Category Archives: Religion

New Books: April

As promised on my last book-purchases post, here are my new acquisitions from April (albeit a tad late):

 

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  • Geoffrey Berg- The Six Ways of Atheism: New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God     10p
  • Patrick Moore- The Guinness Book of Astronomy     10p
  • Lesley and Roy Adkins- The Keys to Egypt: The Race to Read the Hieroglyphics     20p
  • Suetonius- The Twelve Caesars    99p
  • Caesar- The Conquest of Gaul     99p
  • The Paston Letters     10p

 

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  • Charles Dickens- Great Expectations     20p
  • E. W. Hornung- Raffles     20p
  • Penelope Lively- Moon Tiger     20p
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin- We     £2
  • Ralph Ellison- Invisible Man     £2
  • Leo Tolstoy- War and Peace     50p
  • Mary Shelley- Frankenstein     10p
  • Philip K. Dick- The Man in the High Castle     50p
  • Jonathan Swift- Poems Selected by Derek Mahon     Bought for me
  • William Shakespeare- Henry IV Part 2, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night     50p each

 

Also, I had these bought for me (which I’d asked for):

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  • Timothy Taylor- The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture
  • Evelyn Waugh- Brideshead Revisited
  • Hermann Hesse- Strange News from Another Star and Other Stories
  • Dante- The Divine Comedy Volume I: Inferno, The Divine Comedy II: Purgatory, The Divine Comedy III: Paradise (I translated by Mark Musa; II translated by Dorothy L. Sayers; III translated by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds)

 

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Perhaps the most beautiful bookshop in the world

I came across this the other day, which manages to incorporate two of my favourite types of building in the same space: a church and a bookshop.

Click on the image for a far better impression of this wonderful interior. Image: Joop van Putten and Hans Westerink.

Click on the image for a far better impression of this wonderful interior. Image: Joop van Putten and Hans Westerink.

This is the inside of a bookshop named Waanders in de Broeren  in Zwolle, The Netherlands, which has been created within a 15th century Dominican church. 700 square meters of shopping space has been added through the creation of three levels in the side wings of the church, whilst also retaining the historical elements of the 547-year-old building including stained glass windows, pipe organ, ceiling paintings and expansive arches. The even more impressive part of BK. Architecten’s design is that the entire shop interior can eventually be removed to leave the church looking as it originally did without harming any of the features. The entire space looks truly stunning on these pictures, and must be absolutely fantastic to walk around and inhabit. Sadly, I can never imagine such a design being attempted in Britain, or such care being shown to a building such of this that the modern use doesn’t impinge on the structure at all. The joys of the UK planning and conservation spheres.

church bookshop 2

Image: Joop van Putten and Hans Westerink.

 

church bookshop 1

Image: Joop van Putten and Hans Westerink.

 

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The jewelled saints of 16th century Europe, and other beautifications of the dead

The hand of St. Valentin. Image:  Paul Koudounaris

The hand of St. Valentin. Image: Paul Koudounaris

It has been a well-known fact in Christianity for much of its history that the presence of a saint’s body at a religious site makes it a much more enticing prospect for pilgrims, and by extension a very lucrative form of income. As such, there are numerous examples of monasteries and cathedrals throughout Europe that claim to hold saints remains- either entire bodies, particular body parts or items that belonged to a person or had touched a body- and in many cases several sites profess to possess the same relic. Some saints can quite comfortably be said to be where they are thought to be, such as St. Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral, whose elevation at Lindisfarne and subsequent removal to Durham was well documented. However, many others, such as the remains of John the Baptist, or pieces of the ‘True Cross’ are more suspect. Often, this dubious nature is down to enterprising, exploiting and morally corrupt clergy, who created false relics using randomly-discovered or disinterred bones to knowingly hoodwink unsuspecting and gullible pilgrims. However, sometimes this is down to simple confusion or misplaced assumption. It seems that both could be the case here.

In 1578, rumour spread that there had been found catacombs below Rome containing the bodies of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many of these skeletons were removed from their resting places and transported to religious houses around Europe to replace relics that had been lost under the Reformation that had swept the Continent earlier that century. Whether or not these were actually the remains of the saints that they were believed to be will probably never be known, but I can see that misattributions may in many cases have been accidental and down to simple confusion. However, there is also the rather large possibility that some unscrupulous individuals did probably attribute remains to people that they may not have belonged to, and personally I think that many of the complete skeletons sent about the Continent may actually be composed of the bones of several individuals due to the often fragmented and jumbled nature of remains in catacombs.

This aside, the new relics were graciously received, and once they had been reassembled, they were often enshrined and decorated in costumes, wigs, jewels, crowns, gold lace, and armour as a physical reminder of the heavenly treasures that awaited in the afterlife. Many of these bodies have never been seen by the wider world outside of the religious institutions they are housed in, and have been recently photographed for the first time by the photographer Paul Koudounaris.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Deodatus

St. Deodatus. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

The whole enterprise may look somewhat bizarre and macabre to us now, but this is by no means the only time that such ornamentation has been employed, or the only culture in which it has been carried out. For example, that last image of St. Valerius has had jewelled eyes inserted into the orbits which is reminiscent of the cowrie shells inserted into the skulls of the Neolithic dead in Jericho around 6000-7000 BC.

JerichoSkullsLater, we see similar practices amongst the Aztecs:

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was heald for a time at a convent.

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was held for a time at a convent.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with dear skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with deer skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities. Image: The British Museum.

Indeed, the Aztecs and other Meso- and South American cultures had a tradition of adorning corpses of ancestors and royalty when displaying them around the inside of their temples, and anthropological cases exist of extant tribes around the world carrying out such elaborate rituals of adorning the dead for display purposes. We could even include this famous piece of ‘art’:

'For the love of God' by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

‘For the love of God’ by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

All very interesting, and all very macabre!

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A 14th century view of God

I managed to finish reading the other day ‘The Cloud of unknowing and other works’, and one of the ‘…other works’ is entitled ‘Dionysius’ Mystical Teaching’. This has nothing to do with the Dionysius of classical Greek mythology, but it is thought that he was a 6th century AD Christian writer from Syria. However, the work mentioned here dates from the 14th century, and is written by an unknown author referred to as “Pseudo-Dionysius” due to his similarity in style and teachings, and I have decided to quote in full the fifth and final chapter of this short work. In it, the author puts forward his belief about God and how he is truelly unknowable (and within a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’), which I find to be highly perceptive and quite near to the mark with my own views.

God who is the cause of them all is none of the things we can understand.

And so we who have begun our denials and removals by reaching the ‘highest’ of the things we can understand say that God is neither soul nor angel; he has no imagination or opinion or reason or understanding; nor is he reason or understanding; nor can he be described or understood. Moreover, and here we are moving from high things to low, he has no number, order, greatness, smallness, equality, likeness, unlikeness; he neither stands still nor moves, keeps silence nor speaks. And if we turn back to the highest matters to end our denyings there, we assert that he has no virtue, nor is he virtue or light; he is not life or substance or age or time; we can understand nothing about him, nor is he knowledge or truth or kingdom or wisdom or singularity or unity or Godhead or goodness. Nor in the sense that we understand ‘spirit’ is he spirit; there is no sonship or fatherhood, nor anything else that is known by us or by anyone else. He is none of the things that have no being, none of the things that have being. None of the things that are known know him for what he is. Nor does he know the things that exist for what they are in themselves, but only for what they are in him. Nor is there any way by which we can reach him through reason or understanding: he has no name; we cannot know him; he is neither darkness or light, error nor truth. Speaking generally there is no affirmation we can make of him, nothing we can deny of him. When we attribute something  to him, or deny any or all of the things which he is not, we do not describe him or abolish him, nor in any way that we can understand do we affirm him or deny him. For the perfect and unique cause of all it is necessary beyond compare with the highest of  all imaginative heights, whether by affirmation or denial. And this surpassing non-understandability is ‘un-ununderstandably’ above every affirmation and denial.

‘Dionysius’ Mystical Teaching’, in ‘TCoUaow’ pp 217-218

 

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Reading update

I haven’t posted on here for a few days, but in this time I have managed to procure some new reading matter, and have made progress with another book. However, I haven’t started the Kafka book I said I would read next. This will be digested in due course. Anyhoo- my new books can be seen below:

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Incase the titles are a tad difficult to read, here they are from left to right, along with the price that I paid for them:

  • Lewis Carroll- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (two volumes)  10p each (yes- really!)
  • Ian Fleming- Diamonds are Forever  50p
  • John Ruskin- On Art and Life (Penguin Great Ideas No. 15)  50p
  • Penelope Lively- Heat Wave  25p
  • Carol Ann Duffy- The World’s Wife  25p
  • Rudyard Kipling-  Just So Stories  £1.49
  • Thomas More- Utopia  £1.49
  • Seamus Heaney- North  £1.49
  • Martin Amis- Money  £1.49

I have currently been distracted away from the Kafka collection by another Penguin Classics book titled The Cloud of Unknowing and other works, which is a decent-sized volume of 14th century Christian teachings about the sheer impossibility of actually perceiving and understanding God, which I have recently learnt is actually a way of thinking that is taken up by the Eastern Churches, but not so much in the West. In the West the view is generally more along the lines of God being a friendly, approachable father-figure, whereas in the East, he is a powerful and unreachable being who cannot be represented in human terms and who can never be fully understood by simple mortals weighed down by sin and their perception of the body. To truly know God, The Cloud teaches that a person must become a contemplative, and be able to stop perceiving and thinking about his own existence to focus solely on God. The …other works of the title are shorter pieces believed to have been written by the same anonymous author upon similar themes, and it is in fact quite a good read. A tad heavy going at times, but it certainly gives food for thought and has provided me with a few new ways to look at both myself, my faith, and my perception of God. Also, the whole idea of a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ is a great metaphor and image to use in my poetry…

tcou

Once I’ve finished this, I plan to read the Heaney and Duffy poetry collections, and then the two Lewis Carroll books, before finally getting to the Kafka. I promise to provide opinions etc. when I finish these.

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The Cool Pope

Before I start, let me just apologise for my use in the title of this post of a word that fell out of popular parlance at around the turn of this century. I’m a Dad, so I have a license to be cringeworthy at times.

Anyhoo- I just thought that I’d share these pictures, as I personally find them both rather telling and also highly encouraging. The new Pope, Pope Francis, was greeting a group of around 500 young people from the Italian Diocese of Piacenza and Bobbio at the end of August when he posed for a photo that has gone viral on the ‘net, and which I’m sure you have come across.

papal selfie 1

It’s a nice photo- even if he does look a tad awkward and unsure there on the left- but what makes it quite remarkable is the fact that the bloke on the left is the Pope. He whom Catholics regard as God’s ultimate representative on Earth. I can’t imagine Pope Benedict XVI posing like this for a ‘selfie’, but as many have pointed out, Francis is a lot more down-to-earth than his predecessor, having come from a normal diocese rather than directly from within the confines of the Vatican. I mean, Benedict was already installed in the Vatican before he became Pope, making him more accustomed to the finery and the protocol than his successor. I feel that Francis is in fact a more ‘holy’ Pope in as much as he is willing to carry his own bags, pay his bills, live in an apartment that is just big enough for his needs, and wash the feet of female prisoners as well as males. He lives a more Christian life through his shunning of the extravagance that became the trademark of Pope Benedict- the fine red stole and cassock, the red slippers made by nuns, the over-sized living quarters. Also, this image shows a Pope that not only embraces the modern world (as indeed Benedict did when he joined Twitter), but also one who sees the importance of engaging with the next generation of the church in order to be relevant to it, and to be seen as someone who is not out of reach, inaccessible and aloof. if he is God’s ultimate etc., then here we have a God who is within reach; who is able to be engaged with and responsive to the changing face of the world. A modern God, and a modern Pope. Something to be embraced, I think. It’s just a shame that he will not alter the view of the Catholic church on issues such as contraception and women priests and bishops. But I suppose there is time, and indeed it is only a matter of time before a future Pope hopefully not too far down the line will correct these and other matters.

papal selfie 2

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