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.
"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. "
"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."
“ And there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots..."
"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 )
"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?..."
"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."
"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 , 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."
"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.”
Avery Dulles ordained in New York by Archbishop Spellman, pictured with his father John Foster Dulles and Spellman
"[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.”
"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.”
""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."
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.
"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."
"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
"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)
""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."
‘… 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)
“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.”
" 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."
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."