Friday, April 30
Everybody's favorite Anglican, Taylor Marshall, tells the tale of Our Lady of Fort Worth, otherwise known as Our Lady of Texas, involving Catholic nuns, cowboy hats, a hospital and a Western Rite Eastern Orthodox hieromonk with a parish in Mesquite. Curiouser and curiouser.
Fr. Bryce, after years of exhaustive research, discovers the one relic on the face of the earth that's too strange even by my stringent standards. Still, I'd venerate it if I had the chance!
Amongst considerable acclaim, Philosophy department head Alfred Freddoso did have this complaint about President-Elect Jenkins' "Intellect, Will, and the Assent of Faith in Thomas Aquinas" back in 1996:
"One minor cavil. John makes rather heavy weather of the distinction between diachronic and synchronic accounts of freedom. "
If I had to pick a flaw for my University President to possess, I think I would pick this flaw.
Huh. You decide to leave the country for nine months and everything suddenly changes at your home university. First, you discover your close friends have been concocting ways of setting snowballs on fire in your absence, and now the University decides to change presidents on you. Still, Fr. John Jenkins sounds cool, got that Thomist mojo going...
Uh, forget I said that.
That being said (you've forgotten it already), I wish outgoing University Kahuna Maximus Fr. Edward "Monk" Malloy the best, whatever his continued vocation with the CSC holds, and pray that future Dude-in-Chief Fr. John Jenkins will prove a fine Fearless Leader for Our Lady's University. Hmmm, he needs a snappy nickname. "Friar"?
Unless... Unless someone's pulling some sort of weird War of the Worlds-style hoax on us unsuspecting architecture students isolated in Rome making up stories about presidents. Hmmm. Probably the squirrels on campus, those big fat mutant squirrels. Honestly, I think they, not that purported Board of Trustees, reeeeally run everything on campus. Seriously. If you find out I was crushed mysteriously under 1,000 pounds of acorns for telling you the real deal, you know who to blame. Now where on earth did I put Agent Mulder's cell phone number?
Oh yes, and Kahuna Maximus would make a great name for a Diocese of Oahu chant schola.
Fr. Malloy congratulates incoming President Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
I don't know much about Fr. Jenkins, but preliminary indications are that he's good. First Things liked his book, after all. And Dan says he gives a good homily. Details to follow...
Kitty Goodhouse’s Birthday Present
Fr. O, our chaplain, had swung by studio to drop off the latest round of graded theology papers. it’d been too long since we’d last chatted and so I approached him with a friendly exclamation of “Happy St. Kate’s Day!” It was April 29. Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena, Virgin. He smiled and chuckled. “Yeah. St. Kate. Kitty. Kitty Goodhouse.” He laughed again. I was momentarily confused and wondered if I’d heard him right.
One simply never knows what Fr. O might say, which is part of his unique charm. In the course of the last year, I’d heard anything and everything from profound homilies on the Eucharist to free-form classroom riffs involving Semi-Arianism and chocolate chips. So, I won’t say I was necessarily surprised, albeit somewhat puzzled. For a few seconds anyway. Catherine of Siena. Born Catherine Benincasa. Bene casa. Good house. Kitty Goodhouse.
We shared a long chortle. Only Fr. O. Only in Rome.
Catherine of Siena. Protectress against fire, against illness, against miscarriage, against bodily ills. Patroness of the diocese of Allentown, of Europe, of fire prevention, of firefighters, of Italy, of nurses and nursing services and people ridiculed for their piety, of sick people and Siena, and, of course, my very own adopted home city of Rome. Catherine of Siena. Kate. Katy. Kitty Goodhouse.
St. Kitty Goodhouse, Doctor of the Church, lives down the street from me. Most of her, anyway. Her body is interred at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, one of Rome’s Dominican churches, while her incorrupt head, a relic that even a seasoned hagiography fan such as myself finds somewhat gruesome, remains preserved in her birthplace of Siena. The church is only five minutes away, while even closer is the chapel where she spent her last hours on earth, the Transito. It’s incongruously imprisoned inside a theater, but Santa Maria is less hard to find.
It’s a familiar church for me. I find it difficult to think of a day when I don’t pass by its stark, daunting facade, on my way to the sooty grandeur of the Galeria Doria Pamphij or the plasticine glitz and starchy nineteenth-century commercialism of the Corso, to Sant’ Ignazio and its scalloped stuccoed piazza.
Before the facade with its triple piercing of rose windows stands Bernini’s whimsical, pudgy little elephant carrying an obelisk on its back. Its sculpted rear faces the old offices of the Inquisition. It’s one of Rome’s few Gothic churches, beyond the blank front its nave standing as a Puginesque exercise in gilt and lazuli-blue garnished with multicolored baroque marginalia along its chapel-lined aisles. Gold and black marble funeral monuments spangle the walls, white marble skulls grinning toothlessly back at you.
I can’t say I know it well, though. I see it enough, wander amid it enough, but for some reason its soothing medievalism and pleasant semidarnkess seldom registers in my mind. It’s one of the few churches in the city that doesn’t take an inconvenient siesta in the middle of the day. Perhaps I can't remeber the details. But it's often enough to pace its columned nave in the filtered silver-grey light of afternoon. Even if I forget the litany of saints that mark its chapels, even if I only venture in for a brief moment at Catherine’s tomb beneath the high altar.
Sometimes it is simply enough to watch the sun on the dappled, austere south wall, pierced irregularly with chapel lunettes. Pantheon Internet Cafe is always a good place to drink in the light, typing away at emails as I gaze through the big fish-bowl window onto the little piazza with its knot of miniature cars and the ranks of clerical boutiques, plate glass bright with liturgical eye-candy.
And Katy, Katy, Katy, Katy, what about you? How is it that I know you, or feel that I know you? Where did we meet?
I always feel a little thrill whenever I recognize her high, Gothic almond-eyed features amid the pale early Renaissance blue of a panel in the Chicago Art Institute or as a chipped marble bust amid the stony worthies of the Pincio Gardens. Not far away stands the work of one of her Dominican brethren, six hundred years after her death, a massive, ornamental and largely inaccurate water-clock, the prize-winning project of a science-minded priest of the ottocento.
St. Catherine’s face is equally marred, not by inaccuracy but by vandalism, the tip of her nose sheared off by vandals. She’d undergone some marginal, unsuccessful plastic surgery when I last visited, her face sporting a dubious proboscoid made of a sort of gravelly stonemasonic spackle. It’s probably not the first time, as traveloguer H.V. Morton mentioned the parks department’s continuing feud with the nose bandits forty years ago. There are, however, worse things to lose, as one glance through the Vatican’s galleries of marble castrati will show you.
But back to Katy. I’ve never read her Dialogue, though I’ve often mulled over the choice as I stood in the crowded little O.P. bookstore at Santa Sabina up on the Aventine. Yet, it’s hard not to like her, not to feel she holds some deep inexplicable appeal locked up in her personality that blended both mysticism and searingly common sense. She had that tenacity, that solid elephantine stubbornness (and Bernini’s elephant means wisdom) that the alleged misogynists of the medieval era succeeded in inculcating in so many of their women. Especially their nuns.
She is an uppity medieval woman, that most delightful of creatures. An uppity holy medieval woman who moved with reckless honesty into the highest corridors of power, wilder than the most manic dreams of Gloria Steinem, more powerful in her way than the most shrill power-suited politicienne of our own era. And yet, she remained as feminine as the stereotypical meek, barefoot wife, even more so. Much more so. And hers was real, not some cartoon straw-woman counterfeit cooked up by angry radicals.
She, and so many abbesses and prioresses in their fluttering gothic veils, embodied the great and terrible natural authority of the mother that can shout down a king, doubly armored all round with the elemental purity of virginity. It is femininity, not masculinity, that is called in the Bible, "terrible as an army with banners." Thus it seemed only natural that she could rebuke popes without a raised eyebrow. And rightly so, for it is Mary, not Peter, who reigns amid the Ofanim and Cherubim of heaven as their sovereign.
And there’s more, there is that easiness she carries herself. There is the unnaturally natural, easy self-unity that gives her the tender audacity (audemus dicere: Pater Noster, qui es in caelis) to call a reigning pope by a delicately silly nickname. Dearest daddy, my sweet babbo, and most surprising, she is simply not just teasing. You would call her magisterial to the point of arrogance, going in swinging with one epistle after another to the self-exiled Avignon pope and yet she goes and calls him something that sounds comically like what Linus called Lucy, and I don’t mean the martyrs in the Canon. And she did this all before dying at age 33, when girls nowadays have barely begun to bloom into maternity.
There’s also the fact she had twenty-four siblings, an astonishing detail to add to an astonishing life.
So, that is why I found myself in the back of Santa Maria that afternoon to pay my respects to the birthday girl. Dies natalis. Birthday girl, deathday girl. Happy birthday to you, in paradisum.
I was in the midst of the last hours of a major project; no time to loose. I might not stay for the whole mass, but I could at least pop in to say hi.
It’s the custom of the Roman civic government up on the Capitoline to present a chalice in St. Catherine’s honor to the friars of Santa Maria every year on her feast day in token of her metropolitan patronage. A couple of politicians, an elegant man in a black topcoat and a wrinkled olive woman in a tricolored sash, stood chatting on the threshold of the church, the great portals wide open. I had never seen them open before in my year in Rome, not even on St. Thomas Aquinas’s day back in January. With them was a portly friar in a billowing preaching habit, his leather cincture pulled up to his sternum Roncalli-fashion.
And then there were the vigili, an honor guard of traffic cops enjoying their brief moment to enter and exit on the civic stage and have a moment of glory on the urban calendar. Two of them hurried a massive, beribboned mound of flowers out of a grilled side-chapel and set it on a table in the back, while a third carried the gleaming red leather cube that encased the chalice. They stood off in a knot to one side, preening unconsciously. One fiddled with his white gloves and his cell-phone, while another practiced holding the folding lids of the chalice-box open like the wings of a tiny polytiptych. They were certainly attired for the occasion, in an Italian blend of comic opera, Keystone Kops and Officer Friendly, with their spotless blue tunics and absurd white bobby helmets, their gleaming gold aigulettes and their dandyish mustaches and Bernini beards.
The church was crowded with worshippers. Votive lights burned steadily around the high altar where Catherine’s recumbent marble figure lay beneath the glassed-in Gothic arches of the predella. A few like me hung to the back, stragglers, tourists, curiosity-seekers, honored guests. The politicians and the friar moved up into the nave proper, and I heard the organ sound.
A procession of priests and clerks slowly appeared, moving from the sacristy, down one side-aisle to the rear of the church amid swirling clouds of incense. Taperers in white tunics and white surplices embroidered with scarlet, priests in white cassocks with white monastic capuces and white albs, some pink and fair, some brown, some olive, some even with the exotic complexion of India. And behind them was a Cardinal in gold and white, an apostle-orphreyed gold mitre on his head. Lace frothed around his ankles over his scarlet robes, his crozier bobbing as he moved past me. He paused and met with the woman in the sash, and the sturdy friar fussed ceremonially over the lappets of his mitre, and they all proceeded to the altar, the chalice and the great mountain of flowers flanked by helmeted vigili.
They moved up and set the chalice in its cube on the epistle side of the old altar, and the policemen paused for a moment facing the congregation, as if in salute, and turned and left as soon as their politicians were seated in the south transept. The Cardinal moved around the altar in clouds of sweet smoke, and then I saw the vigili quickstep towards the rear of the church, their metal braid-ends clanking precisely against their belt-buckles embossed with the Roman she-wolf.
I slipped out as well. Only a few minutes. Earthlier duties called me away, for better or worse. I had paid my respects to this magnificent, audacious nun, who had listened to so many offhand prayers of mine as I meandered through her church month after month, and that was consolation enough for me.
Thursday, April 29
I'd like to hear what our recoving Trekkies think...
Wednesday, April 28
Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls explained in a statement today that "on April 30 the consultation ends of all the cardinals and presidents of episcopal conferences on the project of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prepared by the special commission of cardinals, assisted by the editorial committee."
Navarro-Valls, director of the Vatican press office, said the compendium will be ''written in the form of a dialogue, with questions followed by concise answers."
The Pope said the compendium "should include, in a concise way, the essential and fundamental content of the faith of the Church, respecting its complete character and doctrinal integrity."
Festive Melodies of the Imaginary Organs
Search the web, and you'll find just about everything. Witness this near-Borgesian compendium of stoplists for pipe organs that were never built. In particular, the page on the (unconstructed) organs of Edward Lutyens' (unbuilt) Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral is worth checking out, if only to have a look at the architect's famous model of the unbegun church. There's also a more theoretical look at what organs might have gone into an earlier Gothic design for Westminster Cathedral--before it was overtaken by the magisterial if bizarre "streaky bacon and pea soup-colored caricature of an electric light station" that stands there today, as Baron Corvo put it. Even more whimsical is this set of statistics for an organ based on a painting of St. Jerome in his study! I can't say any of these reams of numbers makes any sense to a layman such as myself, but the idea is not without charm.
Tuesday, April 27
Well, the inimitable Onion Dome has proclaimed a new contest for an Eastern Orthodox bumper sticker--apparently, Honk 40 Times If You're Orthodox wasn't cutting it anymore. So, we wild and crazy Latins, of course, ought to reciprocate. There's plenty of Catholic bumper-stickers out there, every church parking-lot is festooned with anything from Pray the Rosary to the more fire-and-brimstone-y If you live like there's no Hell, you better be right. Both suitable and salutary messages, but the Church is full of different charisms, each with their own peculiar quirks, and I daresay, their own set of inside jokes. Are there bumper-stickers for Catholic nerds? For traditionalists? Conservatives? Opus Dei? Anglican Use fans? Dominicans? In this spirit, the Shrine offers this selection of possible new options.
I brake for processions.
Honk in Tonus Monasticus if you're a Dominican.
Biretta on board.
Support your local Subdeacon.
Happiness is a warm thurible.
My altar boy excommunicated your honor student.
William Donohue is my president.
Summa Theologica, II-II, clxviii, 4.
My other car is a sedia gestatoria.
Horn broken. Watch for crotalum.
Horn broken. (Cf. Tra le sollicitudini, St. Pius X, 1903).
I don't brake for Marty Haugen.
I'd rather be chanting.
My other car is a confessional.
To err is human. To really screw up, you need a liturgist.
We have a penance for that.
Real men wear cassocks.
Warning: Driver is in the Fifth Mansion.
Warning: Occasions of sin are more proximate than they appear.
I'm a Dominican. My other car is an auto-da-fe.
Jesuits: Freaking Out Conspiracy Theorists since 1540.
Honkest thou verily for ye Pastoral Provision!
My other chausible is a fiddleback.
Now, can our readers top these? I hope so, I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel here.
Sunday, April 25
Brought to you by the American Falangist Party (Link courtesy of Fr. Jim Tucker)
Note: the Shrine does not endorse the political views of either the American Falangist Party or Fr. Jim Tucker
Saturday, April 24
If you were at Mass this Morning
... you already know two things:
1) That our proclamation of the Mysterium Fidei needs some work
2) That through a very generous (and anonymous) donation, our Masses and Benedictions next year will include a very fine ring of traditional SANCTUS BELLS.
I can't express my own personal gratitude or the excitement of my fellow Shriners (errrr Whapsters) and Mass-goers. Our profound thanks goes out to the donors. Thank you.. Thank you. Thank you!
Today was also the implementation of the chin-paten, but of course, The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling. ([93.], Redemptionis Sacramentum).
At Mass today, as the censor swung at the Consecration and I glanced the Commmunion plate waiting at the credence table, heard the Latin acclaimation intoned by our own cassocked Dan, in a beautiful chapel with a sizeble attendence for 9am at a college campus, I was very, very grateful to Our Lord for allowing us to worship Him in so beautiful a way.
And thank you, again, to those by whom He enabled us so to do.
Friday, April 23
[87.] The First Communion of children must always be preceded by sacramental confession and absolution.
[93.] The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling.
[106.] However, the pouring of the Blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery. Never to be used for containing the Blood of the Lord are flagons, bowls, or other vessels that are not fully in accord with the established norms.
[117.]... Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate
Thursday, April 22
How the Whapsters celebrated reacing 50,000 hits this week
Who would have thought that a mere 9 months after it's inception, the Shrine would hit 50,000 visits? Thanks to all our readers, and keep your eyes open for my Rome travelogs, starting shortly after finals!
Basia Me, Catholica Sum
Where do you go for "poetry and poets - Hopkins, Heaney, Eliot, Pound, Lorca, Yeats... - literature - Tolkien, Belloc, Bernanos, Chesterton, Flannery O'Connor... - and art in general... reflections on the Latin Mass and such issues... and day-to-day observations"?
Visit this new blog by an incoming Christendom freshman. Afterall... "The blogs that have most inspired me are Shrine of the Holy Whapping and El Camino Real..."
In terms of Great Ominous Warnings in literature, Dracula can't be beat. While Bram Stoker mysteriously places St. George's Eve on May 4 rather than today, April 22, he nonetheless gives us a doozie flat up in Chapter 1 tied to that very holiday. Apparently, local Transylvanian superstition makes it an über-Walpurgisnacht of sorts:
"It is the eve of St. George's Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?" [The inkeeper's wife] was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect. Finally, she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least to wait a day or two before starting.
Ay. Happy St. George's Day! Enjoy that long, dark walk home. Muahahahaha!
The May Procession: 2003
Or, Harness the power of this armed and fully-operational blog!
Ah, the memories. Every year Children of Mary / Knights of Immaculata, the campus groups of which the blog is a partial digital manifestation, hold a May Procession: we carry the above life-sized statue of Our Lady (note the 4-handled ark-of-sorts which rests, somewhat painfully, on four pairs of willing shoulders) up and down the quads, saying 15 decades of the Rosary. It's a wonderful opportunity to express devotion to Our Lady, renew ND's consecration to her, and witness to the campus community (and the tourists who snap pictures), as slightly embarrassing as it can be ;)
This year, though, we hope to up the notch a bit.. more on that later, as it does (or doesn't) pan out; for example, because it is during study days, we're not allowed to advertize. So, gentle readers, please help!
1) Pray that we succeed in offering Our Lady a fine procession, which she may use as her own instrument for the dispensation of great graces. Let's start an e-novena tomorrow unto this end.
2) If you can, attend! Spread the news! Get other people to come!! Please!
Saturday, May 1st, 2:00pm, the Grotto
Blogspot related searches. Once again, Catholic prayers, and then green stool. Perhaps a bishop's faldistorium upholstered in their heraldic color? Uh...nah. Also, whoever came here looking for St. Teresa entombed in Texas, I hope you found what you wanted, especially since that search turns up the Shrine multiple times. I wish I knew why.
A Bedtime Story for the Eve of St. George's Day
from the Shrine's Resident Knight-Errant
The historian Gibbon, with his usual lack of charity and clarity, calls him a corrupt bacon salesman and Arian bishop of Cappadocia. However, as much as the dark side in our consciences enjoys tripping up the occasional sanctoral legend, St. George's martyrial crown is here to stay. We know that for certain. Any other identifications (whether knight, martyred deacon or heretic bishop) are spurious.
Apart from the historical fact of his martyrdom, we have little else save for a decidedly fictitious Acta condemned by the Council of Nicaea for being too weird for words. His legend is, unsurprisingly, full of blood and wonder, with all sorts of apocryphal embroideries that tell of his four martyrdoms--cut-to-pieces, buried alive, consumed by fire, decapitated--his conversion of the Empress (and subsequent saint) Alexandra, timbers bursting into leaf, and the miraculous flow of milk from his severed neck. Despite all the well-meaning attempts by the medievals to remove any trace of credulity from the story of St. George, he nonetheless survived the pruning of the calendar in 1969, and he still remains today one of the most beloved of saints. Admitted, the fairytale dragon and the beautiful princess perhaps helps his mythic appeal, but the reality of his ancient veneration is undisputable.
The early pilgrims record his shrine as well-established by as early as the sixth century, at Lydda or Diospolis, and one church dedication under his name at Thessalonica may go back as early as the 300s. San Giorgio in Velabro at Rome is another ancient dedication, while a monastery under his protection was founded by King Clovis in France in 512. A cultus like this doesn't spring up out of whole cloth. We're not talking about a sketchy old wive's tale like, say, St. Wilgefortis (the bearded lady of hagiography) or an incongruous Buddhist import like Barlaam and Josaphat.
But who was he?
Certainly that wonderfully odious foe, the dragon, bulks large in our minds. Sometimes it is spiky and Gothic and maddeningly insectoid, as in the Bosch-like fantasies of Swedish woodcarvers, while in canvases and panels from England to Greece (Ghiorghios ho megalomartyr), this red-cross knight in his meteor-black armor thrusts his lance down the gullet of everything from jeweled lion-headed bats to comical snail-like serpents looking like armored lengths of green intestine.
It's a rather late addition to the story, an apocalyptic Johannine pun on Diocletian or Dadianus, persecutors given the epithet of ho bythios drakon at their serpentine crimes. Some people prefer to see his dragon-slaying work as the mark of a Christianized Perseus, but his reputation as martyr, and even as martyr and knight, long predates the emergence of his legendary combat in folklore.
Still, it's a story worth telling, even if Mother Church, tucking us into our beds, smiles and tells us not to fear, that there are no such things as dragons. Flesh-and-blood ones, anyway. Caxton, in his quaintly Englished version of Blessed Jacobus's Legenda Aurea Sanctorem popularized it in among the already Georgeophile English populace, adding the stunning green serpent to the pre-existing stark red and white cross of the British heraldic imagination.
(But on his breast a bloody Cross he bore,
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge we wore
And dead (as living) ever he adored. Thus Spenser.)
So, once upon a time, in illo tempore, a vicious dragon was terrorizing the country around Silene in the land of Libya, and the townspeople offered up to this beast two sheep to hold him at bay every day. And after a time, naturally the people discovered they were running low on sheep and sent a man and a sheep for the worm to gorge himself upon. So it happened that each time they offered a man, he would be chosen by lot, whether he be gentle or rude, rich or poor. This system also had some problems, as the King discovered when the lot chanced to fall on his beauteous daughter.
The king planned to backslide, but when a large number of his subjects showed up at the drawbridge of his castle with Where-is-the-evil-Dr.-Frankenstein torches and pitchforks and threatened to burn the place down, he reconsidered and sent his only child out into the slithering clutches of the great monster, garbed in the pure dress of a bride. This latter detail was something of a cruel joke, as the King had wept to think he'd never see his girl settle down with some nice fellow from Cyrenica and have enormous quantities of grandchildren for him to spoil.
Now, as this sorry state of affairs was about to pass, a young knight named George happened to be cantering by on his white palfry. His white charger was being led along behind him by his squire, no point in wasting a good horse on the road. His shining armor, as well, was packed up and he was simply dressed, as any sensible warrior would be on the road between jousts.
George, it being his vocation in life to save damsels in distress and also wondering why on earth someone would be tramping through the mud wearing a wedding dress, asked the girl what was going on and told her not to fear. She explained her sad predicament, while George suddenly exclaimed "Fair daughter, doubt ye no thing hereof for I shall help thee in the name of Jesu Christ!" And then she, being resigned to her fate to being flame-broiled, shot back, "For God's sake, good knight, go your way, and abide not with me, for ye may not deliver me."
While they were arguing about whether she would allow him to save her or not (she was, I presume, a very modern princess), the dragon prompty showed up and cut the conversation short. St. George, being Action Man, lept on his white charger and took up his sword and, as the Blessed Jacobus puts it, "garnished him with the Sign of the Cross." He then did some serious smoting with his lance and finally knocked the great beast to the ground.
The girl, being female and thus practical, suggested he should tie the beast up with her girdle, which the knight gallantly did. The dragon followed her, and was, in medieval-speak, "a meek beast and debonair." (To which St. George muttered to himself, "What is it with you people and that word 'debonair'? First Trajan is debonair, then St. Gregory is, and...oh, never mind.")
She led the beast in on her lead to her father's city and the townspeople naturally went nuts. St. George said, in his usual chivalric grand manner, which a knight is perfectly entitled to, "Ne doubt ye no thing, without more, believe ye in God, Jesu Christ, and do ye to be baptized and I shall slay the dragon!" And he did, lopping the beast's head off with one stroke. Ta da!
The darned thing was so big it took four carts to haul it out of the city, and doubtlessly the farmer whose land it was dumped on was uniquely annoyed. Though I am told on the best auctoritates that dragons make good fertilizer.
So, then, the King had a church built and dedicated to Our Lady and St. George (to which St. George murmured, "I'm not martyred yet, your Majesty") and a fountain of healing water sprung up in that place and many were cured of their sickness. While some people, like Mr. Spenser, like to say he got the girl in the end, like any good melodrama, I'd like to believe what Bishop Jacobus said. That he gave the King a few bits of good advice to follow as a newly-made Christian. Maybe he even got a rewarding (and chaste) kiss from the Princess (saying the Greek equivalent of "I'll never strigil this cheek again"), And so he rode off into the Libyan desert sunset in the grand tradition of the Western.
Then, of course, he ended up being martyred, but that's another story, dearies.
And what is the moral of all this, anyway, if it's just a bedtime story? The fantasist in me would like to believe that maybe, just maybe, there were dragons once, just as there were once giants in the earth, or ghosts, or longaevi like the centaurs, but the truth is there are worse things out there than dragons, like the ancient serpent whose head was crushed by Our Lady and Her Child.
And there are plenty of brides needing rescuing these days, menaced by serpents. Our Mother Church sticks out as the most important candidate at the moment, but there are plenty of others, like Lady Poverty, like Temperance, like Fortitude and Chastity, Justice and Peace. They're all cute, by the way, and are looking for husbands to live happily ever after with.
We may not know that much about St. George besides his undisputed historical existence. As Pope Gelasius put it in 495, he is one of those holy men "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are only known to God." But why do we call him the Great Martyr (ho megalomartyr) and dedicate every cause and country to him from Greece, to Spain, to Boy Scouts and Catalans, to England (and always)?
The fact he slayed the dragon of sin in his martyrdom is alone enough to merit that crown. He is the Unknown Soldier of Christianity, the parfait gentil knight through his meekness, through his bending his neck to the executioner's sword, even if he never wielded a blade himself. We are all called to spiritual knighthood of some sort, whether as Knights of the Immaculate, as Legionaries of Mary or Christ, or a footsoldier in the forgotten Blue Army. The spiritual battle is even fiercer than the material battle, even in these days of missiles and terrorism.
Also, ladies, a word in your beautiful ears. St. Joan, dear, dear, practical, sensible, ornery little St. Joan (4'10" according to one source) has shown you can take care of yourself in good stead and are spiritual knights yourselves. But every now and then, will you let a gentleman in shining armor rescue you? We're good at that sort of thing. That and opening mason jars.
Of the Capitoline Venus and her Capacious, though Presumably Still Beautiful, Waistline
I thought she was kind of cute, for a libertine nudist, but at least one of my fellow Whapsters was unimpressed. We seem to have good reasons for both our opinions, as the inimitable H.V. Morton writes in his equally inimitable book, A Traveller in Rome (1957):
"...She is one of the most beautiful of all the statues of Venus, though it is evident the waist was not admired in ancient Rome and was a creation of the corseted Middle Ages. When Prince Prospero Colonna was Mayor of Rome during the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II during the early years of [the last] century, a grand reception was held in the Campidoglio and afterwards the royal guest was conducted round the museums. The newspapers noted the interest shown by the visiting monarch in the world-famous masterpiece. What really happened was that as the Mayor of Rome and the Kaiser approached the Capitoline Venus, Prince Colonna said, 'Your Majesty, may I present my official wife?'..."
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Wednesday, April 21
A Psalm for the Sibyl
on the occasion of the 2,757 birthday of the City of Rome
Apollo shines bright on her dappled stucco walls,
Like a vast and blank and gold-spotted canvas
Ripe with a possibility as multiform as the City
(For there is only ever one City)
In which it hangs like a vast inhabited museum exhibit.
This City, Holy Roma, like a sentient artwork, like
A gilded Jesuit ceiling overfilling its lobèd, gilded frame:
Sant' Ignazio, armored with silver and lapis lazuli,
Dances on etherial clouds bleached to martyrial,
Apocalyptic light by the Holy Name
(The HaShem of the Ghetto,
The Theos of the Greeks)
Enthroned in a dazzling
Sunburst like a sacred klieg light full of swarming puffing
Cherubim like sweet lemon-gold puffins.
A son-et-lumière for the salvation of souls
Full of the light that is the life of men.
My chalice overfloweth.
Venite exultemus Domino,
In polyglot song:
Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum!
Ihsous Nazoraios Basileus ton Ioudaion!
And the sacred tongue of His Own Flesh, O Adonai.
My chalice overfloweth.
It overflows, Rome overflows, with that spring light,
Once called Helios, now a pale candle to
The Sol Iustitiae,
But what a candle! Almost as bright
As the wreath of flame atop a mythical tiered birthday-cake,
Augustus's mausoleum crowned
With two-thousand-seven-hundred-fifty-seven torches,
For beautiful Holy Rome enthroned in her
High over the Colosseum,
Forever young and marble-smooth
Like Mother Church her sister
Whose foam-white tiara crowns the City anew and anew
With every rising dome.
(Boire oilom bekinyon
Hashleim ze habinyon
Oi oi oi oi oi oi)
And they will celebrate (oi oi oi) amid
The amazons and fauns of the Capitoline
And thick-waisted, splendid bathing Venus,
With blank stony eyes:
Free entrance, 9.00-20.00.
And they will celebrate amid the tombs and wonders of the Ara Coeli
Atop its flight of merciless steps:
The throne of sulfured Sibyl who pointed out
The Son of God and His Mother to divine Augustus,
Holy Rome and Holy Church becoming one,
A being older than itself,
Warrior Virgin Mother with fecund breasts,
Like the militant she-wolf,
Spraying their milk and blood,
A chaste nymph in the baptismal grotto,
An oread of the Petrine rock,
Unlike so many near-succubae
Who once dwelt viciously in these parts
Like dragons in the margins of a map.
She has drawn them out, wizened and dying in the days of Diocletian:
Trivia, Althea, Salmacis,
Dryads, naiads, nereids, oceanids, she has drawn out
These pagan cripples in the dance and said to them,
Take up thy bed and walk.
Let us celebrate the marriage of Jerusalem and Rome,
Of David and the Sibyl, of our Hellenistic heads
And Hebraic hearts:
Et dodim kala et dodim et dodim kala
Et dodim kala boi l'gani
Parcha hagefen henetsu rimonim.
And these are the wedding guests, capering in the forum:
All these Etruscan demons with faces like goats and wings like angels,
These creatures of the mind,
She has taken them, and exorcized them
Into the sunlight, capering through
The Heculean columns of Peter's tholos,
And shown them Christ on His mosaick'd sun-chariot
Shining brighter than Sol Invictus.
(Boire oilom bekinyon
Hashleim ze habinyon
Oi oi oi oi oi oi)
You have conquered, O dark Galilean,
And turned old Rome gold with Thy breath.
Tuesday, April 20
"A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients
to plant vines."
--Frank Lloyd Wright (1868-1959)
The Barberini Mafia Minuets to the Philosophy of the World
How many albums have you heard where you can tell the order in which the tracks were recorded by how far out-of-tune the guitars are?
--An Amazon.com reviewer on the Shaggs
April in Rome has an acute lack of the romantic, dewy-fresh atmosphere that popular imagination ascribes to that month. Audrey Hepburn has yet to go by on a motorino, and the grey skies are less the chic monochrome of La Dolce Vita than they are the backdrops of a bizarre, counter-Reformation Elsinore. The sun and the rain have been battling over our heads for almost a week now. At the moment, an unsettled truce prevails, Tiepolo skies breaking through the drizzly leaden canopy cantilevering over rust-red stucco.
Rain at the Ogre's Castle
Everyone here has their ways of beating this diluvian melancholia, this rainy funk. One choice is to ignore it. In that spirit, the whole class packed up Friday morning for one last ride in our faithful D'Amico Tours bus. We struck out for Caprarola, a grey, Etrurian town under a streaky grey sky. It streaks slowly up the narrow ridge of a vast hill overhanging a wet green gorge thick with ferns and foliage. The village is low and humble, a tired medieval peasant laying low to the uneven stony ground.
It's one street, razor-straight to the peak of the steep slope. There, the pentagonal bulk of the Palazzo Farnese looms with lugubrious semi-gothic gloom over the ash-grey tiled roofs of Caprarola. It's dark against the pale sky as we step into the terraced piazza that rises skyward. Before us is an expanse of switched-back broad steps and rusticated embankments weedy with mildew and decay. The heavy cryptoporticus gates are fortified with massive vermiculated quoining, rich with broken statues and vivid velvety mold.
It's sad and beautiful as we consider the shattered, bleached wood of the boarded-up portal. It's also starting to be, in addition to sad and beautiful, increasingly damp. Professor D., the rain just starting to fall out of the bare, white-void sky, explains to us with typical gusto that it's the door to the wine-cellar.
I try to sketch. My notebook is spotted with grey-black raindrops running the ink like pigeon droppings.
High overhead, the palace drawbridge is suspended on chains from a highly classical gate, full of chunky blocks and dignified capitals. In the grey light, the many-windowed, many-pilastered palace is a massive, rationally oppressive fortress. Its three-tiered, five-sided bastioned bulk seems like a Palladian ogre's castle, full of dried blood and wet, rainy wonder.
Later, I looked at some photos of Caprarola taken during the high blue skies of summer reveals a colorful but alien world, charmingly Renaissance in its bright, sunny plastered yellows and gardens full of green thickets and spraying foamy white fountains. Somehow I prefer the gothick miasma of my visit to the computerized toy-store castle of the guidebooks. It's lonely and bittersweet, the kind of place to find the family ghost of some doomed cardinal stabbed with the poison-filled glass stiletto of a mythical Venetian bravo, the brutal, feted gangsta rappers of their day.
The palace is full of unconsciously melodramatic touches. The pseudo-Pompeiian grotesque-frescoed ceilings are full of gilt and remarkable chlorinated green backgrounds. They brim with perversely dense webs of symbols that mix Christian and pagan, humanist and biblical. Not always with complete success, as the serpent of Greek wisdom clashes almost obscenely with the Chalice of the Sacrament, balanced with unsettling indifference at the apex of one vault. The eponymous goat of Caprarola grins everywhere amid these interlocking ceilings full of boughs and fruit and divinities framed in plasterwork, giving me a pleasant touch of aesthetic creeps.
In the dismal rain, this masterpiece of Peruzzi and Vignola--Palladio's tutor, appropriately enough, for this classical haunted-house--becomes something close to an art lover's version of The Munsters. Even the dark-gold unicorns and bucking Farnese pegasuses on their painted cameos amid swarming Greek letters have a touch of salva me ex ore leonis et de cornibus unicornium exaudi me. The usually sensible helmeted Athena who decorates the low dome of one tiny study is weirdly Siamese-twinned with Mercury in some strange flourish of rhetoric. Commerce and wisdom and antique gender dysphoria. Herm-Athena, a name never to pin on a child you love.
A Hall for the Mad Geniuses of the Counter-Reformation
We find ourselves going through a surreal interior corridor full of twists and turns, every inch frescoed with a tangle of leafy branches festooned with a net of curling cardinal's cords and tassels. Or up a vast circular staircase running up a hollow shaft framed by paired doric columns. Or out onto the second story gallery of the damp circular courtyard, floored with broken remnants of tile marked with painted heraldic fleurs-de-lys.
And then there is the map room looking down on the town, on a vast truncated blue peak floating in the distance on a pillow of cloud. The walls are marked with immense hemispheric projections in gold and blue, marked with dark Roman letters and full of twisty rivers. It looks like the GHQ of a Renaissance mad genius. "Let's see, Catholicism and classical architecture have triumphed here, here, and here..." I hear Vera say teasingly to myself and Amelia, and it's a moment that makes my Ultramontane heart proud.
I notice, on leaving, that on one chart my native Florida appears to have suffered some horrible wasting disease, while Nicaragua has developed warts. Peru swallows almost all of Brazil, its shrunken remnant reduced in this apocryphal geography to a sort of hyperinflated equatorial Uruguay.
The rain doesn't stop, though we trudge through the damp, dark, green gardens and spend a few moments amid the rocaille grottos. We are amid mustachioed stone herms with baskets on their heads and hands on their hips, on their heads, on their shoulders, across their chest. Professor Marconi makes some comment about the ubiquity of the Macarena, that dusty nineties dance fad that seems even more antique than our own surroundings. Meanwhile, Professor Duarte manages to trick us with a joke fountain underneath a pebbly, cavelike pavilion.
It seems a bit redundant, considering we're already soaked to the skin.
There Are Some Things I Wonder
Another way to beat the rain in Rome is to be a slave to it. Some of us, already chained to our work, don't bother leaving studio as the wind whistles down Via Monterone on those stormy days. A dangerous proposition, as studio culture is peculiarly ingenious in inventing ways to waste time. Vera and Amelia and Maureen and Peg have a habit of disappearing into the kitchen for long periods, which means I can usually count on leftovers, and high-quality ones at that. Banana bread, pastries, and the ubiquitous delicacy of American peanut-butter cookies. Studio is knee-deep in printouts from Epicurious.com.
There are worse things in which to be knee-deep.
Though sometimes they don't bake. Once, while cleaning up the kitchen after Peg's birthday part (delayed a week by order of the Italian bishops' conference since it clashed with Good Friday) I turned around to find a couple of my close friends welding dry pasta noodles into weird Frank Gehry shapes using candles. Their next project involves fusilli.
Nobody is safe from the madness. There's Drew, for example. I have discovered he appreciates my CD of early eighteenth-century Tenebrae music from Provence; however, he's also dug up some less highbrow music. Probably one of the worst albums ever recorded, and he's ape over it. Perhaps due to meterology, I share his excitement. It's hilarious.
I refer to the musicological disaster (and cult classic) of the late 1960s known as the Shaggs and their record, Philosophy of the World. As far as I can tell, they seem to have been a 1960s garage band staffed by the ancestors of Strong Bad's infamous Teen Girl Squad. I'm not kidding.
Loopy Polyrhythms Would Make a Great Name for a Chant Schola
Their names were Helen, Better, and Dorothy (Dot) Wiggin, their manager Austin Wiggin, Jr. Their father, a straight-laced, anti-hippie, a-musical son of an amateur fortune-teller, the last person who you'd expect to manage a band. It seemed he thought the rest of the music of the era was trash anyway, so his daughters could botch it with the best of them. Perhaps it's a cynical take, but the hideous reality of their music remains.
They were formed in 1968 and broke up in 1973, and hardly played outside their native town of Fremont, New Hampshire, where their lack of talent was painfully apparent to all and sundry. Yet, weirdly enough, their album, Philosophy of the World is being re-released by RCA Victor, and has even reached Germany.
Listening to their singing, full of missed notes, off-key harmony, bizarre drum solos and worse, you simply wonder how they ever got that close to the mike. Simply reading the reviews on Amazon.com are enough to make you sick with laughter from fannish obsession and pomobabble:
When listening to the Shaggs one needs to jettison conventional notions of song structure, what is "in tune" or not, even what constitutes suitable subject matter for a pop song ("My Pal Foot Foot," "Who Are Parents?"). Originally issued on a small, dodgy label in 1969, the guileless sounds of Philosophy cast a long shadow nonetheless; the group was one of Frank Zappa's favorites...
Name your kids Moonunit and Dweezil, and suddenly you're Karl Haas. It gets far stranger, with vast descriptions that sound like Guillame de Machaut, without the talent:
...delirious, playfully constructed music has everything you least expect: loopy polyrhythms that follow no external law, off-kilter singing conducted in unison that sounds like the hit parade broadcast from Jupiter, and bizarre, elementary-school guitar playing. Best enjoyed in small doses, this enchanting, accidental music approximates the highly personal charms of so-called "outsider" visual art...
And what, pray tell, is "outsider art"? Unlike the Shaggs, it's starting to go inside. The pristine Meierian spaces of Atlanta's High Museum were full of it when I last visited. It's full of weird bottle-cap rocaille, Watts-towers wanna-bes, Gaudi-manqué. An art of a certain ungainly crude innocence that seemed to fill the hole in individualistic southern rural Protestantism (with its Baptisms from Hard-Shell to Free-Will) to what the pink-and-white-and-blue Marian ex-voto offering does for cultures from Mexico to Sicily. But outsider art is everywhere in certain chic aesthetic circles these days, outsider art, outsider writing--stay tuned--and, it seems, quite horrible outsider music.
The Shaggs may not be on display in a museum (fortunately), but it seems their adoring thousands--hundreds?--tens?--make it up with quantity rather than quality. Their fans, however, make up for it online. They've created numerous websites (not one but two pseudo-official ones, to boot, one named after the girls' incoherent song about walking, "My Pal Foot-Foot") to offer up to their idols, who presumably have forgotten all about it and gone on to Boomer oblivion.
The Ars Nova of Hauntingly Bad Tabasco
In certain corners of the web, they are weirdly ubiquitous. Even Susan Orlean, the real-life writer who got weirdly immortalized on-screen as the character whose unadabtable writing was being adapted in Adaptation, has joined in on the rush and written an essay on them, "Meet the Shaggs."
As she says, Depending on whom you ask, the Shaggs were either the best band of all time or the worst. Frank Zappa is said to have proclaimed that the Shaggs were "better than the Beatles." More recently, though, a music fan who claimed to be in "the fetal position, writhing in pain," declared on the Internet that the Shaggs were "hauntingly bad," and added, "I would walk across the desert while eating charcoal briquettes soaked in Tabasco for forty days and forty nights not to ever have to listen to anything Shagg-related ever again." Such a divergence of opinion confuses the mind. Thus Orlean.
(Quoth the Shaggs: There are many things I wonder / There are many things I don't / It seems as though the things I wonder most / Are the things I never find out. )
She, of course, doesn't admit the fact that they might just be bad, and feels compelled to ask, with wonderfully unconscious pretention, Is this the colloquial ease and dislocated syntax of a James Schuyler poem or the awkward innermost thoughts of a speechless teen-ager?
That we can't tell the difference between poetry and incoherence says a good deal about modern culture. In some respects, the question is unanswerable, or the answer is both yes and no. It's three girls singing preposterously, so atonal as to have crossed some interior line never dared by such illuminati as John Cage and the sadistic inventor of twelve-tone rhythm.
It's a reductio ad absurdum of modern music: three girls from New Hampshire have outdone in Promethean pride everyone from Richard Strauss to Philip Glass. On top of that, it's funny, it's spectacularly awful. It's not even so bad it's good, it's so bad...it's bad. It's the sort of inspired awfulness that deserves recognition, though it's far more fun to talk rubbish about.
Exploiting the Tyranny of the Unconscious; and the Belgian Conga
At their first public appearance, the Shaggs had cans thrown at them. It's a more wholesome expression than trying to tart up these poor little innocents into something grand and spectacularly psychological, full of the numinous and long sophisticated words. It's better to simply enjoy and laugh. It's exploitation, yes, but at least it has a certain horrible honesty to it rather than pretending the emperor has clothes.
When you look at what the recording industry folks had to say about their work, it has a certain sad, exploitive clarity to it. Orlean, in the article mentioned above, quotes Joe Mozian (also the genius behind the release of a Belgian lounge music piece, the surreally-named "The Frère Jacques Conga) at RCA Victor:
The Shaggs were beyond my wildest dreams. I couldn't comprehend that music like that existed. It's so basic and innocent, the way the music business used to be. Their timing, musically, was...fascinating. Their lyrics were...amazing. It is kind of a bad record; that's so obvious, it's a given. But it absolutely intrigued me, the idea that people would make a record playing the way they do.
In other words, it's so awful, you wonder why they tried. It's a heartbreaking thing to say.
It's alarming, somehow, this bizarre exploitation, this search for uninspired inspiration in the dregs of creativity. Indeed, some of the most celebrated of the outsider artist cult have been, in fact, clinically insane. Perhaps if the Shaggs had been schizophrenic, they might have gotten a grant. This is especially true among outsider writers. Manic writer and lunatic Henry Darger wrote 18,000 pages of his secret fantasy The Story of the Vivian Girls in what is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandecco-Angellinean War Storm, caused by the Child Slave Rebellion before his death in the early 1970s.
Or there's the founding father of outsider art, the mad Adolph Wölfli. Committed to the Waldau clinic in Bern in 1895, by his death in 1930 he had amassed a rat's nest of scribblings numbering almost 25,000 pages. Imaginary memoirs, plays, fictive geographies of magical kingdoms peopled by weird animals and the eponymous St. Adolf, one writer in the hallowed pages of the Fortean Times called them "improbable, monotonous and self-referential."
Rather like the Shaggs. It's original, it's pure, it's unique.
So what? It's also hilariously awful. What can one say, for example, about such uninspired lyrics about that uniquely creative time of the year, Halloween?
It's time for scares,
It's time for screams,
The ghosts will spook,
The spooks will scare,
Why, even Dracula will be there.
Shades of the Palazzo Farnese at Caprarola.
Soluable Fish Would Also Make a Great Name for a Chant Schola
The Surrealists, whose dreamlike world of Freudian cloud-castles, Quixotic mustaches and bowler-hatted men was forming at this time, loved Wölfli's lunacy, loved the idea of a man as a writing machine devoid of self-meaning, loved the subconscious and the trance.
Yet, it seems Adolph's self-canonization and interior cosmologies seemed so fraught with personal meaning as to be almost unreadable. And really dull. Lunacy, for all its poetic posturing, seems inevitably to turn out to be prosaic, and very consciously prosaic. To paraphrase Chesterton, if I think I am a piece of glass, I'm quite tiresomely a piece of glass. I'm used to it. It's normal. It's boring. And so the Surrealists discovered that their soulless Cartesian writing-machines weren't everything they were cracked up to be, as Antonio Melechi wrote in his article on the subject:
...the Surrealist project proved impossible. Automatic writing offered few of the surprises that were to be found in...insane writing... Texts such as Possessions and Soluble Fish were passable “simulations of mental debility,” but their spontaneity and exuberance was formulaic.
Soluable Fish, I think, would make a good name for a band. Rather like the Shaggs. But getting back to them, they're quite awful, really: it doesn't matter whether they're outsiders or not. They're awful, and I'm happy to leave Drew's and my exuberance to that fact. Bad music always is good enough to cause laughter.
Or even smiles. As one reviewer put it:
When their voices get soft and quiet at the end of "Who Are Parents?" it's about the sweetest moment I ever heard on a record. The songs were all arranged and practiced before entering the studio; they are not "accidents", they just feature the same sort of charming "incompetence" as your kids' refrigerator art.
I just wouldn't put it in a museum.
And Pope Urban VIII as Spiderman
And then the sun comes out, eventually; then the best way to beat the rain is seize the day. Yesterday, I headed out towards Palazzo Barberini with Liz the grad student. She's a compact little bundle of enthusiasm about seeing all the tourist spots. Not having Professor Duarte to haul them from church to church and natter on with delightful free-association about aedicular reliquaries, Spiderman, Carlo Maderno's twenty uncles and Lazio football, she has to do it all herself. And being in tourist mode myself as the weeks tick down (less than 18 days until my return) I am happy to come along.
As we walked into the gravelled forecourt, the sky an eye-piercing indigo, we can't help enjoying the little dash of bright sunshine that envelops us. It's bright, and the stucco facade of the great palace with its loggia and false-perspective windows along the piano nobile is even brighter. She points out some of the more idiosyncratic details, probably courtesy of another outsider artist so to speak, the melancholy Cavaliere Francesco Borromini. Except he had talent as well as madness.
He, his uncle Maderno and his rival Borromini all had their hand in this exuberant construction-project, and their collective genius harmonizes like a mixture of polyphony and improvisational jazz. Between the triglyphs are engagingly odd panoplies of helmets and shields and big-mouthed bony fish that could have come out of a Robert Ballard National Geographic special. Grimacing faces scream out from the sculptured eaves.
Liz is skeptical about most things and applies an Enlightenment rationalism to her beliefs, though it is a skepticism more refreshingly open than most modern dogmatic agnosticism, more Voltairean than Voltaire. And while she finds my tendency to be found in dark corners of churches amid the relics utterly puzzling, she still listens when I explain the hagiographic minutiae of St. Onumphrey or the real deal on the glorified body. (Quoth the Shaggs: It doesn't matter where you go / It doesn't matter who you see / There will always be / Someone who disagrees.)
It's alien to her, of course, but she admits that my world, however antidiluvian to her, exists. As a consequence, she usually has an interesting take on things. Like the Barberini.
The Renaissance Man Rap
We stepped into the cool dark open vestibule beneath the palace, enfolded in the niched curve of the apse, up into the open ovular stair-hall, starkly Borrominian, and back out into the light of the ramp into the garden. We paused before a bulky, muscular and fainly effeminate Apollo. "I love the Barberini! They were so in your face! They were the top family around here!"
I smiled approvingly. I tend to favor the Chigi myself, but I can be open-minded too.
"You know that version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo di Crap-rio, it's like that, the way they turned the Capulets and the Montagues into gangsters swerving around in big cars and acting as if they were lords of the earth, it's just like that!"
It sounded better the first time I heard it: but I think she might be on to something.
Considering Venice was so full of hired killers--and popular, idolized, dandyish ones at that with their own pop-mythos--at the same time the Barberini were strutting around Rome engaging in artistic gang warfare with the Farnese out at Caprarola--a brief descent into the tacky neo-baroque anti-baroque of rap thuggery is surprisingly on-point.
The Barberini's good taste to us today comes from their remarkable, exuberant, overweeningly prideful bad taste. They thought, in teeny-bopper parlance, they were all that. Di Craprio indeed. Caprio, Capra, Caprarola. Perhaps. That goat again.
At the very least, the Barberini knew what was good, and they liked it, even if they pumped it up with Cosa Nostra exuberance and murdered people in between acts of their masques. They didn't sit around listening to arbiters of taste pontificate about this, that or the other. Heck, they were the arbiters of taste and they loved it. They didn't support some sad proto-Shaggs with mandolins or chisels on the strength of their being touted or exploited by garreted weirdos in black turtlenecks over at the Jesuit College as being "groovy, man." Dude.
We went up Bernini's open staircase, wide and white with pristine stucco and deliciously cool from the sun, and went back down again when we discovered the ticket counter was downstairs.
And then back up again. And through a dozen rooms with lavish frescoed ceilings, past Madonnas both beautiful and astonishingly clumsy, splendid Bambini and ones painted with a remarkable, prune-purple ugliness. There were pink candy-floss palaces populated by quattrocento angels and stark broken-up ruins as a lonely backdrop to a drawn-faced St. Catherine and a sorrowful St. Sebastian. Another view of that military martyr made him have a face colored like mint-flavored cough-syrup, a casualty to pre-modern anatomy. And Holbein's flat, pig-faced Henry VIII stared down from one wall, all puffs and slashes and velvet. Every inch a king, and there's quite a few inches there.
The Triumph of Divine Providence
The crowning triumph was the great hall with its vast allegorical ceiling. I spent nearly forty-five minutes laying on a couch staring up into the clouds and gods painted overhead. It is a monument to astonishing family pride, perhaps justified by the feather in their bonnet which was the Papacy, but still a touch overwhealming nonetheless.
(Shaggs again: Oh, the rich people want what the poor people's got / And the poor people want what the rich people's got / And the skinny people want what the fat people's got/ And the fat people want what the skinny people's got/ You can never please anyone in this world).
While its focus is the great laurel-wreathed swarm of enormously fat heraldic Barberini bees, it's supposed to be the triumph of Divine Providence. The divine celebrated here is a distinctly pagan and unprovidential one. Clouds swirl and figures caper like swimmers in a vast aerial aquarium, while Divine Providence herself stands in shimmering gold beneath the Barberini escucheon. Around the corners great scrums of muscular ignudi support her, while extravagant, random bits of architecture prop up the edges, full of octagonal tondi and sheep skulls. Meanwhile, at one sid an enormously fat Silenus lurks bibulously in a green glade and a winged Saturn chews nonchalantly on one of his kids. Even he seems charming in this topsy-turvy weightless world, without the baggage of Goya gloom that would accrue to his gaunt figure in the next four centuries.
Perhaps the subject is Divine Providence after all: and I say this without sarcasm. For, that God could draw out such multicolored, exuberant, unintended wonder out of a seventeenth-century mafia family's bloated self-worth says volumes about the immutable wit and cleverness of the Deity. I'm serious.
And so we walked back under the warm sun. Liz went off to sketch and I thought of ways to stick more cherubs into my latest design project. And somewhere, someplace, maybe a Shaggs record, that compendium of the unintentional, was playing. Though I hope not.
Monday, April 19
Called in by that reader who denied that the Eucharist was symbolic in anyway, efficacious or otherwise? Brought in to answer for certain Bolognian saints or mystical visions? Nah... we just wanted to say hi
6 am. Since we had gone to sleep closer to 2am, waking up to see the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at this hour was a more daunting struggle than it may seem. In a way, one might say we had our own "trial" before the Inquisition. However, three of us made it up and out, more or less on time, though perhaps more less than more.
We emerged on the empty Roman street, stumbling for the first few steps, then power-walking the 7 minute stroll to St. Peter's Square. In this square we found Matt as soon as we had hoped we would -- for we now had perhaps three minutes before the 7am Mass began -- and a good fortune this was, as he knew the correct gate by which we were to attempt to enter the Vatican walls. Frankly, I would have considered waking up this early simply to enter the non-tourist zone of our favorite holy citadel. But no -- we were hoping for an even greater pay off: the unbloody sacrifice of Our Lord. Celebrated by one Cardinal Ratzinger.
We presented ourselves to the guards at an entrance next to St. Peter's colonnade. They for their part seemed somewhat unfazed, so Emily and Matt approached them, I assume saying something in Italian equivalent to "Mass with Cardinal Ratzinger?" The guards laughed and waved us through, pointing in a general way towards what could have been one of two or three buildings. Hmm. It was now 7:01. Late. Blast. We made out the inscription on the Teutonic College, where Ratzinger was saying our Mass, and passed through a gate into a courtyard overgrown with grass and medieval tombs. After jiggling a few doors and rushing back to the guards for more specific directions, we finally found our way in.
The chapel was beautiful, Gothic, and a breath of fresh air after a Baroque overload. My first impression was that it seemed just like the medieval chapels of Europe. My second impression was that it WAS one of the medieval chapels of Europe, the real deal. In so many ways. And here we were. It was just the sort of chapel in which you would expect to hear fine German singing wafting to the rafters. And indeed, we did.
The Mass was concelebrated with perhaps 25 or 30 priests, sat in a semi-circle along the edge of the apse, the cardinal sitting in the rear directly behind the altar. We were a bit disappointed in that this was the German seminary, but we saw perhaps one seminarian, serving. But then again, it was the German seminary. The congregation was definitely overwhelmed by the sanctuary; there were perhaps 15 of us, maybe less.
The Mass was beautiful, as is any Mass where Our Lord transcends reality to commune with His people and make present the saving mysteries. But the ceremonies themselves were beautiful in their own rite (er, right), well done, I thought, and the hymns transcendent. I was not surprised to see Matt navigating the German hymnal with all the ease of someone who has done so plenty of times before, even though to my knowledge he hadn't; it was one of the ways he always surprises me and thus, paradoxically, no longer surprises me.
I don't remember from whom we took communion, but I rather suppose this is appropriate. Even if it were the Pope, I would hope that we would have been sufficiently distracted by the God in his hands.. (well, perhaps not the Pope, but my point stands). The Mass ended, the priests processed to the sacristy in the back of the chapel, and we had some time to spend with Christ as they devested.
We went to the door of the sacristy, and one or two of us put a foot through the door, only to be immediately brushed/pushed out with some commotion, either in German or English, I don't recall. This much I will give the NCR editorials -- high ranking officials have a way of surrounding themselves with unsmiling monsignori. Ah well. Somewhat chastised, we waited outside the door with two other young men who seemed to navigate the Germanic language more natively than we. When after some more time the cardinal emerged, we asked him if we could speak with him for a moment; he smiled and agreed. I handed him the rosary which I ask all my friends to pray and all my priests to bless, asking him to bless it as well; I confess, I did hand it directly to him on purpose. We explained we were from Notre Dame, and admired his writings, and thanked him for his ministry. Emily and Matt had him sign books he had written (he wrote, "God bless you!"). Brian, well, Brian had him sign one of these, right under the quote "Truth is not determined by a democratic vote." He seemed bemused -- we think he's seen them before. I left with the strong impression of a kind, soft-spoken servant of God, very sincere in his work if somewhat tired, on whose bad side I would not want to be. We asked the two German guys to take our picture, and that you see below.
Thanks for asking :) But I do have a question Sue.. how did you know who was who?
Mark Shea didn't like it, but honestly, I thought
the Gollum rap was pretty funny.
Sunday, April 18
... according to DaveTown, at least, which is good enough for me:
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
Ok, so, from Straight to the Heart of Zen:
"How brilliantly the Chinese Zen Master Mumon has taken an incident from an Indian sutra and turned it into a koan, one that allows us to clarify prrna wisdom, which is quite different from mere philosophical teaching."
It's from a book on Zen I'm using for a course on world religions. It turns out that Zen is perhaps the only religion without any real doctrine; it is Buddhist insofar as it seeks the same experience of Enlightenment which the Buddha is said to hae experienced, but it seeks this experience non-intellectually. It's really pretty fascinating.
The setting of our solemn Mass
...........An actual listing of our music from yesterday's liturgy:
Opening Hymn: Christ the Lord is Risen Today (Llanfair)
Gloria: Plainchant, Mass VIII
Psalm: Antiphon ("Alleluia") by Westendorf, Gelineau Tone
Gospel Acclamation: Alleluia, Mode II
Sequence: Plainchant, Victimae Paschali Laudes
Sanctus: Plainchant, Mass XVIII
Memorial Acclamation: :Plainchant, Missale Romanum
Agnus Dei: Plainchant, Mass XVI
Closing Antiphon: Regina Caeli
One other liturgical tidbit is that, inspired by the Baltimore Basilica, we used incense during the elevation of the Host and the Chalice respectively during the Consecration.
"Exquisite, Sublime, Downright Good!!!
What did fellow Notre Damer Mike Roesch think of the solemnest Saturday Mass around?
I braved the pain of waking up far too early for a Saturday morning without football to attend the first Missa Solemnis Beatae Virginis Mariae. The atmosphere and music were the most liturgical I've seen in my life, right on par with the Mass at University of Chicago with Fr. Keyes' choir. Many thanks to the Whapsters and others for a splendid Mass, and especially for the exquisite chant. I get the feeling that I'll be there on Saturdays when I'm not marching around Loftus at 9 am."
We've still got some work to do, but also really appreciate everyone who joined us in making this celebration of the Holy Sacrifice a truly solemn offering of worship to Our Lord. We owe a special debt to the experienced chanting of George Weigel, who carried the tune once or twice for me at least, when I got lost. Please pray that it continues to be so!
Now all we need are the sanctus bells... the bells... the bells...
Saturday, April 17
Image credit: Franklin Hotel, Rome
I'd trudged up to Sant' Anselmo on Good Friday evening under an uncertain purple-brown sky, luminous with the directionless light of a cloudy night. I threaded my way through the orange-lit streets to the floodlit, green-lawned forecourt of the Benedictine monastery on the Aventine and stepped into a solemn, womb-like darkness. The last few lections of the final Tenebrae service of the Triduum were being sung. Monks approached one of the two lecterns, one after the other, with lit tapers in their hands bathing their faces with a warm nocturnal fleshy red-gold glow, chanting the familiar laments of Jeremiah. Two lights flickered on the altar, reflected on the simple, stark rich-veined wood of the Corpus on the cross. The last lector brought his chant to a leisurely, melancholy close, extinguishing his candle and vanishing into the darkness beneath the vaguely glittering apse mosaics. The lights came up and Good Friday passed soundlessly into memory.
Holy Saturday was uneventful. A service at the Greek parish I had hoped to attend had actually occurred the previous evening. I waited, a little anxious, a little tired, a little happy, for the Easter Vigil at St. Peter's. I talked idly, snobbishly perhaps, of slipping out in mid-service and going to the Tridentine-rite Vigil that would be starting at eleven that evening over at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini. I'd done the Vatican before. I'd done Easter Vigil at the Vatican before. I'd done it all before. The Sistine Choir would be abominable, of course; it was common knowledge. And naturally, there would be an unfortunate lack of birettas. It wasn't impossible. The Vigil was starting at 7, earlier than the typical nine: it'd be over long before the other started. Perhaps I could even do both.
It was a plan.
So, at a bit after five o'clock, attired in tie and sport-coat, I squeezed onto one of the human sardine-cans that make up the Roman municipal bus system. With six or seven friends joining me. Preparing for the two-hour wait, I'd brought my trusty sketchbook, a guide to St. Peter's which boasted rather quaintly of revealing the "curiousities and secrets" of the grand old pile, and, for more edifying reading, a copy of John Paul II's Crossing the Threshhold of Hope. While perhaps the last volume might have been good to peruse, I elected to go to Confession instead and get a jump on my Easter Duty.
Before getting there, however, we had a minor odyssey to wade through. With one hand on my portable library and the other on the papal ticket in my pocket, it proved more difficult than expected trying to hang onto the overhead rail. There were a few perilously close calls as the cranky bus swerved and staggered to stops and starts and I found myself bending and weaving in an attempt not to re-enact the fall of South-East Asia to Communism. (You know, George Kennan, domino affect, all that good stuff). As more and more souls pressed close to us, my concerns became increasingly theoretical. There were probably moments there where my feet had lost contact with the ground.
Somehow, we found ourselves alongside the southern arm of Bernini's colonnade and got into the already-bulging line forming up at its customary place below the Scala Regia and the great bronze doors. We climbed the steps of the Basilica and soon were being shephereded down unfamiliar passages, the travertine flanks of the basilica rising up against the sky overhead. We were--we were going deep into Vatican City, I thought, with a delighted little thrill. We pressed deeper and deeper until the swarm of pilgrims stood beneath the immense curved silhouette of the north transept. A little neoclassical iron charcoal brazier on genteel lion-foot legs smoldered prettily alongside the pavement, tended by workmen.
Could it be--could it be the Papal Easter fire? It certainly looked dignified enough. I'll never know, but it's a good story, anyway.
The guides directed us through a little doorway and up a claustrophobic staiurcase and we popped up, Alice-in-Wonderland fashion at the polished floor-level of the great church. I later discovered we came up through one of the doors of a dignified papal monument, though at the moment I was caught up in the wonderful disorientation of entering St. Peter's from completely the wrong direction. We were up among the confessionals, those pleasant marquetried curvilinear cabinets with their little winking green lights. Rank upon rank of chairs now stood facing the massive Bernini baldacchino.
And we waited. Soon, the lights began to be turned down for the opening procession, and a pleasant, afternoon grey darkness settled over the vast basilica. The windows still showed pale daylight against the cavernous interior, and a little boy with red-blinking lights in his sneakers wobbled across the aisle. A major-domo stood stiff and Malvolio-like in his white tie and tails, while I could see Swiss guards clank to attention in the distance, halberds in hand.
Earlier, a friend of mine unfamiliar with Catholic ritual had asked if these extravagant Helvetic harlequins were priests of some sort.
The darkness was pleasant, anticipatory, calming, unlike so much of the fearful darkness of Good Friday. Little golden spotlights bloomed on the baroque shells of a dozen niches holding the billowing marble statues of religious founders gesticulating piously overhead. And St. Peter's, so deceptive with its carefully-balanced game of perspectives seemed all of a sudden to shrink.
The largest church on earth had become, somehow, cozy.
We listened to the lighting and blessing of the Easter candle in the narthex, over the loudspeakers, and after the three cries of Lumen Christi--Deo gratias sung from the nave, the lights came back on, with dazzling--almost daze-inducing--brightness. Every surface of the vast marble church gleamed with silver light. It was like stumbling into heaven, blinking our eyes and waiting for them to adjust to the Beatific Vision. Lumen Christi indeed. Light gleamed everywhere, in mellow blooms on the golden mosaic of the frieze with its great didactic black capitals that seem like a Tridentine catechism come to life, in harsh exciting silvers and whites on the grey-veined marble, in tiny pinpricks on the gilt horns arrayed around the rim of the Confessio.
We wobbled uncertainly through the readings; Libreria Editrice Vaticana must have botched the order and there was only one booklet for the seven of us. Meanwhile, through a mix of improvisational philology and looking over the shoulders of the two girls in front of us, I translated for my friends on either hand. Cozy enough, I should think.
"How many readings are there to go?" asked Muriel, on my right. She'd been following my lead on the translations, and even had started singing along to the a capella Latin psalms interspersed between the lessons.
"One more. Then we have the Gloria. And then the fun begins," I said, with relish. I smiled.
The Pope, a distant figure in sparkling gold seated on his motorized baroque cathedra, sung out "Glo-oria in excelsis De-o," in his vigorous mumble, and the church exploded with thunderous music and a tumult of bells. "The organ has been silent all throughout Lent," I explained to Muriel, smiling broadly at the sacred spectacle.
"Oh," she said primly. "That would explain why it's out of tune."
I wasn't complaining, though. Even the Sistine Choir was magnificent, for all the academic sniping it gets, in its sheer joy as it declaimed the great chanted strains of the Missa de Angelis, embellished with polyphonic counterpoints and grandiose organ intabulations. It was wonderful. It was heavenly. It was Easter. It was God coming back from the dead. It was simply: alleluia.
And so it happened. Beatissime Pater, annuntio vobis gaudium magnum, quod est: Alleluia. The deacon had approached the Pope, and had chanted the declaration, I announce to you this great joy, which is: Alleluia. Everyone rose to their feet, and the Schola began to sing the sacred word over and over again in ascending scales described by a complicated caligraphy of Gregorian squares in the program, Alle-e-e-e-e-e-lu-u-u-u-i-a-a-a-a. Over and over again, with that same ecstatic, inebriated joy that runs throughout the whole Vigil, from the proclamation of the Exsultet to the last Alleluia of the Ite missa est. Alle-e-e-e-e-e-lu-u-u-u-i-a-a-a-a, yet again, extravagant joy like a singing-contest, the congregation and cantor jousting at one another for the sake of the love of God.
If there was any doubt that Lent was over, it was gone by now. Easter had officially begun, the bells had tolled, the organs had played, the Gloria sung, the Alleluias shouted. Haec nox est, in qua destructis vinculis mortis, Christus ab inferis victor ascendit!
All the gloom of Lent, as theatrical as it might seem at first glance, made sense against this light and magnificence and joy. The Church, one often hears, is an Easter people. And here, among my friends, feeling gloriously comfortable, grandiosely intimate in this enormous church, I could finally understand what that seeming-platitude meant, and how it felt deep in my soul. But I could finally understand it only after having passed through the Triduum. The pain was real, searingly so, the Sacrifice of Calvary was a real sacrifice, a bloodied, sweat-salted horror for our sake. But it was also the reparation of a felix culpa that gave us such a great Redeemer. The crude mocking purple of the Ecce Homo becomes the glittering white and gold of the Vicar of the King of the Jews enthroned before the altar. And that altar, blazing with tapers and bronze, is the same as the sharp stone of Golgotha.
The liturgy of Baptism followed after a short papal homily, the Pontiff assisted by Cardinal Ratzinger singing the prayers with his high reedy German voice, followed by a grand litany of the Saints. V. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, R. ora pro nobis. That was it: that was the source of my happiness, my comfort. V. Sancte Petre et Paule, R. orate pro nobis. It was impossible not to be cozy, not to be at one with oneself in that great marbled space, its walls set with the bodies of two hundred-odd popes and the shards of a thousand saints, old relics and older stones. V. Sancte Laurenti, R. ora pro nobis. We, all we living Catholics packed tight in our humble plastic bucket-chairs were united by their presence, the Church Militant, Suffering, Triumphant. Triumphant. (Catechism quiz. Question: where is most of the Churchat any given time? Answer: Heaven). Tonight, of all nights, was the night which prefigured most the Church Triumphant in Her Savior rising from the grave, and it was in the most glorious church in Christendom, full of weightless cherubim and glittering stucco sun-rays.
The Baptism rite. To be baptized by the Pope! It's almost impossible to cram the thought into your brain. But there they were, five or six unknowns in colorful national costumes, some cradling infants in delightful white, others themselves the candidates for the Sacrament. To be a baby baptized by the Pope! To be a convert baptized by the Pope! I can't think which is better.
By this point, I'd forgotten all about Tridentine Easter Vigils, and even more astonishingly, any interest in seeing a biretta had passed from my mind. For the evening, anyway.
The Vigil ended around 10:30 PM, and we trickled back somehow to the obelisk in St. Peter's Square amid the crush of ushers and clicking Swiss Guards with red-plumed helmets bobbing. I turned a wistful eye in the direction of Ponte Sisto and Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, but one Vigil for the evening was probably enough, I thought. And so we headed home to Studio and ate pancakes for a midnight breakfast I will never forget. Easter greetings were exchanged, Easter candies mailed in by thoughtful friends were scarfed, a little island of domesticity in the night.
I eventually wandered in to Santissima Trinità around two in the morning, threading my way through the dark maze of streets that is Campo dei Fiori. Red curtains bedecked the great doors in festal array, and I hung towards the back of the church to watch the priest and deacon and subdeacon, moving with the slow dance-like ritual of the old mass, perfume the air with rich incense, clinking the thurible around the altar, around the gleaming golden reliquaries and the two ranks of burning candles. The Mass was almost over. The penitential veils had been removed and the Trinity blazed on blue-white clouds above the altar, as magnificently real as the gold and white of the altar frontal below was ornamental. The celebrant and his assistants lined up in the center of the altar and the deacon--the young familiar bespectacled face of Fr. Josef the Croatian--turned to face the people and sang out in a high festal voice those same words I'd heard a handful of hours earlier. Ite, missa est, alleluia, alleluia.
I lingered for a little bit in that little circle of antique gold light and then stepped back out into Campo dei Fiori, that most pagan of Rome's neighborhoods. The glowering excommunicated monk Giordano Bruno loomed over a rough piazza full of irregular revelers. I'd missed the other Easter Vigil, yes, all but the spectacularly beautiful dismissal, but it seemed enough to have been able to glimpse that one fragment of a greater whole, that one corner of a vast canvas. That it existed, that it could exist, and had existed, was justification enough. I wouldn't have had my Easter any other way.
Friday, April 16
To any of you who may be in the neighborhood during the academic year to attend...
The Solemn Mass of the Bl. Virgin Mary
Beginning tomorrow. Tonight, we practice chanting the Latin responses. Wish us luck -- tomorrow we already have a distinguished guest -- none other than George Weigel.
A highlight from our Spring Break trip to Rome. After attending Mass at the Teutonic College in the Vatican, we had the opportunity to speak with the legendary Joseph Card. Ratzinger.
Himself looking very POD
If this doesn't demonstrate everything that's wrong with your average Catholic liturgy today, I don't know what does. I mean, who could chant the Exultet over this thing in good conscience? Of course, since the English translation axed the bees, I suppose anything's possible.
A hearty welcome to those of you searching for glass confessional 'notre dame' and "haircut caesar," though I can't exactly say I hope you found what you were looking for here. For those of you who are searching for "everything but an aerial view of San Gabriel mission," well, I'm not sure we have everything, but it's a start, at least. And to the soul searching for "burgoyne blog thailand," all I can say is, I think you've found kindred spirits.
Thursday, April 15
I unearthed this comic book in a pile of things while working at my parish education office over Christmas break, and it was just too good to let it slip into oblivion, so I scanned it in over my lunch breaks... and promptly forgot I had it. Having been reminded of its presence, I give you, without further ado, Priests Are Like People, a 1954 publication of the Chicago Catholic Extension. Inside its pages you'll find cassocks, candelabras, and more Latin humor than you can shake an aspergillum at. Hope you enjoy as much as I did!
Wednesday, April 14
I saw a yellowing paperback in a discount bookstore off Via de Banchi Vecchi with the title Itinerario per Turisti Ungheresi. In other words, Itineraries for Hungarian Tourists. For those Monty Python fans in the audience, as far as I could tell, it did not include the phrase, "My hovercraft is full of eels."
I suppose if I had planned my Easter Break more carefully, I could have splurged and bought a cheap plane ticket to Lutenblag, capital of the exotic Eastern European state of Molvanîa. Oh, what rhapsody! What Slavic beauty! What...um...monotonous plains... and...um...lopsided saints...um...what bearded men...I cannot help feeling swayed by the urge to see such...um...beauty firsthand. So, for those travellers more lucky than I am, I recommend Jetlag's wonderful travel guide, Molvanîa: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry. Happy traveling and good luck, or as they say in Svetranj, Wakuz Dro Brugka Spazibo!
Jetlag also plans a number of fascinating future titles in their series, covering such wondrous and forgotten nations as San Sombrero, Bongoswana, Moustachistan and the Tofu Islands. I do hope in their haste they don't forget to cover post-Communist Ruritania, Azania with its quaint Monophysite mud churches and sterility pagents, Grand Fenwick's exquisite wine and nuclear bombs, the sheep of Mipos, or the colorful politics of Ishmaelia!
(Courtesy of fellow Hapsburgophile Otto Hiss, who also likes the zany pre-conciliar comic-book unearthed by the Shrine's very own Emily)
Monday, April 12
Query of a more Unusual Kind
Or, How to Restore a Reliquery?
My family, being of Swiss descent, has long been associated with the Swiss Guard. In fact, our cousins who opted not to leave the Olde World sent a son into the Swiss Guard not 15 years ago. But much longer ago, at least 200 years in fact, one of my ancestors distinguished himself in the line of service to the Pope sufficiently so as to be given a small sliver of the Cross. Subsequently, this sliver has been passed down to the eldest son, and for a few years has been in the keeping of yours truly.
The reliquery was a very simple affair: it is a small wooden container, about the size of a quarter and a centimeter deep. The top screwed off and revealed, sealed under glass, a very small sliver of the Cross suspeneded between two gilded scrolls of paper filigree, with the authenticating Latin scroll tucked beneath.
But there was a bit of a problem along the way. For some period of years it found its way into the hands of a late great aunt who, upon her death bed, for some reason or another, opened and unsealed the reliquery in which it was kept. Opening it was quite exceptional: my grandfather opened it perhaps twice in his life -- and certainly never unsealed it. Worse, in the process of unsealing the reliquery, the suspension, scrollwork, and authentication were disturbed and the relic itself displaced. It remains in this disrupted condition years after her death.
So. The time has come to attempt some sort of restoration of our reliquery's mangled insides. But who do you approach to restore a very simplistic yet very signifcant item such as this? The Vatican? A museum?