Monday, December 22, 2008


May I wish you one and all a Happy Christmas and Joyous New Year.

I shall be in Scotland over the Christmas/New Year period and probably will not have internet access.

I shall resume after 5th January 2009.

The Lehman Madonna

Andrea della Robbia (1435–1525)
Virgin and Child, ("the Lehman Madonna") 15th century (ca. 1470–75)
Glazed terracotta; 37 3/8 x 21 5/8 in. (94.9 x 54.9 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

"In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet.

Heaven has come down to Earth.

For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there.

At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord’s Prayer:

“Our Father who art in Heaven”, he asks: what is this – Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: “… who art in Heaven – that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location. Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: ‘The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains’, but rather: ‘the Lord is close to the brokenhearted’ (Ps 34:18[33:19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called ‘Earth’, so by contrast the just man can be called ‘Heaven’” (Sermo in monte II 5, 17).

Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart.

And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven.

And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven.

Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God’s humility, God’s heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. "

From the Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter's Basilica on Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mother and Child

Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431 – September 13, 1506)
Madonna and Child c 1490
Copperplate engraving on laid paper
250.000 mm x 210.000 mm
The British Museum, London

A similar engraving is in The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

Mantegna was no less eminent as an engraver, as a painter.

He and his workshop engraved about thirty plates, according to the usual reckoning; large, full of figures, and highly studied

In this plate, the emphasis is on the tenderness displayed between mother and child. She cradles her infant in her arms with her cheek. against his face. Her knees support his small body.

Speech to Ambassadors

In his French-language address recently to eleven Ambassadors at the Holy See , the Holy Father said, "The diversity of where you come from brings me to give thanks to God for his creative love and the multiplicity of his gifts, which never cease to surprise humanity."

"Sometimes diversity makes people afraid," he acknowledged. "That's why we shouldn't be surprised if the human being prefers monotony and uniformity."

Certain political-economic systems, the Pontiff continued "attributing to themselves or claiming pagan or religious origins, have afflicted humanity for too long, trying to make it uniform with demagogy and violence."

"They have reduced and reduce the human being to an unworthy slavery at the service of one ideology or an inhumane and pseudo-scientific economy," he said. "All of us know that there is not just one political model, an ideal that has to be absolutely fulfilled, and that political philosophy develops in time and in its expressions, according as it is polished by human intelligence and the lessons taken from political and economic experience."

So much of what the Pope has said echoes what what said by Friedrich August von Hayek in 1974 about "The Pretence of Knowledge": (plus ca change ?)

"The progress of the natural sciences in modern times has of course so much exceeded all expectations that any suggestion that there may be some limits to it is bound to arouse suspicion.

Especially all those will resist such an insight who have hoped that our increasing power of prediction and control, generally regarded as the characteristic result of scientific advance, applied to the processes of society, would soon enable us to mould society entirely to our liking.

It is indeed true that, in contrast to the exhilaration which the discoveries of the physical sciences tend to produce, the insights which we gain from the study of society more often have a dampening effect on our aspirations; and it is perhaps not surprising that the more impetuous younger members of our profession are not always prepared to accept this.

Yet the confidence in the unlimited power of science is only too often based on a false belief that the scientific method consists in the application of a ready-made technique, or in imitating the form rather than the substance of scientific procedure, as if one needed only to follow some cooking recipes to solve all social problems.

It sometimes almost seems as if the techniques of science were more easily learnt than the thinking that shows us what the problems are and how to approach them.

The conflict between what in its present mood the public expects science to achieve in satisfaction of popular hopes and what is really in its power is a serious matter because, even if the true scientists should all recognize the limitations of what they can do in the field of human affairs, so long as the public expects more there will always be some who will pretend, and perhaps honestly believe, that they can do more to meet popular demands than is really in their power.

It is often difficult enough for the expert, and certainly in many instances impossible for the layman, to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate claims advanced in the name of science. The enormous publicity recently given by the media to a report pronouncing in the name of science on The Limits to Growth, and the silence of the same media about the devastating criticism this report has received from the competent experts, must make one feel somewhat apprehensive about the use to which the prestige of science can be put.

But it is by no means only in the field of economics that far-reaching claims are made on behalf of a more scientific direction of all human activities and the desirability of replacing spontaneous processes by "conscious human control".

If I am not mistaken, psychology, psychiatry and some branches of sociology, not to speak about the so-called philosophy of history, are even more affected by what I have called the scientistic prejudice, and by specious claims of what science can achieve."

Friedrich August von Hayek; Prize Lecture: "The Pretence of Knowledge"

See: Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, December 11, 1974

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Tree of Jesse

Arbre de Jessé/ Tree of Jesse
Guiard des Moulins, Historical Bible
14th -15th century
Français 159, fol. 175,
Illuminated Manuscript
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Isaiah, Chapter 11, verses 1-3:-

“ And there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots..."

Christ is the "shoot of Jesse" by his descent from Jesse's son, King David

In the medieval period, heredity was all-important.The Tree of Jesse was a means of illustrating the actual royal descent of Jesus, especially for royalty and the nobility, including those who had joined the clergy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Annunciation to the Shepherds

The Annunciation to the Shepherds
Stained glass panel
About 1340
Clear, coloured and flashed glass, with paint and silver stain
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Luke refers to the angel appearing to the shepherds to tell them of the miraculous birth. The shepherds then pay homage to the Christ Child.

This event was interpreted as the announcement of the birth of the Messiah to the Jews (the shepherds)

The Adoration of the Magi was interpreted as the announcement of the birth of the Messiah to the Gentiles (the Magi).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Beauty of Stained Glass

St Anne teaching the Virgin Mary to read. c.1447
Stained glass
Antechapel, north-east window of the north transept
All Souls College, Oxford

"I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay their foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.”
Isaiah 54:11-12

The College of All Souls of the Faithful Departed, of Oxford, was formally established by Henry VI and Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 20 May 1438.

The chapel,consisting of a chancel and transepts or ante-choir, was finally consecrated at a celebratory mass offered by Chichele in the summer of 1442

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Appearance of Our Lord to St John of the Cross

Bénézet Bernard 1835- 1897
Apparition de Notre-Seigneur à saint Jean de la Croix/
The Appearance of Our Lord to St John of the Cross
Paper: pencil and black ink 20.5,x. 15.5cm
Musée du vieux Toulouse, Toulouse

"The love that Jesus, born in Bethlehem, brought into the world binds to himself in a lasting relationship of friendship and brotherhood all who welcome him.

St John of the Cross says: "In giving us all, that is, his Son, in him God has now said all. Fix your eyes on him alone... and you will find in addition more than you ask and desire" (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book I, Ep. 22, 4-5). "

(Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Wednesday, 3 January 2007 )

Monday, December 15, 2008

St Peter Canisius

Dominikus Custos (1550/59-1615).
Copper lithograph of St Peter Canisius 1600

Bust of S. Peter Canisius c 1843-1853
Ruhmeshalle/Hall of Fame, Munich

Saint Peter Canisius (also known as Pierre Kanijs or Pieter De Hondt)(8 May 1521 – 21December 1597) is known as the Second Apostle of Germany.

In this piece by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Father Hardon explained the importance of the life of St Peter Canisius on his own life and vocation.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

St John of the Cross

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek, 1541–1614)
View of Toledo 1596-1600
Oil on canvas
47.75 × 42.75 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Francisco de Zurbarán, (November 7, 1598 – August 27, 1664)
Saint Serapion, 1628,
Oil on canvas, 120 x 103 cm,
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford

Today is the Feast of St John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) (24 June 1542 – 14 December 1591), who was born Juan de Yepes Alvarez. He was a Spanish mystic, and Carmelite friar and priest.

Here is a meditation on his life and significance by Thomas Merton. The full version can be accessed by clicking the link above.

"IF YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN El Greco`s View of Toledo, you might take a look at it. It will tell you something about St. John of the Cross. I say it will tell you something - not very much. St. John of the Cross and El Greco were contemporaries, they lived in the same country, they were mystics, though by no means in the same degree. In other ways they were quite different.

Father Bruno, in the best life of St. John of the Cross so far written, reminds his reader several times not to go imagining that St. John of the Cross looked like an El Greco painting. He was more like one of Zurbaran`s Carthusians. Even that comparison is not altogether exact. The original and authentic portrait of the saint shows him to have an innocent and rather expressionless face. He does not look in any way ascetic. In fact you would think you were looking at the portrait of a Madrid shop-keeper or of a cook.

El Greco`s View of Toledo is very dramatic. It is full of spiritual implications. It looks like a portrait of the heavenly Jerusalem wearing an iron mask. Yet there is nothing inert about these buildings. The dark city built on its mountain seems to be entirely alive. It surges with life, coordinated by some mysterious, providential upheaval which drives all these masses of stone upward toward heaven, in the clouds of a blue disaster that foreshadows the end of the world.

Somewhere in the middle of the picture must be the building where St. John of the Cross was kept in prison.

Soon after the beginning of St. Teresa`s reform he was kidnapped by opponents of the reform, and disappeared. No one had any idea where he had gone and, as St. Teresa lamented, nobody seemed to care. He was locked up in a cell without light or air during the stifling heat of a Toledan summer to await trial and punishment for what his persecutors seriously believed to be a canonical crime.

The complex canonical and political implications of the Carmelite reform had involved the saints of that reform in the kind of intrigue for which they alone, of all Spain, had no taste. And even St. Teresa, whose dovelike simplicity was supported by an altogether devastating prudence in these adventures, seems to have rather enjoyed them.

John of the Cross found little that was humanly speaking enjoyable in his Toledo jail. His only excursions from his cell came on the days when he was brought down to the refectory to be publicly scourged by his jailers, who were scandalized at his meek silence, believing it to be the sign of a reprobate con science, hardened in rebellion. Why didn`t the man do some thing to defend himself?..."

A fashionable myth

Salford's right-to-die card

In a perceptive article, Dominic Lawson destroys the myth behind the "right to die".

"Perhaps the most compelling evidence given to the House of Lords came from Dr Bert Keizer, who worked as a geriatrician in Amsterdam for a quarter of a century and carried out many “physician-assisted suicides”– the basis of his book Dancing with Mr D.

Dr Keizer told our legislators:

“It is useless to worry about the slippery slope. Once a society has decided that euthanasia is allowed in certain cases, one is on it. Thus in Holland we have given up the condition that a patient must be in a terminal situation. Next, mental suffering was allowed [as a reason]. Then one’s future dementia was suggested as a reason for a request for death . . .

I believe, on the grounds of the more than 1,000 deathbeds I attended, that euthanasia is a blessing in certain exceptional situations, yet I would rather die in a country where euthanasia is forbidden but where doctors do know how to look after patients in a humane manner.”

One of our broadcasters should commission a documentary from Dr Keizer: it would do us no harm to look into the abyss."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Psalter is an ideal source of Christian prayer"

Psalter, late 12th century
Tempera, black ink, gold leaf on parchment with paper endpapers; 87 folios; 8 1/8 x 5 7/8 x 2 in. (20.7 x 14.9 x 5.1 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

The above psalter opens with a handsome headpiece to the Book of Psalms (fol. 5r) with a bust of Christ at its centre and, below the headpiece, an elaborate incipit letter formed by two birds, which may refer to Jesus' dual nature as both God and man.

Pope John Paul II at his General Audience on March 28, 2001 delivered the following talk on the theme: The Psalter is an ideal source of Christian prayer

"1. In the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte I expressed the hope that the Church would become more and more distinguished in the "art of prayer", learning it ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master (cf. n. 32). This effort must be expressed above all in the liturgy, the source and summit of ecclesial life.

Consequently, it is important to devote greater pastoral care to promoting the Liturgy of the Hours as a prayer of the whole People of God (cf. ibid., n. 34). If, in fact, priests and religious have a precise mandate to celebrate it, it is also warmly recommended to lay people. This was the aim of my venerable Predecessor Paul VI, a little over 30 years ago, with the Constitution Laudis canticum in which he determined the current form of this prayer, hoping that the Psalms and Canticles, the essential structure of the Liturgy of the Hours, would be understood "with new appreciation by the People of God" (AAS 63 [1971], 532)

It is an encouraging fact that many lay people in parishes and ecclesial associations have learned to appreciate it. Nevertheless, it remains a prayer that presupposes an appropriate catechetical and biblical formation, if it is to be fully savoured. To this end, we begin today a series of catecheses on the Psalms and Canticles found in the morning prayer of Lauds.

In this way I would like to encourage and help everyone to pray with the same words that Jesus used, words that for thousands of years have been part of the prayer of Israel and the Church.

2. We could use various approaches to understanding the Psalms. The first would consist in presenting their literary structure, their authors, their formation, the contexts in which they were composed. It would also be fruitful to read them in a way that emphasizes their poetic character, which sometimes reaches the highest levels of lyrical insight and symbolic expression.

It would be no less interesting to go over the Psalms and consider the various sentiments of the human heart expressed in them: joy, gratitude, thanksgiving, love, tenderness, enthusiasm, but also intense suffering, complaint, pleas for help and for justice, which sometimes lead to anger and imprecation. In the Psalms, the human being fully discovers himself

Our reading will aim above all at bringing out the religious meaning of the Psalms, showing how they can be used in the prayer of Christ's disciples, although they were written many centuries ago for Hebrew believers. In this task we will turn for help to the results of exegesis, but together we will learn from Tradition and will listen above all to the Fathers of the Church.

3. The latter, in fact, were able with deep spiritual penetration to discern and identify the great "key" to understanding the Psalms as Christ himself, in the fullness of his mystery. The Fathers were firmly convinced that the Psalms speak of Christ. The risen Jesus, in fact, applied the Psalms to himself when he said to the disciples: "Everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled" (Lk 24: 44). The Fathers add that in the Psalms Christ is spoken to or it is even Christ who speaks. In saying this, they were thinking not only of the individual person of Christ, but of the Christus totus, the total Christ, composed of Christ the Head and his members

Christians were thus able to read the Book of Psalms in the light of the whole mystery of Christ. This same perspective also brings out the ecclesial dimension, which is particularly highlighted when the Psalms are sung chorally. We can understand, then, how the Psalms came to be adopted from the earliest centuries as the prayer of the People of God.

If in some historical periods there was a tendency to prefer other prayers, it is to the monks' great credit that they held the Psalter's torch aloft in the Church. One of them, St Romuald, founder of Camaldoli, at the dawn of the second Christian millennium, even maintained, as his biographer Bruno of Querfurt says, that the Psalms are the only way to experience truly deep prayer: "Una via in psalmis" (Passio sanctorum Benedicti et Johannis ac sociorum eorundem: MPH VI, 1893, 427).

4. With this assertion, which seems excessive at first sight, he actually remained anchored to the best tradition of the first Christian centuries, when the Psalter became the book of Church prayer par excellence. This was the winning choice in view of the heretical tendencies that continuously threatened the unity of faith and communion.

Interesting in this regard is a marvellous letter that St Athanasius wrote to Marcellinus in the first half of the fourth century while the Arian heresy was vehemently attacking belief in the divinity of Christ. To counter the heretics who seduced people with hymns and prayers that gratified their religious sentiments, the great Father of the Church dedicated all his energies to teaching the Psalter handed down by Scripture (cf. PG 27, 12ff.).

This is how, in addition to the Our Father, the Lord's prayer by antonomasia, the practice of praying the Psalms soon became universal among the baptized.

5. By praying the Psalms as a community, the Christian mind remembered and understood that it is impossible to turn to the Father who dwells in heaven without an authentic communion of life with one's brothers and sisters who live on earth. Moreover, by being vitally immersed in the Hebrew tradition of prayer, Christians learned to pray by recounting the magnalia Dei, that is, the great marvels worked by God both in the creation of the world and humanity, and in the history of Israel and the Church.

This form of prayer drawn from Scripture does not exclude certain freer expressions, which will continue not only to characterize personal prayer, but also to enrich liturgical prayer itself, for example, with hymns and troparia. But the Book of Psalms remains the ideal source of Christian prayer and will continue to inspire the Church in the new millennium."

Leaf from a Missal

Leaf from a Missal, ca. 1290
Northeast French; Beauvais (?)
Tempera and gold leaf, on parchment; 11 3/8 x 7 1/4 in. (28.9 x 18.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

The text comprises the special prayers for the feast of Saint John the Baptist (June 24): readings from Psalm 91 and the Books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the Gradual, the Gloria, and the Alleluia.

Sister Wendy Contemplates Saint Paul in Art

Andrei Rublev (c.1360 or 1370 - 1427 or January 29, 1430)
Icon of the Apostle St Paul c.1420
Tempera on wood. 160 x 109 cm.
The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Looking for a book to give at Christmas ? Perhaps Sister Wendy has the answer.

Sister Wendy Beckett has spent the past year working on a book of pictures of St Paul.

Christopher Howse in The Telegraph discusses the latest book by Sister Wendy Beckett. She has chosen the very difficult theme of Saint Paul in Art for her latest work.

Mr Howse writes:

"Through this book of 40 works of art, I have found at last found a way in to this difficult writer. St Paul is all the more difficult because we think that, as he is in the Bible, we ought to find his words congenial.

There are two big obstacles. One is that, like Shakespeare, he is “full of quotes”: familiar phrases distract our attention from the argument. The really big obstacle, though, is the argument itself; the thrust of his prose is bafflingly hard.

Sister Wendy finds a similar difficulty. “It is impossible to 'read’ St Paul in the accepted sense,” she writes. “His text is too dense, its power too deep to be comprehended, except word by word.”

She tells the history of the saintly Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun in Dijon who died in 1906. “Her short life was transformed by three small words in St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. She liked to quote it in Latin, ad laudem gloriae, to the praise of his glory.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Avery Dulles Ordained

Avery Dulles ordained in New York by Archbishop Spellman, pictured with his father John Foster Dulles and Spellman

Avery Cardinal Dulles, RIP

The late Cardinal Dulles

The Times has just reported the death of Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, theologian, who died on December 12, 2008, aged 90.

Of his conversion to Catholicism he said in his conversion memoir, A Testimonial to Grace (1946):

"[In 1939] one grey February afternoon [in Harvard’s Widener Library] I was irresistibly prompted to go out into the open air . . . . The slush of melting snow formed a deep mud along the banks of the River Charles, which I followed down toward Boston . . . . As I wandered aimlessly, something impelled me to look contemplatively at a young tree. On its frail, supple branches were young buds . . . . While my eye rested on them, the thought came to me suddenly, with all the strength and novelty of a revelation, that these little buds in their innocence and meekness followed a rule, a law of which I as yet knew nothing . . . . That night, for the first time in years, I prayed.”

He of course later was made a cardinal.

"After his consecration as a cardinal in Rome on February 21, 2001, the Gregorian University hosted a meal in his honour. Over the rattle of after-dinner coffee cups, various high-ranking ecclesial figures rose to praise Dulles’s life and work.

The most revealing moment, however, may have come when, unexpectedly, one of his Dulles cousins stepped to the podium.

An aristocrat of that strange, old American variety — tall and puritanically thin, well but primly dressed, a daughter of stern Protestant New England — she explained that she had overheard as a child the outraged family discussions of the young Avery’s conversion.

Uncle Allen, Aunt Eleanor, John Foster, all the senior family members gathered around to complain that the best and brightest of the family’s next generation seemed determined to throw his promising life away.

“And, of course, they were right,” she said. “He did throw that life away. He threw it away for God.”

Dignitas Personae

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has released an instuction entitled Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of a Person).

It provides guidance on how to respect human life and human procreation

It builds upon Donum vitae, the 1987 CDF instruction on reproductive technologies and embryo experimentation, and discusses more fully the threat of human cloning.

Amongst the issues covered include:

Fertility treatments
Stem cell research and therapies
Proposed use of unethically obtained cells and tissues, for example, in making vaccines
Embryo adoption
Pre-implantation drugs and devices
Gene therapy
Human/animal hybrid embryos

The Fall of Man and Redemption

Giovanni di Paolo c. 1403 - 1482
The Annunciation and Expulsion from Paradise, c. 1435
Tempera on panel
Overall: 40 x 46.4 cm (15 3/4 x 18 1/4 in.) painted surface (within _barbe_): 38.7 x 44.7 cm (15 1/4 x 17 5/8 in.) framed: 54.9 x 58.7 x 7 cm (21 5/8 x 23 1/8 x 2 3/4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The three scenes in this painting help make explicit the connection between the Fall, and God's promise of salvation, which is fulfilled at the moment of the Annunication.

Sandro Magister in And It Was Night. The Real Story of Original Sin discusses the Dogma of Orginial Sin and why Pope Benedict has talked about it three times in eight days.

The Pope has said that without the Dogma, Christian redemption "would lose its foundation"

At his General Audience on Wednesday 3rd December 2008, Pope Benedict XVI discussed Original Sin. The theme of the address was "The Apostle Paul’s teaching on the relation between Adam and Christ".

At his audience on 10th December 2008, the Pope returned to the theme. But he made a number of ex tempore remarks. They are reported by Sandro Magister:

""Dear brothers and sisters,

In following St. Paul we saw two things in the catechesis last Wednesday. The first is that our human history has been tainted from the beginning by the abuse of created freedom, which intends to emancipate itself from the divine will. And in this way it does not find true freedom, but opposes itself to the truth, and as a result falsifies our human realities.

Above all, it falsifies the fundamental relationships: with God, between man and woman, between man and the earth. We said that this tainting of our history is spread through the entire fabric, and that this inherited defect has increased, and is now visible everywhere. This was the first thing.

The second is this: we learned from St. Paul that there is a new beginning in history and of history in Jesus Christ, He who is man and God. With Jesus, who comes from God, there begins a new history formed by his yes to the Father, and thus founded not on the pride of a false emancipation, but on love and truth.

"But now the question arises: how can we enter into this new beginning, into this new history? How does this new history reach me?

With the first tainted history, we are inevitably connected by our biological origin, we all belong to the one body of humanity. But communion with Jesus, the new birth in order to enter to become part of the new humanity, how does this take place? How does Jesus come into my life, into my being? The fundamental answer of St. Paul, and of the entire New Testament, is: he comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. If the first history gets underway, so to speak, with biology, the second gets underway in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Christ. This Spirit created, at Pentecost, the beginning of the new humanity, of the new community, the Church, the Body of Christ."

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Illuminated initial letter
Italian School 15th Century (Milan)
Watercolour, gold leaf on vellum
Height: 14.8 cm; Width: 14.7 cm
Courtauld Institute Art Gallery, London

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Assisted Suicide

The Times reports that the recent campaign to change the law on assisted suicide and make it more "liberal" looks like running into the sand. The Prime Minister has declared against it.

"Gordon Brown revealed today that he opposes changing the law on assisted suicide in Britain, as a television channel prepares to screen ground-breaking footage of a British resident dying at a Swiss euthanasia clinic.

The Prime Minister admitted to MPs that he personally would not want see British law reformed to make it legal for terminally ill people like Craig Ewert to receive help in ending their own lives in their own country.

Mr Brown made the surprise intervention when he was questioned by Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat MP whose Harrogate constituency was home to 59-year-old Mr Ewert, a retired university professor who will be seen dying from a lethal dose of barbiturates in a programme broadcast tonight on Sky TV's Real Lives channel.

“Many people in this House recognise that there is a real issue in terms of how we approach assisted dying, but at the moment it’s illegal," said Mr Willis, at Prime Minister's Questions.

“Health and palliative care groups as well as disability and other faith groups oppose assisted dying. Do you regard this programme as being in the public interest or is it simply distasteful voyeurism?”

Mr Brown replied: “These are very difficult issues and we should all remember at the heart of any single individual case are families and people in very difficult circumstances who have to make for themselves very difficult choices and none of us would want to go through that.

“I believe it is a matter of conscience and there are different views on each side of the House about what should be done.

“I believe that it’s necessary to ensure that there is a never a case in the country where a sick or elderly person feels under pressure to agree to an assisted death or somehow feels it’s the expected thing to do.

“That’s why I’ve always opposed legislation for assisted deaths.” "

La Sainte-Baume

Massif Sainte Baume

One of Le Corbusier`s (1887-1965) unbuilt buildings was La Sainte-Baume Basilica, France at the Massif Sainte Baume (above)

It was to be an underground cathedral in La Sainte-Baume, France. It was to be carved out of a rock in a mountaintop setting, and accessible only by a bridge across a ravine. The plans for the cave-like cathedral are an uncanny reminder of underground structures like bunkers.

Although unbuilt, its story deserves to be better known. The concept was to exercise an important influence on modern European Church architecture.

The Sainte-Baume is a mountain ridge spreading between the départements of Bouches-du-Rhône and Var in southern France. Its summit is 1147 metres high.

There is a French tradition that Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus, and Maximinus, one of the Seventy Disciples and some companions, traversed the Mediterranean in a frail boat with neither rudder nor mast and landed at the place called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer near Arles.

It is said that Mary Magdalene came to Marseille and converted the whole of Provence.

She is then said to have retired to a cave on a hill by Marseille, La Sainte-Baume ("Holy Cave"), where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years.

The cave is now a Christian pilgrimage site (see below)

The grotto of St Mary Magdalene

In the Revolution, the shrine was desecrated. However, in 1859 the Dominican friars once more took up their guardianship of the sanctuary. Father Lacordaire, greatly exerted himself in the restoration of La Sainte Baume. He wanted La Sainte Baume to speak of the most beautiful friendships:

“This should be the summit of human and divine affections”;

“Jesus Christ loved souls, and he passes on to us this love which was the basis of Christianity... It is friendship, love, that by which God became man and died for men, which could conceive of this.”

Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume (Var)

Nearby Mary Magdalene was said to be buried and over her tomb was constructed a basilica, begun in 1295, and consecrated in 1316.(see above) In medieval times for centuries it was a popular place of pilgrimage under the care of the Dominican order. It was referred to as the "Compostela" of South East France. The Basilica is still extant and in use. It is the largest Gothic building in south-eastern France

After the Second World War (in 1948) there was a plan for an underground basilica, dedicated to Peace and Pardon, at La Sainte Baume.

The plan was devised and developed by four men: Edouard Trouin, Fernand Léger, Father Couturier and Le Corbusier.

For Father Couturier and Le Corbusier, it was a testbed for later constructions: the Chapelle de Ronchamp and the Monastery de la Tourette.

Edouard Trouin (1907-1979) was the owner of the land around Sainte Baume. Fernand Léger was an important French artist renowned especially in the interwar years.

Trouin had a dream of creating a City of Peace and of Contemplation. He longed to return to the time when Provence was the Delphi of the West. He was educated by the Jesuits in France and in Italy. He studied law. Later he became passionate about art and architecture. Le Corbusier described him in a letter to a friend:

« Trouin… c’est un personnage pittoresque et de haute valeur, à mon point de vue. Vous auriez un réel plaisir à le questionner sur sa thèse qu’il connaît à fond ».

Trouin met Le Corbusier in 1945. Corbusier had just completed the Cité Radieuse in Marseilles.

The aim was to create "invisible architecture". The whole building was underground. It was a Utopian dream.

The grotto`s entrance would look out on a view which would go all the way to the Mediterranean. See the plans of Le Corbusier below.

The plans of Le Corbusier

Monday, December 08, 2008

St Jerome and Pope Saint Pius X

In May 1907, Pope Saint Pius X announced his intention that there should be a revision of the Latin Bible.

In 1909, The Times reported on the work of the Biblical Commission which had been commissioned by the Pope to carry out the revision.

The commission was headed by Abbot Gasquet, the President of the English Benedictines.

The article from The Times below discusses the magnitude of the work undertaken by the Commission.

St Jerome's Letter to Pope Saint Damasus

St Jerome's Letter to Pope Damasus, in a copy of the Gospels from Brittany
circa AD 825
Ink and pigments on vellum
32.4 x 23 Centimetres
Egerton MS 609, f.1r
The British Library, London

Pope Saint Damasus I ( pope from 366 to 384) appointed St. Jerome as his personal secretary. He commissionedfrom St Jerome a standard Latin translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate. It replaced the existing Vetus Latina, and translated from the original Hebrew instead of the Greek Septuagint.

The Gospelbook opens with St Jerome's letter to Pope Damasus in which he tells about the new latin gospels he has edited.

St Jerome's letter, referred to as the 'Novum Opus' after its first words, was one of several standard 'prefaces' placed before the gospel text in early medieval manuscripts.

The first words of the Letter were "Beatissimo [or Beato] papa damaso ieronimus. Novum opus me facere cogis ex veteri"

The translation of the Letter below is by Kevin P Edgecomb.

""To the blessed Pope Damasus, from Jerome,

You urge me to make a new work from the old, and that I might sit as a kind of judge over the versions of Scripture dispersed throughout the whole world, and that I might resolve which among such vary, and which of these they may be which truly agree with the Greek. Pious work, yet perilous presumption, to change the old and aging language of the world , to carry it back to infancy, for to judge others is to invitejudging by all of them. Is there indeed any learned or unlearned man, who when he picks up the volume in his hand, and takes a single taste of it, and sees what he will have read to differ, might not instantly raise his voice, calling me a forger, proclaiming me now to be a sacrilegious man, that I might dare to add, to change, or to correct anything in the old books? Against such infamy I am consoled by two causes: that it is you, who are the highest priest, who so orders, and truth is not to be what might vary, as even now I am vindicated by the witness of slanderers. If indeed faith is administered by the Latin version, they might respond by which, for they are nearly as many as the books! If, however, truth is to be a seeking among many, why do we not now return to the Greek originals to correct those mistakes which either through faulty translators were set forth, or through confident but unskilled were wrongly revised, or through sleeping scribes either were added or were changed? Certainly, I do not discuss the Old Testament, which came from the Seventy Elders in the Greek language, changing in three steps until it arrived with us [Hebrew > Greek > Latin].

Nor do I seek what Aquila, or what Symmachus may think, or why Theodotion may walk the middle of the road between old and new. This may be the true translation which the Apostles have approved. I now speak of the New Testament, which is undoubtedly Greek, except the Apostle Matthew, who had first set forth the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew letters in Judea. This (Testament) certainly differs in our language, and is led in the way of different streams; it is necessary to seek the single fountainhead. I pass over those books which are called by the name of Lucian and Hesychius, for which a few men wrongly claim authority, who anyway were not allowed to revise either in the Old Instrument after the Seventy Translators, or to pour out revisions in the New; with the Scriptures previously translated into the languages of many nations, the additions may now be shown to be false.

Therefore, this present little preface promises only the four Gospels, the order of which is Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, revised in comparison with only old Greek books. They do not disagree with many familiar Latin readings, as we have kept our pen in control, but only those in which the sense will have been seen to have changed (from the Greek) are corrected; the rest remain as they have been.

We have also copied the lists which Eusebius the bishop of Caesarea, following Ammonius of Alexandria, set out in ten numbers, as they are had in the Greek, so that if any may then wish through diligence to make known what in the Gospels may be either the same, or similar, or singular, he may learn their differences. This is great, since indeed error has sunk into our books; while concerning the same thing, one Evangelist has said more, into another they have added because they thought it inferior; or while another has differently expressed the same sense, whichever one of the four he had read first, he will revise the other to the version he values most. Whence it happened how in our time that all have been mixed; in Mark are many things of Luke, and even of Matthew; turned backwards in Matthew are many things of John and of Mark, yet in the remaining others, they are found to be correct. When, therefore, you will have read the lists which are attached below, the confusion of errors is removed, and you will know all the similar passages, and the singular ones, wherever you may turn to.

In the first list, the four agree, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; in the second, three, Matthew, Mark, Luke; in the third, three, Matthew, Luke, John; in the fourth, three, Matthew, Mark, John; in the fifth, two, Matthew, Luke; in the sixth, two, Matthew, Mark; in the seventh, two, Matthew, John; in the eighth, two, Luke, Mark; in the ninth, two, Luke, John; in the tenth some peculiar ones are given which the others don't have. Separately in the Gospels are numbered sections of unequal length, beginning with one and increasing to the end of the books. This is written before the passage in black, and it has under it a red number, which shows to which of the ten (lists) to proceed, with the first number to be sought in the list. Therefore, when the book is open, for example, if you will wish to know of this or that chapter in which list they may be, you will immediately be shown by the lower number.

Returning to the beginning (of the book) in which the different lists are brought together, and immediately finding the same lists by the title in front, by that same number which you had sought in the Evangelist, which you will find marked in the inscription, you may also view other similar passages, the numbers of which you may note there. And when you know them, you will return to the single volumes, and immediately finding the number which you will have noted before, you will learn the places in which either the same things or similar things were said.

I wish that in Christ you may be well, and that you will remember me, most blessed Pope."

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Immaculate Conception

Carlo Crivelli (about 1430/5 - about 1494)
The Immaculate Conception 1492
Egg tempera on wood
194.3 x 93.3 cm.
The National Gallery, London

In the year that Columbus set out on his voyage of discovery, Crivelli painted this painting for the Franciscan church of San Francesco, Pergola, central Italy.

According to the catalogue of The National Gallery, this may be the earliest dated picture of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.

The Doctrine was championed by the Franciscans although not accepted by others such as those in the Dominican order at the time.

The catalogue states:

"A standard format and symbolism developed for such pictures. The symbols derive from the Bible, including the Book of Revelation and The Song of Songs. Here, the Virgin's purity is symbolised by a lily in a pure crystal glass."

Lourdes and The Immaculate Conception have now perhaps become synonymous. Pope Pius XII in 1957 discussed the importance of Lourdes on the centenary of the Apparitions there.

"15. This century of Marian devotion has also in a certain way woven close bonds between the See of Peter and the shrine in the Pyrenees, bonds which We are pleased to acknowledge.

16. The Virgin Mary herself desired this tie.

"What the Sovereign Pontiff defined in Rome through his infallible Magisterium, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, blessed among all women, wanted to confirm by her own words, it seems, when shortly afterward she manifested herself by a famous apparition at the grotto of Massabielle. . ." Certainly the infallible word of the Roman Pontiff, the authoritative interpreter of revealed truth, needed no heavenly confirmation that it might be accepted by the faithful. But with what emotion and gratitude did the Christian people and their pastors receive from the lips of Bernadette this answer which came from heaven: "I am the Immaculate Conception!"

17. It is therefore not surprising that it should have pleased Our Predecessors to multiply their favors toward this sanctuary.

18. As early as 1869 Pius IX of holy memory rejoiced that the obstacles created against Lourdes by the malice of men "rendered stronger and more evident the clarity of the fact." And strengthened by this assurance, he heaped spiritual benefits upon the newly erected church and crowned the statue of our Lady of Lourdes.

19. In 1892 Leo XIII granted the proper Office and Mass of the feast "In apparitione Beatae Mariae Virginis Immaculatae," which his successor was to extend to the Universal Church a short time later. Henceforth the ancient appeal of the Scriptures was to have a new application:

"Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come. My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow place of the wall. . ."

20. Near the end of his life, this great Pontiff decided to install and bless a reproduction of the grotto of Massabielle in the Vatican gardens, and in those days his voice rose to the Virgin of Lourdes in an ardent and trusting prayer:

"In her power may the Virgin Mother, who once cooperated through her love with the birth of the faithful into the Church, now be the means and guardian of our salvation; may she return the tranquillity of peace to troubled souls; may she hasten the return of Jesus Christ in private and public life."

21. The fiftieth anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin gave Saint Pius X occasion to bear witness in a solemn document to the historic connection between this act of the Magisterium and the apparitions at Lourdes.

"Pius IX," he wrote, "had hardly defined it to be of Catholic faith that Mary was from her very origin exempt from sin, when the Virgin herself began performing miracles at Lourdes."

22. Soon afterward he created the episcopal title of Lourdes, attached it to that of Tarbes, and signed the introduction of the cause for the beatification of Bernadette. It was especially reserved to this great Pope of the Eucharist to emphasize and promote the wonderful harmony existing at Lourdes between Eucharistic worship and Marianprayer. "Devotion to the Mother of God," he noted, "has led to a flowering at Lourdes of remarkable and ardent devotion to Christ our Lord."

23. It could not have been otherwise. Everything about Mary directs us to her Son, our only Savior, in anticipation of whose merits she was immaculate and full of grace. Everything about Mary raises us to the praise of the adorable Trinity; and so it was that Bernadette, praying her rosary before the grotto, learned from the words and bearing of the Blessed Virgin how she should give glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

24. We are pleased in this centenary year to adopt as Our home the homage rendered by Saint Pius X:

"The unique glory of the shrine of Lourdes lies in the fact that people are drawn there from everywhere by Mary to adore Jesus Christ in the august Sacrament, so that this shrine - at once a center of Marian devotion and a throne of the Eucharistic mystery - surpasses in glory, it seems, all others in the Catholic world. "

25. Benedict XV wanted to enrich this shrine, already loaded down with favors, with new and valuable indulgences, and though the tragic circumstances of his Pontificate did not allow him to multiply public expressions of his devotion, he nevertheless willed to honor the Marian city by granting to its bishop the privilege of the pallium at the place of the apparitions.

Pius XI, who had been to Lourdes himself as a pilgrim, continued the work of Benedict XV. He had the joy of raising to the honors of the altar the girl who had been favored by the Virgin and who, in the habit of the Congregation of Charity and Christian Instruction, had become Sister Marie Bernard. Did he not, so to say, authenticate on his part the promise made by the Immaculate to young Bernadette that she would "be happy not in this world, but in the next"?

27. From that time on, Nevers, which takes pride in keeping Bernadette's precious relics, has attracted a great number of Lourdes pilgrims who have wanted to learn from her how the message of Lourdes applies to our day.

28. Soon the illustrious Pontiff who, like his predecessors, had honored the anniversary celebrations of the apparitions by sending a legate, decided to conclude the Jubilee of the Redemption at the Grotto of Massabielle where, in his own words,

"the Immaculate Virgin Mary appeared several times to Blessed Bernadette Soubirous, and, in her kindness, exhorted all men to do penance at the scene of these wondrous apparitions, a place she has showered with graces and miracles."

Truly, Pius XI concluded, is this sanctuary "now justly considered one of the principal Marian shrines in the world."

29. We could not refrain from adding Our voice to this unanimous chorus of praise. We did so particularly in Our Encyclical Fulgens corona, by recalling, in the spirit of Our Predecessors, that "the Blessed Virgin Mary herself wanted to confirm by some special sign the definition which the Vicar on earth of her Divine Son had pronounced amidst the vigorous approbation of the whole Church."

30. On that occasion We recalled how the Roman Pontiffs, conscious of the importance of this pilgrimage, had never ceased to "enrich it with spiritual favors and generous benefits."

31. The history of the past century, which We have recalled in its broad outlines, is a constant illustration of this Pontifical generosity, the most recent manifestation of which has been the closing at Lourdes of the centenary year of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

32. But We would like especially to recall to your attention, Beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, a recent document in which We encouraged the growth of a missionary apostolate in your beloved country. We intended by this message to call to mind the "singular merits which France had acquired through the centuries in the progress of the Catholic faith," and for this reason "We turned Our mind and heart to Lourdes where, four years after the definition of the dogma, the Immaculate Virgin herself gave supernatural confirmation to the declaration of the Supreme Teacher, by appearances, conversations, and miracles."

33. Today once again We turn to the famous shrine as it prepares to receive the crowds of centenary pilgrims on the shores of the River Gave. In the past century ardent public and private prayers have obtained from God many graces of healing and conversion at Lourdes through Mary's intercession, and We are firmly confident that in this jubilee year our Lady intends to respond open-handedly once more to the expectation of her children. But We are particularly convinced that she urges us to master the spiritual lessons of the apparitions and set ourselves upon the path which she has so clearly traced for us.

34. These lessons, a faithful echo of the Gospel message, accentuate in a striking way the differences which set off God's judgments from the vain wisdom of this world.

35. In a society which is barely conscious of the ills which assail it, which conceals its miseries and injustices beneath a prosperous, glittering, and trouble-free exterior, the Immaculate Virgin, whom sin has never touched, manifests herself to an innocent child. With a mother's compassion she looks upon this world redeemed by her Son's blood, where sin accomplishes so much ruin daily, and three times makes her urgent appeal: "Penance, penance, penance!" She even appeals for outward expressions: "Go kiss the earth in penance for sinners." And to this gesture must be added a prayer: "Pray to God for sinners."

(Pope Pius XII (2nd July 1957) The Pilgrimage to Lourdes: Encyclical warning against Materialism on the Centenary of the Apparitions at Lourdes

The Charterhouse of Pisa

The Charterhouse of Pisa is more properly called the Charterhouse of Calci. It stands 10km outside Pisa in the Val Graziosa outside the town of Calci.

No longer used as a Carthusian monastery, it is now a museum under the superintendence of the University of Pisa.

The monastery was founded in May 1366 by the then Archbishop of Pisa. The present buildings date from the 17th century. The architecture and decoration are Baroque.

The monastery complex is one of the largest in Tuscany.

It was suppressed in 1808 by Napoleon. Some Carthusian monks later returned. However the last monk left in 1972.

The paintings in the refectory are by the now under-rated artist, Bernardino Poccetti, also known as Barbatelli, (26 August 1548- 10 October 1612).

Poccetti became one of the premier practitioners of reformist narrative painting: a "Reformer" in the sense of reform after the Council of Trent. He achieved the combination of delectare, docere, movere ('to delight, to teach, to move') which Catholic churchmen were calling for in religious painting at the time.

Poccetti spent most of the 1590s working for various Carthusian houses, including the Certosa of Galluzzo (near Florence), the Certosa of Pontignano (Siena), and the Certosa of Calci (Pisa).

He is perhaps best known for his frescoes in the cloister and church of the Confraternity of the SS Annunziata (in Florence), including a Marian cycle for the church, a Passion cycle for the vestibule, and a large-scale martyrdom cycle in the cloister.

"Poccetti's style 'is differentiated by the tranquillity of his more contemplative interpretation of the Counter-Reformation message'. This characteristic accords with the favour Poccetti found with the Carthusians - a preeminently ascetic and contemplative order - his also receiving commissions for the Charterhouses of Pisa and Sienna. " (Nicholas Turner, 'Florentine Drawings of the Sixteenth Century', 1986, p. 243)

The Basilica of San Frediano in Lucca

Exterior of S Frediano

Chapel of S Zita in S Frediano

One of my favourite churches in Lucca, Tuscany is the Basilica of San Frediano

The Basilica is a Romanesque church. There has been a church on this site since before the sixth century.

The present Basilica dates from the early twelfth century.

Its exterior is dominated by the 13th century mosaic of The Ascension of Christ the Saviour and apostles below. It was designed by Berlinghiero Berlinghieri (active Lucca from 1228 to 1232; date of death before 1236)

There are many artistic features attached to this Basilica. See the parish website here. and the following Tuscan website (in English)

Among the many notable features of the Basilica is the side chapel of St Zita on the right hand side. The chapel seems to be well used. St. Zita (1218-1278) is a popular local saint. It was within this chapel that St Gemma Galgani (March 12, 1878 – April 11, 1903) celebrated her first Holy Communion on 17th June 1887 (Feast of the Sacred Heart), aged 9 years.

She was a parishioner in the parish of San Frediano.

Of this day she later wrote:

""Spuntò finalmente il giorno tanto bramato.... ciò che passò tra me e Gesù in quel momento, non so esprimerlo. Gesù si fece sentire forte forte alla misera anima mia. Capii in quel momento che le delizie del Cielo non sono come quelle della terra.

Mi sentii presa dal desiderio di render continua quell'unione col mio Dio. Mi sentivo sempre più staccata dal mondo, e sempre più disposta al raccoglimento. Fu in quella mattina stessa che Gesù mi dette il desiderio grande di essere religiosa."

One of St Gemma Galgani`s teachers in Lucca was Blessed Elena Guerra (Lucca, 1835 – 1914), the apostle of the Holy Spirit. She was educated from 1889-1893 by the " Zitine" - a sodality devoted to St Zita and founded by Blessed Elena Guerra.

Virgin of the Immaculate Conception

Artus Quellinus the Younger (b. 1625, Sint-Truiden, d. 1700, Antwerpen)
Virgin of the Immaculate Conception
White and black marble, height 112 cm
O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp/ Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp

Ministers fight to keep late abortions secret

Late abortions of "less than perfect" foetuses are the subject of a secrecy row with the Government.

It centres on mothers who opt for termination because their unborn babies have been diagnosed with conditions such as club foot and cleft palate.

Doctors say such conditions can usually be corrected by surgery.

The Information Commissioner has ordered the release of the figures, but the Department of Health is resisting, claiming that disclosing the data could lead to women who have late abortions being identified.

While abortion is only legal in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy if carried out on social grounds, "Ground E" of the 1967 Abortion Act makes it legal to abort a foetus which has a serious risk of physical or mental abnormality, right up to birth. There are continuing concerns that the law is being flouted to weed out "less than perfect" babies.

Prof Stuart Campbell, the leading obstetrician whose 3D-scan images of babies "walking in the womb" at 12 weeks led to calls for a lowering of the 24-week limit for social abortion, said last night: "It is a disgraceful situation for this data to be suppressed.

"This is not about whether one agrees with abortion. These statistics used to be published, now they are being withheld.

"Transparency is the essence of medicine. If we don't have that, all sorts of wrongdoing can go on. I am not saying that using abortion is doing wrong, but we need to see the data in order to understand what is happening." Health chiefs stopped publishing full abortion data three years ago after a public outcry over the termination of a foetus with a cleft palate at 28 weeks' gestation. The legality of this late abortion, carried out in 2001, was challenged by a Church of England curate, Joanna Jepson, who was born with a congenital jaw defect."

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor: Britain is 'unfriendly' for religious people

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor claims that the rise of secularism has led to a liberal society, hostile to Christian morals and values, in which religious belief is viewed as "a private eccentricity" and the voice of faith groups is marginalised.

The cardinal warns that Britain shows signs of degenerating into a country free of morals, because of its rejection of traditional values and its new emphasis on the rights of the individual.

There are now "serious tensions" between Christians and secularist society, he says, in which atheists are becoming more "vocal and aggressive".

Sunday, November 30, 2008

7 Days

I shall be in Italy and unable to post to the blog for approximately seven days.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mary Queen of Scots

Watercolour by Mary Queen of Scots of herself
(MS 316, f.18).
Lambeth Palace Library, London

Letter from the Privy Council to Henry Grey, Earl of Kent, ordering the execution to be carried out, dated 3 February 1587. Signed by William Cecil (Lord Burghley), Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester), Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir Christopher Hatton and other members of the Council.
(MS 4267, ff.19-20).
Lambeth Palace Library, London

Copy of the execution warrant, dated 1 February 1587, with annotations by Robert Beale, clerk of the Privy Council. This copy was conveyed by Beale to Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent, one of the principal Commissioners for the Queen's trial and execution
Lambeth Palace Library, London

Lambeth Palace Library is the historic library of the Archbishops of Canterbury and the principal library and record office for the history of the Church of England.

It holds amongst others, the papers of the earls of Shrewsbury from the 15th century to the death of Gilbert Talbot, 7th earl, in 1616. The earls were influential figures, both locally and nationally, as lord lieutenants and privy councillors.

Most importantly, George, the 6th earl, was for many years custodian of Mary Queen of Scots during her captivity in England. The collection contains hundreds of letters relating to her enforced residence, including details of her household, the costs of maintenance (frequently in arrears), the danger of her escape, plans for surveillance, and relations with Elizabeth

The website of the Library has a section on its papers relating to Mary, Queen of Scots.

Amongst the papers are the originals of the three images above.

There is an account (MS 4267, ff.21-32) of the trial and execution of Mary from the papers of Henry Grey, Earl of Kent.

‘… then laye shee downe verye quietlye stretchinge out her bodye, & layinge her necke over the blocke, cryed, In manus tuas domine, &c. One of the executioners held downe her hande[s], the other did w[i]th 2 strokes of an axe cut of her head, w[hi]che (falling of her attire) appeared verye graye & near powled [bald] … the blooddye cloathes, the blocke, & what soever els bluddye was burned, in the chimneye fyer …’ (MS 4267, f.28v)

There is also the Earl of Kent’s retained copy of his letter in February 1587 to Queen Elizabeth following his censure for the execution. He protests that the Commissioners for the execution did ‘nothing but according to your Majesties Commission’. (MS 4267, ff.33-34 )

There is also a copy of a speech made in the Star Chamber on 28 May 1587 attacking William Davison, Elizabeth I’s Secretary, for revealing Mary’s death warrant to the Council ‘of his owne head without the privitye or consente of her majesty and contrarye to her commandment …’ (MS 250, f.169) Davison was imprisoned in the Tower by Elizabeth on this account, but later released unharmed.

The Cardinal and The Baptism of Christ

Piero della Francesca (ca.1422-1492)
Baptism of Christ
Tempera on panel, 167 x 116 cm
National Gallery, London

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, says that The Baptism of Christ, painted in the 1440s by Piero della Francesca, should be displayed in a religious setting such as Westminster Cathedral.

In a lecture as part of the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust’s Roots of Faith lecture series supported by Sky Arts, at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, the Cardinal said:

“I would like to see this painting taken down from the walls of the National Gallery and placed in a Catholic church in London because it is a mistake to treat it as a work of art: it is a work of faith and piety, an expression of the Church’s life and a way into prayer.”

Originally it was painted for the chapel of Saint John the Baptist in the Camaldolese abbey (now cathedral) of Piero's native town, Borgo Sansepolcro. The town, visible in the distance to the left of Christ, may be Borgo Sansepolcro.

It is painted on poplar and is so delicate that it is never lent out. It must be kept in very controlled conditions otherwise it will be destroyed.

The costs of maintenance and security would be astronomic.

At the moment it is kept in precisely those conditions which allow many people access to this great work of art. To admire it and perhaps to be inspired by it.

One wonders how many people would be able to see it as now if it was retained at some distance on an altar.

One of the commenters on the articles does have a point: the Vatican with its countless works does not exatly display its treasures to best effect. The last time I was in St Peters, it was impossible to see Michelangelo`s Pieta as there was a a huge crowd shoving and jostling to glimpse the work situated far behind the security glass panel.

One wonders if the effect which the Cardinal requests could be obtained by a copy or reproduction of the masterpiece on an altar ?

For one person`s view on the controversy, see Rachel Campbell-Johnston: in The Times The Cardinal does make an important point, however. Should a great work of religious art simply be displayed on a blank wall in a room amongst other works of art, secular and otherwise ? Does it detract and undermine the work ?

Some museums are taking this on board and sometimes do exhibit important works of art in a special setting. For many years, for instance, the National Gallery in London used to exhibit Leonardo`s cartoon of Mary the Virgin, St Anne, St John the Baptist and Christ in a special area which was almost prayerful. However that was before a deranged person decided to attempt to destroy the work and almost succeeded.

The British Museum does exhibit some the Elgin and Grecian marbles in special rooms and attempts to allow the viewer to relive the experience of seeing the friezes on a Greek temple or building. The effect is quite profound.

One does wonder if the National Gallery could convert one or some of its rooms into recreation of ancient churches and hang such works of religious art there.

The Cardinal is correct. Religious art is a distinct branch of art. It has always been different from secular art. To ignore the religious aspect of religious art is to detract from the artist and his work.

However even the recreation of ancient churches in a public building with areas set aside for Christian prayer may not be acceptable to some people who are of the view that there should be a strict separation of Church and State.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Blessed Christine of Spoleto (1435-1458)

From the scientific report on the body of Blessed Christine of Spoleto

According to The Westcoast Augustinians:

" Blessed Christine, a woman of undaunted valor, provides a shining example of conversion.

Agostina Camozzi, who was born about the year 1435, was the daughter of a well-known doctor of Ostenso, a small village in the Italian province of Como. At a very young age she married a local stonecutter, contrary to the wishes of her family, but was left a widow within a short time. She later became the mistress of a soldier and bore him a son, who died at a young age. A subsequent marriage to a farmer from Mantua also ended tragically when he met his death at the hands of a jealous rival.

At this point Agostina set about to reform her way of life. She became a member of the Augustinian Third Order, and changed her name to Christine, and moved to Verona. Her resolve now was to imitate Christ who alone, she believed, could bring comfort to her troubled spirit.

Her life of penance took many forms, and her prayers and works of mercy increased daily. As an Augustinian tertiary she lived in various monasteries, leaving one after another when the sisters, perceiving her holiness, began to treat her with special reverence. Thus she wandered from one community to another until she finally settled in Spoleto, where she dedicated herself to the care of the sick. In 1457 she planned a pilgrimage of reparation to Assisi, Rome, and the Holy Land, but she never got beyond Spoleto, for there on 13 February in 1458 she died, at the age of twenty-two.

After her death many miracles were attributed to her intercession, and Christine's reputation for great holiness and granting of favors spread rapidly. Her remains, originally kept in the Augustinian church of Saint Nicholas in Spoleto, are now preserved in the church of St. Gregory the Great. In 1834 Pope Gregory XVI officially confirmed her long-standing cult.

Blessed Christine's feast in celebrated by the Augustinian Family on 13 February."

The 11th-century Romanesque church of San Gregorio Maggiore in Spoleto replaced an earlier oratory in a cemetery of Christian martyrs. Remains from the 700s AD are incorporated into the present structure.

A 1950s restoration carefully returned the interior to its medieval state, removing most Baroque additions to reveal the Romanesque architecture and large patches of 14th-century frescoes by local artists.

San Gregorio Maggiore (Built 1069-1146), Romanesque, Spoleto, Umbria,

In 1999, the body of the Blessed christine was subjected to scientific examination. The report in English by the scientific team which carried out the investigation is interesting.

It would appear that after death the body was subjected to an artificial process of embalming. It is one of the first examples of artificial embalming in Western Europe, carried out by surgical methods. It discusses the practice in medieval times in Umbria and Tuscany of embalming and preserving the bodies of saints or those reputed to be saints.

It would appear that the bone structure of Blessed christine reveals an individual of small skeletal constitution, and the deep folds of the skin witness a condition of severe obesity. All the teeth are present, but show evident lines of enamel hypoplasia, due to episodes of stress during childhood.

The report goes on:

"In this respect, the following distinguishing elements should be underlined: 1)geographical area of diffusion which includes Umbria and Tuscany; 2) urban characterization of the phenomenon; 3) social and religious ambience: the mendicant orders and in particular the third orders, formed by laymen; 4) prevalent female dimension of the phenomenon.

We can try to explain historically these characteristic elements that in part are closely related. Why were the charismatic personalities of religious figures, already considered “saints” at the moment of death, preserved with interventions of evisceration and stripping of flesh? There could be no doubts about the preservation of these bodies: in fact the preserved body became a tangible witness of the presence of the saint for protection of the town community. It was not by chance that this phenomenon occurred in central Italy, between Umbria and Tuscany, where municipal civilization developed and where in any case a strong sense of municipal independence was strongly radicated. Possession of a saint’s body, which could be identified in its features, was a reason of pride, political symbol proper,and in this respect it is important that the funerals of the Blessed Cristina were celebrated at the expense of the Municipality of Spoleto.

However, the intervention of the municipal public authority can also be found in other well documented cases, as in the funerally and embalming processes of Saint Margherita from Cortona and of Blessed Margherita from Città di Castello.In this second case we even know the names of surgeons told by “rectores Civitatis Castelli”: magister Vitale da Castello and magister Manno da Gubbio (Analecta Bollandiana, 19).

The penitential movements which developed in the Italian society of the Late Middle Ages under the influence of Franciscan and Dominican rule brought new mystic and religious ferment and between the 13th and 15th centuries produced new figures of saints, often belonging to the Third Order circles, laymen operating among the people.

The women in these orders are numerous, becoming more and more visible and popular. The corporeal dimension, owing to the physical involvement of mystical union, now gains more importance than in the past,and justifies the new attention to preservation of corpses which leads to direct invasiveness on the holy body."