gives the impression that Britannia wished to set her bounds ever wider for the glory of crown, country and the Protestant creed, the actuality is very different. The early argument for overseas settlement was, in truth, based around finding a passage to Cathay; discomforting Spain; settling indigent or criminal elements; monopolising the distant fishing grounds; searching for precious metals and resettling loyal but non-Anglican groups.

While all of these aims could claim to be in the national interest, the crown, apart from granting charters, remained aloof, while the overweening desire of those masterminding the venture was self-aggrandisement. Success was never certain and came about not through a deliberate far-sighted policy, but through a series of inter-locking accidents from which the English emerged as the survivors. 

Read the rest here. So, although Elizabeth I is pictured in the Armada Portrait with her hand upon the globe of the earth to symbolize England's international power, she, like her Tudor predecessors, was not a great colonist or supporter of exploration of the New World (dare I say she was insular?). Image credit.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sunday Evening at St. Ambroise

In search of some coffee, something sweet, and some people watching, we walked down the street to Rue Voltaire on Sunday during our Paris visit, and found L'Eglise de St. Ambroise:

St. Ambroise was built between 1863 and 1868 and was consecrated on December 7, 1910. I'm not sure why there was such a gap between construction and consecration--the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune and its aftermath?--but it was consecrated on the patron saint's feast day (St. Ambrose of Milan)! The architect, Theodore Ballu, also designed St. Trinite and led the reconstruction efforts on Tour St. Jacques. Inside, we found beautiful stained glass and one most wonderful side chapel:

As you might suppose, there were stained glass windows depicting St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Ambrose's most famous convert, and St. Monica. The chapel dedicated to Our Lady contained beautiful stained glass windows (and there a matching chapel dedicated to St. Joseph):

Finally, my husband took this artistic shot of the shadows and the sunset (please note all these photographs are (C) Mark U. Mann, 2014):

We did find a cafe on the corner next to the church and enjoyed some treats and lots of people watching. There was a couple and a friend, I presumed, sitting and chatting at one of the cafe tables while their little girl played with a little plastic doll with long yellow hair. She kept dunking the doll in her glass of water--I'm not sure what she was trying to get out of the doll with such torture. We watched one family wheel their luggage by our table and go down the steps of the St. Ambroise metro (line 9). The father lagged behind, checking on something in the pocket of his suitcase while the mother and daughter waited at the top of the steps. Perhaps they'd been visiting relatives in the area and were heading off to Gare de Lyon for a train ride on the TGV home in the south of France? Other families rose up from the metro, and walked by the cafe with babies in carriages, dogs on leashes, and children in hand (and one in the womb!), going home after their Sunday excursions. Eventually we walked back to our apartment after experiencing an early Sunday evening in a Parisian neighborhood--nary a word of English around us.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Queen and I: A Supremacy and Survival Interview

Beth von Staats, owner and administrator of the Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers blog and I got in contact because of one of her posts on the English Historical Fiction Writers, on Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent. we exchanged comments and then emails about the Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation, and why Elizabeth Barton hasn't been included among those beatified or canonized. We discussed some other aspects of the English Reformation, and Beth offered to interview me for the QAB blog.

Here is that interview, which Beth illustrated with excellent portraits from the Tudor era to the nineteenth century. I enjoyed answering all of her questions, and was particularly happy to address this major issue about the reign of Mary I and the efforts of Reginald Cardinal Pole to re-establish the Catholic Church in England:

7. I was fascinated by your accounting of Mary Tudor’s and Archbishop Reginald Pole’s attempted counter-reformation. Can you share with readers and browsers why you believe they were unable to meet their goals in shifting England and Wales back to Roman Catholicism? 
I think it was a matter of time: they just did not have enough. They were successful in many of their endeavors. After I wrote S&S, Eamon Duffy published his Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor in which he details Pole’s catechetical, administrative, apologetic, and reform efforts. They were working, but when both Mary and Pole died the same day, the progress really ended. Elizabeth I was able to remove all the Catholic bishops Pole had appointed: only one of them would accept the new religious settlement passed by Parliament. The Convocation of Bishops had met and affirmed Catholic doctrine and therefore, this time, they did not swear the oaths of supremacy and uniformity. They were placed under house arrest, and the Marian exiles returned to replace them.

And, of course, I'm always thrilled to talk about Blessed John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement:

12. I was exceptionally fascinated with the resurgency of Roman Catholicism in England and Wales in the 19th and 20th centuries. Just how much of an influence and impact was John Henry Newman towards this aim?
He was a great influence and he is also the symbol of that resurgence since he was a convert to Catholicism from the Church of England. He became a Catholic just 16 years after Catholics had been emancipated and just five years before the restoration of Catholic hierarchy in England, with new bishops, dioceses, churches, convents, monasteries, schools, etc being started and built up. As he famously said, it was a Second Springtime for the Catholic Church in England. There was still prejudice and fear of Catholics in England, and he often helped explain Catholic Church teaching. He influenced other converts, including many in the 20th century.

13. What is the Oxford Movement? Why did it result in the divisions seen within the Anglican Communion today?

The Oxford Movement or the Tractarian Movement was an attempt to remind Englishmen that their Church was more than just a part of the State; Newman, Froude, Keble, Pusey and others wanted to convince Anglicans that the bishops of the Church of England had real authority, handed down from the Apostles, not just controlled by Parliament. It began when Parliament proposed to close down Church of Ireland dioceses. The Tractarians, as they became known (because they published the “Tracts for the Times” presenting their views) thought the Church should make those decisions. In some ways, the Oxford Movement reflected on divisions that had existed in the Church of England for a long time: High Church (like the Caroline divines, Laud, Andrewes, etc); Low Church (the Puritans), and Broad Church (the eighteenth century Latitudinarians). Once Newman and many of his followers left the Oxford Movement, it developed into a liturgical movement, emphasizing more sacramental views of the Book of Common Prayer, introducing candles, incense and vestments into services (again, reviving Laudian reforms)—Anglo-Catholicism (John Shelton Reed wrote Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism, a fascinating study of the era. I am not sure if the Oxford Movement contributed to the divisions we see today or if it was a manifestation of those divisions in the Victorian era, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Read the rest here and browse around the blog, which has many great book reviews and will feature an interview with Jessie Childs in the near future, to discuss her new book, God's Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rumer Godden's Brede and Dame Gertrude More

Dorothy Cummings McLean reviews Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede for Crisis Magazine:

Novels are what we read when we should be reading something else—or are they? Currently I should be reading Henri Nouwen’s “modern spiritual classic,” The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, but in fact I have just finished Rumer Godden’s novel, In This House of Brede. And I feel no embarrassment in saying that the laywoman’s novel taught me far more about the way of the heart than the priest’s meditations. After decades of preaching the virtues of a low fat diet, nutritionists now tell us our dietary culprit isn’t fat. Apparently we have always needed good fat in our diet. Godden’s novel runs with rich oils; Nouwen’s book strikes me as sugary.

I first heard of In This House of Brede when I went to the Solemn Profession of a young nun to the Abbey of Saint Cecilia at Ryde on England’s Isle of Wight. Saint Cecilia’s, I was told, was one of the models for Rumer Godden’s fictional Brede. As my visit to the abbey was one of the most edifying trips of my life, showing me how beautiful enclosed life can be, I resolved to read this book.

The abbey Godden more closely based her work on was Stanbrook Abbey, which is now in a different location than when she knew it, but has its roots in the English exiles of the Reformation and Recusant eras, who founded the house in Cambrai. One of the founders was St. Thomas More's great-great-granddaughter, Helen More--Dame Gertrude More in religion:

St Thomas More's great-great-granddaughter, Helen, left England at the age of seventeen as a key figure in a new venture: the foundation of a monastery for Englishwomen under the aegis of the English Benedictine Congregation. Suitable, though dilapidated, buildings were found in the city of Cambrai. There, together with two of her More cousins and six other young Englishwomen, Helen was clothed in the Benedictine habit on 31 December 1623 and professed as Dame Gertrude on 1 January 1625. The monastery of Our Lady of Consolation, now at Stanbrook Abbey, Wass, had come into being.

Dame Gertrude herself was utterly miserable. A lively extrovert, she was not born to a life of prayer and had not particularly wanted to enter a monastery, though she had kept that to herself. She tried to read spiritual books, consult different confessors, but in vain. In November 1625 she was so desperate that she went to the man she had hitherto ridiculed, Father Augustine Baker.

Within a fortnight her life was changed. What had seemed impossible was 'made by him so easy, and plain,' she recalled. Once she had learnt to put aside self-will, she was free to recognize God's voice, the 'call' or prompting of the Holy Spirit in her heart. Her fear and despair gone, Dame Gertrude was at last flying 'freely with wings of Divine love'.

I certainly agree with McLean that Godden's novel is a masterpiece. I read nearly all of Godden's books and always appreciated her excellent story-telling and sometimes adventurous technique, usually dealing with time and place (Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time; China Court: The Hours of a Country House, etc). Little, Brown has been re-issuing some of her novels in paperback with new covers as part of the Virago Modern Classics series.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Good Friday, March 25, 1586

U.K.'s The Catholic Herald highlights St. Margaret Clitherow, crushed to death on March 25, 1586 for refusing to make a plea in her arrest for harboring a Catholic priest in York:

Margaret was arrested in 1586 for harbouring Catholic clergy. She refused to plead guilty to the charge because she knew her children would be brought forward as witnesses and consequently might be subjected to torture.

Margaret was executed by being crushed to death on Good Friday in 1586. The two sergeants hired to kill her used four beggars to do the deed instead. It took her 15 minutes to die as she was crushed with rocks and stones. Her last words were “Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! have mercy on me!”

Her body was left for six hours until the weight was removed. Her hand was saved following her death and is now a relic in the chapel of the Bar Convent in York.

When Elizabeth I heard of Margaret’s horrific death, she wrote to the citizens of York condemning the act and arguing that women should not be executed. Her son William also became a priest and her daughter Anne became a nun in Louvain, Belgium. Margaret was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI and canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. She is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

When St. Margaret Clitherow was prepared for her execution, she was laid on her back with a sharp stone underneath. Her arms were spread and tied down as though she was on a cross, with her feet tied down. Did her executioners realize that she was imitating Jesus on the Cross so exactly, on Good Friday?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Marching Forth in the Marais

On our way to the Musee de la Carnavelet (which was closed "extraordinaire" when we got there) we stopped at Le Sevigne near Parc Royal and Square George Cain for espresso and cafe au lait, served with d'eau in those little glasses. Even before we arrived at this charming cafe we saw the signs of Spring--particularly the herald of spring: forsithia.

Then in Square Georges Cain, among ruins from the Tuileries Palace, we saw the planted beds of flowers:

As we walked further into the Marais, we passed this oriel structure, built in the seventeenth century so members of the household could watch passersby from above:

Finally, we could see St. Paul-St. Louis on Rue St. Antoine in the distance:

Inside, after I don't know how many visits and attempts, I think I finally took a good picture of Delacroix's Christ in the Garden of Olives:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Mass with the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris

Last Sunday we were in Paris and attended Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Liturgy of the Roman Rite at St. Eugene-Sainte Cecile--and so did the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, Andre Vingt-Trois. He was visiting the parish and had said the 9:45 a.m. Ordinary Form Mass. The 11:00 a.m. Extraordinary Form Mass was a Solemn High Mass with two deacons assisting the pastor. The Archbishop gave the homily for the Transfiguration Mass of the second Sunday of Lent.

St. Eugene-Ste. Cecile has offered Mass in both the Missal of 1962 (Extraordinary Form) and the Missal of 1969 (Ordinary Form) since 1984--it is "Une paroisse en deux liturgies". As we noted in 2012 when we attended the 11 a.m. Mass, the congregation is large and is a good mixture of young and old.

The outstanding Schola Sainte Cecile honored the presence of the Cardinal Archibishop with a rousing chorus of "Ad Multos Annos" after the pastor made his announcements before the conclusion of Mass. Throughout the liturgy, they sang some beautiful hymns and the Ordinary parts of the Mass. They provide copies of the programme for the Mass and of hymns to be used throughout "Careme". You can hear excerpts of their music and even the entire Mass here. Their diligence and devotion to the music for the 11:00 a.m. Mass for each Sunday is magnificently demonstrated on their blog. During our experience of the Mass, one of the sensory highlights was the choir chanting "O Salutoris Hostia" immediately following the Consecration. The processional hymn was Audi benigne Conditor; during the Offertory we sang Christe qui lux es et dies, and the recessional hymn was Attende Domine.

After Mass, we took a few pictures (my husband used both his Fuji X-100 Rangefinder and his Canon S-100):

When we attended Mass there in 2012, we noticed the gorgeous sunlight after Mass flooding the church. The church is built on a North/South axis, instead of the usual East/West arrangement, with the Altar at the East end.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Report on the Veneration of "La Sainte Couronne d'Epines" at Notre Dame

As I had planned, I did attend the Veneration of the Crown of Thorns at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last Friday. I rode the free Metro from the station near our apartment to Bastille on Line 8 and transferred to Line 1 for Hotel de Ville. Walking across that parvis, I crossed over the Seine to the Ile de la Cite! I was so happy to see the facade of that great church, with all the crowds gathered in front of it, and the queue for entry moved quickly. I was a little late and came into the service about 10 minutes after it started. Lots of walking up and down stairs transferring from line 8 to line 1 in that Bastille station!

The Chevaliers du Saint Sepulcre a Notre Dame de Terre sainte served as ushers for the service while the organist and a cantor led the congregation in psalms and hymns. The gentlemen of the order were resplendent in long white capes and white gloves, while the ladies wore long black capes and gorgeous black lace mantillas. They were quite busy seating latecomers like me and shooing away tourists and photographers. Between the hymns and psalms, which included Bishop Fortunatus' Vexilla Regis and the Ave Regina Caelorum, a priest gave reflections on the theme "Tout est accompli"--It is finished, one of Jesus' Seven Words from the Cross.

Other ladies carried baskets with prayer cards. Eventually, the section I was seated in joined the procession for veneration. Many in the congregation left immediately after veneration, but I stayed through the end, when the Crown was carried in procession out of the nave. The Chevalier who served as thurifer perfumed the air down the aisle with huge swings of incense. It was a very moving and solemn service.

UPDATE: When we attended Sunday Mass at St. Eugene-Ste. Cecile, the pastor read the announcements after Mass. He mentioned a special procession of the Crown of Thorns from Notre Dame to Sainte Chapelle, which King St. Louis had built as the reliquary for the relic. Sainte Chapelle is sadly now just a beautiful shell of a tourist attraction. Mass is not celebrated there; nor is the Holy Sacrament present. It is gorgeous, of course. Here is a report from Reuters about the procession--you can see the Chevaliers du Saint Sepulcre guarding the Crown on the Altar at Notre Dame in the first video. In the second video, you can see St. Louis' holy chapel used for its true purpose: the Worship of God in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Splendid history!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Josephine at the Musee du Luxembourg

I apologize for the lack of blogging since last Friday, but somewhere over North America or the Atlantic Ocean, my little netbook malfunctioned--it worked fine Thursday morning, March 13, but wouldn't locate my profile when we arrived in our rented Paris apartment Friday morning, March 14!
On Saturday, March 15, we made use of the free Metro (more about that in another post) to attend this exhibition on the life and times of Josephine Bonaparte at the Musee du Luxembourg, described here by
One of France's most remarkable First Ladies, Josephine, is the subject of an exhibition at Paris' Musée du Luxembourg. On the occasion of the bicentenary of her death at Malmaison in 1814, the exhibition revisits through paintings and many personal items Josephine's life and times.

Josephine de Beauharnais was the first wife of Napoleon I, which made her the first Empress of France. She was born in Martinique and married at sixteen to Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais. These were tumultuous times for France. During the Revolution's Reign of Terror she was thrown into prison along with her husband who was guillotined. She narrowly escaped death owing to Robespierrre's timely fall.

Bonaparte, then only a twenty-six-year-old general, fell for her charms and married her in 1792, less than five months after their first meeting. She rose up with him as wife of the First Consul after the coup d'etat of 18 Brumaire (1799). She became the first Empress of France, crowned by Napoleon in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (1804).

She did not bear Napoleon any children; as a result, he divorced her in 1810 to marry Marie Louise of Austria. She withdrew to Malmaison where she pursued her interests in the arts and gardening, most notably cultivating and hybridizing roses. Through her daughter, Hortense, she was the maternal grandmother of Napoléon III.

The exhibition illustrates Josephine's tastes and influence on French decorative arts showing some of her luxurious furnishings, tableware, elegant dresses and jewels. The exhibition includes many portraits including a large painting of her by Prud'hon on loan from the Louvre and another one by Gros from the Musée Masséna in Nice.

We enjoyed the exhibition, which as the article above notes, displayed many artefacts, furniture, fine porcelain, sculpture, etc. One of the most famous paintings about the Empress Josephine was not included in the exhibition because, I presume, its size precluded its display in the Luxembourg's gallery setting:
(Jacques-Louis David's The Coronation of Napoleon, from Wikipedia commons). The gift shop did feature postcards of this huge painting in the Louvre (32.1 foot by 20.4 ft). I bought the Dossier de L'Art magazine about the exhibition because it had many good photographs of artefacts we found interesting and beautiful.
The lady in the coat check asked us if we had enjoyed the exhibition, and we said yes. My husband commented on how sad it was that Napoleon had divorced Josephine because she could not or had not borne him an heir. She commented in reply that "He was not a very nice man." Mark responded, "Well, at least he didn't cut off her head, like Henry VIII!" I have taught him well.

Friday, March 14, 2014

On Today's Itinerary: The Crown of Thorns

At 3:00 p.m. (15:00) today, I hope to be in Notre Dame Cathedral for the Veneration of the Crown of Thorns, held every Friday during Lent:

The relics of the Passion presented at Notre-Dame de Paris include a piece of the Cross, which had been kept in Rome and delivered by Saint Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, a nail of the Passion and the Holy Crown of Thorns.

Of these relics, the Crown of Thorns is without a doubt the most precious and the most revered. Despite numerous studies and historical and scientific research efforts, its authenticity cannot be certified. It has been the object of more than sixteen centuries of fervent Christian prayer.

Saint John tells that, in the night between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Roman soldiers mocked Christ and his Sovereignty by placing a thorny crown on his head (John 19:12).

The crown housed in the Paris cathedral is a circle of canes bundled together and held by gold threads. The thorns were attached to this braided circle, which measures 21 centimetres in diameter. The thorns were divided up over the centuries by the Byzantine emperors and the Kings of France. There are seventy, all of the same type, which have been confirmed as the original thorns.

That is, of course, assuming that flights from home to DFW to CDG and transportation to our apartment have all gone smoothly. This blog will definitely be more French than English for awhile.

A tout a l'heure!

Image credit: from Wikipedia commons under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Bad Religion" and "Dangers to the Faith": Book Review, Part Two

I read Ross Douthat's Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics last month and then followed it up by reading Al Kresta's Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism's 21st-Century Opponents. The two books are related, as both authors examine the Church's competition for what to believe, how to pray, how to live, and how to think. Douthat tells a story, tracing a history of change and secularization and focusing on a handful of heresies--teachings about Christianity that over-emphasize one doctrine or another and thus distort Christian orthodoxy (using a Mere Christianity view). Kresta writes about 14 opponents of the Catholic Church divided into four groups: Abusers of Spirituality and Revelation; Abusers of Science and Reason; Abusers of the Past and Future, and Abusers of Wealth and Power. Douthat's book is a narrative to be absorbed and analyzed, with a conclusion that emphasizes personal action; Kresta's is is a compendium of information to be consulted and used as a reference for refutation and argument. As I reviewed Bad Religion yesterday, today I focus on Dangers to the Faith.

To begin, I think I should note that Al Kresta has interviewed me a few times on his radio program; he and Nick Thomm even reached out to me to set up an interview on site at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference. Nevertheless, neither he nor OSV sent me a review copy or asked for my opinion. I bought my copies of both Bad Religion and Dangers to the Faith at Eighth Day Books. I have also listened to Al Kresta's program often and was more familiar with his way of reasoning and presenting his arguments than I was with Douthat's--in fact, although I've heard of Douthat and seen and heard interviews on broadcast media, this was the first work of his I'd read. Reading Dangers to the Faith is like listening to Al Kresta: his story-telling method; his way of presenting his side of the argument and deflating the other side's argument--they come through clearly here. His voice is unmistakable on the printed page.

As Kresta presents the 14 dangers to the Faith, he quotes extensively from the sources of the dangers' founders and exponents. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific danger, outlining its tenets and contradiction of Catholic Truth, and then describing arguments against it. The book does not have an index, but it does have pages of notes so you have the sources and resources for further reading. I saw Mr. Kresta on Raymond Arroyo's The World Over program and he commented that these 14 dangers are all abusers of goods. They take something good, like understanding nature through the scientific method, and twist it so that the scientific method becomes the only way to understand life. In that way, these abusers of goods resemble Christian heretics, who take some aspect of the truth, for example, Christian teaching on Who Jesus is and over emphasize it like the Arians or the Monophysites. In a way, both Kresta's "abusers of goods" and Douthat's "heretics" are narrow minded and limited: they cannot see the complexity of reality and so try to manage it by bringing reality down to their level. It may be difficult to understand the relationship between Faith and Reason or how Jesus could be True God and True Man, but it's better to try and fail than to adopt an unrealistic minimalization of the truth so you can handle either truth.

In addition to commenting on the voice so evident in these chapters, I'd like to mention the tone: Kresta is always charitable, sometimes a little exasperated, but never demeaning or disparaging. He speaks of these "enemies" with love, because he wishes they knew the truth. Using the example of Oprah Winfrey's encounter with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Kresta demonstrates how much she knew something great and good was there--she just didn't recognize Who was there. 

Kresta achieves his goals in helping his readers "know and love the faith" and "love the mission field" (from the Introduction). I did find the subheads, used not just for sections but for paragraphs, rather distracting, and I do wish the book had an index. Dangers to the Faith is an excellent resource and reference. Kresta ends his book just as Douthat did: with a call to sanctity for all Catholics as the best apologetic argument we can make.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Bad Religion" and "Dangers to the Faith": Book Reviews, Part One

I read Ross Douthat's Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics last month and then followed it up by reading Al Kresta's Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism's 21st-Century Opponents. The two books are related, as both authors examine the Church's competition for what to believe, how to pray, how to live, and how to think. Douthat tells a story, tracing a history of change and secularization and focusing on a handful of heresies--teachings about Christianity that over-emphasize one doctrine or another and thus distort Christian orthodoxy (using a Mere Christianity view). Kresta writes about 14 opponents of the Catholic Church divided into four groups: Abusers of Spirituality and Revelation; Abusers of Science and Reason; Abusers of the Past and Future, and Abusers of Wealth and Power. Douthat's book is a narrative to be absorbed and analyzed, with a conclusion that emphasizes personal action; Kresta's is is a compendium of information to be consulted and used as a reference for refutation and argument.

In Bad Religion, Douthat starts (in Part I) from a time in the mid-twentieth century when the Catholic Church (in the person of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen), the mainline Protestant churches (Reinhold Niebuhr); the evangelical/fundamentalist churches (Billy Graham), and the African-American Christian churches (Martin Luther King, Jr) each presented an effective, persuasive, and cohesive vision of Christian orthodoxy. Within the limits of their Reformation driven divisions, they were agreed upon the influence Christianity should have on culture. Douthat highlights the Civil Rights movement as the case study of that unity and effectiveness.

But then it all fell apart: secularization and accommodation to the cultural and moral shifts of the 1960's and 1970's weakened the prophetic voice of Christianity in America. Douthat particularly examines the decline of the Catholic Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council--the decline in vocations, Mass attendance, orthodoxy and orthopraxy--although he also analyzes the revival of Catholicism during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, and the many Catholic organizations, colleges, and publications that drove that revival. I have often heard comments that when the history of the Catholic Church in twentieth century America is written someday, Mother Angelica's EWTN will be commended for its influence--but Douthat does not mention it in this book. He analyzes the alliance between Catholics and Evangelicals at the same time noting the separation between Catholics and mainline Protestant churches, both centering around social issues like abortion, the definition of marriage, and the place of religion in public discourse.

In Part II he examines four heresies (and here he and Kresta overlap in both the heresies/dangers they highlight): the campaign to displace the New Testament with the Gnostic gospels and an alternative view of orthodox doctrine about the Incarnation of Jesus; the popularity of the Prosperity gospel; New Age spirituality; and over identification of Christianity with the American nation and republic (Christian Nationalism). All four present versions of Christian teaching that are more attractive than Christian orthodoxy because they reduce the moral and spiritual demands of religion for anyone who wants to follow Jesus. For example: instead of "pick up your cross", bear sufferings in unity with Christ, and observe poverty of spirit and material possessions, the Prosperity gospel says enjoy life now, see your wealth and comfort as signs of God's favor, expect great things now. Just like the Gnostic gospels, the Prosperity gospel cannot face the real example of suffering and redemption held out by the true Good News. But they seem easier and less demanding, just like the other two heresies--until you realize that they do nothing to help you face the real sorrows and joys of human life (that's my interpretation, not necessarily Douthat's). If, like Elizabeth Gilbert, you base your current and eternal happiness on the realization of "the God Within", you have a pretty weak foundation: fallible, mortal, self-serving and ultimately ineffective. (Kresta is particularly effective with his analysis of New Age spirituality.)

Finally, I appreciate Douthat's concluding remarks about what Christians need to do if they want to see Orthodoxy thrive again, because he focuses on what you and I can do. He cites G.K. Chesterton's comment from The Everlasting Man that the Church should have died at least five times before in its two thousand (2,000) year history--but didn't. His suggestions focus on knowing what Christians believe, knowing the reasons for our hope so we can express it, and living according to those beliefs and reasons are better than any master plan--well, I guess they are the Master's plan! He also encourages Christians to avoid syncretism as they work together on certain issues, to be true to their own community's beliefs, and he quotes Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, before he became pope: "The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb." (from The Ratzinger Report). Therefore, Douthat says, be saints and artists!

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Nation of Heretics

Part I Christianity in Crisis
1 The Lost World
2 The Locust Years
3 Accommodation
4 Resistance

Part II The Age of Heresy
5 Lost in the Gospels
6 Pray and Grow Rich
7 The God Within
8 The City on the Hill
Conclusion: The Recovery of Christianity


More on Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism's 21st-Century Opponents tomorrow.

Monday, March 10, 2014

St. John Ogilvie, SJ

According to this CNA story, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI encouraged devotion to St. John Ogilvie in February of 2010, before his visit to Scotland and England in September that year--then mentioned him again at the Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow the day of his arrival:

 March 10 is the liturgical memorial of Saint John Ogilvie, a 16th-and 17th-century Scotsman who converted from Presbyterianism to Catholicism, served as a Jesuit priest, and died as a martyr at the hands of state officials. St. John was executed for treason, refusing to accept King James I’s claim of supremacy over the Church. Pope Paul VI canonized him in 1976, making him Scotland’s first canonized saint for several hundred years [since 1250!]

In February 2010, during a visit to Rome by the Scottish bishops’conference, Benedict XVI asked the bishops to promote devotion to St. John Ogilvie among priests – since the Jesuit martyr had been “truly outstanding in his dedication to a difficult and dangerous pastoral ministry, to the point of laying down his life.” Later that year, during the Scottish segment of his U.K. visit, the Pope again encouraged priests to look to the saint’s “dedicated, selfless and brave” example.

The Jesuit Vocations website in Great Britain describes his early life and conversion:

John Ogilvie was born in 1579 and brought up in the Calvinist tradition. He was six or seven years old when Mary Queen of Scots died on the scaffold. He grew up as a child in a Scotland which had rejected her, and with her the old faith of his fathers. At the age of twelve he crossed to the continent in pursuit of education. But travelling in Europe broadened his mind, and he decided to become a Catholic, ending up at a Jesuit college in Austria. A year later, in 1599, he entered the Jesuit novitiate, and followed the normal Jesuit programme of noviceship, philosophy, and school teaching, in Vienna, before he was ordained in Paris in 1610.

After his capture in Glasgow, he endured great tortures:

The archbishop hit John Ogilvie in the face and said, "you are over bold to say your Masses in a reformed city," to which the Jesuit, replied, "You act like a hangman, not a bishop, in striking me." He was then beaten up by the archbishop's men, and taken off to prison and interrogation, but he never lost his spirit.

The cell they put him in stank, his feet where weighed down, and he was tortured before being taken to Edinburgh to appear before a council appointed by King James I of England (James VI of Scotland). There he was tortured by sleep deprivation for nearly ten days until December 22, but still refused to divulge names of those he had worked with or lived with. So he was sent back to prison in Glasgow, where he managed to write an account of what had happened to him since his arrest, and have it smuggled out and sent to his Jesuit superior.

His final interrogation was in January, when King James who considered himself a theologian and had taken an interest in the case, had devised some questions for him, the answer to which must be either the denial of the pope's supremacy and the assertion of the king's in religious matters, or must condemn him for treason. John Ogilvie replied that only the pope, and not the king, had power in religious matters, and also that the pope could both excommunicate and depose the king. When the king read these responses he gave orders that John was to be tried on March 10 and executed if he would not change.

At 11 a.m. at Tollbooth in Glasgow John went on trial for high treason. He was found guilty by lunchtime, and executed at 4 p.m. He kissed the scaffold as he went, and spent some time in prayer, then was pushed off the ladder Since he did not die immediately, the hangman pulled on legs to finish the agony. Unusually, and despite the sentence he had been given, his body was not quartered but buried in a criminal’s graveyard.

The CNA story offers these further details of his execution:

Attempts to ply John with bribery – in exchange for his return to Protestantism, and his betrayal of fellow Catholics – continued even as he was being led to his execution. His own defiant words are recorded: for the Catholic faith, he said, he would "willingly and joyfully pour forth even a hundred lives. Snatch away that one which I have from me, and make no delay about it, but my religion you will never snatch away from me!"

Asked whether he was afraid to die, the priest replied: “I fear death as much as you do your dinner.” St. John Ogilvie was executed by hanging on March 10, 1615.

As a last gesture before his hanging, St. John had tossed his Rosary beads into the crowd where they were caught by a Calvinist nobleman. The man, Baron John ab Eckersdorff, later became a Catholic, tracing his conversion to the incident and the martyr’s beads.

A prayer for the courage to imitate St. John Ogilvie:

God our Father, fountain of all blessing, We thank you for the countless graces that come to us in answer to the prayers of your saints. With great confidence we ask you in the name of your Son and through the prayers of St John Ogilvie to help us in all our needs.   

Lord Jesus, you chose your servant St John Ogilvie to be your faithful witness to the spiritual authority of the chief shepherd of your flock. Keep your people always one in mind and heart, In communion with [Francis] our Pope, and all the bishops of your Church.

Holy Spirit, you gave St John Ogilvie light to know your truth, wisdom to defend it, and courage to die for it. Through his prayers and example bring our country into the unity and peace of Christ’s kingdom. Amen.

Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk Born

The surname Howard comes up often on this blog, and just like any other post on the Howard family, our challenge today is to keep all the people named Thomas, Henry, Elizabeth, Anne, Margaret, and Mary straight, not to mention the Earls, Dukes, and Lords so that the whole story makes sense and we can understand the impact of all these relationships and plots!

Here goes:

Today's Howard was born on March 10, 1536. He was the grandson of Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who was uncle to two of Henry VIII's consorts, Anne Boleyn (Elizabeth Howard married Thomas Boleyn) and Catherine Howard (Edmund Howard's daughter).

The 4th Duke of Norfolk's father was Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, who was executed just days before Henry VIII died. Thomas Howard the 4th thus succeeded to the family title when his grandfather died in 1554. His mother, by the way, was Frances de Vere of Oxford.

John Foxe, the great Protestant martyrologist and hagiographer, was a teacher of today's Thomas Howard. Howard and his brother Henry Howard, lst Earl of Northampton were under the care of their evangelical aunt, Mary Howard FitzRoy, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset, widow of Henry FitzRoy, Henry VIII's only recognized illegitimate son. Howard continued to patronize Foxe, but Howard also began to involve himself in political efforts to promote Catholicism in England. (His brother Henry would be known as a crypto-Catholic and fall out of Elizabeth's favor.) Note that when Thomas Howard the 3rd was released from the Tower of London at the beginning of Mary I's reign he told John Foxe to find new employment.

Thomas Howard the 4th married thrice and the fourth marriage he attempted got him into big trouble, to say the least. His first wife was Mary FitzAlan, heiress to the Arundell estates. Their son was Philip Howard, 20th Earl of Arundell and Catholic martyr/saint. (Mary died after his birth in 1557.)

His second wife was a widow-heiress, Margaret Audley (Lady Jane Grey's first cousin). Their eldest son, another Thomas Howard, later 1st Earl of Suffolk, was one of Queen Elizabeth's admirals in the battle against the Spanish Armada and survived to serve James I for many years. The younger son was William Howard, who would be imprisoned as a Catholic by Elizabeth I like his half-brother Philip.

His third wife was another widow, Elizabeth Leyburne Dacre, whose first husband was Thomas Dacre, 4th Baron Dacre. Elizabeth Leyburne's family were recusant Catholics. By her first marriage she had three daughters and Thomas Howard the 4th arranged marriages between her three daughters and his three sons after her death in 1567:

Anne Dacre married Philip Howard (their son was named Thomas)
Elizabeth Dacre married William Howard
Mary Dacre married Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk (and died soon after)

Thomas Howard the 4th's sister Jane was married to Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmoreland, a Catholic peer in the North of England. Neville joined Thomas Percy, the 7th Earl of Northumberland in the Northern Rebellion against Elizabeth I in 1569.

Jane Howard Neville encouraged her brother to marry the former Queen of Scotland who was now Elizabeth's prisoner or guest, having sought refuge in 1568, hoping for assistance in regaining her throne. But Elizabeth first wanted to find out if Mary was at all implicated in the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. So by November of 1569, Mary's position was precarious--and this idea of the Earl Marshall of England marrying the Catholic threat to Elizabeth's throne, while the North of England was rebelling, led to Thomas Howard the 4th's imprisonment in the Tower of London.

At the same time, of course, Mary, the ertswhile Queen of Scot was still Elizabeth's most likely successor, since she had rejected the claims of the Grey family. Since Elizabeth was not married, and did not seem likely to be married, any discussion of or action that might influence the succession was very dangerous, as the surviving Grey sisters, Catherine and Mary, found out when they married without Elizabeth's approval.

In the meantime, of course, the Northern Rebellion had fallen apart; Percy and Neville had fled to Scotland and Elizabeth's retribution on the rebels was proceeding apace. Evidently, imprisonment in the Tower somehow led Thomas Howard the 4th to greater designs against Queen Elizabeth. Upon his release he became involved in the Ridolfi Plot of 1570 which aimed at executing the Queen and placing Mary, Queen of Scots (and her consort, Thomas I, King of England?) on the throne. The plot was discovered by Elizabeth's spy network and Thomas Howard the 4th was executed for treason on June 2, 1572. His lands and titles were forfeit to the throne, of course.

His son Philip Howard, however, would succeed to his maternal grandfather's title, the Earl of Arundel, when Henry FitzAlan died in 1580--but he ended up dying in the Tower of London, perhaps just because Elizabeth feared a Howard in exile, supported by the Pope and Catholic monarchs. Nevertheless, Elizabeth restored Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk to the blood in 1584 and he served her in various offices and efforts, including the trial of Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, but ended up leaving office under James I in some disgrace. Thomas Howard the 4th's youngest son, William Howard became a Catholic in 1584, lived in retirement and recusancy in Naworth Castle, Cumberland and died in 1640.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

St. Thomas More's "The Sadness of Christ"

According to Seymour Baker House in the 29th volume of Renaissance and Reformation (2005), St. Thomas More wrote De Tristitia Christi/The Sadness of Christ as "A Martyr's Theology of Assent". You may access the .pdf of the article from that link. As House unfolds his thesis, he notes that More's exegesis of Jesus's Agony in the Garden serves as a preparation for martyrdom, if not for himself, for those who follow after him.

As I am reading The Sadness of Christ this Lent, I have been meditating on the long passage in which More considers distractions during prayer. He calls out their danger and he reflects on how incredibly inappropriate they are to the situation. More describes how we can dress up for Holy Mass--thinking we are honoring God through our attire--and then contradict that thought by cleaning our finger nails, picking our noses, thinking about many other things, and forgetting where we are entirely in the course of the Mass. He contrasts those distractions to the serious position we are in as suppliants to Almighty God, to whom we owe everything and on whom we depend for everything.

In one crucial passage, he asks the reader to imagine what would happen if a subject went before a mere human king and asked for pardon. Suppose the subject was accused--and was guilty of--treason and faced mortal death. Would he go before the monarch and while pleading for mercy, act distracted and unconcerned? Would he "yawn, stretch, sneeze, spit without giving it a thought, and belch up the fumes of [his] gluttony"? Of course not: he would be attentive, respect the office and person of the monarch, and pray for his mercy!

More then goes on to show that Jesus gave us a pattern of prayer to follow, culminating in the Agony of the Garden: praying intensely, body and soul, reverent and devoted to God His Father.

In Seymour Baker House's article on De Tristitia Christi (More wrote this Tower Work in Latin), he comments on the controversy over interpretation of Christ's Agony in the Garden vis-a-vis the mystery of His Person: True God and True Man, the Divine Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, with a human nature, human will (and Divine nature and Divine will). Did Jesus really fear the suffering and torture He faced and death on the cross?

I remember writing about how John Colet and Desderius Erasmus debated that mystery when I studied Erasmus as an undergraduate. Colet took the line of St. Jerome and other Fathers that this sorrow was not for His own death, but for the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Erasmus agreed with St. Cyril of Alexandria that this sorrow and fear was appropriate for Jesus to express, just as He endured the temptations of Satan in the dessert after praying and fasting for 40 days. He endured temptation without giving in, of course, just as He endured fear and sorrow and remained obedient to His Father's will.

More on St. Thomas More's De Tristitia Christi next Sunday.

Illustration: Christ in Gethsemane by Heinrich Hofmann.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Virtually Restoring St. Augustine's Abbey

The Kent School of Architecture will virtually rebuild St. Augustine of Canterbury's Abbey:

Architectural Visualisation students were treated to an insight into the past when English Heritage visited the school to talk about the nearby St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury.  The archaeological site is the subject of the students’ latest project, Virtual Cities, which redirects techniques and skills typically used to visualise prospective architectural proposals, to reanimate the past.

The project will see students rebuild the Abbey to its former glory prior to the suppression by King Henry VIII in the 1530s.  The virtual model is designed to be fully navigable, allowing audiences the chance to experience the abbey complete with interpretations of the interior spaces and decoration.

Howard Griffin, Programme Director of the MA Architectural Visualisation courses said, “This is an exciting collaboration between the School of Architecture and English Heritage.  Our students have the chance to work with archaeological experts in recreating the past.  Much of the learning students are engaged with on this course is aimed at visualising the future.  However, we can use these same processes and skills to recreate the past as well.  Using real-time games technology allows audiences to navigate their way through a space in a way which cannot be achieved with simple computer animation.”

The project presents new challenges to the students, who ordinarily can rely on accurate architect’s drawings as a source of information.  Most of the Abbey and outer buildings were destroyed and little evidence remains of large parts of the site.  Collections Curator at English Heritage, Rowena Willard-Wright explained, “This project will be like building a jigsaw puzzle, but with only 3 pieces remaining.”

The first stage of the St. Augustine Abbey project is due to be completed by spring, with additional work and detailing to be completed later.  

The ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey are a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the care and maintenance of the English Heritage organization. The last abbot was John Essex and he and his monks surrendered the abbey to Henry VIII's commissioners on July 30, 1538, ending almost one thousand years of monasticism on that site (940 years). Henry VIII took over the site to build himself a palace. More on the history of the monastery here.

Image credit: Wikipedia commons.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Louisa May Alcott, RIP

Louisa May Alcott died on March 6, 1888. I read my first copy of Little Women (actually an abridged edition of  Little Women and Good Wives from Whitman Classics) so much when I was a child that the book fell apart. Sections of it fell out and I had to use a rubber band to keep the book together! (The image above is the cover of a recent Penguin edition.)

I also read Little Men, Jo's Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, Under the Lilacs, Jack and Jill, Hospital Sketches, and An Old Fashioned Girl. Several years ago, I investigated her Gothic novels and other fiction: A Long Fatal Love Chase (guess how that book ends!), Behind a Mask, The Inheritance, and Moods.

In Little Women and a few of the other children's books I noticed how Alcott sometimes used Catholic devotions. If you read Little Women you might remember when Amy has to stay at Aunt March's mansion while Beth is home ill with scarlet fever. Aunt March's French maid Esther tells her a little about the Rosary and urges Amy to set aside a place and take time every day for some meditation and prayer. Amy does pray in her chapel, but certainly does not use the Rosary Esther gives her, "feeling doubtful as to its fitness for Protestant prayers."

Rose in Bloom contains an extended discussion of saints and devotion when Rose and her cousin Charlie debate the merits of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Martin of Tours:

"Some of my saints here were people of one idea, and though they were not very successful from a worldly point of view while alive, they were loved and canonized when dead," said Rose, who had been turning over a pile of photographs on the table and just then found her favorite, St. Francis, among them.

"This is more to my taste. Those worn-out, cadaverous fellows give me the blues, but here's a gentlemanly saint who takes things easy and does good as he goes along without howling over his own sins or making other people miserable by telling them of theirs." And Charlie laid a handsome St. Martin beside the brown-frocked monk.

Rose looked at both and understood why her cousin preferred the soldierly figure with the sword to the ascetic with his crucifix. One was riding bravely through the world in purple and fine linen, with horse and hound and squires at his back; and the other was in a lazar-house, praying over the dead and dying. The contrast was a strong one, and the girl's eyes lingered longest on the knight, though she said thoughtfully, "Yours is certainly the pleasantest and yet I never heard of any good deed he did, except divide his cloak with a beggar, while St. Francis gave himself to charity just when life was most tempting and spent years working for God without reward. He's old and poor, and in a dreadful place, but I won't give him up, and you may have your gay St. Martin if you want him."

"No, thank you, saints are not in my line but I'd like the golden-haired angel in the blue gown if you'll let me have her. She shall be my little Madonna, and I'll pray to her like a good Catholic," answered Charlie, turning to the delicate, deep-eyed figure with the lilies in its hand.

"With all my heart, and any others that you like. Choose some for your mother and give them to her with my love."

So Charlie sat down beside Rose to turn and talk over the pictures for a long and pleasant hour. But when they went away to lunch, if there had been anyone to observe so small but significant a trifle, good St. Francis lay face downward behind the sofa, while gallant St. Martin stood erect upon the chimneypiece.

And later in the same novel, one of Rose's other cousins, Mac, compares Rose to the Blessed Virgin Mary:

"Lead Rosa--I'm going to take this child home, and if Uncle is willing, I'll adopt her, and she shall be happy!" cried Rose, with the sudden glow of feeling that always made her lovely. And gathering poor baby close, she went on her way like a modern Britomart, ready to redress the wrongs of any who had need of her.

As he led the slowly stepping horse along the quiet road, Mac could not help thinking that they looked a little like the Flight into Egypt, but he did not say so, being a reverent youth--only glanced back now and then at the figure above him, for Rose had taken off her hat to keep the light from baby's eyes and sat with the sunshine turning her uncovered hair to gold as she looked down at the little creature resting on the saddle before her with the sweet thoughtfulness one sees in some of Correggio's young Madonnas.

These references to saints and Madonnas coming from a Unitarian Universalist are rather surprising. Certainly when you know more about St. Martin of Tours than Rose (or Alcott), the contrast she and Charlie see between them is confusing. St. Martin of Tours, hermit and then bishop, certainly spent his days after that one gesture in the same efforts as St. Francis of Assisi, whom Alcott mistakenly calls a monk (when he was a friar). Notice too the emphasis on charity and works. Alcott's novels for young girls are filled with calls to charity for the poor, efforts for the abandoned and the orphaned. As this site notes, Alcott's Unitarian background emphasized duty far above the "outward forms and rite of religion":

When Louisa May Alcott was a young woman trying to find work in Boston, she met the Rev. Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister. He and his wife were very helpful to her. She attended his Sunday Services and his evening discussion groups. Louisa May Alcott's [1888] biographer, Ednah D. Cheney, writes the following about Louisa's religion:

"In her journal at this time she speaks of her religious feelings, which the experiences of grief and despair and reviving hope had deepened. Louisa Alcott's was a truly religious soul; she always lived in the consciousness of a Higher Power sustaining and blessing her, whose presence was revealed to her through Nature, through the inspired words of great thinkers and the deep experiences of her own heart. She never led her life as an isolated possession which she was free to use for her own enjoyment or glory. Her father truly called her 'Duty's faithful child', and her life was consecrated to the duty she recognized as specially hers. But for outward forms and rites of religion she cared little; her home was sacred to her, and she found her best life there. She loved Theodore Parker, and found great strength and help from his preaching, and afterward liked to listen to Dr. Bartol; but she never joined any church."

Since she did not practice the ritual aspect of religion--not joining any church--Alcott unfortunately did not understand Catholic devotion. She depicts a rather romanticized and aesthetic view of Catholicism, at least when reflecting on prayers and devotions. Nevertheless, I enjoyed her books very much when I read and re-read them so many years ago.