Glorious Ascension

I was pleased to be able to visit the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension yesterday in Resaca, Georgia. This is an Orthodox community associated with ROCOR – that is, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which I regret to say that I had never heard of before. ROCOR has its origins in the Russian Revolution and the exile of some Russian clergy, who declared their independence from the Patriarch of Moscow, now taking orders from the Bolsheviks. It was a happy day in 2007 when ROCOR reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate (now under Patriarch Kyrill; ROCOR itself is headed by the Metropolitan Hilarion in New York City). I especially enjoyed speaking with Father Thomas Janikowski, visiting from Saint Athanasius Orthodox Church in Davenport, Iowa, who reminded me that the division between Protestants and Catholics, which has dominated western Christianity for over 500 years (and with which I’m reacquainting myself in preparation for teaching this fall) comprises “two sides of the same coin – one that Orthodoxy doesn’t even use.” The Orthodox hold themselves as practitioners of the true, original Christian faith, with others being deviants from this. For instance, regarding ecclesiastical priority, one should not look to Constantinople (founded in the fourth century), but to Jerusalem, whose patriarch remains Orthodox. Furthermore, at the beginning, the leader of the Jerusalem Christian community was James, the brother of Jesus, who had the final say at the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 – not St. Peter, whom Jesus allegedly designated his spiritual heir and from whom the Bishops of Rome claim the right to be preeminent as “Pope.” (According to Orthodoxy, Peter was bishop of Antioch, not bishop of Rome. He may have been martyred at Rome, but he was never designated the leader of its Christian community in any ancient source.) 

I did not know any of this!

Unfortunately, their shop had no St. George icons for sale, but there were a number of other ones for saints whom I had not heard of before. I gratefully acknowledge permission to take these photos.

An icon of an “Angel Deacon of God.” 

St. Irene Chrysovalantou (fl. ninth century in Cappadocia). The icon illustrates a cypress tree bowing down to her, and her possession of three apples, a miraculous gift from St. John the Evangelist. 

St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966), hierarch of ROCOR and thaumaturge. Visit his shrine at the Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco. 

A detail from a Romanian altarpiece of Christ making wine from grapes from a vine, supported by a cross-shaped trellis and growing from his own side, graphically illustrating the doctrine of transubstantiation (or perhaps I should say metousiosis). 

A Serbian warrior saint from the fourteenth century, I believe St. Nikita

St. Spyridon (c. 270-348) was a Christian shepherd of great piety who became a monk and eventually Bishop of Trimythous (on Cyprus). In this capacity he attended the Council of Nicaea and forcefully denounced Arianism. He also used a potsherd to illustrate how one thing (a pot) could be composed of three different things (fire, water, and clay), an analogy for the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity. Whether or not this is Partialism I am not equipped to say, but a pagan philosopher was convinced by it, and by the miracle that followed: the potsherd burst into flame, water dripped on the ground, and only dust remained in Spyridon’s hand. 

As a bishop Spyridon wears an omophrion, and holds a bible in one hand and makes a blessing sign with the other. A more particular attribute is the straw shepherd’s hat that he wears, a reference to his original profession and to his shepherding of his Christian flock. 

The Apotheosis of St. Louis

Tom Madden in First Things (hat tip: Matt Phillips):

As a medieval historian, I always cringe when medieval people are judged by modern standards. Their world was very different from our own. Yet the virtue and piety of St. Louis IX of France have always seemed to transcend his age. The crimes leveled against him in this petition are at best misleading. Although praiseworthy today, religious toleration was regarded as dangerous in the Middle Ages. Yet Louis IX (unlike other medieval rulers) still obeyed the Catholic Church’s admonition that Jews were not to be harmed. Like St. Paul, Louis hoped for the conversion of the Jews. Indeed, more than once he served as a godfather for the baptism of a converted Jew. From a modern perspective, Louis’s part in the burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1240 is indefensible and certainly constitutes persecution. The theologians at the University of Paris—the best minds of their age—judged that the Talmud contained heresy and blasphemous references to Jesus. From Louis’s medieval (not modern) perspective, it was a threat to his kingdom and a hindrance to the conversion of the Jews. That does not excuse it. Louis followed the advice of churchmen, yet as St. John Paul II eloquently expressed it, those churchmen made grave errors. The pope sought pardon for “the sins committed by not a few (Catholics) against the people of the Covenant.” He continued, “We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood.”…

Left unmentioned by Louis’s modern detractors is his lifelong devotion to issues of social justice in a world that cared little for such ideas. At his own expense, he continually paid to feed and clothe hundreds of Paris’s poor. Every evening he shared the royal table with local homeless and usually insisted that he wash their feet before they left. He established several hospitals for the poor and homes for battered women and ex-prostitutes. He personally visited lepers and washed their sores. After his humiliation in Egypt, Louis refused to don the rich regalia of the French crown, dressing simply and living humbly for the rest of his life. He was the sort of person, like Mother Teresa or John Paul II, whose reputation for piety and virtue was so great that contemporaries had no doubt he would one day be a saint. He was canonized in a record 27 years.

Read the whole thing. My own photo of the statue

UPDATE

An update to a recent post: according to an article in the Daily Mail, the depiction of St. Michael as used by the Order of St. Michael and St. George was changed in 2011 to make the devil more light-skinned. Click the link to see before and after images of the new design. But people like Sir Michael Palin, KCMG, are still opposing it currently because it’s too reminiscent of the death of George Floyd and police brutality in general. 

Time to make Satan more dragon-like, I guess. Or would that be bad too? Would it be reminiscent of the gratuitous killing of wild animals that Tony Blair tried to curtail with his anti- hunting laws? Then they could go after St. George, too!

I suppose I shouldn’t give them any ideas…

“Kindly Call Me God”

The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George was established in 1818 by the Prince Regent, who two years later became King George IV. It was an aspect of Britain’s meddling in the Mediterranean following the defeat of Napoleon, and used to recognize British allies in the region. People are now appointed to it for “extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country” or “important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.” For instance, those prime ministers of Canada who received knighthoods (e.g. Abbot, Thompson, Laurier, or Borden) were mostly Knights Grand Cross or Knights Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.* It has everything one expects in a British order of chivalry: a chapel (in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London) with stall plates, crests, and banners, elaborate costumes, regalia, and rituals, a motto-circlet for a member’s coat of arms, and various officers with quaint names (e.g. chancellor, King of Arms, or Gentleman Usher of the Blue Rod).

Wikipedia.

I do not know why the order was dedicated to St. Michael and St. George in particular (nor why a winged lion – the symbol of St. Mark – appears on the order’s collar).† Obviously Michael and George are warrior saints, although the Order is more for diplomats than soldiers. In its regalia the order seems to alternate between depicting St. Michael and St. George, as shown above in the sketch of the badge and star of a Knight Commander: St. George is on the badge, St. Michael on the star. 

Wikipedia.

Here is a better rendition of the Order’s star, in this case for a Knight Grand Cross. Note that in this one St. Michael actually has wings, given that he is an angel. Note also what St. Michael is standing on, which became controversial this past week. From the Guardian:

Campaigners are calling for the redesign of one of Britain’s highest honours personally bestowed by the Queen because they say its badge resembles a depiction of a white angel standing on the neck of a chained black man.

The Order of St Michael and St George is traditionally awarded to ambassadors and diplomats and senior Foreign Office officials who have served abroad. 

The imagery on the award’s badge portrays St Michael trampling on Satan, but campaigners say the image is reminiscent of the killing of George Floyd by white police officers in the US that led to worldwide protests.

Both St. Michael and St. George kill dragons, but because St. Michael specifically killed the “old serpent, that is called the devil, and Satan,” his dragon is often more humanoid than St. George’s dragon.** An old post on this blog intended to illustrate different versions of St. Michael’s coat of arms also illustrates the variety of creatures that he subdues, some of which look like proper dragons, others of which look more like men (although grotesque). It is unfortunate that the Order’s standard depiction of the dragon is both humanoid and dark, while St. Michael himself is light-skinned, which is not a model we want for contemporary race relations. And in general, it is most unfortunate that one of the side effects of mediating reality through sight, as humans do, is that in many cultures lightness is “good” and darkness is “bad.” If you’ve got light you can see, if you don’t you can’t – thus does light come to be identified with knowledge and awareness, and darkness with ignorance and insecurity. Note the Roman anxieties about nighttime, reflected in their laws. Furthermore, in a time before the widespread availability of bleach it was expensive and difficult to keep white garments looking white, thus is whiteness associated with status and cleanliness. Such things have, unfortunately, influenced the reception of human skin tone. Although the amount of melanin in one’s skin is purely an evolutionary artifact of one’s ancestors’ exposure to sunlight, those with lighter skin found it flattering to believe that they were morally good in a way that those with darker skin were not. (Traditionally, among white people darker skin also indicated that one worked outdoors, and thus had less status than someone who got to stay inside – only with the advent of jet travel to sunny climes in winter did suntans become fashionable for white people.) In this way did Early Modern Europeans come to justify their version of slavery – it might be bad, but it’s not quite as bad to enslave those people, who are clearly morally inferior. It is true that in the European Middle Ages, some saints were regularly depicted as black, showing that Europeans knew about the subsaharan phenotype and that they believed that its possessors were capable of sanctity and salvation. But it is also true that they regularly depicted the devil and his minions as black, in a general reflection of the cultural significance of that color. Courtesy Paul Halsall, here are two images illustrating this phenomenon:

I think that this artistic convention has seen its day, and I am absolutely not against redrawing the dragon as it regularly appears in the insignia of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Make it more dragon-like, or keep it human and make it some other color – green, perhaps. Heck, make St. Michael himself black! There’s no reason why he can’t be. It’s not a bad thing to dissociate “white” from “good” and “black” from “bad.”

Pinterest.

***

The post title is from a joke about the supposed arrogance of membership of the Order, deriving from the post-nominals for the three grades: CMG (Companion), KCMG (Knight Commander), and GCMG (Knight Grand Cross), which are jocularly interpreted to mean “Call me God,” “Kindly call me God,” and “God calls me God.” 

* Though note that Sir John A. Macdonald was a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, and you can see his stall plate in Westminster Abbey. He was appointed to the Bath just before the Victorian expansion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George beyond its Mediterranean origins.

† UPDATE: The seven Ionian islands, under British protection from 1815, had been part of the Venetian Republic until the 1790s; St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice. According to The Gazette, the Order’s badge:

showed St George for England on one side, with the Archangel St Michael trampling on Satan on the other, in an allusion to Napoleon being crushed by the allied powers. Both saints were surrounded by the motto auspicium melioris aevi, which is usually rendered as ‘token of a better age’, and perhaps reflected [Secretary of State for War Henry] Bathurst’s hope for the future of his Mediterranean enterprise when he signed the founding patent in 1818.

** Revelation 12:7-9: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

Shall These Bones Live?

From The Telegraph (hat tip: Paul Halsall):

Bones hidden in church revealed to be remains of one of England’s earliest saints

The discovery has been hailed as a ‘stunning result of national importance’

Bones hidden away by monks during the Reformation have been confirmed as belonging to one of England’s earliest saints who founded the country’s first nunnery. 

The seventh-century remains of St Eanswythe, a Kentish Royal Saint who was the daughter and granddaughter of Anglo-Saxon kings, have finally been identified by historians.

The relics survived the upheavals of the Dissolution of the Monasteries – in which King Henry VIII aimed to destroy the monastic system – after being squirrelled away in a lead box behind a church wall in Kent.

Her remains were discovered in 1885. However, it is only now – more than 1,300 years after her death and after carbon dating her teeth and bones – that historians believe they have finally identified England’s first abbess and one of the country’s earliest saints.

The remarkable discovery was made by Kent archaeologists and historians, working with Queen’s University in Belfast, who confirmed that human remains kept at the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe Folkestone are almost certainly those of the saint.

The discovery has been hailed as “a stunning result of national importance” and has drawn comparisons with the exhumation of King Richard III after DNA confirmed that bones found beneath a Leicester car park in 2012 were those of the former king of England.

Read the whole thing, and the Finding Eanswythe website.

Festum Sancti Andreae

November 30 is the feast of Saint Andrew. To mark the occasion, the British Library posted this image of St. Andrew to their Facebook page, from MS Addl. 35313, f.214v, a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century manuscript. The saint carries his distinctive X-shaped cross.

British Library.

They note that “St Andrew is the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Italy’s Amalfi, and Barbados. Singers, spinsters, maidens, fishmongers, fishermen, women wanting to be mothers; those with gout and sore throats all claim him as their patron saint.”

But that the British Library omitted “Scotland” from that list of patronage seems a terrible oversight, as several commenters pointed out. To help rectify it, we present some distinctively Scottish images of St. Andrew.

Pinterest.

A bejeweled sash badge of Scotland’s Order of the Thistle, with St. Andrew carrying his X-shaped cross.

ngw.nl

A similar image appears in the embellished fourth quarter of the arms of the Scottish Episcopal Diocese of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane.

Wikipedia.

The first quarter of the diocesan arms consists of a simple Azure, a saltire Argent, which is widely used as the national emblem of Scotland, but which in fact is technically the arms of the Bishop of St Andrews. Such heraldic anomalies occur from time to time.

Wikipedia.

And here are the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral in Fife. The reason why St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland is that the saint’s relics were enshrined here, and were the object of medieval pilgrimage. Needless to say such practice was streng verboten in Presbyterian Scotland, and the cathedral fell into disuse and ruin. All the same, the idea that St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland survives to this day. 

St. Edward the Confessor and St. John Henry Newman

October 13 marks the feast of the Translation of St. Edward the Confessor (which actually happened twice, in 1163 and 1269). In the latter of those years his mortal remains ended up in an elaborate tomb that you can’t normally see when you get into Westminster Abbey.

Tripadvisor.com

In other news about English saints, Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) was canonized today by Pope Francis in Rome, England’s first of the modern era. Below is a sculpture of Newman’s arms on the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto.

Coptic Martyrs

From the Facebook page of Our Lady of the Mountains of Jasper, Georgia, an interesting icon:

An article on The Stream indicates that this icon was made in 2015 by Serbian artist Nikola Sarić. It references the kidnapping and beheading of 21 Christians in Libya by agents of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which had taken place earlier in 2015. Twenty of the men were Egyptian Copts, and one was Ghanaian, whose darker face is shown on the top right; they were in Libya as construction workers in the city of Sirte when ISIL nabbed them.

The executions took place on the Mediterranean beach on February 15, 2015, with ISIL agents dressed in black and their victims in orange jumpsuits, referencing the outfits worn by al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Painting, Tomb of Rameses VI. Pinterest.

I like how there is something Egyptian about this icon, both from the way the figures stand and how they are arranged, and yet it is not so stylized that that horrific event isn’t instantly recognizable. I also like how icon-making is a living tradition and for actual martyrs for the faith, not just revered but non-religious figures like Harvey Milk, Steve Biko, or Mother Jones.

News from Dublin

A couple of items that I’ve just discovered:

• The relic of the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, which had been stolen from Christ Church Cathedral in 2012, has been recovered and will be unveiled in a new setting on November 14, 2018. From the Diocesan website:

The heart of St Laurence O’Toole goes on permanent public display in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, from November 14, 2018. This occasion will be marked by free entry to the cathedral from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm, welcoming the people of Dublin to view the heart of the city’s patron saint.

A special ecumenical service of dedication and thanksgiving marking this historic occasion will be held that evening  at 5:45 pm. The Archbishop of Dublin, The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, will first bless and dedicate the redesigned grounds incorporating the new stone labyrinth. Following this the Archbishop will preside at a service of Festal Choral Evensong, sung by the Cathedral Choirs, during which he will bless and dedicate the new resting place of the heart of St Laurence O’Toole. This service will be open to the public and all are most welcome to attend.

St Laurence’s heart will be housed in a specially designed art piece, crafted by the renowned Cork–based artist Eoin Turner.

Commenting on this upcoming special day of celebration, the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, The Very Revd Dermot Dunne, stated, ‘I am delighted that we have two such tremendous reasons for celebration at this time. We are deeply grateful for the grant funding from Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland that has enabled the redesign and landscaping of our grounds. Further it is my great privilege and joy at this time to be able to return the heart of St Laurence to the people of Dublin.’

From Wikipedia:

[The relic] was recovered in Phoenix Park in 2018 after a tip-off to the Garda Síochána. Media reported that the unidentified thieves thought it was cursed and caused family members’ illnesses.

• As of two years ago, the arms of the United Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough (i.e., in the Church of Ireland) have been differenced with a gold bordure. From the website of the National Library of Ireland:

The relevant English text reads:

Whereas petition hath been made unto me [Colette O’Flaherty, Chief Herald of Ireland] by the Most Reverend Doctor Michael Geoffrey St. Aubyn Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Glendalough, Primate of Ireland, setting forth that certain armorial ensigns have long been used and borne by the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough and do not appear to have been recorded in my office as pertaining unto the said United Dioceses and that he is desiring that the said arms might now be confirmed unto it with such differences as I might find appropriate.

This is most interesting. Ecclesiastical heraldry has traditionally been beyond the concern of secular heraldic authorities; only in the twentieth century was there a drive to get Anglican diocesan coats of arms regularized through the College of Arms. In Ireland, as noted earlier, there are two more-or-less identical church structures, one sponsored by the Church of Ireland, the other by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, both claiming legitimacy and both employing the same heraldry. I’m curious about the politics here – what prompted the archbishop to get these arms confirmed by the Chief Herald of Ireland, and why did he agree that they should be differenced? Did the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin beat him to it? (Unfortunately the Genealogical Office does not have an online register of grants and confirmations that it has made, unlike the Canadian Heraldic Authority.)

Warrior Saints

The latest issue of Medieval Warfare features a piece by Reinhardt’s Dr. Jonathan Good, in which he popularizes his scholarship on St. George and explains the importance of warrior saints to soldiers and the broader population. Soldiers frequently offered prayers of thanks or supplication to warrior saints. Sometimes warrior saints appeared to soldiers on the battlefield, raising morale or even helping to defeat the enemy.

To read more, subscribe to Medieval Warfare or read Good’s book, The Cult of St George in Medieval England, published by Boydell, for a more in-depth treatment.