For centuries, Christian pilgrims have plied the roads of Europe towards the magnificent cathedral of Saint James the Greater in Compostela, Spain. Streams of nameless pilgrims walked the Way of St. James to plead their intentions, exonerate their guilt, and render homage to the saint at his Spanish resting place. Lucy Pick, a professor of medieval religious thought and practice, has imagined the plight of one such pilgrim, Gebirga of Flanders, in her historical novel PILGRIMAGE (Cuidono Press, July 2014). A fresh and thoughtful read, PILGRIMAGE explores betrayal, friendship, healing, and redemption in a setting hitherto ignored yet vastly important to the fabric of medieval life.Share
Blindness descends on young Gebirga, the only child of Bertulf and Godeleva of Gistel, after she witnesses an altercation between her parents which results in her mother’s death. Her father establishes a convent in memory of his saintly wife and departs on crusade, leaving Gebirga in the care of his brother at the castle. Raised by her nurse to be independent despite her infirmity, Gebirga learns to navigate her environs with help of her dog and becomes a competent châtelaine. When her father unexpectedly returns to Gistel with a new bride, Gebirga expects to be relegated to the convent. However, a trip to Bruges occasions an unforeseen encounter with Katerinen, sister of the Count of Flanders, and the beginning of a new life for Gebirga as the headstrong girl’s attendant. The political schemes of the great require Katerinen and Gebirga to travel to Spain in the guise of simple pilgrims. The final two thirds of the book trace the details of the women’s journey to Compostela as members of a motley group searching for healing and forgiveness and finding friendship, love, and purpose along the way. (Read more.)
Friday, July 25, 2014
During an international conference on political theory several of us were sitting in a restaurant in Tallinn, Estonia. Among us was a participant from Bucharest, Romania, a young woman, who listened as some from the West poked fun at the evident inefficiency of the Russians who still have a significant presence in the Baltic countries and who happened to be running this establishment. We noted the drabness of the decor, the ineptness of the help, the slowness of the service, and reminisced about the even worse olden days when the gray-looking Russians who dominated the Communist culture would run roughshod over everyone in sight.Share
Suddenly we saw our friend from Bucharest in tears. She was apologizing but unable to keep herself from sobbing. We were stunned—we didn’t know what we did to upset her. We all searched our minds for what we might have said but could not come up with a sensible answer. In a while she calmed down a bit and told us.
All of this amusing banter called to our friend’s mind not only what she had been living with for all of her life but what in her country is still largely the case, namely, the complete control of the Soviet-type bureaucracy over the society. She then went on to recount, in halting English and tearfully, how the daily lives of her family and friends had been utterly trapped in the abyss that so many in the West championed as the promising wave of the future. She gave example after example of how people suffered, from moment to moment how every ounce of some modicum of joy and pleasure, never mind genuine happiness, was rendered utterly impossible and inconceivable for them. She noted that people simply lost the will to live, that they could not even smile, not to mention laugh heartily, and how the most minute matters, such as the way in which parents played and talked with their children, suffered from this totalitarian impact.
It is often only when one finds oneself facing the facts directly, inescapably, that one can appreciate their meaning. This is especially true about facts that so many people would just as soon obscure with clever rationalizations.
In the West, especially in American newspapers, academic journals, and college classrooms, the collapse of the Soviet empire is now nearly forgotten. People everywhere are talking about why there isn’t some kind of major economic boom in response to this fall. A Business Week editorial remarked, “Communism has been vanquished in much of the globe, the victim of its own failure to deliver a decent living to its citizens under its rule. Yet capitalism in the industrialized nations is limping along.” It is as if “one, two, three,” and our world will simply put 40 to 70 years of bloody dictatorship and command economy out of mind and bounce back as if nothing had happened. (Read more.)
Post-First World War politics go a long way to understanding the later neglect of Cardinal Mercier. In his time, he was celebrated for his courageous protests against the monstrous crimes and barbarities that the German occupiers visited upon his homeland of Belgium. For many years after the war, though, elite public opinion in the West became very cynical about the claims made about such atrocities, dismissing the so-called “Rape of Belgium” as meaningless propaganda.
Without those bogus atrocities, why should anyone care about Mercier?
The problem was that the wartime claims had a very solid core of truth. Contrary to later attempts at debunking, German behavior in Belgium really had been abominable, and actually looked much like later Nazi savagery. At the height of their invasion in August and September of 1914, German forces slaughtered six thousand civilians in Belgium and northern France, most (falsely) on the suspicion of being snipers or saboteurs. The German army earned worldwide condemnation by sacking the historic Catholic city of Louvain. They torched the library and its collection of rare books and manuscripts, as soldiers carried out random mass shootings.
During their occupation, the Germans treated Belgians as serfs. In 1916, they deported seven hundred thousand civilians to work in their farms and factories, transporting many in cattle trucks. Much like Poland in 1940, Belgium looked like a country destined to be removed from the map. Foreshadowing other later tyrannies, the Germans built a lethal electric fence along the Dutch border, an early prototype of the Berlin Wall. This Wire of Death killed some thousands of Belgians who attempted to escape.
Belgian national survival depended on the heroic Désiré Mercier, Archbishop of Mechelen and (since 1906) a Cardinal. At Christmas 1914, he issued a Pastoral Letter detailing the horrors of the German onslaught and calling for resistance, patriotism, and endurance. Remarkably, given the circumstances, he made no concessions whatever to German censors, no euphemisms or circumlocutions. As the mails were tightly controlled, copies of the letter were circulated by hand, and given to priests to be read in their churches. Many of those priests suffered imprisonment, while Mercier himself was placed under house arrest. (Read more.)
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Emperor Frederick III: Known as “Frederick the Peaceful”, Frederick III was the first Hapsburg to be elected Holy Roman Emperor and the last to be crowned by the Pope in the city of Rome in 1452. Known as an aloof, distant sort of man with a tendency to be indecisive, Pope Pius II sardonically said that he wished to “conquer the world while remaining seated”. Still, it seems to have worked for him and some have a tendency to unjustly dismiss Frederick III. He was not so much slow as methodical, not so much unimaginative as cautious, careful, sober and realistic. He negotiated a concordat with the Pope that governed Hapsburg Church-State relations for nearly four hundred years and his patience and determination allowed him to triumph over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. His brother rebelled against him and defeated him at every turn, yet Frederick III persevered and maintained himself on the throne. He failed to defeat the Hungarians, who won numerous victories over his forces, yet he survived and did manage to pull off a real long-term victory over Burgundy, securing an advantageous marriage for his son and the inheritance of that choice piece of real-estate. He died in 1493. (Read more.)Share
The photo in the June 27th edition of L’Osservatore Romano shows the Holy Father with a layman in suit and tie. Standing to the side are another layman and a cleric who looks like he might be a bishop. None are identified. The tall layman and the Holy Father are seen holding out a basketball jersey on which is the name “St. John’s” along with the number “10”. It turns out that St. John’s University and Roman Libera University were holding a joint conference on religious freedom, and Pope Francis delivered an important, if brief, address to those gathered.Share
“The debate over religious freedom,” the Pope began, “has become very intense.” He recalled that the basic document for Catholics on this matter is Dignitatis Humanae,on religious liberty from Vatican II. “Every human being,” he said at the start, “is a ‘seeker’ of the truth of his own being and of his own destiny.” Thus, Francis began his reflection, as it were, from within each human person. “In the person’s mind and in the ‘heart’, thoughts and questions arise, which cannot be repressed or smothered, such that they emerge from a person’s intimate essence. They are questions of religion and, in order to fully manifest themselves, require religious freedom.”
Religious freedom thus is not a top-down matter but one that rises out of the facts of human existence seeking meaning. Religious freedom allows such reflections to flourish. As such, even though a chaos of differing and often contradictory views arise, we must have some object standard by which we can judge the validity of the vast differences of views. (Read more.)
Psychologists tell us that one of the chief evils of our age, an evil apparently less evident in earlier ages, is that of easy defeat. Be this as it may, most people who are honest with themselves would probably have to admit to indulging in despondency. They are fortunate if they have nothing worse to confess than despondency; there are many who labor under the weight of near-despair. Whether guilty of surrendering to the temptation or whether burdened with a sense of guilt that in fact is without foundation, a man can reduce his spiritual vitality so as virtually to close his soul to the operation of hope. When hope dies, there is very little chance for faith and charity.Share
It is a commonplace to observe that the saints were not those who never fell, but those who never gave in to their falls. It is less generally understood that the saints felt just the same longing as we do for the excuse to go on falling. The parable of the wheat and the cockle should show us that the saints were not only as divided against themselves interiorly as we are, but that they had to go on struggling all their lives against the desire to let the cockle have its way.
A mistake we make is to think of the saints as triumphing over temptation by the felt force of ardent love. Some of them, certainly, experienced this fire, but for the most of them it has been a question of grinding out dry, hard acts of faith and hope through clenched teeth. The saints have had to fight every inch of the way against discouragement, defeatism, and even despair.
How could it be otherwise? No virtue can be productive of good unless it comes up against the evil that is its opposite. Courage is not courage until it has experienced fear: courage is not the absence of fear, but the sublimation of fear. In the same way, perseverance has to be tried by the temptation to give up, by the sense of failure, by an inability to feel the support of grace. The reason Christ fell repeatedly — one tradition would have it that He fell seven times — is at least partly because we fall repeatedly and have need of His example in recovering from our falls. The difference between His falls and ours is that, whereas His were because of weakness of the body, ours are because of weakness of the will. The likeness between His and ours lies simply in the use that can be made of them. (Read more.)
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
And here is an article on breastfeeding in Regency England. To quote:Once the mother was in labor, the birthing or lying-in rooms were heated and completely shut up to prevent the flow of air. Fear of drafts causing the mother to catch cold created the practice of building up the fire, putting blankets over all the windows and doors, and covering every crevice. Not only would have that been uncomfortable and not allowed for adequate oxygen but it would have been a breeding ground for bacteria so it likely caused the very problem they were trying to prevent.
Generally, wet nurses were paid to feed the babies of the wealthy. Much thought and care went into their selection, and their milk was examined for texture, color, viscosity, and taste. Some thought that aspects of a wet nurse’s personality could be passed through her milk, and therefore her character had to be impeccable. Cassandra Austen, Jane Austen’s mother, sent all her children to the nearby village of Deane to be nursed in their infancy. Although Cassandra Austen visited her babies daily, they did not return to the family fold until they were around 18 months of age.Share
The popularity of wet nurses stemmed from the fact that royalty often wanted large families. Wet nurses were hired to feed the newborn so that the royal mother would soon regain fertility and become pregnant again. When royals stopped breastfeeding their children, other women from wealthy families soon followed suit and began to farm their babies out to wet nurses. This practiced continued until the end of the 19th century, when it largely died out. (Read more.)
As the war stretched on, lower class white women faced an uphill battle to survive. The Confederate government stepped up efforts to conscript men, and the absence of male providers coupled with ongoing problems with inflation and shortages, led many women to seek paid employment. The Confederate government hired seamstresses as “pieceworkers” in Atlanta. They produced coats, pants, and shirts for $.50 to $1.50 per hand-stitched garment. However there was never enough work to go around, and Atlanta’s pieceworkers competed with women who took the train into the city daily from nearby communities. Atlanta’s Confederate Arsenal employed women who earned $.75 to $1.00 per day rolling and sewing cartridge bags. A growing number of children, ages eleven to fifteen, also entered factory work. They earned a pittance at the Arsenal, usually $.35 to .55 cents per day. While family members pooled their resources, prices continued to rise. By 1864, a bushel of sweet potatoes cost $20 and fabric to make a woman’s dress ran $108. Not surprisingly, lawlessness became an increasing problem. Desperate civilians, including women and children, stole vegetables from gardens, chickens from henhouses, food and clothing from local stores. One frustrated resident wrote a letter to a city newspaper suggesting that high prices injured the cause of Confederate independence as much as did Yankee invaders, “by causing the poorer classes, to a great extent,” to call for “peace upon almost any terms.” - See more at: http://hnn.us/article/156126#sthash.WC0HkrBE.dpufI grew up near the Monocacy battlefield. From Smithsonian:
ShareProfessional soldiering seems not to have appealed to Jubal Early; he resigned from the U.S. Army in 1838, just one year after graduation from West Point, and went back only briefly in 1846 to do his duty in the Mexican War. He had argued caustically against secession and for the Union until his state seceded, whereupon he became an equally caustic supporter of the Confederacy and a colonel in its army.
It soon became clear that he was that rare commodity, a forceful and courageous leader of men in battle. This had been so at First and Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. As his commands increased in size, however, his touch became less sure and his luck more spotty. Yet such was General Lee's confidence that in 1864 Early had been given command of one of the three corps in the Army of Northern Virginia.
And now here he was, on the brink of history, about to quench the boundless thirst for recognition that glittered ceaselessly from his black eyes. Pursuant to Lee's instruction, he had chased one Federal army away from Lynchburg, Virginia, and clear into the West Virginia mountains where it disappeared. He met another near Frederick, Maryland, on the Monocacy River, and swept it aside. On fire with the glory of it all, forgetting his limited objective, Early now rasped out his orders to Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes, commander of the leading division: throw out a skirmish line; move forward into the enemy works; attack the capital of the United States.
Abraham Lincoln himself visited the fort and watched the sinuous dust clouds raised by enemy columns approaching from the northwest. "In his long, yellowish linen coat and unbrushed high hat," an Ohio soldier who had seen him at the fort wrote, "he looked like a care worn farmer in time of peril from drouth and famine." Far away to the south, the relentless Grant had refused to be distracted from his slow strangulation of Lee's army. On the whole, Lincoln approved; he had, after all, tried for three long years to find a general who would devote himself to destroying the enemy armies instead of striking attitudes and defending Washington. But it must have occurred to the President, that afternoon, that maybe Grant had gone too far. (Read more.)