Monthly Archives: August 2015

Mary the Unknotter – Papal Edition!

I’ve written here before about the growing devotion to Our Lady as “the Untier of Knots” or “Mary the Unknotter”. Here’s the Pope sitting with his copy, over at the Vatican.

Here’s a post about how the devotion started in Augsburg, Germany; and here’s another about the patristic roots (ie, St. Irenaeus) of the devotional image.

Pope Francis is one of the many South Americans who are devoted to Mary as “La Desatadora.” He has often praised her under this title, too.

So Philadelphia’s cathedral is setting up an art exhibit in honor of Our Lady, which is a nice idea. But unfortunately the sculpture is of nothing but ugly knots and a loom of people’s written problems, rather than of Mary’s intercession and God’s power helping to untie them for us and make things right. But it’s not the ugliest modern art installation ever, and it’s at least trying to be reverent. Here’s the Philadelphia folks from the Presbyterian Church’s blogpost about it. Here’s the Mercy and Justice Committee page about it, which includes one of the Untier of Knots devotional prayers.

(Some news reports said that people were being invited to burn their knots and their sins, but apparently this was incorrect. Which I’m glad to hear, because the whole “burning sins” thing has been associated in the US with Catholics being told they don’t have to go to Confession if they go to a sin-burning session.)

Also, we have a nice example of urban hagiography legends, as the newspaper tells us that young Fr. Jorge Bergoglio was the first guy to bring the devotion to Argentina and Brazil! Seriously??? Please check your timelines, my friends.

The devotion to Our Lady under this title actually was around for quite a while, and was even suppressed for a bit for being done in a weird and occultish way. He was one of the younger priests who favored bringing it back in a good way, so of course he is now getting a lot of the credit. (Heh, I remember seeing absolutely nothing about some guy named Bergoglio on Desatadora websites, and a lot of stuff about how you shouldn’t be confused by the weird occultish people’s weirdness. Now the Pope is everywhere, and the sketchy part of the history is forgotten. So you can’t really blame the newspapers for getting caught up in it.)

Father Bergoglio did commission a painting of Mary for the Universidad de Salvador chapel, which in 1986 was given to the parish church of San Jose del Talar. It was based on a nice postcard brought back by Bergoglio from visiting her painting in Augsburg. The parish is now Argentina’s national shrine for “Our Lady who unties the knots;” and there are special devotions at 6 AM on the eighth of every month (because this is a title related to Mary as the Immaculate Conception and the New Eve, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is December 8).

Here’s a gallery of photos of the parish. (I like the big Christ statue.) The parish also features Confession being available all the time the church is open, and other prayer-friendly features. Naturally they are very proud of Pope Francis!

(It all looks very likeable. The only thing I don’t like is that it’s creepy to put the presiders’ chairs on the top steps of the old altar against the wall. I don’t think they meant to put people’s butts up there where the worship used to be, but it just looks bad.)

Here’s a chapel also dedicated to Our Lady Untier of Knots, at a drug addiction treatment center. There’s a picture of Archbishop Bergoglio.

The article says:

Cardinal Bergoglio explained that the devotion to Our Lady, Untier of Knots, arose around the year AD 1700, promoted for a marriage that was in permanent conflict of spouses.

“It occurred to this gentleman to ask the Virgin to fix the situation. As he was a very Christian man, he found a phrase written by St. Irenaeus of Lyons in the year 200, which says, “The knots which were tied by Eve’s disobedience and lack of faith, were untied by the obedience and faith of Mary.” All the knots that arm us with our failings, problems, infidelities — like a good mother, she is going to untie them. This is the meaning of this image,” he defined.

“This here cannot be called a construction company’s enterprise. The boys have made this church with their own hands, day by day, under the direction of Father Alejandro. The children make a house for their Mother, because she unties the knots for us. We all have knots in our hearts. We all have failings, and we all go through difficulties in life,” added Cardinal Bergoglio.

Here’s a remixed South American version of the traditional German iconography.

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If You Haven’t Been Able to Post Here

Please let me know if you haven’t been allowed to post comments under your usual handle and email address. MobiusWolf and Brickmuppet both fell afoul of the anti-spam system here at WordPress, and I still don’t know why (or why they initially didn’t show up in the spam pile). I have put their comments back up.

So yeah, please let me know. I really want to hear from you folks who bother to read my blog!


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St. Zelie? St. Azelie? St. Zeely?

It’s only a couple months until Louis Martin and Zélie Martin (née Guérin), the parents of St. Therese and a whole family of blesseds and venerables and Servants of God, are themselves canonized. So it’s more than time to talk about the Baptismal name Zelie, since a lot of folks are choosing it for their girls!

First, “Zélie” was Madame Martin’s nickname. Her full name was Azélie-Marie. [Corrected according to comment below!]

Second, “Azélie” doesn’t have anything to do with azaleas, which were given that scientific name in 1753 by the Dutch biologist Linnaeus. (“Azalea” comes from the Greek word “azaleos,” dry. The French spelling of “azalea” is “azalée.”)

“Azelie” is also not etymologically related to “Asella,” even though St. Asella’s feastday has sometimes been used as a nameday for girls named Azelie and Azeline. (St. Asella was a ten year old girl in ancient Rome who became a vowed virgin, and then became a house hermit at age 12. Forty years later, she was part of St. Jerome’s circle of women Bible students and friends. Her feastday is December 6. Her family name would have been Asellus, which means “little donkey.”)

“Azelie” is also not related to “Celia” (from Latin “coelia,” heavenly, or from the Etruscan-derived name of the Caelius family of ancient Rome), although the little girl who was healed as the Martin’s canonization miracle was named “Celia” as a Spanish approximation or functional equivalent of Zelie.

(And since that sort of thing is super-common in Irish naming, I’m sure not going to quibble about whether somebody’s name can be Cornelius and mean Conal.)

So what does the name “Azélie” mean?

Actually, it seems to be either part of a group of early medieval Frankish or Gallo-Roman names taken from the Latin word “solemnia” or “solennia” (“solemn, solemnity”) such as “Solinus” and “Solange”;

Or it is related to early medieval Frankish names like the male names “Adso,” “Atzel” and “Ascelin,” and the female names “Aza,” “Azala,” and “Azelina.” If this latter is the case (which seems more likely), the stem is rather mysterious, as “At-” stems can be related either to “Athal-, Atta-” (“father”), or “Cat-, Chad-, Had-, Hath-“.] Azélie may mean the same thing as Adélie (“noble, highborn”), where the root just went another direction phonetically.

So it’s a Christian name, and it’s been a Christian name for a long time, but there hasn’t been a clear saint’s name involved until now. That’s just how it goes with some old names – they’re more hallowed by use by Christians than anything else!

Traditionally, Azélie and Zélie seem to be names found mostly in Northern France. (Which is where our new saint is from.) Now it is found all over France, and all around the world. But it’s not very common, and even many French people have never heard of it. (This is obviously about to change.)

There was also an 1817 historical novel set during the French Revolution, and written by the historian and authoress Melanie de Boileau, called Azélie, ou Les Vicissitudes de Fortune. Since the saint’s sister was nicknamed Elise, and the author also wrote a novel called Elisa, ou Les Trois Chasseurs, it leads one to wonder about novel-readers in the Guerin family.

(The preface to the novel says sternly that it’s not about ghosts and old castles, but is a “simple and natural” story, showing how Azélie, a girl of aristocratic birth, develops a great and noble character through facing adversity in a troubled time. The conversations and travels of the characters are also advertised as educational without being boring, so that the Guerins may have felt it to be an edifying work.)

Here’s where you can read Azélie ou Les Vicissitudes de Fortune: Volume One. Volume Two. Volume Three.

The American form of Zelie is “Zeely,” probably best known from its use in Virginia Hamilton’s children’s novel, Zeely. The eponymous Zeely is not the main character, but rather a neighbor woman of great dignity whom the girl protagonist (Geeder) is interested in learning more about. (I remember the book being very interesting and haunting, although part of that is Hamilton’s habit of always seeming to be just about to reveal that you’re reading a fantasy novel. But it’s not.)


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The Patron Saint of Bacon

St. Anthony the Abbot, the Egyptian Early Christian and founder of most organized monasticism, is generally depicted with the attribute of a pig, because he once saw the devil in the form of a pig.

(He got bugged by lots of demons, but generally paid them no mind. He compared demons to mosquitos – always around, always annoying, but not a real danger.)

In the usual humorous style of picking patrons, the presence of the pig attribute led to St. Anthony (who ate no meat as part of his ascetic practices) becoming the patron saint of pigs, butchers, and bacon curing, as well as all livestock and animals.

St. Athanasius wrote an extremely popular biography of St. Anthony the Abbot. You can read it here, or in this version with footnotes.

Other patron saints of butchers include St. Adrian (a Roman soldier who got butchered during his martyrdom) and whatever saint was patron of the local butchers’ guild parish. 🙂

But of course the patron saint of cooks, and specifically grill cooking, is St. Lawrence, the Roman deacon who was executed on a grill. He famously quipped, “This side is done. Turn me over and then you can eat!”


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SPQR’s Comment

“In #HugoAwards the #SadPuppies set the bait, painted the word “BAIT” on it; the SJWs bit and are now celebrating being hooked.”


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Compare and Contrast.

Two days ago, three American friends traveling on a train in France saw a murderous man with an AK chasing a man down the aisle. They tackled him and beat him unconscious. Airman First Class Spencer Stone proceeded to treat the wounds of a fourth man, despite the fact that his own thumb was partially cut away from his hand.

Last night, grown people decided that it was an awesome idea to announce to the world that some of the best writers and professionals of the science fiction field deserved no Hugo Award, rather than “risk” wrongpeople winning. This corresponded exactly to the “scorched earth” strategy of the Rabid Puppies and Sad Puppies group, who had said from the beginning that any No Award result would prove their point about the politicization of the Awards by a small group of bloc voters. And indeed, now it can be seen that some people feel happy and righteous when they tell the world that science fiction is all crap, just like the proverbial nasty English teacher would have said. (I feel sorry for all those fans in the Hugo Awards audience who were trapped among idiots, and then admonished for booing such a beclowning disgrace. The disregard shown by presenters for the feelings of really long-time colleagues was particularly disgraceful. There are ways to act like adults in an uncomfortable situation, and there are ways to make it worse; they chose the latter.)

So here is the contrast. This week, two different groups left their mark on history and displayed their character.

Three men responded to danger by doing the right thing.

26% of Worldcon voters responded to a manifesto by embarrassing the whole field, and thereby proving the manifesto right.


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“Why I Left Crimea”

A sad story by an ethnically Russian guy living in Ukraine.

He also includes these words of wisdom about why any real and vibrant culture of democracy will include some unpleasant people saying unpleasant things:

“Do I find any Ukrainian politicians likable?

“I like the fact they exist and they are at each other’s throats. As long as there is a real political struggle, adversarial decision-making, there is a chance things will develop.

“Imagine: people shit every day. Do I find the asshole likable because it does this? No, but I’m really glad it exists.”

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More Weirdness with the Quran

So they recently dated an extremely early Quran manuscript, which actually followed the standard Uthman recension instead of any of the many variant versions that Uthman tried to stamp out (and which might be the original wording of the Quran, for all anybody knows). This made a lot of Islamic people happy.

However, the dating was so early that it might actually be from almost a hundred years before Muhammad allegedly lived and died.

(UPDATE: The original link used in this post no longer works, as that site gives free access to articles only during the current month of issue. I apologize for the inconvenience. The current link should stay up.)


Of course, carbon dating is notoriously difficult to get exactly right, and it could even be a post-Uthman copy (deliberately faked or just thrifty) that was written on something older. Alternatively, it could be an extremely early example of Uthman’s edition, and the carbon dating was just a little off. But usually one assumes the middle date is the most likely.

Meanwhile, the paleographical analysis has always said that it’s from the very late 600s or the very early 700s.

So let’s put this together:

AD 570: Traditional date of Muhammad’s birth

610: Traditional date of Muhammad starting to get messages from Gabriel and God

632: Traditional date of Muhammad’s death

post-632: Quran traditionally put together from scraps of dictation recorded on spare palm bark and animal bones.

650: Third Caliph, Uthman, codifies his official version of the Quran and destroys all other copies that he can find.

AD 568-645: Carbon dating of Birmingham Quran manuscript. Middle date is 606.

AD 680-720: Paleographic dating of Birmingham Quran manuscript. Middle date is 700.

For even more fun, this isn’t the first manuscript that is too early. The Sana’a manuscript fragments have been dated to AD 543–643 and to AD 433–599.

The article points out that a Quran that is a couple hundred years older, or more, than tradition holds would explain why Islamic scholars have never been able to explain certain features of the text. This does go towards the thesis that some parts of the Quran are actually quoted from an early Christian manuscript written in Syriac, and thus misunderstood by Arabic speakers. Since Muhammad’s relatives and early associates included a lot of Christians, Gnostics, etc., this has always been plausible.

So what parts of the Quran are covered by the Birmingham ms?

First off, the Birmingham ms consists only 2 leaves; but they are recognized to be from the same manuscript as 16 leaves in the National Library over in Paris. The Birmingham leaves cover material from Surah 18 (about “the People of the Cave,” aka the Muslim version of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus), the end of Surah 19 (the Muslim version of the story of the Virgin Mary), and the beginning of Surah 20 (God addressing an unnamed prophet, traditionally identified as Muhammad by Islamic readers).

All this is stuff that could easily have been written by a non-Islamic author writing in Syriac. One of the most important points of Jewish prophecy was God’s promise to send another prophet who would be like Moses, but who would know God face to face. Even the New Testament Samaritans were looking for “the Prophet” in this sense; that’s what the Samaritan woman was talking about in the story. Today’s Samaritans and Jews are still looking. Christianity believes that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy among many others, just as the Samaritan woman testified. There were other ancient groups who had their own candidates.

Islam’s claim is that Muhammad was the guy; so Muhammad taking over a manuscript, or small library of manuscripts, telling what God said to “the Prophet” would be plausible.

We also have a lot of ancient mystical texts which are associated with the recording of mystical visions and messages. We know that many more used to exist but were lost at some point.

Shrug. It’s interesting. The most conservative thesis would be that there’s something messing with the carbon dating, but the carbon dating of Roman era Egyptian ms from desert areas seems to be quite consistent, as far as I know. Why would an ms from Turkey or somewhere be any different?

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Lace Smuggling

Back in the late 1600’s, lace was extremely valuable. So there were smugglers. This is pretty awful stuff!

Mrs Fanny Bury Palliser noted in her History of Lace:

“…When a deceased clergyman was conveyed from the Low Countries for internment, the body of the corpse was found to have disappeared, and to have been replaced by Flanders lace of immense value – the head, and hands, and feet alone remaining.”

Another sort of fraud was practiced between Belgium and France in the 1800’s.

“At a certain time, Belgium introduced much lace into France… with the aid of dressed-up dogs. The dog was fed handsomely in France, then taken to Belgium where he was chained, abused, and barely fed. After a time the skin of a larger dog was fitted on it, and the intervening space stuffed with lace. The dog was then released and made its way back to France with its cargo, guided from the memory of better times. This maneuver was repeated until eventually French Customs was alerted and took steps to stop it; but it lasted several years, and from 1820 to 1836, no fewer than 40,278 dogs” were detected and destroyed by French Customs.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

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More Thoughts on A Net of Dawn and Bones

I’ve now read the book, and the plot and characters are quite good. As expected! Buy the book!

There’s a somewhat confusing-to-reader backstory about the heroine being an early Christian heretic. She’s not really involved with Gnosticism. She’s involved with “gnosis,” knowledge, which is the old Alexandrian term for a form of mysticism involving the seeking of both theological and personal knowledge of Christ. (As seen in St. Clement of Alexandria and poor old Origen.) The bad body-hating, woman-hating Gnostics of Gnosticism took over the term, alas, and used it to mean esoteric and occult knowledge. (St. Clement, St. Irenaeus and other writers talk a bit about the distinction between gnosis and “so-called gnosis.” After that generation, Christians started to use other terms to avoid confusion.)

Chancy is basically playing around with this and with pagan Egyptian religion stuff, although honestly there seems to have been almost no overlap between pagan Egyptian practices and ancient Coptic/Orthodox/Catholic Christian practices. Alexandrian Christianity usually seems to have been dueling with Greco-Roman paganism, as in St. Clement of Alexandria’s apologetic work, Protrepticus. (Albeit I think it’s humorous as a fantasy trope to see literal “spoils of the Egyptians.”) There’s also a few twisting of bad Gnosticism stuff (reincarnation, bodies as not intrinsically connected to the person, secret passwords for traveling between levels of existence, blah blah) into Christian-acceptable stuff, as a theoretical reverse-engineering to a fantasy idea of gnosis “powers.” Since a lot of the false Gnosticism stuff probably was sucked in from a bad understanding of Egyptian religion or trendy Roman occultism (Irenaeus points out that there’s actually a Gnostic version of the Egyptian Ogdoad, albeit it’s a really tenuous connection!), this sorta fits with the fictional spoils of the Egyptians idea.

Spoils of the Egyptians aside, the entire “magic system” used by the protagonist appears to be more of a miracle system. She’s a saintly person who quotes the Bible; and then God grants her speaking of true things to have an effect, as a result of her gnosis of God. (Which is not the worst description, since it does seem to work that way for some miracleworking saints whose wills and love are pretty much at one with God’s will and love, which would indeed be true gnosis.)

Anyway, there’s not really much said about how exactly this character’s beliefs are heretical. Presumably it’s not something that comes up in routine conversation. Of course, neither do the considerable differences between Mormonism and Trinitarian Christianity, or the Arianism of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

(If you want to have fun with early Christians and magic, the Recognitions of St. Clement (ie, the future Pope Clement I of Rome) is a really fun early Christian “adventure novel” with all the typical Greco-Roman separated siblings, as well as Simon Magus doing wicked magic. There’s also a bit of travelogue to famous Roman sites that don’t exist anymore. Lots of homilies and religious debate as well, which is why Rufinus of Aquileia translated it from Greek into Latin. My other favorite is the book with the resurrected dried sardines and the talking dog. If you’re interested in early Christian mysticism, The Shepherd of Hermas is a good intro, and St. Clement of Alexandria’s Paedagogue and Stromata also talk a lot about it.)

To address another point of potential reader confusion, there is absolutely no way that you could confuse Purgatory with Hell. Purgatory is part of Heaven. That said, some European Purgatory literature does get rather enthusiastic about portraying poor souls suffering (unpleasantly though temporarily) in Purgatory (albeit to encourage the living to pray for the Poor Souls with no one to pray for them, and to mend their own ways). Still, I don’t recall anyone ever showing Purgatory having demons in it. Angels being stern is about as far as it goes.

In general, and as with Buffy, I don’t really think this “Hell” is actually Hell. If you wanted to argue that demons’ minions had settled some mundane-but-unpleasant planet in a weird dimension or plane, and then invited the demons to take over; and that this was where people were being “dragged to Hell” by evil wizards and demons – that would be a lot more consistent with orthodox Christian theology. But obviously every writer has the power to decree the rules of their own writing worlds, so I could be totally wrong on where Chancy is going with this.

As noted in my previous post, Chancy says that she wanted to write an urban fantasy where the heroine fought evil, and did not choose to go after the Sexier of Two Evils. The inclusion of a not-totally-bad demon (even if not as a love interest, thank goodness!) would seem to militate against this goal. But in a world where people are dragged to Hell unwillingly and in which demons can sire children a la Nephilim (as opposed to “the sons of God” being Seth’s descendants and “the daughters of earth” being Cain’s descendants), a not-totally-willing Nephilim could end up being dragged to Hell and putting on a front as being a demon. (Which I expect we will find out in some sequel.) Of course, a being which isn’t actually of the angelic kind (albeit partaking of some angelic powers) would not have an angelically unchangeable will, and therefore would be capable of changing his mind about working for the baddies. (And I suspect that’s where she’s going with this.)

I hope we get more books from Chancy soon, whether from this universe or others!

P.S. Bart Ehrman is not a good source for early Christian stuff. He’s the kind of guy who will say that a source [Epiphanius] is a big fat liar about heresies, claim that the source’s tale of being groomed for sexual abuse by the Borborites was obviously made up, and then will quote that same source as authoritative about the Borborites, without pointing out who the guy is that he’s quoting! Elaine Pagels is dippy and relentlessly misguided, but she’s honestly dippy.

Still, you’re a lot better off learning about early Christian writers from either the primary sources in translation (there are several good anthologies of excerpts, like Aquilina’s Fathers of the Church), or from standard works describing them like Quasten’s four volumes of Patrology. Rod Bennett’s The Four Witnesses is another good starting place.

If you want to know why folks like Ehrman and Pagels are so insistent about “other Christianities” being somehow better and different, you can blame a German scholar from the 1930’s.

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