Norway prepares for ‘biggest change to the church since Reformation’

From Norway prepares for ‘biggest change to the church since Reformation’

On January 1st, the Church of Norway and the Norwegian government will formally divorce after nearly 500 years together. (…)

When 2016 becomes 2017, Norway will formalize the separation of church and state that was set in motion eight years ago by parliament. As of January 1st, the Nordic nation’s 1,250 priests and bishops will no longer be government officials appointed by the king. And the Church of Norway will no longer be an agency of the state, but an independent business. [continue]

Independent business? Surely they mean charity.

I had forgotten that the Norwegian Lutheran church was so closely tied to the state.

How Bucharest rolled entire churches to safety

From the Guardian: The great escape: How Bucharest rolled entire churches to safety.

It must be startling to look out of your window and see a centuries-old church rolling by. Even more so if you are in communist Romania in the 1980s, where news is state-controlled and everyday items rationed. And yet, between 1982 and 1988 almost a dozen churches, as well as other buildings, were moved hundreds of metres in order to save them from destruction, as dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu went about radically redesigning the heart of Bucharest, the Romanian capital.

That a communist country would go out of its way to save churches is strange enough, but the method of saving them, when other countries would probably have tried to dismantle the buildings and reassemble them elsewhere, makes the achievement all the more impressive.

“We were awestruck at those operations, comparing them with the landing on the moon for a country like Romania,” says Valentin Mandache, an architectural historian who witnessed the moving of several of the churches when he was still a young student.

At the centre of it all was Eugeniu Iordăchescu, a civil engineer who had the radical idea to place whole buildings on the equivalent of railway tracks and roll them to safety. [continue]

Was the Aksa Mosque built over the remains of a Byzantine church?

From the Jerusalem Post: Was the Aksa Mosque built over the remains of a Byzantine church?.

The photo archives of a British archeologist who carried out the only archeological excavation ever undertaken at the Temple Mount’s Aksa Mosque show a Byzantine mosaic floor underneath the mosque that was likely the remains of a church or a monastery, an Israeli archeologist said on Sunday. [continue, see photo].

First Islamic inscription may solve Qur’an question

From First Islamic Inscription May Solve Qur’an Question.

An Arabic traveler who engraved his name on a block of red sandstone over 1,300 years ago may help solve a question about the Qur’an that has vexed historians for hundreds of years: Why was the text seemingly written without diacritical marks?

Diacritical marks, which include accent marks, tildes, umlauts and other notations, help to distinguish one letter from another and aid in pronunciation. When added or removed, they can completely change the meaning of a word or sentence.

Analysis of the recently found sandstone inscription, which predates the earliest known copies of the Qur’an, determined that it reads: [continue].

Islamic theologian’s theory

From the Wall Street Journal: Professor Hired for Outreach to Muslims Delivers a Jolt.

Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany’s first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn’t like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.

So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed. [continue].

Mystery of cardinal’s missing bones

From the BBC: Mystery of cardinal’s missing bones.

A forensic archaeologist has raised fresh questions over why no remains were found in the grave of an English cardinal in line to become a saint.

It comes just days before artefacts owned by Cardinal John Henry Newman go on display ahead of his possible beatification.

Tens of thousands of mourners lined the streets of Birmingham in 1890 as Cardinal John Henry Newman’s body was carried eight miles to its final resting place.

Some 118 years later the Vatican ordered his remains be dug up. [continue].

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Vatican switchboard sees a human touch as the answer

From the LA Times: Vatican switchboard sees a human touch as the answer.

Telecommunications technology of the early 21st century has produced a phenomenon known as "phone hell": an audio inferno where callers are tormented either by mechanized voices or human ones with less soul than the machines.

But the opposite exists. It can be found here in a simply furnished second-floor room where multilingual nuns in gray habits answer phones with an unfailingly sweet-voiced greeting: "Pronto, Vaticano" (Hello, Vatican).

For 50 years, the nuns of the order of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master have operated the Vatican switchboard. They are the gatekeepers of the Holy See.

The sisters field half a million calls a year from all over the world. They assist the friendly, the loud, the troubled. They help the faithful negotiate a labyrinthine Roman Catholic Church bureaucracy whose instincts tend toward discretion, if not mystery.

Sister Maria Clara, the 55-year-old chief operator, is [continue, see photo]

Researchers dig up the dirt on father of Protestantism

From The Guardian: Researchers dig up the dirt on father of Protestantism

German scientists have reconstructed an extraordinarily detailed picture of the domestic life of Martin Luther, the 16th-century reformer and father of Protestantism, by trawling through his household waste uncovered during archaeological digs on sites where he used to live.

Beer tankards, grains of corn, cooking pots, even his toilet are among the finds dug up during the five-year project in the three places in Germany he spent his life. The items include his wife’s golden wedding band, a collection of 250 silver coins and the medicines used to treat his various ailments from angina to constipation.

But some finds have upset the Protestant church in Wittenberg where the ex-monk lived with his wife, the ex-nun Katharina von Bora, and their six children. [continue]

Update: there’s more at Der Spiegel: Archaeologists Unveil Secrets of Luther’s Life

Did Norsemen bring Christianity to Scotland?

From the BBC: Uncovering north’s Christian past.

A group of archaeologists are trying to establish if Norsemen brought Christianity to Caithness before St Columba arrived on Iona.

The question has arisen after a dig at an ancient church site at the coastal village of Dunbeath.

Pottery dating back to the 6th Century has recently been found in the area.

A University of Nottingham team is to carry out further exploration which they hope could show evidence of an even earlier Christian church. [continue, see video]

Monastery atop Church of Holy Sepulchre in danger of collapse

From Monastery atop Church of Holy Sepulchre in danger of collapse .

The historic Deir al-Sultan monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is in danger of collapse.

The church is one of the most sacred sites in Christendom. By tradition, it is the site both of Golgotha where the New Testament says that Jesus was crucified, and the place where Jesus was buried (the sepulchre).

The monastery’s two chapels and the tiny rooms where its monks live could crumble, injuring the many tourists who visit the site, as well as the monks who live there, and even the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself.

An engineer who examined the structures recently said [continue]

An unusual clean-up

From the Beeb: An unusual clean-up.

About a dozen men were scrabbling hard at an old, cracked wall. From time to time, they would stab a wooden pick inside the the jammed crevices, as if they were microscopic dental hygienists trying to scrape clean a vast, uneven mouth.

They were in action because this Monday night is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Twice a year, before Rosh Hashanah, and before Passover (in March/April), the Western Wall has a spring clean.

Thousands – the supervising rabbi says it is millions – of pieces of scrap paper are winkled out of the cracks in the wall, [continue]

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Our local church is small and ugly. So on Sundays I have to imagine that we have a stunningly beautiful building instead — something classy, perhaps medieval, and made of stone. I’m getting quite good at this imaginary church-swapping, and of course the web is a big help.

Today the featured church in my imagination is Sainte-Chapelle, in Paris. I’m inspired by this photo.
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Archaeologists unearth 12th century abbey

From The Cumberland News: Archaeologists unearth 12th century abbey.

A team of volunteers painstakingly pieced together some of the buried secrets of Holme Cultram Abbey last week during a 12-day dig.

The abbey was founded in 1150 by the Cistercian Monks from Melrose Abbey on the Scottish Borders. It grew to be larger than Carlisle Cathedral in the 15th century.

But after the dissolution of the monasteries during the rule of Henry VIII, the abbey fell into disrepair and much of its stone was taken away to build houses. Only the abbey’s church remains above ground although this was subject of an arson attack in 2006 which gutted its interior.

Now, the West Cumbrian Archeologists Society team have uncovered what they believe to be its cloisters in the first ever dig on the south side of the historic site. [continue]

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Hi-tech centre brings abbey alive

From the Beeb: Hi-tech centre brings abbey alive.

Holograms, a virtual reality tour and 3-D goggles are being used to bring a 14th Century abbey back to life.

They are part of a new “interpretation centre” designed to explain in an interactive way what life was like at Valle Crucis Abbey, near Llangollen.

Visitors can take a virtual reality tour of the abbey in its heyday, with an animated monk as a guide. [continue]

Now off to Youtube, where Pastscapian, has posted these videos:

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Ritual horns do not predate Jewish expulsion

From The Times: Ritual horns do not predate Jewish expulsion.

Radiocarbon dating of two Jewish ritual instruments found in London a century and a half ago has dashed hopes that they date from the period before the Jewish community was expelled in 1290. They are postmedieval and one of them may never have been finished or used in the synagogue.

The shofar is a ritual instrument often made from a ram’s horn, Tamara Chase and her colleagues explain in London Archaeologist. "It is mentioned 69 times in the Bible", they say. The first occurrence is in the book of Exodus, and they were also blown at Jericho on Joshua’s orders, whereupon the walls fell down. Shofarot are used in the synagogue during the month of Elul, which commemorates Moses’s time on Mount Sinai and they are played on the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Of the examples found in London, the first was [continue]

Age of shroud of Turin disputed again

From The Times: Age of shroud of Turin disputed again.

A leading expert on the shroud of Turin has won the support of an Oxford University laboratory for new carbon dating tests on the venerated but controversial relic, which was dismissed two decades ago as a fake.

Carbon dating tests carried out in 1988 indicated that the shroud, long revered as the winding-sheet in which the body of Jesus was wrapped for burial and bearing his imprint, had been made between 1260 and 1390.

The Catholic church admitted at the time that the shroud could not be authentic.

John Jackson, a physicist at Colorado University and a prominent expert on the relic, has argued that the tests were skewed by 1,300 years because of high levels of carbon monoxide. He said many other elements of the shroud, including details of the image, indicate that it is much more ancient. [continue]

Churches in Spain experiment with staying open 24/7

From a Catholic News article at The Catholic Review: Churches in Spain experiment with staying open 24/7.

VALENCIA, Spain – In 2002, Carlo Ravasio trekked more than 2,000 miles from Moscow to Valencia, stopping by churches along the way to pray for the unity of Christians.

But when the Italian pilgrim arrived at the churches, he encountered a recurring problem: The doors were locked.

In response, Father Miguel Angel Vives, pastor of Nativity of Our Lady of Burjassot Parish in Valencia, decided that for one year his church would never close its doors. In 2004, more than 66,000 visitors came at all hours of the day.

Ravasio "found few churches open on his journey. Churches are always closed in Spain. So I decided to open them," Father Vives told Catholic News Service. [continue]

The truth about the Picts

From The Independent: The truth about the Picts.

The Picts have long been regarded as enigmatic savages who fought off Rome’s legions before mysteriously disappearing from history, wild tribesmen who refused to sacrifice their freedom in exchange for the benefits of civilisation. But far from the primitive warriors of popular imagination, they actually built a highly sophisticated culture in northern Scotland in the latter half of the first millennium AD, which surpassed their Anglo-Saxon rivals in many respects.

A study of one the most important archaeological discoveries in Scotland for 30 years, a Pictish monastery at Portmahomack on the Tarbat peninsula in Easter Ross, has found that they were capable of great art, learning and the use of complex architectural principles.

The monastery – an enclosure centred on a church thought to have housed about 150 monks and workers – was similar to St Columba’s religious centre at Iona and there is evidence they would have made gospel books similar to the Book of Kells and religious artefacts such as chalices to supply numerous "daughter monasteries".

And, in a discovery described as "astonishing, mind-blowing" by architectural historians, it appears that the people who built the monastery did so using the [continue]

Christina Mirabilis

July 24th is the feast day of Saint Christina Mirabilis. Here’s a bit about her from the St. Christina the Astonishing page at Cynthia Large’s site:

Christina was born in the town of Saint-Trond in 1150. She was orphaned at fifteen, along with her two sisters, and worked as a shepherd, growing closer to God over the years. In the process of this contemplation, she seems to have neglected her body’s need for sustenance; as Cantimpré writes, "she grew sick in body by virtue of the exercise of inward contemplation and she died." Later hagiographers attribute her apparent death to a seizure. In any case, she was carried to the church for the funeral Mass, where her first marvel was to occur. Right after the Agnus Dei, she flew up out of her coffin like a bird and perched herself in the rafters of the church (it was said that she desired to escape the stench of human sin). The priest finished the Mass with remarkable equanimity, and then made her come down (this is the scene depicted in my painting). She reported that she had been to Hell, and had recognized many people there. She was then shown Purgatory, and recognized many more. After this she was taken to Heaven where she was offered the choice of remaining with God, in one-ness with Him, or returning to earth in order to suffer the torments of the damned on behalf of the souls she had seen in Purgatory, who would then be released. She chose the unselfish course, and so startled her mourners by returning to life in the little church. [continue]

You might have seen Cynthia’s first painting of Christina Mirabilis when I linked to it years ago. Cynthia recently finished another painting of Christina Mirabilis. This one is called St. Christina the Astonishing — A Pelican in the Wilderness. Go look!

Ancient Christian “holy wine” factory found in Egypt

From National Geographic: Ancient Christian "Holy Wine" Factory Found in Egypt.

Two wine presses found in Egypt were likely part of the area’s earliest winery, producing holy wine for export to Christians abroad, archaeologists say.

Egyptian archaeologists discovered the two presses with large crosses carved across them near St. Catherine’s Monastery, a sixth-century A.D. complex near Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula. [continue]

Remains of medieval bishops identified

From UKTV: Remains of medieval bishops identified.

Archaeologists have identified the remains of medieval bishops buried at Whithorn Priory in Galloway, Scotland, 600 years ago.

The bones of the six bishops were discovered [continue]

The Withorn Priory and Museum website has a Withorn Discovieries page, but there’s nothing about the medieval bishops there yet. (The site still worth a visit if you’re at all fond of carvings on stone, though. I’d love to see more — and more detailed — photos of the Peter stone.)

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Danilov Monastery’s bells — going home at last

From Russian monastery anticipates the familiar toll of ancient bells.

As the chiming of bells rang through Harvard University’s campus among a field of caps and gowns last week, it was the final time they would be heard — the end of an era for the university, but also a new beginning.

For the past 78 years, the 18 bells have hung high above Harvard’s buildings, chiming on Sunday afternoons and every year at commencement. This summer, the bells will return home to ring at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow from which they were rescued in 1930 at the height of the Stalinist era, at a time when antireligion campaigns sought to destroy monasteries and melt down their ironwork.

In a world where artifacts are often stolen and seldom returned, the story of the Danilov bells is rare.

It all began in 1929 when [continue]

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Jordan archaeologists unearth ‘world’s first church’

From the Sydney Morning Herald: Jordan archaeologists unearth ‘world’s first church’.

Archaeologists in Jordan have unearthed what they claim is the world’s first church, dating back almost 2,000 years, The Jordan Times reported on Tuesday.

"We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD," the head of Jordan’s Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, Abdul Qader al-Husan, said.

He said it was uncovered under Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.

"We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians — the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ," Husan said.

These Christians, who are described in a mosaic as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine," are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan, Husan added.

He cited historical sources which suggest they [continue]

Modernity meets monasticism in Egypt

From the Globe and Mail: Modernity meets monasticism in Egypt.

A speck of green in a sea of sand, St. Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt welcomes those seeking God in silence broken only by the whisper of the wind.

Monks at what is considered by many to be the world’s oldest active Christian monastery still rise before dawn to chant and pray just as their predecessors did for more than 1,500 years.

Now, they also carry mobile phones, send e-mails and maintain a website (, embracing modernity that has helped sustain the ancient monastery, nestled beside a spring where Egypt’s eastern desert meets the craggy Red Sea mountains.

But the changes have sent some monks fleeing to a more austere existence in nearby mountain caves.

"There is nothing wrong with microwaves or mobile phones — they save time," Egyptian monk Ruwais el-Anthony, who has lived at the monastery for more than 30 years, said through a bushy white beard. "But God will ask you what you have done with the time that was saved."

The monastery, which was founded in 356 AD, has [continue]

Link found at Platonic Shift.