chains

A christian martyrdom is never an accident,
for Saints are not made by accident.”

T.S. Eliot

“What Saint has ever won his crown without first contending for it?”
St. Jerome


(The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli / the Basilica of St Peter in Chains / Rome, Ialy /
Julie Cook / 2018)

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter was sleeping between two soldiers,
bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.
Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell.
He struck Peter on the side and woke him up.
“Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.”
And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.
Peter followed him out of the prison,
but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city.
It opened for them by itself, and they went through it.
When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
(Acts 12:5-10)

The bonds, according to tradition, once held fast the limbs of St. Peter the Apostle
and have been cherished by Christians since the first century.

The story of their veneration first appears in the ancient Acts of Saint Alexander,
an early pope who died as a martyr in AD 115.
As he awaited his own execution, he received a visit from Quirinus,
the nobleman who oversaw the prisons in Rome.
The man’s daughter Balbina was desperately ill,
and he had heard that Pope Alexander had the power to heal her.
She was completely cured when the pope touched her with his chains.
Balbina wanted to kiss the chains in gratitude —
but Alexander instructed her to find the chains of St. Peter and honor them instead.

Balbina became a Christian–and, according to some accounts, a consecrated virgin–
and she arranged for the construction of a shrine for St. Peter’s fetters.
It would be rebuilt and moved and expanded through the centuries.

As Rome’s Christians honored Peter’s chains from the Mamertine,
so the Church in Jerusalem kept his chains from the Herodian prison.
In the fifth century, the Christian empress Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius II,
sent a length of Peter’s Jerusalem chains to St. Leo the Great.
According to tradition, Leo held it beside Peter’s chains from the Mamertine Prison,
and the two miraculously, inseparably fused together.

There are abundant testimonies to the presence of these chains in Rome.
St. Gregory the Great, who reigned as pope from 590 to 604,
was intensely devoted to the relic and often sent small filings as gifts to dignitaries–
to Constantina Augusta, the Byzantine empress; to a bishop named Columbus;
to King Childebert of the Franks; to King Rechared of the Visigoths; and to Theodore,
the court physician at Constantinople.
He would place the filing in a key-shaped reliquary–
the key representing Peter’s authority.
He sent each particle with a prayer
“that what bound [Peter’s] neck for martyrdom, may loose yours from all sins.”

The chains are today exposed for veneration in a gold and glass reliquary in the
Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, on Rome’s Oppian Hill,
a church built in the fifth century during the reign of Leo the Great.
(Catholic Education Resource Center)

The Basilica of St Peter’s in Chains is what we consider, by Catholic Chruch standards,
as a minor basilica…meaning it is not one of the four Major Basilicas in Rome…
Rather it is a church of perhaps lesser significance but, in my opinion, it is still
significant none the less.

Say what you will about the Catholic Chruch, there is simply no denying that our roots,
our Christian roots, run deep in and through Rome.
That which had become known as the Latin West Chruch.

In the very dust of this city that is oozing with a vast array of sensory overloads,
rests the shadows of those who went long before us, all helping to create the history
we hold dear to this day.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, and eventual death, Rome was considered to be
the center of all that was and is.

A great and mighty empire who’s arms reached far and wide…even to the obscure
desert outpost of Judea.

The Roman Empire and the life of a Jewish carpenter were on a collision course.

Rome was considered the epicenter of this once mighty Empire…the seat of its government.

Scripture tells us that both Peter and Paul traveled to, preached throughout,
were each imprisoned in and were both eventually executed in this once important
center of all of humankind.

Yet today’s chaotic, trendy, chic and often very dirty city is a far cry from the city
that once “ruled the world.”

Just this past weekend there was a massive citywide protest as demonstrators took to
the streets showing their disdain for Rome’s crumbling infrastructure,
its overflowing trash and the fact that rats and even wild boar now roam this once
orderly city seeking out the overflowing trash.

Decades of inept and governmental corruption has taken its toll of what was once
Imperial Rome

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46003670

Yet Rome remains a rich treasure trove of our human history.
From art to architecture, from the sacred to the mysterious, Rome offers the curious a
fantastic feast.

The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli is but one treat in this Roman feast.

Many people come here not so much to see a box of old chains but rather they wish
to see a masterpiece of marble and craftsmanship–
up close and personal, that of Michelangelo’s Moses.


(all images by Julie Cook, Rome, Italy / 2018)

The statue of Moses is only a part of what was to be the massive tomb for Pope Julius II—
the same pope who had a lifelong love-hate relationship with Michaelangelo

The Pope had charged Michaelangelo to construct a massive tomb to be used after his death.
Yet during the same time, the Pope had commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.

As Michaelangelo never considered himself to be a painter but rather a sculptor only, he felt
a deep sense of angst over having to work on such a massive undertaking of painting.

A painting that millions of people now flock yearly to see.

He actually ran away at one point, attempting to escape the demands of the man who history
now attributes to be the pope who brought St Peter’s to the glory that we marvel over today.
The Pope actually sent his soldiers to Florence to retrieve Michaelangelo…
bringing him back to finish his commission, of which they did and Michaelangelo in turn
eventually did.

Fortunately or unfortunately, however, Pope Julius II died before Michaelangelo could finish
the massive tomb. Yet luckily today for both the curious and the tourist,
we may view this lesser monument here in the Basilica.

The statue of Moses is the central figure that draws all attention.
It is a single massive piece of Carrara marble.

Looking closely one sees that Moses has what appears to be horns protruding
from his head. But the horns are due to a mistranslation.

Michelangelo’s Moses is depicted with horns on his head.
He, like so many artists before him, was laboring under a misconception.
This is believed to be because of the mistranslation of the Hebrew Scriptures
into Latin by St Jerome.
Moses is actually described as having “rays of the skin of his face”,
which Jerome in the Vulgate had translated as “horns”.
The mistake in translation is possible because the word “keren”
in the Hebrew language can mean either “radiated (light)” or “grew horns”.

(Rome.Info)

And whereas I will always stand in awe and marvel anytime I have an opportunity to stand
and gaze on a massive piece of marble that a seemingly otherworldly gifted man managed to
coax out an unbelievable miracle of vision and craftsmanship,
it is to the box of chains that held my fascination on this most recent visit.

Those who are jaded or who scoff over the significance afforded to something, that may or
may not be what it claims to be, may certainly be that way and question.

And whereas I cannot say yay or nay as to the authenticity of these chains…
Were these the actual chains that held Peter?
I don’t know if any of us can ever say, and  yet to me,
it is not whether they are or are not what they claim to be which is important
but is to where they direct my thoughts.

They have been on display since the year 115,
roughly 47 years following Peter’s execution in Rome.

I have sat in the Mamertine prison.

Sitting in the dark, on a small ledge, contemplating the fate of those who
were once kept in this underground dungeon.
It is, as it was then, a dark enclosed dungeon..an outcropping that now sits at the
foot of Capitoline Hill. A Christian church now sits atop this prison.

Prisoners were lowered by ropes down into this pit of a prison.
It is the prison said to have once held both Saints, Peter and Paul.

Peter was bound in chains when he held as a prisoner in the Herodian prison
as well as the Mamertine prison.

So as to this miraculous union of two separate sets of chains binding together as one,
again, is beyond my ability to say…

But what I do know is that these mysterious chains draw me back to scripture,
they draw me back to a mighty God who uses simple men and women to do mighty works.

No chain, no boundary, no weight, no limitation exists that can hold our Mighty God.
Small things such as a box full of historical chains are but a physical reminder of this.

Sometimes we need, I need, those physical reminders because my mind, our minds,
are so limited whereas our God is so limitless.

And so as Pope Gregory the Great reminds us…
“that what bound [Peter’s] neck for martyrdom, may loose yours from all sins.”

Amen…

St Hubertus and the deer

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”
― G.K. Chesterton

DSCN7687
(the skull of a whitetail deer found while walking in the woods / Troup Co. Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014

There are those moments in life when the balance between the magical and mystical somehow manages to make time stand still. We find ourselves privy to something so surreal, so otherworldly, that our senses strain to make sense of it all.

As we stumble upon those things of the unimaginable, we marvel over the mingling of death and decay and how lifelessness suddenly mirrors stately beauty.
How did it die? Why did it die? A litany of questions race across our thoughts, yet the only thing that we are certain of is the single fact that the questions will never have answers.

DSCN7673 2
(skull of a young deer accented by poison ivy / Troup Co, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

During our travels yesterday, deep into the woods, we came across not one, but rather two skulls of whitetail deer. One was young, most likely a spike. The other was a 6 point. From initial observation it appears that each deer mostly likely meet their demise last year.
Odd.

Rare as it is to stumble across a skull of a deer when out walking, it is odder still to stumble upon two.
When deep in a forest, far from any road or human interaction, questions wildly swirl in the recesses of the imagination.
Was it a rattlesnake?
An errant shot by a hunter?
Could the two deaths signal that the dreaded black tongue disease is in the area? A cruel disease that will decimate any herd in a short amount of time.

As I stare at the contrasting starkness of both beauty and death, my thoughts drift to far away place and of a mystical image of a magnificent stag adorned with a brilliant golden cross resting between his horns. The image is of a legendary red stag which appeared to a lone man, adrift in his sorrows. A rich nobleman who had recently lost his young wife during childbirth. Bitter and lost in his sorrow this lone man took to the isolation and vastness of an endless forest. His time spent mindlessly wandering and spitefully hunting.

His heart now hardened, he had no time for God. His time was his own, he offered none of it to the observance of a faith which now seemed lost in the sorrow of a broken heart.
Yet God had plans for this lone man with a broken heart. He was destined to hunt more than mere animals as he was set to hunt and capture, for the betterment of the faith, the hearts and souls of men.

The story is of St Hubert or Hubertus of Liège. He, along with St Eustace, are each considered the patron saints of hunters.

St. Hubert

St Hubert or Saint Hubertus (born c. 656 to 658, probably in Toulouse; died 30 May, 727 or 728 in Tervuren near Brussels, Belgium), called the “Apostle of the Ardennes” was the first Bishop of Liège. Hubertus is another patron saint of hunters, but also of mathematicians, opticians and metalworkers, and used to be invoked to cure rabies. Saint Hubert was widely venerated in the Middle Ages. The iconography of his legend is associated with the legend of St Eustace.

As a youth, Hubert was sent to the Neustrian court of Theuderic III at Paris, where his charm and agreeable address led to his investment with the dignity of “count of the palace”. Like all nobles of the time, Hubert loved the pleasures of “the chase” i.e. hunting.

Meanwhile, the tyrannical conduct of Ebroin, mayor of the Neustrian palace, caused a general emigration of the nobles and others to the court of Austrasia at Metz. Hubert soon followed them and was warmly welcomed by Pippin of Heristal, mayor of the palace, who created him almost immediately grand-master of the household. About this time (682) Hubert married Floribanne, daughter of Dagobert, Count of Leuven, a great and suitable match. Their son Floribert would later become bishop of Liège.

Unfortunately, his wife died giving birth to their son, and Hubert retreated from the court, withdrew into the forested Ardennes, and gave himself up entirely to hunting. But a great spiritual revolution was imminent. On Good Friday morning, when the faithful were crowding the churches, Hubert sallied forth to the chase. As he was pursuing a magnificent stag or hart, the animal turned and, as the story narrates, he was astounded at perceiving a crucifix standing between its antlers, while he heard a voice saying: “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell”.
Hubert dismounted, prostrated himself and said, “Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?” He received the answer, “Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you”.

Hubert set out immediately for Maastricht, for there Lambert was bishop. Saint Lambert received Hubert kindly, and became his spiritual director. Hubert now renounced all his very considerable honours, and gave up his birthright to Aquitaine to his younger brother Odo, whom he made guardian of his infant son, Floribert. Having distributed all his personal wealth among the poor, he studied for the priesthood, was soon ordained, and shortly afterwards became one of St. Lambert’s chief associates in the administration of his diocese.

By the advice of St. Lambert, Hubert made a pilgrimage to Rome in 708, but during his absence, Lambert was assassinated by the followers of Pippin. According to the hagiographies of Hubert, this act was simultaneously revealed to the Pope in a vision, together with an injunction to appoint Hubert Bishop of Maastricht.

He distributed his episcopal revenues among the poor, was diligent in fasting and prayer, and became famous for his eloquence in the pulpit. In 720, in obedience to a vision, Hubert translated St. Lambert’s remains from Maastrict to Liège with great pomp and ceremonial, several neighbouring bishops assisting. A basilica for the relics was built upon the site of St Lambert’s martyrdom, and was made a cathedral the following year, the see being removed from Maastricht to Liège, then only a small village. This laid the foundation of the future greatness of Liège, of which Saint Lambert is honoured as patron, and Saint Hubert as founder and first bishop. Hubert actively evangelised among the pagans in the extensive Ardennes forests and in Brabant.

Hubert died peacefully in Fura, Brabant, 30 May, 727 or 728. He was first buried in the collegiate church of St. Peter, Liège, but his bones were exhumed and translated to the Benedictine Abbey of Amdain (“Andagium”, in French “Andage”, the present-day Saint-Hubert, Belgium) in the Ardennes in 825. The abbey became a focus for pilgrimages, until the coffin disappeared during the Reformation.

Saint Hubert was widely venerated in the Middle Ages and several military orders were named after him: the Bavarian, the Bohemian and that of the Archbishop Prince-Elector of Cologne.

His Feast Day is 3 November.
(excerpt taken from romanchrisendomblogspot.com)

DSCN7748
(the pin of St Hubert which is to be worn on the day of the hunt, reminding those who hunt to offer thanks to a gracious Heavenly Father who provides for all of our needs. . .)