Monday, June 30


From the "Random Things the Orthodox Do So Much Better Than Us" File

They have a real knack for naming holy stuff. Witness St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco (known in life with the plain old name of John Maximovitch), John of Moscow the Fool-For-Christ, the Holy and Bodiless Powers (so much nicer than the plain-vanilla "angels"), the Astoria, Queens institution called the Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou, and my new favorite miracle of all time, the Miracle of the Moose, ascribed to the equally baroquely-named Venerable Macarius of the Yellow Water Lake and the Unzha*, the Miracle Worker. The long and short of it is apparently it is possible to catch a moose by prayer, and then enjoy a nice venison dinner afterwards. This is my kind of miracle. Practical and yummy.

The death of the Venerable Macarius of the Miraculous Moose post-dates the final 1439 schism by a few years, unfortunately, making him unsuitable for western veneration, but considering Russian Orthodoxy sort of drifted away from Rome rather than formally breaking with it (at least if you accept Solovyov's line of reasoning--though I understand when the news of the union of the Council of Florence reached Moscow in 1441-ish, people were not amused), maybe we can squeeze him in under the wire. I will see about endowing a chantry dedicated to the Invention of the Miraculous Moose in the Upper Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Flutius in Brooklyn. I think we have a spot between the broom closet and the fax machine. (It's a very small basilica.)

Even better (for this website), I discover that apparently the Honorable Head of St. Macarius was recently re-discovered and for a while used to go on tour. They sometimes take it on trips to nursing homes. This is right up there with the (Catholic) Sacred Chin of St. Anthony of Padua and its theft by mobsters and eventual return, though we really need a similar mobile reliquary program, and snappier vestments.

[NOTE TO HORRIFIED ORTHODOX READERS: These are supposed to be compliments. Well, pretty much. I would say exactly the same things if this were a western saint. If anything, the Russian aspect ups the P.O.D. factor in some indefinable way. Seriously, we're deficient in moose miracles here in the west; about the best we can do is the time St. Anthony of Egypt is alleged to have run into a centaur.]

In any case, I suggest that immediately in the interests of ecumenical dialogue, a Catholic-Orthodox United Sodality of the Moose-Hunters of St. Macarius be founded and celebrate inter-church unity every July 28 (the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, and the date of the miraculous moose-finding**) with an afternoon of hunting, lengthy hymns in obscure foreign languages (Latin, Old Church Slavonic) and lots of mooseburgers. What better way to breathe with both lungs? I am sure both Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew would approve.

Failing that (especially given the possibility of such an activity degenerating into Father Vasily and Fabian Bruskewitz in a Mexican standoff over the date of Easter), I suggest we do what any good medieval hagiographer would do in this situation: simply steal. Surely someone can (AHEM) find some old rotoscopes of Padre Pio's legendary appearance on Captain Kangaroo where he reamed out Mr. Moose for his disorded interest in ping-pong balls? I mean, he's already found his way onto the cover of a Nancy Drew mystery novel and Episode IV of Star Wars. The guy's everywhere.

* It's a river, not a race of mechanoids from Doctor Who. Also, "of the Yellow Water Lake" sounds better in Russian: Желтоводский.

** Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.

Sanctoral Roommates

Fr. Schofield over at Roman Miscellany has a fun little post on a two-tier shrine at San Zaccaria in Venice which is occupied, somewhat randomly, by the bodies of St. Athanasius and St. Zechariah, John the Baptist's dad. There appears to be no good reason for these two to be together, unless it was some sort of space-saving measure by the Venetians, denizens of what one somewhat paranoid monk on Mt. Athos once sourly (but, in all fairness, rather accurately*) referred to as the "world capital of body-snatching."** Either that, or there's a reliquary Craigslist we don't know about.

*On the other hand, how is it our fault that everyone holy wants to be buried in Venice? The traffic is so much better than Cairo.

**Cf. William Dalrymple's hilarious and poignant From the Holy Mountain.

Saturday, June 28


Overheard Outside a Synagogue

Matt gets to. So I do, too : )

"Did you hear the Goldbergs are moving to (another state)?"

"Yeah, he's going to teach the Bible at a Protestant school there."

"The New Testament!"

"Oy vey! Martin Luther is spinning in his grave."


Happy New Year!

In realted news, El Greco is awesome.

The Jubilee Year of St. Paul began today with Vespers at... St. Paul's Outside the Walls.

Pope Benedict remembered the Apostle Paul in the following way:

His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a completely personal way; it is the awareness of the fact that Christ has faced death not for some anonymous person, but out of love for him - for Paul - and that, as the Risen One, he still loves him. Christ gave himself up for him. His faith comes from being transfixed by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that shakes him to his core and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an opinion about God and the world. His faith is the impact of the love of God on his heart. And thus his faith is itself love for Jesus Christ.

This is very beautiful. Just a few days ago, I was speaking with a friend about one of my deepest annoyances--the reduction of Christianity, or in particular of Catholicism, to a series of proprieties: what prayers to say when, what rituals to do how, what theological opinions to hold, what political aspirations to pursue, etc. etc. These things are important enough--that is, they are relatively important: they are important relative to or insofar as they foster an actual and interpersonal relationship with Jesus Christ, who is God made Personal. That relationship, and not the observance of any nicety, is salvation.

Often enough, though thankfully not that often, some mistake observing the niceties as somehow being the essence of Catholicism. Of course, Catholicism is not a useful tool which tells us how to act and think; it is salvation through personal communion with Christ through the Body of Christ, both Church and Eucharist. The reduction of Catholicism to a set of proprieties is particularly ironic, given the fact that Christ himself--to quote the Man of the Year himself--is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Jesus Christ is a scandal, so great is his love and so self-abasing his humility. May we succeed in appropriating his self-destroying humility and redeeming love, becoming "scandals" of God's love ourselves. Or may we at least be closer to doing so by the end of the year.

Thursday, June 26


Corsica and Eden: Recent Work from Matthew Alderman

The Authoress Dawn Eden. Commissioned for her website. Ink on vellum with marker. June 2008. Click for larger version.

My new portrait of Dawn Eden, specially commissioned for her weblog, is now up at the Dawn Patrol. Because it was a portrait rather than a liturgical illustration, and because Dawn is one of the hippest people I know--and I mean that in the good sense--I decided to experiment a bit stylistically. I sought to give it a more "graphic," simplified feel without resorting to straight-out modernism. The art deco-cum-Beuronese Sacred Heart medallion complements this mood, principally set by the background, which has a touch of Gustav Klimt in terms of composition and Mondrian in color. Yes, when Matt wants to be modern, he references artists who died respectively in 1918 and 1944. Make of that what you will.

My first portrait of Dawn, which has since been rendered obsolete by a new hairstyle, was one of my more ambitious drawings when I first started out, and is probably the largest work I've done in ink to date; while it had some difficulties as a portrait--for one thing, it looked a bit too much like a piece of religious art--it seems to have had its own fans over at Dawn's site. I hope they'll enjoy the new one, which, while smaller and simpler than the last portrait, was a lot of fun to create and, in its own way, reflects a bit of the subject's distinct spunk.

S. Alexander Sauli. Commissioned as a confirmation gift. Ink on vellum with marker. June 2008.

I was recently asked to do an image of the unjustifiably-obscure Counter-Reformation bishop-saint, Alexander Sauli, known as the Apostle of Corsica. S. Alexander was a Lombard aristocrat by birth who, after joining the Clerks Regular of S. Paul, the Barnabites, became variously a professor at the University of Pavia, superior-general of his congregation, and finally bishop of the ancient see of Aleria in Corsica, where he nearly single-handedly revived the island's derelict faith. He died after being made bishop of Pavia, in 1591, and somehow, amid all this, served at some point as S. Charles Borromeo's spiritual director.

While we know what S. Alexander looked like (his face is distinctive enough in the few portraits I've seen), he has a fairly indistinct iconography, the usual episcopal tropes: bishop's habit, book, crozier, mitre, biretta, the like. The one unique emblem I was able to find was a bit inexplicable: he's shown either accepting or spurning a pallium proferred to him by a cherub in a 19th century holy-card. The gesture is equivocal--I can either assume he served as an archbishop at some point, or perhaps refused such an offer out of humility. The relatively short turn-around time on the project meant I didn't have the opportunity to dig too deep here, unfortunately. At the very least, there is still a precedent, and worse comes to worse, it's up there with St. Agatha's, er, bells.

While my first sketches simply showed a standard Tridentine bishop-saint with an angel bearing his crozier behind him, I changed it to incorporate the pallium and the bishop's somewhat ambivalent response, as it was more distinctive symbolically, and also led to a more interesting composition. A few more discrete emblems can be glimpsed in the drawing: the face of the Man of Sorrows on his large pontifical morse, a pun on his name, which means "Saviour of Mankind" in Greek and the emblem of the Barnabite order.

The profile of the mitre could have been rendered a bit more smoothly, and, as always, there are a fair number of things I'd like to change--anatomical gaffes, line-weights, missed possibilities for more symbolism--but I'm fairly pleased with the result; furthermore, this is the first time I've managed to (successfully) incorporate a large amount of another color besides red into one of my works. The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, June 25


Alexander Stoddart: Contemporary Sculpture in the Classical Tradition

The Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart refers to himself as a heroic realist, but his work--which spans both private commissions and some ecclesial work--definitely places itself squarely within the larger tradition of Western art. He has had a long history of working in collaboration with architects to create a fusion of architecture and sculpture seldom seen today. He is one of the handful of truly serious traditional artists working in the medium at present, and thus worthy of our time, study and consideration. His work stands in public squares in Edinburgh, on the campus in Princeton, in Buckingham Palace, and many other sites of civic and world importance.

Some samples from his portfolio:

St. Rita; a bronze for a marvelously inventive private chapel done by British architect Craig Hamilton.

A pair of winged figures designed as part of the architecture of John Simpson's new Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace.

Processional Cross maquette.

St. Nicholas of Tolentino.

A bust of Scottish composer James MacMillan. The prongs on either side of the bust represent the ancient lyre.

More here.

Tuesday, June 24

"The depredations of the voracious native white ant have become St. Helena legend. They had an eccentric fondness for theological books, it was always said, and they contentedly munched their way through the entire library, leaving only the bindings."

~Simon Winchester, Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire, 1985.

Iconoclasts: A Working Definition

I am given to understand the comedian George Carlin died this last Sunday. I have absolutely no memories of any of his routines save for a vague recollection he did a bit called the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman on The Flip Wilson Show, but I understand he was supposed to be controversial, brash and iconoclastic, which, translated from media-speak, means he said absolutely nothing to contradict modern received opinion and instead focused on making fun of anyone who wasn't in the room at the time. In any case, it is a good and fitting thing to pray for the dead.

Brownstone Abuse

It could be worse. There's a rowhouse in Park Slope painted hot purple.

Monday, June 23

Fleischmann: (inspecting a series of home-made dioramas showing the way Maggie's six boyfriends have accidentally gotten killed) And what does the glued-on macaroni symbolize? Man's inhumanity to man?

~Northern Exposure, Season 2

La Incoherenza di Algorino

Far be it from me to dabble in matters political, much less speak ill of the revered first Emperor of the Moon, Al Gore, but I was quite amused to discover his movie or book or whatever A Inconvenient Truth is to be turned into an opera, which will presumably require even more of suspension of disbelief than, say, Tosca or anything by Philip Glass. The person who can be blamed for this bizarre bit of stage-craft and potential camp masterpiece is Stéphane Lissner, who is also the party responsible for the projected 2015 production of Karlheinz Stockhausen's incoherent 29-hour opera cycle Light. (He also staged Candide with one singer dressed as Silvio Berlusconi in underpants.)

My suggestion to the composer, Giorgio Battistelli: the only thing that will save you now is casting William Shatner in the lead role, and then you can say it's supposed to sound that way.

Meanwhile, John Tierney at the New York Times has a ball imagining the composer's presumed difficulties:

Dear Mr. Gore,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on my draft of “Verità Inconveniente.” [...] I agree it would “round out the résumé” of Prince Algorino in the opening scene if he were to sing about his creation of a communications network. But the “Mio magnifico Internet” aria you propose seems to me a distraction — and frankly out of place in an 18th-century Tuscan village. I believe the peasants’ choral celebration of Prince Algorino’s wisdom suffices to establish his virtues.

I will ask our technicians about the feasibility of producing “stinky smoke” to accompany the entrance of Petroleo, but it may be unnecessary. Doesn’t the wizard’s evilness become obvious once he beguiles the Minemaidens into relinquishing their buried treasure? (Note: I will try changing “treasure” to “fossil fuels,” but it will not be an easy rhyme.)

Perhaps, as you complain, Petroleo does exude a certain glamour in his patter song promising magic lanterns and horseless carriages and flying machines. But when he seduces the chief Minemaiden, the music darkens with a menacing crescendo as they embrace, singing “Combustione! Combustione!” [...]

I don’t share your fear that audiences will expect Prince Algorino to “offset his travel footprint,” so I don’t see the need for the tree-planting scene you suggest. [...] Algorino should immediately rush back to save Gaia. And why, with his lover in peril, would he pause en route to rescue a drowning polar bear?

[...] and then riveted as she feverishly wanders the stage. With the right soprano, I believe “Basta con la temperatura!” could be an unforgettable Mad Scene.

You complain that it’s a “cliché” for Gaia to collapse and die alongside her lover. Perhaps, as you suggest, we could have her first drape a medal around his neck (although I think the Nobel would be anachronistic). But as much as I admire your other idea for an “outside the box” death scene, I cannot accept it — and again, despite your accusations, this has nothing to do with the scientific criticism of your work. Whether your predictions for sea level rise are correct or not, it would be logistically impossible to end the opera by drowning the village under 20 feet of water.

Giorgio Battistelli
More inspired lunacy here.

Thursday, June 19


Presumably a movie-still from the new blockbuster The Day Le Corbusier Ate Akron. (Source.)


Even a Caveman Can Do It

I have mentioned, gentle readers, the daily rag known as Metro in these pages before, the subway equivalent of Skymall, but with slightly more news. It is so designed as to have exactly the right amount of content, or lack thereof, for a distracted commuter with a short attention span on a twenty-minute trip down the Lex. You may be surprised I'm not lugging around some authoritative doorstop such as Liturgies of the Primatial Sees or The Collected Laundry Lists of Hans Metterling, but I submit it's very hard to concentrate when wedged between a large male person in a business suit and eyeshadow and a spastic female lunatic with St. Vitus's dance. (Welcome to New York.)

Anyway, boredom and my quick reading speed--I tend to run over letters rather than really actually absorbing them--usually compels me to read just about anything even of remote interest, and beyond, usually running across all sorts of lunacy. One item that came to mind was an interview with the famous purveyor of trashy novels and elderly young person Jackie Collins (whose first romance novel the late Dame Barbara Cartland is said to have condemned as "nasty, filthy and disgusting,"* and was subsequently banned in the Union of South Africa), who apparently is inflicting yet another book on the unsuspecting world this year.

Most of what the item said I've since forgotten, but the authoress (?) indicated that she thinks of herself as a storyteller (uh huh), and that in any age she would have been doing what she thinks she does best. She was quoted as saying something along the lines of "If this were one hundred years ago, I'd have been sitting around the campfire saying 'Hi, I'm Jackie, and this is my story to tell."

Let that soak in for about five second and do some veery simple chronological arithmetic. Sitting around campfires. She does realize they had books back then, too, doesn't she?

*Isn't Wikipedia wonderful?

Tuesday, June 17


The Capuchin and the Auto-Icon

A friend writes:
My friend/colleague/office mate, [name], just got back from a tour of Italy, and went here.

This is the Capuchin Crypt - she was kind of disgusted by this. It could be seen in many ways, though - glorification of death, reminder of death, beautification of death, disregard for the body....
Death reduces us to gut reactions--whether it's the "eww, cool, gross" of the ten-year-old mini-Goth, or the silent gasp of the comfortable suburbanite; both reactions are natural, in their own way, and point equally to different aspects of our human condition.

Admitted, the Robert Howard weirdness of the crypt is old news here on the Shrine, but sometimes repetition has its uses.

Simply in terms of pragmatics, let's not forget Europe has been burying folks much longer than we have here (okay, yes, there were the Indians, but the American continent was never as densely populated). So urban cemetaries tended to fill up quickly; and there were of course issues of sanitation and the like involved. Usually after about ten years they'd disinter the body, which had been reduced to bones, and stack them up in what was called a charnel house. Naturally, sometimes people discovered artful ways to arrange them. The Capuchin chapel is a particularly elaborate version of this sort of thing.

Some aspects of Catholicism aren't for everyone, but it seems to me that something like the Bone Chapel has important value as a reminder of a number of first principles we often lose sight of; it reminds us simultaneously that death is inevitable, and our bodies will turn to dust, but that our bodies are still important and part of our being. The bones aren't just being burnt, as a denial of the resurrection, the ultimate rejection of the body, nor are they being used in a utilitarian way, hung up in some anatomical museum; they are arranged like ornaments or gems to decorate a chapel as they are too God's handywork.

An instructive contrast: Jeremy Bentham, the cold English utilitarian, had himself taxidermied after his death as a teaching tool, dubbed the auto-icon, the ultimate self-portrait. The head didn't fare so well and had to be replaced with a wax replica; the real head used to get occasionally stolen as a student prank. The whole unnatural contrivance is on display inside a cabinet somewhere in University College, London. Bentham proposed that dead bodies should be used practically--stage props, teaching tools, statuary. This is the opposite of the incorrupt saint or the whole bone-chapel--which is still a tomb, and a commemoration of the collective, anonymous example of the Capuchins; it is set aside; we do not condemn the dead body to another round of misuse at the hands of well-meaning technocrats.

(Bentham supported animal rights, divorce and usury, while at the same time condemning human natural rights as "nonsense on stilts." My gentle readers may draw their own conclusions.)

Of course we're going to be somewhat uncomfortable, as the separation of body and soul is a cosmic horror and unnatural--Christ wept when he beheld the tomb of Lazarus--which is why we profess faith in the resurrection of the Body, but at the same time it allows us to contemplate on the importance of the body, and at the same time, its unimportance. The monks preserved the bones because they are part of us, and yet they are used in a way that is selfless and anonymous. It shows the humility of the monks as individuals, who recognized they did not even own their own bodies in death as in life--they are God's to dispose--and yet shows the dignity of humanity as a whole, God's ultimate artwork, more worthy to stud a chapel ceiling than the richest of gems.

And feel free to be freaked out. On some level, I am too a bit squeamish. But recognize there's something beyond the weirdness, just as there is something beyond death--heaven and the promise of the glorified body. And at a certain point, even in the crypt, death stops and life begins again: for the one chapel in the crypt free of bones is the one spot in the place where you can celebrate mass, the wellspring of our grace-filled life here on earth.

Monday, June 16


Further Remarks on Flying Livestock


They Do Not So Much Fly as Plummet

Now this sounds like a traditional way we can get the youth interested in things ecclesiastical:
By late afternoon, some revellers had begun chanting "Toss the goat! Toss the goat!"

A group of young people arrived with a goat and were greeted by cheers. But they backed down when nobody responded to their request to help pay their fines if they were punished.


The origins of the village's tradition are unclear but one legend has it that a priest's goat whose milk fed the poor, fell from the bell tower and was saved by townspeople stretching out a blanket.

Despite a fall of 15 metres, the goat is not always hurt in the hurling ritual as villagers hold a tarpaulin underneath to catch it. [...]Spain's National Association of Animal Welfare and Protection had reported agreement had been reached to use a stuffed goat this year but it never materialised.
Of course, all we'd have to do in the U.S. to get approval is tell people it's multicultural...or possibly a stunt for Jackass.

And, since we're on the subject of flying farm animals:

First Frenchman: Bonsoir - ici nous avons les diagrammes modernes d'un mouton anglo-français ... maintenant ... baa-aa, baa-aa... nous avons, dans la tête, le cabin. Ici, on se trouve le petit capitaine Anglais, Monsieur Trubshawe.

Second Frenchman: Vive Brian, wherever you are.

First Frenchman: D'accord, d'accord. Maintenant, je vous présente mon collègue, le pour célèbre, Jean-Brian Zatapathique.

(Transfers his moustache to Second Frenchman)

Second Frenchman: Maintenant, le mouton ... le landing ... les wheels, bon.

(Opens diagram to show wheels on sheep's legs.)

First Frenchman: Bon, les wheels, ici.

Second Frenchman: C'est formidable, n'est ce pas ... (unintelligibly indicates motor at rear of sheep)

First Frenchman: Les voyageurs ... les bagages ... ils sont ... ici!

(Triumphantly opens the rest of the diagram to reveal the whole brilliant arrangement. They run round flapping their arms and baa-ing.)

Two Tee-Shirt Related What the Freak? Moments from the Weekend

Spotted near the 86th Street Lex subway stop. A scruffy guy in a black tee-shirt with the image of Dalí's Christ of St. John of the Cross--in glowing green, mind you--and the embroidered words Mago de Oz ("Wizard of Oz") in cursive above it. The line where blasphemy crosses the line into baffled "huh?" has now been defined.

Less weird, but still a little: another guy, on the same train, later in the day, wearing a tee with an image of an old-fashioned roadster with a Greek hoplite stepping out of a secret compartment behind the front radiator grille, Trojan horse-style. There was a little crescent moon up in the corner. Considering the car's front license plate had Greek letters on it, it must be a fraternity thing.

But Christ of the Emerald City just baffles me, sort of like the current fad among young men in baggy pants of wearing not just one rosary around their neck but simultaneously three at the same time. Maybe they just do a lot of praying.

Saturday, June 14


Question on Candles in Eastern Christianity

Image Source

At a few Eastern Orthodox churches, I've noticed that the vigil candles are blown out at the end of the Divine Liturgy. And by "noticed," I mean than an old grandma blew mine out a few seconds after I lit it, and when she saw my astonishment assured me it would be lit during services until it was used up. A friend told me she'd seen the same thing.

So the question is--is this done for practical reasons, like avoiding fires, or for theological reasons?

What does "Parish" mean, anyway?

In a word, it means "a community of travelers through a foreign land."

Which is really cool.

The term "Parish" derives from Anglo-Fr. parosse (1075), later paroche (1292), from O.Fr. paroisse, from Latin paroechia = "diocese", from Greek παρоικια = "district" or "diocese", from Greek παρά = "beside", οικος = "house". The Hellenistic Greek term παρоικια originally meant "sojourn in a foreign land" (in the Septuagint) or "community of sojourners", with reference to the Jewish people in a foreign land (1st centtury B.C.), and later with reference to earthly life as a temporary abode (1st century A.D., also New Testament: 1 Peter 1:17, 2:11); the term hence was applied to "Christian community" (3rd century), "diocese" (3rd century), and ultimately "parish" (4th century).


Friday, June 13


Honestly, the EU didn't want it to pass

Irish reject the Lisbon Treaty

If the EU actually had wanted it approved, they would have just called it "the Lisbon Expense Report."

After all, no EU expense report has ever been rejected.

Thursday, June 12


And Now For Your Daily Dose of Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria

Okay, the guy had problems--his brother and eventual successor, Max, once got loose and hurled himself at the feet of the Archbishop of Munich in the middle of high mass--and had his own private assortment of eccentricities, indulgences and personal demons that he variously indulged and sometimes tried sincerely to suppress, but King Ludwig II of Bavaria produced some pretty wonderful castles and palaces for himself during his short and rather bizarre reign.

There was that tree he would take his hat off to at Linderhof, and also he nearly married his cousin, Sophie--that's not the crazy part, they're Wittelsbachs, it's a thing they do--on the grounds that she looked just like her relative, Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Though considering the Empress was a looker, this may just have been male tactlessness than anything else. And his habit of spilling food on himself. At least, contra received wisdom, he didn't waste public funds. Of course, considering what was happening to Germany at the time, it's easy to understand why he retreated into fantasy, even if he might have had a better chance at weathering Bismarck had he kept his wits about him.

One can partially chalk it up to the fact this was, generally, an age of royal weirdness. Victoria went into seclusion, Pius IX was a prisoner in the Vatican, Empress Alexandra hung out with Rasputin, Wilhelm II started World War I for kicks, and Queen Elisabeth of Rumania was a closet democrat.

Admitted, the materials and quality of his constructions sometimes suffered due to budget constraints and the king's demented-kid-in-a-candy-shop attitude to design, but if you stand back and squint and overlook the fact most of, for instance, Herrenchiemsee's interior is bare brick, and the third floor of Neuschanstein is missing, the effect is often quite striking. And they're just fun. If if were not for the king's reclusiveness, think of the parties they could have had...

Today, we've got some renderings of Burg Falkenstein, the fanciful gothic robber-baron castle that was on the drawing board at the time of the King's--cough--drowning, and which, for better or worse, never got finished.

This, the second conceptual rendering of the design was by scene-painter Christian Jank, the king's go-to guy for romantic vistas and the like. The first was a bit more restrained--let's not forget Neuschwanstein, the archetypal Ludwig castle was Romanesque--but His Bavarian Majesty wanted it a bit fancier, and the drawing above was produced. An architect was sent for, but his more budget-conscious elevations of Jank's vision proved too boring.

At some point, the design got scaled down again, by Max Schultze, the court architect of the Princes von Thurn und Taxis--the former postmasters-general of the Holy Roman Empire--and was replaced yet again by a pair of architects who indulged their wildest fantasies in the final design, realizing there was no way it was going to be built anyway. During all this time, the king's bedroom grew bigger and bigger until it became almost the entire focus of the building, with talk of even rendering most of the rest of the interior unfinished so all the money and work could be focused on this vast, swollen Byzantine space, looking more like a chapel than anything else. Indeed, it was a drawing of the king's bedchamber--complete with dome and stained-glass windows, that was being worked on when news came of the king's death.

Apparently someone has built their own castle inspired--very loosely--by Jank's designs in Texas, though frankly that bedroom is just crying out to be refitted with an altar, iconostasis and plenty of incense.

I suppose this post could also be titled "It Was a Simpler Time."

La Quinte Juste

No flatulence humor for this Whapster, though. Just some major (ha ha) music nerdiness, also French.

I decided not to embed this because of the language (the profanity, not the French), so click here, instead, if you don't mind that sort of thing.

(Cappello Romano Tip to a friend in Rome.)

Wednesday, June 11


Fun With Mediaeval Parallelism

The Christ Child with a Walking Frame. Hieronymus Bosch, 1480s. It is painted on the recto of his more well-known Christ Carrying the Cross and is on display at the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.


Moral Absolutes

Could it do more harm than those fiery sermons?

Probably not. But Pf. McInerny once said that people today certainly still believe in moral absolutes; just different ones--like "No Smoking."
"I, too, ended up as a janitor, but not in a factory. It was at a housing project in a very poor neighborhood, in a very poor New England town, while I was in graduate school. My worst task at that job was peeling off old wallpaper under which cockroaches had built their nests. Dodging the rats near the trash dumpsters was not much fun either, but it was stll better than having to read Kant."

~Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, p. 353.

Tuesday, June 10


From the Blog Archives

Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004:

I am the Very Model of a Modern Vicar-General
from the Penzance Codex of St. Gilbertus of Sullivan
translated by Matthew of the Holy Whapping and Lauren of That Blog Whose Name Nobody Can Pronounce.

This is what happens when two too-smart-for-their-own-good Catholic Nerds get together online with a six-hour time difference, with too much time on their hands, and also with too much popcorn and caffeine in the immediate vicinity. You Have Been Warned. And without further ado...a one and a two and a...

I am the very model of a modern vicar-general,
I've information liturgical, ecclesial and clerical,
I quote the Popes of Latium and councils ecumenical,
From Chalcedon to Vatican, with subjects esoterical.

I'm very well aquainted too in matters sacramentical,
I know the sin occasions both the distant and proximical:
About the Nicene Credo, I'm teeming with a lot of views:
With many complex facts about the substance Homoousios!

Chorus of Seminarians: With many complex facts about the substance Homoousios,
With many complex facts about the substance Homoousios,
With many complex facts about the substance Homoousi-ousios!

I've very good recessional, antiphonical canticles,
I know the secret names of all the Jesuit conventicles,
In short in matters liturgical, ecclesial and clerical,
I am the very model of a modern vicar-general!

Chorus of Seminarians: In short in matters liturgical, ecclesial and clericalHe is the very model of a modern vicar-general!

I know salvation history, King David's and the Sampson locks,
I answer hard sed contras, and own a pair of scarlet socks.
Respondeo dicendum every Vatican concilius,
All liturgics I can celebrate in Romanist basilicas.

I can tell undoubted Augustines from Bossuets and Zwinglians,
I know a Sarum Epiklesis [I'm not sure there is one, but oh well. ~Ed.] and excommunicate the Arians,
Then I can hum the Sanctus if I've heard the mode ex nihilo,
And sing in tono recto Pax Domini cum spiritu tuo!

Chorus of Seminarians: And sing in tono recto Pax Domini cum spiritu tuo,
And sing in tono recto Pax Domini cum spiritu tuo,
And sing in tono recto Pax Domini cum spiritu tuo!

Then I can write encyclicals in a monastical scriptorium,
And pontificate the meaning of St. Paddy's grand loriculum,
In short in matters liturgical, ecclesial and clericalI am the very model of a modern vicar-general!

Chorus of Seminarians: In short in matters liturgical, ecclesial and clerical,
He is the very model of a modern vicar-general!
In short in matters liturgical, ecclesial and clerical,
He is the very model of a modern vicar-general!

Invasions of Wind

Poullez-vous mon finger.

While we're on the subject of professional flatulence throughout history, St. Augustine himself appears to have witnessed such an exhibition, noting the flatulists had
such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing. (De Civitate Dei, 14:24)

I am also informed on good authority that St. Augustine's writings also include the first known recorded instance of beer nuts in the western canon. Really. Ask Whapster Emily (who, speaking of hidden talents, does a great Sylvia Plath impression on request, though no ovens, please) if you don't believe me. Well, sort of. Salty snacks eaten in taverns are mentioned at some point.

But getting back to methane. It's all in Wikipedia--which seems fairly trustworthy on such subjects--which also mentions Irish bardic flatulists were ranked with harpers and other such figures, and sat with them in the hierarchically-graded seating diagram used in the High King's Hall at Tara. And there's also Roland the Farter of Hemingstone Manor, Suffolk.

Okay, I will now mentally return from the fourth grade. Next week: The Wonderful World of Dung.

Monday, June 9


Tridentine Tidings from Tallahassee, Florida

As a born-and-bred North Floridian (readers familiar with only Disneyworld and Miami read: South Georgian), I was gladdened to hear of the great success of the first Tridentine (Low) Mass at my old parish, possibly ever, considering the church was built immediately before things got deeply weird in the 1960s. Stephen Mozier provides detailed coverage over at his blog, which is worth quoting below:
In fact, it passed all expecations. First and foremost, the attendance was incredible! The church building is quite large and holds quite a crowd as is, and I am not exaggerating by saying that it was about ninety percent full! I was so floored that I was speechless! I was hoping for about half full at best, while expecting maybe quarter-full. Was I wrong! This, in turn, led to a problem: we fell short on Latin Mass missalettes. We had 150 English-Latin ones and 25 Spanish-Latin ones, and I had worried that we had ordered too many! Thankfully, people took it in stride and shared.

The mass itself was just beautiful! Fr. [name] did an outstanding job as celebrant, with his booming voice and perfect Latin diction. The congregation did its best with the Latin responses, so it was all good. The altar servers, Nicholas and Tommy, were just the best. And may I not forget Mary Fran, who helped as sacristan. A gentleman and a lady helped me with usher duties, along with my good friend Lou.

Being a Low Mass, there was no music and the mass had long stretches of silence. But the congregation was told of that ahead of time, so no one worried or got antsy. The most beautiful part of the whole mass was, by far, the consecration, with the bells, the genuflections, and the elevation of both the host and the chalice! What a sight to behold.

If there was one drawback, it was that communion took a while. Fr. [name] was joined by Fr. [name] (God bless him!) and they distributed communion. Unfortunately, the Co-Cathedral does not have a communion rail, so we used prie-dieus, or singular kneelers. The effect was great (many have never received communion kneeling and on the tongue while a paten is placed underneath the chin) but slow. It also made the side pews wait quite a while. Perhaps in the future, we can work that detail out.

Still, overall the mass was a rousing success!!!! I made sure to tell everyone to let our cathedral's most excellent rector, Monsignor [name], know that they enjoyed the mass and to please allow another one in the near future. The good monsignor, in turn, will let our equally most excellent bishop, John Ricard, know how it went so he may bless another TLM. God bless these two men, true servants of God and very, very open-minded pastors who saw the desire for a TLM and allowed it with their blessing. I just hope the feedback rolls in so monsignor will green-light another TLM in the near future, as many of us hope. Perhaps that one will be a High Mass, complete with Gregorian Chant, incense, and all other good things!
The local paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, did a surprisingly competent article on the event, which can be read here. Let us pray that we hear more stories like this coming from the red hills of Florida.

Peculiarly American Vices

An unpublished essay from June of 2006, when I had considerably more free time:

I have taken, in the crush of the subway, to reading the little pretend newspapers the gentlemen in orange vests hand out on the street above. Metro is a sort of global franchise paper with local city news that I am told is considered by real New Yorkers to be in comparison to the Post and Daily News what Delta Sky Magazine is to Vanity Fair. Still, it's not without its charms. Plus, it's much harder to read a hardback while clinging to a subway pole for dear life when the 6 Train does that weird swaybacked curve on the tracks at 42nd Street, a jolt which makes up for my utter lack of exposure to roller coasters.

So anyway, I read of a particularly grisly story recently, of a young woman who was arrested for decorating her home with six human skulls and a severed hand in a mason jar which she nicknamed "Freddy." (Presumably after the late German emperor.) I think they eventually found out some local love-sick medical internist mooncalf gave it to her for whatever inexplicable reasons drive the human heart. The ostensible life lesson here is that medical waste ought not to be used as interior accessories unless one is a Capuchin monk living in the catacombs, and even then, one simple memento mori seems in times past to have been quite enough as a desk item. Though given today's multicultural boho kick, perhaps Pottery Barn is missing a market here--Aztec Neo-Vintage Skull Racks, anyone?

Another thing that struck me about this article is the young woman in question earns her daily bread by taking her clothes off in public at a stripper juice bar.

Yes, you read that right, she works at a strip joint that doubles as a juice bar.

The Three Ages of Woman and Death, Hans Baldung Grün, 1510

I want to concentrate on the second half of that sentence; the first half I will ignore, because I needn't remind my readers that paid exhibitionism is a very bad idea. (Right? Ladies, don't undress in public. 'Nuff said.) Now, I have very little use for alcohol, less because of some un-Catholic Puritan streak in my character, but simply because of a lack of interest that I may chalk up to an un-Chestertonian congenital flaw. American alcoholism is different from the wine cultures of the sunny Catholic south, which seems strangely unafflicted by alcoholism, this sad disease of the tepid and chill north.

The Italians and French drink much, but they never seem to quite get indebted to it in the despairing, sad way Scandinavians and English and Americans do. There is an honesty in their approach to the matter which is not unappealing. Their wine-drinking is an honest virtue in moderation and in their relatively small excesses it still seems a vice more honest than voyeurism. They need not go to excess so often because their moderation is not called a vice, and socialized by the humanity of conversation and food. I can think of many Italian gourmands, by way of a parallel example, but few true gluttons since the days of Nero.

My theory has a few holes, I will confess. The example of Matt Talbot shows alcoholism to not merely non-Catholic vice, but I wonder if it might be chalked up to some stark Jansenist current in the Irish temperament, just as alcoholism in America might be considered the flip-side of Prohibition and Puritanism. That being said, I would assume Irish drunkenness to be far more sociable than the American vodka-and-rice-crispies variety.

That being said, the junction of juice and sex, of health-consciousness and stripping, is such a bizarrely appropriate instance of the dark, Manichaean side of the American psyche it is hard to pass up comment. This nation's peculiar fixation with women uncovering themselves, and our anti-Puritan Puritanism which leads us to torture our bodies with exercise machines and promote trendy juice drinks in public while dram-drinking in private, is at root a hatred of the body as God made it. It has become an end in itself, an amusement park for the libido.

The nude of Catholic Europe, of Botticelli and Michelangelo--is not stripped, she exists in her perfection without the tension and teasing of covering and uncovering that seems to be the whole point of such American vices and which a priest-lecturer I once heard, Fr. Thomas Loya, said was really distinguished pornography from art. Great art lacks that lustful tension, and simply dazzles the viewer with its glory. Venus is unveiled in The Birth of Venus in one clean sweep like a sacred artifact being uncovered amid the bell-ringing and lights of Holy Saturday. It is joy, not selfish obsession, that possesses us at such moments. Such an uncovering is not the sustained tease which points more to the American obsession with underwear than a serene and chaste appreciation for the body.

I sometimes wonder if the naked body is less an occasion of sin for some than when it's partially covered up with fancy underpinnings designed to create and luxuriate in that sexual tension. In some ways, artistic nudity, however complete, in the chaste tradition of the great masters, is more wholesome than the strutting mannequins in their underpants that fill so many shop windows today. (People used to wear fancy clothes on the outside and, if they were holy, hair shirts on the inside--now we turn the situation inside out with ugly clothes and novelty boxers.) If perhaps we had not so sexualized clothes, like Americans sexualize everything, we would realize one can contemplate the body in art, clothed or unclothed, with chaste serenity. John Paul II was right to remove the skivvies forced on the saints in the Last Judgment, or at least most of them. The body is fallen, but it is nonetheless beautiful and nonetheless redeemed. Not everyone can, of course, contemplate such great works with this serenity, but if you're getting turned on by a Raphael portrait, you aren't trying hard enough to resist.

(Once again, some poor souls should always engage in custody of the eyes. Don't assume you're automatically exempt. Though watch out for fire-hydrants and brick walls.)

But getting back to the young lady who takes her clothes off in public. In many ways, her sins of the flesh and her oddball decor somehow go together. They both result from a misunderstanding of the body's true purpose and importance--it is not a tool, but a shrine.

I'm reminded of Chesterton's distinction between the martyr and the suicide--in this case, between veneration and desecration when it comes to relics and our mortal remains. The similarity illuminates the radical difference. Relics, and the public display of them in churches (not in some bedroom in South Plainfield!), may not be for every Catholic in America I admit, but the abstract question here is worth pondering. And nobody in their right mind keeps a severed hand in their bedroom, no matter whether it came from a saint or a sinner.

This is display through indifference, of a pragmatist lack of honor for our bodies, rather than an extreme and occasionally odd devotion to the scraps of life a saint left behind. The utilitarian Jeremy Benthan had equally silly and sick ideas about corpses, that they ought to be used to more practical ends. He ended up getting his own body mummified and put on display in a glass cabinet, incidentally, as a sort of waxwork, not for reverence by his followers, but as a creepy sort of educational opportunity. South Street Seaport these days is mounting a similarly ghoulish exhibit of flayed cadavers, equal parts hiply transgressive and dryly scientific, and there is something in the lurid anonymity of the bodies I have seen in the horrible and ubiquitous promotional posters that is so markedly different from our own saints and martyrs, much-loved, much-venerated and certainly not held up to the same prying scrutiny. (A friend of mine told me the Bodies exhibit wasn't quite so bad as I made it out to be, that it had a pro-life spin, so perhaps I jump to a conclusion. It still gives me, as the Strongbad saith, the jibblies.)

The monk in days past may have kept a single skull on the altar as he said Mass to remember death with a dry impassivity, while the Goth racks them up anonymously to get a little creepy thrill out of it. One is driven by sober reflection and public display, and only if his soul truly needs it, the other prurience and a private and disordered desire.

You see this once again in how we can react to the naked body. I've written about this before, but an artist's model does not waltz into the studio in her birthday suit--she waits until the shutters are closed and in a sense the moment is right for her strategic and complete unveiling. It is illuminating to contrast that quiet, sober and in some senses selfless unveiling, which forces the student to study her with a sober and even impersonal level of detail which feels like the utter opposite of lust and yet leads to such joy in the presence of divine creation that, at least in the two or three scattered instances when I've done life drawing, leads to an almost religious joy.

Let us strive for that joy, and thank God for giving us our bodies, no matter what shape or size they came in, for it is all His handiwork.

It was a simpler time.

Some gross-out humor for your Monday.

The Chapel of the Magi at the Propaganda Fide

Saturday, June 7

"There are only two classes that really can't help taking life seriously - schoolgirls of thirteen and the Hohenzollerns; they might be exempt."

--Saki, quoted in Vesna Goldsworthy, Inventing Ruritania, p. 125.

Meanwhile, Cusack reminds us whate emergency precautiouns to take when surprised by a Hohenzollern in your study. Also, Wikipedia: "Traffic police in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan also use a form of the Pickelhaube."

Friday, June 6


From the Sketchbook

Study of S. Margaret of Antioch. January 2008. Graphite on paper. Artist's Collection.

Study for a hypothetical design for a thurible in the style of Catalan Modernismo. 2006. Graphite on paper. Artist's Collection.

Sketches for a Hypothetical Counter-Proposal for St. Matthew's Cathedral, South Bend, Indiana; and a study for an unexecuted triptych of Christ as the Lord Sabaoth. 2007. Ink on paper. Artist's Collection.

TAC: Progress on Union?

You heard it here first, predicted the week of Benedict XVI's election.

The National Catholic Register reports that, apparently, progress is being made:

Meanwhile, discussions at the Vatican on devising a possible structure for the Traditional Anglican Communion to come into communion with Rome are understood to be nearing completion.

The communion is a breakaway group of 400,000 Anglicans opposed to women’s ordination.

However, during his May 5 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, Williams asked that any potential announcement be delayed until after the Lambeth Conference.

Veteran observers of the Anglicans’ continuing identity crisis are not optimistic that it can be resolved, given the wide gulf that exists between liberal-minded Anglican hierarchies in Western countries and more orthodox bishops in the developing world.

See some Anglican reactions here.

What Next, Knockoff Palantiri?

I read that an exhibit of Narnia-related props and costumes is going to go on tour starting in June 2008 on a five-year journey that will include, possibly, London, Sydney, Chicago, Tampa, and about seven or eight other world hotspots. The company managing the event, the Becker Group, previously hosted a cheese-related expo in preparation for Ratatouille, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Still, it could be fun. What worries me, however, is surely everyone knows by now that the controversial Narnian National Heritage Conservation Act of 2372 forbids the removal of any state treasures from the kingdom (with the exception of three of the Lone Islands and Deathwater*), which means either those dang forgers in Tashbaan are at work again or, more ominously, the mouse lobby at Cair Paravel was bribed with free Ratatouille promos. You know who really runs the show these days down by the coast.

*The suspiciously-large number of gilded statues of scuba divers lying at the bottom of Deathwater Lake around the submerged, solid gold monument to Lord Restimar led the bill's framers to think any action in that matter to be superfluous.

My Guess Is Pio Nono Isn't on Her List

It's dangerous to overanalyze what movie-stars, present or has-been, say about any topic, from artificial hair coloring to child-rearing techniques, much less religion, but a quote from famous thespian Susan Sarandon (whose filmography lists roles in such silver-screen treasures as the TV production of Children of Dune, the tautological Rugrats in Paris: The Movie - Rugrats II, and an Italian movie named after an extruded meat product) recently jumped out at me: “This particular Pope is not one of my favourites,” she is quoted as saying. This means she must have some favorite popes, logically speaking, which opens up all sorts of fascinating avenues.* Miss Sarandon continues: "I am pretty suspicious of him and my only message to him is that he should become more compassionate and more involved in what the world needs now instead of his archaic kind of outdated, misogynist infrastructure the Church has going now." Considering what a lovable little fuzzball Benedict is (really), one wonders what sort of rainbow-vestment-wearing weirdo would pass the Sarandon Compassion Test. I sense this may be one of those lose-lose situations.

Benedict: God is Love!

Susan Sarandon: (points finger, pulls out amulet with Alec Baldwin's face on it and waves it at the Sovereign Pontiff) Dogmatic! Dogmatic!

Meanwhile, Susan (star of movies like Stepmom) says she'll move to Italy if John McCain is elected. It's not the Shrine's policy to get into politics (with the exception of really pressing matters, like the infamous Reichsdeputationshauptschluß of 1803) but we would like to point out to Miss Sarandon that Italy is where the Pope lives.

*Telesphorus? Conon? Or dare I suggest...Pope Lando?

Thursday, June 5


A Bleg Regarding Liturgical Pest Control

A dear priest-friend of mine from abroad is visiting me this summer and I hope to finally have my apartment blessed while he's in town. Also, given the rodentine antics detailed in a previous post, I would like to have him read the Deprectatory Blessing Against Pests as part of the rite*. Here's the tricky bit: it's in the 1964 Roman Ritual, which I possess, but given the slightly neither fish-nor-fowl quality of the '64 and '65 productions, and, more importantly, the fact they're not really covered, technically, by Summorum Pontificum, I'd rather use whatever equivalent Tridentine ritual can be found in the appropriate liturgical books, seeing as once again it is now an official formula. The good folks at indicate, somewhat unhelpfully, that the '64 was essentially identical to the 1962, but don't indicate the differences that require the qualifier "essentially." Plus, it might be cool to do it in Latin. So if anyone can point me to a source I could get my hands on, or the text of the '62 blessing itself, I would be much obliged.

*Text here: scroll down. It's a lot of fun, and presumably very useful if you dislike the idea of snap traps.

The Largest Art Deco Church in the World

This singular title belongs to Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a fascinating period piece, if rather on the plain side. Art deco is a curious style at times, but on the whole I am inclined to consider it more aligned to the continuous western tradition of design than to modernism, despite borrowing some of the crisper, more attractive elements of modernist architecture and rendering them pleasingly decorative with infusions of Assyro-Babylonian severity, Gothic height and a few dashes of the classical.

Sometimes such projects try too hard to look new and reinvent the wheel, but other times they can be quite striking. However, the figural sculptures on the structure are far too geometrically-rendered and abstract (unlike the work of other more realistic Deco sculptors such as Goodhue's favorite, Lee Lawrie), and detract considerably from the worth of the building. At the very least it remains a fascinating curiosity and a reminder of the untapped and underappreciated architectural patrimony that lies in between our coasts.

The last two photos are by one Eschipul at Flickr, noted per the grounds of the Creative Commons license. More photos can be found at Flickr.

Wednesday, June 4


Wedding Chatter

Some conversations heard or had at the festivities surrounding a Catholic-nerd wedding using the Extraordinary Form I went to some time back. As with most Sherlock Holmes stories, sufficient time has past it's not likely to embarass anyone:

"Juggling Oratorians. This is actually pretty normal by my standards."

"...So I was really disappointed they didn't use the Unity Candle." (Said ironically.)

Me: (to bride and groom, who'd picked Agnes as their patron) ...St. Agnes's skull. I lived down the street from where they had it in Rome. It was about the size of a baseball.
Girl, passing by: A skull the size of a baseball?
Me: Sorry, bad table-talk.
Girl: No, I love hearing about relics!

" Italian Bilbo Baggins..."

(On a surplice) "It looks veddy Anglican."

"It's very pastoral. Whatever that means."

"I'm sure there are Greek Orthodox nerds, too."

"Ahhh. Wretched excess."

"I've never heard of Arthur Treacher."

Guest #1: I think you scared that waitress away.
Guest #2: Those little shrimps were frighteningly spicy. I can't take any chances.

A couple explains their meeting-story:
"I was very clear about the fact I wanted her to know I'd been to confession already."

"In the Lutheran church, we could be acolytes as soon as we were tall enough to hold a candle."

Protestant Friend: So why did they stop using the Tridentine Rite?
Me: Do you want the short version or the five-hour one?

"Ah, now you did look like a Novus Ordo MC, with your hand-gestures..." (not said scornfully, but just objectively. Maybe I need to channel more Fortescue and less Marini Uno.)

"She's being de-bustled."

"I feel like it's 1890!"

"Those priests just took my parking space." (I'm about to ask him how he could tell at this distance it was a priest, but I look down the street and see a man in a cassock coming out of a car. Once again, very normal.)

(The groom enters the reception in full white tie and executes a flawless waltz with his bride.) "Way to go, Captain von Trapp!"

And last, but not least:

Evangelical girl: So is this Mass really old school, then?

Tuesday, June 3


New Liturgical Line Art by Matthew Alderman

Click for larger version.

Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles, with an Attendant Angel (version I). Commissioned for the announcement of the entry of a young lady into the convent of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. 4" x 6", Ink on Vellum, pieced together in Photoshop. April-May 2008. Artist's Collection.

There is not much of a fixed iconography built up around the Virgin as Queen of Apostles, besides an association with Pentecost. One seventeenth-century treatise cataloging her various titles and emblems shows a curious image in which she is shown twice--first on clouds, above, encircled by an enormous hoop marked with the signs of the Zodiac, and accompanied by an angel bearing a crown, and below, with the apostles at Pentecost. Another, more modern emblem consisted of a large closed royal crown surrounded by twelve tongues of flame.

Originally, I had intended to show Our Lady richly dressed, and crowned with an enormous diadem, surrounded by the twelve shields of the Apostles. It then occurred to me that while in images of her as Queen of Heaven and Empress of the Universe she should be shown dressed as splendidly as possible, the beatific poverty of the Apostles suggested she should be far more simply dressed, with the elaborate falling folds of drapery being all she needed to manifest her simple beauty in this particular instance.

Her hair modestly covered by her plain hood, and the only touches of ornament at her throat and wrists. The Virgin's hair is not, as it might appear at first glance, bobbed, but pinned up behind her head in the manner of Abbot Thayer's numerous allegorical females. Likewise, she does not wear her crown, but is accompanied by an angel bearing it; the diadem is topped by a cross holding a very small image of Christ enthroned in its center, and one of the four plaques on the rim contains one of the four zoomorphic emblems of the Evangelists. The flame of the Holy Ghost, her eternal spouse, hovers over her head, and appears again enclosed within her brooch. The arrangement of the Apostles' emblems is in itself symbolic, with Peter and Paul--who frequently replaces Matthias--on Our Lady's right, and the other ten on the other side, with John singled out as the only non-martyr. The "P" in APOSTOLORUM below also does double-duty as a Chi-Rho, the combined monogram of the first two letters of "Christ" in Greek.

This drawing was pieced together on Photoshop from two other drawings, after I discovered the dark reddish-brown backdrop for the Apostles' shields did not register very well in a JPG; but all the drawing is done by hand, and is original.

UPDATE, AND A NOTE ON DEBT RELIEF FOR NOVICES: The young lady who commissioned this work--on the occasion of her entrance into the splendid Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, has a few extra comments over at her blog, including an iconographic key to the Apostles' emblems. Incidentally, like a number of other young ladies seeking entry into the convent, she is faced with the Sisyphean task of paying off her various college debts, a problem that is more common these days than one would suppose, for better or worse. (I've met one other young woman with similar problems in the same year: The age of dowries, albeit inadvertent ones, is not over.) Perhaps some of our learned readers can help her out in this worthy cause? Every little bit helps.


Seen on a Recent Trip to Nebraska

Monday, June 2


Presumably, They Give Special Rates on Flyers Advertising Baby Mammoths, Jumbo Shrimp and the World's Smallest Giant


Of Arms and the Woman I Sing: Or, O Decus Ecclesiae Virgo, the Plot Thickens

I was talking yesterday with a certain learned churchman and mentioned my translation quandary regarding O Decus Ecclesiae Virgo, and he had a brainstorm, riffling his encyclopedic mind until he came to a passage in the Aeneid, Book XI:
O decus Italiae virgo, quas dicere grates
quasue referre parem? sed nunc, est omnia quando
iste animus supra, mecum partire laborem.
Aeneas, ut fama fidem missique reportant
exploratores, equitum levia improbus arma
praemisit, quaterent campos; ipse ardua montis
per deserta iugo superans aduentat ad urbem.
Furta paro belli convexo in tramite silvae,
ut bivias armato obsidam milite fauces.
tu Tyrrhenum equitem conlatis excipe signis;
tecum acer Messapus erit turmaeque Latinae
Tiburtique manus, ducis et tu concipe curam.
Which means:
O virgin glory of Italy, how should I attempt
to thank you or repay you? But as your spirit
soars beyond us all, share the task with me.
Aeneas, so rumour says, and scouts sent out confirm,
has deployed his light cavalry to search the plains
thoroughly: he himself climbing the ridge, marches
through the desolate heights towards the town.
I am preparing an ambush on a deep track in the woods,
so as to block both entrances to the gorge with armed men:
you must wait for the Etruscan cavalry charge:
brave Messapus will be with you, and the Latin troops,
and Tiburtus’s band, and you must take command as leader.
(Translation here.)

A bit of background is helpful here. Camilla--who I really must add to Matt's List of Favorite Uppity Women--was the virgin-warrior queen of the Volsci tribe and a votary consecrated to the huntress Diana. In the Aeneid, she fights for her now-displaced tribe against Aeneas and the Trojans, eventually coming to a tragic end. Her militancy--she was said to be so fast as to be able to run across the sea without getting her toes wet--her royalty, and her virginity make for a wonderful pagan "type" for the Virgin Queen of Heaven, and thus explain at least some of the hymn's distinctive tone--though, apparently, not the Venus references, which one commenter below mentioned might have something to do with the planet Venus's role in navigation, which is further interlinked with the traditional puns on maria (Latin for oceans) and Maria the name. The Vergilian cleric I was talking to earlier seemed to recall some other maritime references in Virgil as well, that I am still trying to track down. Perhaps someone else out there is more familiar with the poem than I.

While the Marian hymn is not necessarily a full quotation, there's some deliberate overlap at the beginning, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the other portions of O Decus Ecclesiae have some Vergilian resonances as well. Earlier on in Book XI, for instance, Camilla's girl warriors are arrayed in rich purple, just as Mary is described in the words "Ut pia purpurea tingit tua tempora amictus" towards the close of O Decus Ecclesiae. I have not been able to find any others so far, however. Once again, the comments of the more learned are welcome.

And, as a bonus, I include a small image of Our Lady as the Tower of Ivory, clad in the armor of chastity, that I did back in college. Not my best, but fun, anyway: my friend Mary R--'s first reaction was, "She looks ready to wallop someone." Sometimes people's mothers do.

Sunday, June 1


Milk and Blood

I'll freely admit that in these modern times, it's perfectly normal to get a little weirded out by old images of the Virgo Lactans or St. Bernard mystically drinking the milk of Our Lady, but the sort of legitimate shock value they possess is not to be sneezed at. (In other words, tough noogies, I'm going to talk about them anyway.) In our post-Freudian world, such iconography dares us to chasten our minds and our gaze, and also challenges us to think, as all Christian art does, about the sacramental reality--and the body is part of that--on a multiplicity of levels and meanings.

I am reminded of the theologian and iconographer Fr. Thomas Loya's comment that sometimes when a young man comes to him complaining of being beset with temptations of the flesh, his prescription is usually to send the man to have a look at the nearest gallery of Old Masters, who, more often than not, could see past their lust to the beauty of the human body, unlike our own sex-acclimated society, where no clear line exists any longer between smut, art, and advertising.

(I imagine this moral-theological technique may work for some people better than others, which is why we still have custody of the eyes. The problem is the last time I tried the old-fashioned way--i.e., looking at your feet--I was a bit over-zealous and walked into the side of a building.)

You've all heard me sermonize on this whole subject, but what occasioned this outburst was something called to my attention by a friend of mine, a description of a Rubens painting found at this web site:
Another scene was particularly inspirational: St Augustine hesitating between the blood of Christ and the milk of the Virgin. "Positus in medio, quo vertam nescio, hic pastor a vulnere, hic lactor ab ubere," St Augustine wrote in his Meditations: "I stand between them, which way shall I turn? On the one side the blood of Christ, on the other, the milk of his Mother." Rubens shows Augustine between Christ exhibiting the wound in his left side, and Mary exposing her breast from which milk is flowing.
Unfortunately, my observant correspondant couldn't find any shots of the original painting, but just a second-rate Flemish copy. Still, it's a fascinating piece of hagiographic esoterica, and I rather like the Virgin, who gives off a very believable and sympathetic beautiful-young-mother vibe.

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