minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Strange Illumination

Giant Snails

One of the fun things about Illuminated Manuscripts are finding the little details hidden in the art. Additions of strange creatures, or the use of animals or people to form letters. In the background there are sometimes many strange and fascinating images that came from the mind of the Middle Ages. In this first image, which I couldn’t find more about, there are huge snails and people living in snail shells. In fact it appears to be a fanciful version of the Nativity or a Madonna and Child. In the snail shell on the left it looks like the “Familia Sagrada” or Holy Family. I was reminded of a movie my children loved called The Neverending Story, where one of the characters rides on the back of a giant racing snail.

From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves

In this next example we see beehives which have been incorporated into the illumination. This comes from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. This famous book of hours has several combinations of nature being used to fill in the art. You can find page borders using Salmon linked together, and large feathers, and bean pods. The Hours of Catherine, like many of the other great Illuminated Manuscripts, depicts many beautiful scenes from the Sacred Scriptures, of Saints, Martyrs, and on the darker side depictions of Hell and Demons.

Humor isn’t lacking either in the mind of the artist from these times. The imagination of the artist was clearly open to all sorts of ideas which were able to be poured into these beautiful sacred books. In this last example we see jousting rabbits.

The Breviary of Renaud de Bar, Metz 1302-1303

This scene is found in a Breviary, which is a more complete version of a Book of Hours, which were used by Clergy. These books contained the Liturgy of the Hours as well as prayers, psalms and hymns for use in the Liturgy. The Book of Hours was really a layman’s version of the Breviary, and in both there are many great examples of classic art and illumination.

What I find most interesting about these and other examples of strange illumination is that the little details that seem to be outside of the serious nature of a religious text find their way into the art. In a time which has been accused of being intolerant, especially in the area of religion, it seems to be out of place. And yet in the very texts themselves we see artistic freedom that would go beyond the utilitarian nature of publishing today. Granted, with the advent of the printing press, books which took years to make could be mass produced and made available for a fraction of the price. The price was a decline in illumination and sadly the use of art and text today is found mostly in advertisement.

Luke and the Ox

St. Luke from an Illuminated Gospel

St. Luke is traditionally known as the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. He was a disciple of the Apostle Paul and also a physician. Born a gentile he is the only non-Jewish writer of a canonical gospel, and for that matter, Luke is the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament. This is a huge testimony to the claim made by Paul concerning the mystery of which he was to be a minister; that the Gentiles would be fellow heirs and of the same body, and co-partners of the promise in Jesus Christ.

Luke’s writing has often been held in high regard, giving special attention to detail such as names and places. While there will always be critics, especially when the supernatural is the topic, Luke’s offering to the canon fits well within the standards of historical writing of his day.

Another facet of this Saint is the tradition concerning Luke as an artist. It is claimed he was the first Iconographer, “writing” Icons of Mary and Jesus. One Icon still in existence today which is claimed to be authored by the Saint is the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, .

Luke from the Lindisfarne Gospels

The symbol for Luke is the Ox or Bull, which is often shown with wings. Of all the Evangelical Symbols . This one always seemed the most strange. The symbols were derived from an old testament vision of the four living creatures, the man, eagle, lion and ox, and have been used as symbols of the four evangelists in christian art from very early times. The link between Luke and the Ox may be tied in with the idea of sacrifice, especially Christs sacrifice which saved even the gentiles.

The Feast Day of St. Luke is October the 18th. Luke is the patron saint of artists, physicians, surgeons, and strangely enough butchers.

Theresa of Avila

One of the great Catholic Mystics was Theresa of Avila or Theresa of Jesus. Born in Spain in the year 1515, she was born into a time of great change. 28 years before her birth the New World was discovered by Christopher Columbus, two years after her birth, Martin Luther would post his 95 Theses which would begin the Reformation and 28 years after her birth, Copernicus would publish his work on the Heliocentric model of the Solar System.

With so much going on in the world it’s probably not so strange that the interior life and contemplation would take a stand. While Theresa was not the only Mystic during this time, it may be fair to say that she is the most popular. Her work The Interior Castle is considered a classic of the Spanish Renaissance as well as an essential read for those interested in the contemplative and mystical experience.

What may have been the very first consideration for re-thinking the Catholic Church in my life was the discovery of the Catholic Mystics. Their experience with Christ, went far beyond the concept of a mere personal relationship. It stood, and even expected the times of darkness, suffering and spiritual dryness; seeing these as essential to the developement of the spiritual life which sought union with God.

It is noteworthy that we have another example of a woman in the church who makes a difference. Contrary to popular opinion about the Middle Ages or religion being patriarchal, Theresa takes her place along with many great Catholic women through the ages. She is a reformer, a doctor of the church, a mystic and writer of several books including an autobiography. She was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory the XV and is the patron of bodily ills; headaches; chess; lacemakers; laceworkers; loss of parents; people in need of grace; people in religious orders; people ridiculed for their piety; Pozega, Croatia; sick people; sickness and Spain.

“One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that
is prayer. ”

St. Theresa of Avila



By Bruce Cockburn

Cloud pillars clinging like vines to the sky
Don’t cry
We’ll walk down the meadow with sunrise inside
So dry your eyes
The winds of all kingdoms meet where we stand

The gray forest people cast off their old clothes
Everything’s sleeping as winter draws near
So close your eyes
The mists of all twilights dance close at hand

The rust-coloured river is now slowing down
Going dry
Harvest has lifted the crown from the ground
But don’t you cry
The song of the seasons brings life to the land


For 16 days leading up to the first Sunday in October there is a festival celebrated in Munich, Germany called die Wiesn. More popularly known, and celebrated, as Oktoberfest, the festival has been celebrated for just over 200 years. The festival takes place at Theresienwiese (The Fields of Therese) which is named after Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, and is held yearly to commemorate her marriage to the Crown Prince Ludwig I in the year 1810.

Oktoberfest to most brings to mind beer, which in this case is traditionally known as a Märzen. Brewed in March (März) or the springtime, a Märzen was stored through the summer when it was too warm for brewing, it was kept in a cool place to be ready for the fall. Typically a Märzen is a red or copper colored beer with a toasty warm flavor which is perfect for the Autumn in every way.

While there are many beers that can be found that are called Oktoberfest, only a few are found in the celebration in Munich. One criteria is that the beer must be brewed within the city limits. It must also conform to the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law. The Reinheitsgebot, dates back to the year 1516 and states that only water, barley and hops could be used in the production of beer.

As a homebrewer, the first thing that comes to my mind is where is the yeast? After all, yeast is required to convert the sugars in the malts to alcohol which is the process of fermentation required to make beer. In fact yeast can be found and can begin fermenting naturally. Vats of wort (pre-fermented beer) could be left to the open air until fermentation begins or residue from former brewing could also begin the process by either being found in the brewery or by being added to the beer, much like sourdough is passed on; by taking a little from the old and adding to the new.

Beers which can be found at the festival in Munich are :Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner-BräuSpatenbräu and Staatliches Hofbräu-München. Several of these can be found imported in your local grocery or beer store.

Leifr Eiríksson

Viking Ship from 10th century manuscript

The discovery of the New World in 1492 set the stage for a new period in world history called the Modern Age. While there will be many opinions concerning when this age should be considered officially started, be it the fall of Byzantine, the Reformation, or whatever; the voyage of Columbus must certainly have been like a shot of adrenaline in the arm of the Age of Discovery.

Strange that it wouldn’t be until the post-modern world began to arise that the story of Leif Ericson would come to light. Maybe the world simply needed to break free of the confining arrogance of the ‘enlightenment’ to be able to look into the pre-modern world without bias, or maybe such stories weren’t believed because they were written off as mere myths. Whatever the reason, the fact is that for many centuries this earlier discovery of the New World went overlooked. The story first begins to come to light in 1874 when a book called America Not Discovered by Columbus was written by Rasmus B. Anderson. Over the next century the the idea began to be accepted as evidence mounted. In the 1960’s a norse settlement was discovered in Newfoundland by Helge and Anne Ingstad and suddenly there is proof that the discovery of North America occurred about 5oo years before Columbus.

October 9th celebrates Leif Ericson Day. He is believed to have been born in Iceland and/or Norway in the late 10th century the son of Erik the Red, (Ericson = Eriks Son). One story states that Leif was a convert to the Christian Faith and it was on a journey to bring Christianity to Greenland that the Norseman was blown off course and directly into history. Accounts of the journey are mentioned in the Vinland Sagas (c 1200), and some believe that the stories may have been known even to Columbus. Leif is considered to be the first European to set foot in the New World.

The Vinland Map

Another bit of evidence, which must remain as controversial is the Vinland Map. The authenticity of the Map is disputed, however the claim is that it is a 15th century Mappa Mundi which was a copy of an earlier manuscript. The far left of the Map shows the area known as Vinland, and is believed to be Newfoundland.

Vinland means Wine Land or land of Vines. It was believed that the land was full of grape vines which produced the best wine. It can also mean meadows or pasture land, which seems to be a more popular translation and may be more accurate given the climate in Newfoundland. Some suggest Vinland may have extended as far south as New York.

Jongleur de Dieu

Now everybody knows, I imagine, that the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were an awakening of the world. They were a fresh flowering of culture and the creative arts after a long spell of much sterner and even more sterile experience which we call the Dark Ages. They may be called an emancipation; they were certainly an end; an end of what may at least seem a harsher and more inhuman time. But what was it that was ended? From what was it that men were emancipated? That is where there is a real collision and point at issue between the different philosophies of history. On the merely external and secular side, it has been truly said that men awoke from a sleep; but there had been dreams in that sleep of a mystical and sometimes of a monstrous kind. In that rationalistic routine into which most modern historians have fallen, it is considered enough to say that they were emancipated from mere savage superstition and advanced towards mere civilised enlightenment. Now this is the big blunder that stands as a stumbling-block at the very beginning of our story. Anybody who supposes that the Dark Ages were plain darkness and nothing else, and that the dawn of the thirteenth century was plain daylight and nothing else, will not be able to make head or tail of the human story of St. Francis of Assisi. The truth is that the joy of St. Francis and his Jongleurs de Dieu was not merely an awakening. It was something which cannot be understood without understanding their own mystical creed. The end of the Dark Ages was not merely the end of a sleep. It was certainly not merely the end of a superstitious enslavement. It was the end of something belonging to a quite definite but quite different order of ideas.

—From St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton

Several years ago while transitioning back to the catholic faith, I discovered G.K. Chesterton. Actually this discovery had a lot to do with beginning my journey back to the ancient church. Chesterton was in many ways like a C.S. Lewis but on steroids, and as a lover of Lewis’ writings it wasn’t too hard to jump into the vastness of this man known as the Apostle of Common Sense.

Chesterton has two books which touch on the lives of saints from the Middle Ages which are a must – read for anyone interested in this time in history. One is on St. Thomas Aquinas and the other on this Saint, who must be the most popular outside of catholic culture.

Retablo of St. Francis

It is not uncommon to see statues of Francis adorning gardens, or hear of the Saint held in patronage by modern movements that want to tie in the deep passion of this man to their cause. In fact Francis has become a “saint for all seasons”, if you will, in our modern world; finding patronage among environmentalists, rebels, reformed churches, gays and lesbians, and nature worshippers. But like it or not, the fact is that Francis was catholic, and catholic in the fullest way. He and his followers became fools to the world, and troubadours for God, even if they are more commonly understood as troubadours to the world and fools for God. They lived in poverty, accepted the celibate life, fed the poor, and lived among the sick. The lepers caused no fear, they brought them food and cared for them. Begging was not a shame but a denial of power; they were mendicants in order to spend their time serving others, and their passion may have helped wake up the world of their day, much as it woke up the Church to areas of neglect as it struggled in its task to hold together the whole of western Europe after the collapse of the western Roman Empire.  In the end the greatest point that can be made about Francis is that he was simply a Catholic Saint.

Chesterton’s works can be found on the web and many of his books are available for free on iBooks if you have. If the excerpt above has peaked your curiosity about Francis and maybe even more of Chesterton, then know I give my highest recommendations for both.


October from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Of the four months that still retain the Roman numbering for their names, October might be the one most easily recognized as having an association with the number eight. Other words based off the Roman word octo, such as every kids favorite sea creature, the Octopus, may have helped to make the tie in. (O.K. Sharks may be more popular than the octopus). Octagon, Octave, and Octuplets, may have also tipped off many. The old Roman calendar did not contain January or February, which meant the year only had ten months, making october the eighth.

From my childhood and to this day, the autumn has been my favorite season. Even naming the month of October sends a stream of nostalgia into my thoughts. Cool brisk mornings, leaves changing color and the cap off of the month; Halloween.

The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry offers a grand view of the Louvre in the 14th century. Standing tall beyond the walls it is the backdrop for another Calendar in this famous Book of Hours. In the forefront we see fields being tilled and sowed; and an archer stands beyond. In the distance, people are walking on the waterfront of the Seine under the massive walls that surround the Louvre.

The Louvre was originally built as a fortress in the 12th century. In the 14th it was turned into the palace we see here. The palace would eventually be demolished and several new phases of developement would take place over the next centuries. Around 16th century is when the Louvre begins to make it’s trasition into it’s current state, being used to host galleries and artistic salons. In 1793 the Museum Central des Arts is opened by the post revolution government.

The Louvre today.

Today the Louvre is one of the worlds largest museums, displaying among many wonderful pieces of art, the famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, the Venus de Milo, and the Supper at Emmaus by Rembrandt.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of October are:

1. Therese of the Child Jesus, Memorial
2. Guardian Angels, Memorial
4. Francis of Assisi, Memorial
5. Faustina Kowalska, virgin, Opt. Mem.
6. Bruno; Bl. Marie Rose Durocher (USA), Opt. Mem.
7. Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
14. Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
15. Teresa of Jesus, Memorial
16. Hedwig; Margaret Mary Alacoque, Opt. Mem.
17. Ignatius of Antioch, Memorial
18. Luke, Feast
19. Isaac Jogues, John de Brébeuf and companions (USA), Memorial
20. Paul of the Cross, Opt. Mem.
21. Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
23. John of Capistrano, Opt. Mem.
24. Anthony Claret, Opt. Mem.
28. Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday

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