Friday, March 31, 2006

You won't find this on eBay...

Via the Telegraph:
A Shakespeare First Folio that has been hidden in one of Britain's most esoteric libraries for almost 300 years is to go under the hammer with the possibility of threatening the world record price for any book sold at auction.
Sotheby's said yesterday that the 950-page volume, on which it has put a £2.5 million to £3.5 million estimate, is the best example of a First Folio edition to reach the market in 60 years. To whip up interest from international buyers, it will take the book on a world tour before the sale in London in July.
Only 18 of Shakespeare's plays were published in his lifetime and it was not until 1623, seven years after his death, that the so-called complete works - a total of 36 plays - appeared in what is now known as the First Folio.
Some 750 copies were printed - and sold for a guinea - but today only a third survive.
Sotheby's edition also has an extraordinary history, and appears never to have left London. It belongs to Dr Williams's Library, the country's pre-eminent deposit of puritan, Protestant non-conformist and dissenting books and manuscripts, founded in the early 18th century from a bequest of books, including the First Folio and a £50,000 endowment by Dr Daniel Williams, a prominent 17th century dissenting minister.
The library, now in Gordon Square in central London, has 300,000 titles but only 1,000 members and says that it receives no public funding and needs to sell its most valuable asset to secure its future. Insuring the First Folio accounts for one third of its annual premiums.
A copy of the First Folio might not seem an obvious choice of reading matter for a fire-and-brimstone Nonconformist - after all, Cromwell's Puritans banned all stage performances from 1642 until the Restoration.
Dr Wykes said Dr Williams had a strong interest in literature as well as religion and his bequest had included plays by Ben Jonson and John Dryden.
It is believed that Dr Williams bought the First Folio and a complete library from a fellow Nonconformist minister, Dr William Bates, for £500.
The volume is in its original mid-17th century binding and has the extra attraction of numerous notations. An unknown scholar, probably in the mid-17th century, has underscored or marked hundreds of lines. His work appears to have been erratic.
He made 380 markings by Henry VIII, several dozen by each of the other plays, but not one on The Merry Wives of Windsor.
And in the Times:
CHAIRMAN MAO’S stern features are to gaze out over Tibet for the first time.
A huge statue of Mao Zedong, whose Red Armies entered the deeply Buddhist Himalayan region in 1951 to extend Communist Party rule, is to stand in a newly built square in the town of Gongga.
The 7.5m (24½ft) figure, weighing 35 tonnes, is a gift to the small Tibetan town just south of the regional capital, Lhasa, from the central Chinese city of Changsha, where Mao was born.
One government official explained the gift, worth 6.5 million yuan (£465,000): "Tibet does not need only material development, it must also meet the more spiritual needs of its people."
The statue was designed by Zhu Weijing, president of the Changsha Sculpture Institute. He has created a whole new image of the late chairman that will be unique to Tibet, with his features made to look more like those of Buddha.Mao’s newest statue wears a traditional Mao suit. However, Mr Zhu has changed his posture. "I noticed that he liked standing with both hands behind his back. It made him look more intimate and more easygoing." His features, too, have been altered to suit his Tibetan audience. Mr Zhu said: "I tried to understand how Tibetans feel towards Mao. Because they have deep feelings about Buddha, I tried to make Mao more like that, with a plumper face."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rahman in Italy...

Via AP:
ROME - Italy granted asylum Wednesday to an Afghan who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity, and Premier Silvio Berlusconi said the man was in the care of the Interior Ministry after arriving in Italy earlier in the day.
Abdul Rahman "is already in Italy. I think he arrived overnight," Berlusconi said, declining to release more details.
Rahman's jailing in Afghanistan inspired an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and efforts by the United Nations to find a country to take him.Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini had been outspoken about the case from the start, saying Italy had a duty to make clear its "indignation."
Italy has close ties with Afghanistan, whose former king, Mohammed Zaher Shah, was allowed to live with his family in exile in Rome for 30 years. The former royals returned to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban regime a few years ago.
Italian troops were sent into Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2001 to help with reconstruction. Italy has about 1,775 troops in Afghanistan.
Muslim clerics in Afghanistan condemned Rahman's release, saying it was a "betrayal of Islam," and threatened to incite violent protests.
Some 500 Muslim leaders, students and others gathered Wednesday in a mosque in southern Qalat town and criticized the government for releasing Rahman, said Abdulrahman Jan, the top cleric in Zabul province.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My first post about duelling...

There's a fascinating extract in the Guardian from its March 29th, 1829 issue concerning a duel fought between the Duke of Wellington and Lord Winchilsea concerning the former's support for Catholic emancipation:
It is our duty to announce to the public an event which fortunately has not been attended with fatal consequences to the personages concerned. A meeting took place yesterday morning in Battersea-fields between the Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Winchilsea.
The subject of the duel was explained by publishing correspondence surrounding their dispue, concluding with the following exhange:
From the Duke to Lord Winchilsea: "My Lord - is a gentleman who happens to be the king's first minister, to submit to being insulted by any gentleman who thinks proper to attributed to him disgraceful or criminal motives for his behaviour? Your lordship is alone responsible for the consequences. I call upon your lordship to give me that satisfaction for your conduct which a gentleman never refuses to give."
From Lord Winchilsea. "My Lord - the satisfaction which your grace has demanded, it is of course impossible for me to decline."
And what happened?
The Duke of Wellington and Lord Winchilsea met at the appointed place. The parties having taken their ground, Lord Winchilsea received the Duke of Wellington's fire [apparently not aimed at him] and fired in the air. After some discussion the accompanying memorandum was accepted as a satisfactory reparation to the Duke of Wellington
"Having given the Duke of Wellington the usual satisfaction, I do not now hesitate to declare, of my own accord, that, in apology, I regret having unadvisedly published an opinion which the noble Duke states to have charged him with disgraceful and criminal motives in a certain transaction.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Levada's New Church

Folks, I've just arrived back from attending (some) of the taking possesion ceremony at Cardinal Levada's new titular church, S.Maria in Domnica. I'll do two short posts in connection with this - first about the church itself, then some photos of the ceremony.
The first thing to note is that S.Maria in Domnica is a diaconal title - Cardinal Leveda is a Cardinal Deacon, the lowest of the three orders of Cardinal. Normally, Cardinal Deacons are Cardinals who serve the universal church in the Roman Curia. This is appropriate because the deacon traditionally had adminsitrative duties as part of his reponsability.
The Church used to be a diakonia - one of the Church's centres of charitable distribution in early Christian Rome. This particular diakonia is assoiated with the martyr-deacon Laurence, one of the most honoured saints of the Roman calendar. Cardinal Levada made reference to this fact in his homily and refered to the example of Catholic chariable giving as being one of the ways in which the light of Christ overcomes the darkness of the world. The sanctuary of S.Maria in Domnica is decorated with frescos of St. Laurence's charitable activities.

The apse mosiac is also quite fine - it dates from the reign of Pope Paschal I (9th century)
The Church is also called S.Maria alla Navicella - St Mary's at the Small Boat, due to the small statue of a boat outside the Church. The current sculpture is a renaissance copy of an ancient sculpture given to one of the Popes as a votive offering.

Levada Takes Possession

The Church of S.Maria in Domnica was full for the taking posession by its new Cardinal Titular, William Cardinal Levada. Parishioners and Americans mixed to welcome the new holder of this title.
The ceremony itself is quite simple - Cardinal Levada arrived at the Church in choral dress at 5pm. He was greeted at the door of the church by the Pastor who offered him a cross to kiss and holy water with which to bless the faithful.
He then processed to the Blessed Sacrament altar and knelt there in prayer for a few moments. Then he retired to the sacristy and vested for Mass.
Then, along with the servers (from the North American College), concelebrants (including several bishops and Cardinals) and two American deacons he re-entered the Church to celebrate Mass.
After the opening greeting, the Bull appointing him to the Church was read in Italian by the pastor of the Church and in English by the Cardinal's secretary, Fr Stephen Lopes.Then, Mass progressed as normal in Latin, with readings in English and Italian. I'm not sure who the choir were - I think I recognised one or two CDF officials amongst them. The mass setting used was the delightful 'Missa Dixit Maria' by Hassler. (Mental Note - Get a CD of this.)
The Cardinal preached simply in (workmanlike) Italian and in English, particularly focusing on the church's link with St Laurence and the Holy Father's presentation of the role of charity within the Church in Deus Caritas Est.

The last man in Levada's office to hold the title of S.Maria in Domnica was Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani. Henri Cardinal de Lubac also held that title.

Comic Books...

Via the Telegraph:
A chisel-jawed man with flowing chestnut-brown locks, rippling muscles and a penchant for "endless parties" stares from the cover of the latest comic book. This is not Superman or one of the traditional superheroes, but St Francis of Assisi, the pious 13th century monk who became the Roman Catholic patron saint of animals and the environment. This is sainthood: comic book style.
The lives of the saints have been turned into comic books by a publishing company hoping to attract young people to the Catholic Church.
Among those immortalised in the comic book format are Joan of Arc, Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, St Pachomius, a hermit who set up a monastery in the fourth century, and Antony of Padua, the patron saint of shipwrecks, the elderly and expectant mothers.
Arcadius Press, an American publishing company based in Springfield, Missouri, is launching the series in Britain later this year. A payment of around £7 a month will entitle subscribers to 48 comic books a year. Each book bears many of the hallmarks of the traditional superhero tale.
For instance, St Rose of Lima is able to protect herself from attack by two beams of light emerging from the palms of her hands. St Joan of Arc wears superhero tights underneath her thigh-length coat of armour.

Here's the company's website.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

In the news....

From the Telegraph:
Police in New Zealand who stopped a speeding motorist were shocked to discover that he had no arms and was using one foot to steer the car while operating the pedals with the other.
The 32-year-old unemployed man, who told officers that he had been without arms since birth, claimed to have been driving for years without incident.
He had no driving licence or insurance and had never taken a test.
His automatic car was of standard factory construction and had never been adapted for anyone with a disability.
Senior Constable Brent Gray said that when he approached the driver's window he saw a foot up on the dashboard and noticed that the seat was reclined.
The police officer said that at first he thought that the driver had an "attitude" then he noticed the man's armless torso.
From the Times:
BRITISH and Italian archaeologists have recovered for the first time a painted Roman statue with its colours preserved.
The head of a female Amazon warrior, shown exclusively to The Times, was retrieved this week from the debris of a collapsed escarpment at Herculaneum, the seaside resort for the rich and powerful of ancient Rome that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79.
Domenico Camardo, the archaeologist who dug the head from the volcanic rock, said that when a workman first alerted him to the discovery, he “hardly dared hope” that the bust would be intact. “Only the back of the head was visible, and I was afraid the face would have crumbled,” he said.
The nose and mouth were missing, but the hair, pupils and eyelashes were “as pristine as they were when Herculaneum was overwhelmed by the eruption”, Monica Martelli Castaldi, the restorer of the team, said.
“Those eyes are alive, looking at us from 2,000 years ago,” she said. “To find this much pigment is very, very special.” Although it had been known that Roman statues were painted, only faint traces of pigment had been found before now. It had also been assumed that classical statues were painted brightly. In fact, the colouring on the head is a delicate shade of orange-red, which, although faded, indicates that classical colouring was subtle and sophisticated, Jane Thompson, the project manager, said.

Via ANSA, a sartorial piece:
Religious outfitters raced to kit out Princes of Church
by Denis Greenan (ANSA) - Rome, March 24 - Pope Benedict XVI on Friday named his first clutch of new cardinals - an event that has stirred the usual stew of speculation about shifting power blocs among the Vatican elite .
But for Gammarelli, Vatican tailors par excellence, it has meant just one thing: fitting out the bishops making a beeline for their little shop behind the Pantheon .
Gammarelli worked around the clock after the advent of the cardinals was announced a few weeks ago .
"We had to block all our other work," said head tailor Massimiliano Gammarelli, 43, explaining that all their other customers had been put in a holding pattern until after Friday's ceremony - called a consistory - at which the new cardinals were elevated .
The number of newcomers to the cardinals' college is relatively small compared to John Paul II's time, just 15, But to keep Vatican snippers happy again, the work has been spread around Rome's other three clerical tailors .
A fair number of them went to Gammarelli's main rival, Euroclero, which scored a coup in the 'battle of the tailors' when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger announced after his election he would continue to use their services .
Gammarelli, however, has retained its official title of tailors to the pope .
And the concistory has again seen Gammarelli, "the Rome-based equivalent of an ecclesiastical Brooks Brothers" in the words of a Catholic website, pip its rivals to the lion's share - just as in 2001 when a pack of 44 incoming cardinals, the biggest consistory in history, gave the bespoke religious outfitters their biggest headache yet .
"We're doing just under half of the new cardinals again," Massimiliano said recently, surrounded by bolts of red and black wool and silk on the shelves of the softly lit, unassuming premises .
Asked how many popes the Gammarellis have dressed, Massimiliano was typically cautious: "The last seven popes for sure...before that things are a bit mistier." Reporters have said the weirdest things about the Gammarellis: that they use the most exotic plumes of a rare South American bird for part of the pope's white outfit, for instance, or that they use the finest wools from Andean beasts for their cardinals .
All nonsense, of course, Massimiliano says: "All we use is the best Italian wool: the best, not the rarest." The only other materials are the silk that goes into the sashes, buttons and braids and the linen used for the flowing, embroidered surplices, he said .
All the outfits are handmade in the same style and the work is carried out in the time-honoured, lovingly crafted way that maintains the shop's name .
"Our work is the best publicity we have," said 77-year-old Annibale Gammarelli, patriarch of a clan that also includes his other nephew, Filippo, 64 .
The tailors' reputation is so high that they are inundated with requests from the laity, some of which they accept: a tuxedo, perhaps, or an officer's uniform. Former French premier Eduard Balladur, a man with refined dress sense, ordered his red socks from the little shop .

Also from ANSA:
(ANSA) - Ravenna, March 24 - The tomb of Italy's greatest poet, Dante, is to be restored .
The tomb in the northeastern city of Ravenna will be cleaned up in a seven-month project starting after Easter, officials said .
The Florentine author of the Divine Comedy died in exile in Ravenna on the night of 13 September 1321, aged 56 .
His ashes were placed in a sarcophagus in cloisters next to a Franciscan church - and later hidden in a wall when Napoleonic troops forced the friars guarding the tomb to disband .
The friars had refused repeated requests from Florence to return the remains of the Tuscan city's most famous son - even when backed by two Medici popes and Michelangelo .
The ashes were only rediscovered in 1865 when a big neoclassical building was built to house the remains .

Courtesy Visits... (contd)

The Heralds of the Gospel were there...

As were innumerable Poles. It was impossible to get anywhere near Cardinal Dziwisz due to the crowds surrouding him and singing 'Sto Lat'.
A detail of the frecos in the Sala Regia.
Lebveda to take possession
Via the VIS
VATICAN CITY, MAR 24, 2006 (VIS) - The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff announced today that at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 26, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will take possession of the diaconate of St. Mary in Domnica in Via della Navicella 10, Rome.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Kudos to Rocco. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It seems that Lispers in the Woggia is trying to dethrone the Crown Prince of Infuriating Vatican-watchers.
Biretta-doff to Julie at Happy Catholic.

Back from Paying my Courtesy Visits...

Where the Korean Cardinal definitely had the most colourful entourage.
(More pics when I have time... maybe!)

Thursday, March 23, 2006


From Don Jim:
Instructions: Go to your music player of choice and put it on shuffle. Say the following questions aloud, and press play. Use the song title as the answer to the question. NO CHEATING.

How does the world see you? Lawless (Christy Moore)

Will I have a happy life? Parklife (Blur)

What do my friends really think of me? Speciosa Facta Est (From Handel's Carmelite Vespers)

What do people secretly think of me? Blame it on the Boogie (The Jacksons)

How can I be happy? Under Pressure (Queen)

What should I do with my life? A Kind of Magic (Queen)

Will I ever have children? Vinum Bonum (from the Medieval 'Feast of Fools')

What is some good advice for me? I Gotcha (Joe Tex)

How will I be remembered? The Boxer (Simon and Garfunkel)

What is my signature dancing song? Lucy (The Divine Comedy)

What do I think my current theme song is? You're Going to Lose that Girl (The Beatles)

What does everyone else think my current theme song is? I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)

What song will play at my funeral? Coz I Love You (Slade)

What type of men/women do you like? Veni Creator Spiritus (Chant)

What is my day going to be like? It's a Hard Life (Queen)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On Creationism in England...

A story in the Telegraph:
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, stepped into the controversy over creationism yesterday by declaring that he was "totally opposed" to the concept.
Mr Clarke, who said that he did not believe in God, insisted that science was the basis for progress and praised Charles Darwin as one of the greatest scientists in history.
"It is certain, in my view, that creationism is anti-scientific and as I believe that science should be the route of where we go, I therefore do not approve of it," he said at a London conference. He added that it was acceptable for schools to teach that there were people who held a creationist point of view.
This is in response to some remarks by Anglican Primate Rowan Williams:
Dr Williams told The Guardian that it diminished rather than enhanced the biblical story of the origins of the world. "I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories," he said.
"It's not as if the writer of Genesis, or whatever, sat down and said, 'Well, how am I going to explain all this? I know: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.'
"So if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories, I think there's just been a jarring of categories. It's not what it's about."

The Telegraph also offers a mostly sensible editorial:
The seven-day creation is not primarily an account of scientific events, but a mysterious evocation of the way that God first related to matter, and most of all to the supreme matter, man. As Professor John D. Barrow argued in these pages yesterday, it takes 10 billion years for the components of atoms to pass through the stellar reactors that produce the material we are made of; yet this very process is as awesome as the straightforward account presented in the Bible.
The two "theories" need not be exclusive, so long as they are not placed in hostile juxtaposition. Let us not reduce the mystery of existence to arguments over time - which, as Einstein showed, is a mutable thing. We can see eternity in an hour; might not 10 billion years be a single week in the life of God?
By the way, when reading anything about the Intelliegent Design or Creationism debate, it is essential to distinguish between the Doctrine of Creation and Creationism. It is equally important to try and understand what each party to the debate means by 'Creationism'.

Unfortunate story in the Telegraph

Monk's death linked to Da Vinci Code:
A monk may have leapt to his death from a monastery after reading The Da Vinci Code, it emerged yesterday.
Abbot Alan Rees, 64, a revered figure in the Benedictine community, fell 30ft from a second-storey balcony at Belmont Abbey in Herefordshire last October.
The Swansea-born monk had suffered from depression for the past 12 years.
But at a recent inquest into his death, Fr Paul Stonham, the Abbey's replacement abbot, linked his last bout of depression to a novel. There is speculation that he was referring to The Da Vinci Code.
The book's central theme, that Christianity is a sexist conspiracy, has been condemned by cardinals and church historians.
I suspect that the Telegraph is running with an off-hand remark made by the new Abbot at the inquest. Of course, the impression given by the story is that The Da Vinci Code is dangerous in a way that anyone who's read it critically knows is nonsense.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Something to get excited about!

In terms of my eternal salvation this is of marginal importance, but today's Bolletino contains details of the opportunity to pay 'Courtesy Visits' to the new Cardinals on Friday afternoon from 4.30pm - 6.30pm. Having been created Cardinals, their Eminences receive all-comers wishing to pay their respects.
Last time round, the Cardinals were scattered around the modern Paul VI hall (except for Cardinal Marchisano who recived visitors in the rather grander surroundings of a recption room in the offices of the Fabrica... he also laid on refreshments...), but this time the visitors will be recived in some of the gorgeously frecoed rooms of the Apostolic Palace. You will have seen some of these rooms if you watched the various ceremonies associated with the transfer of Pope John Paul II's body and the conclave.
The list of Cardinals and their assigned rooms are as follows:
Sala Regia
1. Card. William Joseph LEVADA
2. Card. Seán Patrick O’MALLEY, O.F.M. Cap.

Aula della Benedizione
1. Card. Jorge Liberato UROSA SAVINO
2. Card. Gaudencio B. ROSALES
3. Card. Nicholas CHEONG JINSUK
4. Card. Joseph ZEN ZE-KIUN, S.D.B.
5. Card. Peter Poreku DERY
6. Card. Albert VANHOYE, S.I.

Sala Ducale
2. Card. Agostino VALLINI

Sala Paramenti 1
Card. Carlo CAFFARRA

Sala Paramenti 2
Card. Franc RODÉ, C.M.

Sala Pontefici
Card. Stanisław DZIWISZ

Galleria Lapidaria
1. Card. Jean-Pierre RICARD

For those in Rome it'll be an opportunity to do something delightfully medieval and see some of the rooms within the Apostolic Palaces not normally open to the public.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

More curious Roman Customs...

People tend not to believe me when I tell them that folk leave votive offerings at the statue of Julius Caesar on the Via Fori Imperiali when the Ides of March comes around again.

More Marian graffiti!
The one on the right is simple enough - 'Our Lady, we love you!'. The one on the left is more dubious. 'Viva the Madonna. God doesn't have a gender, but if she did it would be feminine.'

Tres Cool Video Clip

From Google Video of the Day - the 1902 French Film, Le Voyage Dan Le Lune. (Much more convincing that the footage of Armstrong et al...)

Roman News...

From the Telegraph:
Wealthy benefactors are stepping in to help to save the dilapidated Protestant cemetery in Rome where the poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley are buried.
Charitable trusts are being set up in Britain and America to handle the money that has been given following an original donation of €20,000 (£13,900) from the Italian jewellery company Bulgari, whose family members, originally Greek orthodox, are also buried there.
The condition of the crumbling cemetery was highlighted recently, a victim of "decades of deferred maintenance", according to Catherine Payling, its treasurer, who is also the curator of Rome's Keats Shelley museum.
The cemetery, where the first recorded burials began in 1784, suffered from its location at the heart of the Roman Catholic world, where the Vatican traditionally paid for the upkeep of public buildings, but not for those connected with other branches of Christianity.
It attracts 10,000 visitors a year, but has always relied on charitable donations, which are no longer enough to pay for the upkeep of the monuments.
For centuries, the Cimitero Acattolico di Roma was the only place in the city where non-Catholics could legally be buried and is situated in Testaccio outside the city walls.
In addition to the bones of the poets, the cemetery contains the remains of 2,500 people, ranging from servants to noblemen, of more than 50 religious denominations. They include Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party.
Italian election news:
An exhausted Silvio Berlusconi has been ordered by his doctors to take an immediate three-day break, after signs that the stress of Italy's general election campaign is affecting his health.
The Italian prime minister, who is trailing in the polls with three weeks left before voting on April 9, complained of severe back problems and has been diagnosed with sciatica.
A doctor attended Mr Berlusconi, 69, immediately after his television debate on Tuesday with his opponent, Romano Prodi, 66, when he complained of feeling unwell. Commentators observed that Mr Berlusconi, who gave what was widely judged to be a lacklustre performance, appeared tired, and four snap polls showed that most viewers believed Mr Prodi had performed better.
On Friday, the prime minister was taken to the headquarters of his Milan football team where he was treated by medical staff and advised to take a complete rest straight away.
Signs of exhaustion will dent the image of the perma-tanned Mr Berlusconi, who takes such pride in his appearance. After last week's debate, he surprised supporters by declaring that he would prepare for the second televised head-to-head with Mr Prodi - scheduled for April 3, just six days before voting - by taking a seaside holiday.
"Three days before [the debate] I will go on holiday to Bermuda or Sardinia," the multi-billionaire leader of Forza Italia was reported as saying.

Also, Rocco has pics of the Palazzo Massimo.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Funny Urban Legend...

Fron Snopes:
A young and nervous bride planning her wedding was increasingly terrified about her upcoming marriage. To calm her nerves, she decided to have a Bible verse which had always brought her comfort (1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love; for perfect love casts out fear") engraved on her wedding cake. So she called the caterer and all arrangements were made.
About a week before the wedding, she received a call from the catering company. "Is this really the verse you want on your cake?" they asked. Yes, she confirmed, it was the one she wanted, and after a few more questions they said they would decorate the cake as requested.
The wedding day came, and everything was beautiful ... until the reception, when the bride walked in to find the cake emblazoned with John 4:18: "For you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband."


Interesting piece about Chinese names in the Times:
A JOKE in China goes that if you call out the name Wang Wei in the street at least one person is bound to respond.
The name Wei, or “Mighty”, is so popular that parents have been turning to ancient and esoteric dictionaries to find more unusual monikers for their children.
Not anymore. The Ministry of Public Security has drawn up new rules and babies’ names must in future be drawn from a database that excludes thousands of rare Chinese characters. Out go indecipherable names. With the introduction of electronic identity cards, the authorities will register only names that they decide to include on their database.
Bao Suixian, a deputy director at the ministry, said: “We cannot handwrite rare characters on the cards like we did before.” About 60 million of China’s 1.3 billion people have at least one rare character in their name, making it difficult for them to open a bank account or to buy an aircraft ticket.
The fashion for unusual names is understandable in a society emerging from decades of revolutionary fervour when many children were called “Leap Forward”, “Cultural Revolution”, “Safeguard the Red” or — possibly the most popular — “Found the Nation”.

There's also an interesting critique of modern museums - well worth a read and characteristic of a modern manner of thought which has infected the Church too.
WHY IS IT THAT so often when I visit a museum these days, I leave feeling ever so slightly cross? I’m thinking, say, of those wretched animatronic dinosaurs that we parents have to queue for at the Natural History Museum, completely ignoring the genuine prehistoric skeletons either side. And of that display cabinet at the National Maritime Museum, where nautical objects have been plonked at random in the same glass case to illustrate a curator ’s trendy post-modern point about the hopelessness of trying to extract meaning from artefacts so far removed from our own time and place.
But, hey, why pick on those two? Pretty much everyone is at it: the exhibition at the Horniman, which proudly claimed, though with no supporting evidence, that voodoo was one of Africa’s “great contributions to world culture”; the Gainsborough exhibition, whose curator presumed to judge the mores of 18th-century society by the PC standards of today; almost anything containing the words “access”, “relevance” or “inclusivity”.
What all these diverse irritants have in common is that they are part of the same worrying, hidden debate. “Hidden” because its arguments, though familiar to the point of cliché to anyone who works in the museum industry, are pretty much unknown to the people outside it. “Worrying” because the conclusions reached by these self-serving guardians of our heritage are so often at odds with the needs of the public they claim to serve.
Our museums, it would seem, have fallen victim to the cant of the age: on the one hand the market-driven utilitarianism of the Right, which has forced them to justify their existence in crude economic terms; on the other, the guilt-ridden orthodoxies of the cultural Left. Not even our foremost directors have remained quite immune to this new strain of muddled thinking. Sprightly, charming and impossibly erudite the British Museum’s director, Neil MacGregor , may be, but when I asked what he thought museums were for, I could almost have been listening to the trendy PC orthodoxies of his counterpart at Liverpool Museums.
Yes, he said, a museum has to act as a form of library and to be “about serious engagement with objects and the ideas that they embody”. But at heart, he argued, a museum’s job is to serve a far more radical function: to create the “right level of doubt” in its audience, to cause them to question the very nature of their society and ultimately to “change the citizen”.
MacGregor describes himself as a “relativist — and proud of it”. When he displays an object, his worry is which of the “many truths” about that object he should “privilege”. Should he favour the poetic truth over the historical one? Just how reliable is that historical one anyway? And should it be addressed towards the university-educated audience or should it be expressed in simpler language.
“No solution is right,” declares MacGregor, sagely.
Really? While I wouldn’t question the sincerity and essential decency of MacGregor’s Weltanschauung it nevertheless seems symptomatic of the intellectual decadence that has afflicted our culture. It reminds me of the dispiriting way history is taught in school, where instead of the teacher giving you an idea of what actually happened you’re handed a variety of texts and accounts of the same event and invited to make your own mind up. A nice idea: creating a nation of free-thinking intellectuals. The problem is, it’s predicated on the lamentably optimistic notion that our ailing education system has given the nation sufficient intellectual grounding on which to form such subtle judgments. It hasn’t.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne - Open Tomorrow Only...

Attention Romans!
From Wikipedia:
The Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne is an architecturally influential urban Renaissance palace in Rome. The palace was designed by Baldassarre Peruzzi in 1532-1536 on a site of three contiguous palaces owned by the old Roman Massimo family; built after arson of an earlier structure during the Sack of Rome (1527). In addition the curved façade was dictated by foundations built upon the stands for the stadium (odeon) of the emperor Domitian. It fronts the now busy, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, a few hundred yards from the front of the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle. It is not easy to gain an good vista in the cramped street.
The chapel on the 2nd floor was a room where the 14 year old Paolo Massimo, son of Fabrizio Massimo, was recalled briefly to life by Saint Philip Neri in March 16, 1583. The interior of the palace is open to public only on that day. Other notable events in the palace of the 16th century including various intrafamilial murders.
To be more precise, in my experience it is only open in the morning of March 16th. The place is usually packed by those 'in the know'. A nice feature is the fact that the palace is staffed by servants wearing the green Massimo family livery. Plus they have retained the old custom of greeting the Cardinal who celebrates Mass there on the 16th with two attendants carrying torches.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Buddha Boy AWOL

From the Telegraph:
Ram Bomjon, the 15-year-old "Buddha boy" of Nepal, has gone missing from the spot where he has been meditating, supposedly without food or water, for the last 10 months.
Devotees noticed his absence when they arrived for worship at 6am on Saturday and went looking for him.
Police began searching but stopped after one day when foul play was ruled out.
Bed Bahadur Lama, Ram's uncle, and president of the pilgrimage site committee, said: "I realised that we are human beings and the meditator is a god, and human beings cannot find him".
Ram's long vigil beneath a sacred pipal tree in the jungle of southern Nepal attracted thousands of pilgrims a day and has made him famous around the world because of the resemblance to an episode in the life of the Buddha.
His claim that he had neither eaten nor drunk throughout his meditation added to the fervour. But it worried his parents, who now long for his safe return.
Yesterday, Mayadevi Bomjon, Ram's mother, was fasting and praying at the site, her face racked with anxiety.
One theory was that Ram had been driven away by the noisy crowds who flocked to see him. According to Prem Lama, the boy monk who was Ram's closest attendant, Ram said he needed more peace.
In the eyes of many, this theory was confirmed by the arrival of a new mystic, 51-year-old Hira Maya Lama, from Kathmandu, who is now known as "Guru Mother", after the boy's disappearance.
Mrs Lama says the boy had to move "because it is unholy here and he is being disturbed". She also said he intended to wash in a lake. Ten months without moving from his chosen spot had left Ram caked in dirt. Mrs Lama has said that, if rituals are carried out to purify the site, he would return after three days.

There's news of further iconoclasm at work in the Times:
THE traditional wigs and gowns worn by judges and advocates for 300 years could be scrapped for civil and commercial trials under a review by the Lord Chief Justice.
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, a moderniser who dislikes his own five different costumes, intends to reopen the long-running debate of horse-hair headdress when he takes over as official head of the judiciary next month.

A little bit of Rome...

The following from one of Amy Welborn's posts about her recent visit to Rome inspired me to visit the Basilica of Santa Croce yesterday:
The church is run by Cistercians, one of whom was staffing the table on the way to the relic chapel, as well to a special art exhibit briefly described here and guarded by two police officers who rather indifferently paced the single small hall and, as we'd come to expect, made faces at the baby. The brother or father was lovely - a German who spoke English with a British accent, and who delighted Joseph by saying that his name, too, was Joseph, and then later, that his baptismal name was Michael. The exhibit was, as I said, small and sort of odd - Perhaps 15-so pieces, including some paintings, some vestments and a reliquary or two. I could not quite see the connections between the pieces, and the explanatory placard was in Italian. What did interest me was the van Dyck crucifixion painting in which Jesus bled slightly from his nose and even, it seemed, from his eyes, as well as the Caravaggio martyrdom of St. Agapito which focused on the moment of decapitation, close up and personal.
It turns out that the exhibition is essentially a collection of pieces from the sacristies of various Roman Churches. (Never turn down the opportunity to visit a Roman sacristy... it's often as impressive as most churches elsewhere.) The van Dyck crucifixion (does anyone have an on-line im age?) is from the sacristy of San Marcello al Corso is indeed fascinating. Not only does it depict Christ bleeding from his nose, but it appears to be a Jansenist-style Crucifixion. Instead of Christ's arms being stretched out broadly on the arms of the cross, they are shown much closer together so that Christ hangs almost vertically from them. This is said to convey the very restriced nature of Christ's salvific act according to the severe Jansenist theology.
Also there from the sacristy of S. Martino ai Monti was a reliquary containing what is said to be the Mitre of Pope St Sylvester. It's a old, small, mitre-shaped cap made of an embroidered green fabric.
The exhibition is worth a visit and remains open until March 19th.

I then strolled to the Lateran, and snapped the above shot (click to enlarge) of the statue of St Francis also mentioned in Amy's post. Note how he appears to be supporting the facade of the basilica. This is in reference to the following incident from the life of St Francis:
Francis was a man of action. His simplicity of life extended to ideas and deeds. If there was a simple way, no matter how impossible it seemed, Francis would take it. So when Francis wanted approval for his brotherhood, he went straight to Rome to see Pope Innocent III. You can imagine what the pope thought when this beggar approached him! As a matter of fact he threw Francis out. But when he had a dream that this tiny man in rags held up the tilting Lateran basilica, he quickly called Francis back and gave him permission to preach.

Only in Rome
I snapped this picture this morning...
The graffiti says, 'Marian Devotion, A-okay!'

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Nuns you don't want to mess with? No, Iranian policewomen.
Polar bear cubs in a Dutch zoo.
Confucian POD (technically, liturgical dance...)
From the Times:
DR ROWAN WILLIAMS, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is expected to make his first formal visit to Pope Benedict XVI in Rome this year in an attempt to heal the centuries-old rift between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
The two church leaders are expected to attend at least one service together, probably vespers at the basilica of St Paul’s-Without-The-Walls.
The meeting, which awaits confirmation from Rome, is being organised to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the meeting in 1966 between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr Williams still wears the ring given by the Pope to Lord Ramsey on that visit.
At the meeting, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury will also begin the third round of formal talks between the two churches. Senior Catholics in Britain admit that relations between the two churches have reached a “plateau”.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, who visited Pope John Paul II six times, told The Times: “It is true that we are living in an ecumenical winter. It has got even icier since the American church’s decision to consecrate Gene Robinson which goes completely against the Catholic position and the historic position of the Anglican Communion as well. Rowan’s personal contact and commitment is going to be the key thing. All we can hope for is that he keeps the fire burning.”
One leading theologian has told friends how he emerged from a recent meeting with Pope Benedict XVI surprised and impressed by his enthusiasm to build bridges with the Anglicans.
By-the-by, if you read the whole article, you'll find it not very well-informed.

Interesting Curial Movements...

From the Bolletino we read:
1. Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao has resigned as President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Immigrants due to age.
2. 'For now' the Pope has decided to unite that office with that of the Presidency of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Therefore, the current incument Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino (not to be confused with Cardinal Martini) is now President of both Councils.
And something similar is happening with Inter-religious Dialogue and Culture.
3. To favour more intense dialogue between 'men of culture' and 'exponents of various religions' the Pope has united 'for now' the Presidencies of the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Inter-religious Dialogue. With Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald who was president of the latter being sent to Cairo, Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, takes over at Inter-religious Dialogue.

It seems fairly clear what is happening. The temporary unification of the presidencies will ultimately result in the Council for Migrants being subsumed into Justice and Peace; whilst Culture and Inter-religous Dialogue also seem slated for merger. This is just the kind of curial 'tidying-up' that has been expected for some time. Incidentally, some of you may be curious as to what Culture has to do with Inter-religious Dialogue. The Pontifical Council for Culture used to be known as the Pontifical Council for Non-believers. In the early 1990s, the title of the Council was changed to reflect a broadening of its interests and a certain sensitivity of nomenclature. It should be noted that The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity remains a seperate entity, but dialogue with non-Christians, non-believers and modern culture as a whole is now to be dealt with by the one Council.

Friday, March 10, 2006


From the Times:
A GROUP of German priests and parishioners have begun a politically sensitive fundraising campaign to save the country’s last Nazi-era church.
The Martin Luther Memorial Church in Berlin has embarrassed the authorities for six decades.
The image of a Nazi storm trooper side by side with Jesus Christ has been carved into the pulpit, the entrance is lit by a chandelier in the shape of an iron cross and the organ was used to stir the spirits at a torch-lit Nuremberg rally.
Throughout the church, consecrated in 1933, there are bare patches where swastikas, illegal since the end of the war, have been ripped out.
“There was a bust of Adolf Hitler in the nave,” Isolde Boehm, dean of the church, said. “A carved face of Hitler has been replaced by one of Martin Luther. There is even a rumour that the church was supposed to be called the Adolf Hitler Church.”
“There is no other church in Germany that is so obviously fascist-designed,” said Ilse Klein, a parish councillor and local historian. Fundraising activities to preserve this fascist monument are likely to include bring-and-buy sales and sponsored runs.
“Look at the face of Christ on the cross,” Herr Jungnickel said. “It is the face of a victorious Aryan, with a bodybuilder’s frame, not the suffering Jesus.”
The ethical dilemma of preserving Nazi iconography has been gripping German art critics. Debate has also been raging as to how much from the Nazi era should be cleared away or allowed to stay.
The World Cup final this summer will be played in the Berlin stadium designed for the 1936 Olympics. Part of the German Foreign Ministry used to be the Nazi central bank, while the Finance Ministry served as Hermann Goering’s air force headquarters with a roof so broad that he could land aircraft on it.
A Nazi church, however, is even more politically sensitive: it highlights how clearly the Protestant Church aligned itself to Hitler.
In 1932 Nazis were encouraged to become “German Christians” and joined their local parishes to undermine the Church’s power to resist the dictatorship.
By the mid-1930s, two thirds of the parish of Martin Luther Memorial were Nazi Party members. They baptised their babies in a wooden font, which still bears the image of a brown-shirted storm trooper, and they married to music played by an organ that helped to create the dark atmosphere of the Nuremberg rallies.
Until 1942 bells embossed with the swastika called the Nazi faithful to church on Sundays. Then the bells were melted down and made into cannon.
But Max Kurzreiter, the local priest in the 1930s, also gave shelter to members of the dissident anti-Nazi Confessional Church.
One prominent anti-Nazi believer, the writer Jochen Klepper, married a Jewish convert at the church in 1938. “That required a great deal of courage from the priest,” Herr Jungnickel said.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Roman Holiday...

Do check out Open Book and Annunciations where Amy Welborn and Michael Dubriel are blogging about their recent trip to Rome with their family. I look forward to their insights. One of the great things about being here is seeing people enjoy this city for the first time.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Overactivity continues

... so don't expect much from this blog in the immediate future.
In the papers
The Telegraph has a story which is a sign of things to come:
Indian tribes who were converted to Christianity by missionaries from Wales are now returning to evangelise the Welsh because they believe that the country is in a state of religious decline.
The Diocese of Mizoram, in the north-east of India, has already sent one missionary to south Wales. It is planning to send a second in April, to help the Welsh Presbyterian Church with its shortage of ministers.
Bad financial news in the Diocese of Leicester:
A Roman Catholic bishop who sold his £1 million house to live a simpler life has apologised to churchgoers after discovering that his diocese has slipped £10.2 million into the red.
The Rt Rev Patrick O'Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster, said that the diocese's central administration had been "eating up" money belonging to parishes and trust funds without permission.
The administration had also spent half the £1 million raised when he sold his 16-room house and a cottage near Lancaster in 2003, in favour of a modest apartment adjacent to St Peter's Cathedral in the city centre.
The bishop had ring-fenced £250,000 for his successor, who might not be suited to his spartan lifestyle, and £250,000 for "evangelisation purposes", but all the money was spent without consultation. Much of the money was spent on ambitious projects such as an inter-faith centre in Preston and on staff salaries.
In a pastoral letter read at Masses last weekend, the bishop explained that money had been drained from parish coffers for almost 15 years. The central administration had also taken money from trusts set up for specific purposes such as sick and retired priests or the training of priests and deacons.
Ouch! Why do I have the intuition that the next wave of scandals to hit the Church will be financial? Do we work with the unspoken assumption that financial efficency and good practice are somehow 'unpastoral'?

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Being in Rome one hears a lot of address, lectures, homilies and so on from various local and international ecclesiatical figures, academics and ordinary clergy. Also, being in the City one probably also hears these people make more direct reference to what the Holy Father says than one would if one heard them speak elsewhere. (I don't mean anything negative or snarky about that...) Anyway, it occurred to me that (in my experience) out of all the Holy Father's speeches and writings since his election, the three sources most often cited by others in homilies, symposia, etc... are (in no particular order)
1. Deus Caritas Est - it's no surprise that his first encylical should attract so much attention
2. His Homily at the Mass of Inauguration
3. His Christmas Address to the Curia
Now, that's purely anecdotal evidence, but I think that those three documents give an indication, if not of what the Holy Father is saying, certainly of how the Holy Father is being heard and what others think is of most significance in what he has said.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Baby Bishops...

Today's Bolletino announced the selection of one Fr Yaroslav Pryriz, CSSR as Auxiliary Bishop of the Ukranian-Catholic Eparchy of Sambir-Drohobych. Fr Pryriz was born in 1963, meaning that he's only a few weeks shy of his 43rd birthday.
I was wondering if this made him the youngest bishop in the world and consulting I see that distinction is held by another Ukranian-Catholic Redemptorist: Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh, C.SS.R., Auxiliary Bishop of Kyiv-Vyshhorod who is just about to celebrate his 39th birthday. One wonders whether the Oriental Churchs' selection procedures for bishops might have something to do with the youth of these Ukranian appointments. Scanning the list, one sees that the youngest bishops tend to come from behind the former Iron Curtain, reflecting the fact the relative youth of the clergy due to the fall of Communism. It seems to be a feature of clerical and religious life in Eastern Europe that relatively young people are forced to assume positions of responability due to the dearth of 'middle-aged' priests and religious. One notes a similar phenomenon in other parts of the world where the church is still developing.
The youngest Local Ordinary in Western Europe seems to be the 39 year old Abbot Martin (Stefan) Werlen, O.S.B. of the Abbey of Abbot of Maria Einsiedeln in Switzerland. However, he seems to be a territorial abbot and not a bishop. The distinction of being the youngest Western European bishop belongs to Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann, Auxiliary Bishop of Paderborn who just turned 42. The youngest North American bishop is Bishop David Motiuk, Ukranian (!!!) Auxiliary in the Archeparchy of Winnipeg who is 44 years old.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


A very evocative picture of today's stational procession from S. Anselmo to S. Sabina.