Sunday Reader: Irish University Professor, Archaeologist, Friend Passes Away

John Bradley

The passing of John Bradley at the early age of 60 is an irreparable loss to Irish archaeology, medieval and urban studies and to Kilkenny, Ireland in particular.

John was the foremost town archaeologist, his scholarly authority earning him an international reputation.

He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He produced books, an atlas and over 100 quality papers which ranged over different aspects of his chosen field and sometimes outside it. Above all, he was a generous lecturer and host who both enthused and entertained students and colleagues, especially at Maynooth’s history department, where he had happily worked since 1996 and where his students will miss his inspiration and humanity.

The only child of Daniel and Statia, John Bradley grew up in his beloved Kilkenny, influenced by the built surroundings and grounded by visits to his maternal grandfather in rural Castlebanny.

Schooled at Kilkenny CBS and mentored by the then stalwarts of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, John went to UCD in 1971, where he read archaeology and history. A shy, soft-spoken and mild-mannered student, he was inspired by a golden generation of scholars, especially George Eogan, on whose Knowth excavations he worked for years. He remained close to George and his family to the end.

Wood Quay

His postgraduate study centred on the archaeology of the Irish town, a subject he was to make his own and, in due course, one he was to pioneer in NUI archaeology courses.

He pursued his urban interests in the multidisciplinary Dublin Historic Settlement Group, while at the same time assisting FX Martin’s Wood Quay campaign. He was secretary of the Friends of Medieval Dublin 1978-84.

He edited Viking Dublin Exposed, a book on the archaeology and controversy at Wood Quay, a few years after the conclusion of the excavations. He subsequently edited aFestschrift for his hero FX Martin. He was later to co-edit Festschriften for George Eogan, Barry Raftery and Howard Clarke.

When I first met John, he was in the latter half of undertaking a de luxe urban survey of Irish towns for the National Monuments service from 1982 to 1990. A sheaf of studies on different aspects of towns flowed from his prolific pen, all delivered in clear, persuasive prose. As a MacDuff, I am naturally interested in Scottish and Irish history, since our two cultures in invariably linked by hundreds of years of association.

He studied Drogheda, Ennis and Tralee, looking at topographical development in older towns and arguing for urban characteristics in monastic towns. He also produced a non-stop flow of essays and encyclopaedia entries on subjects like sarcophagi, town walls and the hinterland of Dublin, alongside more general studies. His published legacy is enormous.

Kilkenny, with its great medieval character, was to be a recurring focus, the culmination of which is John’s comprehensive fascicle in the Irish Historic Towns Atlas series as well as his large format Treasures book with its presentation of the town’s historical documents.

It was a personal heartbreak for him that despite all his research and publication on the unique quality of Kilkenny’s heritage, the city fathers chose to ignore his wisdom when it came to the town walls and the Central Access Scheme. His burial in Foulkstown, at a slight distance from the city, is perhaps an unintended spatial metaphor for this disappointment.

He will also be remembered for his excavation of the multi-period crannog in Moynagh lough in north Meath. He produced at least a dozen interim reports and other papers on the results from this remarkable site.

John lectured at UCD until 1996 and gave courses at UCG, where he is remembered as “an extraordinary educator”. He then moved to Maynooth’s history department, into which he fitted so comfortably and so happily.

Love of travel

He loved travelling to lecture in Britain and Germany but it was to the US that he was mostly attracted. Chicago was a favourite city and he religiously attended the annual conference at Kalamazoo before going south to East Carolina University, for which he had the deepest regard.

He loved popularising his subject, as his input both at Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford and Geraldine Tralee show.

An important side of John Bradley was his involvement with chess. A member of Kilkenny Chess Club since 1972, he was proud to have been on the team that won the Armstrong Cup in 2011 and represented Ireland at two European finals.

The club welcomed Boris Spassky to Kilkenny in 1991, when John took him on a tour of the city, later discussing Thucydides in Tynan’s bar. In July last in a blindfold simultaneous match “the Brad” (as archaeologists affectionately knew him) played “a lovely combination” to hold a grandmaster to a draw.

John Bradley was a generous, witty Renaissance man, an optimist, widely read and deeply informed about subjects including old movies, Elizabethan literature, and music, especially opera: he regularly attended Wexford.

All fortunate enough to have known this lover of good company and hearty conversation celebrate their great good luck in having encountered such a brilliant character.

He will sorely be missed.

Crash

Advertisements

Sacred Sunday: 11th Century Romanesque Murals in France

Unknown Romanesque Painter, French (active around 1220) Christ in Majesty, circa 1220, fresco, Former Benedictine Abbey, Lavaudieu, France

Unknown Romanesque Painter, French (active around 1220)
Christ in Majesty, circa 1220, fresco,
Former Benedictine Abbey, Lavaudieu, France

Church walls and ceilings were decorated extensively in France during the 11th and 12th centuries. Composed mainly of scenes from the Bible, the aim of this mural painting was to inform the mostly illiterate church congregation, and serve as a form of devotion. French Romanesque murals were characterized by more abstract, dynamic and animated imagery than elsewhere in Europe. The best site for such pictorial works is the abbey church of Saint-Savin sur-Gartempe. When it comes to Romanesque painting in France, apart from Touraine and the neighboring provinces, Maine, Anjou, Poitou, Berry and Orleans, which comprise a particularly favored region, we must mention three other important zones: Burgundy, Auvergne and Roussillon.

As has been suggested by the art scholar Duprat, French Romanesque painting can be conveniently divided into four groups, which differ essentially in manner: the fresco paintings of the west, with subdued color on a light background; the bright paintings on blue background found chiefly in Bugundy and in the south-east; the paintings of Auvergne, with their dark background, and the Catalan paintings of the Eastern Pyrenees. Of course this division is valid only in its broad lines, and we can find paintings with light backgrounds in Auvergne and Burgundy. In any case, many works cannot be attached to any particular school or group.

01gartem

Interior view of the nave
c. 1100
Fresco
Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe is the oldest hall church of the Poitou region in France. Its choir and transept dates back to between 1060 and 1085 and the nave to between 1095 and 1115. The high colonnades of the central nave are spanned by a barrel vault. The extensive remnants of the original painting on the piers and the vault give a clear idea of the lively character of Romanesque churches.

02gartem

Interior view of the nave
c. 1100
Fresco
Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

03gartem

Fresco cycle
c. 1100
Fresco
Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

The fresco cycle in the vault of the monastery church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe narrates stories from the Old Testament in a rather confusing sequence. The artist had the task of representing the story of Moses, from the creation of the world until his death, and it had to be told by means of selected and exegetically representative scenes which were to be distributed all over the vaulted ceiling. As a result, the story of the Bible turns into a concise account of the history of civilization of the medieval world.

04gartem

The Creation of Adam and Eve
c. 1100
Fresco
Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

When establishing the narrative composition, priority was given to the arrangement of narrative events rather than to the continuous narrative flow.  One of the scenes depicts the creation of the first human couple. It is the only scene in the cycle which contains events that unfold in chronological succession but are represented in a unified pictorial space.

God the Father is seen bending over the reclining Adam and removing one of his ribs. Then Adam is depicted standing upright next to his creator, listening to his admonitions and winking at Eve. Eve, who has her back turned to the tree of knowledge, turns round and together with her husband leaves the Garden of Eden after the Fall of Man.

05gartem

The Building of the Tower of Babel
c. 1100
Fresco
Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

Popular subjects, such as the building of the Tower of Babel, were made to stand out in spectacular fashion. The scene depicting the building of the Tower of Babel even turns into a kind of visual instruction in the state of the medieval building trade: the rough-hewn ashlar blocks are carried along on men’s shoulders.

Holding an angle-iron in his right hand, we see an architect standing on the tower, about to take up a stone which somebody is handing to him. A mason in the foreground is taking mortar out of a bucket. next to the bucket there is a cable which used to pull up the container. Then, suddenly, God the Father makes his appearance in order to punish the worker’s actions with the confusion of tongues.

06gartem

Noah’s Ark
c. 1100
Fresco
Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

This fresco belongs to a Noah cycle related in eight episodes in the context of an Old Testament series extending over the vault of the former Benedictine monastery church. A New testament sequence adorns the presbytery and galleries, and further frescoes are in the vestibule and the crypt. The superb series of paintings on the barrel vaulting were executed in one session by at least four artists. The remaining groups of works were apparently the responsibility of a single, leading artist in each case.

Noah's Ark (detail) c. 1100 Fresco Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

Noah’s Ark (detail)
c. 1100
Fresco
Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

The fresco cycle in the vault of the monastery church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe narrates stories from the Old Testament in a rather confusing sequence. When establishing the narrative composition, priority was given to the arrangement of narrative events rather than to the continuous narrative flow.

Thus, popular subjects, such as Noah’s Ark, were made to stand out in spectacular fashion. As was common in the Middle Ages, the artist who created this picture showed the ark as a lateral elevation. Judging by its hull, the ark is a Viking ship with a stem fortified by monsters, and a three-story superstructure and small wheel-house just as described in the Bible. Animals look out through the round-arched windows, and Noah’s family crouch above.

13berze

Spandrel figure
c. 1100
Fresco
Château des Moines, Berzé-la-Ville

(Above and below) There are wonderful wall paintings in the Cluniac chapel of Château des Moines at Berzé-la-Ville, near Cluny. The chapel contains the tomb of Abbot Hugh of Cluny (1049-1109) who designed the programme of the mural paintings of highly peculiar iconography. These paintings represent the best surviving examples of the art of Cluny.

14berze

Martyrdom of Blasius
c. 1100
Fresco
Château des Moines, Berzé-la-Ville

15isere

Martyrdom of Blasius
c. 1100
Fresco
Château des Moines, Berzé-la-Ville

The apses and convent chapel on the upper level of the northern transept of the abbey church of Saint-Chef, east of Lyon, converted in 1056, contain remnants of what was surely once extensive fresco work. The paintings in the chapel were freed of later painting in 1967, and, though damaged, are in a quite good state of preservation. In the small apse niche one can see a depiction of Christ in his glory, surrounded by angels and the symbols of the Evangelists.

Sts Savinus and Cyprian are tortured c. 1100 Fresco Crypt, Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

Sts Savinus and Cyprian are tortured
c. 1100
Fresco
Crypt, Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

The church of St Savin-sur-Gartempe, some thirty miles east of Poitiers, contains the most extensive cycle of Romanesque wall-paintings in France. Those in the crypt represent scenes from the lives of the two patron saints of the church, Sts Savinus and Cyprian. They were believed to be two fifth-century Christian converts who lived in northern Italy. Persecuted for their faith they fled to a location on the Gartempe river in France, where they were put to death. Their relics were discovered in the ninth century and are preserved in the crypt of the church.

Scene of Martyrdom (detail of Sts Savinus and Cyprian are tortured c. 1100 Fresco Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

Scene of Martyrdom
(detail of Sts Savinus and Cyprian are tortured
c. 1100
Fresco
Abbey Church, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

The lower church of the abbey church was dedicated to Sts Savin and Cyprien. On the walls of the crypt the Last Judgment and scenes from the martyrdom of the saints are represented.

Traditio Legis 1100s Wall painting Priory, Berzé-La-Ville

Traditio Legis
1100s
Wall painting
Priory, Berzé-La-Ville

The early twelfth-century wall-painting in the apse of the chapel of the summer retreat of the abbots of Cluny at Berzé-la-Ville – probably a replica of one originally found in the apse of the now-destroyed abbey church of Cluny III – has as its unusual theme the Twelve Apostles combined with the Traditio Legis. In this Christ grants to St Peter the authority to govern the Church, symbolized by the handing over of a scroll; thus Peter is identified as the precursor of the popes.

The wall-painting is dominated by the figure of Christ in Majesty in a mandorla. He hands St Peter a scroll granting him authority to govern the church, and is surrounded by the Twelve Apostles. The style of the wall-painting is characteristic of that in Rome and southern Italy at the beginning of the twelfth century, and exhibits the strong influence of Byzantine painting.

Christ in Majesty c. 1100 Fresco, height c. 400 cm Château des Moines, Berzé-la-Ville

Christ in Majesty
c. 1100
Fresco, height c. 400 cm
Château des Moines, Berzé-la-Ville

In the apse of Cluniac chapel of Château des Moines at Berzé-la-Ville, near Cluny, Christ is enthroned as omnipotent ruler of the world. To the right, the arm of this imposing figure extends beyond the luminous sphere to pass the scroll of the law to St Peter, who is accompanied by other apostles and four further saints.

Christ in Majesty (detail) c. 1100 Fresco, height c. 400 cm Château des Moines, Berzé-la-Ville

Christ in Majesty (detail)
c. 1100
Fresco, height c. 400 cm
Château des Moines, Berzé-la-Ville

The chapel of the priory of Saint-Gilles at Montoire was entirely covered with paintings of which the only ones that remain today are those of the original apse, painted in fresco with additions in distemper and encaustic, and those of the transept apses and two apsidioles. This chapel, which is very beautiful despite the many mutilations it has undergone through the centuries, once had Ronsard for its abbot (Pierre de Ronsard, 1524 – 1585, was a French poet and “prince of poets” – as his own generation in France called him).

It is periodically endangered by the sudden rising of the River Loire. The damp has completely unstuck the ground of the paintings at the base of the walls, particularly as the river’s successive floodings have buried these more than a yard deep. The Biblical art of Saint-Gilles presents an exceptional and very striking spectacle. Christ figures in the three apses and on the vault of the triumphal arch; in the center apse we see him teaching, in the south apse handing the keys to St. Peter, in the west apse sending the Holy Spirit to his apostles.

Carolingian influence is obvious, especially in the paintings of the triumphal arch, where Christ, in a medallion, is shown crowning the Virtues which have defeated the Vices. Near Montoire, the church of Saint-Jacques-des-Guerets – at Troo is also at the mercy of the River Loire’s water levels. On the north wall of the choir, on two registers, are the Massacre of the Innocents and the Nativity. On the left of the axial window, a touching Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John at the foot of the cross, which is black and green with a yellow border. In the embrasure of the window, the Finger of God, St. George and St. Augustine. On the south wall we see Pride overthrown and Anger piercing itself with a sword. Further on, Paradise, with a great figure of St. Peter, then the martyrdom of St. James, the legend of St. Nicholas and finally the Raising of Lazarus.

Crash

Saturday Reader: Say Hello To Mercury

This view is one of the first from the MESSENGER probe's Oct. 6, 2008 flyby of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/CIW

This view is one of the first from the MESSENGER probe’s Oct. 6, 2008 flyby of Mercury.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/CIW

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. As such, it circles the sun faster than all the other planets, which is why Romans named it after the swift-footed messenger god Mercury.

Mercury was known since at least Sumerian times roughly 5,000 years ago, where it was often associated with Nabu, the god of writing. Mercury was also given separate names for its appearance as both a morning star and as an evening star. Greek astronomers knew, however, that the two names referred to the same body. Heraclitus believed that both Mercury and Venus orbited the sun, not Earth.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun and has a thin atmosphere, no air pressure and an extremely high temperature.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun and has a thin atmosphere, no air pressure and an extremely high temperature.

Mercury’s physical characteristics

Because the planet is so close to the sun, Mercury’s surface temperature can reach a scorching 840 degrees Fahrenheit (450 degrees Celsius). However, since this world doesn’t have a real atmosphere to entrap any heat, at night temperatures can plummet to minus 275 F (minus 170 C), a temperature swing of more than 1,100 degrees F (600 degree C), the greatest in the solar system.

Mercury is the smallest planet — it is only slightly larger than Earth’s moon. Since it has no significant atmosphere to stop impacts, the planet is pockmarked with craters. About 4 billion years ago, an asteroid roughly 60 miles (100 kilometers) wide struck Mercury with an impact equal to 1 trillion 1-megaton bombs, creating a vast impact crater roughly 960 miles (1,550 km) wide. Known as the Caloris Basin, this crater could hold the entire state of Texas. Another large impact may have helped create the planet’s odd spin.

As close to the sun as Mercury is, in 2012, NASA’s Messenger spacecraft discovered water ice in the craters around its north pole, where regions may be permanently shaded from the heat of the sun. The southern pole may also contain icy pockets, but thus far Messenger’s orbit has not allowed scientists to probe the area. Comets or meteorites may have delivered ice there, or water vapor may have outgassed from the planet’s interior and frozen out at the poles.

Mercury apparently shrank as much as 4.4 miles (7 km) as it cooled in the billions of years after its birth. This caused its surface to crumple, creating lobe-shaped scarps or cliffs, some hundreds of miles long and soaring up to a mile high. At the same time, the surface was constantly reshaped by volcanic activity in the planet’s past.

Mercury is the second densest planet after Earth, with a huge metallic core roughly 2,200 to 2,400 miles (3,600 to 3,800 km) wide, or about 75 percent of the planet’s diameter. In comparison, Mercury’s outer shell is only 300 to 400 miles (500 to 600 km) thick. The combination of its massive core and abundance of volatile elements has left scientists puzzled for years.

A completely unexpected discovery Mariner 10 made was that Mercury possessed a magnetic field. Planets theoretically generate magnetic fields only if they spin quickly and possess a molten core. But Mercury takes 59 days to rotate and is so small — just roughly one-third Earth’s size — that its core should have cooled off long ago. The discovery in 2007 by Earth-based radar observations that Mercury’s core may still be molten could help explain its magnetism, though the solar wind may play a role in dampening the planet’s magnetic field

Although Mercury’s magnetic field is just 1 percent the strength of Earth’s, it is very active. The magnetic field in the solar wind — the charged particles streaming off the sun — periodically touches upon Mercury’s field, creating powerful magnetic tornadoes that channel the fast, hot plasma of the solar wind down to the planet’s surface.

Instead of a substantial atmosphere, Mercury possesses an ultra-thin “exosphere” made up of atoms blasted off its surface by solar radiation, the solar wind and micrometeoroid impacts. These quickly escape into space, forming a tail of particles.

Mercury’s orbital characteristics

Mercury speeds around the sun every 88 Earth days, traveling through space at nearly 112,000 mph (180,000 kph), faster than any other planet. Its oval-shaped orbit is highly elliptical, taking Mercury as close as 29 million miles (47 million km) and as far as 43 million miles (70 million km) from the sun. If one could stand on Mercury when it is nearest to the sun, it would appear more than three times as large as it does when viewed from Earth.

Oddly, due to Mercury’s highly elliptical orbit and the 59 Earth-days or so it takes to rotate on its axis, when on the scorching surface of the planet, the sun appears to rise briefly, set, and rise again before it travels westward across the sky. At sunset, the sun appears to set, rise again briefly, and then set again.

Crash

Sunday Reader: Virginia Woman Celebrated 111 Years on 11/11

 Rosa Beckner, who celebrated her 111th birthday Nov. 11, 2014, gets her exercise by lifting two cans of beans. (Photo Stephanie Klein-Davis, The Roanoke Times)


Rosa Beckner, who celebrated her 111th birthday Nov. 11, 2014, gets her exercise by lifting two cans of beans.
(Photo Stephanie Klein-Davis, The Roanoke Times)

Years before November 11 marked the end of “the war to end all wars,” the day was special to Rosa Becker. It was her birthday.

As Americans commemorated Veterans Day on Tuesday, November 11th, Becker celebrated another birthday – her 111th. She’s believed to be the third-oldest person in Virginia.

The Roanoke Times tells the story of Becker, who was born in 1903 on a farm in northern Roanoke County. With her two sons, she left the area for North Carolina in 1945 when she remarried. After working in a school lunchroom, she returned in 1978 to live with family in Wirtz.

These days she passes time in her rocker, reading the bible (helped by a magnifier) and exercising — with two cans of beans, 10 curls at a time.

“I did that when I broke my hips,” Becker told the paper.

She dismissed the notion that canned goods are somehow her fountain of youth, and said she had no secret to longevity.

She did credit two possible sources that have helped her live a long life: growing up amid horses on her father’s farm –  and God.

Crash

Sacred Sunday: 13th-14th Century European Mosaics

Many of the early Italian paintings were originally parts of altarpieces, a form that first appeared in Italy in the thirteenth century as new attention was focused on the altar by changes in the liturgy, church architecture, and the display of relics.

Painting on wooden panels had not been common in the West, but by this time the gilded and painted panels of elaborate altarpieces had begun to join—and would eventually overshadow—fresco and mosaic as the principal forms of decoration in Italian churches. Western artists working on panel turned for inspiration to the Christian East, adapting the techniques, style, and subject matter of Byzantine icons. For Byzantine Christians—and Orthodox Christians today—the icon was a true copy of its holy model. Theologians used the analogy of a wax impression and the seal used to create it to describe the relation between an icon and its subject. Because they depict a holy and infinite presence, not the temporal physical world, icons avoid direct reference to earthly reality, to specific time or place. Instead, backgrounds are dematerialized with shimmering gold, settings are schematized, and figures often appear timeless and static.

Icons are devotional images—windows through which viewer and holy subject make contact. Church decoration was also meant to instruct the faithful, however. And in the West, this role came to foster styles that could, in effect, tell a story. Church frescoes and mosaics—and now panel painting—illustrated the lives of Christ, the Virgin, and saints. New religious orders, especially the Franciscans, who renounced their possessions to preach in villages and towns as Christ had done, stimulated interest in the human life of holy figures. Artists sought to capture the world of everyday experience with greater verisimilitude, relying less on an “ideal image in the soul” to work instead from what was seen by the eye.

Among the first and most important artists to move in this direction was Giotto. Recognized as a father of “modern” painting, he was the first Western artist since antiquity to capture the weight and mass of bodies moving in space, making them three-dimensional with light and shadow. He abandoned the decorative pattern and complicated line of Byzantine art; his forms are heavy and his shapes simple. And as if to match their convincing visual form, Giotto animated his figures with human psychology. Renaissance critics contrasted Giotto’s style, which they termed “Latin,” with the work of his Sienese contemporary Duccio, whose inspiration was Greek.

1rome1

Apse
c. 1200
Mosaic
San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome

In a letter to the Venetian doge, Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) asked the mosaic artists be sent to work with the master, also dispatched from Venice, engaged to create the apse mosaic in San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome. This is evidence of the Romans’ dependence on foreign mosaicists. Unfortunately, the mosaic in question has not survived undamaged. Like the structure itself, it had to be completely redone after the devastating fire in 1823, although a few original fragments were preserved.

In the apse calotte, Sts Luke, Paul, Peter, and Andrew are gathered around an enthroned Christ, with the donor pope kneeling at his feet. In the base register, for the first time in Roman apse mosaics since the sixth century, the obligatory frieze of lambs is missing, replaced by the empty throne surrounded by two angels and the apostles.

1rome2

Madonna and Child
13th century
Mosaic icon
San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome

The icon is in the typical Byzantine pose of the ‘Theotokos Hodigitria’ (Mother of God) who indicates the way, with her son on her left arm. The Virgin, wrapped in a dark blue mantle, stands out from the gold ground; the Child is wrapped in a red cloak decorated with motifs imitating pearls and precious stones.

The icon is in the Chapel of the Crucifix, San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome.

1rome3

Fragment
c. 1200
Mosaic
Museo di Roma, Rome

This fragment from the apse mosaic of old St. Peter’s represents the head of Pope Innocent III.

2lucca1

Façade
1200-50
Mosaic
San Frediano, Lucca

In Tuscany, mosaic decoration was rarely employed until the middle of the thirteenth century. A surviving example is the façade mosaic at San Frediano, Lucca. It depicts the Ascension of Christ in a Byzantine style. Angels bear the throne of Christ upwards, while the Twelve Apostles look on from below.

2lucca2

Façade
1200-50
Mosaic
San Frediano, Lucca

3murano

Madonna
1200-50
Mosaic
Santi Maria e Donato, Murano

This Venetian-Byzantine mosaic represents the elongated, stylised form of the Virgin, her hands raised in blessing. She emerges in isolation from the golden ground of the mosaic.

4torcel1

Last Judgment
13th century
Mosaic
Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello

A mosaic of the Last Judgment covers the whole of the west wall of the Santa Maria Assunta at Torcello. It was made in two stages, in the twelfth and thirteen centuries, by Venetian-Byzantine workmen. In this period as a rule, depictions of the Last Judgment were placed on entry walls, as here.

4torcel2

Last Judgment (detail)
13th century
Mosaic
Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello

The upper part of this detail shows the ranks of the blessed giving praise to God. At the bottom, the bearded patriarch on the left is Abraham, at his side are the Virgin praying, the Good Thief crucified with Christ, holding the cross of salvation, the gate of Paradise, and St Peter.

5rome4

Vault (detail)
c. 1280
Mosaic
Sancta Sanctorum, Rome

Around the middle of the thirteenth century there were no major papal initiatives in the area of church building and decoration. The situation changed only with the accession of Pope Nicholas III (1277-1280). In around 1280 he built the Cappella Sancta Sanctorum next to the Lateran, and decorated it not only with porphyry columns, coloured marbles, and wall paintings, but also with a mosaic in the vault above the altar. It pictured a Christ giving benediction inside an aureole supported by angels, and busts of saints appeared in the lunettes. The name of the mosaic artist is not known, but it has been noted that his work is similar in style to some works created by Jacopo Torriti and his workshop more than a decade later.

6firenz1

Apse
1297
Mosaic
San Miniato al Monte, Florence

The apse mosaic in San Miniato al Monte depicts Christ in Majesty. In addition to the enthroned Christ giving benediction, it includes the Virgin as intercessor and St Minias presenting a crown. An inscription dates the mosaic to 1297.

6firenz2

Coronation of the Virgin
c. 1300
Mosaic
Duomo, Florence

The mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Virgin is above the main portal, inside of the Florence Cathedral. Christ is crowning the Virgin and blessing her at the same time. Angelic musicians, cherubim and seraphim surround the two. In this iconographic context the inclusion of the evangelists’ symbols is highly unusual.

7pisa

Apse
c. 1321
Mosaic
Cathedral, Pisa

The work on the apse mosaic in Pisa Cathedral started in 1301. The decision to commission a mosaic may have been influenced by the fact that large new apse mosaics had been completed in Rome only a few years before, and the vaulting mosaics in Florence’s baptistry were nearing completion. The Pisans may have hoped to compete with any of these. They first contracted Francesco da Pisa, but three months later they turned to the famous Florentine Cimabue, who would direct the project until January 1302. Nearly two decades later, in 1321, the mosaic was finally completed by Vicino da Pistoia.

In the mosaic, an enthroned Christ fills at least half of the available surface. He holds an open book in his left hand with the inscription EGO SUM LUX MUNDI (I am the light of the world). With his right hand he is giving benediction. He is flanked by the Virgin, who has raised her hands in intercession, and St John the Evangelist. Cimabue designed the John figure, Vicino da Pistoia the Virgin. Francesco da Pisa conceived the enthroned Christ, whose drapery seems more old-fashioned.

8venice

Tomb of the Doge Michele Morosini
1382
Marble and mosaic
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice

This elaborate tomb by unknown artists in the presbytery of the Basilica exemplifies how sculpture was combined by mosaic.

Crash

Astronomy: Saturday Morning’s Cosmic Alignment

Saturday, November 22nd conjunction

Saturday, November 22nd conjunction

The morning sky played host to a spectacular gathering of solar system objects grouped closely together this morning (Nov. 22), and it wasn’t easy for observers on Earth to see. Here’s what you may have missed.

The sun, moon, three planets and the dwarf planet Ceres all appeared within a 20-degree span of sky. (For reference, your clenched fist held up to the sky measures about 10 degrees across.) Mercury and Saturn were just west of the sun and new moon, while Venus and Ceres were to the east. Unfortunately, the bright sun washed out the beautiful “conjunction,” but thankfully we have at our disposal planetarium software program like Starry Night to check out the stunning event. If you don’t have it, I suggest you get it. You’ll find it most valuable when making observations that aren’t easy to see via camera, binoculars or telescope.

Because the moon and three of the five naked-eye planets are gathered close to the sun, there is currently a remarkable absence of bright planets in the night sky. Mars is getting close to the sun, and sets around 8 p.m., and Jupiter is in the morning sky, rising around 11 p.m.

Conjunctions (groupings of astronomical objects from Earth’s perspective) between two astronomical bodies occur all the time. The sun, moon and planets all move in orbits close to the same plane, which is called the ecliptic. It gets its name from the fact that when the moon passes in front of the sun or when Earth’s shadow falls on the moon, an eclipse occurs.

Of all objects in Earth’s sky, the moon appears to move the fastest, completing its journey around the Earth in just under a month. Measured against the sun, the moon repeats its phases every 29.4 days, while measured against the stars, it takes 27.3 days. The difference is accounted for by the amount the Earth moves in a month.

So the moon is in conjunction with the sun once every 29.4 days, an event called the new moon. This month’s new moon occurred today at 7:32 a.m. EST.

Most of the time, observers can’t see a new moon — for two reasons. First, it is too close to the brilliant sun. Second, the side of the moon that faces Earth during a new moon is completely in shadow, because the sun is lighting the moon’s far side. The only exceptions are the rare occasions when the moon passes directly in front of the sun, causing a solar eclipse, as happened last month. Then the moon appears in silhouette against the sun.

Crash

Saturday Reader: London Bridge Isn’t Falling Down; the Palace of Westminster Is

POW

Take a tour of the crumbling Palace of Westminster – a landmark of over 900 years of British history -as a BBC Newsnight investigation finds it may cost £3bn to stop the UK Parliament from turning into a ruin.

Taxpayers may have to spend more than £3bn to stop the Palace of Westminster turning into an unusable “ruin”, the BBC has learned.

Dr Richard Ware was appointed in 2012 as director of a group studying the restoration and renewal of the palace, and later that year produced a report that put the capital cost of necessary repairs at around £1.5bn.

The report found that basic services within the building, such as electricity, water and sanitation, were functioning “with increasing difficulty and growing risks”, while asbestos was present throughout the palace and original roofs were no longer watertight, leading to extensive damp, leaks and floods.

The present building – home to the House of Lords since 1847 and the Commons since 1852 – has had no general renovation since repairs to wartime damage in 1945-50, the 2012 report said, adding: “If the palace were not a listed building of the highest heritage value, its owners would probably be advised to demolish and rebuild.”

The report considered the options of constructing a new home for parliament, moving one or both houses temporarily while Westminster is renovated, or attempting to restore the building with MPs and peers working inside – something it warned could take 50 years. And it proposed the establishment of a quango, along the lines of the Olympic Delivery Authority, to oversee the work.

The House of Commons was told last week that £7m was being spent on a further report, with MPs due to choose their favored option in spring 2016 and work not expected to begin in earnest until after 2020.

Ware told Newsnight that if nothing was done, politicians and staff would end up “working in a ruin”. “We’re moving backwards, the building is getting older, faster than we can deal with it. The building is on borrowed time, and if we don’t act soon we won’t have a choice.”

Asked if the cost would be more than £2bn, Ware said it was “not unreasonable to think it will be of that order”. But Newsnight said it had been told that the working assumption was that the cost could reach £3bn over many years. It quoted an unnamed source familiar with the project as saying: “I’d be surprised if it stayed at that.”

BBC Newsnight’s Laura Kuenssburg reports…

Crash

#WarriorWednesday: The Original Fly Girls – WWII WASPs Flew With Honor and Courage

WASP (from left) Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn leave their B-17, called Pistol Packin' Mama, during ferry training at Lockbourne Army Air Force base in Ohio. They're carrying their parachutes.

WASP (from left) Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn leave their B-17, called Pistol Packin’ Mama, during ferry training at Lockbourne Army Air Force base in Ohio. They’re carrying their parachutes.

In 1942, the United States was faced with a severe shortage of pilots, and leaders gambled on an experimental program to help fill the void: Train women to fly military aircraft so male pilots could be released for combat duty overseas.

The group of female pilots was called the Women Airforce Service Pilots — WASP for short. In 1944, during the graduation ceremony for the last WASP training class, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry “Hap” Arnold, said that when the program started, he wasn’t sure “whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather.”

“Now in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men,” Arnold said.

A few more than 1,100 young women, all civilian volunteers, flew almost every type of military aircraft — including the B-26 and B-29 bombers — as part of the WASP program. They ferried new planes long distances from factories to military bases and departure points across the country. They tested newly overhauled planes. And they towed targets to give ground and air gunners training shooting — with live ammunition. The WASP expected to become part of the military during their service. Instead, the program was canceled after just two years.

WASP with a plane named "Miss Fifinella," the mascot designed for the women by Walt Disney Studios

WASP with a plane named “Miss Fifinella,” the mascot designed for the women by Walt Disney Studios

They weren’t granted military status until the 1970s. And now, 65 years after their service, they will receive the highest civilian honor given by the U.S. Congress. In July 2009, a bill was signed awarding the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal. The ceremony took place in March of 2010 on Capitol Hill.

Women With Moxie

Margaret Phelan Taylor grew up on a farm in Iowa. She was 19, had just completed two years of college and was ready for adventure in 1943 when a Life magazine cover story on the female pilots caught her eye. Her brother was training to be a pilot with the Army. Why not her? She asked her father to lend her money for a pilot’s license — $500, a huge amount then.

“I told him I had to do it,” Taylor says. “And so he let me have the money. I don’t think I ever did pay it back to him either.”

But there was a problem. She was half an inch shorter than the 5-foot-2-inch requirement.

“I just stood on my tiptoes,” she says. When she arrived at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where most of the WASP were trained, “Well, there were a lot of other short ones just like me, and we laughed about how we got in.”

Short, tall, slim, wide, they all came in knowing how to fly. The military trained male pilots from scratch, but not the female civilian volunteers.

“They didn’t want to bring in a bunch of girls who didn’t know how to fly an airplane,” says Katherine Sharp Landdeck, associate professor of history at Texas Woman’s University, who’s writing a book about the WASP, tentatively called Against Prevailing Winds: The Women Airforce Service Pilots and American Society. “So you have women who are getting out of high school and taking every dime they had to learn how to fly so they could be a WASP.”

A Dangerous Job

Once when Taylor was ferrying an aircraft cross-country, somewhere between Arizona and California, she saw smoke in the cockpit. Taylor was trained to bail out if anything went wrong. “But the parachutes were way too big. They weren’t fitted to us,” she says. “The force of that air and that speed and everything, w

Women With Moxie

Margaret Phelan Taylor grew up on a farm in Iowa. She was 19, had just completed two years of college and was ready for adventure in 1943 when a Life magazine cover story on the female pilots caught her eye. Her brother was training to be a pilot with the Army. Why not her? She asked her father to lend her money for a pilot’s license — $500, a huge amount then.

“I told him I had to do it,” Taylor says. “And so he let me have the money. I don’t think I ever did pay it back to him either.”

But there was a problem. She was half an inch shorter than the 5-foot-2-inch requirement.

“I just stood on my tiptoes,” she says. When she arrived at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where most of the WASP were trained, “Well, there were a lot of other short ones just like me, and we laughed about how we got in.”

Short, tall, slim, wide, they all came in knowing how to fly. The military trained male pilots from scratch, but not the female civilian volunteers.

“They didn’t want to bring in a bunch of girls who didn’t know how to fly an airplane,” says Katherine Sharp Landdeck, associate professor of history at Texas Woman’s University, who’s writing a book about the WASP, tentatively called Against Prevailing Winds: The Women Airforce Service Pilots and American Society. “So you have women who are getting out of high school and taking every dime they had to learn how to fly so they could be a WASP.”

Margaret Phelan Taylor was a WASP during World War II.

Margaret Phelan Taylor was a WASP during World War II.

A Dangerous Job

Once when Taylor was ferrying an aircraft cross-country, somewhere between Arizona and California, she saw smoke in the cockpit. Taylor was trained to bail out if anything went wrong. “But the parachutes were way too big. They weren’t fitted to us,” she says. “The force of that air and that speed and everything, why that just rips stuff off you. You’d slip right out.”

So her plane was smoking and Taylor faced a defining moment.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m not going until I see flame. When I see actual fire, why, then I’ll jump.’ “

Was she scared? “No. I was never scared. My husband used to say, ‘It’s pretty hard to scare you.’ “

The plane’s problem turned out to be a burned-out instrument.

But 38 female pilots did lose their lives serving their country. One was 26-year-old Mabel Rawlinson from Kalamazoo, Mich.

“I’ve always known of her as the family hero,” says Rawlinson’s niece, Pam Pohly, who never knew her aunt. “The one we lost too soon, the one that everyone loved and wished were still around.”

Rawlinson was stationed at Camp Davis in North Carolina. She was coming back from a night training exercise with her male instructor when the plane crashed. Marion Hanrahan, also a WASP at Camp Davis, wrote an eyewitness account:

I knew Mabel very well. We were both scheduled to check out on night flight in the A-24. My time preceded hers, but she offered to go first because I hadn’t had dinner yet. We were in the dining room and heard the siren that indicated a crash. We ran out onto the field. We saw the front of her plane engulfed in fire, and we could hear Mabel screaming. It was a nightmare.

It’s believed that Rawlinson’s hatch malfunctioned, and she couldn’t get out. The other pilot was thrown from the plane and suffered serious injuries. Because Rawlinson was a civilian, the military was not required to pay for her funeral or pay for her remains to be sent home. So — and this is a common story — her fellow pilots pitched in.

“They collected enough money to ship her remains home by train,” says Pohly. “And a couple of her fellow WASP accompanied her casket.”

And, because Rawlinson wasn’t considered military, the American flag could not be draped over her coffin. Her family did it anyway.

Even though she was considered a civilian, Mabel Rawlinson's family draped her coffin with a flag, a tradition reserved for members of the armed forces. Though the funeral appears lightly attended, many were lined up behind the photographer, as seen in the reflection of the car.

Even though she was considered a civilian, Mabel Rawlinson’s family draped her coffin with a flag, a tradition reserved for members of the armed forces. Though the funeral appears lightly attended, many were lined up behind the photographer, as seen in the reflection of the car.

The Program Is Pulled

The head of the WASP program was Jacqueline Cochran, a pioneering aviator. (After the war, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier.) Cochran’s goal was to train thousands of women to fly for the Army, not just a few dozen integrated into the men’s program. She wanted a separate women’s organization and believed militarization would follow if the program was a success. And it was. The women’s safety records were comparable and sometimes even better than their male counterparts doing the same jobs.

But in 1944, historian Landdeck says, the program came under threat. “It was a very controversial time for women flying aircraft. There was a debate about whether they were needed any longer,” Landdeck says.

By the summer of 1944, the war seemed to be ending. Flight training programs were closing down, which meant that male civilian instructors were losing their jobs. Fearing the draft and being put into the ground Army, they lobbied for the women’s jobs.

“It was unacceptable to have women replacing men. They could release men for duty — that was patriotic — but they couldn’t replace men,” Landdeck says.

And so, Arnold announced the program would disband by December 1944, but those who were still in training could finish. The Lost Last Class, as it was dubbed, graduated, but served only 2 1/2 weeks before being sent home on Dec. 20, along with all the other WASP.

Lillian Yonally served her country for more than a year as a WASP. When she was dismissed from her base in California, there was no ceremony. “Not a darn thing. It was told to us that we would be leaving the base. And we hopped airplanes to get back home.” Home for Yonally was across the country in Massachusetts.

That was a familiar story, but Landdeck says there were some bases that did throw parties or had full reviews for their departing WASP.

Lillian Yonally in a 1943 publicity photo at Camp Irwin in California.

Lillian Yonally in a 1943 publicity photo at Camp Irwin in California.

Riling The WASP’s Nest

The women went on with their lives.

A few of them got piloting jobs after the war, but not with any of the major airlines. And some of them stayed in the air as airline stewardesses. In those days, no major commercial airline would hire these experienced women as pilots. Like many World War II veterans, most WASP never talked about their experiences.

And according to Taylor, they never expected anything either.

“We were children of the Depression. It was root hog or die. You had to take care of yourself. Nobody owed us anything,” she says.

The WASP kept in touch for a while. They even formed a reunion group after the war. But that didn’t last long. Then, in the 1960s, they began to find each other again. They had reunions. They started talking about pushing for military status. And then something happened in 1976 that riled the whole WASP’s nest.

“The Air Force comes out and says that they are going to admit women to their flying program,” Landdeck says. An Air Force statement says “it’s the first time that the Air Force has allowed women to fly their aircraft.”

Thirty years later, that comment still upsets former WASP Yonally.

“It was impossible for anybody to say that. That wasn’t true. We were the first ones,” Yonally says.

Margaret Phelan Taylor at her Palo Alto, Calif., home

Margaret Phelan Taylor at her Palo Alto, Calif., home

The fact that the WASP were forgotten by their own Air Force united the women. They lobbied Congress to be militarized. And they persuaded Sen. Barry Goldwater to help. He ferried planes during the war, just as the WASP did. And then, in 1977, the WASP were finally granted military status.

Over the years it has been reported that the WASP records were sealed, stamped classified and unavailable to historians who wrote histories about WWII. According to archivists at the National Archives, military records containing reports about the WASP were treated no differently from other records from the war, which generally meant the WASP records weren’t open to researchers for 30 years. But unlike other stories from the war, the WASP story was rarely told or reported until the 1970s.

“It’s hard to understand that they would be forgotten and difficult to believe that they would be left out of those histories. But even they forgot themselves for a while,” Landdeck says.

In 1992, to preserve their history, the WASP designated Texas Woman’s University in Denton as their official archives.

Yonally is proud to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, 65 years after her service, but she’s sad that fewer than 300 of her 1,100 fellow WASP are alive to receive it.

“I’m sorry that so many girls have passed on. It’s nice the families will receive it, but it doesn’t make up for the gals who knew what they did and weren’t honored that way,” Yonally says.

Taylor is also excited about the medal. She served her country out of loyalty, she says. That was certainly part of it. But the other reason? “I did it for the fun. I was a young girl and everybody had left and it was wartime. You didn’t want to get stuck in a hole in Iowa; you wanted to see what was going on.”

On the Web:

This Insane Time-Lapse Video Shows Snow Blanketing Buffalo

TIME

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Tuesday for several counties in the Buffalo area as a severe winter storm brought more than three feet of snow. By Wednesday, more than six feet — six feet! — of snow had fallen in certain areas.

The above time-lapse video, recorded Tuesday, shows the lake-effect storm creeping over the surface of Lake Erie and into the city.

MORE: These Photos From Buffalo’s Snowstorm Will Make You Want to Stay Inside Until Spring

View original post

A Heartwarming Thanksgiving Story

Good Time Stories

beggar2A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet.  He held up a sign which said: “I am blind, please help.”

There were only a few coins in the hat.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat.  He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy.  That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were.

The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, “Were you the one who changed my sign this morning?  What did you write?”

The man said, “I only wrote the truth.  I said what you…

View original post 148 more words