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Archive for April, 2011

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The pulpit in Siena Cathedral

Posted in Architecture, Religion on Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Cathedral of Siena is an architectural marvel and one of the chief glories of the Italian Renaissance. It was designed and built during the thirteenth century, but there are several later additions, notably the Bernini lantern on top of the splendid dome.

Siena, picture, image, illustration

Pisano’s gothic pulpit in Siena Cathedral, by William Wilkins Collins

The most striking and principal design feature of the cathedral’s interior is the striped motif which is fashioned with white and greenish-black marble. This idea was adopted since black and white are the symbolic colours derived from the city’s two mythical founders, who rode a black and a white horse. The pulpit was designed in the northern Gothic style and executed by Nicola Pisano in 1265-68; it is made from Carrara marble and decorated with exquisite panels depicting the Life of Christ. It is the earliest surviving part of the original building.

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St Paul heals the crippled man of Lystra

Posted in Bible, Religion, Saints on Wednesday, 27 April 2011

After preaching for some time in Iconium, Paul and Barnabas are compelled to flee for their lives when an angry mob pursues them. They move on to Lycaonia, and make for the town of Lystra.

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The crippled man of Lystra is healed by St Paul, by Clive Uptton

They set about their task and begin preaching to the local people. Among the curious townsfolk is a disabled man who has been crippled from birth and who has never been able to walk. On seeing this unfortunate man, St Paul recognises that he has faith, and tells him to stand on his own feet and walk. The man throws down is crutches and walks, which everyone believes to be a miracle. People declare the two strangers must be the Roman gods Jupiter and Mercury, but St Paul tells them that they are merely ordinary men who believe in Jesus Christ, and urges the onlookers to do the same, as the crippled man had surely done.

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‘Henry IV part 2’, by William Shakespeare

Posted in Actors, English Literature, History, Literature, Royalty, Shakespeare, Theatre on Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Henry IV part 2 is the third play in the tetralogy which began with Richard II and ends with Henry V. It was written in the late 1590s and published in a good Quarto in 1600. Shakespeare takes up the story where it left off in Henry IV part 1, with another rebellion simmering away in the north country.

Henry IV, picture, image, illustration

Henry IV hears the entreaties of Prince Hal in ‘Henry IV part 2’

The play’s principal theme, however, is Prince Hal’s long and testing journey towards kingship. His friendship with London’s low-life characters continues to perturb and distress his father, who has deeply felt misgivings about the heir apparent and the future of England after his own death. Henry’s complex psychology of paternal affection mingled with regal authority and the Divine Right of Kings, is brilliantly explored in the scene where Prince Hal, supposing his ailing father to have died, takes up the Crown and assumes that he is now King. When the monarch awakes and finds his son to be so hasty, presumptuous and thirsty for power, his heart is heavy with foreboding. Prince Hal reassures him, however, of his noble intentions and high moral ideals, his patriotism and his love for his king and country. Henry IV is at last able to die contented. The equally substantial subplot concerning Falstaff and his motley cronies, is one of the glories of all Shakespeare’s stagecraft, and the nocturnal scene in Justice Shallow’s orchard remains a glowing picture of Elizabethan England, at once poetic and real, a perfect fusion of artifice and humanity. When the obese old knight rolls up in town for the new King’s coronation festivities, he expects his friend and drinking partner to show him affection, but Hal cruelly spurns him with the lofty and crushing lines:

I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers.

How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!

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Millard Fillmore: Famous Last Words

Posted in Famous Last Words on Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Millard Fillmore was Vice President of the United States under Zachary Taylor when the latter died after only sixteen months in office. Fillmore then became the 13th President of the United States.

picture, Millard Fillmore, president, United States of America

Millard Fillmore, 13th President of the United States of America

Fillmore had studied law and set up a practice in East Aurora, New York. He was elected to the New York Assembly and to Congress, serving between 1833-35 and 1837-43. He later served as Comptroller of New York State in 1848-49 before becoming Vice President (1849-50) and President (1850-53).

On retiring, he returned to Buffalo where he had been one of the co-founders of the University of Buffalo, of which he was Chancellor. He died of the aftereffects of a stroke on 8 March 1874, his final words reputed to be a comment on the soup he had just been fed:

“The nourishment is palatable.”

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Death of Antoine Lavoisier

Posted in Anniversary, Discoveries, Science on Wednesday, 27 April 2011

8 May marks the anniversary of the death of Antoine Lavoisier, the “father of modern chemistry”, in 1794.

picture, Antoine Lavoisier, chemist, chemistry, hydrogen, oxygen

Antoine Lavoisier, the discoverer of hydrogen and oxygen. Illustration by Gerry Wood

Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, to give him his full name, was born in Paris in 1743 into a wealthy and noble family. He inherited a large fortune at the age of five following the death of his mother. He attended College Mazarin, studying chemistry, botany, astronomy and mathematics and was elected to the French Academy of Sciences at the age of 25.

Lavoisier discovered and named both hydrogen and oxygen and put together the first extensive list of elements as well as discovering that, whilst matter can change its form and shape, its mass remains constant.

As a nobleman, he was also on a number of aristocratic councils and an administrator of the Ferme Generale. During the French Revolution he was accused of a number of crimes and was guillotined, aged on 50.

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Birth of Henry Dunant

Posted in Anniversary, History, Philanthropy on Wednesday, 27 April 2011

8 May marks the anniversary of the birth of Jean Henri Dunant in 1828.

picture, Jean Henri Dunant, Red Cross

A portrait of Henry Dunant, founding father of the Red Cross. Illustration by John Keay

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Henry Dunant (as he was more commonly known) was a businessman who, during a business trip in 1859, witnessed the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in modern day Italy. After writing A Memory of Solferino, vividly capturing the sight of 38,000 dead, dying and wounded left on the battlefield, Dunant developed the idea of creating a neutral organization to care for wounded soldiers.

He distributed his book amongst many leading political and military figures as well as travelling widely to promote the idea. It was discussed by the Geneva Society for Public Welfare and Dunant and others met to consider the formation of the International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded, which changed its name to the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1876. In 1864, a diplomatic conference led to the signing of the First Geneva Convention.

Dunant was sidelined, first by rivals and then by bankruptcy. However, his achievements were recognised some years later when he was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize. Dunant died in 1910, aged 82.

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Destruction of St. Pierre

Posted in Anniversary, Disasters on Wednesday, 27 April 2011

8 May marks the anniversary of the erruption of the volcano at Mount Pelee on Martinique which destroyed the city of St. Pierre in 1902.

picture, St. Pierre, Martinique, volcano, destruction

St. Pierre, Martinique, as seen in around 1880-85

The volcano, on the northern end of the island in the Caribbean, is called Montagne Pelee (“Bald Mountain”) in French – it being a French overseas region – and is considered one of the most deadly. The eruption in 1902 was the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century.

Signs of activity in the volcano had increased as early as 1900, but a series of eruptions began in April 1902 and continued through early May. The main eruption occurred at 7:52 am on 8 May, ripping open the mountainside and sending out a cloud of black smoke horizontally. A second cloud shot upwards and darkened the skies for a 50-mile radius. A nuee ardente (“glowing cloud”) of superheated gas and rock flowed towards the city of Saint-Pierre covering the entire city in under a minute and instantly igniting everything flammable.

An estimated 30,000 people died.

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Saint Genevieve

Posted in Religion, Saints on Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Saint Genevieve was born around 422 at Nanterre and encountered Saint Germain d’Auxerre early in her life, when he passed through her village on his way to England to combat the heresy of Pelagius. She told him that she wished to devote her life to God, even at the tender age of fifteen.

Genevieve, picture, image, illustration

Saint Genevieve

It is said that this holy man recognised immediately her spiritual qualities and the great still centre of holiness at her heart, and so convinced was he of her goodness that she was taken to a nearby convent where her person and life were consecrated to the service of God as virginal and pure. For some years she stayed there as a nun, mortifying herself with a slender vegetarian diet. It was later in her life when Atilla and his great hordes were about to descend on Paris in 451, that she secured her place in the history of France and the Catholic Church. The citizens were ready to flee and leave Paris to its destruction and cruel fate, but she bid them stay and hold firm in the faith that God would deliver them. This they did, and to their utter amazement Attila changed his course and spared the city, marching on to Orleans. Only a few years later during a fierce siege of the city, she broke the lines and brought grain in for the starving. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Saint Genevieve is the Patron Saint of Paris. She continued living a life of great self-denial, performing acts of charity and goodness until her death in the early years of the sixth century. Her protector, Clovis I, had built her an abbey where she could minister, and it was in that Abbey of St Genevieve that she was interred for many years. Her relics were later burnt during the Revolution, but she is now commemorated in the Pantheon.

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St Paul’s escape from prison

Posted in Bible, Religion, Saints on Tuesday, 26 April 2011

After they are arrested in Philippi, Paul and Silas are thrown into prison, where their arms are chained and their feet put into stocks.

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St Paul converts the Roman guard as he escapes from prison, by Clive Uptton

In anguish about their mission and their fate, they pray and then sing praises to God, all of which are heard by the other prisoners. Later that night a great earthquake occurs, and its tremors break loose their chains and destroy the stocks; finally the doors of the prison are themselves broken open by its force, and the prisoners are free to leave. The Roman soldier in command is horrified by these events, and knowing that he will be severely punished for the escape of these men, makes to kill himself. But Paul tells him that the prisoners have not, in fact, yet left the prison, and that he should spare himself the sword. In gratitude the soldier asks what he must do to make amends, and Paul tells him to believe in the Lord. The soldier and his family are then converted and baptized, after which there follows a feast and the subsequent formal release of Silas and Paul the very next day.

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‘Henry IV, Part 1’, by William Shakespeare

Posted in Actors, English Literature, History, Literature, Royalty, Shakespeare, Theatre on Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play probably written no later than 1597, and was first published in a good Quarto of 1598, which was followed by eight further editions throughout the next hundred years. Shakespeare’s sources were Holinshed’s Chronicles and probably a long historical poem by Samuel Daniel.

Henry IV, picture, image, illustration

Henry IV and the young Prince Hal at the Battle of Shrewsbury, by Michael White

The play concerns King Henry’s problems with his recurrent feelings of guilt at having deposed Richard II, and his foolishly provoking potent rebellions at home. Serious problems stem from his treatment of the Earls of Northumberland and Worcester, heads of the Percy family, who had aided his ascent to the the throne. Harry Percy, known as Hotspur, is Northumberland’s son and the Percy’s greatest champion and soldier. Henry picks a quarrel with Hotspur over prisoners taken in a recent Scottish campaign, and the young firebrand demands the King ransom his brother-in-law, the Earl of March, who is held by Glendower in his Welsh stronghold. Diplomacy and courtesy fail, the King insults his former allies, and a rebellion breaks out. Over a timespan of some six months the action follows the various factions in their manoeuvres, until the great climax when Prince Hal kills Hotspur at the Battle of Shrewsbury. The play closes with Worcester’s execution, but leaves Henry with a simmering rebellion in the North, as the Archbishop of York has now made common cause with Northumberland, and there are still threatening challenges from Mortimer, the Earl of March, and the fearsome Owen Glendower. Within this grand historical tapestry of implacable noblemen and political intrigue, Shakespeare also creates the wonderfully rich characters of the young Prince Hal, and in particular, his low-life friend and mentor, Sir John Falstaff, for many the greatest of all the playwright’s comic creations. Falstaff’s drunken merrymaking¬† and his cowardly and immoral exploits at Shrewsbury, provide subtly orchestrated comic relief in a complex play which tells only the first part of the compelling and brilliantly dramatised reign of Henry IV.

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