Monthly Archives: December 2017

Sacred Art Worships God

Here’s a nice story for the Christmas season: “The Song of the Minster,” by William Canton.

As the story says, the arts and crafts can be true worship of God. When humans collaborate with living animals or plants, we tame them and make them more themselves, rather than less. But when artists collaborate with the Lord’s inanimate creatures, it allows those creatures to become more themselves, as well.

Turning our back on art, or making things in the service of God deliberately ugly, is a sort of cruelty to the creatures.

This is from an old chapter book with marvelous pictures, and it has been reprinted by St. Augustine Press. It’s too late to order for Christmas; but you can always get something in the New Year!


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Holy Wells in Ireland

This Galway tourism site has tons of beautiful pictures of holy wells!

There are holy wells all over Europe. Like the spring at Lourdes, they are usually associated with miraculous cures, as well as being a convenient place of pilgrimage associated with early saints. But as this page points out, most of the older holy wells were a source of baptismal water for the earliest missionaries, before churches could be built. Some may have been baptistries for old parish complexes, or water sources for hermitages.

Anyway, we don’t tend to have them in the US, so take a look!

There are also some nice pictures of market crosses and roadside shrines. Most of the latter fall into the categories of “We have concrete and we’re not afraid to use it!” and “Lourdes grotto replicas are cool.” But hey, I like devout use of concrete.

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Precious Blood Sisters Doing Stupid Stuff.

The Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood were once a thriving order, but now are dying — except in South America. Apparently Peru is far enough away to avoid stupid Sixties junk.

Back when there were plenty of Precious Blood sisters, mostly working as teachers for schools or housekeepers for Catholic institutions, some of the sisters wanted to follow their spiritual charism of keeping up a Perpetual Adoration schedule into becoming a full-fledged contemplative order. This wasn’t too strange, as one of the Missouri offshoots of the order does this; and then-Archbishop Alter thought it would be a good idea in the crazy modern world of 1956 Cincinnati. The contemplative nuns could pray for the active nuns, and any active nuns who got tired could go recharge with the contemplatives.

It didn’t work out. Most of the younger sisters in the main order got caught up in stupid Sixties craziness. They decided that the original work of the order, housekeeping, was not feminist enough; and that they were too smart to be schoolteachers. They should be principals of schools or administrators of Catholic institutions. They should stop wearing the habit or living in community. And of course they would have to destroy the contemplative offshoot group, because all the more conservative nuns were fleeing there for peace; and there were a lot more Baby Boomer votes in the active side of things.

Before all this really started rolling, there was one Precious Blood sister who was really attached to contemplation, and had been one of the reasons the contemplative group was created. Mildred Dumezil, known in the order as Sr. Mary Ephrem, had a deep spiritual life. She began to have visions of Mary as Our Lady of America, as well as of various saints and of Christ. The archdiocese ended up investigating this informally, and was generally positive about it, although nothing too definite was done. (The title was officially approved for those seeking healing. Eventually, bishops in the Philippines got a lot more enthusiastic about the title; there are churches there using it.)

So yeah, you’ve got a lady of Middle Eastern heritage in the midst of German-Americans. That hadn’t been a source of friction before, but now it became one. You’ve got conservative contemplatives surprised with something new, and liberal actives who suddenly find something really edgy going on — that’s not them.

A lot of stuff happened, and most of it was shameful. Women can be very crued to other women, and a nun gone wrong is very nasty indeed.

In the midst of all this, the famously liberal political radio priest, Fr. Charles Coughlin, died. He had been used and thrown away by the FDR liberals, and most of his political work was forgotten. What survived was the beautiful Detroit shrine he built to St. Therese of Lisieux. He had been planning to set up some kind of religious center out in the middle of nowhere, and he had bought land there. Since the contemplative sisters lived nearby at New Riegel, Ohio, he had gotten to know them. He left the property to them, asking for their prayers to continue in perpetuity as they used the land to live on.

Over the course of the next few years, as the active sisters dismantled the contemplative offshoot and kicked them out, the active sisters also grabbed this land. (Of course they did.)

The stunning part is this: they sold the land to The Way International. That’s not a Catholic group. It’s not a mainstream Christian group. It’s a group that has even been called a cult, and which teaches that Jesus is not God. Its founder also claimed to have had visions (of Christ), but the whole group’s history was nothing but wall-to-wall scandals with money and sex, obsessive control of members’ lives, and credible accusations of abuse and cultism. This was not a secret, even back when the Precious Blood Sisters sold the land to them. They helped The Way International build their creepy heretical, sinful management headquarters on the land that was supposed to be a home for contemplative nuns.

So yeah, that’s not petty behavior anymore. That’s just disgusting.

This is no reflection on the other orders in the Precious Blood “family,” mind you. And of course a lot of the active nuns had nothing to do with this crap; there was a lot of tyranny of numbers going on, with Baby Boomers forcing their will on everyone else. (And then, for the most part, they left the order after they could do no more harm. The outvoted are sitting around in the order’s nursing home, insisting on wearing their habits.)

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True Crime in Regency Ireland: The Colleen Bawn

This one has everything.

Ellen Hanley was born in 1803, at Bruree, County Limerick. When her mother died while she was still a little girl, she was fostered out to her maternal uncle John Connery (a shoemaker) and his wife, who lived at Ballycahane, Croom (also in County Limerick). They loved her as their own and took good care of her, and she grew up a gentle, kindly, lively young girl whom all the neighborhood thought well of. Her local nickname was “An Cailin Bhan” (the Fair Young Woman). The Anglicized spelling is “the Colleen Bawn.”

But since everybody she knew loved her, she assumed that nobody would do her harm.

In May 1819, when she was still only 15 years old, she met up with a member of the gentry, one John Fitzgibbon Scanlan or Scanlon, who had come to live at Ballykehan or Ballycahane House in Bruff, also in County Limerick. (As seen by the house name, he was a neighbor, not a stranger; but his people lived at Loghill or Loughill, also in County Limerick, but on the banks of the River Shannon.) He was the eldest son and heir. He had actually been a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, but had left or been dismissed after Waterloo.

John apparently persuaded Ellen that he loved her, that the differences in social status didn’t matter, and that they should marry and live happily ever after. She went with him.

But… she wasn’t all good. In the sort of thing that happens in other murder ballads, but is glossed over in most retellings of this tale, our Ellen apparently decided that she would take along a hundred pounds as her dowry. (And since her uncle was reasonably well-off for a shoemaker, it’s possible that the hundred pounds was her legit dowry. But running off without telling her uncle and aunt was definitely not legit.) Scanlon was apparently all for it, because he needed the money.

She thought they had married, but it turned out at the trial that there were no marriage records. So it would seem that he had hired a fake clergyman, in order to have his fun without ties. In any case, Ellen was under the age of consent, so there could be no legal marriage without the consent of her parents or guardians. He also didn’t inform his parents, which should have been a red flag for Ellen.

So they lived together for five or six weeks, with her fake wedding ring on her finger, and with her skeevy husband living off his teenage squeeze’s money. Then John Scanlan’s mother summoned him with letters, informing him that she’d arranged him a good marriage with a nice fat dowry. But Scanlan had apparently found out that his sweet bride was not a pushover, because he didn’t just up and leave her, or drop her off somewhere. (Which he legally could have done, because they weren’t married by the laws of church or state; but it would have made a stink for him.)

No, he decided that she had to be got rid of.

But he didn’t intend to do it. No, that was going to be a job for Stephen Sullivan, his manservant. So in July, the couple traveled to Glin, a village on the banks of the River Shannon. He sent Ellen out to cross the River Shannon in a boat, with Sullivan to row and dump the body.

But Sullivan couldn’t do it. He rowed on back, with the charming Ellen still alive.

So on July 15, Scanlan got his servant lit on whiskey, and sent them out on the river another day. And this time, she didn’t come back. Sullivan had shot her with his musket, stripped off the ring and her dress (which might identify her), weighted down her body with rocks, and dumped her in the deepest part of the river. And since the Shannon is deep, wide, and leads to the sea, they would never have to worry about her ever again. Then Scanlan went to Cork and enlisted again.

But on September 6, 1819, Ellen’s shift-clad body washed up at Moneypoint, near Kilrush, County Clare, on the tiny bit of land owned by a farmer named Patrick O’Connell. His brother, Peter O’Connell, was a well-known poet, linguist, and schoolmaster in the neighborhood. The musket shot was very evident, and apparently the girl was still recognizable. An investigation began, as well as a good deal of indignation toward the murderer. The more people found out, the angrier they got. Scanlan deserted his new regiment and fled, but there was a massive manhunt. Both John Scanlan and Stephen Sullivan were eventually apprehended and put on trial.

Scanlan’s family hired Daniel O’Connell, one of the all-time great defense lawyers and orators. Even he couldn’t get the scum off. Scanlan was sentenced to be hanged at Gallows Green in County Clare, but the horses shied at the bridge and wouldn’t take him across. He ended up having to walk to the gallows, and he died in disgrace on March 16, 1820.

Scanlan died still claiming his innocence, and saying that the murder was all his servant’s idea. His claim was that his plan had been to have Sullivan dump Ellen on an immigrant ship, unable to get off until she got to America. (This may seem farfetched, but it had actually happened to a local girl, Judith Lynch, who was impregnated by a married man of wealth. When she got to America and protested, the government sent her back and there was a trial.)

Daniel O’Connell is quoted as having written to his wife on March 15, 1820:

“I had a client convicted yesterday for which I fought a hard battle, and yet I do not feel any the most slight regret at his conviction. It is very unusual with me to be so satisfied, but he is a horrid villain….”

Peter O’Connell had compiled the most complete dictionary of the Irish language up to that time, and took the opportunity to approach his clansman for help in getting it published. Daniel O’Connell apparently didn’t feel interested or equal to doing it. The dictionary never was published, although it did survive its lexicographer. There are copies at Trinity College, the British Museum, and the Royal Irish Academy. His dictionary entries have been used by later lexicographers as a source.

Scanlan’s manservant, Stephen Sullivan, had managed to elude the law for four months longer than his master. But after being caught he had a separate trial. Sullivan was also hanged, but he gave a full confession first with details that hadn’t come up at the trial.

As for Ellen Hanley? The poet Peter O’Connell had just bought himself a plot in Burrane Cemetery when his brother Patrick discovered her remains. He saw this as a sign, and offered his grave as her resting place. After the famous trial, some admirer paid for her to have a fancy Celtic cross gravestone. Unfortunately, souvenir hunters eventually chipped it to pieces.

And when Peter O’Connell died seven years later, in 1826, they laid him to rest in the grave of the Colleen Bawn.

And this is the privilege of a poet: to sleep on the same bed as his lord.

The story of the murdered Cailin Ban is sometimes confused with the story of the “Polly Vaughn” song, about the girl accidentally killed by her sweetheart “who took her to be some swan.” In that story, Polly’s ghost appears in court to clear her true love’s name. Obviously, none of this happened to the Colleen Bawn!

However, she does have her own opera, The Lily of Killarney. She also has three novels and a play by Dion Boucicault, “The Colleen Bawn,” which (like the opera) is based upon Gerald Griffin’s three-volume novel, The Collegians, that used a Killarney adaptation of her story. Boucicault’s play featured a character called “Myles na Copaleen.” (This name was later taken as a pseudonym by Brian O’Nolan, also aka Flann O’Brien.) There was also an Irish silent movie of “The Colleen Bawn.” (The actress’ hairstyle is scary, though.)

The huge amount of fictionalization was apparently also done to avoid Scanlan’s family putting the kibosh on things, and partly because a lot of the writers knew the families involved and wanted to draw a veil over it. However, this didn’t spare Griffin a lot of criticism for causing people pain with his book!

There’s a very good modern ballad, “The Colleen Bawn,” that was written by the Wolfetones.

A short 1974 news story from RTE about the Colleen Bawn, showing her uncle’s house where she lived.

There’s a true crime book about the case called The Poor Man’s Daughter: A Return to the Colleen Bawn, with an introduction by Janet Murphy and Eileen Chamberlain, which points out that news coverage at the time (and afterward!) avoided pointing out John Scanlon’s exalted antecedents, even though the locals knew all about it. It’s embarrassing to have a murderer in the family. On the other hand, it is possible that Scanlan was convicted of murder on very little evidence, because there was fear of popular resentment if one of the gentry appeared to have gotten away with murder. Most of the info in this post comes from this book, which otherwise reprints a period account of the case by a local clergyman.

Ballycahane House was inherited by Scanlan’s brother, a sea captain. It was destroyed by fire in 1822, and rebuilt on a much smaller scale.

Bruree = Brugh Righ. (Modern spelling: Bru Ri.) “Fort of the king.” A village on the River Maigue.

Croom = Cromadh. “Riverbend.” Another village on the River Maigue.

Bruff = An Brugh. (Pronounced a different way, but the same word for “fort.”)

Moneypoint: Now the site of a hydroelectric power station.

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Internet People: William of Orange

Seen at Eye of the Tiber:

Susan: Hey William of Orange what are you doing in this site

William of Orange: I’m actually a double agent. Trained by the Jesuits for twenty years, I lived an ascetic life with mortifications that would make Josemaria Escriva look like a self indulgent throw-back to Woodstock. I’m part of an elite group philosophic counter terrorists. In addition to extreme physical training, I had to memorize the entire Summa, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and all the encyclicals up to Pope JP II.

I infiltrate the strongholds of anti-Catholicism (I once provided IT support for James White in order to gain access to his personal computer). We gather intel on all heretical groups and rank non-Catholic groups in order of threat relevance. For example: the Foursquare Gospel Church has a ‘TR’ (threat relevance) of 347. They could move up at some point, but it is unlikely. What makes them less threatening than, say, the Anglican Church, is not their relative obscurity, it’s their crappy worship music. The musicians they attract are only ever capable of playing tired early 1920s and mid-depression hymns long since abandoned by the Methodists. The dissonance of their badly tuned cheap guitars accompanied by the staccato rhythms of the pastor’s nephew on drums awkwardly trying to play along with music discarded before his grandfather was born poses no threat to Catholic liturgy – even those lefty parishes that insist on including Ashes by Tom Conry on Good Friday. We also specialize in writing very long sentences.

Like a cold war era spy drinking potato vodka in an anonymous speak easy that doubles as the front for a safe house in East Germany, this forum is the only place where I can allow (only a part) of my real identity to be known despite the fact that I must still do so using extraordinarily long strings of words lest my commitment to the use of verbosity flag even in the slightest.

I would surely appreciate it if you kept this under wraps.

Dominus Vobiscum

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Another Way Mecca Copies Jerusalem

A lot of people have pointed out that the activities involved with the Islamic Meccan pilgrimage today seem to be an attempt to copy the experience of a pilgrimage to either Jerusalem (by Jews or Christians) or to Petra (by pagans).

At the Hypotyposeis blog, there are two posts about something that St. Clement of Alexandria (in his book Stromateis) says was a Jewish custom: they would make seven circuits around the Temple before entering it. (And this would be similar to what the Israelites did while waiting for the walls of Jericho to fall, in the Book of Joshua.)

In one post, the Hypotyposeis blog relates this passage in Clement to an ambiguous Greek word, periboloun, which can mean either “going around a circuit” or “a covering wrapping around something.”

This would obviously be a more understandable reading, because seven different materials that acted as “coverings” or “veils” were used for the Temple’s Tabernacle.

His latest post relates the circuit idea itself to a passage in the Jewish historian Josephus, which talks about the “seven purities” observed in the process of approaching the Tabernacle. This is the idea of increasing levels of purity being required of those entering further and further into the courts of the Temple.

Either way, it seems clear that there was an idea floating around the Middle East that Jews circled around the Temple or the Tabernacle. Since ritual circuits were common in paganism and at Christian pilgrimage sites and shrines, it would be pretty normal to try to transfer a Jerusalem custom to the Kaaba, in order to make some kind of point to Jewish people. (Whether or not it would be understood as intended.)

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