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

Iconoclasm, Then and Now

Paul Halsall, who notes that 95% of English medieval religious art was destroyed as a result of the Reformation, draws our attention to a blog post about English iconoclasm:

The fear that lay behind much Reformation activity was fear of one of the primal powers of art: the ability of the image to seem as real as a real person, to come to life, and not only become an object of worship in its own right, but perhaps do evil to those who oppose it. This fear of the dangerous, potentially animate qualities of art may be detected in the methods of the destroyers. Defaced images often had their eyes scratched away, as though, by breaking visual contact between image and viewer, the suspect power of the image might be defused. The potent realism and the beguiling presence of the most affecting art of the pre-Reformation period may partly explain the violence of the reaction against it. Destruction can be seen as a kind of back-handed compliment. To deface or smash an image is to acknowledge its power.

 The idealistic Protestants saw their destruction as a means of disproving the power of images and loosening the chains of superstitious belief which they felt had tightened around the minds of the laity. During the most extreme phase of the Reformation, the Puritan moment of the 1640s, the abolition of Christmas and the destruction of Stonehenge were temporarily discussed as ways of furthering the cause. The pagan festival and the pagan stone circle were to be done away with because, just like the images of the Catholic faith, they were part of the dangerous, misleading, ancient superstitious history of the nation, a history that needed to be unwritten.

Halsall shares this image from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), which depicts the reign of Edward VI and gives pride of place to state sponsored “burning of images.” (Clearly, not all images were bad! The woodcuts in the Book of Martyrs were especially effective as propaganda.) 

He also draws attention to this tweet from Laura Sangha:

As you are no doubt aware, iconoclasm – in particular, the tearing down and destruction of statuary – is currently back in fashion. The most recent and prominent example: yesterday, a mob toppled a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, England, and cast it into Bristol Harbour. Who was this man? According to Wikipedia, he lived 1636-1721, and:

supported and endowed schools, almshouses, hospitals and churches in Bristol, London and elsewhere. Many of his charitable foundations survive to this day.

In Bristol, he founded almshouses in King Street and Colstons Almshouses on St Michael’s Hill, endowed Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital school and helped found Colston’s Hospital, a boarding school which opened in 1710 leaving an endowment to be managed by the Society of Merchant Venturers for its upkeep. He gave money to schools in Temple (one of which went on to become St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School) and other parts of Bristol, and to several churches and the cathedral. He was a strong Tory and high-churchman, and was returned as Member of Parliament (MP) for Bristol in 1710 for just one parliament.

David Hughson writing in 1808 described Colston as “the great benefactor of the city of Bristol, who, in his lifetime, expended more than £70,000 in charitable institutions.”

So you can see why he would merit a statue. However, all this money, by our standards, was tainted, for:

In 1680, Colston became a member of the Royal African Company, which had held the monopoly in England on trading along the west coast of Africa in gold, silver, ivory and slaves from 1662. Colston rose rapidly on to the board of the company and became deputy governor, the company’s most senior executive position, from 1689 to 1690; his association with the company ended in 1692.

During Colston’s involvement with the Royal African Company, it is estimated that the company transported around 84,000 African men, women and children, who had been traded as slaves in West Africa, to the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas, of whom 19,000 died on their journey. Due to the conditions on many of the vessels, the extended journeys affected the ship’s crew mortality rates, which were often similar and sometimes greater than those of the slaves. The slaves were sold for cheap labour on tobacco, and, increasingly, sugar plantations, whose planters considered Africans would be more suited to the conditions than British workers, as the climate resembled the climate of their homeland in West Africa. Enslaved Africans were also much less expensive to maintain than indentured servants or paid wage labourers from Britain.

Even though “the proportion of his wealth that came from his involvement in the slave trade and slave-produced sugar is unknown, and can only be the subject of conjecture unless further evidence is unearthed,” the fact that Colston actually sat on the board of the Royal Africa Company is intolerable to our sensibilities. 

Wikipedia.

The statue, constructed in 1895 and listed in 1977, has been controversial for some time. A number of plaques explaining Colston’s role in the slave trade had been considered, with none finding universal favor. I guess there won’t be any need for them now! 

Wikipedia.

There is a certain type of historian who praises this sort of direct action as “carnivalesque” or an example of “charivari,” an expression of the authentic voice of the unheard and a blow against systems of oppression.* It might very well be that, but it’s important to remember that encouraging violence is a dangerous game – once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s rather difficult to control, and it often ends up being applied to “good” things too, as we have recently witnessed. Furthermore, the object of one’s hatred might not always be so hated! Wouldn’t it be nice if more medieval art had survived Protestant iconoclasm?

In general I’m against removing statues. Instead, I am in favor of putting up other statues to current heroes as a riposte, so that a city gets to be full of statues and as a result becomes more interesting. It is good to remember that no one is perfect – and that we should resist the moral self-indulgence of judging the past by our own standards. I will admit, though, that public statues do, on some level, praise the honoree. Maybe some statues really do belong in museums – i.e. in a more “objective” context – or even in storage. Dismantling a statue is not “erasing history,” but erasing the praise. I do not fault residents of the former DDR for removing statues of Marx and Lenin from the public sphere, for instance. 

But if we must do this, then let us follow the instructions of Martin Luther, who wrote that “I have allowed and not forbidden the outward removal of images, so long as this takes place without rioting and uproar and is done by the proper authorities.”

* Alfred F. Young’s The Shoemaker and the Tea Party (2000) provides an example of this. Young praises the Boston Tea Party of 1773 for its destructiveness, seeing in it the coming-together of all classes of Americans to tell the British, in no uncertain terms, what they thought about paying taxes they hadn’t consented to. As I read the book, I kept wondering what Young thinks of other such popular expressions of violence against perceived threats, like tarring and feathering, or lynching?

Greensboro

I regret that I did not have time to visit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. The walk between my hotel and UNC-Greensboro allowed me to snap pictures of a statue of the city’s namesake, Nathanael Greene…

…and of the city’s flag:

It’s a shame, though, that the Guilford Courthouse flag was nowhere in evidence. That would give the place some style points. 

Wikipedia.

Every university needs a carillon clock…

…and a statue of the founder.

I was pleased that Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, featured so prominently on campus. I assume that this is a testament to the UNCG’s origins as a women’s college.

So I must say that I’m puzzled why UNCG’s sports teams are known as the Spartans. Like the words “automobile” or “television,” this mixes Greek and Latin! Plus, if the standard visual representation of the Spartan is the hoplite warrior, it’s sexist to boot. 

Fathead.com

St. George at the UN

Chris Berard.

My friend Chris Berard sends me a photo he took on a recent trip to New York City. This St. George statue is relatively famous: Zurab Tsereteli’s Good Defeats Evil (1990), located north of the entrance to the United Nations’ General Assembly Building. Given the Georgian nationality of the artist and the date of the installation, it would be tempting to see this statue as symbolic of the defeat of Communism, but the “evil” represented here is the Cold War itself – the dragon’s body is made up of pieces of US Pershing and Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles.

It occurs to me that I’ve seen this image before, at the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas. There, it is rendered on a copper shield with cloisonné enamel artwork, by the same artist. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze presented this piece to Pres. Bush, presumably before 2003, when Shevardnadze was ousted from office as a result of the Rose Revolution.

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) was a French navigator, cartographer, and explorer, who is commonly designated “The Father of New France” for his role in founding that particular colony in 1608. He died and was buried in Quebec City – but the exact location of his grave is currently unknown, and has become a holy grail of sorts for archaeologists. A recent article in the Globe and Mail (hat tip: Robert Black) rejoices in the discovery of a seventeenth-century palisade at Quebec, but laments that Champlain’s grave is still unfound. From the article:

Records suggest Champlain died on Christmas Day in 1635, and his remains were moved to a chapel that was later burned to the ground. A Jesuit text from 1642 refers to a priest who was buried alongside the founder and another friend, but there is no record of where that burial took place.

“It is likely the remains were moved, but nobody knows when or where,” Mr. Lavoie said.

Serious efforts to find the tomb began in the mid-1800s. Scientists began “digging left and right” to find Champlain, he said, but without success. More recently, an archaeologist who shared the name of former Quebec premier Rene Levesque led a series of digs in the 1980s and 1990s that proved equally fruitless.

Mr. Lavoie believes the location of the original “Champlain chapel” to which his remains were moved has been found in the old city. Mr. Lavoie believes there’s a good chance Champlain could be lying somewhere beneath Quebec City’s basilica, either on his own or in a common grave.

But the search for the founder’s remains are at a standstill, and even if found, they would not be easy to identify. Champlain fathered no children and left no descendants, which eliminates the possibility of DNA matching. To confirm the identity, researchers would have to match up remains with what little that is known about Champlain physically — for example traces of the arrow wounds he suffered during a 1613 conflict with the Iroquois.

Robert comments:

Champlain was a Protestant, was he not? And the prevailing theory for many decades has been that he and other Protestants were buried apart from later cemeteries (and therefore, not under the Basilica). If anything his remains have for a very long time thought to be buried under the Anglican cathedral, either the car park or the outbuildings.

I did not know this. Wikipedia claims that:

He belonged to either a Protestant family, or a tolerant Roman Catholic one, since [Champlain’s birthplace of] Brouage was most of the time a Catholic city in a Protestant region, and his Old Testament first name (Samuel) was not usually given to Catholic children.

A note elaborates:

According to many modern historians… Champlain could have been born a Protestant. Professor [Alain] Laberge [of Laval University] suggested that Champlain’s Protestantism would have been downplayed or omitted from educational materials in Quebec by the Roman Catholic Church, which controlled Quebec‘s education system until 1962.

I discover that the Champlain monument in Orillia, Ontario, which I remember seeing as a kid, has been removed for restoration – perhaps indefinitely, given concerns expressed “over the monument’s representations of Indigenous peoples raised by members of the public and by Indigenous communities.”

Moon-Eyed People

From my former student Laura Craig, news of something I had not known about:

The moon-eyed people are a race of people from Cherokee tradition who are said to have lived in Appalachia until the Cherokee expelled them. They are mentioned in a 1797 book by Benjamin Smith Barton, who explains they are called “moon-eyed” because they saw poorly during the day. Later variants add additional details, claiming the people had white skin, that they created the area’s pre-Columbian ruins, and that they went west after their defeat. Barton cited as his source a conversation with Colonel Leonard Marbury (c.1749-1796), an early settler of Georgia. Marbury, a Revolutionary War officer and a Congressman in the Second Provincial Congress of Georgia (1775), acted as intermediary between Native American Indians in the state of Georgia and the United States government…

The Cherokee tradition may have been influenced by contemporary European-American legends of the “Welsh Indians”. These legends attributed ancient ruins to a Welsh pre-Columbian voyage; some versions specifically connect this voyage to a prince named Madoc. In an 1810 letter, former Tennessee governor John Sevier wrote that the Cherokee leader Oconostota told him in 1783 that local mounds had been built by white people who were pushed from the area by the ascendant Cherokee. According to Sevier, Oconostota confirmed that these were Welsh from across the ocean. Historian Gwyn A. Williams notes this is “a beautiful example of the way minds were working in the late eighteenth century – and of the power of suggestion which white minds could exercise over red”.

Author Barbara Alice Mann, who identifies herself as Ohio Bear Clan Seneca, suggests that “moon-eyed people” were Adena culture people from Ohio who merged with the Cherokees around 200 BCE.

The article does not deal with the connection between the purported expulsion of the Moon-Eyed People and Cherokee Removal in the 1830s, although I would be very surprised if no one brought it up at the time. “You expelled white people, now white people are expelling you. Just desserts!”

***

I was pleased to see yesterday this reference to another historical myth, on the side of a U-Haul:

The Kensington Runestone is a nineteenth-century forgery, but it has not prevented Alexandria, Minnesota, from constructing Big Ole, a twenty-five foot tall statue of a Viking, complete with spear, winged helmet, and “Alexandria: Birthplace of America” on his shield.

A New St. George

From a Ukrainian family friend: a monument in Kiev, in memory of the first casualties of the Russian invasion in 2015. Note how the dragon has two heads, each wearing an imperial crown, like the eagle on the Russian coat of arms. St. George, according to our friend, is dressed as a real Ukrainian.

Saint Georges Galore

I cannot pass an image of my patron saint George without snapping a photo. A two week trip to Ireland and London, from which I have just returned, netted me a bunch. Lucky reader, I share them with you!

At Bunratty Castle, Co. Clare, Republic of Ireland. Bunratty was built in the fifteenth century for the MacNamara family, who were local grandees. By the early twentieth century it was in disrepair; in 1956 it was purchased and restored by Viscount Gort with the help of Ireland’s Office of Public Works. Its proximity to Shannon Airport has made it one of Ireland’s tourist success stories, and a number of humbler historic buildings have been moved there, producing a Colonial Williamsburg-style “folk park.” None of the furnishings is original, so I can’t link this carving to any particular owner of the castle. But it makes sense that the warrior saint George should be there.

My loving wife snapped this one for me. It is etched into a window of the modernist Coventry Cathedral in England (the church is actually dedicated to St. Michael).

In St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Dingle, Co. Kerry. Note that neither his shield nor his banner portrays a red cross, the symbol of England.

But this one does! I found this in the baptistry of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. Christ Church is the seat of the Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough in the Church of Ireland, i.e. the “Protestant” church in communion with the Church of England.

Also from Christ Church: “St George the dragon-slayer, from a mid-16th century prototype in the Historical Museum of Moscow, Russia.” I was pleased to see the pitcher-bearing boy here.

Another St. George in stained glass. This one may be see in the Guildhall in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The crown, shamrocks, and roses at the top indicate this is a strong statement of unionism. The oak leaves are a symbol of Londonderry – “Doire” is “oak grove” in Irish.

St. Dunstan-in-the-West is a church on Fleet Street, one of many in the City of London, where I found the icon above. Note the script, standing for “Sfântul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe” – that’s because the church is one of three in England shared with the Romanian Orthodox community.

Another very handsome Romanian icon in St. Dunstan-in-the-West.

St. George’s Hanover Square (City of Westminster) is a fine eighteenth-century neoclassical structure, and perhaps fittingly did not have any images of its patron saint. It did, however, have an embroidered kneeler featuring the arms of the Royal Society of St. George. St. George kills a dragon on the crest.

I foolishly did not record the artist of this painting in the National Gallery.

But this one, also in the National Gallery, is a very famous image of St. George killing the dragon, by Paolo Ucello of Florence, c. 1456. Ucello is not as scrupulous with chronology as later Renaissance artists were. In the legend, St. George wounds the dragon, and then instructs the maiden to tie her girdle around its neck. By depicting these two things happening at once, the painting prompts the question: “Why is that bad man hurting the nice lady’s pet dragon?” I’ve always been puzzled by the strange cloud formation behind St. George, but I love the RAF roundels on the dragon’s wings.

This tableau goes by the name of the Valencia Altarpiece, and you can see it on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington. It was produced in Valencia, Spain around 1410, and depicts, in addition to the usual image of St. George killing the dragon (below), numerous tortures endured by the saint during his martyrdom.

Elsewhere in the V&A: some pre-Raphaelite stained glass of the saint…

…and a decorated table.

This is Benedetto Pistrucci’s rendition of St. George and the dragon, which was produced in 1817 and appeared on gold sovereigns throughout the nineteenth century. That George is buck naked and has his foot waving in front of the dragon’s mouth has been puzzling to some people, but this was a very popular image and was reproduced elsewhere, in this case on a large gold plate.

Also in the V&A: “Casket, wood and brass, stamped Catalonia (Spain), fourteenth century. Inscribed AMOR MERCE SUIS PLAV. Decorated with scenes inspired by medieval romances. Note the lady arming a knight, a man hawking and St George killing the dragon [pictured].”

For sale at the Tower of London: a £5 coin commemorating the fifth birthday of Prince George, featuring St. George, naturally.

MLK Day

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, a photograph of the MLK statue in Washington DC which I took last November:

mlkstatue

Here are some photos of the MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, with Ebenezer Baptist Church (the third photo shows the sign on the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church located not far away). I took these on MLK Day ten years ago.

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And here is another image of the great man, in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which I also got to see in November:

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The Museum, by the way, is wonderful. I was very lucky to get to see it. It is on the Mall near the Washington Monument; it opened in September and is hugely popular – so much so that you can only order tickets online, or so the security guard kindly explained to me when I asked about getting in. As chance would have it some people overheard my question and gave me an extra ticket that they had.

The building, by architects Philip Freelon, David Adjaye, and Davis Brody Bond, takes the form of an inverted bronze step pyramid and is meant to evoke a Yoruban crown. It provides the museum’s logo.

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Scan 2

Scanned from a postcard purchased in the gift store.

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The history galleries are in the basement; there was a long line for this so unfortunately I had to pass it by, even though history is what we’re all about here. Instead, I visited the top two floors, which contain the culture portion of the museum. Extensive exhibits deal with African-American musicians, actors, athletes, artists, soldiers, and others, and African-American organizations like churches, newspapers, HBCUs, the Prince Hall Freemasons, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council. It’s enlightening, infuriating, and uplifting all at once, and I highly recommend it if you’re in DC. Just be sure to order your tickets ahead of time.

More DC Statuary

I was very pleased to spend the weekend in Washington, DC. Saturday I was at the Center for Hellenic Studies for a planning session for a multi-institutional course we’re offering this spring on the Greek historian Herodotus. Sunday I walked around in full tourist mode taking pictures. Herewith, some more of DC’s fine statuary:

• Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, with throne made of fasces.

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• The Three Soldiers, a controversial addition to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A lot of people found Lin’s black wall of remembrance too bleak, and insisted on something more representational and heroic. Thus was Frederick Hart commissioned to design the tableau below. Tom Wolfe had some interesting words to say about it in “The Artist the Art World Couldn’t See.” It was Veterans’ Day, thus the wreath.

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• Nearby, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial by Glenna Goodacre, unveiled in 1993.

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• Across the way, the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

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• If you head off the Mall and toward the Tidal Basin, you encounter the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, unveiled five years ago.

mlk• On the western side of the Tidal Basin, there is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, an extensive installation representing FDR’s four terms of office. The first one has a number of sculptures representing the Depression. Eleanor Roosevelt appears in the last one.

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The memorial features two renditions of FDR, a main one with his dog Fala, and another one added later on the insistence of disability rights activists, unambiguously illustrating the president in a wheelchair.

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• Continuing around the Tidal Basin, we encounter George Mason, politician and anti-federalist.

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• And at the far end of the Tidal Basin, we have Thomas Jefferson Memorial, a large open neoclassical rotunda featuring a large-than-life statue of the third president. Quotations of his adorn the walls; don’t tell the faculty at UVA.

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• Elsewhere in the city, we have statues of American heroes like Admiral David Farragut (of “Damn the Torpedoes!” fame):

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• Revolutionary War Captain John Paul Jones:

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• And Civil War Major General George B. McClellan:

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• On Embassy Row, we have a number of foreign heroes, like Crown Princess Märtha of Norway:

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• Simon Bolivar, liberator of much of Latin America (this one was outside a Venezuelan facility):

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• Manuel Belgrano, one of the founders of Argentina (and the namesake of a ship that got sunk in the Falklands Crisis):

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• A strange anthropoform sculpture entitled “Sentinel” outside the Slovenian embassy:

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• And an inventive bust of Andrei Sakharov, “academician,” outside Russia House (a restaurant).

sakharov• Where are my manners? How can I not have yet included Paul Mellon, benefactor of the Center for Hellenic Studies?

mellon• To round out our tour, some religious-themed sculptures, including the Our Lady, Queen of the Americas, outside her namesake church:

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• St. George, in Washington National Cathedral:

stgeorge• And outside Washington National Cathedral, a sculpture by Bjørn Okholm Skaarup, part of a series called “Carnival of the Animals.” An otter, riding a rooster, spears a winged salamander.

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