Archive | July, 2010

Addressing Galileo, again

July 30, 2010



CNS photo/Marco Bucco, Reuters

One of my favorite Catholic blogs is “The Word on Fire,” created by Father Robert Barron. In one of the latest posts, Robert Mixa, a WOF research assistant, responds to a recent article in The New York Times that illustrates the often-misunderstood relationship between faith and science.

Mixa’s post is a good rebuttal and a good summary about what the church really teaches.

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Hunting for Masqueray

July 28, 2010


Cathedral of St. Paul

Next year we’ll be celebrating Emmanuel Louis Masqueray‘s 150th birthday — at least, we should be.

He’s responsible for some seriously notable midwest ecclesiastical architecture. The man designed the Cathedral of St. Paul; the Basilica of St. Mary; St. Louis King of France; the Thomas Aquinas Chapel at the University of St. Thomas and the university’s Ireland Hall; Keane Hall at Loras College in Dubuque, IA; Holy Redeemer in Marshall, MN; St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls, SD;  and Immaculate Conception in Wichita, Kan., — just to name a few.

Yet, he’s, at best, a footnote in the tomes of American architects.

And I cannot figure out why.

I’m pursuing a master’s degree in Art History from the aforementioned University of St. Thomas, and my thesis focuses on Archbishop John Ireland‘s patronage of the Cathedral and the Basilica. This includes the choice of Masqueray as the architect and his Ecole des Beaux Arts-influenced design.

But digging stuff up on the man is proving frustrating. Apparently, Masqueray and Ireland were in personal contact almost daily, so little written communication between the men existed. And I’ve heard rumors that there once WAS an archive of Masqueray’s papers held by the Catholic Historical Society of St. Paul, but they have mysteriously disappeared.

To  make matters worse, efforts to locate Eric Hansen, the author of The Cathedral of St. Paul: An Architectural Biography, which  the Cathedral published in 1990, have also failed (trust me, the Cathedral’s tried). Hansen may be the only one who can give me  more insight into an intriguing fact he added to the first page in his book: That Archbishop Ireland kept scrapbooks with ideas for a Cathedral long  before he actually commissioned it.

FASCINATING! Now, where the heck are they?

They’re NOT in the Cathedral archives, or the archdiocesan archives — at least not obviously. I spent an hour last week going through five boxes absolutely crammed with Ireland’s scrapbooks. He kept newspaper clippings on every topic of importance to him — the Catholic church in America, the temperance movement, the current pope, the church in the Philippines, the  plight of Irish immigrants — and they’re absolutely incredible. With each box I opened and each book I wedged out, I deeply hoped I would open the pages to a clipped photo of an old French church or the Baltimore Cathedral. And with each turn of the page I grew more and more disappointed.

I know research shouldn’t be easy, but dead-ends are getting a bit old.

Somewhere out there, somebody has seen these scrapbooks, and someone else knows where Masqueray’s letters are. I’m counting on Providence to make our paths cross.

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Builder of first church in St. Paul had no easy life

July 27, 2010


Galtier biography cover

“Lucien Galtier — Pioneer Priest,”

by Marianne Luban

Minnesota history buffs, and especially Minnesota Catholic history enthusiasts, will appreciate the research that author Marianne Luban has gathered for this first biography of the priest who built the very first log church in St. Paul.

A street, a school, a plaza, an apartment tower and a handful of other entities in the Minnesota capital bear the name Galtier and pay homage to the interesting French missionary who saw a promising future for a bend in the Mississippi River and had the wisdom to force the former Pig’s Eye Landing to be renamed after the great Apostle to the Gentiles.

Father Lucien Galtier’s letters are the major source for this story, along with the letters of the pioneer bishops and priests who established the church in the Upper Midwest and historical records of the dioceses in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Luban does an excellent job of getting across this tale of hardship and suffering, and her research gives new insight into the iconic figure whose name lives on long after his death in 1866 at the age of 54.

The French missionaries arrived in the New World zealous to convert the “barbarian” native people to Christianity, and they suffered greatly in their efforts. Luban helps us see Galtier as a somewhat different missionary:

“Galtier clearly did not view himself as an expendable sacrifice to the cause. He was a man who knew his own worth and became troubled when he thought his talents were being wasted. He did not shrink from his duty, as he saw it, but preferred to do it with a modicum of dignity. Comfort, of course, was out of the question, but the sheer deprivation Galtier face year after year seemed to him in aid of nothing but the breaking of the spirit.”

A complex man

The bulk of Galtier’s letters, then, are complaints to his bishop — nagging, whining and demanding. But Luban helps us see another side of the missionary through other sources.  The priest is said to have had a remarkable personality and power — “the face of a Caesar and the heart of a Madonna” — a strong, rich singing voice. And he was a workaholic.

We learn that although Father Lucien was sent to Minnesota to convert the Indians, he struggled with the Sioux language, and found that he preferred ministering to those who were already committed Catholics. Sent to build a church in Keokuk, Iowa, he took over an old house, “covered part of the back room, made a door, placed a small window, laid out a wood floor and plastered a little,” he wrote to Bishop Mathias Loras in Dubuque, but as was his want, he added:

“I don’t want to be all the time a plasterer, a carpenter, a cook, and others, but only a priest, a holy priest, and a priest a little more involved than in Keokuk.”

As interesting as the reading is and as informative as it is about the pioneer church in the mid-19th century, the material has the potential to be a much more.

What if…

First, the work needed a stronger editor and proofreader. There is a bad typo that moves an action inexplicably from 1843 to 1943. Also, no professional editor would have allowed an author to acknowledge that she asked an astrologer to come up with a personality profile of her subject.

No editor worth his or her salt would have allowed the text to go off on so many tangents.

Time after time Galtier’s biography wanders, sidetracked by anecdotes about other priests of the era. A good example is the tale about the  priest who shot one of the early bishops of Winona, MN. It’s as if in her research the author came across some juicy tidbit and couldn’t resist putting it in the book that was ostensibly a biography of just one priest.

Second, this really is good material — great research — but I couldn’t help but wonder how much impact it might have if done in another literary genre. Rather than the biography of one priest, the captivating stories of the lives of several priests who served the Upper Midwest in pioneer times would make an interesting and very readable historical novel.

Because Galtier wrote no autobiography, Luban has been led to make assumptions about him. That’s fodder more for a work of fiction, not biography. Second use of the material? — bz

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Dead Sea Scrolls mystery solved?

July 26, 2010



A scroll fragment from the Book of Psalms on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota. (Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit)

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota has been one of the hottest tickets in town. One aspect of the exhibit touted by organizers is that it allows visitors to draw their own conclusions about a few lingering mysteries: Who wrote the scrolls? And, where were they written?

Many scholars have concluded the scrolls were authored by members of the Qumran community near the Dead Sea caves where the 2,000-year-old texts were discovered. Others believe they were written elsewhere and hidden in the caves by Jews fleeing Jerusalem prior to the Romans destroying the Temple in A.D. 70.

A group of researchers in Italy recently weighed in on the controversy, revealing that high-tech analysis of a sample of the 28-foot-long Temple Scroll shows that the animal skin on which it is written likely originated in the Qumran area.

The researchers used a technique called “X-ray and particle-induced X-ray emission” and a particle accelerator to analyze small fragments of the scroll.

“Basically, we concentrated on water. Like most of the other parchments, the Temple Scroll was made from animal skin, thus its production required extensive washing. Our goal was to compare and possibly find a match between the chemistry of the scroll and the very peculiar chemistry of the water from the area where the parchments were found,” physicist Giuseppe Pappalardo told Discovery News.

X-rays emitted by the scroll samples showed they contained chlorine, and that the ratio of chlorine to bromine was about three times higher than normally found in seawater, the story noted. The scientists concluded the scroll could have been made using the very salty Dead Sea water.

The study, while insightful, isn’t definitive: The researchers’ theory will need to be tested further. And, if they are correct, it still only proves that the parchment likely originated near the Dead Sea; the actual writing could have been done elsewhere. The ink will also need to be analyzed.

The researchers’ findings are something to ponder while you look at the Old Testament and non-biblical fragments on display in St. Paul. The exhibit runs through Oct. 24 and includes an overview of other scientific analyses the scrolls have undergone since their discovery, including carbon-14 dating.

For more information about the exhibit, call (651) 221-9444 or visit the museum’s website.

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Pollution may halt Jordan River baptisms

July 23, 2010

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A visitor dips his hand into the water of the Jordan River — where it is said St. John baptized Jesus — about 30 miles west of Amman, Jordan. (CNS photo / Greg Tarczynski)

Jesus waded into the Jordan River to be baptized. But an environmental group is warning tourists and pilgrims not to follow in his footsteps.

Friends of the Earth Middle East called on local authorities this week to close a baptism site on the lower Jordan River until its polluted waters can be cleaned up.

“Sadly, the lower Jordan River has long suffered from severe mismanagement with the diversion of 98 percent of its fresh water by Israel, Syria and Jordan and the discharge of untreated sewage, agricultural run-off, saline water and fish pond effluent in its place,” the statement said, according to Discovery News.

The Israeli health ministry has not made a decision yet about whether to continue to allow people to enter the water at the site, located near the West Bank city of Jericho, added a report in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

Some believe the site is where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, although Jordan claims a rival location on the river’s east bank as the true site. The Vatican, for its part, has always downplayed such competition, noting that John baptized people throughout the river valley, not just in one place.

Last May, FoEME issued a study warning that the river has lost more than 50 percent of its biodiversity and could go dry by the end of 2011 if no action is taken. The study highlighted the need for regional authorities to develop plans to return fresh water to the river, which holds special significance for Christians, Jews and Muslims.

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A unique view of Raphael’s only tapestries

July 20, 2010



Onlookers get a good view of Raphael's tapestries and cartoons, reunited with each other and their intended space. (CNS)

As long as we’re on an Italian kick, I thought I’d throw one more in with your spaghetti and meatballs. Any of you traveling to Rome  in the near future have a chance for a visual treat — Raphael’s only tapestry series and its preparatory drawings will be displayed side-by-side in the Sistine Chapel, the site for which the tapestries were made. London’s Victoria and Albert Museum will also hang companion tapestries and cartoons in the same way.

For a historian, this is totally sweet.

Most artists don’t intend their preparatory drawings, known as “cartoons,”  to be art objects. Think of them as sketches, oftentimes very good ones, to guide the artist — or, more likely, his apprentices or workshop  artists — toward the artist’s final vision. Raphael didn’t weave these himself; rather, he created the drawing, which the Flemish weavers followed.

However, over the years, surviving cartoons have become important in their own right. They indicate an artist’s original thought and reveal change to the plan as the actual artpiece is executed. They serve as a record for otherwise lost or destroyed works.

According to Mark Evans, senior curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum, as quoted by CNS’ Carol Glatz:

Reuniting the two halves will help people “contrast the two designs” and help them “understand how (Raphael’s designs) matured, developed and were finalized over time,” he said.

More from the story:

Because the designs would be sent off to famed tapestry artisans in Belgium, Raphael had to color them exactly like a painting so weavers would know what precise hues to use. That unique kind of detail meant the cartoons eventually became prized works of art in and of themselves.

Once in the hands of Flemish weavers at Pieter Van Aelst’s workshop in Brussels, the cartoons were cut into strips. They were copied and woven from behind so the cartoon displays the reverse image of what’s on the tapestry’s front.

Flemish weavers were highly regarded artists and had no qualms about “improving” Raphael’s designs, said Evans.

For example with the design, “Feed My Sheep,” the weavers did not like having Jesus wear a plain white robe as Raphael had indicated, so they embellished the robe with gold stars, said Evans. They also did not think Peter should be wearing blue and yellow, so they made his garment a rich red, which was considered a much more regal and sumptuous color, he said.

The tapestries cost 1,600 gold ducats a piece — an enormous amount of money because of intense labor involved and the expensive materials used like real gold and silver thread. The total cost for the 10 designs and tapestries were five times the amount Michelangelo was paid for decorating the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Read the whole thing here. It includes some fascinating history about their commissioning by Pope Leo X and their history after their completion, which includes multiple thefts and owners.

Again from the story:

Coinciding with Pope Benedict’s visit to England in September, the exhibit is meant to be a visible sign of the coming together of the two countries’ common cultural heritage, said Arnold Nesselrath, director of the Vatican Museums’ Byzantine, medieval and modern collections.

Seeing the cartoons alongside the final product is considered to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, he said; “it was something not even Raphael ever got to see.”

Worth a plane ticket over the pond? I think so.

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Best book you’ll read this summer has a quirky title

July 20, 2010



“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,”

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A delightful read for any time of year, this New York Times #1 bestseller is a perfect summer treat now that it’s out in paperback.

The use of a string of letters to tell the story doesn’t even seem like a gimmick once Shaffer and Barrows pull you into this gem.

In the novel, Juliet Ashton is a journalist and author who finds herself intrigued by a request she receives in the mail from a resident of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between France and England.

The setting is just a year after the end of World War II. Guernsey’s inhabitants had endured four years of occupation by the forces of the Third Reich, and woven through the novel is their telling what life was like as British citizens under German military rule.

Telling the story – all through “the post,” at Brits call the mail – are the members of the book club with the odd name, as cleverly drawn a group of characters as have ever won over your heart.

Not to give away the story, but there’s a bit of romance involved, a bit of drama, some must-turn-the-page excitement, but in a genteel, well-mannered, earlier-generations sort of way.

In the Dial Press small paperback version I picked up, this wonderful story is told in just 274 pages.

A yardstick I’ve come to use as my standard for good reading is if I don’t want a book to end. Suffice it to say that 274 pages were hardly enough. What a great work of literature. — bz

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The joys of bike riding

July 19, 2010


Recently, I thought back to my college years and how often I rode my bike to work and school. I loved it, especially on those occasions when I would ride home from work after dark. It was exhilirating.

Those reflections came while riding a bike once again, this time, with my 8-year-old daughter, Claire. She squealed with delight as we left our home last night to venture on a 3 1/2-mile loop we started riding last week.

My wife and I had bought nice bikes several years ago with the intention of going on bike rides as a family. We went a few times, then quit. The bikes were gathering dust in the garage before Claire asked me earlier this summer to take her on a bike ride.

We pedaled to Dairy Queen on Snelling Avenue, where we rewarded ourselves with ice cream cones. My No. 3 son, William, came, too. Then, last week, Claire asked me to take her out again. So, we took to the streets near our home and made a loop. At the end, she asked if we could go every night. I said we could try.

So, every day since, she has asked to go. We haven’t made it every time, but we have gone often enough to start solidifying the routine. In all honesty, I’m glad we’re doing it. The rides are bringing back the joy of biking I had almost 30 years ago.

I can thank Claire for that. Seeing her enthusiasm, I can’t help but enjoy it. We have some big ideas for a future ride. I told her about the Cannon Valley Trail near Red Wing and said I’d like to take her there. She asks me about it almost every day. My goal is to do it either later this summer or in the fall.

This has become a way for Claire and I to connect. It is just her and I, which I hope will help build a strong relationship between us. I hope we can have many years of biking together. Right now, she works hard to keep up with me. Someday, I told her, I’ll struggle to keep up with her.

That day will come faster than we think.

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Where are the big bass?

July 16, 2010


I headed to the Minneapolis City lakes yesterday with my son, Joe, hoping for some encounters with big bass. Usually, the lunkers start biting by mid July.

I figured, with the early spring and warm weather we’ve had this month, the bass would be right on schedule, if not early. Unfortunately, that was not the case. We spent all of our time on Cedar Lake, and the biggest fish I caught was only 15 inches, which is small for this lake.

I’m not sure why we didn’t catch any big ones. Maybe, the severe storm the day before had something to do with it. At least, the little ones seemed eager to hit our plastic worms. It shouldn’t be long before the big ones set up on the deep weedlines, where they’ll remain for the rest of the summer.

On the other hand, maybe it’s an off year for Cedar. It has happened before. Like last year. The fishing was horrible all summer. My friend caught an 18-incher on the Fourth of July and that was the biggest one of the year on that lake. I caught an 18-incher on Lake Calhoun later, which was the biggest for that lake as well.

But, I blame the slow fishing of last year on the weather. We had a cold July and a cold August, so the water never got warm enough for the bass to go deep. They stayed shallow and were scattered all summer. What’s more, they didn’t bite aggressively like they often do during the summer.

I’m not sure if I’ll go back out on Cedar again this year. Maybe, in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Lake Calhoun should be a good bet. This lake has consistently produced nice bass for me over the last several years. It’s loaded with structure and there are lots of fish all over. You have to fish a little deep — like 14 or 15 feet — but, it’s no problem once you get used to it. The fish often hang out in schools and, if you find a school of actively feeding fish, get ready for a bonanza!

I’m hoping that will happen yet this summer. The steady heat we’ve been having should drive the fish deeper in search of warmer water. Once that happens, the action should get much better.

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Are Stieg Larsson’s novels really that good?

July 12, 2010


I’m behind the curve in getting to Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, but with beach time on vacation last week I finally got around to reading “The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo.”

It’s a page-turner, for sure, with unique story lines and original characters, pretty bloody and sexually wierd, demented in fact, promiscuous assuredly. But I had to keep reading, if only to see if my guesses to solve the mystery were on target.

Although I’ve read better books, on a 10-point scale the first book in the series is probably an 8. That’s better than average, and must have been because I went out and picked up book No. 2 — and the current bestseller — “The Girl Who Played With Fire.”

I’d love to know what others who’ve read any of Larsson’s works think.

One question that has popped up in book No. 1 and already in book No. 2 that I’m not even 100 pages into: Do the main characters have to have sex with everyone they meet? Like right away, too? — bz

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