Sunday, May 28, 2017

May 28 ~ Execution of Blessed Margaret Pole, martyr of Henry VIII's revolution

A contemporary drawing of
Lady Margaret Pole.
Today marks the feast day of Blessed Margaret Pole, who was executed on May 27, 1541 by order of Henry VIII's rogue parliament. Mother of Cardinal Reginald Pole, the last Catholic archbishop of Canterbury, and governess to Henry's daughter, the princess Mary (later Queen Mary).

Margaret's crime was ostensibly treason, based on the discovery of an old tunic in her possession which displayed the five wounds of Christ. According to her persecutors, this garment was a clear connection to the so-called "Pilgrimage of Grace" — a popular uprising against Henry VIII in 1536. In reality, it was a symbol of her Plantagenet heritage, Margaret being one of the few remaining descendants of that fallen house. It is speculated that Henry demanded Margaret's death as a way of striking at her son, Reginald, who had been made a Cardinal by the Pope in 1537. Hearing of his mother's condemnation, Reginald wrote:
"You have heard, I believe, of my mother being condemned by public Council to death, or rather to eternal life. Not only has he who condemned her, condemned to death a woman of seventy — than whom he has no nearer relative, except his daughter, and of whom he used to say there was no holier woman in his kingdom — but at the same time her grandson, son of my brother, a child, the remaining hope of our race. See how far this tyranny has gone, which began with priests, in whose order it only consumed the best, then [went on] to nobles, and there, too, destroyed the best." [as recorded in Butler's Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints.]
Lady Margaret's execution was not an ordinary affair. A contemporary description from a French observer is recorded in Martin Haile's Life of Reginald Pole (1910):
Without any process, solely on the King's warrant under the Act of Attainder passed two years previously, the venerable lady, sixty-nine years of age, was put to death at an hour's notice. Well might the French ambassador Marillac, writing to Francis I the following day, call it, "a case more worthy of compassion than of long letters." She was beheaded "yesterday morning before 7 o'clock, in a corner of the Tower, in presence of so few people that till evening the truth was still doubted." He continues —
"It was the more difficult to believe as she had been long a prisoner, was of noble lineage . . . and had been punished by the loss of one son, and the banishment of the others, and the total ruin of her house. . . . The manner of proceeding in her case, and that of a lord who was executed at the same time, seems to argue that those here are afraid to put to death publicly those whom they execrate in secret."
There is some disagreement in the historical record of the actual events of the execution. The English version, recorded long after, represents Blessed Margaret refusing to put her head on the block. After being struck once by the executioner, she is described as rising up and sprinting away, with the executioner running after her, striking her multiple times. A contemporary account by French ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, seems much more reliable. Haile explains:
A woodcut of Margaret's execution,
based on the ludicrous account of
Herbert of Cherbury,
[Eustace] Chapuys had returned to England as ambassador from the Queen Regent of Flanders in the previous July and from his accurate pen we have a more trustworthy account than that of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, written at a later period and which represents the saintly and dignified woman vainly refusing to lay her head on the block and being chased round the scaffold by the executioner sword in hand. In the first place there was no scaffold: Henry VIII's orders were peremptory and there was no time for its erection; nor was it a likely thing that the venerable Margaret Pole would depart from the attitude of humble resignation which distinguished the last moments of all those who laid down their lives for their faith. 
Chapuys, after recording the hanging of the Abbot of Croxton and two gentlemen [Lee and Thorne] in the North, says—
"About the same time took place the lamentable execution of the Countess of Salisbury at the Tower, in the presence of the Lord Mayor and about 150 persons. When informed of her sentence she found it very strange, not knowing her crime, but she walked to the place in front of the Tower where there was no scaffold but only a small block. She there commended her soul to God and desired those present to pray for the King Queen Prince and Princess. The ordinary executioner being absent a blundering youth, garfonneau, was chosen, who hacked her head and shoulders almost to pieces."
Chapuys calls her, "A most virtuous lady."
Margaret Pole was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886. For a good account of her life, visit this site: Margaret Plantagenet Pole, Countess of Salisbury.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Footage of the Bismarck firing upon the Hood, and Bismarck under fire from the British fleet

HMS Hood in 1941.
Seventy-six years ago between May 23 and 27 played out one of the great dramas of World War II -- the breakout of the Nazi super-battleship, Bismarck, the sinking of the battlecruiser HMS Hood at the Battle of Denmark Strait, and the subsequent frantic pursuit and destruction of the Bismarck by the British navy under almost miraculous circumstances.

I recall reading the accounts of the battle when I was a kid, accompanied by black-and-white photos of the ships involved, including the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Now, in the age of YouTube, I was amazed to discover recently that footage of the Battle of Denmark Strait exists to this day, taken originally by a camera crew on board Prinz Eugen.



This silent film gives the viewer a front-row seat to the battle, which took place May 24, 1941. Beginning at about the 2:30 mark, one can see the tremendous flash as Bismarck fires her main guns, followed by the smaller bursts of her secondary batteries opening up. Also visible are the huge columns of water thrown up by the British shells from Hood and Prince of Wales missing nearby. It's easy to get a sense of the heaving of the seas and the anxiety of the camera crew who must have considered that their lives could be snuffed out in an instant should any of those 1,000 pound armor-piercing shells hit their ship.

Bismarck fires a salvo during the
Battle of Denmark Strait.
At the 3:32 mark of the film, the focus shifts from Bismarck to an ominous cloud of smoke on the horizon where the HMS Hood was but seconds before. Impact from one of Bismarck's 15-inch shells had ignited her aft magazines, destroying the great ship in mere moments and sending over 1,400 souls to a frigid grave in depths of the north Atlantic. Only three men survived. Flashes may be seen erupting from the cloud and it's hard to say if they are secondary explosions from the sinking battlecruiser or muzzle-flashes from Prince of Wales which was steaming about 1/2 mile astern of Hood when she exploded.

As amazing as this film is, I was equally surprised to find out that additional footage exists of Bismarck's demise a few days later. Though nearly within range of air cover from the friendly ports of occupied France, Bismarck was crippled during a desperate air attack by Swordfish torpedo-bombers from HMS Ark Royal on the evening of May 26. A fortunate hit in the stern smashed Bismarck's rudder, rendering the huge ship unmaneuverable and able to make only 10 knots. British battleships HMS Rodney and King George V were able to close the range and pummel the crippled giant into a flaming hulk.


Taken from a British newsreel released soon after the action, the footage above shows about 30 seconds of the battle, as shells fall astern of Bismarck beginning at about the 0:50 mark. The gunners soon find the range, however, and a little later, direct hits may be seen smashing into the ship. Of Bismarck's 2,200-man crew, a mere 110 survived the ship's destruction.

As we approach Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S., it is not inappropriate to remember those who died bravely for other nations as well, for they are no less men with immortal souls. May Almighty God have mercy on them and grant them eternal rest. Let perpetual light shine upon their souls forever. Amen.

Monday, May 22, 2017

May 22, AD 337 ~ Death of Constantine the Great, as recorded by Eusebius Pamphilus

Detail from The Death of Constantine ~ A tapestry by Peter Paul Reubens (1623)
now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
On this date, 1,680 years ago, ended one of the most impactful lives in all of human history. The Roman emperor Constantine the Great passed from human existence to eternal life on May 22, AD 337. (Click here if you need a refresher on Constantine's many and long-standing accomplishments.

A primary account of Constantine's final days and death may be found in the Vita Constantini of the historian Eusebius Pamphilus--a Christian bishop who knew Constantine personally. The entire Vita is well worth reading, but here are a few snippets detailing the final sickness and death of the emperor after 31 years of rule--the longest reign since the founder of the Roman Empire, Augustus.

When reading the following passage, it is well to remember that Constantine, though a promoter of Christianity, had not yet been officially initiated into the Christian Church until right before his death:
At first [Constantine] experienced some slight bodily indisposition, which was soon followed by positive disease. In consequence of this he visited the hot baths of his own city; and thence proceeded to that which bore the name of his mother [that is, Helenopolis after Saint Helena, Constantine's mother]. Here he passed some time in the church of the martyrs, and offered up supplications and prayers to God. Being at length convinced that his life was drawing to a close, he felt the time had come at which he should seek purification from sins of his past career, firmly believing that whatever errors he had committed as a mortal man, his soul would be purified from them through the efficacy of the mystical words and the salutary waters of baptism. Impressed with these thoughts, he poured forth his supplications and confessions to God, kneeling on the pavement in the church itself, in which he also now for the first time received the imposition of hands with prayer. After this he proceeded as far as the suburbs of Nicomedia, and there, having summoned the bishops to meet him, addressed them in the following words.

"The time is arrived which I have long hoped for, with an earnest desire and prayer that I might obtain the salvation of God. The hour has come in which I too may have the blessing of that seal which confers immortality; the hour in which I may receive the seal of salvation. I had thought to do this in the waters of the river Jordan, wherein our Saviour, for our example, is recorded to have been baptized: but God, who knows what is expedient for us, is pleased that I should receive this blessing here. Be it so, then, without delay: for should it be his will who is Lord of life and death, that my existence here should be prolonged, and should I be destined henceforth to associate with the people of God, and unite with them in prayer as a member of his Church, I will prescribe to myself from this time such a course of life as befits his service."

After he had thus spoken, the prelates performed the sacred ceremonies in the usual manner, and, having given him the necessary instructions, made him a partaker of the mystic ordinance. Thus was Constantine the first of all sovereigns who was regenerated and perfected in a church dedicated to the martyrs of Christ....At the conclusion of the ceremony he arrayed himself in shining imperial vestments, brilliant as the light, and reclined on a couch of the purest white, refusing to clothe himself with the purple any more.


He then lifted his voice and poured forth a strain of thanksgiving to God, after which he added these words: "Now I know that I am truly blessed: now I feel assured that I am accounted worthy of immortality, and am made a partaker of Divine light." He further expressed his compassion for the unhappy condition of those who were strangers to such blessings as he enjoyed: and when the tribunes and generals of his army appeared in his presence with lamentations and tears at the prospect of their bereavement, and with prayers that his days might yet be prolonged, he assured them in reply that he was now in possession of true life; that none but himself could know the value of the blessings he had received; so that he was anxious rather to hasten than to defer his departure to God. He then proceeded to complete the needful arrangement of his affairs, bequeathing an annual donation to the Roman inhabitants of his imperial city; apportioning the inheritance of the empire, like a patrimonial estate, among his own children; in short, making every disposition according to his own pleasure.

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All these events occurred during a most important festival, I mean the august and holy solemnity of Pentecost....He was removed about mid-day to the presence of his God, leaving his mortal remains to his fellow mortals, and carrying into fellowship with God that part of his being which was capable of understanding and loving him. Such was the close of Constantine's mortal life.
For more about the incredibly eventful life of Constantine the Great, see these posts:

October 28, AD 312 ~ Constantine defeats Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

September 18, AD 324 -- Constantine defeats Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopolis

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What's new is old again ~ The USS Olympia in black and white

Last Friday, I took the family on a tour of the cruiser USS Olympia, Dewey's famous flagship from Manila Bay, which is now a museum ship at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. While there, I assigned my 11 year-old son the duties of official trip photographer. Well, the kid's got a bit of an artistic bone, so I was surprised (but at the same time, not surprised) to find out that he took nearly all of the photos in black and white. Here are the results:

(Click any of the photos to enlarge.)

Inside Olympia's wheel house on the bridge deck. Beautifully restored.

A view of one of Olympia's vertical triple expansion coal-fired steam engines.
State-of-the-art for 1893 and authentic steam-punk.

Olympia's bell, behind the forward funnel. 

One of Olympia's Hotchkiss 6-pounders. With the casemates open, you get
a nice view of the battleship USS New Jersey across the Delaware River.


View over the bow from Olympia's bridge deck. This is approximately the view
Dewey would have had while commanding the US Asiatic fleet at Manila Bay
on May 1, 1898. Ahead may be seen the Moshulu, a floating restaurant. Directly
below is the armored conning tower, and forward of that are the mocked-up
8-inch main guns. The original guns were removed in 1916 and replaced
with open gun platforms. The mock-ups were put into place when Olympia
was made into a museum.

An older photo from my collection showing the Olympia as she looked in 2011,
turned black and white to match the rest. The bow of the submarine USS Becuna
is also visible at left.

If you've never visited Olympia, I highly recommend it. The tour is a bit like visiting a floating Victorian mansion with heavy guns. For the price of admission, you also get access to the submarine USS Becuna, and the rest of the Independence Seaport Museum as well. This is an amazing lesson in US maritime history and is well worth the trip and the price of admission. My kids have gone multiple times and find something new every time. Come on down and check it out!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pope Saint John I ~ A political martyr of the 6th century AD

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May 18 is the feast of Pope Saint John I, martyr.

Pope St. John I was the first pontiff to visit the eastern imperial capital of Constantinople and he did so at the behest of Theodoric, the Arian Gothic king of Italy. Theodoric enjoined Pope John to act as an advocate for the Arians at the court of the Roman emperor, Justin I, threatening to begin a persecution of orthodox Catholics in Italy should the Holy Father refuse to accept this mission. Of course, Pope John could not defend Arianism, save to ask Justin to act with more leniency toward the Arians within the Eastern Roman Empire.

On his way to Constantinople, two extraordinary things happened, according to Pope Saint Gregory the Great who recorded them in his famous Dialogues:
Click for more info.
In the time of the Goths, when the most blessed man John, Bishop of this church of Rome, traveled to the Emperor Justinian the elder, he came into the country of Corinth, where he lacked an horse to ride upon: which a certain noble man understanding, lent him that horse which, because he was gentle, his wife used for her own saddle, with order that when he came where he could provide himself of another, his wife's horse should be sent back again. And so the Bishop rode upon him, until he came to a certain place where he got another, and then he returned that which he had borrowed. But afterward, when his wife came to take his back, as before she used, by no means could she do it, because the horse, having carried so great a Bishop, would not suffer a woman to come any more upon his back, and therefore he began with monstrous snorting, neighing, and continual stirring, as it were in scorn, to shew that he could not bear any woman, upon whom the Pope himself had ridden: which thing her husband wisely considering, straightways sent him again to the holy man, beseeching him to accept of that horse, which by riding he had dedicated to his own service. Of the same man, another miracle is also reported by our ancestors: to wit, that in Constantinople, when he came to the gate called Aurea, where he was met with great numbers of people, in the presence of them all, he restored sight to a blind man that did instantly crave it: for laying his hand upon him, he banished away that darkness which possessed his eyes. [Taken from The Dialogues of Gregory the Great]
While he was in Constantinople, Pope John was exalted and honored by Justin I, as well his nephew, Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus, who would later become the Emperor Justinian. For his part, the Pope placed the imperial diadem on Justin's head and praised the emperor for his role in ending the Acacian Schism which had separated the eastern and western Church for 35 years. He also officiated at Easter in Hagia Sophia (the second one--not the present building) in Constantinople in the Latin Rite.

When Theodoric heard how the Holy Father had been honored in Constantinople and how he had, in turn, honored the emperor, he was greatly displeased. He endeavored to seize Pope John and his retinue on their return trip. According to the Liber Pontificalis:
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At that time the venerable pope John and the senators returned with glory, having obtained all their requests of Justin Augustus, but King Theodoric, the heretic, received them, that is Pope John and the senators, with craft and hatred and would even have slain them with the sword but he feared the indignation of Justin Augustus. However, he confined them all cruelly in prison, so that the blessed pope John, worn by illness, gave up the ghost and died in prison. He died at Ravenna gloriously. May 18, in the prison of King Theodoric. On the 98th day after Bishop John had died in prison, by the will of omnipotent God, King Theodoric suddenly was struck down by divine power and perished. [Taken from The Book of the Popes (Liber Pontificalis)]
Having died unjustly at the hands of a heretic king, Pope John is considered a martyr. His story is especially poignant for our times when the Papacy is equally beset by political forces (and some would say by powerful heretics as well) who attempt to use the Holy Father as a pawn to further their own ends.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

More on Venerable Pope Pius XII's condemnation of situation ethics

"The accusation of oppressive rigidity made against the Church
by the ‘new morality,’ in reality, attacks, in the first place,
the adorable Person of Christ Himself."
—Venerable Pope Pius XII in a radio address on March 23, 1952
Kudos to Rorate Cæli for their recent outstanding post: Pius XII's Condemnation of Situation Ethics: "Accusations of rigidity first attack the adorable person of Christ"

If you haven't read it already, go and do so. In short, it provides additional background on Venerable Pope Pius XII's all-but-forgotten condemnation of so-called "situation ethics" -- the non-Catholic moral system that has sadly wormed its way into the Church over the past 50 years.

Pius XII's warnings about the danger of this alien system of morality are unmistakable, and Rorate's post makes the clear condemnation easily accessible for the first time in English. Previously, I had only been able to find one other reference in English as exemplified below:

Situation Ethics - Condemned by Venerable Pope Pius XII in 1952
For the record, Situation Ethics is the morality that most of us Catholics under the age of 60 were taught in Catholic schools. Based on relativism, Situation Ethics is the primary reason why traditional Catholic moral principles are considered unrealistic by many today, even though they were certainly realistic for our ancestors. Considering how few of my peers today may be considered devout Catholics or pay anything other than lip-service to the proper Catholic modes of moral behavior, the rise of Situation Ethics within the Church has been every bit as damaging as Pius XII predicted.

If you ask me, he is a prophet who deserves sainthood.

The Great Siege of Malta Begins, May 18 ,1565

 A portrait of Grand Master Jean de la Valette by Antoine Favray.
Given the current tribulations of the Knights of Malta in our own time, it is well to remember that there were magnificent heroes among them in past days--men who did not shrink from combat even in their old age.

When the Turks attacked Malta with an armada of nearly 200 ships and 40,000 soldiers in May of 1565, about 1,000 knights of St. John (later the Knights of Malta) from all over Christendom had already assembled to repel them. These men arrived at Malta with the full knowledge that many of them would never leave the island alive.

The following is taken from the excellent historical novel, Angels in Iron, and describes the happenings on May 18, 1565 when the Turkish fleet appeared off Malta:
18 May

Suleiman’s armada was spotted shortly after dawn. The galleys materialized on the hazy horizon fifteen miles east of Malta. A Knight in St. Elmo roused the garrison to action, crying: “There they are!” Within moments men crowded the east walls and squinted toward the ships.

Di Corso stared at the gigantic fleet, eyes wide. Heavenly Father! It’s a wonder the sea can hold them!

Captain De Guaras and Governor Broglia scrambled up the steps and gazed toward the armada, their faces grim.

“God help us,” Broglia sighed, then told De Guaras: “Fire a shot to warn Birgu.”

“A volley!” De Guaras cried to the batteries on the cavalier. “Three shots!”

Cannon roared and iron whistled over water. White foam pillared skyward as shot plowed the lazy sea. Birgu’s guns echoed the alarm. 
Another volley thundered toward the distant Turks.

“Hold!” De Guaras shouted.

He and Broglia went back down the steps and disappeared into the governor’s chamber, flanked by three Knights Commanders.

“How far off?” Di Corso asked a scarred Spanish gunner.

“A few hours, sir.”

“Time enough for the chapel, then.” 
Oliver Starkey burst into La Valette’s quarters to find the Grand Master at his desk. 
“Master, they’re here!” he cried.

La Valette signed a document, blotted it. “Oliver?”

“My lord?”

La Valette rolled and sealed the scroll, pressed the wax with his signet ring and offered the letter. “Take this.”

Starkey accepted the parchment.

“This is my quint,” La Valette said, referring to the twenty percent of his belongings a Knight could bequeath outside the Order.

“I see, my lord,” Starkey said, studying the sealed will.

“Keep it safe.”

La Valette rose from the chair and placed a white-plumed helmet on his head, saying, “Let us go to St. Angelo.”

As they left the room they heard warning shots from inland Mdina, and Gozo to the north, where the respective garrisons had guessed Mustapha’s arrival.

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“They certainly didn’t catch us napping,” La Valette said.

In the dockyard between Birgu and Senglea, Mathurin d’Aux Lescout-Romegas, General of the Galleys and the greatest Christian seaman of the age, readied four small ships. Romegas had no intention of engaging the huge Turkish force; rather, he would reconnoiter Suleiman’s navy.

La Valette saluted Romegas and proceeded toward St. Angelo.

Drums, trumpets and shouts rose from Birgu and St. Angelo as men sprang hastily to arms. La Valette strode confidently into the chaotic fort. A group of knights surrounded him.

“The time is at hand,” he told them. “Let us acquit ourselves as knights of Christ.”
Thus begins the story of the epic battle, one of the most harrowing and bloody sieges in all of recorded history. To read the tale in the epic prose of Nicholas C. Prata, go ye and purchase a copy of Angels in Iron here or here.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Brutalist Cathedral

On a recent visit to Los Angeles, I walked by this building with a colleague — a smart young guy with a cultural background that is Catholic, though he himself qualifies as a "none", I think.

As we strolled by, I asked him what he thought this building might be.


He gave it a good look up and down. "I have no idea," he remarked.

"Give me a general category of building, then," I said.


"Maybe condominiums?" he said.

"Nope, wrong," I replied.


When he spoted this statue, he said, "Oh, maybe a religious building of some sort."


Walking a little farther on, he said, "With the wires, I'm thinking Scientology."

"Wrong again," I said.

Then, a few steps farther along, he spotted a small sign that said: "Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Cathedral." "This is a Catholic church?!?!?" he asked, incredulous.

As our conversation went on, he volunteered that the design probably qualified as brutalist architecture. He pointed out that it fits in well with the other examples of the style nearby, including the bizarre Disney Concert Hall which is two blocks away.

I could only agree with him.

Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles.

With all the exterior warmth of a sewage treatment plant, I was hoping that the cathedral's courtyard and grounds might radiate a greater sense of the sacred. Well, no such luck. The entire area around the cathedral was cordoned off and no access was afforded to the exterior spaces by the time we got there at about 6:30 PM. I assume this is to keep out the countless homeless and strung-out vagrants who may be seen in and around the immediate vicinity of the cathedral.

All are welcome?
We are constantly told that the Church needs to be more welcoming. Well, here at the Olympus Mons of modern American Catholicism, the shoulder could not have been more cold. I got a similar feeling when visiting the wreckovated Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago several years ago.

Every time I see something like this, my mind immediately hearkens back to the list read into the Congressional Record in 1963 under the title Current Communist Goals. Here are goals 22 and 23: 

22. Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression. An American Communist cell was told to "eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms."

23. Control art critics and directors of art museums. "Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art."

I remain astounded that this hideous pile is the mother church of the largest archdiocese in the United States. It replaced the lovely earthquake-damaged St. Vibiana Cathedral which was abandoned initially because it would cost too much to repair and renovate. In the end, they spent $189.7 million building the new monstrosity.

Meanwhile, Saint Vibiana was sold to a developer, repaired for about $7 million. It is now used as a venue for wedding receptions, including same-sex "marriages."
"And he cried out with a strong voice, saying: Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen; and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every unclean spirit, and the hold of every unclean and hateful bird..." [Apocalypse 18:2]