Saint Rigobert and the Goose

24 March 10 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints

Saint Rigobert was archbishop of Reims, France.  During a conflict between Charles Martel and some of his enemies, Rigobert refused to open the gates of the city to him for refuge. The saint claimed neutrality for the safety of the city. Unsure of which side would prevail in the conflict, Rigobert didn’t want to anger the other side if Martel lost. The gates stayed closed. This explanation did not sit well with Charles the Hammer. After his victory Martel exiled the archbishop from Reims. 

Eventually the archbishop settled in a nearby village. When on one occasion he had been given a live goose to take home for his dinner, Rigobert put the bird in the arms of a servant-boy accompanying him. Along the way, as Rigobert was reciting the divine office, the bird broke free and flew away. The boy deeply grieved this mishap, but Rigobert comforted him, urging him to trust in God. goose[1]

When Rigobert resumed his prayers, the goose flew back to them. Thereafter, the archbishop kept the goose as a pet. The goose would walk with him to a church, where, as the tame bird patiently waited for him, he celebrated Mass at an altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Saint Rigobert died in 745 AD.  His feast day is celebrated on January 4th.

Treasure Offerings

6 December 09 | Posted in Events, Spirituality

A mystery is gripping Britain’s religious community: Just how did a treasure-trove of rare medallions and coins collected by a former archbishop of Canterbury end up at the bottom of the River Wear?

Many of the artifacts are linked to the late Michael Ramsey, a former archbishop of Canterbury with long-time ties to Durham, where he served as bishop and spent some of his retirement years before his death in 1988. Archbishop_Michael_Ramsey

The coins, medals, goblets and other religious items, some solid gold, have been discovered by amateur divers Trevor Bankhead, 40, and his brother, Gary, 44, a fire service watch officer, over the past two and a half years in the frigid, murky waters that loop Durham Cathedral. The brothers have retrieved over 30 items linked to Ramsey, along with hundreds of medieval and ancient Saxon artifacts.

Among them are gold, silver and bronze medals struck to commemorate the second Vatican council, which must have been presented to Ramsey, who was the most senior cleric in the Church of England from 1961 to 1974, when he met Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1966.

Trevor Bankhead, a former soldier, said: “We believe the Archbishop threw them into the river in 1983 or 1984, by which time he would have had limited mobility. So we chose places which were easily accessible by the water’s edge and threw silver washers in the river to try and trace the trajectory the objects could have taken.”

“It’s my belief that he did this as a votive offering to the river and to the people of Durham, who he loved,” said Bankhead. “They weren’t just chucked by a burglar–they had clearly gone into the water at different times and different places.”

Archbishop Ramsey’s old friend, the Very Rev Victor Stock, dean of Guildford, commented on Bankhead’s assertion: “He used to go for a walk by the river every day, whatever the weather. I think it’s entirely plausible to imagine him making up a little packet, and quietly dropping it into the water.”

The archbishop’s offerings are keeping up a tradition that is at least 3,000 years old and possibly much older.

In 1998 an archaelogical survey of the Thames found the remains of a huge bridge built 3500 years ago not far from the present Vauxhall Bridge. The confluence of the three rivers, where the Tyburn enters the Thames from the north and the Effra from the south, would have made this a sacred site for Bronze Age tribes.

Around the bridge were votive offerings of valuable goods to appease the spirits of the river. The Celts regarded rivers as bestowers of life, health, and plenty, and offered them rich gifts and sacrifices often at the same spots used by pre-Celtic British tribes.

At one time rivers were thought of as deities with powers to cure all kinds of ailments. Ways of appeasing water courses were devised in an attempt to stop them from claiming lives.

In May 1825 the Duke of Sussex led an elaborate ceremony to mark the start of work on Hammersmith Bridge. In front of a large crowd he performed a ritual that involved the fixing of a brass plate (praising the builders and designer) over one of the coffer dams into which had been placed gold coins and a silver trowel. As this was put in place the Duke poured corn over it saying: “I have poured the corn, the oil and the wine, emblems of wealth, plenty and comfort, so may the bridge tend to communicate prosperity and wealth.”

Leading Eco-Theologian Named Bishop

15 February 09 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic

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One of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent episcopal appointments is that of Karl Golser, 65, as the new bishop of the Bolzano-Bressanone diocese in northern Italy. Not only is the diocese a particular favorite of the pope, who has taken his summer vacations there since the late 1960s, but Golser is also a long-time associate of Benedict.

He worked under then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the early 1980s and stayed in touch with him afterward.

Golser is widely considered among the leading eco-theologians on the European Catholic scene, which means that Benedict has chosen to introduce a strong new environmental voice in the episcopacy.

During an interview with John L. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, Golser was asked about Benedict’s core ideas on the environment. “It’s not an accident,” Golser said, “that many of the Holy Father’s comments on the environment have come on Sundays…That’s very important. Sunday is the day we live the joy of redemption, and it also expresses a new relationship with time and space. It’s about the return to Christ, the Parousia. In the Eucharist, it’s also about offering the earth itself back to God, in the consecration of bread and wine.”

“I think the Holy Father draws a great deal on Eastern theology and the fathers of the church, who have a great sensibility for the cosmic dimension of the faith. Starting from the Eurcharist, the liturgy, they propose a whole style of life that’s in harmony with all of creation.  There’s a strong current in Eastern thought, for example, on humanity as the “priest of creation.”

Read the whole interview here.

Sacred Epiphany Dip

8 February 09 | Posted in Events, Spirituality

In the snowy silence of a Moscow park, a 26-year-0ld businessman, Aleksandr Pushkov, stood naked except for his bathing suit, a column of steam rising from his body. His clothes were piled up under a tree, and he had just climbed out of a hole in the ice.

It was the 7th time he took part in an Epiphany ritual: the trance-like preparation, the electric shock of the ice-cold water and and 20 0r 30 second wait for a feeling he described as “nirvana.” As cross-country skiers picked their way through the woods, Mr. Pushkov stood by himself in the snow, barefoot and steaming.

On Russian Orthodox Epiphany, roughly 30,000 Moscovites lined up to dunk themselves in icy rivers and ponds, city officials said. The annual ritual baptism, which is believed to wash away sins, is enjoying a boisterous revival after being banished to villages during the Soviet era, said Boris F. Dubin, a sociologist with Moscow’s Levada Center. The immersion ritual satisfies a public hunger, he said, for “something that is truly Russian, ancient, real. For what distinguishes us from other people.” russian-ritual.jpg

“Each country has something that is instrinsic to it,” said Aleksandr Gorlopan, 43, who was warming himself with a combination of hot tea and Captain Morgan rum. Mr. Gorlopan, who gave his profession as “traveler,” said the tradition dated back to the tiny Slavic tribes that scattered south from Scandinavia–nomads, he said, with “wild souls.” “We are made of water,” he said. “Without water we cannot survive.”

Galina Burasvetova, a 50-year-old hairdresser in a red bikini, said she had first taken part in the ritual during an agonizing period in her life, when she was raising three children on a vanishing income. Afterward, she felt she had the moral strength to go on.

Mr. Dubin, the sociologist, said the practice’s popularity had less to do with religious revival than with enthusiastic coverage by Russian television. By others said it proved that 74 years of Communist rule were unable to stamp out the tradition, which holds that a priest’s blessing temporarily transforms water into the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptised.  Even at the height of state atheism, said Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, “the lines for holy water were longer than the lines at Lenin’s mausoleum.” russian-ritual-2.jpg

It’s Groundhog Day!

2 February 09 | Posted in Animals, Events, U.S. Catholic

I love animal holidays. Watching all the little kids (and big kids!) bring their hamsters, dogs, kittens, guinea pigs, bunnies, parakeets, and everything else off to church on the Feast of St. Francis is touching and a delight to watch. On one thing the Catholic Church was wise–to acknowledge our deep ties, love, and mystical bonds with our family pets and livestock.

I think of Groundhog Day as another Catholic holiday since it is associated with Candlemas, also celebrated on February 2nd. Its furry, cute and loveable star is Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania.

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, so we can look forward to six more weeks of winter. groundhog-day.jpg

Phil emerged in front of an estimated 13,000 witnesses, many dressed in gold and black to celebrate the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl victory the day before.

His annual ritual takes place on Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney, a town of about 6100 residents 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club announced the forecast (more winter) in a short proclamation, in which Phil acknowledged the Steelers’ 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

There is a tradition that a sunny Candlemas Day would lead winter to last for another six weeks. In Germany, the belief that an animal frightened when seeing its shadow on Candlemas became another indicator that winter could last for another six weeks.  The hedge-hog was the German animal of choice for the job.

Germans brought this superstition to America during the 18th century. Americans adopted the groundhog as their weather predictor.

Candlemas marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and recognizes the animals’ sensitivity to weather changes. Farmers used to rely on them to help plan spring planting.

Three other groundhogs make predictions on February 2nd: Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia; Wiarton Willie of Wiarton, Ontario, and General Beauregard Lee of Stone Mountain, Georgia.

But this year, the birds may know something the groundhogs don’t.  I saw my first robin on Saturday morning, January 31st.