Archive for February, 2013

Is the world only a Pope away from the End? Yes, if you believe a chilling 12th-century prophecy.

Attributed to St. Malachy, an Irish archbishop canonized in 1190, the Prophecy of the Popes would date to 1139. The document predicted that there would be only 112 more popes before the Last Judgment — and Benedict XVI is 111.

The list of popes originated from a vision Malachy said he received from God when he was in Rome, reporting on his diocese to Pope Innocent II.

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The story goes that St. Malachy gave the apocalyptic list to Innocent II and that the document remained unknown in the Vatican Archives some 440 years after Malachy’s death in 1148. It was rediscovered and published by Benedictine Arnold de Wyon in 1590.

The prophecy consists of brief, cryptic phrases in Latin about each Pope. It ends with the 112th pope, named “Petrus Romanus” or “Peter the Roman.”

According to the premonition, Peter the Roman would “feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the City of the Seven Hills shall be utterly destroyed, and the awful Judge will judge the people.”

Often highly enigmatic, several prophetical announcements in the document appear to have come true.

For example, Malachy prophesied the first pope on his list would be “from a castle on the Tiber.” Celestine II, elected in 1143, was born in Toscany on the shores of the Tiber River.

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Malachy predicted another pope would be “elevated from a hermit.” Nicholas IV, pope from 1288 to 1292, had been a hermit in the monastery of Pouilles.

The 45th pope in the prophecy is described as coming “from the hell of Pregnani”. Indeed, Pope Urban VI (1378-1389) was born Domenico Prignano and came from a village near Naples called Inferno (hell).

Most scholars consider the document a 16th-century elaborate hoax. Until 1590, when the prophecy was published, the mottoes were easily derived from the pope’s family, baptismal names, native places or coats of arms.

After 1590 the epithets become much more vague. According to the Catholic Pages, “the inclusion of anti-popes would also appear to militate against the authenticity of the prophecies.”

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Yet, uncanny similarities also appear when reading the mottoes associated to modern-day popes.

For example, the 109th pope is described as “of the half of the moon.” John Paul I, elected pope in 1978, “lasted about a month, from half a moon to the next half,” the Catholic Pages noted.

As for his successor, the late Pope John Paul II, Malachy described him in Latin as “de labore solis,” meaning “of the eclipse of the sun, or from the labor of the sun.”

“John Paul II (1978-2005) was born on May 18, 1920 during a solar eclipse… His Funeral occurred on April 8, 2005 when there was a solar eclipse visible in the Americas,” the Catholic Pages wrote.

Finally, “Glory of the Olives” is the motto for Benedict XVI, the 111th pope in the list. A branch of the monastic order founded by St. Benedict is called the Olivetans.

As for the doomsday pope, one would think we are quite safe: according to church tradition, no pope can take the name Peter II.

However, one of the favorites to succeed Benedict XVI is Ghanaian Cardinal Turkson. His first name is Peter.

Image: A detail of the “Prophetia S. Malachiae Archiepiscopi, de Summis Pontificibus” by Arnold Wyon. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Picture of the Week #212

Posted: February 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

Elizabeth I costume at the Globe Theatre in London. Photo May 1998.

Sorry about the relatively poor quality of this photo – I shot it quickly! When I first visited the Globe in May 1998 and they had this display with the costume worn by an actress portraying Elizabeth I during the opening festivities the year before. The photo doesn’t do the dress justice – it was gorgeous!

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In winter of 2007, Dr. Christopher Morehart, assistant professor of anthropology at Georgia State University, was examining the dry bed of the former Lake Xaltocan as part of project on pre-Hispanic chinampa agriculture (a method that used small rectangular islands in shallow lakes to grow crops). The team first surveyed the area remotely with likely chinampas identified on satellite imagery and aerial photos. They then walked the site to collect samples and select places for further excavation only to find that looters had beaten them to the punch. The ground was disturbed and artifacts and bones scattered around. Moreheart realized that these remains had ritual significance, that they weren’t just the evidence of habitation.

The excavations that followed unearthed 31 skulls many of them discovered in lines facing east. Artifacts found included seashell pendants, greenstone beads, figurines of deities, ceramic effigies, obsidian knives, corn cobs and chile peppers, some of which were parts of incense burners. Pollen from ritually significant flowers, like from the Tagetes genus which contains the cempoalxochitl marigold, a flower that as late as the 16th century was central Mexican rituals every month of the year, was discovered on the site. The remains of pine charcoal and burned maize cobs were also found. Pine wood was probably used as kindling for the braziers and also burned as incense or for ritual torches. The maize cobs could have been burned as offerings of food.

The burned organic material was radiocarbon dated pinpointing the date of the sacrifices to between 660 and 890 A.D., during or just after the collapse of Teotihuacan. The ceramic finds support the date range. This was a period known as the Epiclassic, between the fall of Teotihuacan and the rise of smaller city-states before the Aztec empire took them all over in the 15th century.

A 2012 follow-up excavation funded by National Geographic revealed even more skulls; the numbers right now total between 150 and 200 skulls or cranial pieces making up skulls. Although large numbers of skulls deposited during ritual sacrifices have been found in pre-Hispanic temples, this is the first time a collection of sacrificial skulls has been found outside of a major religious structure in a city settlement. About 130 skulls have been assembled, cleaned and cataloged thus far. They all appear to be from adult males, some with artificial cranial deformation and incised teeth, some without. This heterogeneity is another unusual characteristic of the find.

Then there were the fingers in the eyes. Some of the skulls were discovered with phalanges of the hand inserted into the eye sockets. According to Morehart, this was unlikely to be a coincidence or the result of disruption of the burials by looters or animals. The fingers were found in enough eye sockets that they had to have been deliberately placed there for an unknown ritual purpose.

The area itself was a raised platform, a shrine constructed in the shallow lake by building up three feet of chalky material like crushed limestone. It’s highly uncharacteristic of Mesoamerican platform shrines in that it has no facing stones, adobe bricks or masonry elements. It’s also in the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking, about 10 miles from the pre-Aztec city-state of Teotihuacan. Yet, if the numbers hold up, this minor bump on the landscape in the middle of a farming community may be one of the largest mass sacrifice sites ever discovered.

Its rural location and agricultural surroundings may explain the nature of the shrine. Carvings of Tlaloc, god of rain and water, the sacrifice of maize, the ceramic maize cobs and chiles suggest the sacrifices were in aid of local farming. On the other hand, human sacrifice in Mesoamerica was usually linked to warfare and the expression of state power. Perhaps the uncertainty and chaos in the wake of the decline of the great regional power and the long period of drought that kept lake waters low drove rural peoples to devise new rituals.

Arizona State University Dr. Michael E. Smith, who was not involved in the project, said “this is certainly an impressive and very puzzling find,” adding, “I am not aware of any other finds of mass burials or mass sacrifices outside of major settlements.” […]

Smith said it is possible that, as archaeologists start excavating more ancient farm sites, they might discover more evidence of large-scale rural sacrifices. “Very few rural areas or rural shrines have ever been located, so it is hard to say that this site represents an unusual find. It certainly is unusual for being the first such feature excavated by archaeologists, but it is possible that such shrines were more common in ancient times; we simply have no idea.”

Pictures of the skulls have not been officially released out of respect for the current inhabitants of the region, but you can see some small black and white images of them in the paper published on the 2007 excavation.

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If my recent experience is representative–and we’re going to pretend for the sake of this post that it is–* whenever something’s gone all rotten in your personal or professional life, trust that you will soon be flush with horse enthusiasts bent on getting you “back on”.

Were the next panel of the marginal monkey below’s life extant, it’d almost certainly feature his monkey pals assuring him that, really, recent setbacks** notwithstanding, horsetop is the way to go:

As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you don’t even think about making lemonade until you’ve gotten a good horse ride in, mister.*** But my recent (representative by authorial fiat) experience has given me reason to suspect that the standard equine-mounting advice leaves a couple of important things out. Most importantly, horses are jerks. Sometimes they don’t want you back on them. Medieval manuscript illuminators knew this:

And again:

And once more, with feeling:

Fortunately, medieval illuminators provide us with a third option.

Sometimes, it’s best to forgo the horse entirely, sever your head, attach it to the tail of a fire-breathing dragon, and go wreak fiery vengeance on the horse-obsessed. Let them see how easy it is to get back on the horse when both they and the horse have been reduced to smoldering piles of ash!

  1. * Em Dash–when you’re too lazy to format a footnote. []
  2. ** And that he’s still being drug behind said horse by the stirrup. []
  3. *** Also, never run after buses, because there are plenty of fish in the sea, but you can only catch them from horseback with lemons as bait. []

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WWI mines found on Welsh Beach

Posted: February 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Upcoming books for February 2013

Posted: February 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

Just books this month! The first one is technically a re-release, but has been expanded and revised to include new information from the Greyfriars dig. I don’t have information yet on a US re-lease, but I’ll update the post when … Continue reading → Read story

Today in the geekier parts of the blagosphere, an interesting Quora query quends trends: “What are the optimal siege tactics for taking Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle?” As it so happens, the Breviary of Renaud de Bar* provides the answer: In case you’re reading this from 1996 and have images turned off for quicker browsing, the […] Read story

A certain King, says Krilof, could not make up his mind as to whether knowledge and science produce more good or harm. He consulted diverse learned … Read story

Picture of the Week #211

Posted: February 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

St. Gredifael’s Church, near Penmynydd, Wales. Photo May 2000.

Penmynydd is on the Isle of Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales. The area is ancenstral land of the Tudors and the great-great aunt and uncle of Henry VII are buried at the church.

When it comes to admiring old houses, I tend to favor rustic, 200-year old post & beam structures.  Yet some of my favorite historic houses are much more modern:  Craftsman-style bungalows.  This article will highlight the history & characteristics of this beautiful architectural style. The Craftsman style was popular from about 1905 until the Great […] Read story