Saturday, October 21, 2017

St. Ursula & the Virgin Islands

Today, 21 October, is the feast of St. Ursula and her companions.

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The Martyrdom of St. Ursula, by Hans Memling (+1494AD)

Certainly St. Ursula and her companions are worthy of recognition on their own.  By tradition she and her British companions were martyred by the Huns.  Certainly, too, much of their account has been shrouded by the confusion of the ages.

Here are my customary sources on saints that give you more information on St. Ursula:

Catholic Saints Info: St. Ursula

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Ursula

The port city of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
["Charlotte Amalie" by No machine-readable author provided. Juanpdp assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons

Also worthy of note is that when first discovered by Christopher Columbus, the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean were actually named for St. Ursula and her companions.  Recall that, the next time someone mentions those American and British isles.  Indeed, the modern flag and coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands features St. Ursula, along with lighted oil lamps for her companions, as pictured below.  Notice, too, the banner "Vigilate" recalling again the story of the prudent virgins that kept watch in the parable of Christ:

Coat of arms of British Virgin Islands
Coat of Arms of the British Virgin Islands, featuring St. Ursula, lamps for her companions, and the
wise admonition: Vigilate!

For more on how the United States came to own a portion of the Virgin Islands -- the former Danish Virgin Islands -- you might note this source: Article on Transfer Day in the USVI

St. Ursula, pray for us, pray for the Virgin Islands!

Live well!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Today is the feast day of St. Luke the Evangelist!

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St. Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin by Guercino, ca. 1650AD.

We know that St. Luke was born in Antioch, was not a Jew by ethnicity, and was a physician by trade.  Indeed, St. Luke, a companion of St. Paul (Luke 16:8) was called by the Apostle to the Gentiles "the most dear physician" (Colossians 4:14).

He is rightly famous for both his Holy Gospel, represented in art with an Ox, as it begins with the Temple sacrifice of Zachary (cf. Ezekiel), and the book of the Acts of the Apostles.

Much more could be said of St. Luke's writing style, the service he rendered to the Church with his contribution to Sacred Scripture, and the wonderful details concerning the life of the Blessed Mother contained in his gospel.

Of course, St. Luke, too, is known by tradition to be an artist, and hence his patronage of artists!

Perhaps today is a good one to start a study of the Gospel of St. Luke?  Gospel of St. Luke

Maybe the Acts of the Apostles instead? Acts of the Apostles

After the death of St. Paul, he is thought to have preached in Greece, where he died.  His relics would end up in the Abbey of Santa Giustina in Padua, Italy, in an area formerly part of the Venetian Republic.  Here is a link to that Church: Abbey of Santa Giustina

Interestingly, a bit of scientific research has been conducted on the relics of St. Luke, of which part are now also in Prague and in Greece.  Here is an article on the research: NY Times: "Body of St. Luke Gains Credibility"

For more on this great Evangelist, you can read here:

Catholic Saints Info: St. Luke

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Luke

Live well!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Feast of St. Teresa of Avila & a Calendar Change

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St. Teresa by Peter Paul Rubens.

Today is the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila (+1582AD), the Spanish Carmelite and Doctor of the Church.

St. Teresa was born in Avila, in the Kingdom of Castile and Leon, and joined the Convent of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel in her late teens.  She struggled with poor health much of her life, but it didn't stop her from being both a great reformer of the Carmelite Order, and a magnificent author of works on mystical Theology.

You can read more about her life at the sites:

Catholic Saints Info: St. Teresa of Avila

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Teresa of Avila

An interesting side note is that while she died on 4 October 1582 AD, her feast is kept on 15 October, which was the day after her death that night of the 4th.  It was the very night that St. Teresa of Avila died that the new Gregorian Calendar of Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian Calendar.  Not only did the Catholic world adopt this calendar with its different, more accurate, determination of leap years, but it also shift the date to offset the margin of error of the Julian Calendar, resulting in dropping 10 days from the calendar.  This meant that 4 October 1582 was followed by 15 October 1582 with the days in between simply omitted!

Of course, the non-Catholic world took some time to adopt this more accurate, but papal decreed, calendar.  Somewhat famously, Great Britain and her colonies finally adopted it in 1752, along with the 1 January start to the year.  In the English-speaking world 2 September 1752 was followed by 14 September 1752, as, by that time, 11 days were needed to correct the Julian Calendar error, instead of 10 (it would be 13 in 2012AD).  Those English dates before the changeover that were reckoned by the Julian Calendar are referred to as O.S. "old style" in some sources.  Before England adopted the Gregorian Calendar, while a person in Paris might consider it 21 March 1605, the same day in London would be considered 11 March 1604 (O.S.).

The root of the Julian Calendar error is this: it presumed that the year was 365.25 days long, meaning that a leap year every four years would account for the decimal places and keep the calendar year in sync with the actual solar year.  As it happens, the year is more precisely 365.2422 days long, meaning that the seasons would slowly drift away from their calendar dates with the Julian Calendar -- for instance, by 1582, the Vernal Equinox was occurring on 11 March, rather than 21 March as is traditionally assumed.  So, the new Gregorian Calendar restored the Equinox to its traditional date by dropping 10 days that October of 1582.  It would try to remain accurate by modifying the reckoning of leap years: it would  have a leap year every year divisible by 4, except those divisible by 100 (most years such as 1700AD are not leap years), but if divisible by 400, remaining a leap year (so 1600AD was a leap year).  This is still a hair off, and some have suggested that we waive the leap year in 4000AD to fix the problem.

So, on this feast of a Catholic Doctor of the Church, we might recall, too, that the very calendar that tells us that it is 15 October 2017, was instituted by a Pope, and took effect the year of St. Teresa's death: 1582.

Live well!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Nestorianism, Ephesus, & Theotokos

Today was, after being instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1931, the Feast of the Divine Maternity of Our Lady.  It was established in honor of the anniversary of the great Council of Ephesus in 431AD, at which Our Lady was defined as Theotokos -- Mother of God -- and the Nestorian heresy was condemned.

In the liturgical calendar of 1970, this observance was combined with that of the Octave of Christmas, which already recalled the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Theotokos of Vladimir.

In 428 Nestorius, originally a monk from Antioch, was made Patriarch of Constantinople (428-431).  This eloquent and austere new Patriarch, his first Christmas as shepherd of the Imperial capital, preached that Mary was not the Mother of God!  Behold, the Nestorian heresy.  He, and the Nestorian heretics, claims that Christ is not actually God, but God only dwells in him as “in a temple” or “a garment.”  Thus, there are two persons in Christ – and Mary was only mother of the human person, not the divine.  Thus, she is not Mother of God, but only Mother of Christ!  This caused quite the stir in the area, as you might imagine.  A lawyer actually interrupted his homily in the Cathedral, and Nestorius would be faced down by a fellow bishop on the next feast of the Annunciation the following Spring.

Copies of these homilies reached the Patriarch of Alexandria, St. Cyril (Successor of St. Mark from 412-444AD), in 429, and St. Cyril immediately condemned the ideas and reported them to the pope, St. Celestine I (Successor of St. Peter from 423-432).  Nestorius, for his part, appealed to the Eastern Roman Emperor, Theodosius II (Reigned, 408-450).   The Pope, agreeing with St. Cyril, condemned the teaching of Nestorius, and threatened to depose him.  Nestorius, for his part, persisted, and this with the encouragement of Patriarch John of Antioch (Successor of St. Peter in Antioch from 428-442).

Ephesus today: the Library of Celsus.

The Emperor, Theodosius II, hoping to find a solution, summoned a general council – the Third – at Ephesus which met in 431.  St. Augustine was actually invited, but he had died by the time the invitation arrived.  After a delay, owing to the absence of John of Antioch, the council finally opened in the blazing heat of June 431, with Cyril of Alexandria presiding as legate of the Pope.  The Council carefully read the teachings of Nestorius, and quickly condemned them.  Nestorius himself was given three warnings to arrive and answer, but he refused, and was deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople.  The Council unanimously declared that Mary was, indeed, Theotokos!  Torch-lit processions and celebrations met the declaration in Ephesus.

A more thorough account of the Council can be found here: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Council of Ephesus

Today, then, of all days, it is a joy to affirm that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, human and divine, and that his Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is most certainly the Mother of God!

St. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death!

Live well!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

St. Francis Borgia, SJ

Today is the feast day of a great man that richly deserves better recognition, especially in the United States: St. Francis Borgia, SJ (+1572AD).

St. Francis Borgia by Alonso Cano, 1624AD.

St. Francis Borgia was, as his name implies, a member of the infamous Borgia of Spain that gave the Church two Popes: Calixtus III (reigned 1455-1458AD) and the more famous Alexander VI (reigned 1492-1503).  Indeed, St. Francis, the 4th Duke of Gandia, was the great-grandson of Alexander VI.  He served in the court of Emperor Charles V, also known as King Charles I of Spain, and his participation in the transfer of the corpse of the beautiful Empress Isabella of Portugal, wife of Charles V (I), in 1539, did much to confirm his earlier pious inclinations.  Still, he was married with eight children.  From 1539-1543AD he served as Viceroy of Catalonia, despite his relative youth (born in 1510AD).

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Empress Isabella of Portugal, by Titian.  Seeing this monarch in death cemented the conversion of St. Francis.

Upon the death of his wife in 1546, St. Francis Borgia sought entry into the relatively new Society of Jesus -- the Jesuits.  Indeed, his sanctity and administrative experience helped him rise to become the third Superior General of the Order, and one of its greatest, from 1565-1572AD.

Here was a great saint from a stock that had caused the Church scandal in the past.  God, indeed, brings great good even from evil!

For more on St. Francis, you may consult:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Francis Borgia

Catholic Saints Info: St. Francis Borgia

Live well!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Feast of St. Denis & Royal Necropolis

Today is the Feast of St. Denis (Dionysius in Latin), Martyr and first Bishop of Paris, France.  Pope St. Fabian dispatched Denis as a missionary to Gaul in the mid-third century.  Denis and his companions, Sts. Rusticus and Eleutherius, for their part, shed their blood for Christ during either the Decian persecution around 250AD or that of Valerian in 258 AD.  The place of their martyrdom was the hill of Montmartre.

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Image of St. Denis (left) from the Nuremberg Chronicles, and (right) from a portal of Notre Dame.
[Image on right: By Thesupermat - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,]

Legend has it that St. Denis, after being beheaded, picked up his head and walked some distance to the site of the Basilica of St. Denis -- hence his frequent presentation in art holding his own head.

For more on the Saint you can visit:
Catholic Saints Info: St. Denis of Paris

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Denis

Saint-Denis - Façade.jpg

Facade of the Basilica of St. Denis.
[By Thomas Clouet - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,]

Built on the site of a an earlier church, the Basilica of St. Denis was first constructed by orders of the Frankish King Dagobert I (reigned 629-634AD), and would house the relics of St. Denis.  This site of pilgrimage would also end up being the burial place of the Kings of France from the 10th through 18th century.  The would be coronated at the Catherdral of Rheims (the see of St. Remy or Remigius), but they would be buried here at St. Denis, near Paris.

You can visit the website of the Basilica here: Basilique Saint-Denis

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Interior of the Basilica of St. Denis.

The great Abbot Suger (+1151AD) began a project in 1135AD to remodel the Basilica, and giving rise to a new form of architecture: Gothic.  It is an architectural masterpiece.  You can read the Abbot's account of his renovations here:

With the exception of but three, every King of France from Clovis I (+511AD) to Louis XVIII (+1824AD) is buried in this sacred place.  A couple of the monuments are pictured below:

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Monument of King Louis XII (+1515AD) and his Queen, Anne of Brittany.
[By Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0,]

File:Louis XVI et Marie-Antoinette.jpg
Monument of King Louis XVI (+1793AD) and his Queen, Marie Antoinette.
[By Eric Pouhier - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,]

Live well!

Anniversary of the arrival of Columbus

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Arrival of Christopher Columbus on 12 October 1492AD at San Salvador (Bahamas), image circa 1862.

Today, we celebrate the observance of Columbus Day; the day commemorates the 12th of October, the anniversary of Columbus and his flotilla first making landfall in the New World.

The descriptions in his ship's log of the voyage leading up to the landing on 12 October 1492 is certainly interesting, and worthy of a read.  You can find that here: Medieval Sourcebook: Extracts from the Journal of Columbus

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Map of the Voyages of Christopher Columbus.
["Viajes de colon en" by Viajes_de_colon.svg: Phirosiberiaderivative work: Phirosiberia (talk) - Viajes_de_colon.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons]

Christopher Columbus actually misjudged the size of the Earth – he thought Japan to be where Florida actually is!  He, an Italian, sailed for Spain, specifically the Kingdom of Castile and Leon, to bring Christianity to the East, and to, he hoped, provide funding for a Crusade.  Columbus would discover the New World in 1492 (he discovered the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola in this first voyage), and make three further journeys: his second (1493-1496) which found the Leeward Isles, Puerto Rico and Jamaica [he founded Santo Domingo on this voyage], his third (1498) which found Trinidad, the mouth of the Orinoco, and his fourth (1502-1504) which passed the Windward isles and explored the Central American coast – always believing it to be part of the Indies.

Interior of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo.

While Columbus himself was not without flaw, and his administration of the West Indies was clearly lacking in some regards, the true legacy of his voyages was the arrival of Catholic Christianity and Western Civilization to the New World.  The New World gained much, particularly from Spain, for, “instead of fearful temples…there were Christian churches; while upon the Indians themselves have been bestowed the hardly won prizes of ages of slow progress, the developed arts, the various domestic animals, the grains, vegetables, and fruits, the use of letters, and the printing press, and the forms of government.” [Quotation from Spain in America by Bourne]  Certainly abuses did remain a serious problem (though there was a triennial audit of these realms in an attempt to minimize such abuses) as did the ravages of disease (particularly smallpox) – all the same, there was an earnest attempt to convert, civilize, and protect the Indians by both the crown and Church.  The crown spent its own money seeing to the introduction of missionaries, and orders such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, & Jesuits made important gains.  By the end of the 16th century there was a thriving Spanish New World culture, complete with “universities, scholars, authors, presses, scientists, and saints.” 

A taste of that New World culture, with images of the Mexican Church of Santa Prisca in Taxco, along with a setting of the Salve Regina written by Hernando Franco in Mexico -- this in a land once marked by its widespread human sacrifice:

Live well!