Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

God and Man

The student can never be better than the teacher. Words I remember from my childhood. Those words echoed in my brain a valuable lesson of not trying to reach beyond my boundaries. There is another saying though, that power corrupts and it is my belief that the ultimate corruption is not the bending and twisting of rules and laws to become a beneficiary of those perversions.

The most extreme case of valorousness and sheer gull is when men try to achieve divine status while still a mortal being on earth. David Koresh was one of this beings who believed he was actually a prophet whose destiny would be fathering the “Chosen One”. While he was born Vernon Howell, he changed his name to David Koresh in which he claimed direct lineage to King David and the Persian King Cyrus the Great. He became his own self-proclaimed messianic figure.

David Koresh is just one of many figures in our history that wanted to be more than human so they turned themselves into their own conceptualized divine incarnate. Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Marshall Applewhite and a host of others have all claimed to be Jesus or a religious prophet. From early in our history we have voiced a special bond with whatever being we thought created the universe and ourselves. Perhaps the most famous example of this bond is the Apotheosis of George Washington. The painting can be seen in the US Capitol building in which it depicts Washington becoming a God and sitting on a throne among of Roman Gods like Minerva, Columbia and Neptune.

Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs also claimed a special connection between God and themselves. They would claim God gave them birth rights ordinary men and women did not have. The Romans and Greeks were no different.  The burden of proof was rarely questioned in times of prosperity and wealth. What I believe gave them immeasurable malice and confidence is that God in their eyes looked and behaved just like them.There are several examples of God becoming angry in the Bible. Kings 11:9 God becomes angry with Solomon, Exodus 4:14 God becomes angry at Moses, and Balaam.

We even refer to God in gender specific terms. He, Him, His are always the terms we use to externalize God. We humanize God and in turn subconsciously make it possible to ascend to divinity ourselves. Our belief is arrogance and ego driven at best. We can’t become God simultaneously while trying to trace the steps of creation. Instead of trying to understand we want to conquer. We’d rather rule over the world than merely participate in the fabric of its ecosystem.

The reason mankind wants to rule over the universe is because that is the example we perceive to be followed. Since God rules the universe we must in turn rule the space in which we exist. Not every culture believed that space and time has a supervisor. In ancient African cultures the reality is that God is in everything and everything in the world, good, evil and all in between represents God in its self. In other words God isn’t the overseer of the universe, they are one and the same.


Image of the Week: St. Maurice, a Roman soldier of African origin, is depicted as the patron saint of the empire.

Posted: Jan. 21 2014 1:00 AM

Christoph Kapup, St. Maurice, 1595-97. Alabaster, 89 cm.




This image is part of a weekly series that The Root is presenting in conjunction with the Image of the Black in Western Art Archive at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute, part of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.


One of the most imposing sculptural monuments to the great black warrior-saint Maurice is found, not surprisingly, at the chief place of his veneration. Less expected, though, is the persistence of this august figure at a time when his traditional significance was undergoing a radical change.

The stirring characterization of the saint seen here forms an integral part of a magnificent pulpit adorned with carved alabaster reliefs. An architectural complex in itself, this brilliant ensemble is set within the immense space of Magdeburg cathedral, one of the great architectural landmarks of Germany. Its winding structure accommodates the massive vertical form of a stone pier in the nave of the church toward the choir.

Christoph Kapup, a highly talented but relatively little-studied representative of the German late Renaissance, carved the impressive structure between 1595 and 1597. His somewhat mannered style, characterized by an engaging play between ornament and content, typified much of European art produced just before the exuberant forms of Baroque expression revolutionized artistic expression across the continent.

The complex imagery of the pulpit presents a visual exposition on sin and salvation. Its balustrade is adorned with four large reliefs, each about one meter high, of principal figures of the Christian faith. From the left, John the Baptist represents the imminent appearance of Christ, who appears as the divine Redeemer on the next panel. The two following reliefs represent the patron saints of the cathedral, Saints Maurice and Catherine. The pulpit is roofed by an ornate structure surmounted by a double-headed eagle, symbol of the Holy Roman Empire.

St. Maurice, a Roman soldier of African origin said to have been martyred during the late third century at the Swiss town that bears his name today, is depicted with the accoutrements characterizing him as the patron saint of the empire. He holds a flag bearing the Christian cross and a shield emblazoned, once again, with the double-headed imperial eagle. These insignia had become an established part of the saint’s imagery at Magdeburg. A key trading city located in the Eastern German province of Saxony-Anhalt, Magdeburg had served as a rallying point of imperial interests since the time of Otto I in the 10th century. The most tangible manifestation of the emperor’s ambition for political power and expansion took the form of a religious cult dedicated to the saint. From its origin at Magdeburg, his veneration soon spread to other centers such as Prague. In a remarkable act of political and cultural self-identification, the imperial aspiration of a universal Christian realm became embodied in the figure of St. Maurice.

The better known 13th-century stone statue of St. Maurice, now located in the choir of the cathedral, represents a key shift in the representation of the saint. In this work of the high medieval period, Maurice is represented for the first time, as far as is known, as black. In many of the several hundred subsequent representations of the saint created during the medieval and Renaissance periods, Maurice is also shown with distinctively black features. The reason for this unusual, and wholly positive reference to an African figure has never been fully established, but his foreign aspect is usually taken as a symbol of imperial dominion over the whole Earth and its many peoples.

Kapup’s image of St. Maurice is part of a long tradition of the saint’s representation as co-patron of the cathedral. As a result of the tumultuous political and religious events of the 16th century, however, the relevance of Maurice within the spiritual consciousness of Northern Europe was profoundly altered. His figure on the pulpit stands at the crossroads between a fervently desired Christian ordinance of the world and the more quixotic nature of political reality.

The high point of the importance of St. Maurice within imperial politics and religion was reached in the early 16th century, during the tenure of Prince-Archbishop Albert of Brandenburg. Albert promoted the cult of Maurice to such a fervent extent that the finances of the archbishopric became dangerously strained. The means of payment for his grand display of devotion in part involved official practices severely criticized by reformers such as the young monk Martin Luther. Albert soon found himself in a fierce, ongoing struggle against forces both financial and ideological. Ultimately he was forced to resign his post as archbishop as the Protestant Reformation took hold around him. After his death in 1546, Magdeburg cathedral remained closed for more than 20 years.

When the cathedral was reopened in 1567, the chapter, or governing body of the church, was no longer a Catholic authority, but was constituted instead by a majority of Lutheran clergymen. Kapup’s image of St. Maurice, therefore, was created at a very different period in the history of the archbishopric of Magdeburg. The city and its territory were no longer ruled by the religious authority of the prince-archbishop, but rather by a lay administrator.

The theological meaning of the pulpit reflects the significant changes brought about by the advent of the Lutheran faith, including the notion of sainthood itself. As a result, while the external image of St. Maurice remained unchanged, his former relevance as a divine intercessor and symbol of imperial authority were greatly diminished. The cathedral remained dedicated to St. Maurice and St. Catherine, as Lutheranism did not expressly reject their established place in heaven. As titular patrons of the cathedral, however, they are brought closer to the general community of the Christian faithful. They are honored, but not truly venerated; that is, they are not regarded as intercessors mediating between the faithful and Christ.

The relationship of St. Maurice at Magdeburg to the imperial cause also underwent substantial changes due to the political turmoil caused by the Reformation. His relevance as the symbol of a universal Christian empire was largely mooted when Emperor Charles V abandoned this goal during the 1550s. Still, the noble bearing of Kapup’s figure of St. Maurice, as well as his inclusion in a newly configured body of saints, makes the dismissal of his former status as a mere “trademark,” a shadow of its former self, hard to accept. Today, his example of selfless sacrifice and achievement of great prominence in a foreign land can be related to the even loftier goals of universal peace and acceptance among all people of the world.

The Image of the Black in Western Art Archive resides at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute, part of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. The founding director of the Hutchins Center is Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is also The Root’s editor-in-chief. The archive and Harvard University Press collaborated to create The Image of the Black in Western Art book series, eight volumes of which were edited by Gates and David Bindman and published by Harvard University Press. Text for each Image of the Week is written by Sheldon Cheek

St. Valerius at rest in in Weyarn, Germany

When archaeologists unlocked the catacombs of Rome in 1578, they unleashed a wave of religious fervor. Catholic officials disinterred skeletal remains, which they assumed to be early Christian martyrs, and had artisans reassemble them. Encrusted with gold and jewels, the skeletons then went on display in lavish shrines across Europe to convey the glory that awaited the Church’s devout followers in the afterlife. But by the early 19th century their saintly authenticity came into question and, in a dramatic reversal of fortune, many of the relics were hidden from view or destroyed.

Photographer and author Paul Koudounaris gained unprecedented access to these so-called “catacomb saints” for his new book Heavenly Bodies. Many had never been photographed for publication before. Revered as spiritual objects and then reviled as a source of embarrassment for the Church, their uneven history is marked by one constant: a mysterious, if unsettling, beauty. “I wanted to pursue this project to provide a new context for them,” Koudounaris says, “and to look at them not as failed devotional items, but instead as fine objects of art.

Interview by William Lee Adams

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A fresco is pictured inside the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome


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ROME (Reuters) – Proponents of a female priesthood say frescoes in the newly restored Catacombs of Priscilla prove there were women priests in early Christianity. The Vatican says such assertions are sensationalist “fairy tales”.

The catacombs, on Rome’s Via Salaria, have been fully reopened after a five-year project that included laser technology to clean some of the ancient frescoes and a new museum to house restored marble fragments of sarcophagi.

Art lovers and the curious around the world who cannot get to Rome can join the debate by using a virtual visit to the underground labyrinth by Google Maps, a first-time venture mixing antiquity and modern high technology.

Built as Christian burial sites between the second and fifth centuries and meandering underground for 13 km (8 miles) over several levels, the Catacombs of Priscilla contain frescoes of women that have provoked academic debate for many years.

One, in a room called the “Cubiculum of the Veiled Woman,” shows a woman whose arms are outstretched like those of a priest saying Mass. She wears what the catacombs’ Italian website calls “a rich liturgical garment”. The word “liturgical” does not appear in the English version.

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A fresco is pictured inside the catacomb of Priscilla …

A fresco is pictured inside the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi

She also wears what appears to be a stole, a vestment worn by priests. Another fresco, in a room known as “The Greek Chapel,” shows a group of women sitting around a table, their arms outstretched like those of priests celebrating Mass.

Organizations promoting a female priesthood, such as the Women’s Ordination Conference and the Association of Roman Catholic Woman Priests, have pointed to these ancient scenes as evidence of a female priesthood in the early Church.

But the Vatican contests these interpretations which have also appeared in books on women in Christianity, such as the “The Word According to Eve” published in 1998.


“This is an elaboration that has no foundation in reality,” Barbara Mazzei of the Pontifical Commission on Sacred Archaeology told Reuters at the presentation of the restoration on Tuesday.

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A view shows the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome

A view shows the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi

“This is a fairy tale, a legend,” said Professor Fabrizio Bisconti, superintendent of religious heritage archaeological sites owned by the Vatican, including numerous catacombs scattered around Rome.

He said such interpretations were “sensationalist and absolutely not reliable”.

Bisconti said the fresco of the woman in a gesture of priest-like prayer was “a depiction of a deceased person now in paradise,” and that the women sitting at the table were taking part in a “funeral banquet” and not a Eucharistic gathering.

The Church teaches that women cannot become priests because Jesus willingly chose only men as his apostles.

Giorgia Abeltino, head of public policy at Google Italy, said special instruments and smaller cameras were developed for the virtual tour project, which is similar to Google’s street view except that it explores the bowels of ancient Rome.

The Catacombs of Priscilla are also famous for a fresco which experts believe is the oldest known image of the Madonna and Child, dating to about 230 AD.

Lost for centuries after its entrances were sealed in ancient time, the catacombs were re-discovered in the 16th century and plundered of many gravestones, sarcophagi and bodies. Excavations in modern times began in the 19th century.

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