Monthly Archives: February 2016

St. Beatus of Liebana’s Feastday

In the local Spanish calendars of saints, St. Beatus of Liebana has a memorial on February 19th, which (as usual) was also the traditional day of his death. He died full of years and honors, as abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Liebana (Lebanon) in Asturias, Spain. As everybody who hangs around here has had drummed into their head, he is best known as the author of his monumental Commentary on the Apocalypse.

Back then, Liebana was dedicated to St. Martin of Tours. These days, Liebana is San Toribio’s. Back then, it was a Benedictine monastery; now it is staffed by Franciscan friars. It still has a good library and a good-sized chunk of the True Cross.

This year, St. Beatus’ Day fell on a Friday in Lent, and in fact on an Ember Friday in the old calendar. I didn’t get to celebrate much, but this was because St. Beatus got me a couple of much-needed extra shifts at work. Yay for him!

On a more somber note, the author Umberto Eco passed away from cancer, a couple hours before midnight on February 19th.

Eco hated the Commentary on the Apocalypse because it included more than one interpretation of Revelation verses and images, and from more than one author. (It’s an aesthetic, logical thing that bugs the heck out of some people, although obviously not me.) So in his mystery novel, The Name of the Rose, he used it as a “bad guy book” that was the opposite of Aristotle’s Poetics, and hence responsible for much of the slaughter. But he also publicized the heck out of Beatus and Liebana – inadvertently, through its connections to  The Name of the Rose. I’m pretty sure this got him prayers from the friars!

Obviously, as one of its translators, I disagree strongly with Eco’s opinion on the Commentary. (And amusingly, the two bits of Beatus stuff he gave as an example of stuff he hated were actually quotes from North African early Christian writers. Nyah, nyah!) I also disagree with Eco having fallen away from the Church and apparently having stayed fallen away.

But there’s a pious old Catholic tendency to look at the date of death of someone, and try to figure out what the Lord was saying with that sign. Dying in Lent is usually considered a good thing, because the dying person’s heart was likely to be moved to repentance, even at the last moment; and because people all around him are praying and fasting and giving alms, and this may be applied by God to the dying person’s soul. Eco is known to have been devout in his youth, and probably did things (like the First Saturdays) that may have helped him at the end. Heck, as long as he prayed regularly at some point in his life, he will have received a special indulgence at the hour of his death that could have helped a lot, if he were willing.

So when a lapsed Catholic dies on a Friday in Lent, on the day of a saint he was sorta-feuding with, I think we can piously hope that the good Lord was showing a sign of favor to a prodigal son.

Whether or not the day means anything, please pray for the soul of Umberto Eco and for all the souls of the faithful departed (especially since if they’re faithful, they’re praying for you!).

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

St. Beatus, pray for us!


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Tolkien’s New Christmas Carol!

It was announced yesterday that a “new” Tolkien poem had been discovered – or rather, a Tolkien poem published in 1936 in the Annual for Our Lady’s School in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England. (Tolkien actually published two poems in the Annual, but one of them was “The Shadow Man,” a shorter version of his poem “The Shadow Bride,” which already appears in the Tom Bombadil poem collection.)

The new poem is simply named “Noel.” It seems to be a Christmas carol.

A Tolkien scholar saw a note about the poems in Tolkien’s papers, tracked down the vague reference to the school, and attempted to get copies of the magazine. The school principal (a Tolkien fan, luckily) looked diligently but without success. However, they ended up finding the old magazines while looking for something else, and sure enough, there was “Professor J.R.R. Tolkien” listed in the Table of Contents for the 1936 one!

The two poems briefly appeared on the Our Lady’s Abingdon website (as is the school’s right, as publisher of the magazine!), but have now been taken down again. (One suspects there is a deal in the works for some cash for the school.)

However, Tolkien fandom saved copies first! So check it out!



You can see a bit of Chesterton influence, I think, but it’s still all Tolkien.

The remarkable thing here is that, rather than all of Earth listening to the angels singing, all of Heaven is listening to Mary’s lullaby. Meanwhile, rather than just the bells of Earth ringing in praise, the bells of Heaven are leading this praise.

(Insert psalm reference to “they have no tongues” and compare to bells, and to stars of a non-angelic kind since Biblical “star” references are often talking about angels.)

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The Dream of Mordecai Referenced Again in the Alliterative Morte Arthure

Simon Armitage has translated the Alliterative Morte Arthure into modern English alliterative verse in The Death of Arthur. It mostly deals with the story of Arthur’s forces fighting the Emperor Lucius. In the poem, this is very excitingly told and moves right along, although most of us will remember Malory retelling it at excessive length. So forget Malory and read this instead!

There’s also a different account of Arthur’s death (not a surprise given the title), but I haven’t gotten there yet.

The interesting bit, which I have just added to the Wikipedia article for everyone’s convenience, is that once again we have a medieval Arthurian work where we see references to Mordecai’s dream, in one of the longer versions of the Book of Esther!

And here’s the original text of Arthur’s dream of a dragon from the west fighting a giant bear from the east up in the sky. (I don’t know why this never came up during the Cold War, btw.)

In this case, Arthur’s two philosopher clergymen quickly interpret the dream as meaning that Arthur is the scary dragon who wins the day. (Good Christian dragons for the win!) And it’s reasonable, because Arthur is the Pendragon, and as noted in the connected Mordecai-referencing stories of Merlin and Vortigern and of Lludd and Llewelys, the symbol of Wales was a red dragon.

The Armitage translation, The Death of Arthur, is awesomely done, so check it out, too! I am listening to the audiobook on Overdrive (courtesy of my local library); but it may also be available on Hoopla, Amazon’s subscription service, Amazon Prime borrowing, etc.

The king was in a grete cogge with knightes full many,
In a cabane enclosed, clenlich arrayed;
Within on a rich bed restes a little,
And with the swogh of the se in swefning he fell.

Him dremed of a dragon, dredful to behold,
Come drivand over the deep to drenchen his pople,
Even walkand out the West landes,
Wanderand unworthyly over the wale ythes;
Both his hed and his hals were holly all over
Ounded of azure, enamelled full fair;
His shoulders were shaled all in clene silver
Shredde over all the shrimp with shrinkand pointes;
His womb and his winges of wonderful hewes,
In marvelous mailes he mounted full high.
Whom that he touched he was tint forever!
His feet were flourished all in fine sable
And such a venomous flaire flow from his lippes
The flood of the flawes all on fire seemed!

Then come out of the Orient, even him againes,
A black bustous bere aboven in the cloudes,
With ech a paw as a post and paumes full huge
With pikes full perilous, all pliand them seemed;
Lothen and lothly, lockes and other,
All with lutterd legges, lokkerd unfair,
Filtered unfreely, with fomand lippes –
The foulest of figure that formed was ever!
He baltered, he blered, he braundished thereafter;
To batail he bounes him with bustous clawes;
He romed, he rored, that rogged all the erthe,
So rudely he rapped at to riot himselven!

Then the dragon on dregh dressed him againes
And with his duttes him drove on dregh by the welken;
He fares as a faucon, frekly he strikes;
Both with feet and with fire he fightes at ones.
The bere in the batail the bigger him seemed,
And bites him boldly with baleful tuskes;
Such buffetes he him reches with his brode klokes,
His breste and his brayell was bloody all over.
He ramped so rudely that all the erthe rives, 79
Runnand on red blood as rain of the heven!
He had weried the worm by wightness of strenghe
Ne were it not for the wild fire that he him with defendes.

Then wanders the worm away to his heightes,
Comes glidand fro the cloudes and coupes full even,
Touches him with his talones and teres his rigge,
Betwix the taile and the top ten foot large!
Thus he brittened the bere and brought him o live,
Let him fall in the flood, fleet where him likes.
So they thring the bold king binne the ship-borde,
That ner he bristes for bale on bed where he ligges.

Then waknes the wise king, wery fortravailed,
Takes him two philosophers that followed him ever,
In the seven science the sutelest founden,
The cunningest of clergy under Crist knowen;
He told them of his torment that time that he sleeped:
“Dreched with a dragon and such a derf beste,
Has made me full wery, as wisse me Our Lord;
Ere I mon swelt as swithe, ye tell me my swefen!”

“Sir,” said they soon then, these sage philosophers,
The dragon that thou dremed of, so dredful to shew,
That come drivand over the deep to drenchen thy pople,
Soothly and certain thyselven it is,

That thus sailes over the se with thy seker knightes.
The coloures that were casten upon his clere winges
May be thy kingrikes all, that thou has right wonnen,
And the tattered tail, with tonges so huge,
Betokens this fair folk that in thy fleet wendes.
The bere that brittened was aboven in the cloudes
Betokenes the tyrauntes that tormentes thy pople
Or elles with some giaunt some journee shall happen,
In singular batail by yourselve one;
And thou shall have the victory, through help of Our Lord,
As thou in thy vision was openly shewed.
Of this dredful dreme ne drede thee no more,
Ne care not, sir conquerour, but comfort thyselven
And these that sailes over the se with thy seker knightes.”

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Oddity of the Day: Jesus Using a Wand

Santa Sabina has door panels that are very old (fifth century, AD 432) and which have some very old versions of standard Christian iconography. Things just aren’t drawn the same way they would be drawn later, and there are more things drawn in terms of ancient pagan or Jewish artwork.

So here’s Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead, multiplying loaves and fishes, and changing water into wine. But on Santa Sabina’s doors, Jesus uses a wand.

Why? Probably because Moses used a staff, and many people and gods of the ancient world bore rods or wands as symbols of their rightful authority. Jesus is the New Moses and He is also God, so Him using a wand is sort of like Him carrying a scepter.

And sure enough, here’s Moses using a wand instead of a staff in a picture of the staves and serpents.

Here’s a video of the doors with the light falling on them, showing all kinds of detail and how they look on the actual church. Pretty nifty! Unfortunately, the guy doesn’t show all the panels in closeup. (I guess he was only interested in certain ones.)

The basilica of Santa Sabina was built on top of an old temple of Juno; its pillars are reused in the basilica. The basilica’s windows are made of translucent selenite instead of glass. This video in Italian shows a lot of details of the church and its surroundings. It also shows it being used as the Station Church for Ash Wednesday. It was given to the Dominicans in the Middle Ages, and St. Thomas Aquinas once taught there.

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Lent Food: Okonomiyaki

If you adjust the ingredients or preparation, even people following the no-milk, no-eggs version of the Lenten fast can use okonomiyaki as a Lenten food. If you can use eggs, it’s even easier!

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese way of having pancakes for dinner. The basics of it are super-simple. Even doing it more elaborately just means dumping in a few more ingredients. Okonomiyaki means “whatever you (honorably) like” (o + konomi) plus “cooked on a grill/griddle/with dry heat” (yaki). So you can use whatever ingredients are laying around. When you’re not abstaining, obviously this can involve meat, since it’s a savory pancake, but a lot of times it’s just vegetables.

How do you make it?

The basic okonomiyaki mix is a batter of wheat flour and water. Two parts flour to one part water is pretty standard, but people adjust this as they like, too. Some people include milk; some people use dashi (fish stock) instead of water.

But yeah, if you’re making it for two adult people, 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup water will be plenty. With more people, make more batter! All-purpose flour is traditional, although the most frou-frou okonomiyaki restaurants use cake flour. (You can also buy okonomiyaki mix in some Japanese grocery stores, and then you can ignore the next paragraph. Using regular American pancake mix would probably also take care of stickiness, but I’ve never tried it.)

Next, you contemplate what to use to hold it together. One or two eggs is usual, but real traditionalists use a gooey starchy vegetable called yamaimo (mountain yam) or powdered yamaimo, instead of eggs. This makes it a little “bouncy”. Westerners can also just use grated potato, or some kind of starch, like corn or potato starch, or even rice flour.

Then you have your ingredients. The usual main ingredient is chopped up cabbage. You chop or grate half a head of some slaw-suitable cabbage but you don’t use any dressing on it. (And maybe you chop it up into smaller pieces after grating it. The finer, the better it cooks.) Any vegetables around the house that you think will work are fair game. Canned, fresh, leftovers in your fridge… whatever. You can include both raw and pre-cooked ingredients in your pancakes. Canned corn is pretty typical for Japanese, although if you do that it will end up tasting like a Japanese version of Kentucky spoon bread. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I have also used sauerkraut instead of grated cabbage. The Japanese often dump cooked noodles (like yakisoba) into the batter, or they put fried eggs on top. It all works.

Get your ingredients ready, and then fold them into your pancake batter, or pour the pancake batter into the ingredient bowl. It works either way.

The texture you want is for the batter to be COATING your ingredients, but not covering them up. You want your mass of ingredients visible. If you have too much batter, the pancakes will take forever to cook; and the insides won’t be cooked at all before the outside starts burning.

Thoroughly grease your square griddle, frying pan, etc. Use olive oil, because you are going to turn the heat up pretty high for pancakes, and butter tends to burn, so when you have to cook these things a little longer than standard pancakes, you’ll even have to watch the olive oil!

Let your griddle heat up to pancake temperature, or at least to medium heat. (Different recipes give different temps, depending on how much stuff you’re cooking. A relatively thin pancake can be cooked faster at higher temps, but a relatively thick one needs time and hence lower heat. Adjust your heat to suit.)

Pour a good helping of your okonomiyaki batter. Wait until one side is cooked enough to flip, then flip the pancake. Cook the other side, then serve.

(The Japanese like okonomiyaki to be just about plate-sized, or a little smaller. You can make them whatever size you like. Smaller pancakes are easier to flip, but if people have to wait fourteen to twenty minutes for a really thick pancake, you’d better have enough for everyone to eat at once. You can also make them into cute shapes, just like pancakes.)

What do you put on an okonomiyaki pancake?

The Japanese like okonomi sauce (a sort of mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and honey) and mayonnaise (Japanese “Kewpie”-brand mayonnaise is basically Southern US-style mayonnaise). Since Japanese mayo comes in a squeeze bottle, they often use it to draw designs on their food. Ketchup by itself is pretty good, though. The Japanese also like using that red sushi ginger; and they usually use bonito flakes, since the heat of the pancake makes them “dance” and they like the salt fish thing. But of course, you don’t have to use sauce or toppings at all. Heck, you could put butter on ’em if you wanted. It’s your okonomiyaki; do “whatever you like.”

Leftover okonomiyaki freezes well, so don’t let any go to waste!

I like okonomiyaki! Try it as a Lenten recipe, and you’ll like it too!

Pictures of okonomiyaki ingredients and sauces, for us foreigners, as well as a simple recipe for okonomi sauce. Here’s their recipes for Osaka-style okonomiyaki (with pictures and substitution amounts) and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (sometimes called “Japanese pizza”).

Osaka-Style Okonomiyaki explains the whole yamaimo thing, with pictures. This lady steams her pancakes as she is griddling them on medium-low, which probably makes them moister. (But it obviously takes a bit longer.)

Easy Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, from another Japanese grocery over the Internet. This recipe is on medium heat, so again it takes a while.

Tess’s Japanese Kitchen explains how much potato starch to use, if you’re using it as your binder.

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Rubio’s Rhetorical Failure

Chris Christie may not be doing well with voters, but he just made a huge point in debate.

Rubio doesn’t actually talk and debate; he just recites and rearranges “modules” of argument or anecdote. This can give the impression of being spontaneous if you have a lot of different modules memorized, and if you use them well. But it’s a shortcut.

This is a pretty standard technique in certain religious apologetics circles.

Since Marco Rubio is the guy who became Mormon and then talked his whole family into becoming Mormons, and then became Catholic again and talked his whole family into becoming Catholics again, I think we can assume that he studied apologetics at some point (and probably had it used on him in the first place). So this is not surprising, but it is a weakness if you rely on one particular technique to do all your work.

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