First World War POW’s at Mass

Life was a little more civilized before the Nazis and the Soviets came along.

Here’s a photo of a WWI POW camp in Italy, showing Catholic Austro-Hungarian POWs going to Mass. As you can see, the camp is pretty cruddy but the religious accommodation is pretty generous.

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The Imprisoned Queen of England

Sophia Dorothea of Celle (or Zell) was the only acknowledged wife of King George I of England, while he was still just ruling Hannover.

It was a marriage born in money and power. She was the only heir of her father (his uncle), the Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg (Braunschweig-Lueneburg), and his Huguenot mistress/morganatic wife/eventual full wife, Eleonore d’Esmier d’Ombreuse, Countess of Wilhelmsburg. As heiress, she came with an income of 100,000 thalers a year, but she couldn’t inherit the duchy because that went with the male line. She was also George’s first cousin, but we all know that European aristocrats of that era weren’t bothered by that sort of genetic stupidity. George was going to inherit Celle eventually, but the marriage would lead up more gracefully to unification. (In theory.)

However, there was a lot of soap opera involved. Even though it was a sensible marriage idea (from the point of view of eliminating dynastic contention), the Hannover side jibbed at marrying George to the daughter of a morganatic marriage.

But why was the marriage initially morganatic? Because in 1658, as part of a deal to get out of marrying Princess Sophia of the Palatinate, when he gave Hannover and the obligation to his younger brother, Ernest Augustus of Brunswick-Luneburg (who was happy to marry Sophia and vice versa, and who thus became the father of George I), he had promised to remain unmarried and produce no legitimate heir. He initially kept his promise. Then he met Eleonore in 1665 and fell in love with her. They married morganatically, and Sophia Dorothea was born in 1666. Ten years later, it was becoming clear that the future George I was the only male heir born to the whole extended family, so Sophia Dorothea’s dad proposed the marriage idea and got turned down. This torqued him off, so he broke his promise, married Eleonore, and legitimized Sophia Dorothea in 1676.

This made the relatives angry, but it also got the job done. Sophia Dorothea became Duchess of Hannover, but there wasn’t much fun in it.

She bore two children: the eventual King George II of England and the eventual Queen Sophia Dorothea of Prussia.

In 1692, after ten years of marriage and much abuse by her husband, there was a scandal about her friendship with a Swedish count, Philip Christoph von Koenigsmarck. The Duchess protested her innocence. In 1694, Koenigmarck disappeared mysteriously; rumor said he had been murdered. The duke divorced and imprisoned Sophia, but he didn’t divorce his claim to inherit his uncle her father’s duchy, which he collected in 1705 when that duke died.

[It was rumored that the whole thing had been engineered by George’s long-time mistress, Ehrengard Melusine von Schulenburg. She was also rumored to have been made his morganatic wife, but George never acknowledged this in public and never acknowledged his illegitimate kids as legitimate heirs. (This did protect the claim of his “heir and spare” kids and prevent potential dynastic warfare, which is probably why he did it.) However, he did give Melusine tons of properties and noble titles, including making her “Duchess of Kendal” (her usual title in English history books) and “Duchess of Munster” (which was a real insult to the Irish). In Scottish history, she is best remembered by the reference in the Jacobite song “Cam’ Ye O’er frae France” to George “riding on a goosie.”]

So anyway, the upshot was that this lady was deprived of her freedom, her property, visits from her kids (even after they grew up), and the ability to marry again. She lived that way for thirty years. Contemporary accounts say that she never ceased to declare her innocence of all adultery or immoral behavior.

Her son planned to free her and clear her name as soon as he acceded to the throne, but unfortunately she predeceased his father. It’s a sad story.

(To add to the creepiness of George I’s court, he had so many mistresses that most of the English nobles mistook his semi-acknowledged illegitimate half-sister, Sophia von Kielsmansegg, for one of his mistresses – just because she was influential with him! Apparently people didn’t get the word about the real relationship until he made her Countess of Leinster, gave her arms featuring a bar sinister, and talked about their “common blood” in the letters patent for the title. And yeah, I’m sure that the Irish were just super-pleased by the insult to Leinster, too.)

* Morganatic marriage, aka “left hand marriage,” was part of ancient Frankish law but went against Church and international law. It was a form of marriage between two people of unequal status, signified by the giving of a “morning gift” after the consummation of the “marriage.” No dowry or brideprice was given, and the families of the people involved did not get into negotiating a marriage contract. A morganatic marriage could be ended unilaterally at any time. (And they often were, if a lord got a full marriage prospect that paid off better.) But it was still one step above being a mistress, and there was only supposed to be one morganatic marriage at a time. But since they were enacted in private and not in church, morganatic marriages could potentially make morganatic bigamy pretty easy.

Under Frankish law, the children of an unequal marriage were still automatically heirs of their fathers, but this was not true under German or international law. (Although a lot of the resulting kids were legitimized by their fathers, a lot of them weren’t.) In the eyes of Catholic and Protestant churches, this form of “marriage” was keeping a concubine. The closest English equivalent would be “common law marriage,” not that such a thing exists anymore.

As time went on, German and Austrian law did begin to recognize morganatic marriages as merely a specialized form of pre-nuptial agreement that controlled the succession of heirs to titles, without de-legitimizing children or making divorce easy. This allowed them to be recognized as true marriages by churches, and some of these later morganatic marriages did take place in churches, before consummation, instead of in bedrooms.

One notable latter-day morganatic marriage was the marriage of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to Countess Sophie Chotek, a Hungarian noblewoman of high birth. Because of their unequal (though high) rank, their marriage was severely opposed by Emperor Franz Josef. After most of the crowned heads of Europe and the Pope interceded for the couple, the Emperor finally acceded, but only under the condition that it be a morganatic marriage where Sophie would never become empress and the children could not succeed to any titles.

The Emperor refused to attend or let most of the relations attend, so the Nuptial Mass was celebrated in the tiny Reichstadt Castle chapel. But the celebrants were the parish priest with two friars as deacon and subdeacon; so the Mass itself was in full splendor, and showed that the Church regarded it as a true marriage of equals.

Here’s a picture from an illustrated journal of the day, The Sphere. (Also note that the Catholic archduchesses all wore hats to Mass.)


“The Archduke Franz Ferdinand duly wedded the Countess Sophie Chotek, the choice of his heart, at the Imperial castle of Reichstadt in Bohemia last Sunday week. The service was conducted by the parish priest, assisted by two Capuchin friars The little wedding procession, consisting of thirty-one persons, proceeded from the Archduchess Maria Theresa’s drawing room through the billiard room, where the Emperor Franz Josef and the Czar Alexander II met in conference in 1876, to the little chapel, to which no one else was admitted. First in the procession walked the bridegroom with his stepmother the Archduchess Maria Theresa, and his two half-sisters, the Archduchesses Maria Immaculata and Elizabeth, and his two sisters; and after then the bride, accompanied by her uncle, Prince L√∂wenstein, and Count Charles Chotek, head of the family. The Countess wore a white silk dress trimmed with myrtle blossoms, and on her forehead a diamond coronet, a wedding gift from the Archduke. Behind her came her brother, her sisters, and their husbands, and two or three court dignitaries. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s brothers were not present. From Reichstadt the bride and bridegroom proceeded to Konopischt Castle in Bohemia, a favourite estate of the Archduke’s, where they are passing their honeymoon. Our picture is by the one artist present (a Viennese).”

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Sweetness and Lightning: A Very Cute Anime

Crunchyroll currently has a very cute family food anime called Sweetness and Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma).

Kouhei Inuzuka, a dad who lost his wife six months ago, is having a hard time raising their daughter Tsumugi alone, especially since he can’t cook. He never had much appetite, but since his wife died he’s been losing weight to the point that his teaching colleagues openly worry about him.

One of his high school students, Kotori Iida, has a mom who works all the time as a celebrity chef, and her father is gone. She also has a phobia about knives, so she can’t do most cooking; and unless she gets over it, she won’t be able to keep the family restaurant going when she grows up.

So (with her mom’s permission) the girl who knows a lot about cooking but never does any, starts to teach the widowed dad how to cook. (And she also gets to play big sister to little Tsumugi, and have a father figure in her life.) So far, Dad has to do all the chopping.

It’s a charming show made from a charming manga. (The manga is also available on Crunchyroll.) Each storyline in the comic includes a recipe as an appendix, so that you can make the same dishes that the characters do.

This is a great intro to simple Japanese cooking, or an inspiration to get off your butt and do some. It also includes some useful information about European- and American-style cooking… but obviously, Japanese cooks adapt their recipes to local taste, just like American cooks do.

So their idea of Salisbury steak is served with a tomato-based sauce and a fried egg on top. (I’m not against it, mind you, but the American idea of Salisbury steak involves brown gravy and no eggs.)

I do want to point out that Kouhei isn’t some stereotypical helpless guy. He does a pretty good job taking care of the house and his job and his daughter. He just needs to know how to cook. (And to be taken out of himself, so that he can get out of his grief and depression, which are affecting his job. As Kotori points out, it’s not good for a homeroom teacher not to know the names and faces of his students. Kouhei has been living in a grief fog, and that’s understandable; but it can’t go on.)

And no, it’s not skeevy. The manga actually points out that Japanese homeroom teachers used to spend a lot of time with their students at home, as well as doing home visits with the parents to discuss the kids. Having teachers over to eat was once common. (Although I assume that this was in the days when teacher salaries were lower, so a lot of Japanese moms probably wanted to feed sensei and keep him/her from starving to death.) This is a manga and anime about a father; he just gains an extra daughter. (Albeit a daughter who intermittently has a crush on him… but Kotori tactfully keeps it to herself.)

I actually have a suspicion that the widowed dad and the divorced mom may eventually get together in the manga. It’s hard to tell, since they haven’t actually met in person yet. (The mom writes out and draws recipe instructions each week for her daughter and the dad, so she’s actually “present” in some storylines and has some personality established.) Of course, since the comic is aimed at teenage girls, it is probably unlikely that the story would go this way! Most likely, nothing will happen except teenager angst.

Also, I forgot to point out that the voice actress playing Tsumugi is actually a young kid – one of the talented kids from the calligraphy anime Barakamon. I hope she’s still having fun with her work; but if she’s only doing one series a season, that should be okay.

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Two Disappointing Flicks: Zootopia and Ant-Man

So I went to Redbox and rented some movies. (Good price.) And I’m glad I didn’t pay a movie ticket or digital rental price, because dang, I would have been upset about the waste of money.

Zootopia was well-animated and had a lot of cute and interesting bits, but oh the stupidity.

First off, it’s not suitable for kids. It’s got scenes that are really dark in ways that will frighten young kids, and there is an extended joke about nudist animals that is presented in a really uncomfortable way. The morals of the story are banged in with hammers, and it’s insulting to kids. Oh, and there’s a Breaking Bad homage sequence. In a kids’ movie.

Second, it’s not suitable for adults, because the plotline is on rails and the police don’t act like police. It’s obvious that the story went through all kinds of developmental hell, but sheesh. The plot also contradicts the supposed morals of the story, as the writers constantly trade complexity for cheap jokes and the aforesaid hammers.

On the bright side, some of the characters are likeable, and the movie is fun when it’s working. The sets are pretty. I don’t blame the voice actors, the animators, the music people, or anybody else besides the writers and directors. Who sucked.

Ant-Man spent a zillion years setting up the action, and there were a lot of talk scenes and training montages that were so boring I turned down the volume and caught up on reading blogs. There was a really good Paul Rudd movie in there, and the action scenes were fun and interesting. Just way too much talk, way too much villain annoyance, and way too much of Hope Van Dyne whining and showing off her Buffy-like martial arts powers in the training montages. (If I want to see a woman beating up the hero of a movie for five minutes, I’ll just get out my Barbie doll and have her stomp on my action figures.)

Anyway, I liked Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, and I liked the little girl actress as Cassie Lang. And the giant Thomas the Tank Engine was worth a fair amount of annoyance.

So once again, I don’t blame the actors, the animators, the set guys…..

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Man Proposes, God Disposes: French Helicopter Edition

This webpage about the patron saint of French army aviation is pretty interesting! (Read it on Google Translate.)

Originally, they planned to pick St. Elijah the Prophet, because of the “chariot of fire.” (And apparently some wish this had happened, because his French name, Elie, sounds like the French “helie” for helicopters.) They also wanted a summer feast day, so they could fly and have fun while honoring the saint; and St. Elijah’s feast is in July. (As opposed to St. Barbara, patron of artillery and guns, whose feast is in cold December.)

But then came the liberation of Rome in WWII on June 4th, which was St. Clotilde’s Day. Small Free French army aircraft were used for observation work, during the fight. And so the French aviators took the date of victory as a sign.

The webpage includes a beautiful prayer to St. Clotilde for her intercession!

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German Brewster Nun

Sister Doris, a Franciscan, is the brewmistress of Kloster Mallersdorf (Mallersdorf Cloister).

As with a lot of professions, women did most of the brewing when brewing was mostly a home industry. The same thing is true of distilling on a small scale, which fit right in with the women’s work of making medicine for the family as well as cooking food. (Hence the word “stillroom,” which means “distillery room.”)

Here’s the uncloistered tap room and restaurant, if you’re ever in the neighborhood and want to try out the beer. It’s run by laypeople. (Yum, Bavarian food….)

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St. Mason??

Yup, there’s even a Catholic reason to name a kid “Mason.”

“Mason” is one of the many English surnames based on profession – in this case, the profession of stonemason. Most Americans with the first name “Mason”¬† were either named for a family surname, or were historically named for George Mason: a Virginia patriot of the Revolutionary War, and one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was one of the big adamant supporters of a Bill of Rights both for the US and for Virginia. At the Constitutional Convention and in his pamphlet, Objections to the Constitution, he also called for an immediate outlawing of the slave trade (on the grounds that importing slaves would make the nation more vulnerable to takeover, but at least he was trying). Even though his ideas lost at the time, everybody else finally ended up agreeing with him.

But I said there’s a Catholic reason to name a kid “Mason,” right?

Blessed John Mason was an ordinary Catholic layman, a servant in Oxfordshire, working at the house of a Mr. Owen. On November 7, 1791, he attended a Mass said at Swithin Well’s house (in Holborn, London) by St. Edmund Gennings, a Catholic convert who’d been ordained at Douay.

During Mass, a raid was led on the house by Richard Topcliffe, a “pursuivant” who was also an Elizabethan psychopath with a government funded murder house. Topcliffe tried to get into the room upstairs where Mass was being said. He and his people broke down the door. Bl. John Mason rushed Topcliffe, grabbed him, wrestled with him, and actually tumbled them both downstairs. It was a darned good try.

The rest of the male members of the congregation drew their weapons, and used their swords to hold off the raid until Mass was over. (It’s a Catholic theological point that a Mass that has gotten to the point where the Canon/Eucharistic prayers are said, must be finished by the priest or by another priest, if remotely possible.) Topcliffe got Mason off him and came back upstairs “with a broken head.” Fr. Plasden called out that they would surrender peacefully once Mass was over, and for once Topcliffe went along with it.

Then the guys with weapons kept Plasden’s word and surrendered peacefully (since there was no other way out, and they were extremely outnumbered). St. Swithin Wells was not there to be captured, but his wife Alice was. Others included the priest, St. Edmund Gennings, another priest (possibly named Gennings also), St. Polydore Plasden (also a priest; he was hung, drawn, and quartered for the crime of being one and then coming to England), and Mason’s fellow laymen: the lawyer Bl. Sidney Hodgson, and the gentleman Bl. Brian Lacey.

On getting home, Swithin Wells found his house shut up and all the people gone. His neighbors told him about the arrest of his wife, along with all the others. He was an old man, but had no fear. St. Swithin went to the examining judge, complained, and bravely demanded his wife and his housekeys. He was then arrested and thrown into Newgate too, in shackles. When examined the next day, he testified that he hadn’t been at Mass but wished he’d been able to come. He loved the example of St. Thomas More, and joked a lot during his imprisonment. He was eventually charged and executed for having acted as a server at a Mass a few days before the raid.

Topcliffe knew that Bl. Brian Lacey had been traveling around England with another priest, Bl. Montford Scott, before Scott was captured and executed. So Topcliffe tortured Lacey severely to try to get the locations of the priest-friendly houses where they’d stayed. He gave them nothing. He was a tough guy, who had already been imprisoned in Newgate for Catholic activities. (Unfortunately, it was his own brother, Richard Lacey of Brockdish, Norfolk, had given information to the government about Lacey’s carrying Catholic letters and helping Fr. Scott.)

On December 6, 1591, Bl. John Mason was arraigned and tried before the King’s Bench at the Old Bailey, along with Gennings, Wells, Plasden, Hodgson, and a guy who’d been captured during the summer, Bl. Edmund White.

Bl. John Mason was originally charged with having known the whereabouts of a Catholic priest and not reporting it within three days. Mason pointed out that he’d only known the priest’s whereabouts for one day. “I was taken in his company, and therefore you know not what I would have done, if I had had longer time.” (Catholics who got captured liked to point out the stupidity of the persecution laws.) They couldn’t get past this logic, so he was tried and condemned as an “aider and abettor of priests.” They asked him if he were sorry for having rushed Topcliffe.

He said, “No; if it were to do again, I would resist the wicked, that they should not have God’s priests. Yea, although I were to be punished with twenty deaths.”

He was sentenced to be hung until he was dead at Tyburn, London on December 10, 1591, as were Sydney Hodgson and Brian Lacey. Their executions took place along with those of White, Plasden, and Lacey. Moved by Plasden’s statement of loyalty to England and the queen, Sir Walter Raleigh intervened for Plasden, first arguing with Topcliffe that Plasden should not be executed, and then making sure he was hung until completely dead and then having the drawing and quartering done on his corpse. This didn’t happen for White, whom they kept alive for quite a while. Mason and the other men sentenced to hanging were buried at the side of the road. The drawn and quartered men had their quarters sent to various parts of the city, as was the custom for “traitors.”

St. Swithin Wells and St. Edmund Gennings were hung on December 10, 1591, from a gallows that was erected in Grays’ Inn Fields on the north side of Holborn, practically right outside St. Swithun Wells’ house. Nothing like a little terror in the neighborhood. At Topcliffe’s order, Jennings was hanged so quickly, and then cut down again so quickly, that when they cut him down from the noose, he was able to stand up by himself. The hangman tripped him, in order to get his head on the block, and then they proceeded to draw and quarter him. Gennings loudly cried out, “Oh, it smarts.” After being ripped up and having his guts thrown into a fire (that’s the drawing part of “drawing and quartering”), and with the executioner having cut out his heart and held it up, Gennings was heard to say in Latin, “Sancte Gregori, ora pro me.” (St. Gregory, pray for me.)

St. Swithin Wells was hung until he was dead. He was allowed to be buried by his friends in the churchyard of St. Andrew’s, Holborn.

Alice Wells was spared from being executed, but instead was kept in prison until she died in 1602. Yay! So merciful!

Being Catholic isn’t for sissies. We have to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, and we never know where that will lead. But we can trust that it will bring us to eternal life.

Blessed John Mason, pray for us!

You can read more about Fr. Jennings/Genings/Gennings, Swithun Wells, and the raid on his house in this book from the time, The Life and Death of Mr. Edmund Genings, Priest.

You can also read Acts of English Martyrs Hitherto Unpublished by John Hungerford Pollen, S.J. It includes copies of primary documents. Most of the above came from the Relation of Fr. Andrew Young.

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