Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Feast of St Dominic of Silos

Santo Domingo de Silos, by Bartolome Bermejo, fifteenth century.

Today is the feast of St. Dominic of Silos -- not to be confused with St. Dominic of Guzman, the founder of the Dominican Order. Dominic was the eleventh-century abbot of the monastery of Silos in the province of Burgos. The monastery is famous for its Romanesque cloister and chart-topping singing monks. There is a connection with the other Dominic, as described by the Franciscans at American Catholic:

Our saint today, Dominic of Silos was born in Spain around the year 1000 into a peasant family. As a young boy he spent time in the fields, where he welcomed the solitude. He became a Benedictine priest and served in numerous leadership positions. Following a dispute with the king over property, Dominic and two other monks were exiled. They established a new monastery in what at first seemed an unpromising location. Under Dominic’s leadership, however, it became one of the most famous houses in Spain. Many healings were reported there.

About 100 years after Dominic’s death, a young woman made a pilgrimage to his tomb. There Dominic of Silos appeared to her and assured her that she would bear another son. The woman was Joan of Aza, and the son she bore grew up to be the "other" Dominic—the one who founded the Dominicans.

For many years thereafter, the staff used by St. Dominic of Silos was brought to the royal palace whenever a queen of Spain was in labor. The practice ended in 1931.

Abbot Dominic was part of the reforming spirit of the eleventh century. He was the subject of an extensive Latin vita written around 1100 by a French monk named Grimaldus and another in Spanish verse by the great thirteenth-century poet Gonzalo de Berceo. The monastery, originally dedicated to St. Sebastian, was renamed for its most famous abbot soon after his death. The monks there have dedicated themselves to the quality of their Gregorian Chant and have become quite famous. You can listen to some samples at their website.

I will leave you with a youtube video with some great footage of the cloister:

Monday, December 10, 2007

eight meme

Alfonso VIII of Castile.

I have been tagged by William and retagged by Talmida, so here is my "eight" meme.

8 Passions in my life

Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis
Medieval History

8 Things to do before I die:

Camino de Santiago
Return to Jerusalem
The Silk Road on camelback
See the Aurora borealis
Learn Greek
Roast a whole lamb in my yard
Finish my dissertation
Dine in Lyon and Bologna

8 Things I often say:

I'm so tired.
Hot sauce and white sauce.
I love you (see first entry of first list).
Have you done your homework?
Mishea,* let's take a nap.
Mitt Romney is a d*******g.

8 Books I read (or reread) recently:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis
The Historian
Snow Crash
The Clouds
The Iliad

8 Films that mean something to me:

Caro Diario
The Road Home
Black Cat, White Cat
Galaxy Quest
The Night of the Hunter
Simple Men

8 Songs that mean something to me:

Pale Blue Eyes (The Velvet Underground)
A Love Supreme (John Coltrane) (what Garpu said)
Didi (Khaled)
Pe' Dispietto (Nuova Comagnia di Canto Popolare)
Any one of a number of Nick Cave songs
Any piece by Palestrina
You're Innocent When you Dream (Tom Waits)
It's All Right, Ma (Bob Dylan)

8 Living people I'd like to have as dinner guests:

Nanni Moretti
Nick Cave
Tom Waits
Seamus Heaney
Lauren Bacall
Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, SJ
Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ
A really good medium, because there are a lot of dead people I want there.

8 People I'm passing this on to:

mi primo
and whoever else wants to play...

*my cat

Friday, November 30, 2007

radio sententia -- Khaled

Very busy, but here is a song I love from the Algerian Rai singer Khaled. Dig the funky bass and the dude with the horns on his head.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Despite the long lines at the turkey leg stands at medieval fairs, their were no turkeys in medieval Europe. Here is a bestiary illumination of a goose.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2007

first available photo

Photo credit: my uncle Ned.

Monday, November 12, 2007


A collaborative effort. Filius imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis did Batman, I did the rest.

Friday, November 09, 2007

a bumper sticker I like

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

We're back

Mr. and Mrs. Moore, on the Charles Bridge in Prague.

Friday, October 19, 2007

my email to my senator

The Judgment of Solomon. English, thirteenth century.

Dear Senator Schumer,

Reading today about Mr. Mukasey's testimony before your committee, I was dismayed to see he shares some of the same misguided ideas about torture and presidential power being above the law that have led to some of the worse excesses of this administration. I am sure Mr. Mukasey is a fine man and I know you have spoken well about him in the past, but I urge you to vote against his confirmation and insist that the president nominate someone who is clear and passionate in his commitment to the balance of constitutional powers and the most basic human rights.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

working working working

I'm still working too hard to post anything extensive, but here's an animated version of my favorite comic book, the Bayeux Tapestry:

You can make your own Bayeux Tapestry story here.

Also: although the BT is my favorite comic book, it does not feature my favorite superhero, Detective Chimp.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

radio sententia -- Monteverdi's "L'Orfeo"

Still trying to keep my head above the ocean of work. In the meantime, I leave you a great video of an aria from Claudio Monteverdi's "L'Orfeo" -- one of the first operas. It is conducted by one of my favorite early music directors and a mean viol da gamba player, Jordi Savall, and sung beautifully by his wife, Montserrat Figueras.

Oh, and the guy in the balcony with the drum and the beard is the coolest guy on earth.

UPDATE: As you can see, they won't let me show this on the blog. It's worth going to YouTube for. Here's the link.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross

According to sitemeter, people have been visiting s&c from all over the world (Malta, India, Ireland, Australia) looking for information on today's feast, and reading my post from last year. Cool.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

radio sententia -- Estrella Morente

I discovered Estrella Morente after I moved back from Spain, although I was already familiar with her father's music. She is a great, soulful flamenco singer who is both very traditional and very individual in style. Here she is, accompanied, apparently, by some Portuguese musicians:

She's from Granada and is married to a bullfighter! That's hardcore!

This next song is one of my favorites. The video is just still photos:

The first flamenco singer I ever got into (I bought a cassette of his songs outside the Madrid bullring) was the great Pepe Marchena. I always found the delicacy of his voice and style to be extremely moving:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

radio sententia -- Rasputina

I've started teaching and am working hard on my dissertation, so it's Homer and Fernando I all the time. I'm just going to let you know what I've been listening to lately. Rasputina is a cello-based rock group with an Edward Gorey feel. I think this video captures their style pretty well.

They also do some fun covers:

Saturday, September 08, 2007

odd bedfellows

Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Toots Thielmans, David Sanborn, and Charlie Haden playing "Hey Joe," circa 1988.

Friday, August 31, 2007

tattoos -- give me your advice

A Coptic Christian in Ethiopia.

"Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD."
-Leviticus 19:28

Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis and I are giving each other tattoos as wedding presents. Yes, I know about the prohibition in Leviticus, but hey, I also trim the hair of my beard, which is forbidden by the previous verse. Most commentaries on these commandments identify them as forbidding actions involved in specific Canaanite mourning practices. In the end, I think for Christians they go the way of the dietary restrictions also found in Leviticus. Since allergy keeps me from enjoying the permission to eat shrimp, getting a tattoo will have to be my consolation prize.

We decided that we would engrave on our rings messages to each other from the Song of Songs, in Latin. My ring will have "dilectus meus mihi et ego illi" -- "My lover belongs to me and I to him" [Songs 2:15]. Her small ring has only enough room for "tota pulchra es" -- "You are all-beautiful" [Songs 4:7]. We thought then we would each have a tattoo of a longer version of our message.

This is where I need your advice, oh loyal sententites. Where shall I get it? In what form? How many words? I'm thinking of either the upper arm or the shoulder. I'm more inclined to the former, because I want to be able to see it. If I put it on my arm, should it be a band or more like a paragraph? Should there be a frame?

Finally, how much should I put? I like this verse and the two following. Should I put all of it? Excerpts? Let me give you all three verses in Latin, then the Douay-Rheims translation (from the Latin), then the New American version:

[tota pulchra es] amica mea et macula non est in te//

veni de Libano sponsa veni de Libano veni coronaberis de capite Amana de vertice Sanir et Hermon de cubilibus leonum de montibus pardorum//

vulnerasti cor meum soror mea sponsa vulnerasti cor meum in uno oculorum tuorum et in uno crine colli tui

[Thou art all fair,] O my love, and there is not a spot in thee.//

Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus, come: thou shalt be crowned from the top of Amana, from the top of Sanir and Hermon, from the dens of the lions, from the mountains of the leopards.//

Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes, and with one hair of thy neck. [D-R]

[You are all-beautiful,] my beloved,
and there is no blemish in you.//

Come from Lebanon, my bride,
come from Lebanon, come!
Descend from the top of Amana,
from the top of Senir and Hermon,
From the haunts of lions,
from the leopards' mountains.//

You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes,

with one bead of your necklace. [NAB]

Let me hear what you think.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I couldn't really find the image I was looking for, but here's a really cool Lucas Cranach engraving of a werewolf, 1512.

A post on Wonkette led me to this article in the LA Times about the pastor and former national leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, Wiley S. Drake. Apparently, Drake used his church letterhead to endorse Mike Huckabee for president, and Americans United for Separation of Church State asked the IRS to investigate the church's tax status. Drake responded by asking his followers to use imprecatory prayer against two leaders of that organization -- specifically to pray that misfortune would come to them. He suggested Psalm 109, which includes the following:
When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
and may his prayers condemn him.

May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.

May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.

May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.

May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.

May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.

May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.

May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.

May their sins always remain before the LORD,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.

Pretty strong stuff. Drake feels justified:

Drake said Wednesday he was "simply doing what God told me to do" by targeting Americans United officials Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming, whom he calls the "enemies of God."
"God says to pray imprecatory prayer against people who attack God's church," he said. "The Bible says that if anybody attacks God's people, David said this is what will happen to them."
It's hard to know where to begin to comment on this. The obvious point is that someone has to get Drake and people like him a copy of the New Testament and have them sit down and read it. His hubris strikes me as well -- getting his tax status investigated is an "attack" on God's church? Comparable to, say, the Diocletian Persecution? There's really no need to comment any further.

Except, of course, to say that the medievals always did these things better. I couldn't help thinking about Lester Little's book Benedictine Maledictions, about how Benedictine monks, faced with grave dangers and threats to life and property, developed liturgical curses, some of them involving a very elaborate ritual (here's a good review by Constance Bouchard). These curses were sophisticated and made sense given the context -- a far cry from Drake's approach.

Friday, August 17, 2007

rest in peace

Max Roach, 1924-2007.

Another cool video of the great jazz drummer:

Saturday, August 11, 2007

oh dear...

Saint Roch and his dog.

How can someone who runs a dog-fighting ring be even more vile? Use kittens as bait. Good Lord...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Feast of St James

The oldest known representation of St James as a pilgrim on route to his own shrine, from the eleventh century. Note the cockle shell insignia.

Today is the feast of St James the Greater, known in Spain as Santiago el Mayor. His tomb in Compostela in the Northwestern region of Galicia has been an important pilgrimage site for well over a thousand years -- as important in the Middle Ages as Rome and Jerusalem. A bit of information: his story from the Golden Legend in Caxton's translation, and an interesting interactive site from UCLA on the Way of St James.

Imagine what it's like when weary pilgrims who have been walking for weeks under the unforgiving Spanish sun arrive at the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. Imagine how meaningful it is to them! Imagine how bad they smell! You need a lot of incense to cover that up, hence the Botafumeiro:

Monday, July 23, 2007


Stele of Naram-Sin, king of Akkad, celebrating his victory against the Lullubi from Zagros.

Via Talmida, the "Which Ancient Language are You?" test. My results:

Your Score: Akkadian

You scored

You are Akkadian, a blend of the incomprehensible symbols of the Sumerians with the unwritable sounds of the early Semitic peoples. However, the writing just doesn't suit the words and doesn't represent everything needed, so you end up a schizoid mess. Invented in Babylon, you're probably to blame for that tower story. However, crazy as you are, you're much loved and appreciated, and remain actively in use by records keepers long after schools have switched to other languages.

Link: The Which Ancient Language Are You Test written by imipak on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Friday, July 13, 2007

feast of St Hank

St Henry II, the last of the Ottonians and the only emperor to be declared a saint, being crowned by Christ in a page from an illuminated imperial sacramentary.

As usual, I'm too damn busy to blog, even though so much worth commenting on has come out of the Vatican recently and I still have to respond to Talmida's meme. Fortunately, Crystal has two excellent posts on the motu proprio and the recent CDF document concerning other churches. I direct everyone to her blog.

As for Latin, traditionalists, etc., I direct you to an amusing old post of mine.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


As always, too busy to blog, so I'm just posting this odd image -- a Bolshevik propaganda poster from 1920 showing Trotsky as St George, slaying the dragon of counter-revolution (note the capitalist top hat). Below, a Russian Icon of St George from the fourteenth century.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

week full o' saints

Saints Cyril of Alexandria and Irenaeus of Lyons.

We're approaching the end of Ramon Llull Week, so get those Lullian blogposts up, everyone!

Meanwhile, we've had the feast days of a couple of important Church Fathers. Yesterday was the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria. St Cyril could have competed with our beloved St Jerome as patron saint of grumpy old men, and in addition Cyril was a man of grumpy actions as much as of grumpy words. Alas, "tolerant" is not the best word to describe him. The Franciscans at recognize those failings, but they also point out the importance of his writings on the divine and human natures of Christ, expressed in his "theme":
Only if it is one and the same Christ who is consubstantial with the Father and with men can he save us, for the meeting ground between God and man is the flesh of Christ. Only if this is God's own flesh can man come into contact with Christ's divinity through his humanity. Because of our kinship with the Word made flesh we are sons of God. The Eucharist consummates our kinship with the word, our communion with the Father, our sharing in the divine nature—there is very real contact between our body and that of the Word.
Today is the feast of St Irenaeus of Lyons, one of our earliest theologians, whose most famous work, Adversus Haereses helped to solidify both the canon and the meaning of early Christianity. The Franciscans have a nice commentary about him:
A deep and genuine concern for other people will remind us that the discovery of truth is not to be a victory for some and a defeat for others. Unless all can claim a share in that victory, truth itself will continue to be rejected by the losers, because it will be regarded as inseparable from the yoke of defeat. And so, confrontation, controversy and the like might yield to a genuine united search for God's truth and how it can best be served.

Now get your Llull on, everybody.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Happy Feast of Blessed Ramon Llull!

I have been too busy to post lately, but according to the Franciscans at, today is the Feast of Blessed Ramon Llull (see long post below). Elsewhere I read that his feast day is June 30. Either way, have a Happy Ramon Llull Week!

UPDATE: It seems CowboyAngel at Zone is also in the Ramon Llull Week spirit, and has written an excellent post on the mystical world of thirteenth-century Spain. As a matter of fact, I dare everyone to write on Ramon Llull this week.

It's Ramon Llull Week!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ramon Llull

Two manuscript pages from works of Ramon Llull, and his "Figure A" and "Figure T" from a printed edition.

I have been working quite a bit on the dissertation and have neglected the blog a bit, but I thought I might post a wee bit about the fascinating thirteenth-century mystic and philosopher, Ramon Llull. I wrote a paper about his Liber principiorum medicinae (Book of the principles of medicine -- LPM) for a history of medieval science class I took a couple of years ago, so I will just cut and paste a bit (footnotes available on demand):
Ramon Llull is a singular figure. Born in Majorca in 1232 or 1233, he spent the first thirty years of his life as a courtier of James the Conqueror. Around 1263 he had a series of visions that led him to dedicate his life to God, although he did not enter a religious order at that time. After his visions, he decided to serve God through martyrdom, “and to accomplish this by carrying out the task of converting to His worship and service the Saracens who in such numbers surrounded the Christians on all sides.” In addition to this, he felt “he would have to write a book, the best in the world, against the errors of the unbelievers.” To prepare himself, he spent ten years in Majorca studying a wide variety of subjects including Latin and Arabic.

When he felt ready, Llull began to write. Thanks to his long life (he lived until 1316) and astounding energy, Llull wrote at least 292 books in Latin, Catalan, and Arabic. He wrote novels, poetry, sermons, treatises on law, astrology, medicine and a widely-translated book on chivalry. Llull considered his most important work his Art, a vast systemization of the world that had as an aim the demonstration of the relationship of all of reality to a certain number of God’s attributes or “dignities:” goodness, greatness, power, wisdom, etc. This is the book (“the best in the world”) he referred to in the Vita coaetanea, although really it is a series of books, each a reworking of the Art. They include the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem of ca. 1274, the Ars demonstrativa of 1283, the Ars inventiva veritatis of 1290, and the Ars generalis ultima of 1305-8. Many of his other books, including the Liber principiorum medicinae, are applications of the Art to specific fields.

Given the number of Llull’s works and the complexity of his ideas, it is very difficult to find one useful approach to studying his system. He reduces ideas to letter codes, such as A B C D, which may or may not signify the same thing from one book to another. In each work he defines his “alphabet” or code, usually with the aid of diagrams, and his warning at the beginning of the LPM is typical of warnings in many of his works: “These letters form the basis of the Art, and whoever does not know them cannot understand the Art.” The “alphabets,” however, change from work to work. In the Ars compendiosa inveniendo veritatem, the version of the Art written at the same time as the LPM, the letters B through K represent the various “dignities” of God, whereas A represents the unity of God. In the LPM, the letters change to represent the four qualities (A through D) and the sixteen possible combinations of those qualities (E through Y). The number of dignities changed as Llull refined his Art. He began with sixteen, and in other works there are ten, twelve, twenty, or nine. No wonder one critic spoke of “the severe ordeal of battling with Ramon Lull.”

It is very confusing, but very cool. What I like about Llull is that not only is he both a mathematician and a mystic, but that his mysticism is mathematical and his mathematics is mystical. Later alchemists were much interested in his work, and many of them wrote works that they attributed to him -- the Pseudo-Llullian works. In my paper I tried to explain how his Art works:

The Art is a method, a process to be used. It is based a number of figures that the reader is supposed to operate in a certain fashion, and through which “a man can find the truth in the fastest manner, and contemplate and know God and animate virtues and mortify vices.” These figures consist usually of wheels or boxes that show possible relations between different concepts. An examination of two of these figures can provide a simplified overview of how Llull’s Art functions.

The central figure is “Figure A.” It is a wheel which has as a center the letter A, representing God. It is surrounded by 16 camerae, chambers, representing “the sixteen Virtues; however we do not say they are ‘cardinal’ virtues, nor ‘theological’ nor ‘accidental,’ but rather essential virtues.” These “virtues,” referred to in Llull’s other works as “dignities”, are the following: goodness, magnitude, eternity, power, wisdom, will, virtue, truth, glory, perfection, justice, largess, mercy, humility, dominion, and patience. Each dignity has its own letter in the Latin alphabet from B to R, and Llull always refers to the letter, not to the word. The camerae are connected by a web of lines that represent all the possible binary combinations of the dignities, for the operation Llull expects of the reader involves combining these concepts: “from which [sixteen dignities] are formed 120 chambers, through which the lovers of this art can achieve knowledge of God and pose and solve questions through necessary reasons.”

These dignities, “the instruments of God’s creative activity, the causes and archetypes of all created perfection,” are the center of Llull’s system. Through them, everything is related to God. It is possible that Llull got his dignities from Arabic theology, or from Augustine’s list of the divine attributes in De trinitate, from the Jewish Cabala, or from the De divinis nominibus of Pseudo-Dionysus via John Scotus Erigena. Wherever he found them, he used them to develop a system that is at once very dynamic and mechanistic. Not only can these dignities be combined with each other, but they can be combined with the fifteen concepts arranged in the five triangles of another figure, “Figure T.” The concepts in figures “A” and “T” would later be known as the “absolute” and “relative” principals of the Art. Each triangle of figure “T” consists of two concepts that can be considered in some way opposites, balanced by a mediating third term. Thus “beginning” and “end” are mediated by “middle,” and “majority” and “minority” are mediated by “equality.” These relative principals are the means through which “the Dignities mutually communicate their natures and diffuse them throughout all creation.” Llull calculates the number of combinations in figure “T” as 115.

Even leaving out the five other figures in the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem, it is easy to see both how complex and how mechanical the system is. In a later version of the Art, Lull even proposed a figure that only consisted of three sets of concentric wheels marked B through K for the absolute and relative principals. One wheel was fixed and the other two could be moved so that the practitioner of the Art could make his or her own combinations. Thus by combining figures “A” and “T,” he or she could posit, for example, “the beginning of the virtue of greatness,” or “the equality of the wisdom of glory.” This substitution of symbols for concept and the subsequent exhaustive combination of them has led some to see Llull as a precursor of modern symbolic logic and computer science.

This is a very simplified description of how the Art functions, but what exactly is the Art and what purpose does it serve? What does Llull mean by “finding truth?” One of its purposes, to judge by the title of the 1283 version, Ars demonstrativa, is to demonstrate how all aspects of reality are interconnected and function in a similar analogical manner. As R. D. F. Pring-Mill puts it, “Basically, the Art works by relating all areas of knowledge (including the religious field) directly back to the manifestation of God’s ‘Dignities’ in the universe, and then proceeding to argue its way analogically up and down the ‘ladder of being.,’” Much of this has to do with conversion of unbelievers, which Llull saw as his particular mission. The purpose of this book was, as stated in the Vita, to be “against the errors of unbelievers.” The Art presupposes “as an axiomatic point of departure, both the monotheistic vision of the Godhead which was common to the Jewish, Moslem, and Christian faiths, and their common acceptance of broadly Neo-Platonic exemplarist world-picture.”

The Art is also a manual for exploration. It is, as Anthony Bonner points out, a technique—“ars” was the usual scholastic translation for the Greek techne. Llull set out building blocks for the apprentice of his art and expected that anyone could be the master of it after a year’s study. It could be applied to any field and any field could be applied to it, it was just a matter of plugging in data to the machine. In one book on astrology and medicine, Lull recognizes that his information could be faulty, but not his Art:

Again I excuse myself, since I do not know
whether it is true that Aries is hot and dry . . .
but I suppose that it is so, according to what
the ancients said, which had been seen by
them through experience. And if it is true, what
I say about the stars is necessarily true,
since I say this artificially through the
Ars generalis
, and the Art is infallible.

His Art was, after all, a product of divine illumination. It was a mystical gift of a structure that could be applied to all things. If it seems that Llull is writing on many levels at any given time, it is because for him nothing is outside the Art, and nothing is disconnected from the great chain of being. Everything Llull writes about refers ultimately to the transcendent categories of the dignities. The Art can be applied to the physical world, but its center is in the metaphysical world. For Llull, there is no dramatic separation between them.

For more on Llull, check out the Centre de Documentació Ramon Llull at the University of Barcelona (in several languages, including English), or this page, by an apparent modern-day Llullian, that includes several of his works in English and even a free downloadable program that allows you to use Llull's figures on your computer. Llull's foremost translator in English Anthony Bonner has distilled his great and expensive two volume anthology of Llull's writing into an affordable paperback, Doctor Illuminatus. It's fun stuff.

Friday, June 01, 2007

IPAO, BSW cum laude

Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis, with el menda. Mater imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis is in the background, to the the left. Photo: Filius
imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis.

A week and a half ago, Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis graduated from Adelphi University cum laude, and with Greek honors, a Bachelor of Social Work. Despite a number of difficulties, her persistence and her dedication to her calling allowed her to overcome an amazing amount of slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and I am more proud of her than I can say. She is my hero.

After the ceremony we went to a restaurant in Queens, and I enjoyed a most excellent Ecuadorian goat stew.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

ostensio corporum hominum

1545 woodcut by Charles Estienne.

Talmida has written a good post on the "Our Body: the Universe Within" exhibit in Detroit, inspiring me to post something I've been thinking about for some time. There is a similar exhibit in New York, in which supposedly "unclaimed or unidentified corpses from China" are displayed dramatically, posed in regular human activity, skinned, and often cut to reveal different anatomical features. This "educational" activity can be experienced at the South Street Seaport for the modest price of $27, and yours truly is forced to see the ads, complete with corpses, on buses and in the subway.

I have been surprised by the lack of controversy about the exhibit. The comments section of the article I linked to above
shows for the most part a concern about the origin of the bodies, but not about the idea of publicly displaying the physical remains of fellow human beings for the sake of entertainment. I have difficulty with the idea that this is purely educational. Would people pay $27 to see, for example, identical plastic reproductions of this exhibit, or an exhibit featuring only animals? I think morbid curiosity might have more to do with the success of the show that interest in anatomy.

There is something very revealing about our society in the fact that we can pay money to see human remains imported from China, just another consumer product that we feel we have a right to enjoy because we can afford it. I can imagine people who have enjoyed the exhibit reading this and thinking that I am a moralizing killjoy, or perhaps an anti-modern obscurantist. No -- there are times, as Talmida suggested, when the donation of a body is a gift of mercy, either to provide the ill with new organs, or to teach medical students who truly need to see the real thing to learn how to save lives. This exhibit, however, is deeply dehumanizing. In the end, the bodies are slashed and flayed like cuts of meat, and, most tellingly, the faces are removed. There is no sign that these were living, breathing individuals with families and dreams and personalities -- which should be enough to make you pause, even if you're not religious. If you are, think about what the exhibit promoters have done to the imago Dei. The depersonalized sons and daughters of God in this show are frightening metaphors for what our technological and commercial society does to all of us -- it divides us into soulless products and consumers.

"But Liam," someone may protest, "you blog about relics all the time. Isn't it hypocritical of you to complain that something is morbid?" Well, I certainly understand that a lot of people will not see eye-to-eye with me about relics, but even though we are talking about the public exposition of body parts, they have little to do with this show. The relic affirms two things: it exalts the individual whose relic it is, and it points to the glory and eventual permanence of the redeemed human body. When we see a relic, if we believe the theology behind it, we are reminded of the life, character, and deeds of the saint in question; and we gaze upon something that will one day be in paradise. The faceless corpses in the exhibit suggest that human beings are so much meat to be bought by the highest bidder, then to be flayed, cut and posed for our entertainment and eventually, one may suppose, be discarded when no longer profitable.

We need to remember that we are human beings.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Pope Gregory the Great, respectfully commenting on the Holy Spirit's blog.

I got back from the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan, last night and I found that someone had left a comment on a blog post I wrote about a year and a half ago. Imagine my dismay to find an insulting attack on my post by an anonymous visitor. Briefly, he or she said that the post was full of "unsubstantied [sic] assertions, and irrational conclusions about the mediaeval priesthood" and called me a "so-called scholar" who should "go back to kindergarten." Strange that he or she should criticize what I said about the Middle Ages, basic information that can be found in any textbook on the tenth-century reform, and not the more subjective speculations I made concerning the present state of the Church, but then again the commentator was not very specific in his or her criticism.

Not the most thick-skinned of bloggers, at first I was agitated. I wasn't quite sure what to do. I've only received a couple of negative comments before, both when I had the nerve to suggest that Muslims might be human beings. In the end I decided to delete the comment and leave one of my own as an invitation to whoever it was to come back and engage in real dialog. What I wrote might serve as a comment policy for this blog:
Dear anonymous:

I deleted your comment. I welcome anyone who disagrees with me to comment on my blog. If you are capable of explaining coherently what is wrong with my post and can do so without being insulting, I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

By the way, I consider leaving anonymous insults in someone's comment box a cowardly act.
And that is the policy.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Emperor Justinian I (c. 482 - 565), from the Basilica of San Vitale.

Sorry I have not been blogging. Busy, busy, busy. Still, I found something entertaining I'd like to share. I was looking at the wikipedia entry for King Juan Carlos I of Spain, and I came across a list of his titles. I knew he was King of Jerusalem, but apparently he's also the Byzantine Emperor. Who knew?

I study medieval kingship, but I find modern kingship a bit silly. And although JC1 is one of the cooler monarchs out there, the following list will show that he has more titles than he can possibly use. I think he should share with the rest of us. In case you're reading this, Juan Carlos I, I would really like to be King of Jerusalem, but I'll settle for Duke of Burgundy.

From Wikipedia:
King Juan Carlos I is a direct descendant of many famous European rulers from different countries, such as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who as Carlos I is said to have been the first King of Spain), King Louis XIV of France and Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Therefore, he is related to all the current monarchs of Europe.

The current Spanish constitution refers to the monarchy as "the crown of Spain" and the constitutional title of the monarch is simply rey/reina de España: that is, "king/queen of Spain". However, the constitution allows for the use of other historic titles pertaining to the Spanish monarchy, without specifying them. A decree promulgated 6 November 1987 at the Council of Ministers regulates the titles further, and on that basis the monarch of Spain has a right to use ("may use") those other titles appertaining to the Crown. Contrary to some belief, the long titulary that contains the list of over 20 kingdoms, etc., is not in state use, nor is it used in Spanish diplomacy. In fact, it has never been in use in that form, as "Spain" was never a part of the list in pre-1837 era when the long list was officially used.

Spain, unmentioned in titulary for more than three centuries, was symbolized by the long list that started "...of Castile, Leon, Aragon,..." - The following long titulary in the feudal style was the last used officially in 1836 by Isabella II of Spain (see the account of titulary in her article) before she became constitutional queen:

Juan Carlos I is titled or styled:

Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, King of Castile, King of León, King of Aragon, King of the Two Sicilies, King of Jerusalem, King of Navarre, King of Granada, King of Toledo, King of Valencia, King of Galicia, King of Sardinia, King of Cordoba, King of Corsica, King of Murcia, King of Jaen, King of Algarve, King of Algeciras, King of Gibraltar, King of the Canary Islands, King of the Spanish East and West Indies and of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Brabant, Duke of Milan, Duke of Athens and Neopatria, Count of Habsburg, Count of Flanders, Count of Tyrol, Count of Roussillon, Count of Barcelona, Lord of Biscay, Lord of Molina, Captain General of the Royal Armed Forces and its Supreme Commander, Sovereign Grand Master of the Celebrated Order of the Golden Fleece (Spain), Grand Master of the Royal & Distinguished Order of Charles III (Spain), Grand Master of the Royal Order of Isabel, the Catholic (Spain), Grand Master of the Royal & Military Order of St. Hermenegildo (Spain), Grand Master of the Royal & Military Order of St. Fernando (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Montesa (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Alcántara (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Santiago (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Maria Luisa (Spain), Grand Master of other Military Orders.[1]

The first king to officially use the name Spain as the realm in the titulary was Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte, brother of Emperor Napoleon, who used King of the Spains and the Indias; the present Spanish monarch is not his heir. The Bourbons returned to the feudal format (...of Castile, Leon, Aragon,...) until 1837, when the short version "queen of the Spains" was taken into use. The singular Spain was first used by Amadeo - he was "by divine grace and will of nation, king of Spain"; the present Spanish monarch is not his heir, either. Alfonso XII, when restored, started to use "constitutional king of Spain, by divine and constitutional grace". Juan Carlos uses simply "king of Spain", without any divine, national or constitutional reference.

Juan Carlos also may have a legitimate claim to de jure Emperor of the Romans (basileus, kaisar autokrator ton Rhomaion) as he is descended from and is the successor of Ferdinand II of Aragon. Ferdinand received these rights as de jure Roman Emperor by the last will and testament of the ultimate Palaiologos claimant of the Byzantine Empire, Andreas Palaiologus (d. 1503), a nephew of the Emperor Constantine XI, who was the last to actually reign in Constantinople and was killed in 1453. Others potentially entitled to the same rights are (1) Alice, Duchess of Calabria as the heir-general of king Ferdinand II, (2) Louis-Alphonse, Duke of Anjou, as the heir-male of Maria Theresa of Spain, great-great-great-great-granddaughter of king Ferdinand II, who brought the Aragonese succession to the Bourbons; and (3) Otto von Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, Semi-Salic heir-male of Ferdinand II (Ferdinand left only daughters; the male line of his eldest surviving daughter Joanna went extinct in 1741 with Emperor Charles VI and the next line started from Maria Theresa of Austria, surviving today). This, of course, presumes that Andreas had any rights of which to dispose: there exist heirs to other Byzantine imperial lines as well.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

bizarre abbot suger quote of the day

Abbot Suger of San Denis.

On why Suger needed to enlarge the church:

"For the narrowness of the place forced the women to run toward the altar upon the heads of the men as upon a pavement with much anguish and noisy confusion."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Which Church Father Are You?

Origen of Alexandria.

According to this quiz (via Diane at Bringing Home the Word), I am Origen, which is cool philosophically, though I am concerned about his taking "make yourself a eunich for Christ" way too literally... I mean, at least with Abelard, it wasn't his idea...

You’re Origen!

You do nothing by half-measures. If you’re going to read the Bible, you want to read it in the original languages. If you’re going to teach, you’re going to reach as many souls as possible, through a proliferation of lectures and books. If you’re a guy and you’re going to fight for purity … well, you’d better hide the kitchen shears.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

prayer requests

I'd just like to link to two prayer requests: B's for John Haynes, and Paula's for Laura.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

updated links

From a thirteenth-century German manuscript. A monk is picking out a piece of parchment. He will then stretch it on a frame and scrape it smooth with a knife (see background). Then he will add links to his favorite blogs

Jeff has wondered about the absence of a link on my page to his remarkable blog. The reason behind this absence has to do with a conspiracy involving the CIA, the MI5, the Illuminati and a handful of albino monks. That, and a flood of biblical proportions as well as an odd position of Jupiter in relation to the constellation Anthrax. That, and I'm lazy and afraid of html.

But I should share these great blogs with anyone who may stumble across mine. I also noticed the links to Fay's blog (which she has renamed Chaldean Thoughts) and Habakkuk's Watchpost didn't work, and I think I fixed that.

Jeff's blog, Aun Estamos Vivos, containing his reflections on religion, politics, and society, is one of the most thoughtful and well-written blogs you will find out there. Cura Animarum is a great spiritual blog, also very intelligent and worth reading. I have recently discovered Musing from the Big U, by another Catholic graduate student, a composer. You may have come across Gabrielle in the comment box, and it's about time I listed her blog, The Lost Fort, full of lovely medieval tidbits.

I'm sure I'm forgetting other wonderful blogs and I promise to be better about adding them in the future. Until then, enjoy these links (and the beauty of my cat -- see below).

stealing an idea...

I am too busy/lazy to post right now, so I will just steal an idea from Crystal and post a couple of photos of my cat, Mishea. She actually has beautiful blue eyes, but they always come out a bit luciferian in photos. The lump under the blanket is yours truly.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Good Friday

I will be offline until Sunday. Have a prayerful Triduum, everyone.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

St Tutilo of Gall, the NYPD, and the Stasi

Sacramentary, possibly from the monastery of St Gall, ninth century.

First things first: today is the feast day of the ninth-century monk St Tutilo of Gall. Here's what the Catholic Forum has to say about him:
Large, powerfully built man. Educated at Saint Gall's monastery in Switzerland where he stayed to become a Benedictine monk. Friend of Blessed Notkar Balbulus. A renaissance man before the term was coined. Excellent student, he became a sought-after teacher at the abbey school. Noted speaker. Poet and hymnist, though nearly all of his work has been lost. Architect, painter, sculptor, metal worker, and mechanic; some of his art work continues to grace galleries and monasteries around Europe. Composer and musician, playing several instruments including the harp. No matter his talents or works, he preferred the solitude and prayers of his beloved monastery.
Well, any friend of Notkar the Stammerer is a friend of mine. Besides (can't you tell seeing how talented he was?) he was Irish.

Also, imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis and I saw a film this past weekend that made quite an impression on us, The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for best foreign film this year. Crystal has already posted on it (cave spoilers). The story, sent in East Germany in the 1980's, could easily have been sentimental or contrived, but a great screenplay, excellent directing, and exquisitely subtle acting made it very powerful.

The movie centered on the omnipresent spying on East Germans by the Stasi, the state police. Everyone was watched, there were hundreds of thousands of informers, and the slightest expression of dissent was enough to make one a target of suspicion. After watching the film I went home and read the Times, learning that the NYPD had infiltrated and spied on activist groups inside and outside the country before the 2004 GOP convention in New York. We're not talking about bomb-throwing anarchists or Al-Queda:
These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. Three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports.
I was upset about Bloomberg bringing the convention here in 2004 so that Bush could use New York's suffering as a background for his war-mongering, I was upset that New Yorkers were not allowed to protest during the convention or in Central Park, and I was upset about the arbitrary arrests during that week. But this takes the cake.

I'm not saying the NYPD is like the Stasi. I'm just reporting the news. I report, you decide. And also, near the end of the film, you see how East Germans now can request and examine the Stasi reports on them. New Yorkers don't have that privilege. Ain't that grand?

St. Tutilo, pray for us.