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…

a gentle reminder

“The measure of love is to love without measure.”
St. Francis de Sales

dscn2191
(wild turkey Cades Cove, The Great Smokies National Park, Tennessee /Julie Coo / 2015)

Late one afternoon last week, I had a doctor’s appointment.
It was one of those late in the day appointments that kind of puts a kink
in the entire day…. as in you have to be dressed and ready to go all while making
certain that you aren’t doing anything else that causes you to overrun the appointed time.

You know how doctor’s offices can be…

Either they scold you for running late… as in the receptionist will either
actually say something about how you’ve messed up everyone else by being late,
or rather she will just give you that stare of annoyment while curtly
asking for your insurance information.
Or even worse…they’ll fine you for missing the appointment because
they canceled it when you weren’t there on the dot.

Never mind that you will proceed to sit for hours waiting to finally be seen
despite your punctuality.

I arrived right on time but noticed that the office seemed rather
sparse for that time of day.
This was actually an appointment that had to be rescheduled following my nerve block
as the two coincided and they couldn’t work me in for a solid month,
so I’ve had to wait and wait….
I am happy I wasn’t in total dire straights.

The receptionist asked which doctor I was to see.
When I told her she informed me that he was actually in a different office
in another town that day.

Huh?

“What’s your birthday so I can look up your time…”

I gave it to her while I was now almost certain that for some reason,
maybe the fact that my brain no longer worked,
the appointment was actually to be the following day…
the day I was having to be Atlanta with Dad.

Sure enough it was.

Despite my having gotten the text to confirm the day and time…
despite that the date being marked on my calendar and
despite my cell phone alerting me when to go…

So since I now had to cancel the now following day’s appointment, again,
as I had to be with Dad,
the earliest available was not for another full month…
maybe I will be in dire straights by then…

Anywhoo, I exited the office now mad.
Mad at myself…
mad at my crazy life…
and mad that the doctor can’t seem to see me for months at a time…

Aggravated, I got in the elevator with my nose to my phone making certain
I was putting the new date and time in correctly.

I was so preoccupied that I didn’t notice the man coming out of the
same office I had just exited,
right behind me as he entered the elevetaor with me.

I pushed the ground floor and was taken aback a bit when I realized I wasn’t alone.
I asked the gentleman which floor he needed.
He told me the ground floor.

We all know how awkward it can be with just two strangers on an elevator together…
as in what do you say, what to you do, where do you look…I put down my phone and
asked my elevator mate if he was having a good day.

“Oh yes mam I am” he said with a distinct country accent.

Here in the south, true southerners either have a deep southern drawl
or one that is what is considered more country then southern.
Much to my mother’s disdain, when she first met my husband,
who was at the time my fiancé of their first meeting,
his accent was and still is more country than was her very genteel southern intonation.

My elevator mate was wearing a green and white checked shirt, neatly tucked into his
nicely pressed blue jeans.
He was an older black man, graying throughout his neatly cut hair.
He was rather thin yet spry and was squinting in the dimly lit elevator…
all while ginning from ear to ear.

He continued…
“I don’t have to come back for 6 more months cause I just got me a good report from the doctor.”

“That’s great!” I injected, genuinely happy for him because I know all too well
about those bad reports.

“Ever since that operation when he cut on my stomach,
I’ve quit hurting and I”ve gained 10 pounds in a month’s time!
I aint scrawny no more!!!” he proudly boasted.

I told him that that was great and now he’d be able to truly enjoy his Thanksgiving.
“Oh yes mam I plan to…”

By now we were both making our way toward the parking lot.
As we exited the building, I noticed that it was a very warm late fall afternoon.
The sun was shining yet heading deep toward the west while there was a warm breeze blowing.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day” he announced more than asked…
as I respond that that indeed it was.
I added “it certainly doesnt feel very fall like since we’ve not had any fall
or winter-like weather.

“Well that’s about to change this weekend because it’s going to be cold on Sunday.”

“Really?”

I’ve not paid much attention to the weather as of late as we are in an extremely
unseasonable spell of warm weather that is actually hot and dangerously dry.

“Yes mam, but until then, you enjoy this nice weather and you have yourself a
good Thanksgiving holiday.”

“And I hope you do too….”

And with that we went our separate ways.

Suddenly I forgot that I had been mad, aggravated or feeling frustrated that
I’d wasted the better part of the day with stupidity…

Because in that elevator I had met a spry and happy reminder to the things in our lives that truly matter….and it didn’t have anything to do with missed appointments…
or maybe…
it really did…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippines 4:6

Reminders and Remembrance

“There are moments when we have real fun because, just for the moment, we don’t think about things and then–we remember–and the remembering is worse than thinking of it all the time would have been.”
― L.M. Montgomery

“What you remember saves you.”
― W.S. Merwin

DSC01700
(a collection of shells found at Orange Beach, Al / Julie Cook / 2015)

I have two small, rather faded and mostly brittle, sea shells riding
along on the console of my dash—actually along the outcropping for my car’s navigation screen.
The shells slide from one side to the other should I ever make a sudden turn or swerve.
They bother my husband.
He’s afraid they’re going to scratch the Nav’s screen.
They aren’t.
Every time he gets in my car to ride with me, he always asks the same question:
“Why do you have those shells up there?”
Followed by “They’re going to scratch the glass.”

I always answer the same. . .
“Those were two shells I found in the car when I was cleaning it out, after our long weekend trip back in September, to the beach.”
Which means they have been riding in my car now for 8 months.
Back and forth during the change of seasons, in the depths of winter’s chill. . .Halloween, Christmas, Easter—over to Atlanta, to the airport, to the mall, to the grocery store, to meetings, to the lawyer’s office, to the hospital, to the doctor’s office, to the dentist’s office, to the church, to a myriad of places to eat, to the beach again, to the home of friends, to wedding’s, to funerals, to parties, to Dad’s–
For miles and miles, and even more miles. . . those little shells have been my tiny passengers. . .

I put them on the dash as a reminder. . .

Reminding me of those more peaceful carefree moments spent simply basking in the wonderment of creation, as in my case, at the ocean’s shores.
Reminders of treasured moments when one affords oneself the luxury of enjoyment, contentment and release.
When one slows down long enough, stoping while bending over,
to pick up a small piece of Creation. . . marveling in or at something that is intriguing,
eye catching, simple, plain, pretty, interesting, unusual—pocketing the minuscule as a treasured keepsake. . .a wee reminder that nothingness, and yet everything,
can be treasured, special, sacred. . .

Reminders of a time when nothing pulled at, called upon, pressed down on, worried, frightened or troubled mind, body or soul.

It’s important that I can hold on to the reminders and the memories of such. . .

We all have similar little mementoes tucked away someplace. . .those tiny scrapes of paper, pretty little rocks, bits of glass, old buttons, frayed ribbons, tattered photos, long forgotten keys all the tiny tangible pieces of our peace, our happiness, our treasured moments of time savored and found in a long forgotten little pieces of this or that. . .

For me, many of those tiny treasures are natural items that I pick up along my journeys outward. . .
Walks along the beach, a trek into the woods, a hike in the mountains, the precarious forging of a creek or stream. . .bits and pieces, tangible particles, of the natural wonders. . .the tiny parts offered to the created by the Master Creator Himself. . .

I pocket them, holding on to them, putting them where I can see them. . .in order to recall, to remember, to reclaim, to hold on to. . .the fact that God has given me a tiny token of Himself and His wonderment, in order for me to carry, to actually touch, to feel and to hold. . .reminding me that He is greater than myself and my various little journeys to here and there—I am reminded of the one significant fact—that when life is overwhelming and I’m feeling as if I’ve reached a breaking point. . .I’m sweetly, gently reminded that He is bigger, greater, grander. . .while at the same time and most poignantly reminded that He can be both gently thoughtful and touching. . .simply reminding me always of His presence in my often frantic and manic world. . .