Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Greetings... and a hiatus

Dear readers, I wish you all every possible blessing for Christmas and the New Year. Due to factors beyond my control, I shall have very limited internet access until mid to late January - expect negligable blog and e-mail activity from me for the next 3 or 4 weeks.
Oh, and as my parting shot, I'll pass on some Roman gossip - the Papal fanon might just reappear for midnight Mass in St Peter's. Far from being the most important thing about Christmas, but it'd be interesting to see.
God bless!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

Dappled Things - Advent 2005...

I'm pleased to say that my abnormally talented frends Matt and Lauren both feature in the first issue of Dappled Things. Check it out!

An issue of the utmost importance...

From the Times Modern Manners section:
I have friends who insist that milk goes in the cup before the tea. I say not. I always argue that one may not always want milk and perhaps would like a slice of lemon instead. Which of us is correct? Daniel Pilcher, Sittingbourne
This is as old and vexed a question as Swift's Big-enders and Little-enders fighting over which end is correct to crack of one's boiled egg. The silliest reason for putting the milk in first is that this stops the boiling tea cracking your best china. Eh? Impossible. Pull the other tea-bag. The snobbiest reason is that it is "common" (vulgar, Charlie, chav) to put the milk in first. Let us consider what makes life easiest for the tea-drinker. I think that he should be allowed to put the milk (cream, lemon) in himself, because he knows how much he wants. So I agree with you. Let us not even suspect that your friends are "common" (Charlie). In fact the question seldom arises for me these days. None of my young female colleagues drink builder's tea any more. They go for exotic rhubarb and parsnip brews that need no supplements of milk. Only a strong stomach and a superstitious susceptibility to New Age hogwash.
I have always thought it the height of presumption to pour the milk for any but the most intimate of friends and close family mewmbers.

I'm going to scoop Mark Shea...

on this shocking torture story:
BARBIE, that plastic icon of girlhood fantasy play, is routinely tortured by children, research has found.
The methods of mutilation are varied and creative, ranging from scalping to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving, according to academics from the University of Bath.
The findings were revealed as part of an in-depth look by psychologists and management academics into the role of brands among 7 to 11-year-old schoolchildren.
The researchers had not intended to focus on Barbie, but they were taken aback by the rejection, hatred and violence she provoked when they asked the children about their feelings for the doll.
Violence and torture against Barbie were repeatedly reported across age, school and gender. No other toy or brand name provoked such a negative response.
“You might expect little girls to love their Barbie and expect an imaginary love in return. Instead girls feel violence and hatred towards their Barbie,” Agnes Nairn, one of the researchers, said.
Previous research from the US into Barbie abuse suggested that prepubescent girls destroyed the doll because she reminded them of adulthood at a time when they were still clinging to their childhood, but Dr Nairn found no evidence of this.
She also dismissed the idea that overweight little girls might be jealous of Barbie for being the girl who had everything, including a tiny waist. It was more likely to be a simple reaction against a toy that the children had grown out of, she said.
“The children we were talking to were aged 7 to 11, whereas the right age for having a Barbie seems now to be 4, even though Barbie doesn’t exactly look like it is aimed at four-year-olds,” Dr Nairn added. She and her colleagues Christine Griffin and Patricia Gaya Wicks concluded that, while adults may find a child’s delight in breaking, mutilating and torturing their dolls to be disturbing, from the child’s point of view they were simply being imaginative in disposing of an excessive commodity, in the same way as one might crush cans for recycling.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Have yourself a very Papal Christmas...

When did this become the Papal fashion blog? Anyway, for those who are interested, a reader *(thank you Charles A.) draws to my attention what appears to be a new type of Papal mozetta - that looks like velvet (?) but without the ermine trim. Indoor winter-wear?
Anyway, the pictures of His Holiness's visit to the parish of S.Maria Consolatrice show that he 'dressed down' a little - the floor-length coat he is wearing is known as a 'greca'. The black greca is commonly worn by curial types over the cassock during the winter. One of the most famous images of Pius XII shows him wearing the greca as he comforts the people of the San Lorenzo area of Rome following an allied bombing.
The Roamin' Roman always has interesting pictures of assorted goings-on in Rome.
There's also an article about the Christmas gifts distributed by Benedict XVI to Vatican employees:
The Vatican's 4,223 employees Dec. 14 each received a colorful Christmas
postcard depicting a reproduction of a 16th-century painting of "Adoration of
the Magi." The painting, crafted by an unknown artist, hangs in the chapel of
St. Lawrence in the Vatican.On the card's reverse side is the pope's coat of
arms and a greeting -- a quote in Latin from a sermon of St. Augustine in the
pope's handwriting."Awake mankind! For your sake God has become man," it says,
followed by Pope Benedict's signature and the year.Together with their cards,
Vatican workers also carried home a large Italian Christmas cake called
"panettone" and a bottle of Martini sparkling wine, gifts Pope John Paul II used
to give employees every year along with his own hand-signed Christmas card.But
this year Pope Benedict also included a special set of blessed rosary beads
whose metal center bears a "Madonna and Child" on one side and his coat of arms
on the other.

An Irish Christmas Carol...

A correspondent sends Christmas greetings along with the following Irish Christmas poem. It refers to the Irish custom of lighting a candle in the window every Christmastide to give light and offer hospitality to the Holy Family. (Much more POD than leaving food out for Santa Claus)

The Kerry Carol
by Sigerson Clifford
Brush the floor and clean the hearth,
And set the fire to keep,
For they might visit us tonight
When all the world's asleep.

Don't blow the tall white candle out
But leave it burning bright,
So that they'll know they're welcome here
This holy Christmas night.

Leave out the bread and meat for them,
And sweet milk for the Child,
And they will bless the fire, that baked
And, too, the hands that toiled.

For Joseph will be travel-tired,
And Mary pale and wan,
And they can sleep a little while
Before they journey on.

They will be weary of the roads,
And rest will comfort them,
For it must be many a lonely mile
From here to Bethlehem.

O long the road they have to go,
The bad mile with the good,
Till the journey ends on Calvary
Beneath a cross of wood.

Leave the door upon the latch,
And set the fire to keep,
And pray they'll rest with us tonight
When all the world's asleep.

Italians love uniforms...

See how military chaplians get to incorporate little military flourishes into their clerical and religious dress. I rememember once meeting a military bishop in a cassock with military star insignia on his collar.


You can listen to the 'O-Antiphons' courtesy of the choir of the North American College. Incidentally, I understand that the Anglophone community in Rome was very disappointed in the fact that the NAC cancelled their Advent service of Lessons and Carols this year. What gives, chaps?
There's an interesting news story in the Telegraph about the design of a new cap badge for a regiment of the British army:
Patrick Mercer, a Tory MP and a former commanding officer of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, said he was "partly pleased" that the badge had been rejected because it looked like a "ghastly strangled chicken". He added: "The badge is not attractive but it is probably the best compromise."
There's also a piece about how Google Earth may be being used by Iraqi insurgents.
The old chestnuts about Pope John I of happy memory are coming to the fore again:
LISBON (AFP) - Pope John Paul I, who died from an apparent heart attack just 33 days after becoming pontiff in 1978, was in fact assassinated over his plans to radically reform the Catholic Church, a novel to be published worldwide next year charges.
Portuguese author and television scriptwriter Luis Miguel Rocha, 29, said he based "The Last Pope" on documents he obtained through an undisclosed Vatican source, which he will make public once the novel is published in April.
Ah yes! The novel... the cathechism of a religiously illiterate age.
Pictures of the Vatican Christmas tree.
And from the crazy schismatic file:
MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A Roman Catholic bishop here has excommunicated members of a communal sect whose leader allegedly claims to be a manifestation of the late Pope John Paul II.
Sect leader Edwin Gonzalez Concepcion and his followers can no longer receive communion or participate in church activities, according to the order issued by Mayaguez Bishop Ulises Casiano Vargas.
Gonzalez, a former firefighter in the town of Aguada, has told his followers that he became a manifestation of John Paul when the pope died in April and that Pope Benedict XVI is the "antichrist," according to the order, which priests in the diocese read to their congregations Sunday.
Members of the group couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
The bishop also alleged that another sect leader, Gladys Miranda, claims she is the Virgin Mary, and that followers of the group make it hard for parishioners to receive communion by lying face-down in the aisle.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Over at Pontifications...

a wonderful poem by St Ephraem the Syrian...
This line: If He was not flesh, who was invited to the marriage in Cana of Galilee? And if He is not God, who turned the water into wine? reminds me of the story of the Jesuit novice who was asked to write a poem about the Wedding Feast of Cana. It is said that his classmates spend several hours drafting and redrafting, filling page after page with elaborate verse. Our hero, however, simply sat and though and just before the assignment was due took out his pen and wrote: Water met its Maker and blushed.

The lights are on...

Via Ansa:
(ANSA) - Vatican City, December 16 - The switching on of the lights on the giant fir in front of St Peter's Basilica this weekend signals the unofficial start of Christmas in the Vatican .
The 30-metre tree from the forests of northern Austria arrived in the Vatican on December 8 and technicians then spent several days erecting it and decorating it with lights ahead of Saturday's inauguration ceremony .
The tradition of having a giant tree in St Peter's Square was started in 1982 by the current pope's predecessor, John Paul II, along with that of the nativity scene. Over the last 23 years the honour of donating the tree has gone to snowy regions in Italy and in countries such as Romania and the Czech Republic .
The person chosen to flick the switch this year was Juergen Lengauer, an 11-year-old Austrian boy who earned the right by saving his little brother from drowning when he fell into a swimming pool .
Weeks of work on the life-size nativity scene which traditionally stands near the tree are also coming to an end, completing the customary Christmas scene in St Peter's Square .
The nativity scene, or 'crib' at the foot of the obelisk in the square is also rapidly taking shape and is expected to be completed within a few days .
When finished, the overall scene will cover 400 square metres. As well as the stable in the centre, housing the figures of Mary and Joseph, there will also be a range of secondary figures and scenes arranged around it .

Friday, December 16, 2005

Nice picture of the Pope

Pope Benedict before mosaic Madonna and Child.

Another article for your 'weird Germans' file...

From the Telegraph:
The ugly are seeking refuge from a hostile world in a German club specially founded to cater for their needs and allay their anxieties.
Hamburg's Ugly Club requires of its members only that they identify the one thing about themselves that they are most unhappy about. Stomachs are at the top of the list, followed by noses and hips.
Harald Gasper, a creative director in an advertising agency with a jowly face and a big nose, established the club with his wife Regina, a tall journalist with big feet.
"Ugly People of the World Unite", is the unofficial motto of the club, which has 270 members. Among the club's role models are Angela Merkel, the new German chancellor, whose own lack of regard for her looks has attracted much criticism, the Duchess of Cornwall and the singer, Janis Joplin.
"All are proof that you don't have to be beautiful to succeed," said Mr Gasper. According to the Ugly Club's seven-point manifesto "it is unfair that the world is dominated by beautiful people".

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fascinating discovery...

From the Guardian:
Archaeologists have dug up the oldest known Mayan painting inside a ruined pyramid deep inside a Guatemalan jungle. Dated at around 100BC, the paint-on-plaster mural depicts the Mayas' creation myth with an elegance and finesse suggesting the civilisation developed much earlier than previously accepted.
"It was like discovering the Sistine chapel if you didn't know there had been a Renaissance - like knowing only modern art and then stumbling on the finger of God touching the hand of Adam," William Saturno, the archaeologist who found the ancient masterpiece, told a press conference.
Mr Saturno, of the University of New Hampshire in the US, stumbled across the mural in the remote site of San Bartolo in 2001 while trekking through the jungle looking for another set of ruins. Exhausted, he says, he almost fell into a looters' tunnel in his search for shade and then looked up to find the figure of the great Corn God peaking out from the dirt on the wall above him.
Remarkably preserved for more than 2,000 years by the cool underground temperatures, the oranges and yellows, reds, greys, grey-blues and flesh tones remain clear. Now uncovered in all its splendour, the painting will feature in next month's National Geographic magazine.
The main nine-metre (30ft) wall of the mural shows the son of the Corn God creating the Mayan mythical and physical world. In one scene he offers up a fish and establishes the watery underworld, in another he sacrifices a deer and creates the earth. In a third he floats in the air holding out a turkey to make the sky, while in a fourth he is surrounded by the blooming flowers of paradise. Other sections depict the Corn God's birth, death and resurrection, and establish the principle of divine kingship with the Corn God crowning himself, and the first human king claiming his earthly crown from the surrounding deities.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why I'm not Pope...

See this picture: I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to steal the Santa hat.
There's an interesting article in the Osservatore Romano (English edition) this week. John Allen reports:
Another indication that the "continuity" reading of Vatican II is gaining ground came in the Monday-Tuesday edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper. It carried a front-page commentary from Jesuit Fr. Karl Becker on perhaps the most-debated bit of verbiage from the council, the famous formula in Lumen Gentium 8 that the church of Christ "subsists in" rather than "is" the Roman Catholic church.
Becker argued that 40 years of contrary interpretation notwithstanding, "subsists in" is simply a stronger way of saying "is."
Becker, a theological conservative now in his late 70s, has served as a consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1977. At a presentation of a book of essays marking Becker's 75th birthday in 2003, I heard Fr. Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and now to Pope Benedict XVI, praise Becker in these simple words: "He is not afraid."
For the past 40 years, the shift from "is" to "subsists in" (in Latin, from est to subsistit in) has been considered one of the signal decisions of the council, a move away from a triumphalist identification of Roman Catholicism as the lone embodiment of Christ's church, towards a more humble ecclesiology that recognized that no existing Christian body perfectly represents Christ's will. [Note: I am not convinced that Allen has his theology straight here - I've never heard a serious theologian interpret 'subsisit in' in that manner. The more normal interpretation is that 'subsistit in' affirms the Catholic Church as being the One True Church, but allows space for 'churchy elements' outside the visible communion. I don't doubt, however, that some less orthodox theologians might suggest that 'subsistit in' might admit of imperfections in the manner in which the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ.]
Instead, Becker argued, the council's respect for "elements of truth and sanctification" in other Christian bodies should not "attenuate" the identification of the church of Christ with the Catholic church.
"The phrase subsistit in meant not only to reconfirm the sense of est," he wrote, "that is, the identity between the church of Christ and the Catholic church. It also meant to reiterate that the church of Christ, with the fullness of the means instituted by Christ, perdures (continues, remains) forever in the Catholic church."
Finally, Becker offered an interpretation of what it means to say that other Christian bodies have "ecclesial elements."
"If one says that the United Nations have brought order to a certain country, in reality it's the peace-keeping troops that have acted on the orders of the United Nations, but are not the United Nations, even in part," Becker wrote. "In a similar sense, though not identical, I can say that the church of Christ operates in the Christian communities, since Christ, as the head (and not the body) of the church, through the Spirit, the soul (and not the body) of the church, operates in these communities. Christ and the Spirit operate in them, reinforcing the elements that press towards the unity of Christians in the one church."
While all this may seem a dusty historical dispute, the difference between subsistit in and est has been at the heart of much recent high-stakes controversy, including two emblematic crackdowns of the 1980s and 1990s: Leonardo Boff, the symbol of the liberation theology movement, and Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis, identified with the push for a more positive theological treatment of other religions. Both men invoked subsistit in to argue in favor of a more expansive doctrine of the roles of Christ and the Spirit outside the Catholic church, leading to what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the case of Boff, called "ecclesiological relativism."
Now, I'm no fan of ecclesiological relativism myself, but there was one thing that bothered me about Becker's argument which Allen also picks up on:
As a theologian friend in the United States pointed out, Teuffenbach's work poses a dilemma for the "continuity" school, which has long warned against using the private opinions of periti as a guide to the meaning of conciliar texts. Here's a case where one such private opinion, that of Tromp, who actually suggested the phrase subsistit in, clearly supports their reading. As noted, Becker is not shy about quoting Tromp's view of what the phrase meant.
It is, as my theologian friend observed, a "nice irony."
By-the-by, I've heard whispers that Becker was responsible for initiating the Holy Office's investigations into the work of the late Jacques Dupuis.


In the Telegraph:
The freegans have landed and, by tonight, will probably be foraging through a supermarket skip near you.
"Freeganism" is the latest craze to arrive in Britain from the US. It involves scavenging through bins at supermarkets and food stores to retrieve blemished goods or food that has been thrown out because it has reached its sell-by date.
Though supermarket chains said yesterday that they were attempting to keep a lid on the situation with locked bins and security patrols, the Co-op admitted that the craze had become "quite a problem".
Websites dedicated to freeganism have been set up in America and enthusiasts in the UK are now exchanging messages in chatrooms.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Golden House to Close...

From ANSA:
ANSA) - Rome, December 12 - 0ne of Rome's prime tourist attractions, the ruins of Nero's Domus Aurea, is to be closed to the public for two years because of safety concerns linked to leaky and flaking walls and ceilings .
Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione said it would take five million euros for the "most urgent" work on the damaged ceilings .
But after that two-year project, a further 60 million euros would be needed over ten years to make the monument safe for future generations .
Buttiglione's announcement that the 32 rooms open to visitors "are no longer safe" came after patches of brick and plaster showed signs of plunging to the floor .
In recent years, there have been at least two incidents in which holes in the ceilings have appeared .
It had been closed for over twenty years after water seepage sparked fears of possible structural subsidence .
The Golden Palace of the ill-famed Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) re-opened in June 1999 after 21 years in which it was Rome's best-kept secret - open only to art officials and special guests .
Some five billion lire were spent in refurbishing the 30-odd visitable rooms filled with surprisingly fresh and lively frescoes of weird animals like winged lions, griffins and tritons which led to the original coinage of the word 'grotesque', from the Italian word for cave or grotto .
After Nero's suicide in 68 AD the Flavian emperors who succeeded him proceeded to bury all trace of the man who already in life was a byword for dissolution, cruelty and excess .
The Flavian amphitheater, better known as the Colosseum, was built on the site of Nero's palace-side lake, while Trajan built his baths on top of the main part of the sprawling pleasure dome, located mainly on Rome's Colle Oppio (Oppian Hill) .
Ironically, the Colosseum is so-called because of the massive statue of Nero that his successors dragged beside their own monument - after changing the head, according to some ancient accounts .
Another irony is that, by burying the place, they actually preserved it so that the finest wall-paintings outside Pompeii, with almost equally vivid colours, can be admired today .
Other interesting touches are the chalk and tallow marks left by Renaissance masters like Raphael who were let down through a hole in the roof to admire its splendours .
Architecturally, the piece de resistance is the eight-sided Sala Ottagonale where Nero is supposed to have entertained his guests with his singing and lyre-playing, all on a rotating floor .
At suitable moments in the fun, the sybaritic emperor is also reported - by Roman historian Suetonius - to have given the signal for marble panels to slide back, showering guests with petals and perfume .
When it was completed, a 50-hectare complex covering most of the Palatine, Celian and Oppian hills, Nero was reputed to have remarked that finally he was beginning to be housed like a human being .

More folly from the UK

Via the Telegraph:
Children should be protected from "terrifying" Father Christmas, shielded from "alarming" pantomimes and encouraged not to send wasteful Christmas cards, a Government website has advised teachers.
When arranging Christmas parties in schools, teachers should also avoid arranging games of a competitive nature so that no child feels they have "underperformed", the website said.
The advice, on the Teachernet website developed by the Department of Education as a resource for teachers, covered all aspects of arranging a festive party in school.
It said: "For very young children, Father Christmas can be terrifying, and if you are planning a visit from Santa, you'll need to make sure that fearful children are near an exit. Trips to the pantomime can cause alarm, so the same planning applies."
In separate advice on Christmas giving, teachers are told that children should be discouraged from sending Christmas cards to fellow pupils because they are a waste of paper.
The advice suggested that head teachers hold school assemblies, called "The aftermath of Christmas", in which children act out opening presents and advent calendars and then throw the packaging on the floor to highlight the waste of paper at Christmas.
The site also suggested a list of non-competitive games to replace traditional games like pass-the-parcel, which it said can cause "anxieties" in the children who do not win.
"If you do have games with winners, make sure that all children are given an opportunity to succeed where possible," the advice read.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

In the news...

From the Telegraph
It is the bizarre story of the two "John Moores": the fraudulent one sitting in the dock claiming not to remember his name and the real one sitting anonymously in the public gallery, eager to set eyes on the impostor who stole his identity.
Middlesex crown court was the scene last week of a case which will go down in legal history because police took the rare step of going to court even though a two-year investigation was unable to uncover the defendant's identity.
Meanwhile, the real John Moore, 46, an IT manager from Uxbridge, attended the hearing because he wanted "closure" on a case which has haunted him for 14 years.
The mysterious fraudster, a Scotsman believed to be in his 40s, was examined by four amnesia experts: two concluded he was faking his condition, while two others believed that he was suffering from memory loss.
Mr Moore told yesterday how he had first encountered difficulties in 1991 when he had a call from the police saying that a vagrant who had been arrested identified himself as "John Moore". The man was not charged. The police later informed Mr Moore that he should not encounter further difficulties.
However, in 2001 his tax code kept altering even though his circumstances had not changed. Then his medical records disappeared from his local surgery after the fraudster apparently asked for them to be switched to a GP in central London.
Finally, in 2003, Mr Moore received a letter from Westminster council over alleged benefit fraud in his name.
After the hearing, Mr Moore said: "It was a bit spooky looking at a man who had claimed to me. It was surreal but I did feel sympathy for him because he looked nervous and scared."
This weekend the Sunday Telegraph traced the impostor to a flat close to the Houses of Parliament. He answered the intercom to the name of John Moore and allowed a reporter into his flat. Sitting in his squalid living room, he said: "My name is John Steven Moore, at the moment." When asked to explain, he said: "That may not be the case after January when the final hearing will take place. I am not ready to tell my story until then. I want the truth to come out."
A reader has sent a link to a page with several pictures of that baby hippo adopted by a tortise. Another sends a baby platypus picture.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

In the news...

SS Ring Stolen:
GERMAN police offered a reward yesterday for an SS Death’s Head ring stolen by Nazi memorabilia hunters from an exhibition at Hitler’s former retreat in the Bavarian Alps.
The ring is inscribed with the signature of Heinrich Himmler and was awarded by the SS chief to one of his officers. Such rings are regarded as a big prize on the multimillion-pound Nazi souvenir market and fetch about £8,000 on the internet.
Himmler presented the rings personally and read out a citation that ended: “The Death’s Head ring cannot be bought or sold and must never fall into the hands of those who are not entitled to use it . . . Wear the ring with honour!”
It was taken very seriously by the SS. In the case of death, the ring was removed from the corpse and handed to the unit commander, who arranged for it to be sent to Wewelsburg Castle in Germany, where Hitler had created an SS shrine.
About 14,500 rings were awarded. By January 1945, 64 per cent had been returned to the shrine, 26 per cent were still held by SS officers and 10 per cent were lost on the battlefield. In the spring of 1945 Himmler ordered the rings in the shrine to be blast-sealed into the side of a mountain near Wewelsburg Castle.
They have never been found. As a result there are only about 3,000 genuine rings in circulation. This ring was stolen a few weeks ago, and the police offered the €1,000 (£670) reward after it failed to appear on the internet memorabilia market.

The Turks continue to deny the 'Armenian Holocaust':
DAYS before he goes on trial for publicly discussing his country’s slaughter of a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, Orhan Pamuk, the most prominent Turkish writer, sounds anything but repentant.
The Turkish Government is afraid to stand up to a nationalist old guard, he told The Times. It is concealing information from its people. It is making only cosmetic reforms of repressive laws to win membership of the European Union.
He said: “I am a writer. It is humiliating to live in a country where this subject [the Armenian massacre of 1915-17] is a taboo and cannot be discussed.”
Mr Pamuk’s defiance will not play well in Ankara. His trial, which opens in Istanbul next Friday, has become an acute embarrassment for the Government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His conviction would play into the hands of countries, such as France and Germany, that oppose Turkish membership of the EU. Hundreds of supporters are expected to provide fodder for European television crews by demonstrating outside the court.
Mr Pamuk’s alleged crime was to tell a Swiss newspaper this year that “a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands and no one but me dares to talk about it” — a reference not only to the Armenian slaughter but also to the two-decades-old conflict in southeast Turkey between Kurdish insurgents and the army.

CLUMSY typing cost a Japanese bank at least £128 million and staff their Christmas bonuses yesterday, after a trader mistakenly sold 600,000 more shares than he should have.
The trader at Mizuho Securities, who has not been named, fell foul of what is known in financial circles as “fat finger syndrome” where a dealer types incorrect details into his computer. He wanted to sell one share in a new telecoms company called J Com, for 600,000 yen (about £3,000).
Unfortunately, the order went through as a sale of 600,000 shares at 1 yen each.
The slip caused immediate shockwaves in the Tokyo market as traders tried to guess which firm had made the mistake. Fearing the impact, traders sold shares in all Japanese broking houses and the sell-off led to the value of the Nikkei 225 falling 2 per cent. It was only later that Mizuho admitted that one of its traders had made the error.
The order slipped through at about 9.30am and, one CLSA broker explained, “until the culprit firm was named around tea time, investors spent the day dumping the shares of every listed brokerage in Japan, in case it had been them”.
If Mizuho has to accept the loss, it may have to sell many of its stockholdings to raise the money, creating further pressure on Japanese stocks.
Mizuho said it was discussing with the Tokyo stock exchange how to deal with the matter. There is a chance that Mizuho will persuade the Tokyo exchange, which is under pressure for allowing the obviously mistaken trade to go ahead, to have it cancelled.
As if the hapless trader was not unpopular enough, the firm also cancelled its end-of-year party, scheduled for last night.

Trouble at the Church of the Nativity...

From the Telegraph:
If pilgrims worshipping in the Church of the Nativity look up at the roof,
they will see a battlefield threatening the future of one of Christendom's most
holy sites.
Squabbling over crucial roof repairs between the three Christian
communities who share custodianship of Jesus's birthplace is endangering the
1,500-year-old basilica.
Large holes in the 500-year-old lead roof have let rainwater flood inside
for years. It streams down the walls and threatens to wash away Crusader-era
murals and destroy Byzantine mosaics.
A botched repair by the Greeks, in
which the roof was given a waterproof lining, has created new problems as
condensation now eats into the plaster and rots wooden beams.
The most
authoritative survey for decades found that the wood was so badly damaged that a
large truss was only being prevented from crashing to the floor by
But while the three communities accept that repairs are needed,
mutual suspicion means they cannot agree on how to carry them out.
The first basilica around the grotto marking Christ's birthplace was built
in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine the Great. The existing structure
dates largely from a 6th century reconstruction by Emperor Justinian.
Christian buildings in the Holy Land were sacked by the Persians in about 620
but the Church of the Nativity was spared because The Three Wise Men on an
external mosaic were believed to come from Persia.
Schisms led to shared
custodianship between the three Christian communities. Visitors today see
Franciscans in cassocks walking past cowled Armenian monks through clouds of
Greek incense.
The Armenians and Franciscans each claim ownership of a third
of the church but the Orthodox Greeks disagree, saying that as descendants of
the Byzantine founders they should enjoy majority rights.
According to a 1852
Ottoman diktat all three communities must be given a key to the lock on the
front door of the church.
Three years ago the Greeks angered the others when
they changed the lock one night under cover of darkness. They argued that the
diktat grants the others keys but not the right to use them.
Rows between the three communities have maddened outsiders before. After
the British conquered Palestine in 1917, an army officer found that the Greeks
had built an ugly wall in front of the basilica's main icon screen.
officer, Ronald Storrs, discovered that the three communities all agreed the
wall should be taken down but not on who should pay for its removal. "I was
allowed the honour of effecting the payment myself,'' he later wrote.

The Ottoman agreement governing the Holy Places is known as the 'status quo' and has remained unchanged despite the passage of over 150 years and several 'regime changes' in the area. There is always a Palestinan Authority policeman on duty in the sanctuary of the Church of the Nativity, and he is just the latest in a line of policemen who have been in that place uninteruptedly since the Sublime Port gave the order for a continuous police presence in the basilica in 1873 when the Greeks pillaged the grotto of the Nativity which was in the care of the Franciscans (8 franciscans were wounded) - no subsequent authority has revoked the order.
In 1847, the silver star that the Franciscans placed on the site of the Nativity was removed by the Greeks. The subsequent tensions between France and Russia contributed to the start of the Crimean War.

Friday, December 09, 2005

On Mozettas

Reading Rocco's reaction to the ermine mozetta:
That sound you hear is the jubilation of church queens around the world, who've been calling my phone since the visuals of the traditional papal visit to the statue of the Immaculate Conception at the foot of the Spanish Steps -- where Popes have come for prayer and wreath-laying since time immemorial on 8 December -- first emerged earlier this morning.
I have to ask why so many 'church queens' have his phone number and why he's trying so hard to alienate them.
Anyway, I'm sure you don't need to be a 'church queen' to appreciate Don Jim Tucker's homage to the mozetta.
Also, after checking through Margherita Marchione's 'Pio XII Attraverso le Immagini' I managed to turn up this shot (click the pic to enlarge) of Pius XII wearing his self-designed ermine shoulder-cape. (Apologies for previously describing this as a mozetta, it's not.) Thanks to Adam in the comments box who inspired the search.

Is this important?

I was reading the Holy Father's message to the World Methodist Council and noted the following:
Since 1967, our dialogue has treated major theological themes such as: revelation and faith, tradition and teaching authority in the Church. These efforts have been candid in addressing areas of difference. They have also demonstrated a considerable degree of convergence and are worthy of reflection and study. Our dialogue and the many ways in which Catholics and Methodists have become better acquainted have allowed us to recognize together some of those "Christian treasures of great value". On occasion, this recognition has enabled us to speak with a common voice in addressing social and ethical questions in an increasingly secularized world. I have been encouraged by the initiative which would bring the member churches of the World Methodist Council into association with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999. Should the World Methodist Council express its intent to associate itself with the Joint Declaration, it would assist in contributing to the healing and reconciliation we ardently desire, and would be a significant step towards the stated goal of full visible unity in faith.
That's a rather specific invitation to make a concrete and particular step towards Christian unity.

More foolishness...

Reported by the Telegraph:
Hush, hush, whisper who dares…Christopher Robin is being replaced by a girl after 80 years.
Robin, everyone's friend in the Hundred Acre Wood, is being written out of a new Walt Disney animated series.
Instead, the studio is creating a new playmate for the "bear of little brain" - a six-year-old tomboy who is to emerge in a clearing, with a back-pack and a plastic helmet.
Studio executives, mindful of the fact that Pooh is their biggest franchise after Mickey Mouse, were quick yesterday to point out that "Christopher Robin is still out there in the woods, playing".
They said that he might even be given a cameo role, walking along a path to meet the new girl.
Nancy Kanter, of the Disney Channel, said: "We hope people will fall for this tomboyish girl. We got raised eyebrows, even in-house, at first.
"But the feeling was that these timeless characters needed a breath of fresh air that only the introduction of someone new could provide."
The cartoon is still being written, so no name has been found for the girl.
Pardon my cynicism, but why do I suspect that the message is that to a certain mindset only tomboyish girls are accedptable - real boys represent the male oppressor and girly-girls perpetuate out-dated gender roles. (I know, I may be reading too much into this...)
Berlusconi's mother shows why one should never let one's mum talk to the press:
No matter how old, rich or powerful an Italian man is - his mamma will always worry about him.
Rosa Berlusconi, the 90-something mother of Silvio, Italy's prime minister, is no exception. And she will not keep "mum" about her fears even in the run-up to a general election.
"My son is so tired, so down - he doesn't know what else he can do for our Italy," said "Mamma Rosa" after the glitzy opening of La Scala's new opera season. The former tyre-factory secretary told reporters that even the Milanese glamour and Mozart could not stop her fretting about her 69-year-old son.
"I asked him, 'Silvio, why bother?' " she said. "And he replied that it wasn't right to talk about the good things you do. But when I see people insulting him, I get so angry. Anybody else would tell them all to go to hell.
Despite Mr Berlusconi's busy schedule, like every good Italian son, the billionaire media tycoon and politician is said to call his mother every day to listen to her advice.

The Corriere della Sera (Italian article) reports on an English couple who have been married for 38 years. The husband underwent a 'sex change' operation in 1991 and they continued to live 'as sisters' since then. Now with the new 'civil partnership' legislation in the UK they plan to divorce and 'remarry' as two female 'civil partners'. What can one say?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It's back!

I'm just back from the Pope's homage to the Immaculata at the Pza. di Spagna, and am pleased to report that ermine is back!
(Okay, probably not the most important event in salvation history, but it does become him...)
Amy Welborn posts selections from the Holy Father's discourses today. I must say that I'm fascinated by the Holy Father's homeletic style - from the point of view of content, it reminds me of the Fathers of the Church in terms of their use of scripture, in terms of style, I am charmed by his humble but confident professorial style. He eschews grand gestures, but by his calm tone encourages reflection and trust that he knows exactly what he is speaking about. He speaks with quiet authority.
Rocco's post of a few days ago seems to have inspired the Holy Father to search through Paul VI's wardrobe:
Curiously enough, Albert -- who has built a reputation as a modernizer in his eight months as head of the seaside haven -- was not wearing a military uniform for his visit, contrasting with the Pope's choir dress, mozzetta and all. (And, by the by, it doesn't look like we'll be seeing the return of the ermine mozzetta as B16's still wearing the satin one way past 1 November, the beginning of ecclesiastical winter.)
Some you win, some you lose.
For thos of you who are curious, the Catholic Encylopaedia has some (out-dated) information on the mozzetta:
A short, cape-shaped garment, covering the shoulders and reaching only to the elbow, with an open front, which may be fastened by means of a row of small buttons; at the neck it has a very small and purely ornamental hood. (snip)
The pope's mozzetta, is always red, except that, in Easterweek, he wears a white one. As regards material, his mozzetta, during the winter half-year, that is, from the feast of St. Catherine to Ascension Day is made of velvet or of cloth according to the character of the day or ceremony; in the summer half-year it is made of satin or fine woolen material (merino). It is edged with ermine only in the winter half-year.
And finally, some more photos from Yahoo:
Note the hood at the back
A delighful picture of the Holy Father looking up to Our Lady.
Giving a blessing.

Our Lady, conceived without sin,

Pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Baptisty Ceiling, S.Maria Maggiore

Given that this is the 40th Anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, it seems fitting to re-read some of what the Second Vatican Council had to say about our Lady.

Lumen Gentium 65.:

But while in the most holy Virgin the Church has already reached
that perfection whereby she is without spot or wrinkle, the followers of Christ
still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin. And so they turn
their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the
model of virtues. Piously meditating on her and contemplating her in the light
of the Word made man, the Church with reverence enters more intimately into the
great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her Spouse. For
Mary, who since her entry into salvation history unites in herself and re-echoes
the greatest teachings of the faith as she is proclaimed and venerated, calls
the faithful to her Son and His sacrifice and to the love of the Father. Seeking
after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like her exalted Type, and
continually progresses in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of
God in all things. Hence the Church, in her apostolic work also, justly looks to
her, who, conceived of the Holy Spirit, brought forth Christ, who was born of
the Virgin that through the Church He may be born and may increase in the hearts
of the faithful also. The Virgin in her own life lived an example of that
maternal love, by which it behooves that all should be animated who cooperate in
the apostolic mission of the Church for the regeneration of men.

The council itself didn't formulate any formal Marian dogmas (although Paul VI did declare her 'Mother of the Church'), but this understanding of the Church in the light of Mary and Mary in the light of the Church is a very rich point to reflect on. She is not greater than the Church, because she is a member of it, but she is the greatness of the Church in that in her is fulfilled all that the Church promises. She is the type and model of the Church in that she comes before the Church and foreshadows it; she is the fulfillment of the Church in her purity and in her Assumption.

This is very cruel...

From the Telegraph:
They are not so much the Right Stuff as the Not-So-Bright Stuff.
Nine members of the public, specially selected for their gullibility, have been chosen to take part in the reality television series Space Cadets, one of the most expensive - and potentially the cruellest - practical jokes ever committed by screen.
The contestants, who have been hidden from all the publicity surrounding the show, believe they are being trained in Russia for a space mission. Instead, they are holed up in a disused RAF airbase near Ipswich.
Having already undergone weeks of so-called training, which the makers insist was at least 80 per cent accurate, the cadets think they are going to be blasted out of the atmosphere three at a time, the first British tourists in space.
In reality, they will not leave the ground. The illusion of taking off in a rocket and orbiting the Earth will be created by special effects and old Hollywood sets.
About 100 hopefuls replied to adverts calling for people to take part in the "ultimate thrill-seeking challenge". They were whittled down after a series of auditions and psychological tests to determine their suggestibility.
In the opening episode last night the contestants, joined by three actors, were introduced to Johnny Vaughan, the show's presenter, at Biggin Hill airbase in Kent. He told them their mission and then they boarded a plane which Vaughan said would take them to the Russian camp in Krymsk, south-west Russia.Instead, the private jet went out to the Bay of Biscay and then returned to Lydd airport in Kent where the contestants were transferred in a blacked-out helicopter to the airbase.
The old buildings have been carefully redecorated in Russian style and filled with Russian products and computers and old James Bond props. There is even a full colour portrait of Vladimir Putin hanging on one of the walls.
The cars parked outside have been given Russian number plates but the contestants, all under 30 and including a PE teacher, a student, a call centre worker, an electrician and a semi-professional footballer, may wonder why they are right-hand drive.

The inevitable court-case should be interesting.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

In the news...

From ANSA:
(ANSA) - Rome, December 6 - Italian archaeologists have found a remarkable trove of five untouched Roman sarcophagi in a burial vault outside Rome .
"It's really rare to find so many sarcophagi that have never been profaned or even opened - as can be seen by the intact lead clasps on their edges," said the head of the dig, Stefano Musco .
He said the sarcophagi dated from the II century AD and probably contained the remains of the wealthy residents of a villa that once stood in the area - now a building site on Rome's north-eastern outskirts .
All the sarcophagi are marble and all decorated, leading archaeologists to suppose they could have been made for a prominent aristocratic family .
The Times quotes some interesting child-care advice from the last century:
How to cure a fussy eater: 1926
You cut out feeding times for 24 hours. He has water in abundance, exercise, rest, peace. After that you will have no trouble with regard to food and the wicked boy may be transformed into a likeable young person who appreciates mealtimes.
How to get a good night’s sleep: 1936
A nanny writes: My (18-month-old) charge would wake up every night and cry. One night, instead of petting her, I gave her a smacking instead. Every night after than when she woke up and cried without reason, I smacked her. At the end of three weeks, I found I had undisturbed nights of rest.
How to serve sliced bread: 1946
It should never be cut less than an inch and a half thick. There is nothing more plebeian than thin bread at dinner.

*cough* An interesting take on 'that document' in a pro-homosexual marriage article from the Times:
Ten years later, attitudes have softened on both sides of the Atlantic. Even the Roman Catholic Church has begun taking steps towards the acceptance of homosexuality by indicating that gay men can join the priesthood, provided they are “capable of affective maturity, have a capacity for celibacy and [do] not share the values of the eroticised gay culture”. This may seem grudging, but for the Vatican it is a step at least as giant as the Civil Partnership Act.
Looking like a line of bedroom slippers - meerkats from Texas.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Shamelessly stolen...

... from the good people of Laodicea.

Fr Josef Ratzinger as a young dogmatic theologian.

John R. 'Johnny' Cash as a young Country Music Artist.

Major biretta-doff to Boeciana and her office-mate.

Oh dear...

There have been a few posts about the blogosphere concerning unfortunate nativities - in that vein I present:
Cativity (that Siamese King really disturbs me)
and Dogivity.
Thanks as always to those unfortunate souls who e-mail me these things.

In the news...

From ANSA:
ANSA) - Cesena, December 5 - An Ancient Roman brickworks in near perfect condition has been discovered in Emilia Romagna .
The complex, the largest anywhere in the region and one of the biggest in Italy, was unearthed near a canal in the central Italian town of Ronta .
"This is a truly extraordinary find," said a culture ministry spokesman. "It is so well preserved that with minimal restoration it would still work perfectly today." The site is of such importance that the consortium carrying out work on the canal has agreed to deviate its route in order to preserve the remains and allow for further excavations .
Brick was so common in Rome that Suetonius reported Augustus as saying "I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble" .
But underneath Rome's marble surfaces, brick was the chief material used in construction .
Romans distinguished between bricks dried by the sun and air (lateres crudi) and those fired in a kiln (lateres cocti). Whitish or red clay, often mixed was straw, was usually used .
The bricks were kept for two years before being used and were much thinner than ones used today, looking more like modern tiles .
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the art of brick manufacturing was lost in most of Europe, surviving only in Italy itself. Central Europe didn't rediscover the skill until the 18th century and England until the 1100s .

Prison yoga - I only link to this article because of this:
Earlier this year, a prison in Norway suspended its yoga lessons saying that the deep breathing exercises made prisoners more aggressive rather than calmer .
The high-security Ringerike jail near Oslo said prisoners were more irritable and agitated after their classes and subsequently had difficulty in sleeping .

Pope receives Ferrari cheque:
(ANSA) - Vatican City, December 5 - Pope Benedict XVI on Monday received a handsome check from the auction of a Ferrari sports car donated to his predecessor, John Paul II .
The 950,000-euro check was handed over during a private audience with Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, who had led the Ferrari delegation to its January 17 audience with Benedict's predecessor .
After this meeting Ferrari announced it would donate to the pope a special edition if its top line model the 'Enzo', basically a street version of its Formula 1 racecar .
Ferrari explained that the car would be auctioned off to raise money for the victims of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia last December 26 .
The car was the 400th 'Enzo' Ferrari made and would normally have had a starting list price of 640,000 euros .
Montezemolo also gave Benedict a high-tech Formula 1 steering wheel which had been used and autographed by Ferrari's seven-time world champion driver Michael Schumacher, who like the pope is German .
"It's very complicated to use, Your Holiness," Montezemolo told the pope, to which he replied: "It's very complex guiding the Church, too" .Ferrari later issued a statement to say that the pope was "particularly grateful" for the gift of Schumacher's F2004 steering wheel, which had the inscription: "The steering wheel of a F1 World Champion driver to His Holiness Benedict XVI, who drives the Christian world" .
I note that Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo is one of the 'Ferrari Family'.
The winner of the Turner prize:
A GLASWEGIAN has won the £25,000 Turner Prize, Britain’s most provocative and prestigious art award, for exhibiting a boat shed which he found on the shores of the Rhine in Germany.
Simon Starling, 38, had the required dose of controversy in being picked last night. The jury was won over by his installation, Shedboatshed, at Tate Britain, which he claims to have dismantled, turned into a boat and floated down the river — before resurrecting it into a shed again.
Critics mocked the Turner, saying it should be renamed the B&Q do-it-yourself prize.
The artist has said that his works are “the physical manifestation of my thought process”. Tate curators hailed the shed as “poetic . . . a buttress against the pressures of modernity, mass production and global capitalism”. They added: “For each project, he has learnt particular skills — model-making, boat-building, engineering ... but always stopping short of complete mastery. We can sense, in the visible fissures and joins of his works, the signs of a paradoxical ‘amateur professionalism’.”
In general, I like my art more conventional, and I can't say I'm enthused by the mumbo-jumbo, but I like the idea of taking a boat-shed, making it into a boat, and then rebuilding a shed out of it again. I guess I'm easily amused.
A rather discouraging anti-religious look at Narnia (from the Guardian, of course):
After a long, dark night of the soul and women's weeping, the lion is suddenly alive again. Why? How?, my children used to ask. Well, it is hard to say why. It does not make any more sense in CS Lewis's tale than in the gospels. Ah, Aslan explains, it is the "deep magic", where pure sacrifice alone vanquishes death.
Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.
Tolkien hated Narnia: the two dons may have shared the same love of unquestioning feudal power, with worlds of obedient plebs and inferior folk eager to bend at the knee to any passing superior white persons - even children; both their fantasy worlds and their Christianity assumes that rigid hierarchy of power - lord of lords, king of kings, prince of peace to be worshipped and adored. But Tolkien disliked Lewis's bully-pulpit.
Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight. Philip Pullman - he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials - has called Narnia "one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read".
Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peel in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong. This appears to be CS Lewis's view, too. In the battle at the end of the film, visually a great epic treat, the child crusaders are crowned kings and queens for no particular reason. Intellectually, the poor do not inherit Lewis's earth.

On the Feast of St Nicholas...

Here in Italy St Nicholas of Myra (that strange Turk with the long white beard who lives at the North Pole) is known as St Nicholas of Bari because his relics are there. Apparently an oily substance (The Manna of St Nichlas) is said to emerge from his remains and is supposed to have curative properties.
Curiously, I read in the newspaper this morning that the new airport in Bari will be named after our dear depared John Paul II.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Hello Kitty Coins?

Okay, I'm going to engage in another potentially offensive generalization, but it seems that the Far East is absolutely batty about a cartoon cat called 'Hello Kitty'. Even some Asian nuns here in Rome have been known to squeal at the sight of Hello Kitty merchandise. Anyway, it seems that the latest thing is the 'Hello Kitty' Coin:
TOKYO (AFP) - Hello Kitty, the mouthless cat turned global icon of cuteness, will make a foray into the currency market with gold and silver euro coins showing her having the time of her life in Paris.
Order-taking will start Monday for a total of 4,000 coins in five different designs to be minted in Paris, according to Hello Kitty's maker Sanrio and Japanese firm Taisei Coins.
The designs are drawn on "the dreams and admiration for Paris that Kitty has," Sanrio said on its website.
The most expensive one-ounce gold coin is priced at 168,000 yen (1,400 dollars, 1,200 euros) each, compared with a face value of 50 euros.
The coin has a color image of Kitty in a ballroom gown dancing with her boyfriend Daniel in their "Versailles Debut."
Here's a pic. Why do I feel the need to go away and be gratuitously nasty to someone?

A very Italian dispute...

From ANSA:
ANSA) - Rome, December 2 - The Museum of Antique Art will finally be able to expand to occupy almost all of Palazzo Barberini, after an over 50-year wait, thanks to an agreement reached between the ministries of culture and defense .
Located in the heart of Rome, this sumptuous 17th century palace was acquired by the State in 1949 to house the vast art collections donated by the city's Torlonia, Chigi, Odescalchi and Colonna di Sciarra patrician families .
However, most of the collections have remained in storage because of a long tug-of-war between the defense and culture ministries over the Army officers' club which occupied a major section of the building .
According to the new agreement, the officers club will be moved to the nearby Art Nouveau Savorgnan di Brazza' building, which has been restored by the Ministry of Culture, while the Ministry of Defense will retain 700sqm in Palazzo Barberini for future ceremonial functions. Restoration work must now be done on Palazzo Barberini but already next year the public will be able to view an impressive exhibition of works by such artists as Pietro da Cortona, Filippe Lippi. Perugino, Raphael, Guercino. Luca Giordano and Caravaggio, among many others .
The dispute over full possession of Palazzo Barberini began when the government of the time ignored a 1952 resolution from parliament and renewed for another 12 years the officers club lease, which had been set to expire in 1953 .
The lease was not renewed when expired in 1965 but the officers club refused to move and even stopped paying rent. Not only that, but the club continued renting out its space for parties and receptions and keeping the proceeds .
The problem finally began to be resolved in 1997 when then-defence minister Beniamino Andreatta and then-culture minister Walter Veltroni signed a detailed agreement by which the Army officers' club would be moved to the Savorgnan di Brazza' building once it had been restored. In the meantime the club would move to smaller quarters in Palazzo Barberini .
The Barberini Palace was begun in 1624 by architect Carlo Maderno for Pope Urban VII, a member of the Barberini family .
Gianlorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini also worked on the project while Pietro da Cortona helped with the architectural design and painted the ceiling fresco in the palace's main hall .

Fascinating news story in the Times:
A T-SHIRT blamed for a surge in unsolved murders was taken off the shelves at the weekend after the Mayor of Boston threatened to seize stocks.
The red shirts bear the message Stop Snitchin’ — a warning against being a police informer. They have become popular with gang members, and police in Boston blame them for the fact that, despite a rise in the city’s murder rate to a 10-year high of 66 this year, 70 per cent remain unsolved.
Thomas Menino, the mayor, threatened to remove the T-shirts from the streets after gunfire near a school playground. Despite objections from civil liberties groups, he said: “We’re going to go into every retail store that sells them, and we’re going to take them off the shelves.”
Stop Snitchin’ has become a mantra of hip-hop culture. Lil’ Kim, a rap diva, was praised in the hip-hop press when she was sent to prison for a year this summer for refusing to “snitch” on a member of her entourage who was involved in a shooting.
The T-shirts have disrupted several trials. Prosecutors in Pittsburgh dropped an attempted murder case after the intended victim turned up at court wearing one and refused to testify. In Boston, the mother of a gang member accused of shooting a ten-year-old girl made Stop Snitching T-shirts for spectators to wear at the trial. The judge agreed with police that the Stop Snitchin’ message was tantamount to witness intimidation and had them ejected.
The shopkeeper at the centre of the controversy in Boston is a former rapper who, since 1999, has sold 35,000 Stop Snitchin’ shirts over the counter and through his website.
The American Civil Liberties Union intervened on behalf of Antonio Ennis when he refused to stop selling them but he backed down anyway after two black clergymen accompanied Mr Menino to Mr Ennis’s shop on Saturday to remove his stock. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Lewis in Shock Christ-Aslan Connection:
AN unpublished letter from the novelist C S Lewis has provided conclusive proof of the Christian message in his Narnia children’s books.
In the letter, sent to a child fan in 1961, Lewis writes: “The whole Narnian story is about Christ.” It has been found by Walter Hooper, literary adviser to the Lewis estate.
It has emerged ahead of this week’s release of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The film, starring Tilda Swinton and Jim Broadbent, cost £75m to make and has been at the centre of a tug of war between Christians and secularists.
Brian Sibley, author of Shadowlands, the book which describes Lewis’s marriage to Joy Gresham, said: “This is the most specific explanation of Narnia I have heard.”
The letter, written from Magdalene College, Cambridge, where Lewis was a don, contradicts this. “Supposing there really was a world like Narnia . . . and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?” he wrote.
“The stories are my answer. Since Narnia is a world of talking beasts, I thought he would become a talking beast there as he became a man here. I pictured him becoming a lion there because a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; b) Christ is called ‘the lion of Judah’ in the Bible.”

Crib at S. Maria Maggiore

From the Telegraph:
Some of Rome's most sacred artworks - the 700-year-old marble figurines from the world's first known nativity scene - are to leave their crypt for the first time this Christmas after a major restoration.
They were made by Arnolfo di Cambio, the gothic sculptor and architect, in around 1290. The figure of Mary, however, is much younger, having been added 300 years later. It is not known if there was an original depiction of the Virgin.
For the past 500 years the figures have been kept locked in an oratory inside the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, only opening to the public on Christmas Eve.
A £2 million restoration of the oratory means the statues are to be moved to the basilica's public museum.
One of the first people to see the cleaned statues will be Pope Benedict XVI, who is expected to visit on Thursday, which in Italy is the day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
I note that it hasn't yet been confirmed whether Pope Benedict will make his predecessor's customary visit to the Basilica on the 8th of December.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Misunderstood Religious Art

A couple of pictures I took today - click on them to enlarge.

I mentioned this before - this cross is located just outside S. Maria Maggiore and scandalizes some Protestants to see the Virgin and Child sharing the cross with the Crucified Christ.

The Baptistry of S.Maria Maggiore - note the all-seeing eye of the Trinity so beloved of conspiracy theorists at the top of the picture.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A few photos...

A few pics from my collection of (interesting?) architectural and artistic details about the city. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Detail of a Roman doorway.

Detail of a confessional in the Church of S. Carlino

A panel from one of the Bronze doors at S. Maria Maggiore.

In the news...

From the Telegraph:
David Irving, the British historian, has embarrassed Austria's judicial authorities by finding his own books in a prison library while in custody on charges of Holocaust denial.
Irving, 67, who will spend Christmas and the New Year behind bars pending trial, found two of his most contentious books in the Graz prison library after asking for something to read.
He said in an interview he signed both, German translations of Hitler's War and The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17, before returning them to guards.
Josef Adam, the head of the prison, said it was "not possible" to know how the books had ended up in the 6,400-volume library, the contents of which he "could not know exactly".
"Now we will dispose of the books," he said.
An embarrassed justice ministry said it had known nothing about the existence of the books in the prison.
"Revisionists have no place in the libraries of judicial institutes," said Christoph Pöchinger, a spokesman for Karin Gastinger, the justice minister.
The rediscovery of Edward the Confessor's tomb:
The ancient tomb of Edward the Confessor, one of the most revered of British saints, has been discovered under Westminster Abbey 1,000 years after his birth.
The original burial chamber of the Anglo-Saxon king, who died in 1066, months before the invasion of William the Conqueror, was revealed by archaeologists using the latest radar technology.
The existence of a number of royal tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th century was also discovered beneath the abbey, the venue for nearly all coronations since 1066.
The forgotten, sub-terranean chambers were located during conservation work on the abbey's medieval Cosmati mosaic pavement around the high altar.
Dr Warwick Rodwell, the abbey's consultant archaeologist, said the find was "extraordinarily exciting".
Until now archaeologists had assumed that the original tomb of Edward the Confessor was near the present high altar, because medieval records referred to him being buried there. It has now emerged, however, that the position of the altar was moved by Henry III in the mid 13th century. The archaeologists have located the original tomb 10 feet behind the present altar, under the shrine built by Henry III in 1269, which still contains the remains of the saint.
The story of the 10 by 10 acrostic square. The proposed solution.
(ANSA) - Rome, November 30 - Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has had an island in the Caribbean Sea named after him, something none of his predecessors can boast .
The island belongs to the Central American state of Belize and used to be called Black Birds. From now on it is to be known as Silvio Bay .
Belize Prime Minister Said Wilbert Musa informed Berlusconi of his unusual
move during an official visit to Rome last week, Italian weekly Chi discovered .
It remains unclear why Musa decided to honour his Italian counterpart in this way.

Okay, I need an expert (female) opinion here...

Somehow I seem to have developed a 'Cute Baby Animal' series and correspondents keep sending me links to post... But I confess to a certain perplexity - I know from experience that we men don't really get what is cute or not, and I have no idea whether the following pangolins are cute or ugly.
Pangolin the First.
Pangolin the Second.
Pangolin the Third.
Heretical nativity scene.
Thanks (I think) to the frequent commenter who forwarded those links to me.
Also, a pic of the dancing robot. Compare and contrast. (I guess I'm in trouble with Lauren now...)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why is it...?

... that buying a can of compressed air to clean my keyboard necessarily leads to a room-wide seach for anything and everything that could conceivably be cleaned in this manner? Aerosols are fun!
Something to interest the Cnytr from the Telegraph:
It is not every day you find yourself in the arms of Marilyn Monroe. But researchers in Japan are working to create a future in which we may one day all get that chance.
The Marilyn in question is a robot, developed by a team at Tohoku University and currently wowing crowds with her silky ballroom dancing skills at a Tokyo exhibition.
A gentle push from her partner and she glides across the floor on rollers concealed beneath a long, flowing sculpted "dress". A squeeze of the hand and she twists. Her graceful bow at the waltz's end brings a ripple of applause, murmurs of delight and blinding flashes from admirers' cameras.

From the Corriere: An Italian designer lights up a Russian church.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The lamb shall lie down with the lion...

A correspondant sends me a baby-animal story (when did I acquire a reputation for being interested in baby animals?) with an Advent theme:
NAIROBI (AFP) - A baby hippopotamus that survived the tsunami waves on the Kenyan coast has formed a strong bond with a giant male century-old tortoise, in an animal facility in the port city of Mombassa, officials said.
The hippopotamus, nicknamed Owen and weighing about 300 kilograms (650 pounds), was swept down Sabaki River into the Indian Ocean, and then forced back to shore when tsunami waves struck the Kenyan coast on December 26, before wildlife rangers rescued him.
"It is incredible. A-less-than-a-year-old hippo has adopted a male tortoise, about a century old, and the tortoise seems to be very happy with being a 'mother'," ecologist Paula Kahumbu, who is in charge of Lafarge Park, told AFP.
"After it was swept and lost its mother, the hippo was traumatized. It had to look for something to be a surrogate mother. Fortunately, it landed on the tortoise and established a strong bond. They swim, eat and sleep together," the ecologist added.
"The hippo follows the tortoise exactly the way it follows its mother. If somebody approaches the tortoise, the hippo becomes aggressive, as if protecting its biological mother," Kahumbu added.
"The hippo is a young baby, he was left at a very tender age and by nature, hippos are social animals that like to stay with their mothers for four years," he explained.
For pics follow the link.

Interesting article...

From the Telegraph:
The Godolphin Arabian was one of three great Arab stallions brought to England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, from which most modern thoroughbreds are descended.
Contemporary accounts describe him as beautiful, powerful and strong-willed, and many of Britain's rich racing enthusiasts wanted paintings of this magnifi cent animal.
John Wootton was just the man to satisfy this demand. For much of the first half of the 18th century, he was the British aristocracy's favourite equestrian painter and ran what was effectively a workshop production line that brought him fame and wealth.
Such methods are still causing confusion and controversy in the art market today, and nothing illustrated this better than the auction of Wootton's The Great Stallion, the Godolphin Arabian in an Architectural Landscape Held by a Groom at Sotheby's in London last week.
The painting, dating from 1731 and estimated at £250,000 to £350,000, was sold by the Schofield family, which owns Godolphin House, a Grade Ilisted mansion in Cornwall.
Sotheby's catalogue entry for the painting says: "Another version of the present composition is documented as hanging at Crabbet Park and, unsurprisingly for such a famous horse, a number of copies of the composition also exist. It is likely, however, that the present painting is the prime version."
This statement incurred the wrath of the formidable Patricia Egerton who, with her husband David, has owned the Crabbet Park Godolphin Arabian for 37 years. She protested furiously that the Crabbet Park picture is the prime version, and challenged Sotheby's to place the painting it was selling alongside it.
The dispute had similarities to one in 2003 when two versions of Sir Joshua Reynolds's Portrait of Mrs Baldwin were placed side by side, resulting in Christie's withdrawing the painting from auction. The other picture, then owned by the Marquess of Lansdowne, later fetched £3·3 million at Sotheby's.

St Andrew's Day...

I don't know any Greek or Russian bloggers, so I'll just extend my greetings to the Laodiceans and the bloggers occupying the Moral Highlands.
Beatus Andreas expansis manibus ad caelum orabat, dicens: Salva me, bona crux.
Today, the students of the Pontifical Scots College celebrate the feast in their former college chapel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The Osservatore Romano has published the full (mostly ad-libbed) homily of the Holy Father from last Saturday evening's vespers... Here's a snippet:
We have said that this coming is unique - "the" coming of the Lord. Nevertheless, there is not only the Second Coming (in Italian 'Last Coming') at the end of time: in a certain sense the Lord desires to always be coming through us. He knocks at the door of our heart: are you ready (in Italian 'availible') to give me your flesh, your time, your life? That is the voice of the Lord who wants to enter even our time, he wants to enter human history through us. He also seeks a living dwelling-place, our personal life. Behold the coming of the Lord. That's what we want to re-learn during Advent: the Lord can come even through us.

The fate of Limbo?

From Ansa:
(ANSA) - Vatican City, November 29 - The Catholic Church appears set to definitively drop the concept of limbo, the place where it has traditionally said children's souls go if they die before being baptised .
Limbo has been part of Catholic teaching since the 13th century and is depicted in paintings by artists such as Giotto and in important works of literature such as Dante's Divine Comedy.
But an international commission of Catholic theologians is meeting in the Vatican this week to draw up a new report for Pope Benedict XVI on the question. The report is widely expected to advise dropping it from Catholic teaching.
The pope made known his doubts about limbo in an interview published in 1984, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's doctrinal department .
"Limbo has never been a defined truth of faith," he said. "Personally, speaking as a theologian and not as head of the Congregation, I would drop something that has always been only a theological hypothesis." According to Italian Vatican watchers, the reluctance of theologians to even use the word limbo was clear in the way the Vatican referred in its official statement to the question up for discussion .
I'm afraid I don't have time to nitpick the article vis-a-vis what might be meant by 'Catholic Teaching'.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Is 2:1-5

The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Hmmmm... That reading is used at Mass today, the short reading for Lauds is taken from it and it forms part of the scripture reading for the Office of Readings. Offhand, I can't think of any other piece of scripture that so dominates the liturgy on a particular day.

Pope John Paul II with Children

Some lovely shots of our dear departed Holy Father with children.
This one in particular is great - someone try and persuade me that Matt of the Holy Whapping didn't dress up like that when he was a kid.

Dismissal of Singapore's Hangman

From The Times:
SINGAPORE has dismissed its only hangman, less than a week before the scheduled execution of a young Australian drug smuggler, whose case has provoked intense sympathy and indignation in his home country.
But Mr Singh has been relieved of his duties after his identity and a picture of him were published last month in The Australian newspaper. “They called me a few days ago and said I don’t have to hang Nguyen and that I don’t have to work any more,” he said. “They must be mad after seeing my picture in the newspapers.”
He said he would miss the A$300 (£129) fee that he received for each hanging. According to The Australian, however, he had been attempting to retire for years but had been prevented by the lack of anyone willing to take over his duties. “In a way I’m happy,” he said.
The paper quoted an unnamed friend of Mr Singh, saying that he had attempted to train two successors but that both had recoiled when the moment came to operate the lever that opens the trapdoor.
I am reminded of a very embarassing incident for the British Government when Albert Pierrepoint (the last Official Chief Hangman) resigned due to a dispute over fees:
Albert Pierrepoint resigned in 1956 over a disagreement with the Home Office about his fees. In January 1956 he had gone to Strangeways Prison, Manchester, to officiate at the execution of Thomas Bancroft only to find that Bancroft had been reprieved. He claimed his full fee of £15 but the under-sheriff of Lancashire offered only £1. Pierrepoint appealed to his employers, the Prison Commission, who refused to get involved. The under-sheriff sent him a cheque for £4 in full and final settlement. Pierrepoint's pride in his position as Britain's Chief Executioner was insulted, and he resigned. It is no coincidence that the year Pierrepoint resigned, 1956, was the only year before abolition where not a single execution took place — he was the only executioner in British history whose notice of resignation prompted the government to write to him begging him to reconsider: such was the reputation he had established as the most efficient and swiftest executioner in British history.
One of the more unfortunate figures in the history of the Church is the Papal States' last offical executioner, Giovanni Bugatti, nicknamed Mastro Titta.
He could not leave the Trastevere neighborhood unless on official business. Officially this was for his own protection, in case relatives of those he had executed decided to take revenge on him. Unofficially it was probably due to superstition regarding his part-time job. On crossing the bridge, the residents of Rome were alerted that an execution was about to take place and people would gather to witness the popular events.
John Allen writes:
Over the course of his 68 years on the pontifical payroll, Bugatti was called upon to perform “justices” 516 times -- a seemingly prodigious number, though it comes out to just over seven working days each year.
His first assignment came on March 22, 1796, and his last on Aug. 17, 1861. Such details are known because he left behind a precise list of each of his “justices,” with the date, the name of the condemned, the nature of the crime and the site of the execution.
Mastro Titta was not, it should be noted, executing the Giordano Brunos or Savonarolas of his day. His “patients,” as they were euphemistically known, were not victims of the Inquisition or theological critics of the pope. They were mostly brigands and murderers who had been convicted by the civil courts of the Papal States.
When an execution was to be held, papal dragoons would provide security. The most common sites were the Castel Sant’Angelo bridge, the Piazza del Popolo, and Via dei Cerchi near the Piazza della Bocca della Verità.
Roman fathers would bring their sons to watch Mastro Titta lower the boom. By tradition, they would slap their son’s head when the blade came down, as a way of warning: “This could be you.”
For his troubles, Mastro Titta received lodgings in the Borgo district of Rome near the Vatican and a steady income from various tax concessions granted by the pope. He also had a generous pension, awarded, according to official documents, in gratitude for his “very long-standing service.”
For each killing, however, papal law specified that the Boia (Italian for “executioner”) was to receive only three cents of the Roman lira, in order to “mark the vileness of his work.”
Yet Bugatti did not comport himself like a man who felt vile. Before carrying out an execution, he would offer the condemned a bit of snuff, a touch of good manners that someone with a guilty conscience would likely have been too sheepish to perform.
Bugatti frequented churches near the Vatican, especially Santa Maria in Traspontina. He was said to be pious and a conscientious Mass-goer. (One imagines him in Santa Maria, in its chapel dedicated to the Madonna della Pietà e delle Grazie, gazing at Mary as she cradles her dead son after a brutal act of capital punishment. What thoughts must have come?)
Yet the executioner was neither isolated nor bereft of other interests. In addition to his work for the pope, Bugatti supported his wife (no children) by painting umbrellas, producing images of papal faces and Roman scenes for the raingear peddled in curio shops around St. Peter’s.
Part of the reason Mastro Titta would have been flabbergasted [at the Pope John Paul II's position on Capital Punishment] is that a papal execution, as he experienced it, was a sacred act, rich with ritual and theological meaning hallowed by centuries of tradition. It was, in fact, a liturgy.
The ritual began with the announcement of an execution, accomplished by posting notices on Roman churches requesting prayers for the soul of the condemned. That was the only official notice that an execution was imminent -- aside, of course, from the erection of a gallows.
The morning of each execution, the pope said a special prayer for the condemned in his private chapel. A priest would visit Mastro Titta to hear his confession and to administer Communion, symbolizing in the sacramental argot of the time that the executioner was fully christened by the church.
The execution was solemnized by a special order of monks, the Arciconfraternita della Misericordia, or Brotherhood of Mercy. The order was born in Florence in the 13th century, where it aided the needy and injured, and at one point numbered Michelangelo among its members. (Florence Nightingale, an Englishwoman born in Florence, was later inspired by the brotherhood to go into health care).
In the Papal States, the monks had a narrower mandate. They delivered pastoral care to condemned prisoners and celebrated the rituals surrounding their deaths.
Pope Innocent VIII in 1488 assigned them the aptly named Roman church of San Giovanni Battista Decollato -- St. John Baptist Beheaded. The church is located around the corner from the Via dei Cerchi, where Mastro Titta carried out many of his executions.
The proximity was helpful, since one of the confraternity’s duties was to cart the corpses of the condemned back to their cloister for burial. Visitors can still see the manholes into which the decapitated bodies were placed.
The brotherhood stayed with the condemned in their last 12 hours of life. They would pray with them, offer the sacraments, and encourage them to ask God’s forgiveness. Under papal law no execution could take place before sundown, the time of the Ave Maria, if the monks had not succeeded in eliciting a confession.
Members of the brotherhood wrote prayer books and catechisms for death row inmates, paying special attention to the requirements for a mors bon Christiana -- “a good Christian death.”
Before the condemned set out for the execution site, their hands were tied and their shirts cut down to shoulder-level so as not to interfere with the smooth functioning of the apparatus. The monks led them through the streets in a sacred procession. Altar boys went first, ringing bells, while the monks chanted special litanies. Incense was burned as they walked.
For these processions the monks donned hooded whitish brown robes and carried a crucifix, usually wrapped with a black shawl. (Some of these robes and crucifixes are also on display in the Criminology Museum).
The monks continued their prayers, composed largely of the Old Testament psalms, up to the moment of execution. They would hold the crucifix toward the condemned, so that it might be the last thing he saw.
After the head was severed, Mastro Titta would walk to the four corners of the scaffold and lift it high for the crowd to see. This was in part meant as a threat, but it was also part of the ritual, a way of signifying that God’s justice had been done.