Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bede's Journal

Bede's Journal refers to a recent debate on the website of The Guardian.

A.C. Grayling, professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, had recently laid down a challenge:

"According to Madeleine Bunting, Christianity has fostered learning and science in Europe for hundreds of years. Really?

The impression of confusion is heightened by Ms Bunting's version of history, which she opposed to mine by name. She tells us that Christianity has "fostered learning and science" in Europe for "hundreds of years".

I challenge her to name one - even one small - contribution to science made by Christianity in its two thousand years; just one."

The "debate" can be followed at 2007/01/bunting_on_science_and_history.html

It is fair to say that Grayling lost his challenge as you might expect.

However, two of the responses, one by the author of Bede`s Journal, usefully set out shortly, cogently and in a civilised manner the response to the type of challenge now being faced. The challenge is to face the argument that somehow people who are Christians, and in particular, Catholics, are somehow unable to reconcile themselves to science, and that Science and Christianity are irreconciliable.

There are other responses, of course. But the following two rest on historical fact and are difficult to refute:

"peterNW1 Comment No. 401923:
January 29 16:36

A.C Grayling writes ...

"I challenge her to name one - even one small - contribution to science made by Christianity in its two thousand years; just one"

May I take up the challenge on Madeleine's behalf?

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), who first proposed the heliocentric universe, was a Polish Catholic priest.

Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was an Austrian Catholic monk.

The Jesuit astronomer Christopher Scheiner (1575-1650) discovered sunspots before Galileo.

Jesuit Pietro Angelo Secchi (1818-1878) discovered 4,000 new stars. His system for star classification is the basis of the Harvard system.

In fact there are no fewer than 35 craters on the moon named after Jesuit scientists alone.

The Big Bang Theory was proposed in 1927 by Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966), a Belgian Catholic priest.

The Jesuit Giambattista Riccioli was the first person to determine the rate of acceleration of a free-falling body, and the first to make a pendulum that was so accurate he was able to calculate the gravitational constant.

Another Jesuit priest, Francesco Maria Grimaldi, discovered the diffraction of light. Grimaldi's discovery led to hypotheses on the wavelike character of light and to Isaac Newton's interest in optics.

The lightning rod was invented by a Norbertine priest named Procopius Divisch (1698-1765).

French Catholic priest Rene-Just Haey (1743-1822) was the father of modern crystallography.

But why just list priests? Some scientists who were laymen and convinced and practicing Catholics ...

The founder of bacteriology, Louis Pasteur. Andre Ampere. Alessandra Volta. Charles Coulomb.

How about mathematician Blaise Pascal, who when he wasn't inventing calculators was writing the Pensees, a defence of Catholicism?

I am amazed that A.C Grayling has landed himself a job as Professor of Philosophy if he is able to ask such a dumb question.

JamesHannam:Comment No. 401878:
January 29 16:19

Heliocentricism was finally accepted not due to Galileo`s advocacy, but thanks to the stunning success that Kepler`s Rudolphine tables saved the planetary movements. Kepler, of course, was driven to his elliptical orbits precisely by his belief in a God who didn`t get the orbit of Mars wrong by a few minutes. All his science was informed and inspired by his religious belief. So, Professor Grayling asks for one contribution to science made by Christianity. I offer Kepler`s laws.

There are many other possibilities. Taxonomy is directly descended from the scientific studies of Noah`s Arc in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The need to determine the number of animals led to the concept of a member of one species as something that couldn`t reproduce with a member of another. Likewise, very many early taxonomies were attempts to count how many animals were on the arc and how big it had to be.

An even more surprising connection is the way that concerns about grace spread into the mathematics of change. Fourteenth century scholars wanted to understand how the Holy Spirit imparted grace to individuals. Quite quickly, the techniques they had adopted were turned to thinking about other kinds of change. They also moved on to motion and cracked the problem of uniformly accelerated motion over two centuries before Galileo.

In fact, as I have found, Christianity had an important impact on every step of the road to modern science. Let me now summarise exactly what they were:

The preservation of literacy in the Dark Ages

Because it is a literary religion based on sacred texts and informed by the writings of the early church fathers, Christianity was exclusively responsible for the preservation of literacy and learning after the fall of the Western Empire. This meant not only that the Latin classics were preserved but also that their were sufficient men of learning to take Greek thought forward when it was rediscovered.

The doctrine of the lawfulness of nature

As they believed in a law abiding creator God, even before the rediscovery of Greek thought, twelfth century Christians felt they could investigate the natural world for secondary causes rather than put everything down to fate (like the ancients) or the will of Allah (like Moslems). Although we see a respect for the powers of reason by Arab scholars they did not seem to make the step of looking for universal laws of nature.

The need to examine the real world rather than rely on pure reason

Christians insisted that God could have created the world any way he like and so Aristotle's insistence that the world was the way it was because it had to be was successfully challenged. This meant that his ideas started to be tested and abandoned if they did not measure up.

The belief that science was a sacred duty

This is not so much covered in this essay, but features again and again in scientific writing. The early modern scientists were inspired by their faith to make their discoveries and saw studying the creation of God as a form of worship. This led to a respect for nature and the attempt to find simple, economical solutions to problems. Hence Copernicus felt he could propose a heliocentric model for no better reason that it seemed more elegant.

Not all these factors were unique to Christianity but they all came together in Western Europe to give the world its only case of scientific take off which has since seen its ideas spread to the rest of the world. "

Pisa: A Virtual Tour

The website for the Comune of Pisa provides computer virtual tours of the most visited sights in Pisa. The sights covered are:

Piazza dei Miracoli

Piazza dei Miracoli in Notturna


Camposanto Monumentale

Camposanto: la Sala della Morte


Museo dell'Opera Primaziale

Museo delle Sinopie

Piazza dei Cavalieri

Chiesa dei Cavalieri (seen in Church of the Cavalieri for the Holy and Military Order of St Stephen, Pisa at

The Roland Collection of Films on Art

Fed up of You-Tube: looking for the crock of gold in the mountain of dross ? You just want a short video clip showing something not otherwise accessible. Then maybe The Roland Collection of Films on Art might be for you. The site sells VHS films and downloads of 1950s Art films. However they do provide 45 second free previews of the various films.

The films comprise a wide compass of topics: not only in art but also philosophy, music and philosophy.

It`s worth exploring to see the wide range of topics covered. Howeverone cannot post the videos directly on a webblog site as you can do with You-Tube.

Here is a selection in the area of Art History.

1.Early Cultures
2.First Civilizations
4.Pre-Columbian America
5.Romanesque and Gothic
6.Renaissance and Mannerism
7.Northern Renaissance
9.Baroque and Rococo
10.Neo-classicists and Romantics
11.The Victorians
12.Impressionists and Post-Impressionists
13.Art Nouveau
15.Cubism and Futurism
16.Into Abstraction
17.The Bauhaus and De Stijl
18.Dada and Surrealism
19.Modern Masters
20.Modern and Contemporary Sculptors
21.Contemporary Painters
22.New Directions New Dimensions
23.Modern Architecture and Design

Romanesque and Gothic:

French Romanesque Art
Romanesque Painters
Romanesque Architecture of Alsace
Romanesque Architecture of Burgundy
Romanesque Architecture of Languedoc
Romanesque Architecture of Normandy
Romanesque Architecture of Poitou-Charente
Romanesque Architecture of Provence
English Romanesque Art
Pisa, Story of a Cathedral Square
The Romanesque in Austria
Building an Abbey: Rievaulx
Villard de Honnecourt: Builder of Cathedrals
Antelami: The Baptistery of Parma
Art in the Making: Italian Painting before 1400*
Beaune: Rogier van der Weyden
Looking at a Castle
Castles of Northumberland

Early Renaissance in Italy :

Fra Angelico
Piero della Francesca
Jean Fouquet
Guido Mazzoni
Botticelli's Calumny of Apelles
The Age of Titian
The Age of Leonardo and Raphael
The Restoration of a Leonardo da Vinci*
The Miracle of Palladio

The website is optimised for Internet Explorer 6.0 (1024x768), Windows Media Player 10 and Real Player 10.

Cardinal Martini and Euthanasia

The debate in Italy over euthanasia proceeds apace. Cardinal Martini has entered the lists.

Sandro Magister in Chiesa Espresso reports on the latest comments and rebuttals from Cardinal Martini on the one side, and Cardinal Ruini and Bishop Sgreccia, titular bishop of Zama and President of the Pontifical Academy for Life on the other.

Magister comments:

"For the former archbishop of Milan, the seriously ill person has at every moment the right to interrupt the care that keeps him alive. No, objects the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. But the real clash is between Martini and the Pope."

He goes on to say:

"Just nine months after the bombshell manifesto of opposition to the reigning pope published in the Italian weekly “L’espresso” – on artificial insemination, embryos, abortion, euthanasia – cardinal Carlo Maria Martini has returned to the last of these topics, euthanasia, with an article that appeared on January 21 on the front page of the Sunday edition of “Il Sole 24 Ore,” the leading economics and finance newspaper in Italy, and one of the most important in all of Europe.

This time as well his statements have been interpreted as a criticism of the papal line of absolute opposition to intentionally caused “gentle death.”

And again this time – like nine months ago – the official Catholic media have shrouded cardinal Martini’s statements in silence, while the secular media have amplified them. ..."

Full story is at

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Ascent of Mount Ventoux

Malaucène and Mont Ventoux

Ascent of Mont Ventoux

Ascent of Mont Ventoux

View from Summit of Mont Ventoux

View from Summit of Mont Ventoux

View from Summit of Mont Ventoux

In 1336, while staying at Avignon, the Italian poet and humanist, Petrarch (1304-1374), climbed the mountain known as Mont Ventoux (1909 metres). He did this with his brother, Gherardo. They left the village of Malaucène. The climb was difficult. They reached the summit tired and exhausted. Petrarch wrote about the climb and descent to his friend, Fr Diogenes, from Borgo San Sepolcro who was a professor of Scripture.

It is true that on a clear day, from the top of Mont Ventoux, one can see Mont Blanc, the sea to the south, Puy-du-Dome and Mont Aigoual. However, on the top of the mountain, there is now a radar control and weather station. There are also the remains of a rocket launch base which were part of the French nuclear deterrent system. Unlike in Petrarch`s time, there is now a good tarmacced road to the summit. One can ascend by car or bike.

The top of the mountain is frequently battered by the Mistral. Gusts can range from 100 to 300 km/h.

Petrarch`s letter is generally regarded as the first modern route description in travelogue history.

However, as can be seen from the letter below and as you might expect from someone who was accustomed to carry around St Augustine`s Confessions with him as reading material, the letter reflects on deeper things, having been aroused by his experiences and exertions on the mountain.

Petrarch's motives for climbing Mount Ventoux - to see the view - is often cited as the mark of a new humanistic "Renaissance" spirit. It is worth noting, however, that in his distinctly non-humanistic work on the "Misery of the Human Condition", Pope Innocent III had asked the question about why people climb mountains, and had come up with the same need to see the view.

"The Ascent of Mount Ventoux
To Dionisio da Borgo San Sepolcro

To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum. My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer. I have had the expedition in mind for many years; for, as you know, I have lived in this region from infancy, having been cast here by that fate which determines the affairs of men. Consequently the mountain, which is visible from a great distance, was ever before my eyes, and I conceived the plan of some time doing what I have at last accomplished to-day. The idea took hold upon me with especial force when, in re-reading Livy's History of Rome, yesterday, I happened upon the place where Philip of Macedon, the same who waged war against the Romans, ascended Mount Haemus in Thessaly, from whose summit he was able, it is said, to see two seas, the Adriatic and the Euxine. Whether this be true or false I have not been able to determine, for the mountain is too far away, and writers disagree. Pomponius Mela, the cosmographer - not to mention others who have spoken of this occurrence - admits its truth without hesitation; Titus Livius, on the other hand, considers it false. I, assuredly, should not have left the question long in doubt, had that mountain been as easy to explore as this one. Let us leave this matter one side, however, and return to my mountain here, - it seems to me that a young man in private life may well be excused for attempting what an aged king could undertake without arousing criticism.

When I came to look about for a companion I found, strangely enough, that hardly one among my friends seemed suitable, so rarely do we meet with just the right combination of personal tastes and characteristics, even among those who are dearest to us. This one was too apathetic, that one over-anxious; this one too slow, that one too hasty; one was too sad, another over-cheerful; one more simple, another more sagacious, than I desired. I feared this one's taciturnity and that one's loquacity. The heavy deliberation of some repelled me as much as the lean incapacity of others. I rejected those who were likely to irritate me by a cold want of interest, as well as those who might weary me by their excessive enthusiasm. Such defects, however grave, could be borne with at home, for charity suffereth all things, and friendship accepts any burden; but it is quite otherwise on a journey, where every weakness becomes much more serious. So, as I was bent upon pleasure and anxious that my enjoyment should be unalloyed, I looked about me with unusual care, balanced against one another the various characteristics of my friends, and without committing any breach of friendship I silently condemned every trait which might prove disagreeable on the way. And - would you believe it? - I finally turned homeward for aid, and proposed the ascent to my only brother, who is younger than I, and with whom you are well acquainted. He was delighted and gratified beyond measure by the thought of holding the place of a friend as well as of a brother.

At the time fixed we left the house, and by evening reached Malaucene, which lies at the foot of the mountain, to the north. Having rested there a day, we finally made the ascent this morning, with no companions except two servants; and a most difficult task it was. The mountain is a very steep and almost inaccessible mass of stony soil. But, as the poet has well said, "Remorseless toil conquers all."

It was a long day, the air fine. We enjoyed the advantages of vigour of mind and strength and agility of body, and everything else essential to those engaged in such an undertaking and so had no other difficulties to face than those of the region itself. We found an old shepherd in one of the mountain dales, who tried, at great length, to dissuade us from the ascent, saying that some fifty years before he had, in the same ardour of youth, reached the summit, but had gotten for his pains nothing except fatigue and regret, and clothes and body torn by the rocks and briars. No one, so far as he or his companions knew, had ever tried the ascent before or after him. But his counsels increased rather than diminished our desire to proceed, since youth is suspicious of warnings. So the old man, finding that his efforts were in vain, went a little way with us, and pointed out a rough path among the rocks, uttering many admonitions, which he continued to send after us even after we had left him behind. Surrendering to him all such garments or other possessions as might prove burdensome to us, we made ready for the ascent, and started off at a good pace.

But, as usually happens, fatigue quickly followed upon our excessive exertion, and we soon came to a halt at the top of a certain cliff. Upon starting on again we went more slowly, and I especially advanced along the rocky way with a more deliberate step. While my brother chose a direct path straight up the ridge, I weakly took an easier one which really descended.

When I was called back, and the right road was shown me, I replied that I hoped to find a better way round on the other side, and that I did not mind going farther if the path were only less steep. This was just an excuse for my laziness; and when the others had already reached a considerable height I was still wandering in the valleys. I had failed to find an easier path, and had only increased the distance and difficulty of the ascent. At last I became disgusted with the intricate way I had chosen, and resolved to ascend without more ado.

When I reached my brother, who, while waiting for me, had had ample opportunity for rest, I was tired and irritated. We walked along together for a time, but hardly had we passed the first spur when I forgot about the circuitous route which I had just tried, and took a lower one again. Once more I followed an easy, roundabout path through winding valleys, only to find myself soon in my old difficulty. I was simply trying to avoid the exertion of the ascent; but no human ingenuity can alter the nature of things, or cause anything to reach a height by going down. Suffice it to say that, much to my vexation and my brother's amusement, I made this same mistake three times or more during a few hours.

After being frequently misled in this way, I finally sat down in a valley and transferred my winged thoughts from things corporeal to the immaterial, addressing myself as follows: - "What thou hast repeatedly experienced to-day in the ascent of this mountain, happens to thee, as to many, in the journey toward the blessed life. But this is not so readily perceived by men, since the motions of the body are obvious and external while those of the soul are invisible and hidden. Yes, the life which we call blessed is to be sought for on a high eminence, and strait is the way that leads to it. Many, also, are the hills that lie between, and we must ascend, by a glorious stairway, from strength to strength. At the top is at once the end of our struggles and the goal for which we are bound. All wish to reach this goal, but, as Ovid says, 'To wish is little; we must long with the utmost eagerness to gain our end.' Thou certainly dost ardently desire, as well as simply wish, unless thou deceivest thyself in this matter, as in so many others. What, then, doth hold thee back? Nothing, assuredly, except that thou wouldst take a path which seems, at first thought, more easy, leading through low and worldly pleasures. But nevertheless in the end, after long wanderings, thou must perforce either climb the steeper path, under the burden of tasks foolishly deferred, to its blessed culmination, or lie down in the valley of thy sins, and (I shudder to think of it!), if the shadow of death overtake thee, spend an eternal night amid constant torments."

These thoughts stimulated both body and mind in a wonderful degree for facing the difficulties which yet remained. Oh, that I might traverse in spirit that other road for which I long day and night, even as to-day I overcame material obstacles by my bodily exertions! And I know not why it should not be far easier, since the swift immortal soul can reach its goal in the twinkling of an eye, without passing through space, while my progress to-day was necessarily show, dependent as I was upon a failing body weighed down by heavy members.

One peak of the mountain, the highest of all, the country people call "Sonny," why, I do not know, unless by antiphrasis, as I have sometimes suspected in other instances; for the peak in question would seem to be the father of all the surrounding ones. On its top is a little level place, and here we could at last rest our tired bodies.

Now, my father, since you have followed the thoughts that spurred me on in my ascent, listen to the rest of the story, and devote one hour, I pray you, to reviewing the experiences of my entire day.

At first, owing to the unaccustomed quality of the air and the effect of the great sweep of view spread out before me, I stood like one dazed. I beheld the clouds under our feet, and what I had read of Athos and Olympus seemed less incredible as I myself witnessed the same things from a mountain of less fame. I turned my eyes toward Italy, whither my heart most inclined. The Alps, rugged and snow-capped, seemed to rise close by, although they were really at a great distance; the very same Alps through which that fierce enemy of the Roman name once made his way, bursting the rocks, if we may believe the report, by the application of vinegar. I sighed, I must confess, for the skies of Italy, which I beheld rather with my mind than with my eyes. An inexpressible longing came over rne to see once more my friend and my country. At the same time I reproached myself for this double weakness, springing, as it did, from a soul not yet steeled to manly resistance. And yet there were excuses for both of these cravings, and a number of distinguished writers might be summoned to support me.

Then a new idea took possession of me, and I shifted my thoughts to a consideration of time rather than place.

"To-day it is ten years since, having completed thy youthful studies, thou didst leave Bologna. Eternal God! In the name of immutable wisdom, think what alterations in thy character this intervening period has beheld! I pass over a thousand instances. I am not yet in a safe harbour where I can calmly recall past storms. The time may come when I can review in due order all the experiences of the past, saying with St. Augustine, 'I desire to recall my foul actions and the carnal corruption of my soul, not because I love them, but that I may the more love thee, O my God.' Much that is doubtful and evil still clings to me, but what I once loved, that I love no longer. And yet what am I saying? I still love it, but with shame, but with heaviness of heart. Now, at last, I have confessed the truth. So it is. I love, but love what I would not love, what I would that I might hate. Though loath to do so, though constrained, though sad and sorrowing, still I do love, and I feel in my miserable self the truth of the well known words, 'I will hate if I can; if not, I will love against my will.' Three years have not yet passed since that perverse and wicked passion which had a firm grasp upon me and held undisputed sway in my heart began to discover a rebellious opponent, who was unwilling longer to yield obedience. These two adversaries have joined in close combat for the supremacy, and for a long time now a harassing and doubtful war has been waged in the field of my thoughts."

Thus I turned over the last ten years in my mind, and then, fixing my anxious gaze on the future, I asked myself, "If, perchance, thou shouldst prolong this uncertain life of thine for yet two lustres, and shouldst make an advance toward virtue proportionate to the distance to which thou hast departed from thine original infatuation during the past two years, since the new longing first encountered the old, couldst thou, on reaching thy fortieth year, face death, if not with complete assurance, at least with hopefulness, calmly dismissing from thy thoughts the residuum of life as it faded into old age?"

These and similar reflections occurred to me, my father. I rejoiced in my progress, mourned my weaknesses, and commiserated the universal instability of human conduct. I had well-nigh forgotten where I was and our object in coming; but at last I dismissed my anxieties, which were better suited to other surroundings, and resolved to look about me and see what we had come to see. The sinking sun and the lengthening shadows of the mountain were already warning us that the time was near at hand when we must go.

As if suddenly wakened from sleep, I turned about and gazed toward the west. I was unable to discern the summits of the Pyrenees, which form the barrier between France and Spain; not because of any intervening obstacle that I know of but owing simply to the insufficiency of our mortal vision. But I could see with the utmost clearness, off to the right, the mountains of the region about Lyons, and to the left the bay of Marseilles and the waters that lash the shores of Aigues Mortes, altho' all these places were so distant that it would require a journey of several days to reach them. Under our very eyes flowed the Rhone.

While I was thus dividing my thoughts, now turning my attention to some terrestrial object that lay before me, now raising my soul, as I had done my body, to higher planes, it occurred to me to look into my copy of St. Augustine's Confessions, a gift that I owe to your love, and that I always have about me, in memory of both the author and the giver. I opened the compact little volume, small indeed in size, but of infinite charm, with the intenition of reading whatever came to hand, for I could happen upon nothing that would be otherwise than edifying and devout. Now it chanced that the tenth book presented itself.

My brother, waiting to hear something of St. Augustine's from my lips, stood attentively by. I call him, and God too, to witness that where I first fixed my eyes it was written: "And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not." I was abashed, and, asking my brother (who was anxious to hear more), not to annoy me, I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself.

Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. Those words had given me occupation enough, for I could not believe that it was by a mere accident that I happened upon them. What I had there read I believed to be addressed to me and to no other, remembering that St. Augustine had once suspected the same thing in his own case, when, on opening the book of the Apostle, as he himself tells us, the first words that he saw there were, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."

The same thing happened earlier to St. Anthony, when he was listening to the Gospel where it is written, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." Believing this scripture to have been read for his especial benefit, as his biographer Athanasius says, he guided himself by its aid to the Kingdom of Heaven. And as Anthony on hearing these words waited for nothing more, and as Augustine upon reading the Apostle's admonition sought no farther, so I concluded my reading in the few words which I have given.

I thought in silence of the lack of good cousel in us mortals, who neglect what is noblest in ourselves, scatter our energies in all directions, and waste ourselves in a vain show, because we look about us for what is to be found only within. I wondered at the natural nobility of our soul, save when it debases itself of its own free will, and deserts its original estate, turning what God has given it for its honour into dishonour. How many times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation, - when it is not immersed in the foul mire of earth? With every downward step I asked myself this: If we are ready to endure so much sweat and labour in order that we may bring our bodies a little nearer heaven, how can a soul struggling toward God, up the steeps of human pride and human destiny, fear any cross or prison or sting of fortune? How few, I thought, but are diverted from their path by the fear of difficulties or the love of ease! How happy the lot of those few, if any such there be! It is of them, assuredly, that the poet was thinking, when he wrote:

Happy the man who is skilled to understand
Nature's hid causes; who beneath his feet
All terrors casts, and death's relentless doom,
And the loud roar of greedy Acheron.

How earnestly should we strive, not to stand on mountain-tops, but to trample beneath us those appetites which spring from earthhly impulses.

With no consciousness of the difficulties of the way, amidst these preoccupations which I have so frankly revealed, we came, long after dark, but with the full moon lending us its friendly light, to the little inn which we had left that morning before dawn. The time during which the servants have been occupied in preparing our supper, I have spent in a secluded part of the house, hurriedly jotting down these experiences on the spur of the moment, lest, in case my task were postponed, my mood should change on leaving the place, and so my interest in writing flag.

You will see, my dearest father, that I wish nothing to be concealed from you, for I am careful to describe to you not only my life in general but even my individual reflections. And I beseech you, in turn, to pray that these vague and wandering thoughts of mine may some time become firmly fixed, and, after having been vainly tossed about from one interest to another, may direct themselves at last toward the single, true, certain, and everlasting good.

Malaucene, April 26. "

(From James Harvey Robinson, ed. and trans. Petrarch: The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters
(New York: G.P. Putnam, 1898) )

British Historian Defends Pius XII

Zenit report: 29th January 2007

A leading historian of World War II has just published a book which documents the action of the Church and Pope Pius XII in rescuing Jews from Nazi persecution.

Sir Martin Gilbert's "I Giusti, gli eroi sconosciuti dell’Olocausto" (The Righteous, Unknown Heroes of the Holocaust) was published by Città Nuova and presented in Rome last Wednesday.

Gilbert, 70, is a professor of the history of the Holocaust at University College, London, and the author of 72 books. Known as the official biographer of Winston Churchill, he was knighted in 1995 for his service to British history and international relations.

The presentation ceremony enabled top Holy See representatives, historians and Jewish representatives to hear the conclusions of the Jewish author.

This book says that the "'righteous' … are those non-Jewish men and women throughout Europe who broke the chains of indifference, egoism and individualism and saved a great number of Jews from Nazi extermination, risking their own lives and that of their relatives."

He who saves

In the inside cover of the book, Gilbert notes that in the Talmud it is written that "he who saves a life, saves the whole world," and that this is the reason why the Holocaust History Museum at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial remembers and honors the "righteous."

On presenting Gilbert's book, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, explained that the Jews' history "is a history of the good, or rather a current of good that runs through humanity regardless of religious differences."

The cardinal specified that "Christians, among them many Catholics, and also Muslims, accepted -- at the cost of their own lives -- to save Jews from the Shoah. This was a great war, carried out without proclamations, manifestos, theories or rhetoric and these 'righteous' fought it at times against the conventions and prejudices of their own environment."

In this connection, Cardinal Bertone highlighted the role played by Poland, where it is estimated that 1 million citizens were involved in saving Jews.

"It is often forgotten that Poland was the only country where the death penalty was in force for helping Jews," said the cardinal. He recalled the story of the Ulma family, whose process of beatification is under way in the Diocese of Przemsyl.

Jozef Ulma and his wife Wiktoria and seven children (one still in the womb) were killed March 24, 1944, in the village of Markowa, for having hidden eight Jews in their home.

With reference to the Church's intervention, especially Pius XII's, the cardinal said that it was not just a question "of organizing bureaucratically the search for the dispersed and assistance to prisoners. They were helped in every way possible."


In regard to those who accuse Pius XII of silence in the face of anti-Jewish persecution, Cardinal Bertone pointed out: "It is clear that Pope Pacelli was not about silence but about intelligent and strategic speaking, as demonstrated in the 1942 Christmas radio message which infuriated Hitler.

"The proofs are in the Vatican archives, where one finds, for example, the 1928 declaration of the former Holy Office, very simple and very clear, condemning anti-Semitism, a document that was totally forgotten, as if the condemnation of anti-Semitism was only that of Vatican II.

"The history one reads in Martin Gilbert's volume should also be known for another reason; because it is not only the history of those proclaimed righteous before the world, but also the history of those many other 'implicit righteous,' who were not honored because their historical memory was lost."

For the Discriminating Collector of Nun Dolls

Definitely hard to believe. But forget Cindy and Barbie.... Catholic Supply of St Louis is offering collector quality nun dolls for sale for a limited time only. Prices from $149 to $189. Sadly, the Catholic school dolls are now discontinued.

H/T and link in Dominicanus.

Avoid Gossip

Fr. Loren W. Gonzales re-tells the story of Saint Philip Neri who once gave a lady who gossiped the following penance:

"Go to the market, buy a chicken, and pluck it on your way back here, scattering the feathers as you walk. When you give me the plucked chicken, I'll tell you the rest of your penance."

The woman was baffled did as she was told. After she handed the plucked chicken to the saint, St. Neri said, "Now that you've spread those feathers about, go pick them up."

"But, Father! It's impossible to know where they've all gone!"

"Just like the words of your gossip," he said.

The Goal of Evolution

For the Goal of Evolution, see Fr Joe here.

Basilica di San Pietro Apostolo (Chiesa di San Piero a Grado), near Pisa

Half way between the city of Pisa and the coast, in the middle of a green field, is the Basilica of San Pietro a Grado.

According to legend, the Basilica rose exactly in the spot where the ship from which San Pietro disembarked (hence the name) who was travelling to Rome. The harbour at Pisa used to bein this area before silting up.

First accounts of the building date back to the third century. Recently made excavations in the foundations of a structure confirm them to be of early Christian origin of about AD375.

The present building dates back to the XI century, except for the west body that, together with the bell tower (partially destroyed in 1944), is datable to the XII century. Made of sea stone blocks, with the surfaces parted by thin pilasters and opened by simple monoforas, it represents one of the archetypes of the Pisan sacred architecture.

The interior has one nave and two aisles parted by columns coming from ancient buildings. On the walls of the nave’s elevation, there is the circle of frescoes with "Stories of Saint Peter", and of the popes. The cycle of frescoes, that can be dated back to the XIV century was commissioned by the Pisa family of the Castani, and was attributed to the Lucchesan painter Deodato Orlandi.

In the apsidal area there is a crucifix in wood.

Outside there are the remains of the ancient bell tower (12th century) that was partially destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. The three bells are still kept inside the church.

Euthanasia again

The Times Literary Supplement has a review of Neil M. Gorsuch THE FUTURE OF ASSISTED SUICIDE AND EUTHANASIA 320pp. Princeton University Press. £18.95.

The review is entitled Assisted suicide on trial by Raymond Tallis

Sometimes a review is more informative of the reviewer and his beliefs and agenda than the book being reviewed.

Between 2003 and 2005, Tallis was Chairman of the Royal College of Physicians Committee on Ethical Issues in Medicine. During this period, the Commitee twice debated a Bill, proposed by Lord Joffe, to legalize assisted suicide in mentally competent terminally ill patients at their persistent request. In the Joffe Bill, the patient would administer the medication herself, thus underlining the autonomous nature of the act

The review provides a history of the Joffe Bill, why it did not succeed and why the Joffe Bill is likely to be introduced again.

Chiilingly, Tallis writes: "The story, however, is not yet over. The Joffe Bill will probably be reintroduced in 2007"

Tallis` viewpoint can be assessed from the following paragraph of his review:

"In this respect, [ Gorsuch’s ] argument is chillingly reminiscent of religious doctrines of “the sanctity of life”, which seem to coexist very happily with authorized indifference to avoidable death. The recklessness of the Roman Catholic Church with the lives of millions of believers, by vetoing condoms, and in some cases actually lying about their effectiveness, thus sacrificing human life on the altar of doctrinal purity, is about as grotesque an example of instrumentalism as one could imagine. The contrast between the forthright condemnation of the Assisted Dying Bill by Rowan Williams and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, and the timid equivocations in their joint letter on the eve of the Iraq war, which has killed 600,000 people who most certainly wanted to live, is illuminating. And the wisdom of the “Angelic Doctor” St Thomas Aquinas is still invoked by that substantial minority of Catholic thinkers who regret their Church’s recent and belated opposition to the death penalty."

Be warned.

Monday, January 29, 2007

An Englishman in Florence

Paolo Uccello (born Paolo di Dono, 1397 – 1475)
Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood 1436
Fresco, 820 x 515 cm Duomo, Florence

In 1436 the administrators of the Opera del Duomo in Florence commissioned Paolo Uccello to paint a fresco in the Cathedral, a monument commemorating Sir John Hawkwood (Giovanni Acuto). The fresco is still there in its prominent place. Hawkwood was an English mercenary who had commanded Florentine troops at the end of the 14th century and had led the Florentine troops to victory in the Battle of Cascina (1364). Hawkwood died in 1393.

Uccello used perspective and sculptural quality as well as the monochrome effect of "terra verde". He succeeded in creating the illusion of a statue, standing on a plinth. The base is shown in foreshortening, so as to be seen correctly from below, whereas the warrior in on his horse is drawn in full frontal perspective.

The administrators of the Opera del Duomo did not appreciate the fresco at all, and ordered Uccello to paint it again, which the artist did. We do not know exactly what Uccello changed.

In his Lives, Vasari tempers his praise by pointing out an important error in the painting:

"This work was and still is held to be something very beautiful for a painting of that kind, and if Paolo had not made that horse move its legs on one side only, which naturally horses do not do, or they would fall--and this perchance came about because he was not accustomed to ride, nor used to horses as he was to other animals--this work would be absolutely perfect, since the proportion of that horse, which is colossal, is very beautiful; and on the base there are these letters: PAULI UCCELLI OPUS"

Mirror of Justice

Mirror of Justice has two reports of note.

RIP Robert Drinan

Robert Drinan, S.J., died last night of pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Although he was a controversial figure for many Catholics, he was tireless laborer in areas such as legal ethics and international human rights. Rest in peace.

"Moscow's Assault on the Vatican"

According to this piece by Ion Mihai, "[t]he Soviet Union was never comfortable living in the same world with the Vatican. The most recent disclosures document that the Kremlin was prepared to go to any lengths to counter the Catholic Church’s strong anti-Communism." More specifically, Mihai contends that the infamous 1963 play by Roch Hochhuth, The Deputy, which inaugurated the re-working of Pope Pius XII by the press from a heroic friend of the Jews to a heartless accomplice to the Holocaust, was the outgrowth of KGB efforts to undermine the Holy See's moral authority.

Ion Mihai Pacepa`s article in full is at

Uccello`s St George and the Dragon

(b. 1397, Firenze, d. 1475, Firenze)
St. George and the Dragon
c. 1456
Oil on canvas, 57 x 73 cm
National Gallery, London

UCCELLO, Paolo (b. 1397, Firenze, d. 1475, Firenze)
St. George and the Dragon
c. 1456 [detail]

UCCELLO, Paolo (b. 1397, Firenze, d. 1475, Firenze)
St. George and the Dragon c. 1456 [detail]

The fantastic story is from a popular collection of saints's lives written in the 13th century, called 'The Golden Legend'. 'The Golden Legend' or 'Legenda Aurea' was written by Jacopo de Voragine, a Dominican friar who, in 1292, became Archbishop of Genova. 'The Golden Legend' was frequently copied and translated and, when printing was introduced, was still more popular. It was a highly important and accessible source for painters of religious subjects, especially for the lives of the saints.

In the translation by William Caxton of 1483, the legend of St George and the Dragon is described thus:

"St. George and the Dragon

St. George was a knight and born in Cappadocia. On a time he came in to the province of Libya, to a city which is said Silene. And by this city was a stagne or a pond like a sea, wherein was a dragon which envenomed all the country. And on a time the people were assembled for to slay him, and when they saw him they fled. And when he came nigh the city he venomed the people with his breath, and therefore the people of the city gave to him every day two sheep for to feed him, because he should do no harm to the people, and when the sheep failed there was taken a man and a sheep.

Then was an ordinance made in the town that there should be taken the children and young people of them of the town by lot, and every each one as it fell, were he gentle or poor, should be delivered when the lot fell on him or her. So it happed that many of them of the town were then delivered, insomuch that the lot fell upon the king's daughter, whereof the king was sorry, and said unto the people: For the love of the gods take gold and silver and all that I have, and let me have my daughter.

They said: How sir! ye have made and ordained the law, and our children be now dead, and ye would do the contrary. Your daughter shall be given, or else we shall burn you and your house.

When the king saw he might no more do, he began to weep, and said to his daughter: Now shall I never see thine espousals.

Then returned he to the people and demanded eight days' respite, and they granted it to him. And when the eight days were passed they came to him and said: Thou seest that the city perisheth.

Then did the king do array his daughter like as she should be wedded, and embraced her, kissed her and gave her his benediction, and after led her to the place where the dragon was.

When she was there St. George passed by, and when he saw the lady he demanded the lady what she made there and she said: Go ye your way fair young man, that ye perish not also.

Then said he: Tell to me what have ye and why weep ye, and doubt ye of nothing.

When she saw that he would know, she said to him how she was delivered to the dragon. Then said St. George: Fair daughter, doubt ye no thing hereof for I shall help thee in the name of Jesu Christ.

She said: For God's sake, good knight, go your way, and abide not with me, for ye may not deliver me.

Thus as they spake together the dragon appeared and came running to them, and St. George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground. And after said to the maid: Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard.

When she had done so the dragon followed her as it had been a meek beast and debonair. Then she led him into the city, and the people fled by mountains and valleys, and said: Alas! alas! we shall be all dead.

Then St. George said to them: Ne doubt ye no thing, without more, believe ye in God, Jesu Christ, and do ye to be baptized and I shall slay the dragon.

Then the king was baptized and all his people, and St. George slew the dragon and smote off his head, and commanded that he should be thrown in the fields, and they took four carts with oxen that drew him out of the city.

Then were there well fifteen thousand men baptised, without women and children, and the king did do make a church there of our Lady and of St. George, in the which yet sourdeth a fountain of living water, which healeth sick people that drink thereof. After this the king offered to St. George as much money as there might be numbered, but he refused all and commanded that it should be given to poor people for God's sake; and enjoined the king four things, that is, that he should have charge of the churches, and that he should honour the priests and hear their service diligently, and that he should have pity on the poor people, and after, kissed the king and departed."

Uccello`s picture shows two episodes from the story of Saint George. He defeats or kills a plague-bearing dragon that had been terrorising a city. The rescued princess brings the dragon to heel (with her belt as a leash). The combining of two scenes with a connecting theme can be seen in Uccello`s scenes of The Flood which he painted in the cloister of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

In the sky, a storm is gathering.

There is very little light. Is there an eclipse of the sun ? The scene is dark and ominous.

The strange patches of grass show Uccello's obsessive concern with linear perspective and his tendency to create decorative pattern.

Uccello was long thought to be significant primarily for his role in establishing new means of rendering perspective that became a major component of the Renaissance style. The 16th-century biographer Giorgio Vasari said that Uccello was "intoxicated" by perspective. Later historians found the unique charm and decorative genius evinced by his compositions to be an even more important contribution.

He worked in the Late Gothic tradition, and emphasised colour and pageantry rather than the Classical realism that other artists were pioneering. His style is best described as idiosyncratic, and he left no school of followers. The emphasis seems is less on the modelling of the figures, and they become points in a stylised geometric system of lines and cubes. Doll-like and colorful stylization are hallmarks of his later works.

The gothicising tendency of Uccello's art is nowhere more apparent than in this picture.

Vasari in his Lives of the Artists is critical of Uccello:

"[He] would have been the most gracious and fanciful genius that was ever devoted to the art of painting, from Giotto's day to our own, if he had laboured as much at figures and animals as he laboured and lost time over the details of perspective; for although these are ingenious and beautiful, yet if a man pursues them beyond measure he does nothing but waste his time, exhausts his powers, fills his mind with difficulties, and often transforms its fertility and readiness into sterility and constraint, and renders his manner, by attending more to these details than to figures, dry and angular, which all comes from a wish to examine things too minutely; not to mention that very often he becomes solitary, eccentric, melancholy, and poor, as did Paolo Uccello."

Again, according to Vasari, he delighted in painting animals:

"In the house of the Medici he painted some scenes on canvas and in distemper, representing animals; in these he ever took delight, and in order to paint them well he gave them very great attention, and, what is more, he kept ever in his house pictures of birds, cats, dogs and every sort of strange animal whereof he could get the likeness, being unable to have them alive by reason of his poverty; and because he delighted in birds more than in any other kind, he was given the name of "Paolo of the Birds" (Paolo Uccelli).

In the said house, among other pictures of animals, he made some lions, which were fighting together with movements and a ferocity so terrible that they appeared alive. But the rarest scene among them all was one wherein a serpent, combating with a lion, was showing its ferocity with violent movements, with the venom spurting from its mount and eyes, while a country girl who is present is looking after an ox made with most beautiful foreshortening. "

In this painting, the two animal figures: the Dragon and the Horse overwhelm and outshine the two human figures.

St George is all armour. One can only see a very very youthful face. The princess has two attributes highly prized by the medieval male: a long neck and a broad forehead. For all the commotion, she is totally without emotion or reaction to the scene unfolding a few steps away.

Again, as Vasari said:

"It was enough for Paolo to go on, according to the rules of perspective, drawing and foreshortening them exactly as they are, making in them all that he saw--namely, ploughed fields, ditches, and other minutenesses of nature--with that dry and hard manner of his; whereas, if he had picked out the best from everything and had made use of those parts only that come out well in painting, they would have been absolutely perfect."

This was not the first time that Uccello had painted on the theme of St George and the Dragon. In 1458-60, he had painted the same scene. It is in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris.(below). The same points mentioned above could be made of the earlier painting.

(b. 1397, Firenze, d. 1475, Firenze)
St George and the Dragon
Oil on canvas, 52 x 90 cm
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris

But Uccello`s painting in The National Gallery has inspired responses in the arts.

One of the most significant is the poem "Not My Best Side" by Ursula Askham ('U. A.') Fanthorpe, born 1929, the distinguished English poet:

"Not my Best Side


Not my best side, I'm afraid.
The artist didn't give me a chance to
Pose properly, and as you can see,
Poor chap, he had this obsession with
Triangles, so he left off two of my
Feet. I didn't comment at the time
(What, after all, are two feet
To a monster?) but afterwards
I was sorry for the bad publicity.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string? I don't mind dying
Ritually, since I always rise again,
But I should have liked a little more blood
To show they were taking me seriously.


It's hard for a girl to be sure if
She wants to be rescued. I mean, I quite
Took to the dragon. It's nice to be
Liked, if you know what I mean. He was
So nicely physical, with his claws
And lovely green skin, and that sexy tail,
And the way he looked at me,
He made me feel he was all ready to
Eat me. And any girl enjoys that.
So when this boy turned up, wearing machinery,
On a really dangerous horse, to be honest
I didn't much fancy him. I mean,
What was he like underneath the hardware?
He might have acne, blackheads or even
Bad breath for all I could tell, but the dragon--
Well, you could see all his equipment
At a glance. Still, what could I do?
The dragon got himself beaten by the boy,
And a girl's got to think of her future.


I have diplomas in Dragon
Management and Virgin Reclamation.
My horse is the latest model, with
Automatic transmission and built-in
Obsolescence. My spear is custom-built,
And my prototype armour
Still on the secret list. You can't
Do better than me at the moment.
I'm qualified and equipped to the
Eyebrow. So why be difficult?
Don't you want to be killed and/or rescued
In the most contemporary way? Don't
You want to carry out the roles
That sociology and myth have designed for you?
Don't you realize that, by being choosy,
You are endangering job prospects
In the spear- and horse-building industries?
What, in any case, does it matter what
You want? You're in my way."
-- Ursula Askham ('U. A.') Fanthorpe, born 1929.

Martyn Crucefix also wrote a poem based on the Uccello painting:

"George and the Dragon

A boyish George, arrayed in gleaming plate,
Lunges forward with a lance and white rocking horse.
The dragon’s head dips in sympathy, bleeds
Over the ground, on tousled patches of grass.
But she presents the beast with her palm out –
Stretched as if a harmless pet pulled at the chain.
Is she deceived? Or is that fog behind
Brave George, the black cave’s echo, evil unseen?"

For other pictorial representations of St George and the Dragon, see:

For more on Paolo Uccello, see
The Painter Who Almost Became A Cheese By Paul Barolsky, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 1994

On U. A. Fanthorpe, see:

Sunday, January 28, 2007

History of Religion - in a map

This map comes from These are great maps that can entertain, educate, and certainly be a joy to watch.

This one should be of great interest to you. It is called, “Imperial History of the Middle East". Useful for understanding what happened in the Old and New Testaments and later.

Check it out:

Want to see 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds? Ready, Set, Go!

Check this one out:

Whispers in the Loggia

Whispers in the Loggia has two good posts.

In We Sons of Bevy , Rocco discusses the influence on his life of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

In Vatican Warms to Climate Change, Rocco reports that two organs of the Holy See will host the church's first top-level conference on global climate change.

According to the paper, Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, "is understood to have played a key role in persuading Rome to back the summit plan". Brown proposed the conference to Vatican officials last year.

Learning Latin was and is never easy ...

Hat tip to Whiskey at a tea party

Pope's Latinist pronounces death of a language

The Telegraph reports that Fr Reginald Forster is not optimistic about the future of Latin.

For full story link is above.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Blessed Damien of Molokai and Blessed Mother Marianne Cope

Father Damien, since 1995 Blessed Damien of Molokai, born Joseph de Veuster, SS.CC. (January 3, 1840, Tremelo – April 15, 1889, Molokai), dedicated his life in service to the lepers of Molokai in the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Mother Marianne Cope (January 23, 1838 – August 9, 1918), was a Franciscan nun of the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. She followed Father Damien in serving the lepers of Molokai. On May 14, 2005, Mother Marianne was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in a ceremony in Vatican City.

Father Damien died on April 15, 1889. This photograph shows Mother Marianne Cope standing beside his body.

The Church of San Zeno, Pisa

No longer a Church, but a Museum, exhibition centre and occasional theatre.

This church is the oldest in Pisa. It was built before the year 1000, probably on an older paleochristian church.

It is situated right next to the town walls. The church, documented since 1029, was built over pre-existing buildings. During recent excavations the foundations of a building with three apses have been found.

In the XII century it was under the Camaldolesi monks. Until the XV century, a hospital was annexed to it.

It has a nave and two aisles. The façade is preceded by a porch supported by pilasters and central column. There are lozenge decorations and copies of seven Islamic ceramic basins from the XI century (the original ones are kept in the Museum of San Matteo). The interior has Roman capitals and a few traces of medieval mural paintings.

St. Zeno was entered in the Roman Martyrology on 12 April as a Bishop of Verona martyred under Gallienus. Probably, however, he was a confessor who governed the Church of Verona from 362-380. At Verona a basilica, San Zenone, is dedicated to his honour, and some thirty churches and chapels bear his name.

The Church of San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno, Pisa

The church of San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno (also known as "The Old Cathedral") was founded around 952. It was used by the Vallombrosani monks. It was enlarged in the mid-12th century along lines similar to those of the Cathedral.

For the pale grey marble decoration ancient Roman marbles were used. The façade was completed in the 14th century by Giovanni Pisano. It houses frescoes by Buonamico Buffalmacco (active c. 1315–1336 assumed to be the painter of The Triumph of Death, a fresco cycle in the Camposanto in Pisa) and Turino Vanni (14th century). There is a "Crucifix" on wood from the XIII century.

An aisled basilica, the church contains the tomb of the 12th century scholar and Burgundio, with a reused Roman sarcophagus. There is another Roman sarcophagus built into the wall above the doorway in the left transept.

Annexed to it is the Romanesque Chapel of St. Agatha, an octagonal-plan, brick construction of the 11th century, with an unusual pyramidal cusp or peak. The chapel was built around 1063 by the monks of the church of San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno to which it was linked by medieval buildings demolished after the Second World War. Inside are kept the remains of mural decorations from the XII century.

Church of the Cavalieri for the Holy and Military Order of St. Stephen, Pisa

On 15 March, 1562, Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici received the cloak of the Sacred Order of the Knights of Saint Stephen from the hands of the Archbishop of Pisa and in the name of Pope Pius IV. This new order of knights, was founded to combat the raids by Turks and “infidels” on the Mediterranean Sea. Pisa was chosen as the seat for the new Order of Knights.

The choice of the square at one time named Piazza degli Anziani (the Square of the Elders) as the seat of the Knights of St. Stephen was full of political, symbolic and cultural implications. The Medici family, with the choice of this square, intended to appropriate for themselves a space which up to that time had been a sign of glory of a completely different kind. As early as the Roman period this space had been the centre of the city, perhaps even the Roman forum. It was the political and administrative fulcrum of the medieval centre and seat to all the most important magistrates of the Republic of Pisa. Seven important city streets converged there.

Cosimo I entrusted the restoration of the square to the architect, painter and historiographer Giorgio Vasari.

The Knights moved into their rooms in the Palazzo della Carovana by 1564, with the Grand Prior, given the importance of his position, occupying an apartment with various rooms.

But it would be after more than a century that the square and the area was completely “redesigned”.

In 1690, the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen could claim full ownership and use of the entire site.

As part of the redevelopment of the Square and its complex, Vasari designed the Church of the Cavalieri for the Holy and Military Order of St. Stephen, but it was mainly built by other architects. This is the only church in Pisa in renaissance style. It contains the Turkish banners captured by the Cavalieri of St. Stephen during the naval battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571.


Wikipedia: The Knights’ Square (Piazza dei Cavalieri)

Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa

There is of course more to Pisa than the Leaning Tower.

Sadly, it is often used only as a transit point to Florence and other parts of Tuscany and Umbria. If people do stay in Pisa it is often for one day only.

In 1873, Henry James wrote of Pisa:

"[A]s you "feel" the morbid charm of Pisa you press on it gently, and this somehow even under stress of whatever respectful attention. I found this last impulse, at all events, so far as I was concerned, quite contentedly spend itself in a renewed sense of the simple large pacified felicity of such an afternoon aspect as that of the Lung' Arno, taken up or down its course; whether to within sight of small Santa Maria della Spina, the tiny, the delicate, the exquisite Gothic chapel perched where the quay drops straight, or, in the other direction, toward the melting perspective of the narrow local pleasure-ground, the rather thin and careless bosky grace of which recedes, beside the stream whose very turbidity pleases, to a middle distance of hot and tangled and exuberant rural industry and a proper blue horizon of Carrara mountains.

The Pisan Lung'Arno is shorter and less featured and framed than the Florentine, but it has the fine accent of a marked curve and is quite as bravely Tuscan; witness the type of river-fronting palace which, in half-a-dozen massive specimens, the last word of the anciently "handsome," are of the essence of the physiognomy of the place.

In the glow of which retrospective admission I ask myself how I came, under my first flush, reflected in other pages, to fail of justice to so much proud domestic architecture--in the very teeth moreover of the fact that I was for ever paying my compliments, in a wistful, wondering way, to the fine Palazzo Lanfranchi, occupied in 1822 by the migratory Byron, and whither Leigh Hunt, as commemorated in the latter's Autobiography, came out to join him in an odd journalistic scheme."

One of the main features of Pisa is the number of churches, many of very long standing.

One of the most remarkable churches is the small Gothic church of Santa Maria della Spina.

It has sat perched on the banks of the Arno for nearly 800 years.

It was built in 1230 on the banks of the river Arno next to an important bridge, called Ponte Novo. The bridge was destroyed during the 15th century and was never rebuilt. Being the church close to the bridge, it was given the name of Santa Maria de Pontenovo. On being expanded in the fourteenth century by the Gualandi family, its name changed in 1333 to Santa Maria della Spina, when it preserved the reliquary of a thorn of the Saviour’s crown (spina = thorn). Today the reliquary is in the church of Santa Chiara (near the Hospital).

The exterior appearance is marked by cusps, tympani and tabernacles, together with a complicated sculpture decoration with tarsiae, rose-windows and numerous statues from the main Pisan artists of the 14th century. These include Lupo di Francesco, Andrea Pisano with his sons, Nino and Tommaso, and Giovanni di Balduccio. The Madonna and Child by Andrea Pisano is a copy.

Compared to the exterior, the interior appears quite simple. It has a single room, with a ceiling painted during the 19th century reconstruction. In the presbytery's centre is one of the highest masterpieces of Gothic sculpture, the Madonna of the Rose by Andrea and Nino Pisano.

Just a few yards away is the small Church where St Catherine of Siena received the stigmata.

Further references:

Wikipedia on "Santa Maria della Spina"