Happy St. George’s Day!

For St. George’s Day (April 23), some images of the saint. My thanks to everyone who sends me these!

1. Courtesy Wanda Cronauer, a Greek St. George in action, from the Jerusalem Art Museum. I have never seen an oval-shaped icon before (if this is an icon).

2. Also from Wanda Cronauer: a sculpted St. George with plate armor and a flowing cape, in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

3. I took this photo at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2014, and I found it in their online catalogue. This ivory St. George was made in Cologne or Burgundy, although the AGO does not proffer a date when.

4. Here is a bas-relief St. George in Venice. My friend Anne Delgado sent me this.

5. Ditto.

6. My friend Brad Adams and his son beneath Donatello’s St. George sculpture in Florence.

7. Brad also sent me this St. George (and graffiti) from Venice.

8. My friend Todd Harper took this photo at Montepulciano, Italy, last June. It is by Angelo Righi (Orvieto, 1587-1603). The dead bodies in addition to the dragon are a nice touch.

9. My friend Malcolm Mercer sent me this photo of a medieval wall painting at Hungerford, Berks.

10. An illustration by Kay Neilson from the book Red Magic: A Collection of the Worldʻs Best Fairy Tales from All Countries (1930), sent by my friend Chris Berard.

11. From the Birmingham (Ala.) Museum of Art, sent to me by Ken Wheeler. The dragon’s teats suggest that it’s female; Samantha Riches has a lot to say about the gendering of this legend in her St George: Hero, Martyr, Myth (2000).

12. “Klosterkirche St Georg und Martin, Weltenburg, Lower Bavaria, Bavaria, Germany” – shamefully, I cannot remember who sent me this.

13. An Ethiopian St. George on display in the Creation Museum (Petersburg, Ky.), courtesy Ruth Mattson.

Vikings!

Dorothy Kim in Time espouses a common theme among woke medievalists:

Far-right Viking medievalism is not about historical accuracy. Rather, it’s used to create narratives. So, to resist the medieval narratives that activate violent hate, we must create counternarratives — and to do that, we must understand the real Viking past and how it has been weaponized.

I am no fan of white nationalism, but I am chary of Prof. Kim’s prescriptive “counternarrative,” on the principle that it sure looks like she is holding history hostage to her own present-day concerns. Apparently, the far right looks back on the Vikings with admiration, since they were bad-ass white people. Well, we can’t have that, so we’ll imagine that they were “multicultural and multiracial.”

But is this actually true?

I repeat my idea that academics should seek the truth as much as possible. If people want to idealize a historical era for their own reasons, that has nothing to do with us. Or rather, we should keep on doing what we’re doing, gently correcting any misconceptions out there as we discover them. Constructing noble-lie “counternarratives” is just as bad! If it’s bad, say, to elevate the Greeks as the fountainhead of all that is good about Western Civilization, then accusing them of stealing everything from the Egyptians isn’t any better.

Here is a proper use of the Viking past, snapped at a local Dollar General.

Paris and Chartres

Everyone knows the cathedral of the city of Paris as “Notre Dame,” but there are approximately sixty French cathedrals dedicated to some aspect of “Our Lady.” One of these is Chartres, probably the most famous French cathedral after Paris.

Chartres Cathedral from the southeast. Wikipedia.

My friend Mark Skocyzlas has just visited Chartres Cathedral, and tells me that it suffered, in 1836, a fire similar to that of Notre-Dame de Paris this past week. According to Wikipedia, “the old lead-covered roof, with its complex structure of timber supports (known as ‘the forest’) was destroyed by fire. It was replaced with a copper-clad roof supported by a network of cast iron ribs, known as the charpente de fer (‘iron frame’). At the time, the framework over the crossing had the largest span of any iron-framed construction in Europe.”

“Charpente de fer,” Chartres Cathedral. Wikipedia.

A view of the interior of the roof space, which looks like a twenty-first century airport concourse, but in fact dates from the early industrial age. Presumably it is also more fire resistant, and a model for what could be done with Notre-Dame de Paris.

I confess that I don’t much care for calls that the rebuilding of Notre Dame should “reflect today’s multicultural France.” It’s a medieval Gothic cathedral, and remains a locus of Christian worship! That it is also a tourist attraction is of distinctly secondary importance. Please, let’s save the starchitect glass pyramids and “crystals” for other, less significant buildings.

Another Viking Site?

Someone ought to compose a list of every claimed Viking site in North America, with a rating: definite (1), as yet undetermined (2), and definitely false (3). The latest one, from Archaeology World (hat tip: David Winter):

Discovery of Viking site in Canada could rewrite history

An iron working hearthstone was discovered on Newfoundland, hundreds of miles from the only noted Viking location to date.

Another thousand-year-old Viking colony might have been found on the island of Newfoundland, Canada. The finding of the old Viking location on the Canadian coast could drastically change the story of the exploration of North America by the Europeans prior to Christopher Columbus.

The excavation of the stone, once used in iron working, on Newfoundland took place a hundred miles south of the only known Viking site located in North America.

This proposes that Vikings may have traveled much farther into the continent than previously thought.

A team of archaeologists have been unearthing the newly-found location at Point Rosee, a narrow, windswept peninsula on the most western part of the island.

Others referenced on this blog:

L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland (1)
Miramichi-Chaleur Bay, New Brunswick (2)
Baffin Island, Nunavut (2)
Cambridge, Massachusetts (3)
Memphis, Tennessee (3)
Alexandria, Minnesota (3)
Newport, Rhode Island (3)

Followup

A followup to the post below about Hagan Chapel. Yesterday Reinhardt released the following statement:

Reinhardt University and Waleska United Methodist Church have mutually agreed on an expense sharing plan for Hagan Chapel, and vow to work cooperatively to build a relevant partnership in support of the community of students, faculty, staff and residents of Waleska.

Together, the university and the church mourn the breakdown in our relationship and have pledged to work for a full reconciliation between our communities in order to demonstrate the way of Christ, which is to love and serve each other.

We invite the community of faith known as Waleska United Methodist Church and the educational community of Reinhardt University to renew their commitment to cultivate the fruit of spirit of Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Protestantism, The Bible, and Church Tradition

In the early sixteenth century, everyone knew that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt, in that it was not living up to its own principles. The Pope may have been head of the Church, but he was also a secular ruler, the sovereign of the Papal States, and as such, engaged in all the subterfuge that Machiavelli describes in The Prince. The Church forbade any number of things, like holding more than one church office, marriage within certain degrees of consanguinity, or the keeping of mistresses, but was always willing to grant an exception for the right price, or turn a blind eye if the subject was important enough. Many popes enjoyed a very luxurious and self-indulgent lifestyle, and even if we got some great Renaissance art out of this, it still didn’t sit well with a lot of ordinary Christians. And altogether, the Church as an organization appeared bureaucratic and very venal, a long way from its lofty self-image as the foundation of Jesus Christ himself and the sole guarantor of human salvation.

So in this sense, Martin Luther had a point.

Luther went a little further than that, though. In common with Erasmus and a number of other prominent thinkers of his time, he identified the corruption of the Church with its wealth of extra-Biblical traditions. The humanist impulse was to go ad fontes, which to them was always textual, the text in this case being the Bible. Where in the Bible to you find any justification for:

veneration of saints and their relics
pilgrimage to visit these
apotropaic images
penance
purgatory
indulgences
the use of incense in Christian worship
priests as a separate caste of human
monasticism
prescribed use of Latin

Etc. So all of these practices, some over a thousand years old when Luther was alive, were to be downgraded, because they’re not endorsed by the Bible. They were figured as useless at best, or positively harmful at worst – idolatrous and sinful. Now, I suppose that Luther had a point here too… but, really, his program was no more true than its opposite. It is arbitrary, a judgment call, that the Bible should be the sole source of Christian practice. Even Erasmus condemned the mechanized, what’s-in-it-for-me aspect of popular piety, not its non-Biblicism as such.

The real significance of Luther, though, is encompassed in the word Glaubensspaltung – the “Faith-Splitting.” Luther was in no position to be elected pope, at which point he could use the power of the office to impose a more Bible-based Christianity over everyone. Instead, he managed to convince certain German princes that it was no big matter to declare their independence from the Roman Catholic Church, so that he could at least impose his vision of Christianity over their territories. Americans generally view this secession favorably, given this country’s Protestant history and its own parallel origin in the Declaration of Independence. But you could also say that Luther permanently destroyed the unity of Western Christendom, a terrible and tragic thing.

Furthermore, if Luther could break away in order to implement his own interpretation of Christianity, then so could everyone else. The Bible is a big book, with a lot of stuff in it, and it all depends on what you want to emphasize. Luther himself retained some non-Biblical Catholic practices like infant baptism or the notion of an established church, for reasons that he could justify to himself. But following Luther’s lead, all sorts of people in Europe then felt licensed to interpret the Bible according to their own consciences and to establish their own churches, often going beyond far beyond the dictates of Lutheranism. Jean Calvin discerned predestination and limited atonement from his reading of the Bible. Even more extreme were the Anabaptists, who sought to recreate the church of the first century AD as described in the letters of St. Paul. You know you’re pure when you’re a small group in a hostile world, and accordingly Anabaptists refused all connection to state power, which had only been first established in the fourth century, long after the closure of the New Testament canon. Other signature Anabaptist beliefs included adult baptism (in the mode of Jesus, who accepted it when he was old enough understand what was going on), pacifism (Matthew 5: “whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”), the shunning of wayward members (Titus 3: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject”), and the refusal to take oaths (Matthew 5: “Swear not at all… but let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay”). 

How many other Biblical verses have inspired new sects or at least cherished practices? Off the top of my head:

Genesis 9: “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”

This is spoken to Noah as he leaves the Ark, thus it predates Moses and even Abraham, and so is still binding, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This prohibition on the consumption of blood means that JWs will refuse to receive blood transfusions.

Exodus 20: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

That would be the sabbath day, the seventh day of the week, i.e. Saturday, the one the Jews keep. Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the early Christian custom of treating Sunday as the sabbath was a grave error.

Mark 16: “And these signs shall follow them that believe… they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.”

This has given rise to the Pentecostal custom of glossolalia (speaking in tongues)… and in extreme cases of serpent handling,* that emblem of Appalachian weirdness.

(Even the Westboro Baptist Church can explain very logically why the Bible compels us to picket AIDS funerals.)

Back in the sixteenth century, Roman Catholics responded to Biblicism by rejecting it. Or rather, they affirmed that the Bible was important, but they also affirmed that longstanding church traditions were important, on the principle that Jesus did not write the Bible, he founded a church, and without the church there would be no Bible. There is no reason to throw out customs that people have found efficacious and deeply meaningful for hundreds of years. Yes, the corruption of the church had to end, as did any calculated, mechanistic attitudes towards salvation. But, they rightly reasoned, there was no reason why a Bible-based Christianity would necessarily be the cure for these things. One can have the love of God in one’s heart, even as one believes in the efficacy of all seven of the sacraments, papal supremacy, or the intercession of saints.

And even the Anabaptists agree, in their way. The Anabaptist group that everyone knows about are the Amish. As mentioned, they hold themselves apart from the world (2 Corinthians 6: “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”), and have adopted any number of customs in order to signal this. But where in the Bible does it say that one must abjure electricity and automobiles? Where in the Bible does it say that men must wear plain dress and have beards, but with no hair on the upper lip?

You can drive tradition out with a pitchfork, but it always finds its way back.

* The trouble is that verses 9-20 (the “Longer Ending”) of Mark 16 were probably not in the original manuscript. I personally think that the practice is condemned by 1 Corinthians 10:9: “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.”

Church Buildings

I was as shocked as anyone by the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday. How could such a thing happen to such a famous building? You would think they would have taken better precautions to prevent it, and I really hope that no foul play was involved. But it is good to remember that over a long enough timespan the likelihood of such disasters happening approaches 1, and that all ancient buildings have been repeatedly damaged and renovated over the course of their existence – at its most extreme it’s like the hammer that has had three new handles and two new heads. And happily, Notre Dame’s roof might be gone, and the spire toppled, but the building retains its structural integrity, so rebuilding the lost parts should be easy enough.

Artist Daniel Mitsui said it well in a speech he made in 2017, an excerpt of which he posted yesterday to Facebook:

And earlier on this blog I wrote that:

As a historian I am interested in sacred space, but as a Christian I don’t care much for it. Christianity is wherever two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name. Christianity derives from the Bible and Church tradition, and you can have these anywhere. Whenever people designate a particular place or object as being essential to their faith, they are just asking for trouble – what happens when you lose control over it? Your entire life’s purpose then becomes getting it back, at the expense of everything else that matters.

Having said all that, I don’t believe in the gratuitous destruction of Christian monuments, and when I denigrate fighting over sacred space, I mean specific coordinates on the earth’s surface, e.g. the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, or the Temple Lot in Independence, Mo. I do believe that one’s built environment reflects something about one’s values. In the very early days Christians worshiped in people’s homes, and some sects continue this practice (e.g. the Amish – who have adopted plenty of other ways of publicly expressing themselves). But church buildings have been an integral part of Christian practice since before Constantine, and most religious universities have a chapel on campus somewhere for the use of the university community. Even if they don’t use it all that much, the fact that it exists at all is a statement: this university is affiliated with a Christian denomination.

This is Blanche Hagan Chapel at Reinhardt University, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. When I first arrived at Reinhardt, the college chaplain was directly responsible to the president, and she presided over a weekly chapel service on Thursday at 12:30. This was a dedicated time: no classes or meetings were scheduled against it, and all members of the college community were welcome to attend. This situation is very much in accord with my view of things – Christian practice at a college should include all its members: students, faculty, staff, and friends. Alas, this situation was not to last – the chaplain is now under the Dean of Students, and weekly chapel is now “Tuesday Night Fellowship” which takes place in the Student Center. TNF is an informal affair with lots of guitars and not much liturgy, aimed primarily at the students, for whom the chaplain serves as a sort of youth pastor.

I don’t have anything against this sort of thing but I don’t see why we can’t have both a weekly student service and a weekly corporate service, for all the other members of the Reinhardt community.

Not to worry, Hagan Chapel still gets used on Sundays. The local UMC congregation gathers for worship there… for now. Two years of negotiations between the congregation and the university over cost-sharing have apparently broken down, and this week the university has told the congregation that it must agree to a new set of terms, or face eviction. Rumors flew that Reinhardt was hoping to take the steeple off the chapel and use the building for some other purpose, although today these were vigorously denied.

So that’s a relief. Whatever happens to the Waleska UMC, we will still have a proper chapel on campus for use on those formal occasions when we need one, and for expressing our Christian identity at all other times.

Addendum. I am a big fan of Daniel Mitsui, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in 2013. Check out his home page, or his Facebook presence

Medieval Cleanliness

Katherine Harvey offers an interesting exploration of medieval hygiene, disease, and parasites on Aeon:

In the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), two minor characters spot King Arthur. They know who he is because, as one of them points out: ‘He must be a king … he hasn’t got shit all over him like the rest of us.’ The scene encapsulates an enduring belief about the Middle Ages: medieval people were dirty. Some might have heard Elizabeth I’s famous (but probably apocryphal) declaration that she had a bath once a month whether she needed it or not. In a time when only the richest enjoyed running water in their homes, very few Europeans had the resources to abide by 21st-century standards of hygiene, even if they wanted to.

At the same time, the filthiness of medieval people should not be exaggerated. Much evidence shows that personal hygiene mattered to medieval people, that they made an effort to keep clean. Popular advice books recommended washing the hands, face and teeth on rising, plus further handwashing throughout the day. Other body parts were washed less frequently: daily washing of the genitals, for example, was believed to be a Jewish custom, and thus viewed with suspicion by the non-Jewish population. Nevertheless, many households owned freestanding wooden tubs for bathing, and late-medieval cities usually had public bathhouses. Medical compendia gave recipes for washing hair, whitening teeth and improving skin. Medieval clergymen complained about the vanity of people who spent too much time fussing over their appearance.

Nor were medieval efforts to keep clean limited to the body. Delicate outer garments might be brushed and perfumed, but undergarments and household linens were frequently laundered. Advice books suggested that underwear should be changed every day, and household accounts are scattered with payments to washerwomen. Large rivers often had special jetties for the use of washerwomen: London’s was known as ‘La Lavenderebrigge’. 


Read the whole thing.

From Mark Bauerlein

I’ve quite enjoyed the work of Mark Bauerlein of Emory University, and his March column for Minding the Campus does not disappoint:

The president of the Modern Language Association is Judith Butler, who specializes in gender theory and whose humanistic feel for language may be measured by the clotted, clunky prose she writes. Her humanitas is limited, but that’s no stumbling block. Scholars and teachers are valued more for their ability to rehearse a theoretico-political interpretation of a text (which can be just about anything) than for their erudition or connoisseurship or aesthetic discernment. It is more important for a job candidate to show she can cite Butler properly than it is for her to explain why Moby-Dick is a great book.

I hope you see the problem. The reason we have a humanities crisis in the first place is that undergraduates aren’t enrolling in humanities classes in sufficient numbers. They’re going elsewhere, to business, psychology, and STEM.

And why is that? Because students come to the humanities for inspiration. They are guys who like Hemingway and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” girls who love impressionism and Mozart and Virginia Woolf. For at least some of them, the social justice approach turns them off. They want to look at Monet’s lilies, not consider the “male gaze.” They are struck by Ivan Karamazov’s atheist crisis, not by class relations and the peasantry. The bare humanity and soaring rhetoric of Frederick Douglass hit them more than his blackness.

Current humanities professors regard those loves as mystifications, or as denials of the realities of race, sex, class, and empire. The freshmen and sophomores who enroll in their classes thus find that their inspirations are suspect and unwanted. They are told that their passions need to be politicized. The descriptions of the fields quoted above can only appear to them unappealing. Only those 19-year-olds who already share the leftist vision want to hear more of it, and they aren’t enough to keep enrollments healthy

What can the humanities professor do? Her training through graduate school has primed her to think in just these identitarian, progressive terms. It’s what got her a job and will ensure her promotions. We have a heavy indoctrination coming from above, while at the same time a steady estrangement from below, on the part of the undergraduates.

Read the whole thing.

A Professor Speaks Out

From Quillette, some confirmation of a theory of mine:

When first published, Zinn’s book was a disruptive and influential text, which would have made it a wonderful teaching tool then—but circumstances have changed. I know this because my classes were all Zinn, all the time (even though his textbook itself never made an actual appearance). In my head, this made my classes all about counter-narrative. But to my own students, my classes were just plain old… narrative.

Much more at the link.

Also:

There are two values in conflict here. One is the idea that engaging with an opposing idea makes the other idea stronger. The opposing position is that by engaging with other ideas, you make your own ideas stronger. Gay chose the latter approach, at some risk. Indeed, the prevailing logic among many is that by debating Sommers, Gay became just as “offensive” as Sommers herself.

It is hard to imagine anybody with more progressive bona fides than Gay, yet even she still feels somewhat apprehensive about engaging with ideological adversaries. This trend toward freezing out controversial ideas is a deadly threat to any trend in academia that even comes close to my own teaching approach. That career counselor was absolutely correct to recommend dropping any detailed discussion of my methods in my cover letter.