Monday, November 29, 2010

Variations upon a theme: Pelagius(es) versus the Moors

Pelayo of Asturias unifies sky and earth....
You will recall in our survey of Virgin Martyrs that their martyrdom often resulted from a refusal to marry what these young Christians would have considered heathens.  Saint Quiteria, Liberata, Saturnina, Pelagia....each one slain for their chastity before the pagans.

The Saintes Puelles were likewise martyred for refusing to bow before pagans.  Saint Sernin was murdered for his refusal to offer sacrifices at the pagan temples.  Defying the pagan authorities, the Puelles gathered his remains and gave him a Christian burial; for this they were beaten and exiled.  The abbé Rous makes much of the fact that the word "puelle" signifies "virgin".

This resistance of "puelles" to heathen approaches is also illustrated in the the tale of nunnery of Sant Pere de les Puel·les.  According to the legend, the nuns there were daughters of noble families who retreated to the convent to avoid arranged marriages.  One version has it that the puelles, the nuns, disfigured themselved in order to avoid being violated by Moorish invaders under Al-Mansur in 986 CE.

In this case then, the resistance is to Islam.  Certainly the diffusion of these tales not only recalls Chritianity's era of weakness and vulnerabilty under the Roman persecutions, but under the later Saracen occupation of the Iberian peninsula.  It would necessarily bring to mind the (then) more current struggles with the Muslims in the Holy Land.  (It would be interesting to see if their cults are undergoing a resurgance given the current climate of anxiety and hostility towards Islam in the face of terrorism, immigration etc.)

There is a whole genre of religious lore constructed around the crusades against the Moors in Spain.  Saint James appeared at one particularly pitched battle, leading the Christians to victory, thus earning him the epithet Santiago Matamoros (Moor-Slayer).  Notre Dame de Sabart, a Black Virgin, appeared to no less a personage as Charlemagne, preventing him from entering a death-trap set by his Muslim foes in the valley of Vicdessos.  La Virgen de Montserrat was hidden from the Moors at its current location for protection.

Let's cut over to Asturias.  The Moors had defeated the Wisigothic King Roderic in 711 at the Battle of Guadalete.  Subsequent Moorish conquest of the Iberian peninsula was both fast and thorough.  In the years following 711 a Wisigoth by the name of Pelayo came to lead the resistance.  Traditions states that in 722 Pelayo made his stand at Covadonga, where a hermit had hidden a statue of the Virgin (Our Lady of Covadonga) to protect it from the Moors, like at Montserrat.  Pelayo prayed in this cave for the help of the Virgin; in the battle that ensued, miraculous intercession is described.  The Christians were victorious and this event is cited as the beginning of the reconquista; indeed, the Kingdom of Asturias was able to maintain its autonomy for the duration of the Moorish occupation.

The first monastery and chapel at Covadonga date from the reign of King Alfonso I (739-757) and to this day the place remains an important destination for pilgrims.  What we find interesting is that in some legends associated with Pelayo, his uprising was sparked by the forced marriage of his sister to the Moorish governor Mununza:

Tradition has it that he fell in love with Pelayo's sister, Ormesinda, and that, together with Kazim, kidnapped and married her. The chronicle of Alfonsio III speaks of a "compulsory marriage", the failure of which compelled Pelayo into rebellion.

Historians speculate that this was a move on Pelayo's part to create an alliance with the new power structure and secure a preferential place among the defeated Wisigothic nobles.  Others, however, claim that Pelayo opposed the wedding and imply his armed resistance was a result of protecting his sister's virtue.  It would be useful to point out that Pelayo is the Spanish name; in English he is know as....Pelagius.  One cannot help but recall the many tales of fearless resistance to heathen advances by a young virgin named....Pelagia (please see our earlier post  for details).

Shrine of Our Lady of Covadonga
The name Covadonga comes from Latin, Cova Dominica, or "Cavern of the Lady".  So this Pelagius starts the reconquest of Spain to protect a woman's virtue, winning a battle by successfully defending a place known as the lady's cavern.  Paging Dr. Freud....

The shrine sits in a cave perched above a sheer rock face from which water pours at different spots, forming a large pool at the base.  This impressive sight of living water pouring forth from the rock seems strikingly akin to a metaphor for the miracle of life itself, like the child emerging from the mother's womb.

Living Water
It also recalls Jesus as the Water of Life and brings the following verse to mind; John 19:34:

But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

Easy to see how this could be associated with childbirth, involving as it does water and blood.  This post-crucifixion/childbirth link is intriguing.  Jesus, after all, was about to be reborn.  His crucifixion, the sacrifice, expiates us from original sin and pain in childbirth is explicitly mentioned in the Bible as punishment for Adam and Eve's sin.  Jesus and the Virgin Mary were both paths to override this malediction.  It also strikes us that Pelayo's entrance and victorious emergence from the cave in a way echoes Jesus's own resurrection; the reborn Christ becoming a handy and inspirational metaphor for the eventual rebirth of Christian Spain.

This could be developed quite a bit but somehow we figure in some ways it's already been done, more nimbly by people much more clever than we.

Finally, we'd like to venture that yet another Pelayo, Pelagius of Cordova, represents a type of masculine Virgin Martyr.  The story here is that Pelagius (c. 912-926) was left with the Caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III as a trade for another captive...a trade that never occurred.  After three years, he was offered his freedom on the condition he convert to Islam; his refusal led to his torture and susequent execution.

Yet some versions of this story aren't about his refusal to convert but his refusal to bend over.  The physical beauty of the boy and the homosexual desire of the Caliph is emphasized.  Details differ according to some versions, but in each, the boy refuses to submit, his chastity is preserved.

According to Wikipedia, "The cult of Saint Pelagius is thought to have provided spiritual energy for centuries to the Iberian Reconquista...."  This is certainly true of our Asturian Pelagius!  Pelagius of Cordova's feast day is on June 26, which doesn't necessarily correspond to those of our female Virgin Martyrs, but it is interesting that the major shrine of this Pelagius, despite the Andalusian setting of his tale, is to be found in Oviedo, capital of Asturias.  Asturias is a northern province just next to Galicia, origin of the Liberata/Quiteria cult....and where of Pelagius, instigator of the reconquest, first defeated the Moors....

Of course this tale demonizes the Moors and upholds Christian virtue, but at least one author thinks that on some levels it is a warning about same sex desire, a cautionary tale of sorts.

Whatever the sexual overtones of this story, it's not unsurprsing as a bit of propaganda that works on many levels.

Not having a snappy ending, we'll admit to not knowing where to go next and can only state our wish that you visitors, apparently numerous, would leave some comments and give your thoughts....

Friday, November 26, 2010

Wine, ass and song

Aparently, it's pretty good stuff, but wine from a chateau called the Lord of Ass may give you pause at the wine tasting....maybe Le Seigneur d'Arse is a long-lost member of  The Upper Crust.

Which is just as good an excuse as any to pop in a video of one of the best rock n' roll songs of all time:

Debloke Ayiti

I seem to remember reading some time ago that American Christians were roughly divided into equal parts Catholic, mainline Protestant and "other", this meaning evangelicals and charismatics.  Seeing as I can't find that article anymore, it's probably not worth bringing up, especially as it appears to contradict the Pew Report on America's Religious Landscape.

In any event, this kind of survey seems fraught with pitfalls and I wonder about the figures.  Can there really only be 1.6 American who consider themselves atheists, for example?

Anyway, I read an article today which makes easy categorization difficult.  Moreover, it relates to posts we made a while ago about the earhtquake in Haïti.  Both Catholic and charismatic, with elements of Voudon thrown in, this brand of Catholicism defies many preconceptions; there are hundreds of Catholic charismatic groups with  followers estimated to number in the millions worldwide.  Popes themselves have embraced it.

Interesting read:  Suffering, Haitians Turn to Charismatic Prayer.

BTW, anyone else see the pun in a report on religion being conducted by a place named pew?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Logos a-go-go

If you grew up in the eighties you may recall the rumour that the Proctor and Gamble logo was a satanic message.  After these rumours gained steam, P&G dropped the logo; back in 2008 one could still find a press release on their website specifically denying any unwholesome connection.  In 1995, a lawsuit by P&G  claimed that rival Amway used a voicemail system to inform customers that some PG profit went to satanic cults.  PG won this suit in 1997 to the tune of 19.25 million dollars.  Moral of the story:  Don't fuck with the Devil.

And then there's DARPA.  As we posted back in July, the IAO discontinued the use of their logo because it had "...become a lightning rod and is needlessly diverting time and attention from the critical tasks of executing that office's mission effectively and openly..."  This was due to the belief that the logo was a symbol of the Illuminati.

Of course, people see the Illuminati in everything from suns to torches to chevrons.  Illuminati-spotting is an ubiquitous game.  In that spirit, we present you with a few logos which have caught our eye over the past year.  We don't ascribe any sinister intent to these, to be honest.  But our minds are primed for this sort of thing and we just can't help associating these images with more esoteric symbolism.

Thales was a Greek philosopher. I suppose if there is a pantheon of Illuminist saints, he would in there:

Thales attempted to explain natural phenomena without reference to mythology and was tremendously influential in this respect. Almost all of the other pre-Socratic philosophers follow him in attempting to provide an explanation of ultimate substance, change, and the existence of the world—without reference to mythology. Those philosophers were also influential, and eventually Thales' rejection of mythological explanations became an essential idea for the scientific revolution. He was also the first to define general principles and set forth hypotheses, and as a result has been dubbed the "Father of Science".
In mathematics, Thales used geometry to solve problems such as calculating the height of pyramids and the distance of ships from the shore. He is credited with the first use of deductive reasoning applied to geometry, by deriving four corollaries to Thales' Theorem. As a result, he has been hailed as the first true mathematician and is the first known individual to whom a mathematical discovery has been attributed.

This Thales, however is a French electronic company with most of its profit coming from military contracts.  The "A" in the logo certainly evokes a stylized eye in the pyramid, ne c'est pas?  That the company is also involved in commercial satellite technology certainly adds credence to the theory that it represents an all-seeing eye in the sky.  Note to self: be on guard against the Alan Parsons Project....

Elboma Koma is a company that manufactures, installs and maintains professional refrigeration appliances.  I don't what the name means but it wouldn't sound out of place in some kind of magickal language, no?  But really, wtf?  A delta with a rerigerator in glory?  The Illuminati has gotten into the refrigeration business?  Hey, why not.  There is after all, a French company that manufactures heating appliances called about your reconciliation of opposites, hey hey!

Freemasons:  Purveyors of fine wines and ferns.

The Gruet winery is located near Truth or Consequences New Mexico.  Founded by a Frenchman from the Champagne area, they've succeeded in making award-winning and respected wines for a good price.  But when we look at their coat of arms we can't help ourselves.

While the Gruet winery coat of arms may only suggest the Square and Compasses, the town of Apopka's logo features them outright.  This is due to the Masonic history of the town, as explained by its website

The Armed Occupation Act of 1842 brought white settlers to the Apopka area. They received 160 acres if they would settle them.

These Pioneers and those that followed the Civil War from states to the north began converting the area into what it is today.

The settlement grew, attracting developers and settlers because of  the climate and the agricultural opportunities and becoming an important trading center in the 1850s. The Masons were particularly active. Orange Lodge #36 was organized in 1857, and The Lodge building, still standing on its original site at Alabama Avenue and Highway 441, was completed in 1859.

It was around this building that the town grew in the 1860s and 1870s and ultimately became the Town of Apopka City incorporated in 1882.


The City limits were measured one mile in all directions from the Masonic Lodge. The "Lodge" the oldest lodge room in continuous use in the State of Florida.

So. Make of all that what you will.  We'll keep doing double takes of infinite persistent amusement.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Patti Smith: Just Kids

The National Book Awards have an intriguing nonfiction pick for their 2010 awards: Patti Smith's "Just Kids".

Anyone read it?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When Devils Attack, or Girls Gone Wild

Here's an article from Trinidad about a weird incident in which 17 schoolgirls became ill and began acting in a way which led locals to suspect a case of demonic attack, or possession.  Environmental illness?  Mass hysteria?  Prank?  ....Demon attack?

Perhaps it's a case of  Shango revenge:  A teacher, who requested anonymity, said two weeks ago an Orisha woman came to the school and had a dispute with a member of staff. He said following the dispute, the woman threatened to deal with the school administration. 

Or maybe the old built-on-a-graveyard scenario:  Another teacher said the school was built on a burial site, but neighbours who live around the school denied that was so.

But new evidence suggests we should be looking at something other than Orishas or the angry dead.  We think authorities should bring in Squidward Tentacles for questioning.

Quiote: One girl was blabbering as if in a strange language. I could not understand what she was saying. It was sounding like ‘shebbaberbebeb shhhhee.’

What do you think, dear readers?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saintes Puelles, Part 3: Holy Virgins

Please see Les Saintes Puelles and Les Saintes Puelles 2 before continuing.

My research into the Puelles has led me to Toulouse, Mas-Saintes-Puelles and even Asturias, but the next line of inquiry practically started  in my own backyard.

St. Libérate; reliquary in the Eglise Notre Dame, Bouillac
Not long from Aucamville there is an empty field where a large and prosperous monastery once stood. The Abbey of Grandselve, or Abbaye de Notre Dame de Grandselve, is known primarily as a Cistercian abbey but was in fact established by Benedictines, in 1114. The history of this abbey would be a story unto itself. All that remains is the gatehouse; the cloister, abbey church, dormitories etc. exist only as hedges planted to give visitors an idea of the size and layout of the place. Striking if you consider that the abbey church here was once the largest Romanesque church in Europe, an honor now belonging to the St. Sernin Basilica in Toulouse.

Several items from the church are now located a few kilometers away in the village church at Bouillac; these include ornate gold and silver reliquaries, pillars and the remnants of sculpted works.

The sculptures struck me because of the iconographic elements recalling the Puelles statue at Tautavel.  These sculptures depict Mary Magdalene and Saint Anne: Magdalene is identified by her flowing hair and the jar she carries. Saint Anne is identified by her book. This symbolizes her teaching the Virgin Mary to read and is a common attribute from the Middle Ages onwards.  If you've read our previous posts, you may recall that at Tautavel our Puelles carry a book and a jar as well.

Continuing through the church, I came across a reliquary in the form of a bust: Saint Libérate.  Hold on to your hats.

According to a note at Bouillac, Libérate, aka Livrade or Liberata, was a the daughter of Catillius, the King of Galicia. The King ordered his daughter marry a pagan and she fled to Aquitaine with her twin sisters (!) Quitterie and Gemine. In Aquitaine, they had a lot of success spreading the Christian faith. Eventually, they were denounced by their father, arrested and beheaded by a Roman official by the name of Moderius.

Libérate's remains were in Sigüenza, Spain by 1082. In 1114, the year Grandselve Abbey was founded, they were said to be at the abbey. A “notable” part of her remains are now found in Mazères.

The idea of twin sisters spreading the faith in their place of refuge echoes the Puelles and the legends associated with Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The martyrdom resulting from rejecting a pagan spouse is a genre unto itself: recall if you will the Benedictine convent Sant Pere de les Puel•les in Barcelona, where legends have the young women, puelles [maidens], disfiguring themselves in order to escape being defiled by Moorish invaders. Alternate versions generalize self-mutilation as a means of escaping arranged marriages.

As we will see, this theme is repeated in several variations upon the Libérate legend originating in northern Portugal and Galicia. What we find emerging is a subset of the virgin martyr type--the precise emphasis abbé Rous placed on the legend of the Saintes Puelles (see part 2).

As it turns out, the cult of Libérate is rather secondary to that of her sister Quiteria (whose name, incidentally, comes from a title of Astarte meaning “the red one”). According to Wikipedia, Quiteria (Quitterie) was the daughter of a Galician prince. Rejecting an unwanted marriage she fled to Aire-sur-l’Adour in Gascony, where she was captured and beheaded in the Montus forest, along with her sister Liberata. Quiteria's remains are in Aire-sur-l'Adour and Libérate's are said to be contained in a 14th century sarcophagus in the church of St. Jean-Baptiste in Mazères.

English Wikipedia leaves something out. An alternate legend related in Catalan Viquipèdia states that she was the daughter of a Wisigoth king--Aeci--in Toulouse.

According to Portuguese tradition, there were nine sisters in total (nine muses?), born in Minho to the wife of a Roman military official. The mother was mortified at having so many children, like an animal, and ordered them drowned. The maid entrusted with this task secretly refused, instead bringing them to be raised by local women .

As adults, they, like Sernin, refused to worship local gods. They were brought before their father and ordered to marry. They refused and were imprisoned. They then escaped and went on to lead a guerrilla war against their father! (Shades of Jeanne d’Arc, aka la pucele....) In this version Quiteria was caught and beheaded.

Euphemia, or Eumelia, another sister, threw herself from a cliff to avoid capture.  When she fell, the rock opened and swallowed her whole; a spring immediately appeared on the spot. This idea of being swallowed by rock and a subsequent spring echoes the Galician legends around St. Jacques and legends around Saint Fris, whose cult is centered in Gascony....where much of the 9-sisters action was said to have taken place.

Other Portuguese legends have it that these sisters came from Baiona, Pontevedra. In this version Eumelia is beheaded and thrown into the sea, from whence she emerged with her head in her hands, holding dogs at bay. The first festival honoring Eumelia took place at Tui, Pontevedra in 1688. Quiteria’s cult, centered in Aire-sur-l’Adour is on the St James Way; the cult could have easily traveled back and forth between Gascony and Galicia. Her cult is thus found France, Spain, Portugal and was brought by the latter to Brazil and India.

One of the nine sisters, mentioned by name at Bouillac along with Quitterie and Libérate, is Gema, also known as Marinha or Margarida.

She has been identified/conflated with Saint Marina of Aguas Santas (119-139 CE). The details of her legend should by now be familiar; she was one of nine sisters born Baiona to the wife of Lucius Castelius Severus, the Roman governor. The mother, Calsia, ordered them drowned in the Miñor River. The servant thus entrusted, Sila, was a secret Christian and left them with several families later to be baptized by Saint Ovidus. At age 20 they were brought before their father and ordered to renounce their faith. Refusing, they were imprisoned and escaped. Where they were beheaded, a spring appeared—the Aguas Santas.

So, obviously this is a variation upon the same legend, with differing details and adapted to another location. Marina died on January 18th but her feast day is exactly seven months later on July 18th. Libérate is celebrated on July 20th, the date her relics were brought from Sigüenza to Baiona by Bernard de Sedirac, a Benedictine.

Wikipedia also has a brief entry on Saint Liberata and Saint Faustina of Como, in Italy. These sisters, holy virgins, founded the convent of Saint Margarita and died c. 580 CE. Their feast day: January 18th. Interestingly, French Wikipedia states that when Saint Quitterie was decapitated in Aire-sur-l'Adour, a bishop named Faust converted the entire town to Christianity, aided by a miracle: the decapitated head fell to the ground and a spring appeared. The virgin then took her head in her hands and placed it on a hill in the town, where her sarcophagus rests today. Elements of this story are found in that of her sister, Saint Eumelia and that of another Saint, Saturnina, whose story is clearly another version of that of the nine sisters.

The patroness of Pizzone is a holy virgin by the name of Saint Liberata. In Pizzone her feast day is on June 10th and in the Chicago area on the 8th. Other celebrations include January 11th and July 20th. In Chicago, there is a special mass and a procession in her honor: she is usually portrayed crucified. Her parents names, as well as those of her 8 sisters, confirm she is one and the same as Libérate.

Margaret the Virgin
(Margaret of Antioch) is yet another variation on the holy virgin, celebrated by Anglicans and Catholics on July 20th, just as Libérate. (Orthodox Christians celebrate her on the 17th). Margaret the Virgin was the daughter of a pagan priest who lived apart from her family because they scorned her faith. She was offered to Roman governor in marriage. Her refusal led to being tortured and beheaded in 304 CE. The Eastern Orthodox Church calls her San Marina and identifies her with Saint Pelagia.  This holy virgin leaped from a rooftop rather than suffer dishonor from soldiers, much like the “puelles” of Barcelona and Saint Eumelia. Another Pelagia, of Tarsus, refused marriage to both Diocletian and his son and was thus burnt at the stake.  Pelagia is sometimes conflated with Marina the Monk, who we will look at more closely in a minute.

Another curious conflation of the Libérate figure is Saint Wilgefortis. Her cult appeared in the 14th century. Her story begins like the others, often set in Portugal. A young noble, she was promised by her father to a pagan king. She took a vow of virginity and tried to stave off the wedding through prayer; she hoped to become repulsive and thus undesirable. Her prayers were answered in an odd way: she sprouted a beard! Her father, furious, had her crucified, like Saint Liberata of Pizzone.

Folk etymology has it that her name comes from “virgo fortis” but this is likely spurious. Her name in France and Italy is Liberata and in Sigüenza she is said to be "confused" with the sister of Saint Marina of Aguas Santas. However, her feast day of July 20th may indicate the “confusion” was widespread—her cult spanned Europe but was officially suppressed in 1969. Wilgefortis is invoked by women seeking to be liberated from abusive husbands or unhappy marriages. Not to say this isn’t a true today, but in the Middle Ages, this was undoubtedly a chronic problem.

Wilgefortis is a curious image, something like a crucified, bearded transvestite. But this theme of transvestism appears in another saint known as Marina, or Pelagia: Marina the Monk. Marina was the child of a wealthy Christian family in Lebanon. After the death of her mother, the young girl’s father wanted to enter a monastery. The girl wanted to go as well, so they came up with the idea that she should dress as a man. She spent her life as a monk, until a fateful incident at an inn. The night she and some brothers were staying at this inn, the innkeeper’s daughter and a soldier got jiggy and a few months later, her pregnancy was obvious. Confronted, the innkeeper’s daughter blamed Marina, who was expelled from the monastery and lived as a beggar at its gates. Eventually she was allowed back into the monastery, but was given all the shit work. Upon her death, it was discovered that she was in fact a woman; the innkeeper’s daughter and the soldier fessed up and the abbot was devastated by his unjust actions. Marina the monk died, incidentally on July 19th but is celebrated on February 12th.

If I may add just another variation upon the transvestite theme. You will recall that in some versions of the Quiteria/Liberata story, the sisters waged war against the pagans after escaping from captivity. Some versions of the story have the women escaping not from a Portuguese or Galician king, but a Wisigoth in Toulouse; in these, Quiteria fled to Gascony dressed as a cavalier. This may be a chicken or egg question but I find strong parallels to the story of Jeanne d'Arc. I've already noted she was called the "pucelle". As Wiktionary has it: "Old French pucele, from Late Latin pulicella ‘young girl’, a popular diminutive of puella ‘girl’."

Jeanne d'Arc, then, "la pucele" is known as a warrior, a "liberator" and much is made of both her virginity and her cross-dressing: "Joan of Arc wore men's clothes almost continually from her first attempts to reach the Dauphin, later crowned Charles VII, until her execution twenty-eight months later."

Another link is that chief among the Saints whose voices she heard was Margaret of Antioch. As we have seen, Margaret of Antioch, or the Virgin, has variously been identified at Saint Pelagia or the transvestite Margaret the Monk. Another one of her Saints was Catherine of Alexandria. Catherine was the daughter of a pagan governor and is revered as a virgin martyr. She refused to marry anyone beneath her station and eventually found one who met her standards: Christ. She was thus, as with many another example, a bride of Christ:

Saint Catherine also had a large female following, whose devotion was less likely to be expressed through pilgrimage. The importance of the virgin martyrs as the focus of devotion and models for proper feminine behavior increased during the late middle ages. Among these, St. Catherine in particular was used as an exemplar for women, a status which at times superseded her intercessory role. Both Christine de Pizan and Geoffrey de la Tour Landry point to Catherine as a paragon for young women, emphasizing her model of virginity and "wifely chastity."

St. Saturnina; Eglise de St. Saturnine, Sains-lès-Marquin (photo, echo62)
St. Sernin; Eglise St. Sernin, Merville

Finally, I came across another obscure saint by the name of Saint Saturnina, with a legend very much like what we have already seen. She was a king’s daughter and took a vow of celibacy at the age of 12. At twenty (the age if you recall, of the 9 sisters) she was forced into marriage. She escaped this unwanted marriage by fleeing to Arras in northern France. With her parent’s permission, the pagan lord chased her and upon catching up to her, attempted to rape her. She resisted and was beheaded.

Somehow, this offending noble miraculously drowned in a fountain. Saturnina then arose, carried her head in her hands (like Eumelia) to the church of St. Remi. An alternate take is that she placed her head upon a stone in Sains-lès- Marquion and declared she would be the last human sacrifice to be performed there. The tree planted on this spot allegedly still stands. Her relics were taken to Neuenheerse in Saxony and the Convent Church of St. Saturnina was built the between 1100 and 1130. Her feast day is June 4th.

Interestingly, images of Saint Saturnina have her flanked by a pair of what appear to be bulls, holding an object resembling the alabaster jar of Magdalene or even our Saintes Puelles. Her shrine contains a reliquary, flanked by two women, one of whom carries a book.  These women, as far as I can figure, are Saints Saturnina and Fortunata.  I don't know the latter's story, but Catholic Online describes her as a virgin martyr; killed in 303 CE in Ceasarea, now in modern Israel, along with three of her brothers.  I've had a difficult time finding details about her in English, but this manuscript description says: "From Caesarea in Palestine, St. Fortunata was a virgin martyr [who] surrendered her soul to God after she enduring the rack, fire, wild beasts, and other tortures in the time of the persecution of Diocletian".  It occurs to me that Diocletian reappears in many of our stories.  The Church appears to bear a grudge.

Reliquaries of Saint Saturnina and Fortunata (rear), Church of St. Saturnina, Bad-Driburg-Neuenheerse (photo, Wikimedia Commons)

Among the many questions this welter of information raises, I'd like to address but a few.

The first question is: what does all this have to do with the Saintes Puelles? First of all, the virgin martyr is a well-established type. Abbé Rous goes to great pains to establish that the very word "puelles" means in fact, just this. From the other holy virgins herein described there are important differences: there was no forced marriage and they were never executed, merely flogged and exiled.

Yet the fundamental pattern is the same. Even though the tale of the nine sisters revolves around the refusal to marry, there is another lesson in addition to preserved chastity; that is, the refusal to sully oneself by marrying a heathen. In some versions, the daughters refuse to acknowledge the pagan gods. And this is the precise "crime" of both Sernin and the Puelles. This was followed by punishment and then flight. In exile, the young women are very successful in spreading the faith.

The Saintes Pulles were also said in some cases to be sisters and some have even speculated that they were twins. Other legends have them as noblewoman and servant--from northern Spain.

If we examine the legends around the nine daughters, one is naturally inclined to wonder about the origin of these tales.  Were they based on a pre-existing pagan story and then embroidered upon in order to serve as a Christian morality tale? Was there in fact a real event so poignant in its details that it spread far and wide in various permutations? It surely reflects the social dislocation as the pagan world evolved into the Christian one and serves to illustrate and condemn the former for its barbarity.

Of course, the tale may have simply bee invented out of whole cloth by some bored monk. Although the tale of the Puelles and the 9 sisters all take place in late antiquity, mostly between the late fourth and early sixth centuries, the legends themselves first appeared much later and were diffused throughout the Romanesque and Medieval periods. They would have served to illustrate a number of spiritual values: chastity, courage, strength; they may have been used to impress young women with the virtue of abandoning the world of marriage and the world in favor of the monastic life.

The diffusion of the cult may have been communicated between monasteries, a tale told for the edification of far-flung parishes. The Benedictines reoccur in our tale; were these legends part of Benedictine culture? Their concentration in the southwest of France, from Toulouse to northern Portugal and Galicia, may indicate that the stories were communicated up and down the St. James Way. The Way itself has pre-Christian origins; the terminus at Compostela has been a gathering place for pilgrims since time immemorial. You may be aware that the south of France and the north of Spain traditionally have more in common with each other than with that with the north of France. The Visigoths had a capital at Toulouse and then Toledo; their kingdom was demarcated against the northern Franks.

This division lasted well into the Middle Ages. The culture of Languedoc had a different regard for women. Whatever didactic function they may have served, the tales certainly must have resonated among woman, whose lot in life was definitely difficult. Used since pagan times as a commodity, to be traded in marriage in order to cement alliances or consolidate territorial claims. The woman at all social levels must have been able to relate to the horrors of the forced marriage.

It is not unlikely, given the geographic concentration of the tales, that they were spread by the troubadours. The tragic fate of a woman would have certainly been an attractive theme and there are parallels between the tales and the ideals of courtly love:

That sort of history which views the early Middle Ages dominated by a prudish and patriarchal theocracy, views courtly love as a "humanist" reaction to the puritanical views of the Catholic Church.
In the language of the scholars who endorse this view, courtly love is cherished for its exaltation of femininity as an ennobling, spiritual, and moral force, in contrast to the ironclad chauvinism of the first and second estates. The condemnation of courtly love in the beginning of the 13th century by the church as heretical, is seen by these scholars as the Church's attempt to put down this "sexual rebellion."

However, other scholars note that courtly love was certainly tied to the Church's effort to civilize the crude Germanic feudal codes in the late 11th century. It has also been suggested that the prevalence of arranged marriages required other outlets for the expression of more personal occurrences of romantic love, and thus it was not in reaction to the prudery or patriarchy of the Church but to the nuptial customs of the era that courtly love arose.

In our stories, however, courtly love is like an expression of divine love; our women would be those who had symbolically "wedded themselves to Christ." They could serve as a condemnation of a barbaric social order, a valorization of chastity and a nifty bit of publicity for the nunneries.

That varieties of this tale appear throughout Europe and the Orthodox world may be a reflection of the kind of geographic mobility of the troubadours, crusaders and pilgrims along the routes to Jerusalem, Compostela and Rome. Unsurprisingly, the versions which differ the most are found farther away from the versions promulgated in Gascony and Galicia. Saturnine and Wilgefortis, for example, cults found mostly in northern France, Belgium and Germany, are clearly based upon the nine sisters, but the differences are evident in both names and in the case of Saturnine, the geographical setting. But the tale and the moral lessons are essentially the same.

It is said that a work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.  At this point I'll concur with the caveat that the abandonment is temporary.  We'll be back to this story soon enough.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ears, and/or Duh

"Ears could make better unique IDs than fingerprints" reports Wired.

Well, no shit Sherlock, we told you way back in 2006...

Though to be fair, it's probably more interesting now that we don't have to wait for your severed ear to show up like a foot on the Canadian shore, because we can shine cameras on your ear and know who you are as you walk down the street or enter a stadium or run a stop light or enter the building, or, or, or....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Attack of the 170-foot Jesus

The Polish just erected the world's tallest Jesus statue. At 170 feet, it is, incidentally, dwarfed by god knows how many massive Buddha statues (the Leshan Buddha, for example, is 233 feet tall--and more than 1,000 years old).

Not that it's a contest or anything. (Mohammad, of course, is not to be portrayed.)

Anyhow, I hope, quite sincerely, that it'll fare better than the 60 foot Jesus in Ohio that was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground.

I'm curious. What was the previously largest statue of Jesus?

My guess would be the Rio de Janeiro "Christ the Redeemer", standing 130 feet tall, which makes it the the 2nd largest art deco statue in the world.

Anyone know of a bigger Jesus than that one?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Les Saintes Puelles, Part 2: Where by reading books and visiting places we approximate something like research

The Saintes Puelles, Mas-Saintes-Puelles
For the following post to make sense, please first consult Les Saintes Puelles for background, context, etc.

When we last left the Puelles I mentioned that I had discovered a place in Asturias, Spain, named "Puelles" a few kilometers away from another called "San Saturnino"; in Asturianu these are alternately called "Pueyes" and "Sanzornin" (local signs use both appellations). Given their close proximity to the so-called "French Way" of the St. James Way, this is not surprising. Toulouse and the Basilica of San Sernin were an important stop for pilgrims on the way to Compostela; it is probable that as these pilgrims made their way towards the sacred destination, they brought the cult of both Sernin and the Puelles with them.

As it turns out, when I discovered these places I had already rented a house a mere twenty minutes away so I was thus able to visit them, snap some photos and make a few observations. Nothing particularly revelatory, but worth recounting nonetheless.

Before I made it to Spain, however, I stumbled across a reference to a book called Histoire des Saintes Puelles et de leur culte (History of the Saint Puelles and their cult) by the abbé Emile Rous, published in Perpignan in 1876. Fortunately, I was able to find this book in the Bibliotheque d'Etude et du Patrimoine in Toulouse.

So one afternoon I made my way to the reading room and consulted the book. A small and slender volume, the first half is a general examination on the origin of the cult of the saints. The second half deals with the Puelles specifically.

Rous' first objective is to clarify the meaning of the word "puelles". Citing Tertullian and St. Ambroise, he concludes that "puella" means "vierges consacrés à Dieu": virgins dedicated to God.

His next task is to recount the legend of St. Sernin (see previous post) and in this he adds a few details. Apparently, Émile Mabile, in his massive "Histoire générale de Languedoc" concludes that the antagonism which led to the martyrdom of Sernin was a conflict with worshipers of Cybele and I have elsewhere suggested Mithras. Rous disputes both. There is no concrete evidence to suggest either and so we are merely speculating based on the image of the bull. As we will see at the end of this post, one author makes a claim for Mithras with an interesting analysis, but one with which I am unequipped to concur, or refute.

Rous’ great contribution to my own understanding of the Puelles is not in recounting the legend of Sernin's martyrdom, however, but in what happened next. After caring for the body of Sernin, the Puelles were driven out of town, "ornéé" says Rous, " de la double auréole de la virginity et du martyr": "decorated with the double halo of virginity and of the martyr." They found refuge in a place called Recaudum where their faith and example made even the crops and orchards more fruitful:

"Arregant de un riu de flors
Las plantas infructuousas"

This is pretty simple: "arregar" is the Occitan verb for "to plant". My rough translation of this would be "Making a river of flowers from unfruitful plants" or words to that effect. This vegetal motif echoes many images of the Virgin Mary; there are numerous legends in which statues of Mary appear under rosebushes flowering in mid-Winter. Our Lady of Merixtell, patroness of Andorra, is one of these legends. Many other saints venerated in the Languedoc, such as Thérèse de Lisieux and Saint Germaine de Pibrac, are often pictured with flowers tumbling from their aprons. The apparition of La Virgen de Guadalupe, also involves a miracle of winter flowers.

Also worth noting is that Puelles and San Saturnino in Asturias are found in the commune of Villaviciosa, whose name implies a certain vice -- laziness -- on the part of its inhabitants; according to legend this is because the land is so productive the farmers do not need to work hard. The motif of abundant fertility rocking with the best of 'em.

In any event, much like legends of the two Marys who stayed in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer after the Magdalene left (again, see the previous Puelles post), the Puelles led such saintly and virtuous lives that they became an inspiration to those around, winning converts by their example. This is celebrated in a traditional Goig, or Catalan song:

"A l'Espos vos prestareu
Portant Coronas de flors

Como reynas victoriosas"

I'm not sure what the first line means but the rest is easy: "Wearing crowns of flowers like victorious queens". (Any help on the exact translation of the first line would be appreciated).

Upon their deaths, the Puelles were buried outside of the village in a field which was thereafter always covered in flowers. Their tomb is said to have been moved into the village now known as Mas Saintes Puelles as part of a sanctuary dedicated to St. Michael. This sanctuary was destroyed and their relics were then placed in the Parish church.

Outside of Mas Saintes Puelles, abbé Rous examines a few other places where their cult took root. The first of these is in Toulouse. Rous insists that the cult dates back to at least the 10th century, but he never actually offers any proof. His feeling is that given the antiquity of the cult of saints, it must reach back to before the written records. It is in fact a crucial question, but there is no documentary evidence prior to the 16th century.

There is a breviary in the Bibliothéque Nationale which belonged to a church official in Toulouse, dated 1553, containing liturgical rites dedicated to the Puelles. In 1537 we find the Sanctarum Puellarum, a votive mass which offers lessons for their feast day.

There is also evidence of their cult in Saint Sernin basilica dating from roughly the same period in the form of paintings and an enameled medal on Saint Sernin's reliquary.

My instinct here is that these two homages to the Puelles, so close in date, may reflect the cult of the ideal woman flourishing in Toulouse at the time, at the apex of the Tolousain Renaissance. Clémence Isaure, legendary patroness of the Floral Academy, was an invention of this period. The historical Belle Paule (1518-1610) was in the flower of her youth. The idea of Dame Tholose, the first non-religious allegorical sculpture in Toulouse since antiquity, brandishing a floral wreath, first appeared in print in 1534 and ten years later the sculpture itself was raised near the Capitole.

In the diocese of St. Papoul, evidence is even more recent. No documentary evidence exists until another Sanctarum Puellarum found in a missal from St. Papoul, a scant 17 km drive from Mas Saintes Puelles. This mass dates from 1774. Papoul, or Papulus, according to the legend, was assigned to help Sernin by none other than St. Peter himself (impossible, historically). The Benedictine abbey that bears his name dates to the 8th century, which may in fact support abbé Rous' insistence upon the antiquity of the Puelles cult. We have evidence of Romanesque sculptures of Sernin; if his disciple Papulus was honored with an abbey in his name, what then of the Puelles?

According to Rous, the name "Mas Saintes Puelles" dates from 960 CE in the testament of one Hugues de Toulouse. It is from this document learn that the burial field was covered in "white daisies" with never a weed to be found. In 1461 Archbishop of Toulouse Bernard de Rosier wrote of the reliquary of the Puelles (chasse en argent), now destroyed. According to Rous, fragments of this reliquary now rest at a place called Saint Saturnin de Caborriu. I have been unable to find this location; Caborriu is a Catalan place name, but even with the Catalan appellation "Sant Sadurni de Caborriu" I've found nothing. On the other hand, there is still a place near Mas Saintes Puelles which bears the original name of this village; Ricaud, meaning "refuge" or "shelter". Is this a later place named after the original appellation of Mas Saintes Puelles?

Near St. Papoul and Mas Saintes Puelles is the Diocese of Carcassonne; here we find another cult of the Puelles. Saint Hilaire Abbey is another Benedictine abbey founded in the 8th century, originally dedicated to Saint Sernin but changed later to honor Hilaire as the latter's cult developed.

In any event, there is a magnificent sarcophagus of the highest artistry located here, depicting the life of Saint Sernin (along with his companions, including Saint Papoul and Saint Honest, or Honestus, allegedly martyred at Pamplona and as some legends have it, baptizer of Saint Fermin). This tomb includes depictions of the Puelles and dates from c. 970.

There are other manifestations of a Puelles cult in the Diocese of Narbonne, Elne and Urgell from the late 14th and early 15th centuries: a missal from Elne dated 1511; a manuscript dated 1490-1492 of another Sanctarum Puellarum belonging to a painters guild from Narbonne. Scant findings indeed.

After Mas Saintes Puelles, the most concrete and continuous devotion to the Puelles is to be found at Tautavel. This town, whose name may mean "high spring" (as in water) has a long history. Prehistoric remains are abundant and it is home to the famous Tautavel Man. The Castle located here once held chapels dedicated to women; for all you Grail fans, one was dedicated the Mary Magdalene. Another, dedicated to the Holy Cross, prominently features an image of Saint Helen with the cross. Legend has it that the Puelles once stayed here for provisions and there is a mention of a "proedium romain" or Roman property where a sanctuary to them was founded, their cult brought by a Count of Barcelona who had been visiting his holdings in the Lauragais. References to this property are found as early as 1292 where it is called "Sentes Pudseles", but the sanctuary itself isn't referred to until 1392 and 1394, in a pair of wills. The chapel reappears in wills in both the 15th and 16th centuries.

These dioceses are the extent of Rous' discussion of the cult of the Puelles, but there may be references to them elsewhere; there are at least seven municipalities bearing his name in France as Saint Sernin. Given the variations on the name, there may be others. One of these can be found 10 k to the south of Mas Saintes Puelles.

A number of places in Catalonia are named for him as well and it is likely Puelles references are to be found.

One place Rous probably wasn't aware of is the aforementioned places in Villaviciosa. At Puelles, or Pueyes, we had little luck. A church close by was said to incorporate elements from the Church of San Sernin, but it was locked and we couldn't get a hold of anyone with keys.

Puelles, aka Pueyes, Villaviciosa
At San Saturnino, or Sanzornin, we had more luck. There we found a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The chapel was not very ornate, but tucked away in a niche was a Romanesque sculpture of Saint Sernin, identified by his bishop's crozier. The statue was in fact headless, which may be due to its age, or perhaps a victim of the Spanish Civil War.

Headless statue of St. Sernin; chapel in San Saturnino, Villaviciosa
On a small porch was a sarcophagus (used as a play kitchen by local kids!), which we were informed was found at the village spring during renovation; a much older church was located there where this spring still flows with delicious, sweet water. Nourished by bones, perhaps.

Both these places are within 10 kilometers of the Monasterio de Santa María de Valdediós, founded in 1200 by Benedictines. On this site one can find a very early Romanesque Church of remarkable stature erected as early as 892 (San Salvador de Valdediós). I don't know if there's a connection between the cult of the Puelles and the Benedictines; the monasteries of Saints Papoul and Hilaire, as you'll recall, were also founded by Benedictines. Perhaps its was links between these monasteries which brought the cult here and not, as I said earlier, pilgrims....

Soon after reading abbé Rous I bought MaryAnge Tibot's "Saintes Puelles, ou la destinée deSaturne". It's priced way too high for such a slender volume (58 pages) and I read it in the blink of an eye. She does a good job of summarizing the Sernin legend and disputing some of the assertions made by Rous. She's familiar with all the primary sources (providing me with several leads) and has spoken to a number of academics who've already explored the topic. This is the bittwersweetness of having found this book, the double-edged sword. On one hand it confirmed a lot of my own observations and put me on to a lot of things worth looking into further. On the other hand, I can't help but feel all my further explorations will be made in the shadow of what she has already done in this book.

The book has two halves. The first is a rather straight look at the legend and sources. The second delves into the alchemical and astrological symbolism of the Puelles. Not being qualified to either confirm or dispute her findings and assertions, I find that I will have to educate myself further on the topics. Her arguments seem solid enough and not flying off into completely unfounded speculation, but like I said, I'm too uninformed to say much else. I am completely skeptical of her theory that the Puelles were literally Siamese twins, based on the unusual sculpture at Tautavel (more on this in a minute). This is especially so because she relates that according to some legends, the pair represented a noble daughter of Huesca and her servant.

I had read this but didn't actually mention it in my last post, which is a big oversight within the context of my developing thesis. I have linked their iconography to that of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. According to this legend and again, I neglected this in my last post, Saint Sarah was a servant of one of the Marys, usually Mary Jacobe. Mary Jacobe, or Clopas, was held by some to be the daughter of one of Saint Anne's three husbands, making her the step-sister of the Virgin Mary.

My working theory is basically that the Puelles story and iconography derive from two traditions. The first is that of Mary Magdalene and the three Marys of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, sometime known as the myrrh-bearers because of the myrrh they carried with which to anoint Jesus' body. I believe the Puelles have been cast in the image of these myrrh-bearers and that their iconography (unguent jar, book) derives from Mary Magdalene. The relationship of mistress and servant finds an echo in the Puelles. What I found next, completely by chance, leads me to believe that the conflation of this sort would be entirely in character with Gallo-Roman Christianity, especially with regard to the second tradition: that of the virgin martyr.

St. Anne; Eglise Notre Dame, Bouillac
Mary Magdalene; Eglise Notre Dame, Bouillac
Recently I visited the site where the Abbey of Grandselve once stood. This Abbey was originally Benedictine (them again), established in 1114, but was handed over to the Cistercians in 1144 or 45. Close to the ruin, in Bouillac, some of the abbey's treasures are preserved. Among these are fragments of sculptures, from the waist up, of Saints Magdalene and Anne. They obviously come from the same ensemble and date from the 17th century, much later than our legends but not so far in time from other representations of the Puelles. In these sculptures we see the usual attributes of the Saints: Magdalene is carrying a pot for the funerary oils and Anne is carrying a book. This is rather unremarkable but together, it is a striking similarity of representations of the Puelles (as in Tautavel) and the Ghent Altarpiece (1432) depicting Mary Magdalene and the Egyptian Maria (another conflation which led Magdalene to be considered as a whore).

Also contained in Bouillac are two reliquaries dedicated to Saint Liberate, or Livrade. The daughter of a Spanish King (like one of the Puelles), she was forced to flee to escape an imposed marriage with a pagan noble. With her twin sisters Quitterie and Gemene, she came to Aquitaine, where, like the Puelles and the Saints Mary after their respective flights, had great success Christianizing the land. Livrade, like the Puelles, is revered as a virgin martyr.

These are interesting similarities, but what also strikes me is the legend behind that monastery in Barcelona also bearing the name of the Puelles. These puelles were the nuns themselves, who either fled to this nunnery to escape imposed marriages or as one version has it, disfigured themselves to avoid being taken by Moorish invaders. Resistance to heathen or escape from unwanted marriage; these are themes shared by our female saints, lending credence to the idea that they represent different aspects of the same medieval ideal. What I found out later is that MaryAnge Tibot has also written a book on....Saint Wilgefortis.

Wilgefortis is often conflated with the very same Saint Liberate; the essence of their legend is the same. What I found as I continued looking into these saints is that there are several virgin martyrs from various places which are quite obviously one and the same legend; places and details vary, but some many features overlap it's clear we are looking at the same legend.

My Puello-centric research at a standstill for the moment, I'll next present a brief survey of these virgin martyrs, beginning with Saint Livrade/Liberate and ending with a delightful coincidence: there is a virgin martyr called Saint Saturnina....