FEATURE image: The shrine of Saint Swithun (or Swithin) in Winchester Cathedral in England, The official name of the old minster or mynster ( from monasterium) is the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and Saint Swithun. Since July 15, 971 the shrine at the grave of St. Swithun has been inside Winchester Cathedral. “St Swithun’s Shrine” by Lawrence OP is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
St. Swithun (c.800-c.863) is a name from Old English which means “Strong Bear Cub.” Swithun was a late 9th century bishop of the royal city of Winchester in England. Only a few important facts are known in history about Swithun – one is that he became Winchester’s 18th bishop in 852. Prior to that, Swithun was apparently a secular clerk with a reputation for virtue and learning. In addition to the few remaining historical facts, there are important surviving artifacts as well as a treasury of lore associated with this medieval figure living in the days of the Saxons and Angles, Vikings and Jutes in southern England.
Swithun, who was attached to the West Saxon Court, was responsible for educating Æthelwulf (“Noble Wolf”), the king’s son, who became the father of Alfred the Great (c. 848-899). King Alfred had a reputation for learning and for being a gracious, level-headed king in a raucous time. Swithun is credited for some of the royal court’s civilized culture which encouraged education, improved the legal system, reformed the military structure, and added to the ordinary people’s overall quality of life. These improvements helped make Swithun beloved in his lifetime.
Wessex under Alfred’s leadership was the only one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to survive the Danish attacks (the Vikings and Jutes) of the 9th century. Significantly, England in the 10th century was unified under Æthelwulf’s and Alfred’s line.
Miracle of Broken Egg Shells.
Bishop Swithun was a builder as well as one of the original contributors to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of Old English annals. Humble miracles were attributed to Swithun in his lifetime and after his death. One of the most charming and which is memorialized in the modern shrine marker is the “miracle of broken eggshells.” On St. Swithun’s bridge in Winchester – a bridge has crossed the River Itchen into the city of Winchester since around 500 A.D. – a woman rushing to market encountered the saint, dropping her basketful of eggs and breaking them all in the process. After the saint stooped down to pick them up, he returned the eggs to the woman fully restored.
When Swithun died in 862 or 863, the charismatic personality was buried per his request in the cathedral churchyard. Swithun wanted passers-by to be able to walk over his grave and for the rain to fall upon it. Over 100 years later, on July 15, 971, the remains of St, Swithun, who was regarded as the patron saint of the city of Winchester, were moved to inside the old minster to a magnificent shrine on the high altar.
There is a tale that when Saint Swithun’s remains were moved from the simple grave outside to a resplendent one inside the cathedral, he was so discombobulated by it that it rained torrents on that day of July 15, 971 as a result – and for the next 40 days. It is not precisely known, however, how Swithun became directly associated with the stormy weather. “If on St. Swithun’s day it really pours, You’re better off to stay indoors” was one English ditty. It is the case that a few earlier saints in France had similar meteorological tales that were told about them.
‘St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain For forty days it will remain; St Swithun’s day if thou be fair For forty days ’twill rain na mair.’
One of the positive outcomes to this summer deluge is that St. Swithun became patron saint of apples as these begin to appear in glorious abundance in the late summer and early fall.
Jane Austen on her deathbed in Winchester writes her last poem about St. Swithun and is herself buried in the cathedral.
Three days before her death on July 18, 1817, in Winchester, 41-year-old novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) wrote a short poem, her last, about Winchester, rainy weather, and St Swithun’s Day. From the poem it is evident that Jane Austen, who had sought medical help for her health in Winchester beginning in May 1817, knew she was dying when she wrote her witty, playful verse. Austen wrote the poem at 8, College Street, just steps from the Cathedral. Austen was 16 miles from Chawton, her home, also in (East) Hampshire, when she died. Following her death, Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral less than a week after she wrote the poem.
“When Winchester races first took their beginning It is said the good people forgot their old Saint Not applying at all for the leave of Saint Swithin And that William of Wykeham’s approval was faint.
The races however were fixed and determined The company came and the Weather was charming The Lords and the Ladies were satine’d and ermined And nobody saw any future alarming.–
But when the old Saint was informed of these doings He made but one Spring from his Shrine to the Roof Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins And then he addressed them all standing aloof.
‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved When once we are buried you think we are dead But behold me immortal! By vice you’re enslaved You have sinned and must suffer, ten farther he said
These races and revels and dissolute measures With which you’re debasing a neighboring Plain Let them stand–You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures Set off for your course, I’ll pursue with my rain.
Ye cannot but know my command o’er July Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry The curse upon Venta is July in showers–“
FEATURED image: Manuscript 16th century (detail): Queen consort Anne of Brittany (1477-1514) receiving a Book of Hours from her Dominican confessor, Antoine Dufour (d.1509). Montfort L’Amaury returned to the crown of France after Anne of Brittany married Charles VIII “the Affable” (1470-1498) in 1491.
At the north edge of the Rambouillet forest the city of Montfort L’Amaury spreads along the restored ruins of its ancient fortified castle. Founded under the Capetian kings, the city owes its fame to Simon de Montfort (1208-1265), Anne de Bretagne (1477-1514), the Valois royal dynasty, and Henry IV (1553-1610). Its monuments begin in the 11th century, stretch towards exceptional Renaissance stained-glass windows and half-timbered houses as its civilization has attracted writers, artists, and musicians to live there. This would include the house of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) called Le Belvédère where he lived from 1921 until his death and where we were invited to sit at, and play, the piano where Ravel composed Boléro. It was in March 2002 during a visit to Paris and the Île-de France that we ventured through Yvelines by train to Montfort-L’Amaury for a day trip which included a memorable déjeuner in a restaurant that has since disappeared.
The interior of Saint Pierre church is bright and intimate. Like other French monuments, today’s Saint-Pierre was completed over many centuries. Its origin is in the 11th century. A notable reconstruction of the edifice began in the late 15th century by initiative of Queen Consort, Anne of Bretagne. There is a vast ambulatory around both sides of the nave. Since 1840, the church has been an historic monument because of its unique ensemble of 37 stained glass windows. The oldest date from the 1540s and 1570s. The others were installed in the late16th century. That ecclesial project was started by Catherine de Medicis (1519-1589) in 1562. The windows were installed during the time of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and some of the glass commemorates that event. As none of the glasswork is signed, it is not known whether its painters are from Montfort L’Amaury or elsewhere.
The role of Montfort l’Amaury as a town began to develop in the High Middle Ages when Capetian king, Robert II (976-1031), built a castle there in the forest of Yvelines which was then a royal prerogative. William of Hainaut built the castle whose walls were finished around 1050. Hugues Bardoule was captain of the castle and thus a later 16th century gateway is named after him. It is in the 11th century that L’Église Saint-Pierre and L’Église Saint Laurent begin to be built. Robert II was married three times, and excommunicated by the Catholic Church – one of the early examples of French royals who married as they wished.
In the twelfth century, Bertrade de Montfort (1070-1117), after giving birth to a boy who would become King of Jerusalem, left her husband, the Duke of Anjou, Fulk IV (1043-1109) in 1092. She married the king of France, Philip I “the Amorous” whose spouse, Bertha of Holland, was also still living.
Philip was so in love with Bertrade that he refused to leave her even when threatened and finally excommunicated by Pope Urban II (1035-1099) in 1095. Because of his excommunication Philip was prevented from taking part in the First Crusade (1096-1099).
The ramparts and castle were destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years’ War in the 15th century. After the battle of Agincourt in 1419, the English occupied the French domain and it was during this time that the castle at Montfort was destroyed. The two rebuilt towers were named for Anne of Brittany after she assisted in the castle’s restoration. From this height, the fort overlooked the old Roman road from Beauvais to Chartres.
Also from this place, troops assembled at Montfort L’Amaury in the 12th century as Amaury III raised lords and knights to fight alongside Louis VI (1081-1137) against the Emperor of Germany. Simon IV fought alongside Philippe II Auguste (1165-1223) against the English as well as to the Crusades in the Middle East and the Albigensian Crusade in southern France. The Montforts distinguished themselves especially in this crusade against the Cathars.
At the beginning of the Third Crusade (1189-1192), not wanted by King Philippe Auguste (1165-1223), the future Louis VIII “the Lion” (1187-1226) was looking for companions. Simon IV, Lord of Montfort (1175-1218), embarked on the crusade where victory was equalled by its terror.
In January 1238, Montfort married Eleanor of England, daughter of King John and Isabella of Angoulême and sister of English King Henry III. While this marriage took place with the king’s approval, the act itself was performed secretly and without consulting the great barons. Eleanor had previously been married and swore a vow of perpetual widowhood after her husband died. This vow was broken when she married Montfort and, for that reason, the Archbishop of Canterbury condemned it. The English nobles protested the marriage of the king’s sister to a foreigner who was only of modest rank. Most notably, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwell, the king’s and Eleanor’s brother, rose up in revolt over the marriage. King Henry III eventually bought off his brother and peace was restored. The marriage brought property to Montfort and when a child was born of the union in late 1238, he was baptized Henry, in honor of his uncle, the king. In February 1239, Montfort was finally invested as Earl of Leicester where he acted as the king’s advisor and became godfather to Henry’s eldest son, Edward, who became King Edward I (“Longshanks”).
From Montfort L’Amaury, the lords continued to assist the French kings in the crusades. After John I, only a daughter allowed the continuity of the Montfort family. Beatrice d’Albidon married Robert, Count of Dreux. The Comté de Montfort was related to the Duchy of Brittany following the marriage of Yolande de Dreux-Montfort (1263-1330) with Arthur II of Brittany (1261-1312) in 1294. It was in the late 13th century that Monfort established a public school in 1298.
Montfort returned to the crown of France after Anne of Brittany married Charles VIII “the Affable” (1470-1498) in 1491. The marriage contract stipulated a union of France and Brittany. If the queen were to die first and childless, the king would inherit all her property. Also in their pre-nuptial agreement, if Charles VIII died first Anne was to marry his successor. This was his cousin, the handsome and seductive Louis XII (1462-1515). By 1550, Brittany and the French Crown finally united under a single sovereign, Henry II (1519-1559).
This union of Brittany and France was beneficial to Montfort as the union with Brittany only was not particularly. In this period the castle ruins were restored and there was construction of a notable staircase to be seen today. The cemetery was relocated outside the city walls. Churches were rebuilt. Meanwhile, Montfort maintained a semi-autonomy from the crown of France.
Under the Valois the Yvelines region of which Montfort is a central part received royal favor. Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) was named the Lady of Montfort in 1561. When the Wars of Religion broke out (1562-1598), the king, Charles IX (1550-1574), offered to the city home-rule in exchange for the reconstruction of its medieval ramparts at his expense. At the end of these wars, the passage of the future king, Henry IV (1553-1610) on the road that led him to Paris to take power, allowed Montfort L’Amaury to prove its loyalty to the new king. Montfort provided Henry Navarre with weapons and later obtained special rights in exchange. During the reigns of the first two Bourbon kings of France, Henry IV and Louis XIII (1601-1643), there are frequent royal visits to Montfort L’Amaury.
A canonized Catholic saint among the Valois- Joan of Valois (1464 – 1505), sister of Charles VIII, and betrothed of Louis XII.
The second daughter of Louis XI (1423-1483) and Charlotte of Savoy (1411-1483), Joan of Valois was a fleeting Queen of France as the wife of King Louis XII following the death of her brother, King Charles VIII. Her marriage was soon annulled so that Louis could, as pre-arranged by contract, marry Charles VIII’s widow, Anne of Brittany.
Joan’s demeanor was characterized by an accepting and placid countenance. When she retired from court politics to become Duchess of Berry, the former Queen of France remarked: “If so it is to be, praised be the Lord.”
In Bourges, Joan of Valois founded a monastic order of sisters and served them as their abbess. In terms of her personality, Joan could be autocratic as an administrator of her nuns, which may have been a vestige of her former high-born role. Joan was canonized in May 1950, almost 450 years after her death.
Le Belvédère: the House of Maurice Ravel from 1921 to his death in 1937 at Montfort L’Amaury.
Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) was a French dramatist who lived in Montfort-L’Amaury in France. Anouilh’s 1944 play, Antigone, was an adaptation play of Sophocles’ play of the same name. The 34-year-old Anouilh’s work was seen as an attack on the Vichy government of Marshal Pétain (1856-1951) in World War II.
Anouiih also wrote Becket. The original French play is titled Becket ou l‘Honneur de Dieu. It was staged in Paris at the Théâtre Montparnasse-Gaston Baty in October 1959 and directed by Anouilh. The play dramatizes historical martyr and Catholic saint Thomas Becket (1120-1170), the Archbishop of Canterbury In England, whose feast day is December 29.
Becket was the best friend to younger King Henry II of England. Cunning and proud, vulnerable and lonely, pent-up King Henry is interested in hunting and women, and not necessarily in that order. Henry is bored with political affairs and as king has his one friend, Thomas Becket, who is his companion in vice and debauchery.
Becket serves his king loyally, without compromise. Wanting to strengthen his power over the Church in England and believing his idea to be an excellent one, Henry appoints Becket as chancellor of England and he later becomes Archbishop of Canterbury. But nothing goes as planned. Becket, on his path to sainthood, finds he cannot serve both king and God.
For Henry the arrangement is one of disillusionment, resentment, hatred, and torn friendship – and, later, repentance. For Becket it is a tale of courage, renunciation, and honor as the archbishop seeks to defend church freedom in England against an ambitious secular power. Such conflict provokes Becket’s murder by the king’s knights in the archbishop’s own cathedral.
Anouilh’s Becket became an international sensation. Successive productions in English translation were mounted in London (starring Christopher Plummer and Eric Porter) and in New York City (starring Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn). In 1964 Becket became a major motion picture starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole which won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Montfort L’Amaury de l’an mil à nos jours, Marie-Huguette Hadrot, Paris: Somogy Editions d’Art, 2002.
Montfort-L’Amaury, Le Syndicat d’Initiative des Fêtes et des Arts de Montfort-L’Amaury et ses Environs, 1972.
Montfort-L’Amaury Les Verrières de L’Eglise Paroissiale Saint-Pierre(Yvelines), Laurence de Finance and Marie-Huguette Hadrot, Paris: Centre de Documentation du Patrimoine, 1994.
FEATURE Image: Old Testament prophets window, Mausoleum, Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois. This is one of scores of original stained glass and artifacts in the mausoleum in Chicago’s near western suburbs.
The crucifix today is located in a southern section of Queen of Heaven cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. The cemetery is almost 500 acres that offers extensive in-ground burials as well as large indoor and outdoor mausoleum complexes where each year there are thousands of new burials. Since 1947, many notable Chicago-area figures from the world of politics, sports, religion, and business, including several gangland figures, are buried in these consecrated precincts. Overall, there are around 125,000 burials in the cemetery.
In the expansive mausoleum is a gallery of stained glass, statuary and carved wood and statuary in marble, bronze and mosaic. The art of the main building was created mostly by DaPrato Studios of Chicago, with an international array of artists and architectural designers.
The miraculous crucifix’s connection to Medjugorje visionaries.
That there is a “miraculous” crucifix on the grounds of Queen of Heaven cemetery gained noteriety starting around 1990.
The story is told about Joe Reinholtz, a retired railroad worker from neighboring Westchester, Illinois, who had lost his sight in the early 1980’s. Reinholtz, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune published in July 1991 (see – https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1991-07-24-9103220302-story.html), claimed to have been directed to the 15-foot-tall crucifix by one of the Medjugorje visionaries when he visited the Catholic pilgrimage site in Bosnia on two occasions in the late 1980’s.
After being directed by the Medjugorje visionary to pray before the crucifix in Queen of Heaven, Reinholtz (who died in 1996) and others reported that the figure of Christ on the cross bled. When more visitors reported that they too had seen the crucifix bleed, the cemetery staff investigated. They reported that they found nothing out of the ordinary at the crucifix site.
Cures and signs.
At the same time that the crucifix was seen to bleed, Joe Reinholtz was healed of his blindness. He also reported having seen the Blessed Virgin Mary who appeared at the crucifix site, accompanied by angels, including St. Michael the Archangel.
More of these many kinds of appearances continued to take place in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These were accompanied by other miraculous signs, many defying ready explanations. For example, some claimed the beads of ordinary rosaries had turned to gold after they prayed with them at the site.
Despite an incident of vandalism in 1994 where the feet of Jesus were broken off, inexplicable occurrences continued to be reported regularly at the crucifix into the mid1990s when they slacked off.
Into the first quarter of the 21st century, people still slowly drive past the crucifix, while others are found at the foot of the crucifix sometimes alone, or with family or friend, or in larger groups. Many look to be praying at the “miraculous” crucifix, some certainly looking for a healing miracle like Joe Reinholtz experienced there in 1986.
FEATURED image: Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801, oil on canvas, 102 1⁄3 × 87 in., Château du Malmaison.
Major facts of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) are well known. Known as Napoleon I, the French Emperor who died two centuries ago was a shrewd, ambitious and skilled military leader who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century.
Born on the island of Corsica that had recently handed authority from Italy to France, Napoleon rose rapidly in the French military during the unsettled period of the French Revolution after 1789 and until 30-year-old Napoleon seized power in a coup d’état in 1799.
In 1804 Napoleon crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in the presence of the pope. In the next decade Napoleon successfully waged war against various coalitions of European nations and expanded his empire. Following his disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 explored in some detail in this post, Napoleon abdicated his throne in 1814 and was exiled to the island of Elba not far from his native Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy.
In 1815, he escaped Elba and returned to France where he briefly returned to power in his Hundred Days campaign. He received a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in today’s Belgium and was exiled until his death on May 5, 1821 to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon Bonaparte was just 51 years old at the time of his death stemming from mysterious circumstances, though likely something such as stomach cancer.1
In 2021, the bicentenary of the death of Napoleon I is commemorated. While 200 years is a long time ago, in terms of History it is a relatively short span amount of time. In other words, Napoleon, who might have come to the United States (New Orleans) after his exile, is not very far away from modern times.
Napoleon Bonaparte, born in Corsica which had just switched allegiance from Italy to France, was born in 1769. In 1821 when he died on May 5 he was 51 years old. The former French emperor died far away from Europe on the island of Saint Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon had been exiled there following his defeat at Waterloo in Belgium in 1815 and escape from Elba in the Mediterranean, the British Government’s first location for his confinement.
Between the continents of Africa and South America, St. Helena is much more remote. The island built its first airport only in 2011.
Napoleon lived on St. Helena for about 6 years and died there, somewhat unexpectedly, at Longwood House. Napoleon’s permanent residencewas completed for him in December 1815.
Napoleon was buried on St. Helena. In 1840, stirring old wounds of controversy, the remains of the warring General and French despot were transferred to Paris. Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides had been a military hospital whose construction was by Louis XIV (1638-1715).
In 1858, French emperor Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, purchased Longwood House and various other lands associated with Napoleon I on St. Helena for the French government. Though Napoleon’s remains were returned to France in 1840, Napoleon III’s purchase on St. Helena remains the property of France . It is administered by a French representative under the authority of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (see –https://fondationnapoleon.org/en/activities-and-services/preserving-heritage/operation-st-helena/ – retrieved May 5, 2021).
IN THE YEAR 1812 – A BAD ECONOMY, CONTINENTAL BLOCKADES, AND A DISASTROUS INVASION OF RUSSIA BY NAPOLEON
During the War of 1812 which had ramifications for the U.S., world domination by Napoleon was being attempted within a sagging, uncooperative economy in Europe.
France had 300,000 French troops and a rafter of French generals occupying Spain to keep the blockaded British from invading. Napoleon, in a near constant state of war since 1793, had created an Empire whose subjected parts didn’t cooperate. In 1812, Napoleon had to choose between losing his blockade in Spain or in Russia.
Since the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 which followed the Battle of Friedland where Napoleon defeated the Russian army, Russia continued to transact business with England. This was a violation of the agreement and the pretext for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.
While over 1,500 miles away from Paris, Napoleon wanted to shut down Russia’s economy and take full control. For Russia, Napoleon’s invasion required the defense of their homeland.
NAPOLEON’S NEW WAR CAMPAIGN NEEDS 700,000 CONSCRIPTED SOLDIERS
Napoleon needed fresh conscripts but a third of Napoleon’s French draftees didn’t report for duty. Many of Napoleon’s generals advised the dictator to stay in Paris and enjoy life’s spoils. Napoleon refused. He explained that he would not rest until he fulfilled the dream to form a United States of Europe.2
Napoleon assembled 700,000 men with the monumental task to pay for it. For years the Emperor had been stockpiling supplies along the route to Russia and even arranged for their delivery on the battlefield.
Napoleon left St. Cloud for Moscow in June 1812. His high stakes gamble would affect not just Napoleon’s fortunes but the Empire’s inhabitants.
Ernest Meissonier’s Campaign of France, 1814, was the artist’s first painting produced in a cycle of Napoleon’s conquests. Though the episode Meissonier depicts was painted for the fiftieth anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion of France from Elba in 1814, it captures the overall desolation that surrounded the former French Emperor by the time of his invasion of Russia in 1812.
The series made by the 49-year-old artist, an admirer of seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch small-format painting, captures the desolate landscape the Grande Armée endured. It also depicted a solitary, unusually unkempt, and tenuous figure of Napoleon who is leading the General Staff and troops in an over-extended military campaign that spelled defeat.
For the painting, the artist’s imagination was informed by historical documentation including interviews of surviving eyewitnesses, including the detail of the Emperor’s grey coat. Its realist style was a prevailing aspect of mid-19th century artistic taste during the Second Empire headed by Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870.
The army marched 1,200 miles to Lithuania to defeat the Russian army. But the Russians had retreated. Napoleon’s men had to march another 550 miles to Moscow. The generous supply lines got snarled. French troops turned sick and exhausted.
In the Battle of Smolensk, the French invaders—viewed by some to be fighting for a united liberal Europe over small state autocrats—set that town on fire. Napoleon’s criminal reputation preceded him – he murdered without mercy and often by treachery. Royalists criticized him but also articulate liberals like Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848). The emperor was the enemy of liberty. Chateaubriand wrote: “Les Français vont indistinctement au pouvoir, ils n’aiment pas la liberté, l’égalité est leur idole. Or l’égalité et le despotisme ont des liaisons secrètes” (“The French go to power indiscriminately, they don’t like liberty, equality is their idol. But equality and despotism have secret links”).
With casualties for the Battle of Smolensk around 15,000 for both sides, the Czar appointed Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813) as commander of Russian forces. Napoleon called Kutuzov, “The sly old fox of the north“ (cited in Roger Parkinson, The Fox of the North, 1976). At 67 years old, Kutuzov was lazy and lecherous, but knew how to fight—and, regarding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, how to retreat strategically. It made Napoleon’s thirst for further battle on his own terms impossible.
70 MILES WEST OF MOSCOW, THE BATTLE OF BORODINO PITS 242,000 TOTAL COMBATANTS WITH OVER 1,000 BIG GUNS ON SEPTEMBER 7, 1812
In his address to troops before the Battle of Borodino General Kutuzov told his men: “Napoleon is a torrent we are yet unable to stem. Moscow will be the sponge that sucks him dry.”3 Napoleon knew what he was up against. Without supplies, Napoleon ordered his men to keep marching: “Motion alone keeps this army together.”4
The march from Smolensk to Moscow took 3 weeks. Many soldiers of the Grande Armée died on the march. Kutuzov set up a defensive position in Borodino, about 70 miles west of Moscow. On Sept. 7, 1812, French forces engaged the Russians. Both sides were evenly matched – Napoleon had 587 guns and 130,000 troops and the Russians had 640 guns and 112,000 troops.
Hanging over the battlefield was the feeling that the destiny of Europe lay in the balance. The battle’s outcome was a draw. The French were masters of the field as the Russians retreated. It was another day for war’s slaughter— combined French and Russian losses was 80,000 soldiers.
In the War of 1812 Fedor Petrovich Uvarov (1769 -1824) commanded the 1st Cavalry Corps and then the Cavalry of the 1st and 2nd Russian Armies. With the Cossacks of Matvei Platov (1753-1818), Uvarov distinguished himself in the Battle of Borodino when he turned the left flank of the French army and made a raid to its rear. The Russian attack of the main French forces delayed Napoleon’s battle plans for two crucial hours.
The image of a sullen dictator (above) seated on his field chair with boots raised onto a battle drum, as his General Staff views in their spyglasses the men of the Grande Armée in harm’s way at the Battle of Borodino, can be seen as indicative of Napoleon’s exercise of arbitrary power as the first of modern history’s tyrants.
WHEN LEJEUNE’S BATTLE-PICTURES WERE SHOWN IN LONDON, EAGER CROWDS CAME TO SEE THEM FOR THEIR REALISTIC, DETAILED DEPICTIONS OF SIGNIFICANT CONTEMPORARY EVENTS.
In the French invasion of Russia in 1812, Lejeune was made général de brigade and chief of staff to Davout (1770-1823). During the retreat, Lejeune was frostbitten on the face and left his post where he was subsequently arrested on Napoleon’s orders.
During his military service, Lejeune produced a series of important battle-pictures based on his experiences. They were generally executed from sketches and studies made on the battlefield. Known for their lofty perspective which, according to Chase Maenius in The Art of War[s], “offer[ed] a panoramic view of the totality of the battle’s events,” the Battle of Borodino… of 1822 is considered his masterwork.
In his Memoirs of Baron Lejeune, aide-de-camp to marshals Berthier, Davout, and Oudinot (translation, 1897), Lejeune related one of the many wretched scenes that the Napoleonic Wars produced. He wrote: “As we were pushing on the next day, we came upon two poor creatures at a turn in the road whose condition tore our hearts. They were a handsome well-built man of about forty and a woman of about thirty, also with a fine figure, both stark naked. They approached us and said to us in very good French, ‘Our home has been sacked by Cossacks, who stripped us of everything and left us as you see us. For pity’s sake help us.’ We could do nothing for them but give them a little food, and we felt very wretched as we turned away. The next day at a bivouac some distance off a fresh irresistible demand was made upon our pity, and our stock of provisions was so much reduced that I don’t know what we should have done but that some German peasants brought us a few sheep, with which we replenished our larder.” (p. 158, https://archive.org/details/memoirsbaronlej01maurgoog/page/n170/mode/2up —retrieved May 5, 2021.)
Following the Battle of Borodino on September 7, 1812, the Russian army retreated towards Moscow and camped near Fili. A military council led by General Kutuzov assembled in a hut in Fili where, despite objections from younger generals, Kutuzov insisted on his plan to abandon Moscow.
The action not only saved the remains of the Russian army but worked to stymie and ultimately defeat Napoleon’s invasion drive. The personalities in the painting include Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818), who was replaced by Kutuzov on order of the Czar and sits in the corner below the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus icon. Fyodor Uvarov sits near Barclay holding a paper. Nikolay Raevsky (1771-1829) sits by the window with his fingers locked together. Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov (1777-1861) stands on the far right. The much younger Yermolov resented old general Kutuzov’s plan and demanded to fight the enemy.
Napoleon and about 100,000 French troops reached Moscow on September 8, 1812, Napoleon found only Russia’s poor and displaced. Moscow was Russia’s largest city, its capital, and its Holy City—and French troops of the Enlightenment set it ablaze. The fires burned for 4 days as Napoleon’s army looted it.
Napoleon wrote a letter of apology and condolence to the Czar, Alexander I Pavlovich, the Blessed (1777-1825). One result was that Tthe Russians resolved never to surrender to their would-be conqueror. Only some of the wealthy in Russia looked to negotiate with Napoleon mainly out of fear of losing their assets, that is, the serfs. Napoleon surmised, “I beat the Russians every time—but that does not get me anywhere.”5 Old general Kutuzov’s inaction attained his objective to defend Russia whereas 43-year-old Napoleon failed to rally his men for his Empire these many hundreds of miles from home.
Napoleon’s interest became retreat. There was an intended coup d’état in Paris that Napoleon had to raise more fresh recruits to crush. Other parts of the Empire also raised their head following Napoleon’s inglorious retreat. But it grew worse to become one of world history’s worst defeats.
Weather in Russia turned to snow and ice. The Russians retreated into Mother Russia before they were defeated. The French retreated to the west in defeat. Reports of cannibalism among Napoleon’s army is recorded. Turning back to Paris, the French army lost another half of their men. All of Napoleon’s supply lines had been sacked. Adding further injury, the French were chased out of Russia by Kutuzov’s 80,000 troops.
On the retreat, surviving warriors fought among themselves over any existing supplies. Napoleon’s retreat included the humiliation of being chased out of Russia by Kutuzov’s redeployed 80,000 troops. The old man’s hot pursuit did not allow Napoleon, the once young Enlightenment military figure, to rest.
Under military surgeon Baron Dominique Jean Larrey (1766-1842), the Grand Army’s medical and sanitary measures were the finest in the world but the retreat route offered no food and no medical care. As a remedy for possible future ills, including his capture, Napoleon convinced his doctor to give him a vial of poison which the dictator could ingest if conditions deteriorated to become inescapably dire.
Baron Dominique Jean Larrey was a French surgeon and military doctor who distinguished himself during the near endless wars of the French Revolution and under Napoleon. Baron Larrey served as the Grand Army’s medical and sanitation leader and was an important innovator in triage who is considered the first modern military doctor and surgeon.
During the Russian Campaign, Fournier commanded a brigade of light cavalry composed of French, German, and Central European horsemen, and led a noted cavalry charge at the Battle of Smolensk.
Generals Kutuzov and Wittgenstein attacked at a bridge crossing in what today is Belarus. Hundreds of Frenchmen drowned. To slow the attack, Napoleon ordered the bridges destroyed. In the process the general stranded hundreds of his troops to enemy gunfire.
Napoleon now told his aide-de-camp, Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt, what the Russian campaign taught him: “I can hold my grip on Europe only from the Tuileries.” In Warsaw, Napoleon met Abbé de Pradt, his ambassador, and told him: “From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.”6
As Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with its famous climax using cannon fire, ringing chimes and brass fanfare, commemorates a Russian defensive victory, French losses were staggering. Of Napoleon’s 700,000 men led into Russia, only 30,000 survived. Only 1,000 soldiers returned to active duty.7
NAPOLEON IN RUSSIA, HIS FORCES LOSE THE PENINSULAR WAR IN SPAIN; THE FOLLOWING YEAR, IN 1813, NAPOLEON LOSES THE BATTLE OF LIEPZIG, THE LARGEST LAND BATTLE UNTIL WORLD WAR I.
Simultaneous with the debacle of Napoleon’s Russian invasion, French forces lost the long fight (since 1808) in Spain and Portugal to keep the British off the Continent.
Significant losses in the east and west of the Empire were followed in 1813 by the Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon’s penultimate defeat by an international coalition that included Austria, Prussia, Russia and Sweden.
NAPOLEON FORCED TO ABDICATE IN 1814. EXILED TO ELBA; DEFEATED IN 1815 AT WATERLOO.
After Napoleon withdrew into France, in March 1814 these allied forces captured Paris. By early April 1814 Napoleon was forced to abdicate as Emperor. Napoleon had to go for his pursuit of glory had become a menace to his country and the world.
With the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and, following his brief escape into France in 1814, he was defeated for the final time at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena which held him until his death at 51 years old on May 5, 1821.
On February 18, 1943, following the illegal distribution of anti-Nazi leaflets by the White Rose at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München—the leaflets instructing students and all others to actively resist the 10-year-old Nazi regime—three young German university students were arrested. In the next four days these students will be tried in a Nazi kangaroo court, convicted of treason, and condemned to death. Their crime?—public vocal resistance to the totalitarian state that suppresses freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience in addition to reprehensible war crimes, including the Holocaust, during World War II.
On February 22, 1943, in Stadelheim Prison in Munich, Germany, these three White Rose resisters are the first of their group to die for freedom and whose legacy in the 21st century is to be listed as some of the most important Germans of all time—namely, 21-year-old Sophie Scholl, her brother, 24-year-old Hans Scholl, and 23-year-old Christoph Probst, a married father with three children.
Christoph Probst: It wasn’t in vain.
Sophie Scholl: The sun is still shining.
The execution scene from Marc Rothemund’s 2005 German film, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (“Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage”). On February 22, 1943 the three condemned White Rose students—Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch), Christoph Probst (Florian Stetter) and Hans Scholl (Fabian Hinrichs)—are allowed a final moment together before being beheaded in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison.
By the start of 1943, the Nazis were badly losing the Battle of Stalingrad in Russia that had been raging since August 1942. Its outcome was a major turning point in the war. The German armed forces experienced nearly one million casualties in six months. The American, British, and the Russian armed forces were closing in on Hitler’s Third Reich from many sides.
Since June 1942 five anti-Nazi leaflets had been written and distributed in and around the university in Munich. The distribution channels as well as the network of this new clandestine anti-Nazi group—who eventually called themselves the German Resistance Movement, a.k.a. the White Rose—had steadily expanded during the creation of these leaflets.
Conditions were growing tense in Germany. There was a developing global consensus—that included some even in Germany— that Hitler’s war was ultimately unwinnable for the Fascist tyrant. As these totalitarian thugs had lashed out to consolidate power so, as ultimate military victory was slipping away, the regime stooped to any means to crush its internal enemies.
Sophie Scholl, May 9, 1921-February 22, 1943.
Sophie Scholl had almost not graduated from high school in May 1940 because she was sick and tired of the curriculum’s relentless political (Nazi) indoctrination. Scholl was fond of children and took a job teaching kindergarten. But her motivation was not simply that she had found an early vocation but hoped to steer clear of Germany’s six-month National Labor Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst).
The Nazis found her anyway— and Sophie taught at a National Labor Service-approved nursery as part of the war effort. Scholl might not have bothered with the National Labor Service at all except that the Nazis had set it up as a prerequisite for attending university.
In her personal reading Sophie Scholl had already developed an interest in philosophy and theology and wanted to pursue these subjects academically. The Labor Service experience did contribute, however, to Sophie’s outlook—she reacted completely against its militaristic aspects to the point where she started to practice forms of nonviolent resistance.
1940 Letter from Sophie Scholl to a Friend – White Rose Memorial Room – Interior of Main Building of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany.
In May 1942, 21-year-old Sophie started at the University in Munich. Her older brother Hans, studying medicine and philosophy at the school, introduced his younger sister to all his friends. Though Hans had evolving and increasingly strong anti-Nazi views, as did his friends, camaraderie revolved around the arts, music, philosophy and theology. The Scholls were also physically active—especially hiking and swimming.
Sophie pursued her intellectual interests at the university making connections with artists, writers, and philosophers. Her father, a hometown mayor, had been put in prison for an indirect critical remark he made about Hitler—and Sophie’s quest to understand how she, as an individual, should act under a dictatorship was intensely personal.
The White Rose formed and began writing and publishing anti-Nazi leaflets in June and July 1942—but Hans Scholl kept his dangerous undertaking secret from Sophie. But, in November 1942, when Sophie learned about the White Rose, she immediately joined.
Hans Scholl (Fabian Hinrichs), left, and Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch) in the 2005 German historical film, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days.
On February 18, 1943, in the wake of the battle of Stalingrad, and major Allied victories in Africa which had the Americans and British closing in on Hitler’s Europe, the sixth and final leaflet produced by the White Rose was distributed by Hans and Sophie Scholl and others of the White Rose at Munich University. The leaflet had been written by Kurt Huber, a university faculty and White Rose member, and stated that the “day of reckoning” had finally come for “[Hitler,] the most contemptible tyrant that the German people has ever endured.”
The Atrium, Munich University, where the Scholls dropped the sixth leaflets on February 18, 1943, which led to their arrest by the Gestapo.
Atrium, Munich University.
Bringing the leaflets in suitcases, the Scholls stacked them in corridors of the main building—and the hurried activity, including tossing the last leaflets into the atrium, was noticed by a maintenance man who reported it. Before their arrest by the Gestapo, Sophie had successfully gotten rid of any incriminating evidence. But the Gestapo did find fragments of a seventh leaflet by Christoph Probst on Hans Scholl’s person and, upon searching the Scholls’ apartment, confirmed the White Rose writings. The Gestapo was going to let Sophie free, but when she discovered her older brother had been arrested, she confessed to her full role.
Hans and Sophie Scholl lived in the rear of this apartment building at 13 Franz-Joseph Strasse in Munich from June 1942 until their arrest on February 18, 1943 and execution on February 22, 1943.
Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.
During the interrogation following her arrest, transcripts show that Sophie defended herself mainly by claiming her right to act based on an individual “theology of conscience.”
On February 22, 1943, the Scholls and Christoph Probst were tried in the Volksgerichtshof (The People’s Court) before rabid Nazi judge Roland Freisler. Sophie interrupted the judge several times during his tirades. The court record shows her saying to the judge: “Somebody—after all—had to make a start. What we wrote and said is believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.” The trio were found guilty of treason and condemned to death. They were guillotined the same day at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison.
Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst, a married father of three children, were tried in the Volksgerichtshof (The People’s Court) before the rabid Nazi judge Roland Freisler.Transcripts show Sophie told the judge, Somebody—after all—had to make a start. What we wrote and said is believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.
White Rose stamp – Sophie and Hans Scholl.
Hans Scholl was, with Alexander Schmorell (1917-executed by the Nazis in prison, July 13, 1943), a founding member of the White Rose in 1942. After serving as a medic on the Eastern Front in 1939, Hans Scholl became determined to do something to change the German people’s minds about the Nazi regime and its war effort.
By June 1942 the White Rose (Weiße Rose) had been founded on principles of nonviolent intellectual resistance to the Nazis—a highly dangerous proposition in a totalitarian regime.
Detail of Typewriter Used to Produce White Rose Anti-Nazi Leaflets – White Rose Memorial Room – Interior of Main Building of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany.
Between June and mid-July 1942, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell wrote four leaflets against the Nazis appealing to the truth of the people’s consciences based on facts. “Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of the government these days?’ the writers asked in their first leaflet. “Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of the shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible crimes reach the light of day?”
Alexander Schmorell was, with Hans Scholl, a co-founder of the White Rose. Schmorell co-wrote their leaflets. A Russian-German student at Munich University, Schmorell was sentenced to death at 25 years old on April 19, 1943 at the second trial of the White Rose at the Volksgerichtshof. With Munich University faculty member Kurt Huber, also a White Rose member and leaflet writer, Schmorell was beheaded at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison on July 13, 1943. In 2012, Schmorell was declared a saint and martyr in the Russian Orthodox Church.
In the second leaflet the White Rose spoke of the crimes of the Holocaust: “Since the conquest of Poland, 300,000 Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way…The German people sleep in a stupid sleep and encourage the Fascist criminals…”
The third leaflet appealed to the German people’s “spirit” to eliminate the Nazi system in their midst.
Leaflets, Memorial to Scholls at Munich University.
For the next four months, until November 1942, Scholl, Schmorell, and other young members of the White Rose were drafted to again serve as medics on the Eastern Front. War’s ongoing horrors that they witnessed only strengthened their resolve to resist.
At their return to Germany in autumn 1942 Sophie Scholl, Hans’ younger sister (born May 9, 1921), learned about the White Rose and Hans’ involvement in it, and eagerly joined the group.
Sophie Scholl bust, Munich University.
With the Battle of Stalingrad raging since August 1942, the White Rose (now called the German Resistance Movement) produced a fifth leaflet in January 1943. It was an appeal addressed to all Germans and the White Rose made almost 10,000 copies to distribute. The leaflet presented a straightforward analysis of the situation so to jog people’s intellect to take moral action. To state, as the leaflet did, that “Hitler cannot win the war; he can only prolong it.” was pure heresy to the all-encompassing propaganda arm of the dictatorship.
In the Battle of Stalingrad which the Nazis lost—it was the major turning point in the war—Hitler made an intense appeal to the German people’s patriotism. By one count, the German armed forces experienced nearly one million casualties in about six months.
The German populace—as well as people around the world– understood that Hitler’s defeat was inevitable. But, unlike the Americans and British who, in November 1942, successfully began and concluded Operation Torch in French Morocco pushing the Germans east and out of North Africa and next out of Southern Europe, few Germans were willing to even yet criticize the Nazi regime let alone take action as did the handful of young students and faculty of the White Rose.
White Rose Leaflets, memorial.
The White Rose’s fifth leaflet called all Germans to “Support the resistance movement!” The leaflet labeled Nazi policies as racist and subhuman, imperialist and militarist—and to be resisted. But further, a future Germany and Europe must, stated the White Rose in this penultimate leaflet, protect “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of any dictator states.”
It was in January 1943 that the White Rose was beginning to expand its operation to make connection with older anti-Nazi groups already formed and operating in Germany, such as the Kreisau Circle led by Helmuth James von Moltke (1907-executed by the Nazis in prison, January 23, 1945).
Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (1907–1945) was one of the leaders of an early diverse group of anti-Nazi intellectuals known as the Kreisau Circle. In prison since January 1944, Von Moltke is photographed at his trial in July 1944. The Nazis executed Moltke in prison in January 1945. By early 1943, members of the mostly student-led White Rose were starting to expand their network of contacts to include other anti-Nazi groups such as the Kriesau Circle.
With the defeat at Stalingrad officially announced by the Nazis in early February 1943, the totalitarian regime blamed the German people. This included pointing a finger at university students as unpatriotic who did not serve in the army. Such slanderous and cowardly accusations from Nazi leaders who pompously impugned German intellectual youth in the wake of a massive Hitler-led military defeat making for one million casualties and devastating the nation’s morale, sparked a riot by students at the university in Munich. A growing chaos under the totalitarian regime had a heartbeat—and as in all totalitarian regimes, scapegoats must be found and made examples of. The leaflets of the White Rose had been disseminating anti-Nazi literature since June 1942. Its perpetrators had yet to be found out—and stood square at the tip of the Fascist dictatorship’s spear.
The White Rose, its members actively looking to capitalize on the energy of the students’ righteous indignation, decided to send out their sixth and last leaflet—which they did on February 18, 1943. The sixth leaflet, written by Munich faculty Kurt Huber (1893-executed by the Nazis in prison, July 13, 1943), and revised by Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, said that with “the dead of Stalingrad [to] adjure us!,” the “day of reckoning” had finally come for “[Hitler,] the most contemptible tyrant that the German people has ever endured.” The group also stenciled slogans on university walls and buildings throughout Munich, the Nazi Party’s home base, stating “Down with Hitler!” and “Freedom!”
Munich University, Main Corridor.
The distribution of the leaflets packed in suitcases—this time including the public participation of Sophie Scholl—took place on Thursday, February 18, 1943. It is what led to the arrest, trial, conviction, and execution by beheading of Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst by the Nazis within the span of the next four days.
Sophie Scholl’s last words were: It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days? How many young, promising lives? What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted? Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt!
Hans Scholl’s last words were Es lebe die Freiheit! (Let Freedom live!)
Christoph Probst, Hans and Sophie Scholl graves, Perlach Cemetery in Munich.
FEATURE image: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Leaders of the march posing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Memorial.) by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
By John P. Walsh
President John F. Kennedy watched the march—and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech—from the White House on television.
Both Kennedy and King were young men—King was 34 years old, Kennedy was 46 years old. Mature beyond their years, each American proffered green oak in some ways—Kennedy was especially more personally sensitive than his “cool” public persona belied him to be. King, too, was mostly uncomfortable on August 28, 1963 with the particular attention, from the media and others, that he was receiving for his remarks at the Lincoln Memorial.
As the civil rights leaders filed into the Cabinet Room at the White House the first thing Kennedy said when he took King’s hand was “I have a dream…” The president was repeating King’s line that immediately impressed him and the nation when they heard it on TV live only a short time before.
King deflected the president’s compliment and immediately asked him what the president thought of United Automobile Workers president Walter Reuther’s excellent speech. It had included a criticism of Kennedy for defending freedom around the world but not always at home. Kennedy replied to King: “Oh, I’ve heard [Walter] plenty of times.”
King and Kennedy hardly talked any more during the visit, though when they did it led to an outcome for action.
Kennedy and NAACP leader Roy Wilkins talked at length about strengthening the civil rights bill following that day’s completely peaceful march. King moved away from the president and down the line to near then-23-year-old John Lewis, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
One section to the civil rights bill these activists wanted the president to add was a ban on employment exclusion based on race.
As White House and other photographers filmed and snapped pictures of the historic White House meeting of leading progressive personalities of the early 1960s, the civil rights leaders told the president about the accelerating automation in the job market that would potentially depress the availability of jobs.
They also discussed the plight of the inner city, telling Kennedy that Black teenagers were dropping out of school in epidemic numbers. A. Philip Randolph told the president that the entire current generation of young Blacks “had no faith” in whites. They also dismissed Black leadership, government and God. To these young Americans, U.S. society as it was presently constituted meant nothing to them but despair.
During the visit, Kennedy was lobbied to re-insert into the act a section that was stripped in 1957 giving authority to the Attorney General to investigate and initiate lawsuits on behalf of blatant civil rights infringements.
President Kennedy responded that with Robert Kennedy, his Attorney General, he had looked into joblessness and the school drop-out rate among Blacks in Chicago and New York City. At the August 28, 1963 meeting Kennedy encouraged the civil rights leaders to have the Black community do more.
“It seems to me,” the president said, “with all the influence that all you gentleman have in the Negro community that we could emphasize…educating [your]children, on making them study, making them stay in school and all the rest.”
Any add-ons now to the civil rights bill joined existing legislation that was already on the brink of defeat in the Democrat-controlled Senate and too close to call in a Democrat-controlled House.
Despite these close margins, Wilkins countered that the Speaker of the House had assured him that an even stronger civil rights bill could pass the House and would work to pressure the Senate to act. Wilkins suggested that the president go over the heads of the Congress who obstructed passage of the bill and lead a crusade to win voter approval for the civil rights measures.
Kennedy replied frankly to the leaders that civil rights must be a bipartisan effort. For a Democrat president to lead a crusade would allow Republicans to support civil rights and blame the Democrats for it which would hurt the Democratic Party in the South. Kennedy assured the civil rights leaders that “treacherous” political games were being played in the Federal legislature on the bill by both Republicans and Democrats.
Kennedy was countered again – this time by Walter Reuther.
“Look, you can’t escape this problem,“ the white labor leader said, “and there are two ways of resolving it—either by reason or riots. But now the civil war is not gonna be fought at Gettysburg, it’s gonna be fought in your backyard, in your plant, where your kids are growing up.” Reuther further told JFK he didn’t much like the young president’s “seminar” style of governing where “you call a big meeting…and nothing happens.” Reuther told Kennedy that he preferred his vice-president’s governing style where Lyndon B. Johnson “jawbone[d]” an issue until he would “get difficult things done.”
King stayed silent for most of this back and forth debate. When King finally spoke he asked JFK that if the sitting president led a crusade then perhaps his predecessor, Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower, might get involved. It would then, King suggested, become the bipartisan push Kennedy was looking for.
Kennedy snapped back at King: “No, it won’t.”
In reply, King made a knowing joke: “Doesn’t [President Eisenhower] happen to be in the other denomination?”
Ike’s personal pastor was Rev. Eugene Blake who was in the Cabinet Room. Blake, a powerful force and no pushover, had been the march’s only white speaker.
One reason that Rev. Blake spoke at the march was that he had been arrested in a civil rights demonstration in Baltimore and had gone to jail.
Just hours earlier, Rev. Blake orated: “We come late, late we come, in the reconciling and repentant spirit.” The Protestant clergyman embraced the march’s agenda of civil and economic rights for African Americans and the end to racism. Still, Blake rejected words like “revolution” and “the masses” used by some civil rights activists.
At that day’s White House visit, Blake told Kennedy that Ike could be approached about civil rights. The president pivoted and urged Blake to visit the former president at his home in Gettysburg to discover any political role Ike might be willing to take for the civil rights bill. Kennedy advised: “And include a Catholic and maybe a businessman or two.”
Then pointing to Reuther, Kennedy lightly said: “And leave Walter in the background.” Amid chuckles, Kennedy then left the room of civil rights leaders. Before exiting, the president turned to assure them he would keep in touch on the civil rights bill in the months ahead.
TAYLOR BRANCH, PARTING THE WATERS AMERICA IN THE KING YEARS 1954-1963. NEW YORK: SIMON & SCHUSTER, 1988.
DAVID GARROW, BEARING THE CROSS: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., AND THE SOUTHERN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE, WILLIAM MORROW AND COMPANY, 1986.
OTHER VOICES AT THE MARCH:
Harry Belafonte (1927-2023) was born in New York City died there at 96 years old. Harry Belafonte won a Tony, an Emmy, and 3 Grammy Awards in his career as a film actor and singer that stretched over 70 years. Belafonte was also a civil rights activist who brought and introduced a rafter of Hollywood A-list entertainers to the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Among the more than 200-250,000 attendees at the march were these Hollywood stars. Belafonte chartered a plane from Los Angeles for the historic event to show their support for what was going on in the civil rights movement in America. The great march filled the VIP section at the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall to past the Washington Monument, a distance of almost one mile. The mood of this massive crowd was one of hopeful jubilation. Afterwards, Dr. King and other civil rights leaders went to the White House to meet with President Kennedy. There they talked about the march, and discussed what was ahead in terms of social conditions and the civil rights movement, including the legislative effort that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 following Kennedy’s death. Some of the artists and film stars at the Lincoln Memorial that day in addition to Harry Belafonte were Marlon Brando, Rita Moreno, James Garner, Tony Franciosa, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Susan Strasberg, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, James Baldwin, Lena Horne, Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston and several more.
REMARKS BY HARRY BELAFONTE: “We are here to bear witness to what we know. We know that this country, America, to which we are committed, and which we love, aspires to become that country in which all men are free. We also know that freedom is not license. Everyone in a democracy ought to be free to vote. But no one has the license to oppress or demoralize another. We also know or we would not be here, that the American negro has endured for many generations in this country which he helped to build the most intolerable injustices. To be a negro in this country means several unpleasant things. In the Deep South it often means he is prevented from exercising his right to vote by all manner of intimidation up to and including death. This fact of intimidation is a great weight in the life of any negro and though it varies in degree it never varies in intent which is simply to limit, to demoralize and to keep in subservient status more than 20 million negro people. We are here, therefore, to protest this evil and make known our resolve to do everything we can possibly do to bring it to an end. As artists and as human beings we rejoice in the knowledge that human experience has no color and that excellence in any endeavor is the fruit of individual labor and love. We believe artists have a valuable function in any society since it is the artists who reveal society to itself. But any society that ceases to respect the human aspirations of all its citizens courts political chaos and artistic sterility. We need the energies of these people to whom we have for so long denied full humanity. We need their vigor, their joy, the authority which their pain has brought them and cutting ourselves off from them then we are punishing and diminishing ourselves. As long as we do so our society is in great danger. Our growth as artists is severely menaced and no American can boast of freedom since he cannot be considered an example of it. We are here then in an attempt to strike the chains of the ex-master no less than the ex-slave and to invest with reality that deep and universal longing which has sometimes been called the American Dream.”
Hundreds of thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s, Lincoln Memorial Aug. 28, 1963. Public Domain/U.S. Government Photo.
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Leaders of the march posing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Memorial.) by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking from the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Aerial view of Washington Monument showing marchers.) U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Leaders of the march leading marchers down the street. U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
FEATURE image: Chichén-Itzá serpent head sculptures guard a staircase. Author’s photograph.
By John P. Walsh
Cancún’s sandy spit of land at the northern tip of the Yucatán peninsula was uninhabited by the ancient Mayans. It was trodden by the conquistadores and used by pirates as a hide-out. Today, oozing like wet plaster into the Caribbean sea, the beaches are a new jet-age resort. I visited the Yucatán from Chicago for a few days in May 1988.
Though the tourist board in Cancún was telling of more resort development by the mid-1990s, it already boasted of 85 hotels and about 9,000 guest rooms during my trip.
After two days acclimating myself nicely to the Caribbean climate and working my way un poco with the Spanish language, I signed up with a local tour operator for a 12-hour bus tour. The destination was to one of the most famous sites on the Yucatán peninsula and the world: the ancient Mayan archeological site of Chichén-Itzá.
With its mysterious, virtually-intact looming pyramids and temples as well as startling tales of human sacrifice and one of the world’s most accurate cosmic calendar systems—all over 1,000 years old—I was excited to adventure out of the comfort of Cancún’s “Zona Hotelera” into the Yucatán jungle interior.
Setting out from Cancún into the Yucatán jungle
The ancient Mayan cities and later Spanish colonial ones that sit on top of them are a stark contrast to the touristy jet-set beaches of Cancún.
An extensive jungle stretches across the Yucatán’s three states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, and Yucatán that are inhabited by human communities as well as wild animals such as jaguars. We frequently saw black-headed, blue-bodied birds called Yucatán jays. We saw iguanas on sun-washed rocks.
I left the hotel and met the bus in Cancún town at 8:00 a.m. Francisco drove the air-conditioned 40-seater as Raúl toted a microphone and told the group about some of the things we were seeing along the way.
They took us out of Quintana Roo’s Cancún to Yucatán’s Chichén-Itzá about 125 miles away. On arrow-straight highway 180 we drove into small local communities along the two-lane road. We would reach Chichén-Itzá out of Valladolid, the Mayan/Spanish colonial city which is sometimes called the most colorful town in Mexico.
Chichén-Itzá’s famous complex of Mayan ruins dates from the Classic period of 600 CE to 1200 CE. Important archeological sites in the Yucatán still await reclamation from the jungle today –such as smaller Cobá in Quintana Roo. Guided tours are recommended for an extensive and remarkably safe visit into these interesting backwater places.
Highway 180: Route From Cancún to Valladolid
The bus climbed onto south highway 180 and followed it through villages such as Cocoyol, Catzin, Chemax, Xalaú, and others. Along the route there were thatched-roof dwellings which held patterned hammocks inside. Outside, dogs slinked around and small farm animals sometimes shared the road. The entire Yucatán peninsula is sparsley populated with only a fraction (about 4%) of Mexico’s total population.
Francisco told us that the thatched-roof dwellings were durable. One such dwelling could last almost 20 years. The huts were made of sticks which we were told kept dwellers cool and comfortable year-round. Raúl said that the average year-round temperature on the peninsula was 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Starting in April, humidity levels rose and the temperature hovered over 100 degrees. Thatched hut dwellings were the predominant local housing we saw from highway 180.
With exceptions, the lifestyle of modern Mayans has not strayed from their ancestors’ of the last millennia. Traditional Mayan homes are oval-shaped huts made of sticks bound together to form walls. Palm fronds are laid upon the wood frame for a peaked roof. Inside there is a main room usually with a dirt floor. Hammocks create a sleeping area.
In Valladolid, a Spanish colonial town founded in 1543, there were larger stores. From the bus windows, we saw local women in the huipil, the traditional garment worn by indigenous women from central Mexico to Central America, doing their errands. They outnumbered men on the street who were mostly absent on this sunny and hot May morning in the middle of the week.
Raúl said the men worked in Cancún during the week for about eight dollars a day, This wage was significantly higher than the $5 a day usually earned on the peninsula. The workers, Raúl said, are “smart” because when they are working, they live at the hotels where they eat, shower, and live rent-free. When they return home to the villages, they bring all of their earnings with them to their families. In most of these outlying towns it requires about $40 per week in income to meet living expenses, whereas workers in Cancún can earn nearly twice that amount.
Iglesia de San Servacio in Valladolid was built in 1545
The Iglesia de San Servacio is in the center of Valladolid on the south side of the main square. It was founded and built by Fr. Francisco Hernandez on March 24, 1545.
In 1705 part of the original church was demolished by order of the Benedictine bishop of Yucatán, Pedro Reyes de los Ríos de Lamadrid (1657-1714). The bishop ordered this partial demolition following the desecration of the sacred building during a political battle in July 1703 known as the “Crime of Mayors.”
July 1703: San Servicio desecrated in the “Crime of Mayors”
After Captain Hipólito de Osorno lost political favor in Valladolid he decided, together with his lawyer Pedro Gabriel de Covarrubias, to take refuge in the church of San Servacio.
But the political excitement of the time had reached an uncontrollable situation. In the pre-dawn hours of July 1703, a frenzied mob, led by Valladolid’s newly-elected mayors, Señors Avuso and Tovar, broke into the sacred enclosure.
The lawyer De Covarrubias was killed in the church after being driven through by a spear. His blood spilled on the altar and and stained it. The captain was mortally wounded when the mob found him hidden behind the organ. The ruckus in no way benefitted the two new mayors. Both Señors Ayuso and Tovar were found guilty of murder and hanged.
Due to this murder in the cathedral the bishop had it rebuilt in 1706 as it is seen today. The altar’s position was moved to face north and west towards Rome. The church building is located on Valladolid’s main square named after Francisco Cantón Rosado (1833-1917), a conservative governor of Yucatán (1898-1902).
In early 18th Century Yucatán, a Benedictine Bishop and Franciscan Church
The church building’s main façade has a coat of arms carved on stone with arabesques, a royal crown, and a Franciscan cord. There are images of an eagle and a palm that were frequently used in the decoration of Franciscan churches in the Yucatán. Two square-shaped towers rise on either side of the central façade.
Ancient Mayans are 1,000 years older than the oldest books of the Bible
The Mayan civilization is shrouded in the mists of history. Archeologists, anthropologists and historians have speculated that they originated in about in 2600 BCE in the middle of the Bronze Age (3300 BCE to 1300 BCE). The origins of the Mayans therefore predate the oldest books of the Bible by 1,000 years.
Mayan technical skill extended to complex calendar systems and hieroglyphic writing whose images are in evidence at Chichén-Itzá. Mayan artisans were skillful weavers and potters and artifacts have been found in vast quantities at the site. The ancient Mayans also cleared routes for trade. Their main source of fresh water was from cenotes (sink-holes) and they stored rainwater in reservoirs called chultun.
Mayan civilization was socially complex and technologically evolved
Mayan culture made remarkable advances in mathematics and astronomy. Mayans are known for their impressive urban planning, farming methods, and architectural achievements. All of these impressive achievements are to be seen at Chichén-Itzá in its pyramids, temples, ball courts, palaces, and astronomical observatories.
By 300 BCE Mayan society had evolved into a hierarchical social structure where kings and priests ruled. Stretching from Cancún through the Yucatán, Belize, and Guatemala to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, Mayan civilization was a highly structured society. It consisted of several independent states, each possessed of several classes—a ruling class, warrior class, and agricultural class. The society reached its apex in the Classic period from about 200 CE to 900 CE.
The stone monuments at Chichén-Itzá were built as a ceremonial center during the Classic period. As it continues to impress visitors today, it accomplished the same thing for ancient Mayans over 1,000 years ago.
Toltecs absorb Ancient Mayans in about 900 A.D.
The decline of ancient Mayan civilization started around 900 CE as they began to surrender their independence to the Toltecs who absorbed them. The Toltecs were another pre- Colonial Mesoamerican civilization located in central Mexico that reached its height between around 900 to almost 1200 CE. Though Chichén-Itzá as a ceremonial center would not die for another 250 years, the city became a vestige of itself whose remnants alone of a great civilization survived when conquered by the Spanish colonists in the 15th century.
It was hot and humid when we arrived into Chichén-Itzá. Discovered by explorers as early as the 1830’s—and opened to the public in 1922—it was today an impressive and expansive series of ancient stone monuments on a grassy 1200-acre campus carved out of jungle. Do people live further into the jungle? Raúl said about one mile from the road there are small communities of two or three hundred people who live in farther from the main road.
The pyramids and temples of Chichén-Itzá are the Yucatán’s best known monuments. The Mayan city was absorbed by the Toltecs in 987 CE. According to legend, a man named Kukulcan—who is the same figure as Quetzalcoatl from the Toltec capital of Tula —arrived from the west “for the redemption of his people.” In Chichén-Itzá, Kukulcan built this magnificent city which combined the Puuc style of the Mayans and the motifs of the Toltecs, namely, the feathered serpent, warriors, eagles and jaguars.
Maya explorers include American Edward Thompson (1857-1935) and others
Starting in the midnineteenth century and again at the end of the century, there was a range of scientists and explorers associated with the discovery and excavation of the archeological site of Chichén-Itzá that is seen today.
As its great natural water well (or cenote) likely gave Chichén-Itzá its name, one major figure worth considering is the early American explorer Edward Thompson (1857-1935). For most of his adult life Edward Thompson lived and worked at Chichén-Itzá including famously dredging and diving into the sacred well in search of treasure and human remains for evidence of legends of human sacrifices.
A diplomat by profession and an amateur archeologist, Thompson had an indefatigable curiosity about the ancient Mayan ceremonial city and did important work here.
As a young scholar Thompson was inspired by the writings of American explorer and diplomat John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852). Together with English artist Frederick Catherwood (1799-1845) they were pivotal figures in the rediscovery of Maya civilization in Central America.
Catherwood’s detailed drawings of the ruins of the Maya civilization explored by Stephens led to best-selling books published in the early 1840s such as Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán. These were illustrated works that introduced Europe and the United States to the civilization of the ancient Maya.
Stephens and Catherwood in turn had been inspired by earlier pioneers of scientists and explorers. Two figures who influenced them were Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and Juan Galindo (1802–1840).
Von Humboldt was a Prussian geographer, naturalist, and explorer whose work in botanical geography led to the development of the field of biogeography. Galindo was an Anglo-Irish military and administrative officer in the short-lived liberal Federal Republic of Central America (1823-1841) and who was actively engaged in Maya archeology.
In 1847 the Caste War of Yucatán broke out limiting access to the Yucatán’s unexcavated ruins. The Caste War restricted the borders of Yucatán and Quintana Roo to all but indigenous Maya for nearly 60 years, making travel to the area dangerous. When the United States appointed Edward Thompson archaeological consul to the Yucatán in 1895 he became one of the first to explore the land since the Caste War.
Edward Thompson arrived in the Yucatán at Mérida in 1895. He had purchased land in 1894 that included the unexcavated site of Chichén-Itzá. For the next 30 years Thompson dedicated his life to exploring the site.
Thompson dredges Sacred Well
In 1904 Thompson started to explore the bottom of the sacred well— the cenote sagrado. Thompson used divers (including himself) and dredges. Over six years he brought up a fortune in gold, copper and jade as well as a wealth of vases, obsidian glass knives and Maya incense called copal. Thompson did some of his explorations for major American museums such as The Field Museum in Chicago and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, among others.
From his arrival, the sacred well attracted Thompson’s intense interest. In his 1932 book, People of the Serpent, Thompson stated he became intrigued with the murky waters of the great well as soon as he first saw it from the top of El Castillo.
Though most ancient Maya artifacts as well as its codice books with its written language were destroyed by the local Catholic Church authorities in the 16th century, Thompson read the colonial Spanish accounts of Mayan history.
To implement his plan to explore the cenote, Thompson returned to his hometown of Boston where he raised money, took diving lessons, and constructed a specialized diving mechanism. Thompson sent the dredging bucket, winch, tackles, steel cables, derrick and 30-foot boom to Chichén-Itzá.
The dredge buckets brought up ornaments and objects of daily life. Thompson’s and another diver’s plunges discovered more precious treasures, including human skeletons. These discoveries were controversial. The fact that this ancient site was being disturbed brought critics. Further, Thompson was neither a scientist nor academic but simply an enthusiastic amateur. He published his Maya civilization studies in Popular Science Magazine. But these critiques aside, Thompson’s field work virtually single-handedly put Chichén-Itzá on every world explorer’s own bucket list.
Thompson excavated graves at the Ossario (High Priest’s Temple), the mid-sized step-style pyramid within the Ossario Group complex of Mayan temples found just south of the Kukulkan pyramid series. Thompson’s discoveries offered an outcome not unlike the cenote. In the Ossario pyramid and its cave Thompson found more jade, pottery, human bones, and various other ancient Mayan artifacts.
How Chichén-Itzá’s pyramids were built
Close to Chichén-Itzá Thompson discovered pits with quarried veins oflime gravel that the Mayan’s used for mortar. Nearby he found stones of calcite (to hammer), flint (to pick) and smooth stones used to produce flat surfaces on walls. Ancient Mayan craftsmen had no metal tools, but these stone implements helped scientists to reconstruct how the monumental buildings could be constructed. Thompson also uncovered shards of nephrite (a type of jade) as well as the so-called Mayan “date” stone, known later as the Tablet of the Initial Series. This stone let iconographers decipher the dates of Chichén-Itzá’s Classic period.
In 1926 Thompson’s land was seized by authorities of Mexico’s new nationalist government and Thompson was charged with removing artifacts illegally. It was only in 1944, almost a decade after Thompson’s death, that the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in the North American explorer’s favor.
Major sites at Chichén-Itzá
It is frankly thrilling to see the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican step pyramid. At nearly 80 feet tall, the pyramid dominates the center of the archaeological site of Chichén-Itzá. It was built between 700 and 1100 A.D.
El Castillo served as a temple to the god Kukulkan. Each side of the pyramid has 91 steps for a total of 364 steps. With the platform at the top, it equals the 365 days of the year. There are 52 smooth stone panels on each side of the pyramid which coordinates with the ancient Mayan calendar’s 52-year cycle. The nine terraces on each side of the pyramid represent the 18-month solar calendar.
Twice during Spring Equinox (March 21) at sunrise and sunset, the sunlight is observed to move down stair by stair from the top stair of the northern stairway until it touches the famous serpent head stone carving at the base of the pyramid. In a marvel of nature, sunlight and shadow work to form a “serpent” that appears to descend into the earth. The cosmological phenomenon was an important fertility symbol for the Mayans whose society was agricultural. It signaled that the golden sun had entered the earth in the form of a serpent and that it was time to plant corn.
Teobert Maler (1842–1917) was a pioneer of ancient Maya research. Maler’s expeditions to over 150 ruins in the Yucatán began secretly in the 1870s.
Several ruins Maler described and photographed had been discovered by him, and his photographs of its architecture and inscriptions aided further research in ancient Maya civilization.
Many sites Maler photographed were not visited by scientists until decades later. As the ruins were often further damaged by climate events or human impact—Maler’s photographs remain some of the best record of Maya ruins.
Because of Maler’s work at Chichén-Itzá and elsewhere, the German explorer is regarded as one of the most important research photographers of the 19th century.
FEATURE image: Titus Brandsma, a Dutch educator, journalist and priest, had been appointed by the Catholic Bishops in Holland as their chief spokesman to defend the freedom of Catholic education and the press. The 60-year-old Carmelite was arrested in Holland by the Nazis in early 1942 and killed by lethal injection (carbolic acid) in Dachau concentration camp in Germany in July 1942. This is one of the last photos of Fr. Brandsma prior to his arrest. FOTO GPD/PR. Bob van Huet. Fair Use.
Special note: When this post was published in August 2019 Titus Brandsma was a declared Blessed of the Catholic Church, on his way to sainthood. On May 15, 2022, Pope Francis in the first canonization ceremony at the Vatican since 2019, declared 10 new saints. Among them was Titus Brandsma, O.Carm., who had been a prisoner of the Nazis and killed by them in Dachau concentration camp in 1942.Father Brandsma was a prolific writer published in scores of publications who vociferously and publicly opposed Nazi ideology since 1933 when Hitler came to power in Germany.
Blessed Titus Brandsma (1881-1942).
By John P. Walsh
August 14 is the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941). Fr. Kolbe died in a Nazi concentration camp (Auschwitz) after he traded places with another camp prisoner condemned to die who was a stranger. That camp prisoner, a husband and father, survived the war. He testified to Kolbe’s heroic and charitable action as a martyr during Kolbe’s canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church. Kolbe was pronounced a saint on October 10, 1982 by St. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005).
Another Catholic martyr out of the Nazi camps who is also much worth knowing is Blessed Titus Brandsma (1881-1942). Brandsma died in Dachau concentration camp, the Nazi’s first concentration camp. Opened in 1933 Dachau’s initial purpose was to imprison political opponents of the Third Reich. Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan and Brandsma was a Dutch Carmelite. In 1985 Fr. Brandsma was declared a Blessed of the Church by St. Pope John Paul II setting him too on the road to sainthood.
Blessed Titus Brandsma as a young Carmelite friar. He became an ordained priest.
Franciscan friar Fr. Maximilian Kolbe’s father was German and his mother was Polish. A journalist by trade he had dedicated his work to the Virgin Mary. Arrested in Poland on February 17, 1941 for sheltering Jews and anti-Nazi publishing, Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz on May 28, 1941. He died on August 14, 1941 after he traded places with another prisoner, a total stranger, who had been condemned to die in a retribution killing by the Nazis. In 1982 Kolbe was made a saint by St. Pope John Paul II.
Both Frs. Kolbe and Brandsma were dedicated journalists. Brandsma was a university founder and teacher as well as a modern art advocate. In 1921 he famously defended the artistic freedom of the leading Symbolist and Expressionist painter in Belgium, Albert Servaes (1883-1966). The artist, a committed Catholic, once said “I have had only two masters. The Gospels and nature.” Yet his new art work for the Stations of the Cross caused an uproar among some Catholics who were offended by the contemporary depictions of Christ’s Passion. Brandsma supported Servaes’ work for the church of the Discalced Carmelites in Luythagen, a suburb of Antwerp (they can be found today in the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven in Tilburg, Netherlands). Brandsma arranged for the new art to be accompanied by Brandsma’s own meditations on them and published together in a newly-founded Catholic cultural review called Opgang, This helped present and clarify the profound religious content of the art work which worked to inspire the Catholic Flemish people as well as placate irate Carmelite superiors in Rome.
Much has been said and written on Titus Brandsma since his death in 1942 in Dachau concentration camp. One major theme about Brandsma from those who crossed paths with him in his lifetime was that he was a man of positive vitality, charity and cheer.
Brandsma, born in February 1881 in Bolsward in Friesland, came from a religious family of Dutch farmers. Brandsma was educated in college by the Franciscans and, afterwards, in 1898, became a Carmelite novice in Boxmeer, south of Nijmegen near the German border. In 1905 he was ordained a priest and studied in Rome until 1910. When the 30-year-old Carmelite priest returned to Holland, he was made professor of philosophy and Church history in Oss, about halfway between ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Nijmegen. Later Fr. Brandsma served as the professor of philosophy in the newly-established Catholic University at Nijmegen, becoming its Rector Magnificus in 1932.
When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the Catholic bishops named Titus Brandsma as the spokesman for the freedom of Catholic education and the press. Since 1935 he was chaplain to the Union of Catholic Journalists, an episcopal appointment. Brandsma did his jobs seriously and effectively. Father Brandsma, who was a prolific writer published in scores of publications, had vociferously and publicly opposed Nazi ideology since 1933 when Hitler came to power in Germany. In July 1941 Brandsma authored a Pastoral Letter on behalf of the bishops that was read in all Catholic parishes. The letter officially condemned the Nazis’s anti-Semitic laws and Dutch Catholics were informed that they would be denied the sacraments if they supported the Nazi party.
Brandsma had been vehemently opposed to Nazi ideology from the time Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933. By speaking out and writing against it many times before the Second World War, he was finally arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis in their infamous Dachau concentration camp where he died.
The Nazis hated Brandsma’s vehement and active long opposition to them. They finally arrested him and tried and condemned him as an “enemy of the state” in January 1942. Just seven months later, in July 1942, Titus Brandsma was dead. His death was caused by the terrible sufferings inflicted on him by the Nazis. At the very end, Brandsma, like other prisoners, was used as a guinea pig for Nazi “doctors.” To combat malaria affecting German soldiers, the Nazis experimented on prisoners, in this instance, involuntarily infecting them with malaria and then using exotic and dangerous drugs in an attempt at a cure. At that point in his captivity, Brandsma, already worthless to the Nazis since he couldn’t work—and whose convictions they could not beat or dehumanize out of him — became a dead man walking.
There were around 40 million Protestants and 20 million Catholics in Nazi Germany. A vast majority of Germans including Germany’s 20,000 Catholic priests lived under Hitler’s ideology and were not persecuted by the Nazis. The Nazis wanted all culture and thought to bend to their ideology and whoever spoke or acted against that imperative were imprisoned and often murdered. The first clergymen to arrive at Dachau were Polish priests sent there in 1939 for helping the Polish Resistance against the Nazi invasion. Many of these nearly 2,000 Polish priests suffered the same brutal treatment as did Titus Brandsma — a regimen of starvation, beatings, and involuntary medical experimentation. From 1933 to 1945, of the 3,000 clergymen who were inmates at Dachau—whether Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, or Muslim — about 1,100 perished. Nearly one-third of Dachau’s 200,000 prisoners (or 65,000) were Jews, many of them Germans and Austrians.
Titus Brandsma as a young Carmelite friar.
Titus Brandsma as a 30 year old Dutch Carmelite priest. Brandsma was a teacher, journalist, and modern religious art advocate.
Brandsma as a teacher in 1924.
Bradsma was university rector at Nijmegan in 1934. Hitler had rose to power in neighboring Germany the year before which Brandsma vehemently opposed for the rest of his life.
For weeks since his arrival into Dachau concentration camp just outside cheery Munich, Brandsma had been starved and savagely beaten regularly. His body depleted of strength, Brandsma became infected with camp plague. Refusing to go to the camp hospital called by camp prisoners “a hell within hell,” Brandsma was eventually admitted. Its doctors, having no mission to heal and restore their patients often used them, as they did Brandsma, for cruel medical experimentation. In the end, the camp doctor assigned to Brandsma’s case ordered that his patient, now dying of terminal renal failure, be given a lethal injection administered by a camp nurse. The woman, a lapsed Catholic and SS functionary, survived the war and, having at that time returned to her faith, testified long after the war was over to Brandsma’s cause of death that afternoon in the summer of 1942. She remembered his last moments and that he reached into his tattered pocket to give her his only personal possession. It was a crude rosary made and given to Brandsma by another Dutch prisoner who had been executed.
One of the last photographs of Titus Brandsma before his arrest and condemnation by the Nazis as an “enemy of the state.” Brandsma had been appointed by the Catholic Bishops in Holland as their chief spokesman to defend the freedom of Catholic education and the press. After Brandsma authored a Pastoral Letter on behalf of the bishops that was read in all Catholic parishes in July 1941 that officially condemned the Nazis’s anti-Semitic laws and informed Dutch Catholics that they would be denied the sacraments if they supported the Nazi party, the Nazis arrested the Carmelite friar. Brandsma spent most of the winter and spring of 1942 in Nazi jails in Holland and was taken to Dachau concentration camp on June 19, 1942 where he died on July 26, 1942.
A drawing of Titus Brandsma in Amersfoort prison in Holland in spring 1942. It was drawn by a fellow prisoner who himself was executed by the Nazis on May 6, 1942.
When the Nazis arrested Brandsma in Holland for his exercise of free speech, the journalist-priest marveled at his bad luck: “I’m 60 years old and I’m going to jail.” Confined in assorted jails of worsening condition all that winter and into spring he arrived at Dachau in June 1942. Brandsma worked to keep a positive, indeed charitable, attitude as far as possible within a hideously barbaric situation. When he went so far as to encourage other Catholic camp prisoners to include the Nazi guards in their prayers, the other prisoners violently demurred. Brandsma retorted: “I didn’t say you ought to pray for them all day long!”
Titus Brandsma’s signature with the abbreviation “O.Carm.” after it indicating his being part of the Carmelite Order.
Worn out by the violent maltreatment of the Nazi camp guards, and inhuman camp conditions, Brandsma fell ill and, deemed invaluable for work, became a guinea pig for camp medical experiments conducted by SS doctors. When Brandsma died in Nazi hands on July 26, 1942–a lethal injection of carbolic acid administered by a young Berlin-trained nurse assigned to Dachau under penalty of being shot for insubordination and who, over 40 years later, testified at Brandsma’s beatification process–his remains were taken by camp staff after three days and burned in the camp’s old furnaces.
By 1943 Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) had ordered and installed new and bigger furnaces. They were used around the clock to dispose of prisoner remains until April 29, 1945 when Dachau was liberated by a large force of American soldiers. The Nazis scraped Brandsma’s ashes out of the furnace and disposed of them in the camp’s unmarked pit among thousands of other victims at Dachau. Inside this once-mass killing facility set within a leafy, banal German suburb that gives it its name, it is unknown the precise number of actual prisoner deaths that occurred here between 1933 and 1945, although 32,000 deaths are recorded.
Furnaces in the crematorium at Dachau. More than 31,000 prisoners died in Dachau concentration camp from 1933 to its liberation by American soldiers in 1945. The former concentration camp is situated in the middle of a leafy, banal German suburb of the same name.
When 61-year-old Fr. Brandsma died in Nazi hands on July 26, 1942 from a lethal injection of carbolic acid administered by a young Berlin-trained nurse assigned to Dachau under penalty of being shot for insubordination, his remains were taken by camp staff after three days and burned in the camp’s old furnaces. Over 40 years later, the nurse testified at Fr. Brandsma’s beatification process. Author’s photograph, July 1984.
At the Dachau Memorial Site, a Carmelite convent of contemplative nuns is one of the memorials close by. Built on the site of a gravel pit where prisoners were sent to work when punished for breaking camp rules, the convent’s entrance is through a former Dachau guard tower.
Always the writer, Titus Brandsma kept writing even in prison. These prison writings are a source for amazement and inspiration today. In the depth of his own terrible suffering at the hands of others, Titus Brandsma wrote: “In the depths of our being we come upon the activity of God by which he sustains us and we are led and guided by him. We have to go to its deepest source to rediscover ourselves in God.”
The author at Dachau concentration camp in July 1984. The sculpture memorial to Dachau prisoners from 1933 to 1945 by Yugoslav sculptor Nandor Glid (1924-1997) is just behind me. Glid was a Holocaust survivor who had been a forced laborer and partisan during the war and whose father and most of his family were murdered in Auschwitz.
My photograph of the entrance gate into the camp during a visit in July 1984.
Another of my photographs from Dachau in July 1984 — barbed wire, ditch, and a watch tower. The broad expanse of the prisoner barracks were dismantled leaving only their graveled footprint.
Brief newspaper announcement of the death of Blessed Fr. Titus Brandsma, Carmelite Order. Brandsma’s cause for sainthood continues to go forward today.
Oil painting by Steve Trizna of the stages of life of Blessed Fr. Titus Brandsma, O. Carm. Photograph by author.
Burnished bronze statue of St. Titus Brandsma, O. Carm. by Demetz Studio (Italy), National Shrine and Museum of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Darien, Illinois. Photograph by author.
FEATURE image: Detail from St. Francis Receiving the Franciscan Order from Pope Honorius III by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494). The fresco, painted in the mid1480s (1483-85), was originally for Santa Trinita in Florence, Italy. It is today in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Ghirlandaio’s complete fresco image is included in this post below.
Giotto (1267-1337), St. Francis with two men (detail), 1297-1300, Upper Church, Basilica di S. Francesco, Assisi, Italy.
By John P. Walsh
A plenary indulgence in the Roman Catholic Church wipes clean all punishment for sins during a person’s entire lifetime. For something that may assure a soul is heaven bound, there are specific and precise earthly requirements to be followed. A plenary indulgence means that the punishment for sins that could well be experienced on earth or after death in purgatory are expiated or removed. A plenary indulgence stands in contrast to the more common partial indulgences which are less comprehensive and come in a far broader range.
The plenary indulgence granted by the Pope in 1216 to the Portiuncula, a lowly Franciscan chapel outside Assisi — the so-called Portiuncula Indulgence — is remarkable in church history. As with most things associated with the life of St. Francis of Assisi (c.1181-1226), the episode turned the church’s indulgence system on its head. The new pope, Honorius III (1150-1227, reign 1216-1227), who followed the powerful and influential Pope Innocent III (reign, 1198-1216), was asked by St. Francis himself for the plenary indulgence linked to the Portiuncula, the one-room chapel given to the Franciscans and the central place for many of their founder’s most profound religious experiences.
The Portiuncula (or “Little Portion”) is a 9th century chapel given to the Franciscans by local Benedictine monks. It was here that St. Francis of Assisi received his calling to be a mendicant or beggar following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Since the mid-17th century it has been enshrined within a massive basilica in Assisi called Santa Maria degli Angeli (“Our Lady of the Angels”).
Honorius III listened to the little poor man Francis and expressed extreme reluctance to grant his request. How could the mighty church bestow its fullest plenary indulgence on an obscure, rundown 180 square foot chapel when a holy place such as that might normally receive only a partial indulgence? Churches, usually at their dedication, would gain a partial indulgence of days or perhaps a year or two. The Portiuncula Indulgence which begins each year at sunset on the evening of August 1 and extends until sunset of the following day, is a plenary (or lifetime) indulgence that was approved at the highest levels of the church by virtue of St. Francis of Assisi’s bold request. The saint always insisted it was not he, but Jesus Christ Himself who was asking for the plenary Portiuncula Indulgence.
Pope Francis who when elected in 2013 took his name from St. Francis of Assisi sits inside the Portiuncula chapel during his visit to Assisi in 2016 for World Day of Prayer For Peace.
In the early 13th century the church’s only plenary indulgence was for the Crusades in the Holy Land — at first for the Crusaders themselves and later for those who provided their spiritual and material support. Interestingly, the distribution of and sharing in this sole plenary indulgence had been granted to the Franciscans. The new order (1209) which started in Assisi under St. Francis had quickly spread not only throughout Europe in Francis’s lifetime but the known world. The Franciscan Order would soon embrace both men and women, religious and laity. St. Francis’s own vocation started dramatically in 1208 at the Portiuncula, the tiny dilapidated chapel on a wide plain below Assisi, no more than an hour’s walk from the hill town’s main square.
Francis’s request to the pope who was holding court in Perugia was a bold one. The pope greatly hesitated; then assented. The cardinals and the Curia—as well as the local bishops—were opposed to the idea of a plenary indulgence for the Portiuncula. Francis’s “Little Portion” was just that and unworthy of the church’s fullest indulgence especially as an international banking system was watching and to which the church had become increasingly aligned. Unable to quash outright the Poverello’s request with its papal approbation, the cardinals and Curia worked successfully to limit its temporal parameters, that is, allowing the plenary indulgence for the Little Portion to work for the littlest of time. The plenary indulgence would be one day each year, from sunset of August 1 to sunset of August 2. This has remained its arrangement for more than 800 years.
St. Francis Receiving Confirmation of the Franciscan Order from Pope Honorious III, by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494), originally in a central position in the Santa Trinita, Florence, Italy. It is housed today at the Piazza della Signoria. The approval of the Franciscan order by Honorius III depicted in this fresco occurred in 1223 which was about 7 years after the Portiuncula Indulgence, This late 15th-century art work provides insight into the almost public event that any papal encounter entailed.
To acquire any plenary indulgence including the Portiuncula Indulgence requires taking action regarding the work to which the indulgence is attached -– in this case, it began with pilgrimage to the Portiuncula in Assisi. It also means fulfilling three more conditions. The applicant must (1) make a sacramental confession, (2) receive holy communion, and (3) pray for the intentions of the pope. To acquire a plenary indulgence also means that not even the smallest attachment to any sin is permitted.
After their meeting in 1216 the pope offered Francis the appropriate paperwork for his extraordinary indulgence but like many times before and on integral events in the life of the Franciscan Order, Francis waved it off. This great saint concluded that even church documents could be superfluous to the actual manifestation of God’s work.
Simone Martini (c. 1285-1344), St. Francis with the Stigmata, Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi, Italy.
After St. Francis died on October 3, 1226 at the Portiuncula, its plenary indulgence’s lack of a contemporary document and continued animosity from grandiose church figures led early Franciscans to not highlight the privilege. By the 1270’s with the last of the Franciscans who personally knew Francis dying off, those brothers who had been at Perugia in 1216 to witness the Portiuncula indulgence set about making notarized statements attesting to its veracity.
In this first quarter of the 21st century Franciscans and other pilgrims continue to arrive to Assisi in a constant stream as they have since the 13th century. Their visits often include traveling the short distance to the Portiuncula which is the spiritual home of St. Francis and the Franciscan movement, all of which has made a noteworthy impact on world history. But not every visit— especially among 13th century Franciscans—provides easy historical documentation of their witness to the Portiuncula’s plenary indulgence in August.
In a certain way, the origin of the Portiuncula indulgence attributed to St. Francis is shrouded in history as much as possibly legend. In 2019 the Portiuncula indulgence will be in effect, as it has since 1216, from the evening of August 1 to that of August 2.
In addition to the sacramental requirements, its plenary indulgence may be received by visiting any Franciscan church in the world and that the pilgrim— in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi— has that tiny terra sancta called the Portiuncula uppermost in mind so that out of that place its graces may flow.
St. Francis of Assisi, Johannes Jörgensen, translated from the Danish with the author’s sanction by T. O’Conor Sloane, Image Books in association with Longmans, Green & Company, Inc, 1955.
Manual of Indulgences, USCCB Publishing, 2006.
Civilisation, Kenneth Clark, Harper & Row Publishers, New York and Evanston, 1969.
FEATURE image: Notre Dame under re-construction, 2019.
By John P. Walsh, May 21, 2019.
Fire broke out with 1,000 people inside the building
Notre Dame de Paris suffered a devastating fire on April 15, 2019 causing most of its roof and a 300-foot oak spire to collapse. The fire broke out during an early evening Mass when more than 1,000 people were in the cathedral which is the most touristic site in the center of the most touristic city in the world. The priest had been in the middle of reading that day’s Gospel of John. It was Holy Monday, the first day of Holy Week where the gospel tells the story of Mary pouring oil over the feet of Jesus which will anoint him for burial. Judas complains the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.1
Pledges to rebuild
Notre Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris” named in honor of the Virgin Mary) will take years, even decades, to rebuild and at great expense. This will be the case whether the edifice is simply restored or, as some have argued for, more creatively re-imagined for modern times. Whichever rebuilding vision or visions are followed – and there will be voices from many quarters involved in the restoration process ahead – French president Emmanuel Macron promised to complete its rebuilding by around 2024. Within 48 hours of the fire, donations poured in from around the world to rebuild the cathedral amounting to more than one billion dollars whose substantial amount may prove inadequate to fully cover rebuilding costs.2
Spotty maintenance record for 850-year-old stone and wood building
While the fire’s precise ultimate cause is yet to be fully determined, the conditions surrounding the blaze are recognizably available:
its spotty maintenance record over 10 centuries;
the anachronistic methods and complexity of its 21st century renovation going on when the fire broke out;
the twelfth and thirteenth century flammable oak “forest’” that constitutes the building’s roof and frame;
and, the challenges encountered by hundreds of firefighters owing to the cathedral’s size and the fire’s location and size.
Almost ironically, the Cathedral roof that burned—a major attic fire— was one of the larger parts of the original 12th century cathedral builder’s monied investment.3
BRIEF ACCOUNT OF NOTRE DAME DE PARIS’S ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY
Notre Dame de Paris is one of Paris’s famous icons–an historical and religious treasure–and one of France’s great cathedrals along with Reims (which was nearly destroyed by fire during World War I) and Chartres (reconstructed after a fire in 1194). Others on any short list of great French cathedrals would include Amiens and Bourges, among others.
In 1163 when it became time to roof the superstructure of Notre Dame de Paris’s choir which was the first part of the church to be constructed, Paris bishop Maurice de Sully (1120-1196) provided 5000 French livres so that it could be richly and securely layered with lead. That and other of the Cathedral roof’s protective lead covering was stolen during the French Revolution in the eighteenth century.
The roof’s space and design provided a large part of the church’s riddle of secret passages -– including spiral staircases in the nave’s columns -– that served mainly for the needs of the religious complex’s operation and maintenance. Engineering of the 12th and 13th centuries proved resilient over nearly 1000 years — through hardly impervious to obsolescence and decay.
The 2019 blaze caused serious damage to the cathedral infrastructure. The flames left behind many questions to be answered about the medieval stone and timber building’s ultimate stability. History’s endurance for more than a church was at stake. Notre Dame de Paris is Paris Point Zero – the very center of the Île-de la-Cité, Paris, and all distances in France and, by extension, the world, are to be judged.4
The Gothic Cathedral: A Quintessentially French Story
The French Gothic building project stretched from a Collégiale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Laurent d’Eu (1186) in northeastern France to Toulouse Cathedral (13th century) in in France’s Languedoc in the south.
The story of the Gothic cathedral, such as Notre Dame de Paris, is essentially a French story.
By the end of the Gothic Movement in the late 14th century, all corners of France -– and points between — possessed a Gothic church that displayed pointed arch, stained glass, and buttresses, some of them magnificently flying.
The style and power of Gothic art reflected not only a new theological thinking in the Renaissance of the 12th century but also an assertion of royal power.5
Impact of the 13th century Crusades on Notre Dame de Paris
The Gothic age was characterized by international crusades of Western conquest to the Holy Land. The French king, Louis IX, or St. Louis (1214-1270) led its seventh manifestation from 1248 to 1254. Louis died while on its Eighth.
In the Holy Land the French king purchased relics to bring back to France, including the highly prized Crown of Thorns reputedly worn by Jesus Christ at his crucifixion. Relics were an investment that could pay off by generating pilgrimages.
In the April 2019 fire, scores of ordinary people and cathedral personnel formed a human chain to save the cathedral’s artifacts, most irreplaceable, and prevent their consumed in the hellish blaze.
As one of the first cathedrals built, Notre Dame de Paris is of enduring architectural significance. Monday, April 15, 2019 was a tragic day in history as fire broke out in the 850-year old edifice while the world watched.
Thousands of people gathered in the streets of Paris, and transmitted pictures of the dramatic blaze from smartphones and other devices onto the internet and television as a major live news event. It caused many to shed tears and ask questions about what is ahead for a beloved symbol of Paris.
THE FIRE’S IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH
In the aftermath of the 2019 fire, workers aimed to secure and protect the edifice which will take several months to finalize.
By May 2019, the north tower was stabilized and secured while the transept’s beams were declared in good condition.
Although the interior was not damaged, the structural integrity of the high vaults that protected it remains uncertain and requires further close study. The cathedral is undergoing a major effort to remove fire debris including the oak spire (or flèche) dating from 1860 as well as the arch that burned and crashed into the nave.
Cataloguing debris and predicting the building’s future
To the highest degree possible, each bit of fallen debris will be deciphered, cataloged and saved for potential reuse in a restoration. One month after the fire, it was declared premature to know if the building is completely stable or if it might further collapse.
Working on the cathedral in the 21st century are virtually the same type of skilled laborers who built it in the first place in the 12th and 13th centuries – namely, masons, stonecutters, carpenters, roofers, iron workers, and master glassmakers.6
The work associated with the Notre Dame de Paris in the aftermath of the 2019 fire promises to concentrate centuries of history into one location looking to sustain its continued thriving existence for future generations.
1. “Vows to Restore Notre Dame Following a Harrowing
Rescue,” by Sam Schechner and Stacy Meichtry, The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2019; see Gospel of John, Chapter 12.