Category Archives: History

Priest Rescues Priceless Manuscripts in Iraq

“Many of the documents in Michaeel’s collection are written in ancient languages including Aramaic, Latin and Ottoman Turkish. They date back centuries, if not more. The oldest is at least 1,100 years old,” said Father Najeeb Michaeel. “Michaeel’s collection isn’t limited to Christian texts. There are works on ancient astrology, geography and history, as well as manuscripts belonging to other religions including Yazidis and Muslims.” Read the rest on the OP/[Dominicans]’s website, and see this video of Father Michaeel looking at and reading from some of the priceless manuscripts.

The Walls of Constantinople

There is an excellent video on the walls of Constantinople, explaining how and why the walls were built. It includes reconstructions of what the walls would have looked like and how they were a defense of the city. This Walking the Walls post now has the video posted. Take a look at the post to see what the walls look like today, then to the bottom of the post to see the video.

Herod’s Fortress

The Herodium was a fortress constructed by Herod the Great who lived from 74 to 4 BC. Josephus, the 4th century Jewish historian describes the Herodium in this way:

“This fortress, which is some sixty stadia distant from Jerusalem, is naturally strong and very suitable for such a structure, for reasonably nearby is a hill, raised to a (greater) height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast. At intervals it has round towers, and it has a steep ascent formed of two hundred steps of hewn stone. Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament at the same time. At the base of the hill there are pleasure grounds built in such a way as to be worth seeing, among other things because of the way in which water, which is lacking in that place, is brought in from a distance and at great expense. The surrounding plain was built up as a city second to none, with the hill serving as an acropolis for the other dwellings.”

From the height of the elevation there is a commanding view of the surrounding territory. It is an ideal location for a fortress.

Herod, who slaughtered the innocents of Bethlehem, was such a man of violence that the Emperor Augustus said “It is better to be Herod’s pig than son.” His escalating paranoia led him to kill his wife, and two of his sons.

The Herodium, built by King Herod the Great during the last three decades before the Birth of Christ, was a complex of palaces, entertainment and administrative structures, a fortress and a royal town. This is a view from the Herodium peering down to the lower Herodium which at one time was a magnificent area where King Herod would host distinguished guests.

Model of Upper Herodium.

Today the site is under intense archaeological excavation to identify structures of the Upper Herodium. Notice the remains of pillars in the lower left hand corner that outlines the oblong space that one can see in the reconstructed model.

One can detect the circular tower that was in front of the oblong terrace surrounded by columns.

Note the circular tower.

Remains of a bath house that featured a hot room lined in semi circle niches.

Miqveh. Jewish ritual based of purification from the time of the Great Revolt of Bar Kokhba.

A good of one of the circular towers of Herodium.

You can click to enlarge these photos of plaques showing more detail about the site.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

In August 2016 Bishop DiLorenzo appointed me director of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Williamsburg, Virginia near the College of William and Mary. This appointment is opening up for me a new appreciation of devotion to Our Lady which I would like to share with you on my blog, a devotion that is shared by Anglicans and Orthodox as well: a truly ecumenical devotion to Our Lady.

Look at the menu of this site, and next to the “About” and the “Camino,” you will see The National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Vienna’s Ringstrasse in the Snow

I decided to walk a bit of the Ring and take some photos of buildings on the Ringstrasse which was built in 1857 when Emperor Franz Joseph ordered the old city walls demolished that ringed the old city.


Karlsplatz. This Metro stop was designed early in the 20th century. It is Art Nouveau with marble facing and gold floral motifs.

University of Vienna

University of Vienna


Rathaus. A monumental Neo-Gothic building on the Ring. Built in 1872.

Burgtheater, on the Ring. It was heavily bombed but the late 18th-century theater was restored.

Parliament. On the Ring. it was built between 1874 and 1883. It is a profoundly classical structure. Notice Pallas Athena.

On the ring. The architect took his inspiration from the Theseion in the Agora of Athens. Built between 1820 and 1825. It is in the Volksgarten.

Heldentenor or Äußere Burgtor. On the ring. There are two statues: one of Eugene of Savoy who was victorious over the Turks, and Archduke Karl, Napoleon’s adversary.

The papyrus museum. The museum is housed in the Neue Hofburg which is on Heldenplatz. I spent the whole afternoon. I was particularly struck by a papyrus that is a fragment from Orestes by Euripides and it has musical notation.

When I left the museum it was getting dark but there was falling snow so I decided to conclude the day with a walk in the snow and just enjoy the beautiful architecture of a city that truly imperial.

Heldentor. The gate closes the Heldenplatz towards the Ring. Built in 1821. It was conceived as a grand entrance to the imperial palace.

Translation of the inscription: “Justice is the foundation of rulers.” Or “Justice is the foundation of those to whom office has been entrusted.” Now that is very classical and Catholic.

Maria Theresien Platz. On the ring. This monument was created around 1870 as part of the Ring development.The platz is framed by two museums.

Sunday Afterwords: How Dark were the Dark Ages?

“Were the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages, characterized by oppression, ignorance, and backwardness in areas like human rights, science, health, and the arts? Or were they marked by progress and tolerance? Anthony Esolen, an English Literature professor at Providence College, explains.” (From the YouTube introduction).

Golden Mosaics of Hagia Sophia

On reading the last two posts on the fall of Hagia Sophia, a reader writes:

“So interesting to see the things for real, that is, photographed here and now by someone I know. History books can get awfully abstract, but when you see something photographed it becomes very easy to picture the events. In fact, seeing a photograph you almost can’t not picture the events. With the photographs of the walls, you can imagine mounted riders coming up to them, or scaffolding being built, or picking out good places for defenses, etc. In the photograph of the whole interior of Hagia Sophia, you can hear how the sound must echo in the large space, you can feel that the shafts of sunlight must be warm, etc. – the photograph engages the senses and very quickly the imagination. (Thus why you need art in church!)”

The Virgin Mary with the Child on her lap looks down from on high.

Mary is set in a background of golden mosaic in the interior of the Half Dome of the apse. The mosaic belongs to the 9th century

The interior space of Hagia Sophia is filled with a golden light, from the sun shining on the mosaics. Four portraits of angels in the dome would have shimmered when the natural light reflected on the dome.

In each of the four pendentives of the main dome are portraits of angels.

A mosaic angel.

Theological Conversations

Please join us each Wednesday evening for daily Mass at 5:30 p.m. and then at 6 p.m. for the ongoing theological presentations in the church commons area.

Three Religions of Abraham, Or Only One?
Professor Remi Brague, a professor of Arabic and religious philosophy at the Sorbonne, in his book On the God of the Christians (and on one or two others) points out that the “Abraham” that the three religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) would have in common is a vague abstraction. For Islam, “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a true believer, and Muslim” Quran III, 67.

Professor Gabriel Said Reynolds of Notre Dame offers a short reflection on Abraham.
Abraham in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Professor Samir Khalil Samir is a Jesuit who is an author and professor at Saint Joseph University in Lebanon. He wrote a short book that I highly recommend, 111 Questions on Islam.

There also are two videos that I highly recommend:
The Radicalization of Islam and
Pope Benedict’s Regensburg talk.

Nebeel Qureshi offers several video lectures that can be beneficial in our ongoing theological conversation to try to understand the growing number of Muslims in the United States. First of all, Islam is more than simply the Quran, it is a way of life. Qureshi gives us in this lecture an insight into how the practice of Islam shaped his life until his conversion to Christianity as a young adult. Apologetics of the Quran.

At the beginning of the video he quotes from why Islam website devoted to bringing westerners to Islam. Their mission statement sums up our discussion last night of how Muslims understand their faith.

And I would recommend his lecture on the text of the Quran. The Text of the Quran.

This website, Why Islam, is a way the Muslims spread their mission to call people to their faith. The site gives a clear understanding of what they believe, as well as how they understand the Christian faith in relationship to Islam.

Introduction to Turkmenistan, Modern and Ancient

Note: Internet connections here seem inconsistent, so pictures will be posted on the blog as they can be transmitted.

Modern day Ashgabat was a total surprise. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Niyazov declared independence for Turkmenistan on October 27, 1993. He was declared president for life until his death in 2006 during which time the city underwent a remarkable transformation, some might say eccentric and unique transformation. All the new buildings would be lavishly faced with white Italian  marble, sparkling golden domes, extravagant fountains with large parks and wide boulevards. And the city is graced with his 12 meter high golden statue on the Arch of Neutrality. My tour guide said the the city is called Las Vegas not because of casinos but rather all these marble buildings are bathed at night with changing colors which offers a unique urbanscape at night.


This is an archeological model of ancient Nisa, the capital of the Parthian Empire.

The approach to the archeological site of Nisa with the Kopetdag mountains on the horizon which border northern Iran.

Turkmen-003717A reconstructed entrance into the complex that once had 43 towers and housed the palace and temple.

The gypsum on the wall to the left of the opening is original. The corridor was once covered with frescoes now housed in the museum.

Fresco fragments from the corridor

The Death of a Mad Monk

Read about the terrible influence of the monk Rasputin, and his terrible end.

Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points for Peace. “These points were strangely similar to Pope Benedict XV’s Seven Points that, only a few months before, Wilson had said were impractical…” See also the end of the blog post, which link to some YouTube videos, illustrating “the wide difference between the European and American experience of the ‘Great War.'”

Death of the First Romantic, This is a fascinating look at the changing thinking of Friedrich von Schlegel, one of the early Romantics.

These brief insights into historical moments that continue to shape our history, are drawn from the Catholic Textbook Project. They are written so well that they will interest even those who “aren’t interested” in history. They have an interesting Facebook feed as well.