Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Divine Mothers, part 2: Miraculous Icons and icon kissing

For those of you on whose devices is empty space instead of link to you tube video, click here and you will get there
Chant in praise of Virgin,sung  by  Orthodox monks.
Written by St Nectarios of Egina, an Orthodox saint considered 
miracle worker himself here you have translation of words

Talk about divine mothers wouldn't be complete without mentioning Orthodox icons, specially those which were and are believed to be working miracles. So many of  icons represent Virgin Mary, called Theotokos,  with baby Jesus, that this fact amazes how much respect was, and is, given to the idea of motherhood set in most sublime concepts of faith. Theotokos is translated in a simplified way as Mother of God, but exact meaning is "the birth giver to god." 

Her cult first developed in Epheus, today Turkey, where according to Eastern tradition she lived with John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene who retired there after life of preaching, and they were visited by Paul. My apology to those of you who are St Baume Mary Magdalene enthusiasts. St Baume is a wonderful place, but I need to mention Mary Magdalene in Ephesus, as this version  is so ancient, I will do no justice to it by silence. On the left is the picture of house known today as Mary's House, where it is believed that Theotokos lived. According to tradition she was preaching and teaching people about art of healing.There is also a sacred springs which water is supposed to have healing qualities: spring of love, health and happiness. Thanks Radomil for the picture. Ephesus was also the place of the council where the dogma of divine motherhood of Virgin Mary was pronounced. There is also oral tradition in a about Mary's presence there, held by Orthodox Christian village.

As for icons:  those are not considered ordinary images, they are windows to the divine. For Orthodox Christians are presence of the sacred in this world. So, if the icon represents a given saint, this saint presence it there. The icon is treated with respect, can be touched and is kissed in love and honor, and given votive offerings after a performed miracle.

Our lady Vladimirskaya, patron protector of Russia, Eleusa type icon. The star patterns on her moforion  symbolize her VirginityThis icon is damaged, but there is strong sense of radiance.
Kissing in Eastern tradition was a very important gesture, honorific kissing included, it meaning was quite broad, which kissing the icons also includes.Western culture is only intimate sign of affection, of friendliness when the French kiss the cheeks to say hello, kisses between parents and children, and of course between lovers.In earlier days there was a lot of kissing, including kissing women on hand as sign of honor.It is still practiced in Poland and Vienna, the yearly opera event. 

In Biblical times there were kisses between men, family members who were loved, abut also between friends, or people were kissed out of respect. For ex. kissing someones feet was a sign of very strong reverence an honor.. The same in Jesus times. Christian kiss of peace is one example. Also in Greek there were three words expressing love: eros, filos, agape. Eros is erotic love, filos is friendship as love, agape is often translated as charity, but mean unconditional love, the spiritual kind, love as the essence of the divine, love totally selfless. For example the part in New Testament, where Jesus ask Peter "do you love me more than those,"and here he was referring to his disciples. I was introduced to it by someone who studied Koine Greek,  what is translated in English is love, but in Greek there are two words in questions and answers used: filos and agape. As you probably guess, the Theotokos as a mother is also example of such divine, all surpassing unconditional love.

It is an important distinction between kinds of love, and  it got somehow lost, as the distinction between kisses got lost. In the New Testament at the supper in a house of a Pharisee Jesus defended the woman who washed and anointed and kissed his feet (in Orthodox tradition it wasn't Mary Magdalene) and said: "you gave me no kiss," and praised how she showered his feet with kisses and she will be remembered. This was expression of highest reverence, and the Orthodox Christians remember that. But see by yourself not in my words, why Orthodox Christians kiss icons.

But certain  icons are not to available for kissing. Those are the miracle working icons set higher in the altar. 
The icon above is Eluesa type of Madonna, (Our Lady Valdimirskaya, today in Tretakov Gallery). Those graceful depictions are called Virgin of Tender Mercy, of Virgin Showing Mercy, also found in the West. Virgin's and baby Jesus' cheeks touch, or almost touch. Those human gestures of affection are very charming, and here is a small list of miraculous icons in this Eluesa type .

One of miracle icons is the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, this one is not an Eeleusa, but Hedegetria, The Guide as iconograhic type.  Hedegetria, called also Madonna Showing the Way, as gestures with her hand toward  baby Jesus. This is the oldest and the most common stylistic type.

Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Byzantine origin icon of Hedegetria type

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa is the regal powerful mother, who is believed to heal you when you ask for it. Many of us remember from childhood when something hurt, like for example got a bruise from falling off kick scooter, the mother kissed the bruise and felt so much better. This is not to introduce banality in the reverence of miraculous icons, it is just for reminding that the veneration also includes tender feelings which relate to very basic human experiences. Basic, not base. 

She was crowned Queen of Poland. On the walls of the sanctuary there are votive offerings, as thanks from the donors for the miracles of healing: pieces of jewelery, pieces of silver in shapes of parts of human body, also you will see some real life crutches. 

The Black Madonna is viewed as powerful protectress. The icon is of Byzantine origin, showing Italianate influences. The legend says it was painted by St Luke himself on the table from the form  Virgin Mary's own household. It is one of several icons allegedly painted by St Luke. The pattern on Virgin's robes is fleur-de-lis.  There is over 130 iconographical types of depicting Virgin Mary on icons, this one is among the regal type images.

 Those Theotokos were shown like aristocrats of Byzantine imperial court. But the icon painting, or icon-type of style wasn't limited to the areas we today associate with icons: Italy had those too. Bellow  Hedegetria by Giotto. The stripes of fabric angels wear over their robes belong to a traditional fashion of imperial court in Constantinople. Even the Eleusa type has Byzantine moforion

A very imperial looking Theotokos by Giotto
Eastern Orthodox faith didn't develop Mariology as did the Latin Church, but the devotion to Theotokos was  given, even not much disputed in theological manner. The idea that Virgin Mary was elevated above any created being found its expersion  in showing her with as much dignity as depicting a powerful empress.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Imagery of Ascention of Mary Magdalene

On this picture, originally from Gdansk today in National Museum in Warsaw National Museum, Warsaw we see ascension of Mary Magdalene. It is one type of many way of representing Mary Magdalene in art, here she is shown as a  saint who meditated so much that she was feed divine food by God himself, according to Medieval accounts. Latin church tradition says  happened seven times daily, angels took her before the throne of god where she was given nourishment.

Assention of Mary Magdalene, tempera on panel, 1430, 71x48in (182.5x122cm)
Very similar in form on canonical depictions of ascension of Virgin Mary. I was writing before that Mary Magdalene was the second most depicted woman in Catholic art, after Mary mother of Jesus. It comes at no surprise that the glorification images, painting or sculptures are often similar. Here we have Mary Magdalene crowned by Gods himself, held in sky by angels.  We know that this is Mary Magdalene because of hairy costume. But Mary Magdalene dressed in more ornate robes is represented also, see my other entries fro examples.

Another depiction of Mary Magdalene's ascension, also form my country, Poland, this time from St John's church in  Torun. I love the charm and joy of this one. And I am so glad that wiki commons has nice pictures, it is often a chore to take a good picture without flash. I never use flash while taking photos of art. As an artist I know that this is bad for the pigments.

Anonmymous artist, Ascension of Mary Magdalene, XIV c.
in Church of Saint John the Baptist and St. Evangelist
This graceful Mary Magdalene is shown as a hermit, but there is nothing austere in the scene. All is charming and lush, full of beatitude. About the austerities reminds her body covered with flowing hair, which is very beautiful, the rocks of the cave and flat belly. Those days a good muffin on the belly was a sign of female beauty, flat belly was indicating that someone hadn't enough to eat. What is beautiful today for us, for people living in times when Gothic art was created such flat belly wasn't beautiful, but it was signifying that the depicted saint wasn't eating much. Some fashion of medieval times is kind of strange for us today, and I think is worth a separate entry.

Illustration from Nurnberg Chronicle, 1491

Here we have a woodcut from Nurnber Chronicle ( via wikicommons, Schedel). Colorful wings of angels, very long robes with lots of draperies which formed angular folds, and round, protruding belly of the female figure was very typical for the art of the days, specially North of Alps.
Here, according to the artist,  we can say the divine nourishment was as filling as earthly food.

Here a few examples of Ascension of Mary Magdalene to browse
This Mary Magdalene sculpted in stone can be seen in Chanteuges Abbey. Wikipedia articles about this wonderful place are in German and French, so I don't include them here.
But those figures of Mary Magdalene and angles can be found in France, and not only there in various churches or abbeys.
They have their won charm and are of rugged beauty.
Photo by Jochen Jahnke.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Divine Mothers, part 1: breastfeeding Madonna

Hans Memling, Nursing Madonna

Today some people are kind of surprised that so many, specially women, like the idea of Mary Magdalene being the wife of Christ and the mother of his children, and talk about her being erased from history.

I am not surprised. In my earlier entry I wrote about how our ideas of Mary Magdalene represent something what is important in our society. Something what is maybe not so clear in our everyday awareness, but many know in some. Let me use that silly word for it: subconscious level.

First, in spite of the technological advances, the world in not becoming more cozy. Many of humans need things mytho-poetic when technology is invading their lives, even when it is to the advantage.We are humans, not cyborgs whose extensions of mind and body are machines. People turned to things mytho-poetic or considered less rational when huge technological advances were made, during the 19th c. and for example 20th century between wars. This trend now isn't new or surprising. It is a natural reaction when people feel that the pendulum went too far in one direction. So, there is a counter movement. It is evoking creative forces of the mind again.People don't want to be cheated out of this important part of human experience, mytho-poetic creativity is part of whole we call a human mind.

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna with Child, here Virgin Mary in a dress allowing easy nursing
As for Mary Magdalene being a mother and being pushed away: no wonder this idea is popular, lets take a look how we treat motherhood today, what our popular culture reveals, and how motherhood was treated earlier.  This is first entry on the subject of motherhood.First for his entry let consider breast feeding. Talking about things mytho-poetic:  Milky Way according to Greek mythology appeared because of  accidental squirt of Hera's milk while she was nursing Heracles, who as an infant was supposed to acquire god-like qualities by drinking from the breast of the goddess. The word galaxy comes from Greek word for milk.Nice story about milk of the goddess. Today's reality isn't poetic about breast feeding.

This link shows results of study about breast feeding mothers: prejudice. Also those mothers who breast-feed in public have personal stories to tell, how they were treated. Nothing encouraging. There is even a lawyer, a women, who tires to make breast feeding in public illegal. Because it is "disgusting." Not everyone finds it "disgusting," but it is enough for mothers to feel the hostility. Like not everyone is prejudiced against gay people, but enough to create hostile environment. Why so easily labels like "obscene, or"disgusting," "disturbing," are applied to something so positive, psychologically (bonding of mother and child) and what has proven health benefits for the baby?

Gerard David, Nursing Madonna
 Nursing Madonnas as images or part of Marian theology is a very interesting phenomenon. The imagery first appeared in Coptic church of Egypt, the iconography was borrowed from the depictions of Isis nursing Horus. Cultures borrow from each other, as languages borrow words.

Role of Virgin as divine mother was very elevated, she was a co-redeemer of humanity. Some old mystical pictures show her standing at the crucifixion, between her and crucified Jesus stands a chalice to which blood from Jesus' side flows and also milk form Virgin's exposed breast. This was analizsed by art history scholar Anna Boczkowska in her  book Triumph of Luna and Venus, about iconography of Paradise part of the Tryptych Garden of Earthly Delights by Heironymus Bosch.

It was elevation of milk to the same importance as blood of Eucharist, it symbolized grace. Of course this was only on symbolic level, as there was no mixing of milk with wine in ritual of Eucharist.

Milk was a symbol of wisdom, and not just an earthly wisdom. It was a supernatural wisdom of knowledge of things divine, and given as a gift of grace.

Milk was also believed to be transformed from blood, and as such to be part of Eucharist and it took its place in mystical writings. Today those writings maybe not easily understandable for our modern mindset, but people centuries ago understood all metaphors very well. Middle Ages were very poetic, made strong use of symbolic and abstract thinking. 

The type of iconographical depiction of Madonna as nursing mother was common during the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque. Those images often depict  precious moments of human tenderness, but also they elevated motherhood to divine dimensions also. Probably the prototype of nursing Virgin Mary appeared first among Coptic Christians in Egypt, based on imagery of goddess Isis nursing baby Osiris. This doesn't mean that Iis was worshiped under a new name: it is like a new picture was put in an old frame.

 This icon of breast feeding Madonna is considered wonder-working in Easter Orthodox faith. It is Galaktotraufusa (Milk Giver) from Mount  Mount Athos Monastery, in Hilandar Monastery, part of Athos complex. It was put there in 13th century, brought here by  Saint Sava of Serbia and installed in iconostasis in an unusual place which was  reserved for icon of Jesus Christ and the Trinity. I have to admit I don't know what happened to this icon. The other icon brought by St Sava, Madonna of Three Hands is supposed to be there, 2004 was a terrible fire in the monastery.

I am not saying that elevating motherhood to such dimensions was all great and sure recipe for making all women happy: childless women suffered, and women conditions were not good in general. But at least mothers' contributions were not taken for granted, or there was an idea that they shouldn't be taken for granted. Motherhood was part of the totality of human experience, and it is, just not enough credit and respect is given to it now.Gender politics is visible in all art history, struggles related to gender continue today.

Francisco de Zurbaran, Holy Family

Ladies, those of you who are or will be mothers, I say: kudos to you for your patience, gentleness, pain, baby fat, hanging breasts, stretch marks. It is not a little thing to be a mother. Milk, pregnancy and labor pains were once revered in mystical writings about experience of the divine. About this another time.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Grail in Bezlawki part 2: Mary Magdalene patronage and pagans

The second part of the legend of grail in Bezlawki. How the grail was taken from Britain, by whom, in my previous entry about what happened after the battle of Hastings. 

This is a legend, we don't know how old it is, bu tit is very interesting as a story, and has historical events, as well people who lived in real life. A bit of historic  background of the story.

After Svidrigaila installed the grail and his army in today's Bezlawki, in a fortified tower which belonged to Teutonic Knights, military order crusading against the pagans of the East North, he lived like a prince. Historical records show food provided by Teutonic Knights, among them very costly morsels and spices imported from afar. Teutonic Knights promised him to become the grand duke of Lithuania, even though Svitrigaila didn't qualify, as Lithuania had the law of primogeniture, and he was the younger brother in line to the throne. His older brother, Jogailla was a pagan. They were also engaged in a bitter feud with their uncle, who also was keen of becoming the only ruler of Lithuania. It seemed that those three men had reasons to fear for their lives. The fortress in Bezlawki, in the middle of dense forest was a safe place for Svitrigaila.

 Here is video how Bezlawki tower was changing through centuries. For those of you who have trouble to watch the video's embedded in this blog, here is the to the youtube video.About  4 min on shows the change for Svidrigaila, making it more fit for princely residence.

One of the people who was on diplomatic missions dealing with Teutonic Knights, who were considered those days unstoppable, was young Polish queen Jadwiga. Or rather a young king who was a woman. Why? Because in Poland by law kings were ruling, so, if the sovereign wasn't male, she got the title of king, that meant she was a ruler on her own, not a queen consort.She was elected a king, and crowned as such at a tender age of 11, like some of the Merovingian child-king. But she was an extremely capable young genius.

Jadwiga of Poland was half Hungarian, half Bosnian, but from both parents she had genetic ties with native Polish Piast dynasty. She was also from Angevine dynasty, therefore the fleur-de-lys. Her mother, Elisabeth of Bosnia was ruling Poland, as the last king of Poland decided that his sons are no capable enough. Poland didn't have law of primogeniture. king or the nobles could decide who was the best candidate for the throne. But Elisabeth of Bosnia  wasn't  capable enough as a monarch to please the nobles and she  was replaced by her daughter, Jadwiga.

Jadwiga of Poland  by Antoni Piotrowski, at Jagiellonian University
Note the chalice on the right. Picture painted in 1901. 
Jadwiga of Poland grew up in Hungary in royal court of Buda, she was a polyglot speaking six languages, spent one year at royal court in Vienna, as it was common to send children of noble birth to be educated at other courts.She was supposed to be the future wife of William of Austria, one of the Habsburg dukes, was engaged to him as a little girl (sponsalia). The Habsburgs were expanding their influence by marrying heiresses, this engagement was an early attempt in such politics.

Jadwiga was a politician and patron of culture, in addition she was very religious: she revered four saints, specially Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha. Mary Magdalene was the patron saint of Angevin dynasty, after Charles II, Count of Provence and king of Naples discovered the body of Mary Magdalene in Provence, at  Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.Mary Magdalene was immensely popular saint and enjoyed patronage of rulers, but the Angevins were the most important in spreading and strengthening her cult. Without them Saint Baume pilgrimage site wouldn't exist, her cult in France wouldn't be as strong.

Charles II discovered the body of Mary Magdalene in 1279, he was called Charles of Salerno at this time, he became Charles II later.  At this moment this popular saint became the dynastic patron, so, no wonder Jadwiga venerated dynastic saint who according to the legend converted pagans of Provence to Christianity A scholarly article to read about Angevins and Mary Magdalene as their patron saint, and Angevins role is spreading the cult of Mary Magdalene in Provence, Naples and so supporting also the legitimacy of their dynasty, of which they claimed, Mary Magdalene was a miraculous founder.
Grotto of Mary Magdalene in Sainte-Baume, by Disdero
by Dr. Sarah Wilkins, professor of art history and design.

When Jadwiga was enthroned, however, several suitors appeared, hopeful for marriage and crown. William also appeared at the court in Krakow, as he was thinking now was the right time to got get married, after all Jadwiga was his fiancee. He was bitterly disappointed: the young sovereign declared the annulment of their contract, and the Habsburg duke went home.

Jadwiga got married three years later, she was 13 years old. Her king consort became duke Jogaila of Lithuania, who being a pagan needed to convert to Christianity. And through Jadwiga's influence the last pagan country of Europe was Christianized.She didn't need to preach to pagans: she just made the requirement that he husband to be needed to be Roman Catholic.

Svitrigaila  the owner of holy chalice (which one of two?)  lived with his hopes for Lithuanian throne in Bezlawki, in the area of crusader state of the Teutonic Knights, the military order which also targeted pagan Lithuania in their Northern Crusades. His alliance seemed easy, as the Teutonic Knights were believed to be invincible. Yet they were crushed, one day, and by no one else than his brother Jogaila with armies of allies.Life of Svidrigaila was marked by wars and dynastic struggles. He became grand duke of Lithuania for two years, noting more.

As Jogaila was baptised in Wawel Castle in Krakow, Christianization of Lithuania was official in 1386 The marriage couldn't happen without Jogaila's

 Svidrigialla also got baptized with his brother at the Wawel Castle. He converted from Greek Orthodox faith of his mother into Roman Catholicism.But in his case it was of no great political advantage. 

Because Jogaila became king of Poland, this didn't mean that Jadwiga was now a queen consort. She was the ruler, marriage didn't chip away her power, he was the king consort, but of course both were politically active. Jadwiga was known for her charity, good character and for her support of good causes. She was so much liked and revered by people that she was considered a saint, and legends of her miraculous powers spread. This was a queen of a true noble ideal of a virutous lady.She died young, only 26 years old, after complicated child birth. She and her daughter lived only one month. This was nothing unusual in those days, even among people who were very privileged, such deaths happened among ruling families too.

Sarcophagus of Jawdiga of Poland, Wawel Castle Cathedral
After Jadwiga died she was declared a saint by people, and her cult spread. Her relics are in the Wawel Cathedral under the crucifix at front of which she prayed. Even she was considered a saint and worshiped as such, her beatification happened as late as 1980, and she was officially declared a saint by Vatican in 1997, by the pope John Paul II as you may guess. He prayed at her sarcophagus. Pity I didn't take the picture, the sarcophagus sculpture includes a nice lap dog at Jadwiga's feet.Thank you Cezary Piwowarski for the picture. (Dog symbolized loyalty). Close to the sarcophagus her regal insignia are exhibited: the scepter and the globe. They are made of wood, painted gold. Maybe those were lighter for a child ruler to hold, but also she is remembered by her unusual generosity, she sold her jewels in order to support Krakow University (today Jagiellonian University) etc.

After Jadwiga's death it didn't mean that Jogaila as consort was now entitled to rule. There were several candidates, but he was considered the most suitable one, so, he became the king.

 As for pagans in Lithuania: they were left unmolested, their priests also. As officially Lithuania was a Christian country, crusades stopped after battle of Tannenberg in 1410.

Jadwiga's patronage of art and culture is continuation of  Angevin artistic patronage of the Neapolitan Angevin dynasty. She had good examples. In the article you will see also the image of funerary monument of Mary of Hungary, Queen of Naples, who was also patroness of arts, and like Jadwiga also connected to Hungarian Arpad dynasty. Mary's mother was a pagan of Cuman tribe who converted to Christianity in order to marry Stephen V, king of Hungary, and Dalmatia, Croatia, Rama, Bulgaria, Serbia, Galicia, Lodomeria and Cumania; Duke of Styria.

More about grail in Bezlawki, also historical background, soon, I hope, and I hope you enjoy it. Knowing the legend is one thing, but knowing the people in the legend can shed additional light, in my opinion. Again, we don't need to believe in the legend, that there are historical persons it doesn't make it automatically more credible. It is just a legend after all. Wasn't the legend  about Joseph of Arimathea who brought grail to Britain also a legend of Christianisation?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Iconography of Anounciation of Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin

Robert Campin and apprentice, Annunciation triptych, Merode Altarpiece,  1427-1430 Cloisters, New York

This version of Annunciation is rich in symbolism which was easily understood by average person of the days this altarpiece was commissioned. Today anyone interested can see it at the Cloisters, branch of Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but in today's world an average person doesn't understand its symbolism. Usually someone notices what is going on and who is there, as we are trained to understand different type of symbols. This painting belongs to Northern Renaissance but has still many elements of Late Gothic. Click on the picture to see it bigger.

Who is there?  From right to left: Joseph, engaged in wood working in his workshop, secluded an din a different landscape as we see through the window. Virgin Mary, absorbed in reading a book and she is not noticing the Archangel Gabriel yet. Archangel just arrived, he looks as he is about to kneel.  Above him in the air  on the rays of light there is a tiny baby Jesus with the cross. Merode couple kneeling outside, open or semi-open door at front of them.Maybe they are watching the scene. And close to the wall in the background we see a messenger. As for those who dismiss Virgin Mary as Virgin Mary on artistic depictions anytime she is dressed in red: this is Virgin Mary indeed, and she was often depicted in this color, specially in Northern school to which the painting belongs, and no, she is not pregnant. The bump under heavy draped robe is just  her knee.

Joseph made two mouse traps. This relates to the sermon by St Augustine who described incarnation of Jesus as a bite for Satan, in some way as mice are trapped in mouse traps. There are two traps, if they represent Jesus and Mary as two participants in the process of incarnation, etc. I prefer to say I don't know instead of giving you my guesses. This can mean many things, and there is debate among scholars, so, as I am not someone specializing in this part of art history, I leave it at this point how it is, no point of adding my opinions to it.

The central panel has symbols of Mary's purity: white as color symbolizing purity, white vase and white lily (chastity), also the wash basin and towel: Mary was called a pure vessel.  Archangel Gabriel also dressed like a deacon, in white, underlines the idea of purity. I like the respect shown for books, they were considered precious objects and this painting shows it.

On the table the scroll represents  Testament, the book is the New Testament. Book represents law, here is the fulfillment of what was written in the book. Green of the cache for the book  is the color of hope, Paradise and resurrection. It is not symbolizing fertility in this case, as it is religious painting, not secular one, and green is tied to Paradise and resurrection. The incarnation of the divine here is not regular event relating to natural earthly fertility.

The candle which is extinguished symbolizes divine light extinguished in order to become human, in order to incarnate in human body. The divine light in eternal aspect is shown on the wings of Archangel: gold or yellow in its place was also symbolizing divine light. The window which now shows the sky and family crests was painted in gold earlier, before over-painting with what we see today. Seven rays on which baby Jesus is traveling stands for divine light, seven rays: seven is the sacred number. Bu the dark color on the wings stands for depth of divine mysteries, for which black stood. The tiny carved lions on the bench are symbols of the seat of Salomon.

 Red robe of the Virgin symbolizes her love: ( agape the unconditional love), charity, redemption by the sacrifice on the cross, but also is a fashionable robe of the days in a very expensive color. Campin showed a domestic setting, and fashion of the days, which was typical. Old paintings are also valuable resources for costume historians and costume designers, as there is so much historical information, specially in the case of the painters with great attention to details and skills in rendering them. What we see also is an interior of a typical home in a city. Usually Annunciation was shown in a church or palace, here we have an interior of a real home. Campin was a painter for the city people, not a painter for aristocrats or churches. This small altarpiece was not intended to be installed in a church, but was an object of private domestic devotion.

The courtyard where the three people who are real life persons of Campin's days are present (donor with his wife and the messenger) is alluding to garden, but is not the same as in depiction of Virgin Mary in gardens: here it is is more cloistered, not much vegetation. Those gardens were cloistered gardens, in which the Virgin was depicted but had more vegetation, here it is more sparse. Still it is enclosed garden, hortus conclusus, which symbolizes Mary's virginity. Here the vegetation relates less to Paradise, which was typical in those hortus conclusus types of paintings, but the flowers represent the virtues of the Virgin: rose stand for her charity, violet for her humility.

The scenes are like almost everyday situations, except angel showing up. In Gothic slowly the divide between sacred and real human life started to narrow. Here we see religious scene happening like in real life, the saintly people don't even have halos, it was unusual. Painting saints without halos happened one century later, in Renaissance Italy.

Perspective in this painting is partially correct. It is not a typical linear perspective, where mathematics rules.Here those rules are bend and we have some twisted angles, like for example the table is painted correctly to the rules, this is not realistic, but allowed the painter to show more details. Sometimes artists do such things in order to make greater visual impact. For example Pieta by Michelangelo, where Mary is so much bigger than Jesus, yet for viewers it looks very natural.

 Bellow we have another painting of Virgin, this time with baby, in an interior by Campin, for comparison. I think now you will be able to read with ease the symbols contained in this domestic scene.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The supposed "heresy" of "All men are born equal" part 1

Polish Medieval coins with inscriptions in Hebrew
Yesterday was 4th of July celebrations in US. This time I am moving away from my chronological plan, and move in the next entry about this subject into 16th and 17th century Poland,  some "heretics" there dared to declare that "all men are born free." This included women too. Those people ideas influenced thinking in Europe, and then found it bloom in American Constitution. Do you know that Newton, Locke, Founding Fathers and other influential thinkers had their writings  in their libraries, or knew some of the thinkers in person?

The story of Socinians, Arians, or Polish Brethren as they were called, is the history of religious tolerance becoming persecuted fro freedom of conscience and pacifism. About them in the second part. Before I will write about them specifically, I need to explain a little bit more why I am doing it, about roots, and liberties  protected and abused.

This Summer I will write more about Poland, as there are interesting subjects you normally will not encounter easily. I hope I will not appear like Gus from My Big Fat Greek Wedding who promotes Greece such way that whatever is good it must be Greek. I will be writing about Poland, good and bad, also about roots of ideas, not only about Polish  Brethren who influenced Enlightenment in Europe and American Constitution, but also about Bogomils who influenced Cathars, Czech Brethren who were before Luther, and Arabs who influenced science and courtly love.

Poland once was a very unique country in Europe; had religious freedom guarantied by law.  There is a reason that there are Polish legends which talk about people escaping from other countries and finding safe haven in Poland. It was once called "a country without burning stakes." This is only partially true. And also the story of Polish Brethren, quite unique about whose ideas I was thinking yesterday in relation to American Constitution. Their story is story of intolerance in a country which was supposed to be tolerant,as declared to be so. Freedom can be very fragile, and needs to be protected. I will one time write more about burning stakes in Poland, but Polish Brethren were expelled form Poland. It was a tragedy because tolerance was guarantied by law.

Other people were not as fortunate to be "only" banished. Just some idea about it: Jews came to Poland because there were prosecuted in other countries. Many came from Spain. In Poland it was a unique situation Chapter of Jewish Liberties, known as Statute of Kalisz. It created a Jewish nation inside Polish nation. Please, take time to read this document, it is from 13th century, as it is very interesting, on English wikipedia are only some points out of original 36 , but still interesting.

Sounds good, right? For example the chapter forbade accusations of blood libel. Once world world's largest Jewish population lived in Poland, because they came there, escaped, looking for protection. Yet one Jew in Krakow was accused of desecration of the host, and he was burned on the stake. In Silesia 50 Jews were burned on the stake because they were accused of blood libel. Were such accusations forbidden by law?  Their freedom was supposed to be guaranteed by law, and I don't buy the argument " that it was unusually few casualties in comparison to the rest of Europe."  No, such comparison simply doesn't make it better, less tragic.  No need to ignore the problem, because the victims deserve better.  Even this one person in Krakow who was burned because he was accused of desecration, this is one human life too many.

There was also hysteria during epidemics, riots etc. No person should have been even harassed because of differences in creed, ethnicity etc. Those people came to Poland because they wanted protection. It is no need to be lured by numbers and compare it to other countries in Europe which were much worse. Comparing to even worse isn't ethically sound at all. In relation to  human lives and dignity. Even one victim is one too many, period. 

Wojciech Gerson, Reception of Jews by Casimir the Great, painting from 1874

History of Jews in Poland article can tell you more details, about riots, blaming Jews for black death and so on. It was not only freedom of religion and freedom profession on equal level with Christians. There were also abuses of freedom and human rights.

How strange is the contrast of Statutes of Kalisz in comparison to WWII. Non-Jewish victims in Poland were 3 millions, which was 20% of Polish population killed. Three million Polish Jews killed counted for 90% of Jewish population in Poland. We humans were we not supposed to be  "more civilized" during XX c?  After the era of Enlightenment people less enlightened than during Medieval times?  Antisemitism was than sponsored by the communist regime. Freedom need to be protected, always.

In comparison to those XXc. prosecutors, the king on the picture above was more enligthened. He not only reconfirmed the favorable laws of his predecessor who lived century earlier, but added additional protections. Freedom need to be protected, always.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Beuatiful Madonnas style in International Gothic and topoi of courtly love

Today i want to show some Madonnas in style which was a branch of International Gothic. Those depictions of Virgin Mary are called in Beautiful Madonnas. This iconographic type emerged in Bohemia (Czech Republic today), and spread to neighbouring states: Holy Roman Empire including Silesia, Poland, Teutonic Knights Crusader State, Burgundy, Austria and France. Not surprising that in the Teutonic Knights' state,   the domain of militant order with their strong devotion to Virgin Mary this style spread rapidly.

Madonna of Kruzlowa, by Ludwig Schneider/Wikimedia
Beautiful Madonnas were mostly stone sculptures, but sometimes were made wood, sometimes of terracotta fully three dimensional, no reliefs sculptures.

This type was a re-edition of images of Madonna with child, which started already in Byzantium, but this time Madonna was depicted as a very young woman, with delicate hands and small head, beautiful and lyrical. There is a lot of charm in Beautiful Madonnas, it is very sublime style with gentle gestures, cascades of fabrics, emotions showed realistically also the was strong attention to detail as the artists wanted to depict her very realistically, in a less stylized manner. It is all very refined in comparison to the previous styles of representation of her.

Characteristic pose of Madonnas is so called S pose, where the person stands slightly slouching, belly forward, the spine is bend, not straight. This was also a common pose in International Gothic, or High Gothic in general. It was considered very elegant those days.

The example on the left Madonna from Kruzlowa is obviously very young, she looks like an ideal lady of the court culture of her times. About an ideal of beauty in Gothic another time, in a separate entry. Yes, the baby looking as if he was going bald was one of the beauty ideals, also women had very high foreheads, which gave them balding looks. It was a fashion once.

Here the Madonna of Kruzlowa and her child are represented as New Adam and New Eve. This maybe confusing for today's audiences, but there was a lot of theological disputes in the Middle Ages about Mary's role in  redemption of humanity. Medieval allegories and symbols can be strange, but they also can be explained in a simple manner, I hope I can do it without making things complicated: Virgin Mary and her son are the new humanity, both were new people born without original sin. Adam and Eve were the people of old times, before the redemptive powers of the Messiah appeared in human form. Both Virgin and child are human, but also are divine, closer to perfection as born without original sin.  In Catholic doctrine Mary is the co-Savior, and Jesus is Savior of the world. Both take part in salvation of fallen  humanity. Here we see the apple in baby Jesus hand, it has double nature: it is an apple from Eden, but also an apple as globe, part of royal regalia, showing him as the ruler of humanity.

Beautiful Madonna of Wroclaw, Anonymous of Wroclaw or Prague, via wikicommons/ Burgher S

You can view a gallery of Beautiful Madonnas on wikipedia article (which i sin Polish only, but has quite nice visuals.) Those Madonnas represented ideal beauty, those ladies are equivalent of  models of today.  This type of representation was not a stylized Madonna anymore, but one that looked like a woman from real world, dressed like her, standing, gesturing like her, interacting with her child like a real mother from real world.

Also they would be cherished as court ladies, their about their virtues troubadours would sing. Just she wouldn't be so real, as the ladies who were the subject of courtly love were supposed to be extremely virtuous, extremely good.Knight would fall in love just by hearing of their virtues, before seeing them in person. Love of such lady was supposed to transform the lover who worshiped her.

 Even though in secular world the poetry of courtly love also included erotic elements, there was also an element of total sublimation, spread by the philosophy of Neo-platonism. Certain ideas overlapped, for example the idea of total devotion which echoes in mystical writings among others in those by Bernard of Clairveau who adored Virgin Mary, not a lady in earthly form. The lady is so adored, that she becomes unreal, she becomes totally divine. An ideal lady in secular world was of course a queen, and often the Virgin is wearing a royal crown.

Bust of a Virgin, terreacota, Bohemia, XIVc, wikimedia/ Mieow Mieow

The love of the Virgin is similar to courtly love, but of course is platonic, totally mystical, often has symbolic forms, like the Song of Songs was interpreted symbolically. Medieval mysticism, or Mariology in general, can be confusing. Social context and a little bit of social history is needed in order to make more sense of it.

Certain elements of devotion to Virgin Mary have common points in the idea of courtly love, it is strong selfless adoration of a chosen woman. With time an earthly court lady was replaced by Madonna, the Heavenly Lady. When the times of courtly love, fin'amor, (fine love), came to an end, and new era came:  XIII c was time of strong devotion to the Virgin Mary and mystical experience of sublimated love which broke any connections to sensuality.

For example Daude de Pradas who was also a troubadour, wrote that God was ultimate ":fine love and truth," and who loves God is loved back perfectly by him. He used the term fin'amor  referring to God, the term which was used usually in connection with courtly love. Lanfranc Cigala, another troubadour, also wrote about fine love in his religious poems. In his Gloriosa sainta Maria he wrote that he now is praising Virgin Mary as his lady in his songs, as the earthly love gave him only disappointment and pain.

Was this the search for ultimate virtue which gave new characteristics to Mariology? Probably. But also more troubadours than before were admonished not to sing sensual songs after the Albigensian Crusade. At once the culture of Southern France, home of prominent troubadours, became "worse than of the Saracens."  This  is a typical excuse of the colonisers, to talk with contempt about the culture they conquered. It happened later, in cases of XIX c. colonisation as well, putting down on India, Africa, Indochina, etc. But sometimes the conquerors adopted certain things for themselves, "to pity to destroy," as one of my art history teachers said. Troubadours were not only there, but Occitan culture was the culture of troubadours like for example Germany has culture of philosophy and good engineering.

But ardent songs of earthly love had topoi which were easily translated and adopted into mystical experience of platonic love. Song of Songs was symbolic also. Metaphors of religious love included love of parents for their children, love of spouses and also love of siblings. It seems that we humans need things earthly to express things the most abstract but very real at the same time. Mystical experiences belong to such realm of strong abstraction and reality.

The Madonnas included in this article here you can see  in order of appearance in two museums in Poland  Madonna of Kruzlowa is in Krakow,  Wroclaw Madonna is in Warsaw,  and in Bohemian Madonna in New York.Article about courtly love from wikipedia

Monday, July 1, 2013

Saints who once were crooks, criminals and bad people in general

St Christopher, dog-headed saint,  icon
This entry will be not a light read partially, for it is about bad people who changed their ways and became saints, were reformed individuals.

 I was writing about Mary Magdalene and I see from my statistics that entries about her are quite popular. She was also an extremely popular saint, also in Catholicism which described her as a reformed prostitute for over a millennium.There is a disbelief, in general, regarding her alleged former profession and her super star status. It seems that branding someone as a prostitute would be a social death, and it was, normally. And here the logic of old days and logic of today clash: we talk today about erasing Mary Magdalene through smear campaign, all very upsetting. Logical point, not much to dispute from today's view point. After all we live in a society  in which  we can for example discredit a politician for marital infidelity. But she was a saint and she was worshiped by a society different than ours. She wasn't an average person: she was a saint.

We can't always apply our today logic to societies of days gone. Mary Magdalene was described as a  former prostitute, but also was called no less than Apostle to the Apostles. She was also the second most depicted saint: Virgin Mary was first. I know that modern day people struggle deeply with this paradox. Which is logical, of course. But keep in mind that societies of old were in some regards very, very different than ours, their beliefs, social mores, social system, in general their culture was different.

This maybe come as a surprise, but Mary Magdalene was not the only saint who "was a great sinner," as those saints were described relating to the phases in their lives before changing their ways. In her alleged status as a former sinner she wasn't even the worst one. There is over thirty saints who were very ungodly before they changed and after some time achieved saintly characters. (There were saints who had human lives on their conscience, for example). Hard to grasp? Maybe. If we don't know the cultural attitude toward transformation in earlier days, yes, those issues become incompatible, and it is surely  understandable that they are incompatible.

 Yet people during Medieval times,  Renaissance, and Baroque had different views. Actually as late as until Victorian times people were not shy about retelling the sins of the saints. Not at all. They told that St Olga had lots of blood on her hands, as she decided that revenge against murderers of her husband should be bloody and no ones life should be spared. St Paul, the one who authored parts of New Testament was forgiven prosecutor of Christians.  St Mary the Egyptian was a street prostitute. Margaret of Cortona was a sex addict. The first saint of all was the Good Thief:  he was one of the two criminals crucified with Jesus. St. Callixtus of Rome was convicted twice for felony, in addition embezzlement wasn't something he shied away from. St Moses the Egyptian was  boss of a violent gang, those men were killing people. St Camillus de Lellis was a con man, a mercenary, and card player for profit.And so on,this  list is not complete, and I don't see the reason to make it complete in this blog. You see the point anyway.

St Mary of Egypt, Russian icon, XVII c.
But Christianity isn't the only religion which has converted criminals as saints: Tibetan Buddhism has one such a person: Milarepa. He killed 35 people before he repented and became an example of goodness. Role of religious changes which emerged during  Axial Age was to tranform human ethics deeply on individual level.

So, not every saint was a paragon of virtue from early on. Some were examples of evil who later changed in the process of true alchemy of the soul. One of the last examples, from XX c. is a man who killed a policeman, and was the last person guillotined for his crime in France. He experienced conversion in prison and become unusually good and a shining example to others, his name was   Jaques Fesch. And here is the controversy for and against Jaques Fesch's case for sainthood as seen by the Catholics themselves.

Oscar Wild once said: "Evey saint has a past, every sinner has a future." For sure not every saint had "a past"  in sense of bad past, as there were some individuals who very immaculate from the beginning. But for sure path to sainthood wasn't excluding anyone. Mary Magdalene in her alleged profession was not paragon of virtue, but she was quite innocent in comparison to the others. So was another beloved saint,  Francis of Assisi, who according to  hagiography  was a bad boy who matured gradually to sainthood.Early on he wasn't a pacifist as he lived as a soldier, lead decadent life of revelry financed by his wealthy father. It was later when he changed his ways, and also married  "Lady Poverty." Word marriage symbolized his commitment to life in poverty.

Dog-Headed Cannibals, woodcut from Cartha Marina,  1530
What about the icon above, the saint with the head of a dog, adorning this post in a way so strange for us, the modern people? It is St Christopher, who was believed to belong to a cruel kind of people who were born with dog heads, and were extremely violent. In fact cannibals were depicted as dog-headed. Cane was Latin name for dog. St Christopher was such terrible man who after he met Jesus became a very good person, and one day he became saintly.

 Sainthood was and still is considered to be the life as most human and humane as it possibly can be. It was believed that every person without exception can become a saint, and the true miracles of transformation of a soul are possible. Miracle of changing water into wine was a miracle of transformation, and such transformation was considered possible for human soul with divine intervention and openness combined with willingness from the side of the sinner.

Today those things may appear difficult to grasp, but were quite simple for people of earlier days:  those saints were illustrations of great workings of divine grace. They were miracles in action and  embodiments of  hope given to every person, however imperfect a human being was, for sure there was hope. The hope was the promise that perfect transformation was possible because perfect forgiveness was possible, that God's love was all inclusive. If one abandoned for good the path of evil, the person could even become sanctified if the transformation was complete. The person was forgiven, and you didn't question divine forgiveness. To do so it would be to dwell on peoples' sins who were forgiven already, washed totally clean, no-existing. People went to confession and believed that their sins were forgiven also, that they were cleansed also.Accepting that this happened to others as well wasn't a big deal for them.It was the world in which confession and repentance was a sacrament of reconciliation, of giving freedom from sin.

Forgiveness as a concept and mystical experience is very prominent in Christianity. It makes transformation possible. Transformation into what? Into purity, life in sanctified grace.Mary Magdalene was considered completely transformed, and as someone who was pure she was also depicted as ascending to heaven. Those things need to be understood in relation to saints, specially those of them who had difficult past, who were not from the beginning like Mother Theresa. They had bad past but grew so far beyond it,that  they were not soiled by it anymore. Bad past was the memory of a  battle won, not something which was supposed to be held against them, as it showed the severe spiritual obstacles they overcame. You couldn't slander a saint, as the sins forgiven were considered erased forever, sins of any person, and not an object of discussion or doubt after they were removed.

 Holding their past against them would be like not accepting God's verdict of forgiveness, to be unforgiving against God's will, and people were warned that those who are unforgiving can't expect much forgiveness themselves. It was much deeper matter than we think about it today from our perspective, "oh, this saint had bad past, therefore was discredited." They couldn't be discredited, as their sins were considered forgiven, what was forgiven wasn't existing anymore.

Assumption of Mary Magdalene by Jose Claudio Vicente Antolinez, XVII c.
Mary Magdalene has black hair here, not red. This is Spanish painting. Spanish artists depicted her with black hair, not as  a redhead.

As you see Mary Magdalene wasn't the only saint in Catholicism who had bad past, and who was sanctified in spite of it. Yes, early Christianity tried to figure out what to do with women, if they were allowed to be for example priests or not, etc. Misogyny was there. According to comparative religion scholar Karen Armstrong as long as Christianity was a secret and forbidden religion, when Christians met in catacombs or private homes, women were prominent. When Christianity became state religion, power was regarded as right  of men. And I say, no wonder, Mediterranean cultures were very misogynistic those days. People are very surprised when they read for example about position of women in Greece of Antiquity. And gender was not considered polarized, as we believe today. It was a different, kind of evolutionary concept which dealt with the belief what every thing was developing in nature. In this system which was linear and not polarized as today, man was the highest sentient being in the  hierarchy of life, woman was below him.She was the link between humans and animals. Yes, it was "really so bad." Religions as systems often adopt a lot of surrounding culture. Early Christianity maybe was socially very different at the beginning, but than normative  cultural prescriptions started to settle in. And for that no conspiracy was needed. People are not only products of their religions, but also of their cultures, and their times.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Forgoten Patron-Abbot Suger

If you are interested in art history, specially if you are interested in Medieval art, sooner or later you will run in your conversation, or books people recommend to you, into stories about Templars, how they introduced and built Gothic cathedrals, and so on. One name is never mentioned in such conversations,  or books: Abbot Suger's. It seems he disappeared from popular culture as contributor to Gothic art, or maybe he was never accepted. Pity, as he did as much for the development of Gothic architecture as the Medici's family did for the Renaissance. Of course, he is known to people who are serious about art history, but doesn't he deserve his place in the pantheon of movers and shakers and patrons who fueled new forms?

Chapel of the Virgin, St Denis basilica, via wiki commons by Myrabella
Abbot Suger was a man of many talents: he was a politician, statesman who served as regent of France when king was on crusade, he was a historian, art theorist, theologian and of course manager of a big and influential Abbey of Saint Denis. Not to idealise him: as many people of his times, he was sometimes opposing crusades, but sometimes he was in favor of them. Basilica of St Denis on wikipedia article

He was friend and confidant of the kings, and patron of artists and builders who had new ideas but were not given proper chance to bloom.

Sometimes, however, another situation happens: Abbot Suger is talked about as a single inventor of a Gothic style. This is not completely true: he wrote about aesthetics, wanted the walls to be higher, lighter, windows big and colorful, designed himself, introduced new features, loved things ornate and precious. But he collaborated with people who wanted to do things in a different way.Redesigning of St Denis wasn't his and only his project. He was very engaged, but didn't handle projects and firmly said: "build exactly what I drew." He was giving ideas, he accepted ideas, he was the project manager. Through him was possible to introduce large windows with pointed arches, ribbed vaults, clusters of columns, flying buttress, ambulatory with chapels radiating form it, and lots of light.

As you see on the picture above some features are still Carolingian, like for example columns, they still look like those from Antiquity. But arches are pointed already, vault is more complex, and windows are big.

Gothic style was a natural development of Romanesque style: what happens the newer style tended to make the building more spread in smaller part, branching out, more differentiated in forms, less compact, in comparison to the solid mass of Romanesque churches. The style was adopted fast, specially in royal domain of Ille de France, but still a lot of experimentation was going on. It happened that not all architectural ideas worked perfectly, talking about Europe now in general, not only France. There were instances when parts of cathedrals collapsed, or bad accidents happened. But with time building science was catching up with new aesthetics of creating higher and higher churches with bigger and bigger windows.

Rosette window in St Denis, North side,via wiki commons by Amirwiki
About Zodiac, see my blog entry about Charters and Zodiac
A lot of enthusiasm was involved in such projects, specially in France. France was the cradle of Gothic style and from here the style radiated to other countries. More stones were moved in France during the era of building Gothic cathedrals than in old Egypt in construction of pyramids, and cathedral builders were properly compensated. People who helped were volunteers, no slave work involved.

Volunteers were amazing enthusiasts.They were religious, of course, those people were products of their times like we often are products of our times. Haimon, abbot of Saint Pierre sur Dives wrote in his letter from 1145 about the wave of building enthusiasm among people in France. He wrote about building of Chartres cathedral. According to him even princes and nobility together with those of humble origin were pulling carts full of olive, wood, crops, stones, and anything which was needed for fulfilling the needs of the people working on the construction, or for the building of the church. Often a thousand or more people were pulling a cart full of stones, in great silence, in spirit of forgiveness of each other imperfections and in spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood. If you could hear anything at all , those were only prayers, or confessions of wrong doings and words of forgiveness among them. It was like a contemplative movement of peace among people for whom at such times differences among humans were not important, they worked in the spirit of brotherly and sisterly love. So wrote Haimon.

 Suger's ideas of the new style spread fast, but it doesn't mean that they were widely accepted without criticism: some churchmen said that ornate and rich style shouldn't be part of church buildings, church interiors, or church services. Cystersians were proponents of such ideas of humbleness and actually during Medieval times there was ongoing controversy about humbleness versus showing things divine through color, gold, light   and all things which could inspire awe. A little about Cystersian aesthetics in my other entry. I am not saying one approach was better than the other,but  they were competing.

 Abbot Suger not only broke frames of Carolingian building, (the abbey was built in this style) when he commissioned the rebuilding, but also asserted that awe is important part of religious experience.

Cystersian were more for soft quiet focus and contemplation, were against appeal to senses in churches. Colors, sumptuous decorations, music, incense, this was not important, they viewed it as distracting form the experience of closeness to God. Suger said the divine manifests in beauty, light an d color. He wasn't alone: this idea was well and alive because of monastery in Cluny. Founder of the Cystersian order, St. Bernard of Clairveaux simply opposed Cluniac theories. But Suger was on the side of Cluny: to him the stained glass windows were like a vision,  gold reminded of divine wisdom, soaring heights of church ceilings were leading thoughts to heaven. For sure churches were sanctuaries of beauty and space in European, not only French cities, which were dirty, conditions were crowded, as for example width of a room was the width of a bed, etc. But people could just step in a church building  and were transported into another, more beautiful world.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Perished Mary Magdalene's old collegiate church

Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene are two women who are the most represented  in the history of Catholic church. Mary Magdalene is the second most shown woman, so we can safely say that as a saint she is the most represented after Virgin Mary. Both Marys are also shown in the type of images called assumption into heaven. Both were honored, and Mary Magdalene wasn't  marginalized as a saint, wasn't pushed into fringes of Catholic faith because the tradition was that she was a reformed prostitute. The marginalization theory is often repeated, and I think I understand where it comes from. Catholic church is most often pointed out as the main villain here, because she was labeled as former prostitute, but the fact gets overlooked that she was exceptionally honored also by the Catholics. I will give you an example of many, the collegiate church built in her honor.

This  was a collegiate church in Poznan, huge as a cathedral, which had a Mary Magdalene school adjacent to it. It was a high school, founded in 1303, the oldest secular school in Poland. The school must have been quite liberal for its days, as sometimes there were fights among the Catholics and the "heretics," when the students started to use fists in order to win arguments. Short tempers aside, but the fact that under the same roof were studying people who often represented very opposing views is nothing so common in old days. The picture above, by Alberti ( thank you Radomil) shows how big the building was even as  a ruin, in late XVIII c. It was built in the Middle Ages, once was one of the biggest Gothic churches in Poland, and the symbol of the city of Poznan. It was as big as St. Mary Basilica in Cracow, than the capital of Poland, but St. Mary Magdalene Collegiate church had even taller tower: 20 m (c.67') higher. The church was destroyed, the school survived until  today. Some trivia: among famous guests Chopin visited and gave concerts there, also the  school was awarded prestigious Order of Polonia Restituta Knights' Cross.

From Civitates ORbis Terrarum ( XVII c.) printed in Cologne
Why I am writing about a church which doesn't exist anymore? Specially because so many St. Mary Magdalene churches exists, or existed all over Europe. Fair point. But this one  has intersting history, which is very representative regarding two Marys, also how medieval art or architecture was treated during XIX c.

According to medieval chronicles, the  collegiate church was founded  in the middle of XIII  century. It had to do with urban planing: the city of Poznan was supposed to be moved to the other side of the Warta river, and people had idea to built a huge collegiate church.  One side had already St. Mary's Cathedral, so, it was decided that the new patroness should be St.Mary Magdalene. Very typical: Virgin Mary as the main super star, Mary Magdalen close to her in fame. Here Mary Magdalene with her church became something of a founding mother of the new city. Nice hommage. Also the church  was under patronage of the dukes of Greater Poland. Another trivia: those were the dukes who took Arthurian legends seriously, even styled themselves according the legends, also had crest of Lancelot. Maybe the dukes were the founders themselves, it is not clear. Other patronage later, when the ducal  lineage died out was taken by the king of Poland, from rather remote capital of Cracow.

The collegiate church of St. Mary Magdalene was different from a cathedral only in some aspects: it didn't have bishop's throne in it, ( the cathedrals have it), was not the sit of a bishop in the administrative sense, but it had body of clergy, canons,  member of a chapter in a similar manner to cathedral.Those members of clergy  who also have special honorary privileges were allowed to elect bishops. So, it was quite a prominent church. This church is one of the artistic examples of Mary Magdalene's prominence in the Catholic fait.

It took long to finish the construction work, very typical for those days too. Today what is left on this location  is only a plazza, one sculpture in a museum, the heart of a bell,  and an archeological dig.

 Once this church had 52 altars, 27 chapels, the tower was 114.8 m tall (376' ) high enough to be listed among tallest church towers. The tower was slightly shorter than the tower of Chartres Cathedral (115 m). The width of St. Mary Magdalene church was 42 m, had three naves  (Chartres has 32 m to 46 m width). St. Mary Magdalene's church was was 70 m long "only" as compared to Chartres, imposing 130 m length. In feet 233, and 433. This is addressed  to those who are familiar with Chartres. However, 70 m length of a church isn't little either, actually it is a lot. In comparison to the cathedral in Poznan (St. Mary's Cathedral) this church was only 2 m shorter in length, but wider 6 m (20') than 36 m wide St. Mary's Cathedral. If devotion can be measure in meters and feet, not bad at all for a saint who was considered a former prostitute. Mary Magdalene got a church which was actually bigger in square meters or square feet measurements, with a  taller tower than the local cathedral. Mary Magdalene wasn't much on the margins.

This model of the church is nice (thank you Poznaniak). I don't know how accurate it is, if during medieval times the roof tiles were so big in proportion to the rest of the church? But I am not an architecture historian. Today the size of the roof tiles would indicate average building in Europe, which this church was of course not. So, squint you eyes to get maybe better feel for the real proportions. This is artist talking in me.

The church suffered the last of devastating fires at the end of XVIII c. People tried to rebuild it, but lightning caused  the wall to fall , and in 1802 the consensus was that the church will not be rebuilt. Those were the times when medieval heritage wasn't as much appreciated as it is today. For example Prussian administration  (Poznan was occupied by Prussia at this time) ordered to destroy the medieval city walls. I didn't know if the people gave up, or the Prussians administration didn't give permission, as often happened, the church is lost forever. But not blaming the Prussian here: destroying parts of Medieval heritage wasn't so uncommon. Krakow, then under Austrian occupation, lost its medieval walls too. For example Paris doesn't have the Old Town anymore because it was destroyed in order to make way for modernisation of the city. Cloisters Museum in New York exist because the old monasteries were considered worthless in France, were in a state of ruin. An appreciative American bought it and shipped to US, cloisters were lovingly re-assembled. Good for us and future generations.

Some churches were demolished by purpose, explosives were used. Chartres again: it was planed to destroy the cathedral, as some were destroyed already, explosives were set, just someone, lucky for us today and the future generations, decided that the explosion will create too much of  unnecessary dust clouds. French Revolution: some churches, if survived the destructive zeal directed  at Medieval and religious art,  were supposed to be converted to the so called "temples of Reason." Sigh...

Today the archaeologists excavate what is left from the St. Mary Magdalene church. They found interesting objects, also conduct genetic research of the human remains found the collegiate church, as it was also the resting place of many prominent figures in local history. Archeology is very interdisciplinary today: DNA testing allows to know quite a lot about public health in earlier days, genetic illnesses shared by members of similar population, or families, etc. In  earlier days  big help for archaeologists was carbon dating, today they have also DNA testing to their disposal, scanning of the grounds or objects, aerial photography, impressive inventions. What comes next, I am curious.

Alberti ,Ruins of the church of St. Mary Magdalen in Poznan, via Radomil

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Holy Grail in Bezlawki, part 1, Escape after Hastings

Bayeux tapestry, battle of Hastings. Via wiki commons, by Maxim

This blog has been neglected for long time. I planed and promised to write about the legend of the Holy Grail in Bezlawki, today's Poland. I mentioned before that it seems that Arthurian legends were very well received in Poland. But the legend of holy Grail in Bezalwki has some not very semi-historical events in it, and had people who are historical too. However, I am not saying here we need to believe the legend because of its historicity: it is just a legend based on real facts.

This is a story about a battle, escape, two chalices, two fighting brothers, the crusaders and a tower.
The battle in question was the battle of Hastings, when the last Anglo-Saxon king, the Harold II of England Harold II of England was killed. His children escaped to Denmark, as they were not safe anymore when  William the Conqueror became a new ruler. Short reminder: the mystical object of Medieval times, Holy Grail, was believed to be several things, one version was that it was the cup, or a chalice, into which Joseph of Arimathea collected blood of Jesus during the crucifixion. It became the ultimate  blood relic, which was brought by Joseph of Arimathea to the British Island. One version say that is connected to the Glastonbury Abbey.

 The tradition  also say that it was taken by escaping members of fallen dynasty more East, in order to save their lives, three people. They found refuge at the court of Danish king, their relative. They didn't escape empty handed, as you guess the story goes, they took  what they wanted, or rather what they thought was so precious they couldn't bear to leave behind. Among precious objects they considered worthy not to fall into the hands of William the Conqueror were two chalices, (from Britain and Greece). Finally  the grail was installed in this church, in Bezlawki, on the picture bellow. It stayed there for several centuries, still during the twenties of XX c. one travel book writer, Orlowicz, claimed he still saw one of the chalices in the church.

Church in Bezlawki today, empty, wiki commons, courtesy of Severus

Who were those three expatriate children of Harold II of England as real historical people? One of them was Gytha of Wessex Gytha of Wessex, who later became the wife of  Vladimir II Monomakh, the  ruler of  Byzantium influenced Kievan Rus. He is also known under name of Waldemar. Gytha's and Vladimir's son is mentioned in Norse sagas, there he is called Harald  his Slavic name was Mstislav. One of the brothers, Godwin, became the ruler of one of Lithuanian principalities, a duke. How it was possible? This was XI c. but Lithuania still was very similar to VI c. Britain: like at the court of king Arthur the knights took decisions during an assembly. Upward mobility was possible, still, during those days for a warrior who was considered worth of rule.

 Back to  Bezlawki: it was far away, actually when the chalices, (or chalice? ) first were installed there, the building which is the church today was not a church at all, but the fortified  tower of the crusaders. Not the Knights Templars, often they are associated in modern versions of the story with holy grail, but in this story we have Teutonic Knights, the worshipers of the Virgin Mary, with black crosses instead of red ones. They were  Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem. Knights form Europe joined them, not only from Germany. They were invited by pious Polish princes, Prussian Crusade was part of their military enterprise.

Church in Bezlawki, another view, wiki commons, courtesy of Jerzy Strzelecki

The Teutonic Knights came into the posession of the chalices later,but  it wasn't a war loot . It was a gift. From a rather pious ally.

Teutonic Knights, as a military order on a mission they  pressed East, however,  not South but  North, and who like those knights who went to the Holy Land got the blessing of  pope, they fought the  non-Christians, in this case the pagans, of today's Poland and Baltic states. They build a fortress which at the timescut the most east into the territories of the pagan Prussians, the Baltic people.  One  thing :  the English  version of article about Bezlawki mentions that the the fortress was a hunting lodge build by the Teutonic Knights. Not true, it was a fortified tower, a Wildhaus, as the knight called it, a house, a post in the wilderness. The forest was dense there, and I am sure there were hunters too, who hunted the wild  (it means game in German, also wilderness). However Jagd is hunting, hunting lodge is Jagdhaus. This was a fortress in which knights were stationed, not the hunters.

Two brothers, Lithuanian  dukes were in a bitter conflict. Jogaila, the older one,  who later became the king of Poland, was against the Teutonic Knights. His ascend to Polish throne happened after the Teutonic Knights were subdued and after Jogaila got baptized, it was the Christianisation of Lithuania. His younger brother,  Svitrigaila, sided with the Teutonic Knights, he also brought for them two mentioned chalices which were installed in the tower. Not too unusual, as the relics in the Medieval times were believed to help in difficult situations, and an outpost so far East probably was considered worth of help. Svitrigaila was invited to live in the tower together with his garrison. So, he didn't really give it away,  he moved with it. Svitrigaila still during XX c. was considered direct descendant of Harold II of England by Polish historians. Teutonic Knights promised him the crown of Lithuania.

More information follows soon.One Polish Medieval chronicle is somehow unusual,  it shows that Arthurian legend was taken seriously.Also two Lithuanian Grand Dukes were married to women who became divine: one was considered a goddess (she was a pagan), the other became a saint. Both were worshiped. Also the Nazis had it base very close: 30 buildings, 50 bunkers. It is today a tourist attraction, called Wolf's Lair.

As for the story, yes, it is kind of difficult to believe, it is a legend after all, we don't need to believe it. (I don't). Is it difficult to believe that such legend exists in Poland? Why? legends of escapes are not uncommon in Poland, it was a country to which refugees often went. And you can find this legend retold in polish on the net. Here are links to a website of a licenced tour guide (site in English) where the lady talks about  the legend, another is website of the town near Bezlawki. Not the only articles on net about this legend. This i part of tradition, really.

Blog entry by the tourist guide, she describes it well

Article in Polish, sorry, gmina Ketrzyn site, lots of hsitorical inforamtion