A Nativity Story

As I write this, it’s still the Octave of Christmas where I live. I have a Christmas story to share, one that spans several generations of a family. It’s a story about a Nativity set.

My family was friends with an elderly Catholic lady who passed away a few years ago. My mother drove this lady to Mass every weekend. She had two daughters, one who remained Catholic and one who became a Jehovah’s Witness. The Jehovah’s Witnesses famously reject Christmas as a pagan invention. The JW daughter had a daughter and a son, who was my best friend in high school.

On Christmas Day this year, I attended Mass at my home parish. The priest celebrant was a native son of the parish who was visiting home. He mentioned how happy he was to see the parish’s Nativity scene again. After Mass I saw the daughter of our deceased family friend, the daughter who remained Catholic. I asked her what became of her mother’s Nativity set, which occupied half a room when set up. And I am very happy I asked. Continue reading

The Immaculate Conception, the Messiah, and the Golden Gate

Note: Here in the Driftless Area where I’m writing this, it’s still the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

In medieval art, the Immaculate Conception is depicted by Mary’s parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, meeting and embracing at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate. According to an apocryphal work called the Protoevangelium of James, Joachim and Anne had been barren, but an angel visited Anne to announce the birth of a child. She then met Joachim at the Golden Gate as he left the Temple after offering a sacrifice. The Golden Gate is the eastern gate of the Temple Mount, and tradition said that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem through this gate. The legend and the image link the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Golden Gate; she is the true “Gate of Heaven” through which the Messiah enters the world. Here’s a painting of the scene by Giotto:

The Golden Gate, known in Jewish sources as the Gate of Mercy, is pretty interesting in its own right. Continue reading

Happy Martinmas!

Happy Martinmas! Today is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. St. Martin was a Roman soldier who saw a beggar by the roadside. Drawing his sword, he cut his cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. That night, Christ appeared to him wearing the other half of his cloak; the beggar was Christ. St. Martin later became a monk, a hermit, and the bishop of Tours, France.

His feast day, Nov. 11, was traditionally celebrated as something close to the American Thanksgiving, with goose in place of turkey. During the Third Republic, he became the de facto patron of France. In 1918, during World War I, many French Catholics regarded it as a divine sign when the Germans agreed to an armistice on the feast day of St. Martin, veteran and French patron. Continue reading

Transfiguration

For the Feast of the Transfiguration, here are some photos from Gesu, which is the parish church at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I used to sit next to this stained glass window when I was an undergraduate. It shows Our Lord transfigured on Mt. Tabor. Moses is in the upper left corner with the tablets of the Law and “horns” of light coming out of his face. Elias (Elijah) is in the upper right coner. Sts. Peter, James, and John appear at the bottom of the window.

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Feast of St. Peter ad Vincula

Today’s feast day (prior to 1960, anyway) commemorates the consecration of the Basilica of St. Peter ad Vincula (“at the Chains”). That’s the basilica in Rome that houses a major relic of St. Peter. It’s a single chain formed from two separate chains, one that bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem and one that bound him when he was imprisoned in Rome. When the two chains were brought together in the 400s, they miraculously fused together.*

Here are some photos that I took at the basilica in 2007. First, the miraculous chain. The reliquary is located in the confessio (crypt shrine) below the basilica’s high altar.
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Blog Pseudonym Saint Day: St. Olaf, Martyr and Eternal King of Norway

271The photo above shows the altar of St. Olaf in Rome. He is shown with his battle axe, triumphantly crushing under foot the dragon of paganism (or maybe, in the artist’s mind, Lutheran heresy?). My blog pseudonym is the Latin form of “Olaf from Wisconsin.” My family is from Wisconsin (though I wasn’t born or raised here), and I’m one-eighth Norwegian. When I was a child, my late father (who was insanely proud of his one-quarter Norwegianity—may he rest in peace) used to call me “Ole,” which is short for Olaf.

St. Olaf was the King of Norway who spearheaded the conversion of that country to the Roman Catholic Faith. For his efforts at converting the pagan Vikings, St. Olaf was martyred during the Battle of Stiklestad on July 29, 1030, which is why today is his feast day. St. Olaf is honored as the “eternal king” (Rex Perpetuus) of Norway. Unfortunately, Norway was annexed by Denmark during the Protestant Revolt, and the Danes imposed Lutheranism on the country.

When I was studying under Fr. Reginald Foster in Rome ten years ago, I visited many of the so-called National Churches in the city. These are the churches that each nation claims as “its church” in Rome. I figured that Norway, despite its official Lutheranism, must have at least a chapel somewhere. Catholics—good ones, anyway—are always trying to reclaim the lost sheep among the nations. One day by accident, I stumbled upon the Norwegian national chapel in the Basilica of San Carlo al Corso* (which is the National Church of the Lombards). That’s where I took the photo above. The Latin inscriptions on the edge of the painting read in part, “Norvegia Catholica; S. Olaus Martyr, Norvegiae Rex et Patronus.” Translated, that’s, “Catholic Norway; St. Olaf, Martyr, King and Patron of Norway.” Continue reading

St. James, Our Lady, and America

I’m a day late in posting this, but yesterday (July 25) was the feast day of St. James the Greater. Along with St. John the Evangelist (St. James’ brother) and St. Peter, St. James was one of Our Lord’s inner circle, being present at the Transfiguration and during Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden. Here are some one-off notes in appreciation of St. James:

St. James’ Iconography: Apostle, Pilgrim, Moor-Killer, and Martyr

Over at the New Liturgical Movement, David Clayton has posted an article about St. James’ iconography.* One of the commenters, Thom Ryng, notes that St. James appears in art in three different ways: as Apostle, as pilgrim, and as the Moor-Killer (Santiago Matamoros).**

I’ve seen the apostle, pilgrim, and Moor-Killer (or martyr?) identities combined in iconography. Once upon a time, I used to attend Mass at St. James Parish in Trumansburg, New York. The canopy/reredos at St. James shows a bishop’s crosier and sword laid across each other. The crosier obviously shows that St. James was an Apostle, and hence a bishop. The sword likely refers to his martyrdom by beheading, but also possibly to his status as Santiago Matamoros, the scourge of the Moors during Spain’s Reconquista. I believe the canopy also shows the pilgrim’s scallop shell, which points to Santiago de Compostela and the Way of St. James. Continue reading