Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cannon in warfare: a simple introduction


The Tsar Cannon -- 16th century bronze
(note the lion's head of the carriage.)

Cannon, in the same way as fireworks, were invented in China.

On Columbus' First Voyage, the 'Pinta' had a cannon on board. Amid shouts of "Tierra! tierra!", it was fired on that early morning of October 12th when land was finally sighted.

It was during this era of Columbus and the early explorers that "the art of casting greatly improved in Europe," resulting in lighter and more maneuverable artillery. Later in the 16th century the science of ballistics was born.

Was there much difference between cannon of 1600 and those of 1850? The range of shot was quite similar, but what changed in those centuries were the "mobility, organization, and tactics."

King Louis XIV "ordered 'Ultima ratio regum' (the final argument of kings) inscribed on all French cannons."

A description of smooth-bore cannon: 
"No other invention except the wheel was better-suited to its duty, and remained less changed in fundamental nature from its inception in the 15th century, to its final disappearance in the middle of the 19th. The shock power of this instrument, on land as well as on sea, cannot be overestimated. The cannon was first of bronze, then of cast iron as this cheaper material became available. It was simply a smooth bore, closed at one end, with a touch hole [vent] drilled to the surface of the breech. It projected solid shot of cast iron or stone... A shell was a hollow ball filled with powder and provided with a fuze that would be lighted when the shell was fired, sputtering as the shell flew, and finally setting off the powder, shattering the casing. This was purely an antipersonnel load. 
"To fire a cannon, the bore was first swabbed with water to extinguish any sparks that would make loading unsafe. A measured quantity of gunpowder was then poured into the bore, and rammed down behind a wad of some material. A small amount of powder was also poured down the touch hole. The load was then rammed onto the wad. The gun was set to bear, and a match (a glowing stick called a slow-match was popular) touched to the touch-hole. A flash, a boom, a cloud of smoke, and the load was sent on its way at the speed of sound. The gun recoiled, hurling its mass backwards against any restraint provided. A gun rigidly mounted had to be very well mounted indeed, to prevent destruction of its mount. By 1800, the match had been replaced by some kind of lock that ignited the powder in the touch hole (or other kind of fuse) by a spark when a lanyard was pulled. Also, the powder, wad, and load could be pre-measured and packed in bags or cartridges to make loading faster. 
"The phrase 'to spike a cannon' meant to disable it by driving a tapered wrought iron plug, or spike, down the touch hole with a hammer until it was level and firmly embedded. I suppose the spike could eventually be drilled out, but tools to do this were not readily available, and the process would take some time."

Six horses pulled the two-wheeled caisson with its ammunition boxes 
and the two-wheeled limber supporting the field gun.

"All movement of field artillery was done with limbers. Guns, caissons, battery forges and wagons were all fastened to a limber. None, under ordinary circumstances, moved independently. A limber was an ammunition box mounted on an axle between two wheels, with a forward projecting pole, to which the team was hitched."

Union 12-pounder Napoleon at Gettysburg.

The Napoleon was the standard field gun for both sides during the Civil War. It was a smooth-bore, muzzle-loading [front end of gun barrel] cannon. "By the end of the 19th century, the advent of rifling and breech-loading technologies brought the muzzle-loading era to a close."

[Take a look at this video as the men re-enact how Civil War cannoneers operated.]

The Union bombardment in 1862 of Fort Pulaski (outside of Savannah, Georgia) was a big turning point: "The range and accuracy of the [rifled cannon] startled the world." The seven-and-a-half-foot walls could never have been breached with smoothbores, but it was accomplished with the new weapon in little more than 24 hours.

[This minute-long clip explains why rifling was such a big step forward.]

What was one of the few things that could withstand the pounding of a lengthy cannonade? Earthworks -- it afforded far better protection than even the thickest walls.

"Mud or dust seemed to plague every movement of troops. Of the two, mud was the greater problem for the artillery. Dust created great discomfort, but little more. While an artilleryman might find it difficult to breathe and intolerably itchy in the suffocating dust, the guns and caissons could still be moved. Mud, on the other hand, often made movement impossible. Sinking below their axles in holes full of clinging muck, guns and caissons could be moved only with superhuman effort, the men pushing at the wheels and extra horses pulling on the traces. Sometimes guns were simply abandoned to the mud."

                                    (Ypres in WWI)


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 28: St Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Scholar

by David Pence

The "scientific revolution" was a centuries-long project of dividing man from the primary powers of his intellect to synthesize, categorize, and know as a sacral being in terms of a sacred whole. The modern scientist came to think very much of himself and very little of man. Hundreds of years before that egotistical destabilizing fragmentation, a great Dominican saint rose in Italy to do just the opposite.  Thomas Aquinas was educated by the greatest natural philosopher (student of physical and biological sciences) of his time: Albert the Great. He benefited from the rediscovery of Greek texts of Aristotle and thus learned the metaphysics, ethics, politics, and categories of the Greeks. He knew the Bible intimately and prodigiously. His New Testament commentary, verse by verse, is a compilation of the Church Fathers' commentary as well.

His purity was no small part of his clear vision; and his humility no incidental in his ability to properly categorize. He was called the 'angelic doctor' because the towering intellectual understood the metaphysical necessity and scriptural testimony of those spiritual beings who so embarrass the modern Catholic PhD. Above all, he knew how to pray first -- and write and formulate from that posture. The best biography of Aquinas is G.K. Chesterton's The Dumb Ox.

The online site Universalis, which provides the prayers of the Daily Office in a usable everyday form, also provides a short bio of saints of the day. Here is their excellent synopsis.

To honor St. Thomas, consider going to Universalis and joining the worldwide church in one or more of her daily prayers. It will aid your struggle for holiness and make you smarter as well.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274)             
"He was born of a noble family in southern Italy, and was educated by the Benedictines. In the normal course of events he would have joined that order and taken up a position suitable to his rank; but he decided to become a Dominican instead. His family were so scandalized by this disreputable plan that they kidnapped him and kept him prisoner for over a year; but he was more obstinate than they were, and he had his way at last. 
"He studied in Paris and in Cologne under the philosopher Saint Albert the Great. It was a time of philosophical ferment. The writings of Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of the ancient world, had been newly rediscovered, and were becoming available to people in the West for the first time in a thousand years. Many feared that Aristotelianism was flatly contradictory to Christianity, and the teaching of Aristotle was banned in many universities at this time – the fact that Aristotle’s works were coming to the West from mostly Muslim sources did nothing to help matters. 
"Into this chaos Thomas brought simple, straightforward sense. Truth cannot contradict truth: if Aristotle (the infallible pagan philosopher) appears to contradict Christianity (which we know by faith to be true), then either Aristotle is wrong or the contradiction is in fact illusory. And so Thomas studied, and taught, and argued, and eventually the simple, common-sense philosophy that he worked out brought an end to the controversy. Out of his work came many writings on philosophy and theology, including the Summa Theologiae, a standard textbook for many centuries and still an irreplaceable resource today. Out of his depth of learning came, also, the dazzling poetry of the liturgy for Corpus Christi. And out of his sanctity came the day when, celebrating Mass, he had a vision that, he said, made all his writings seem like so much straw; and he wrote no more. 
"Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire us, like St Thomas, to love God with our minds as well as our hearts; and if we come across a fact or a teaching that seems to us to contradict our faith, let us not reject it but investigate it: for the truth that it contains can never contradict the truth that is God."

UPDATE: Don't miss this short video on Aquinas' central teaching on Nature and Grace, by Taylor Marshall; and another on the reasons why Catholic men in every generation should love the Italian saint (who's buried in the southwest of France).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ross Douthat on the Saudi stranglehold

by David Pence

The death of King Abdullah, and the request by President Obama for a Congressional authorization of force in dealing with ISIS, allows the U.S. Congress a full examination of our allies and enemies in this conflict. We have argued here at AOA that it is a fundamental strategic mistake in the war against a purification movement in Salafist Sunni Islam to make enemies of Shiite states and Shiite movements in repressive Sunni states.

All of this discussion hinges on our relationship with the Saudi monarchy. By light years, the best "death of the King" commentary examining the American Republic and the most repressive monarchy in the Mideast is Ross Douthat's column. We offer it in full, apologizing to the 'NYTimes' and her firewall and applauding them for allowing such clarity in print:
The Western response to the death of Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, king of Saudi Arabia and custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, followed two paths. Along one, various officials and luminaries offered the gestures — half-mast flags, public obsequies — expected when a great statesman enters the hereafter. John Kerry described the late monarch as “a man of wisdom and vision” and a “revered leader.” Tony Blair called him a “modernizer of his country” and a “staunch advocate of interfaith relations,” who was “loved by his people and will be deeply missed.” 
Along the other path, anyone outside Western officialdom was free to tell the fuller truth: that Abdullah presided over one of the world’s most wicked nonpariah states, whose domestic policies are almost cartoonishly repressive and whose international influence has been strikingly malign. His dynasty is founded on gangsterish control over a precious natural resource, sustained by an unholy alliance with a most cruel interpretation of Islam and protected by the United States and its allies out of fear of worse alternatives if it fell.  
Was he a “modernizer”? Well, there were gestures, like giving women the vote in elections that don’t particularly matter. But Abdullah’s most important recent legacy has been counterrevolutionary, in his attempts to rally a kind of axis of authoritarianism against the influence of the Arab Spring.  
Did he believe in “interfaith relations”? Sure, so long as the other faiths were safely outside Saudi territory, where religious uniformity is enforced by the police and by the lash.  
Will he be “deeply missed”? Well, not by dissidents, Shiites, non-Muslims, protestors in neighboring countries ... and for everyone else, only by comparison with the incompetence or chaos or still greater cruelty that might come next. 
But Americans should feel some limited sympathy for the late king, because our relationship with his kingdom has something in common with his own. Like so many despots, Abdullah was to some extent a prisoner of the system he inherited, interested in reform in theory but unable to find the room or take the risks required to see it through. And we in the United States are prisoners as well: handcuffed to Saudi Arabia, bound to its corruptions and repression, with no immediate possibility of escape. Much of America’s post-Cold War policy-making in the Middle East can be understood as a search for a way to slip those cuffs. Three consecutive presidents have tried to reshape the region so that alliances with despotic regimes will no longer seem so inevitable or necessary. And all of them have failed. 
For Bill Clinton, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was supposed to be the catalyst — in ways never quite elucidated — for reform and progress in the wider Arab world. For George W. Bush, or at least his ambitious advisers, the invasion of Iraq was supposed to create a brilliant alternative to our Saudi alliance — a new special Middle Eastern relationship, but with an oil-producing liberal democracy this time. 
For President Obama, there have been multiple ideas for how we might, as an administration official put it during our Libya campaign, “realign our interests and our values.” The president has tried rhetorical outreach to transcend (or at least obscure) our coziness with tyrants; he tried, in Libya and haltingly in Egypt, to put his administration on the side of the Arab Spring; he and Mr. Kerry have made efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; he has sought some kind of realigning deal with that other font of cruelty, the Islamic Republic of Iran. 
The Iran project is ongoing, but so far all these efforts either have led (in the case of our Libyan crusade) to outright chaos, or have seen things cycle back to the same old stalemates, the same morally corrosive status quo.  
Here Obama’s experiences are of a piece with Bush’s, albeit without the same cost in blood and treasure. From Saddam’s Iraq to Mubarak’s Egypt, from Libya to the West Bank, the last two presidents have repeatedly pulled the curtain back, or had it pulled back for them, on potential alternatives to the kind of realpolitik that binds us to the Saudis, and potential aftermaths to the dynasty’s eventual fall. So far, they’ve found nothing good.  
Meanwhile, the Saudis themselves are still there. And since much of what’s gone bad now surrounds them — the Islamic State very much in business in the north, Iranian-backed rebels seizing power in Yemen to the south — the American interest in the stability of their kingdom, the continuation of the royal family’s corrupt and wicked rule, is if anything even stronger than before. 
Whatever judgment King Abdullah finds himself facing now, he is at least free of his kingdom, his region and its nightmarish dilemmas.  
But not America. A king is dead, but our Saudi nightmare is a long way from being finished.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Map on Monday: Yemen

Yemen is a nation covering the western tip of the Arabian Pennisula 1500 miles long and 500 miles north and south. It is the eastern border of the Red Sea at its narrowest egress into the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Its northern border is with Saudi Arabia (29 million 2013). Oman (3.6 million) to its east. Yemen has 24 million people; 40% are Shiites mostly living in the northwest (see map at bottom of page). A major tribe of the Shiites are the Houthi who recently (Jan 2015) displaced the American-backed Sunni president. They know they cannot run the whole country and have not organized a coup.

The eastern part of Yemen was called Southern Yemen (see map at right) during the decades it was ruled as a socialist state during the Cold War. That is where Al Qaeda is strongest. Northern Yemen was the western non-Marxist entity. These were united in 1990 but never achieved an integrated national communal identity. Muhammad is said to have told his followers to flee to Yemen as a last refuge because of its mountainous geography.

The reconstitution of Al Qaeda in Yemen by jihadists fleeing Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan is the theme of the best book on the country's last century. Gregory Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda, and America's war in Arabia, believes Yemen (like Syria and Iraq) is set for a dramatic redrawing of its borders. The Sunni government of Yemen, in a similar way to the the Saudi monarchical families to their north, usually comes to some arrangement with Sunni Salafist purists like al Qaeda -- don't overthrow us and we will nod approval as you fight Shiites and Americans.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, January 24

Religion and Geopolitics this week includes:
We have argued that the war against ISIS and radical Salafist Sunnis will be one of states against an armed religious movement. Our natural allies will be Christian nations, Israel, Shiite minorities, the Shiite nations (Iran and a truncated Syria and Iraq) and the Sunni nations. The cultivation of enemies from Iran to Russia to Assad's Syria, we have seen as a strategic error arising from a failure to more clearly define the religious character of our enemy and its natural enemies. Here is the best (but still inadequate) explanation of not calling the enemy "radical Islamists". There is good news that the Obama Administration has come to see that the Assad government is our ally, not a state to be overthrown. We should remember that this striking conceptual turnaround came from a John Kerry-Barack Obama axis which will prove considerably more advantageous to the U.S than the Hillary Clinton/John McCain approach of the last two years. How a reset on Iran and Russia will happen is not obvious at this juncture.

Houthi rebels overthrew the American-supported government of Yemen on January 20 just before the President's State of Union address. The rebels' main complaint against the government has been the ineffectiveness of the Sunni state to fight the radical Salafist Sunni of Al Qaeda of Arabia (AQAP). The Houthi of northern Yemen are Shiites.They are clearly the best fighters against Al Qaeda based in central Yemen. They have promised to work with the many Sunni tribes not affiliated with AQAP. This appears to be another country in which the fight against jihadist Sunnis is going to involve a serious alliance with Shiites. Here is Gregory Johnsen's take on the recent Houthi capture of the American-backed president of Yemen.

The assault on the Paris offices of French magazine 'Charlie Hebdo' on January 7 was directed by two Muslim French nationals: Saïd and Cherif Kouachi (ages 34 and 32). The children of Algerian immigrants, the brothers were orphaned at an early age. Whether these brothers were acting on direct orders of Al Qaeda or were homegrown Muslims outraged by the continual attacks on Islam and Mohammed by the magazine is not yet clear. The magazine described itself as secular and leftist. It holds a special place in the hearts of modern Frenchmen which some of us American Puritans may not fully appreciate. The magazine is well known and despised by Muslims throughout Europe who are shocked by the desacralizing cult of pornography employed against the human body and religious symbols. When libertine atheists meet the sword of Islam, the Christian citizen who is against pronography, blasphemy, and murder may not chant, "I am Charlie Hebdo." Here is a good recap of a debate between radio host Hugh Hewitt and Catholic Defense League's Bill Donahue.

Some thought President Obama should have been at the multi-nation solidarity march with the French. Others were glad he missed it. It is very good that John Kerry, who speaks French, did not leave his face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Modi of India. That would have been the triumph of a media reflex over national strategy. Consider the slaughter in Nigeria by Boko Haram compared to the "world event" in Paris. As we examine the Muslim problems in French culture quite apart from caliphate terrorism, we should remember the recent display of French suppression of cultural expression against a woman trying to attend the opera. She dressed a lot like the Catholic nuns who built the parish-based Catholic education system in religiously tolerant America. Finally, Peggy Noonan reminds Americans that this is no time to preach to the French but remember our deep ties to Lafyette and the great national soul of our first ally.

Speaking of France and Islam, a serious display of satire and free speech (unlike the anti-religious pornography of Charlie Hebdo) is the recently published novel Submission by Michel Houellebecq. The target of his pen is is not so much Islam as the emotional and spirtual decadence of the Enlightenment French elite. This review of a review by Rod Dreher is outstanding. The theme here is one close to the heart of Pope Francis: communal humanity needs nations with a religious foundation to overcome the libertine atheism of international finance (economic liberalism of the Right) and sexual anarchy (the denatured autonomy of the Left). The lesson of the Pope is that man must stop his war against nature (especially his own spiritual nature) and return to Christ and the Church and religiously-based national life as the only way to properly care for humanity. The lesson of the French satirist is that if Christendom does not fill the spiritual vacuum in France, Islam will.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday BookReview: COLUMBUS through the eyes of "the Harvard admiral"

"I cannot forget the eternal faith that sent this man forth, to the benefit of all future ages."                                                           (Professor Morison)

Martin Luther was a lad of 8 when his fellow Catholic, Christopher Columbus, sailed away from Europe... only to discover America.

Less than forty years later, the Virgin Mary made several appearances at Guadalupe, Mexico, to an Indian peasant -- which (in the words of the esteemed Jesuit, Fr. John Hardon) "opened the greatest missionary expansion of the Gospel since apostolic times."

[To go a bit further on the sixteenth-century timeline, consider that the Council of Trent met from 1545 to 1563.
That great meeting for renewal and "counter-Reformation" convened a year before Martin Luther's death, and closed a year before John Calvin's.]

Here is the fine little article by Maureen Mullarkey that directed me to Samuel Eliot Morison and the condensed version of his Pulitzer-winning Admiral of the Ocean Sea (published during WWII as he rose in the naval ranks).

The professor's comment on the few months between Columbus' first and second voyages to the New World:
 "After passing through Madrid and Toledo, he took the pilgrims' road to Guadalupe [halfway to Cáceres], passing through Trujillo, where a thirteen-year-old boy named Francisco Pizarro, the future conqueror of Peru, was then engaged in caring for his father's herd of swine. Columbus prayed long and fervently before the famous Virgin of Guadalupe, and the monks asked him to name an island after her shrine. En route to Seville, he passed through the little town of Medellín, where a small boy named Hernán Cortés must have seen him pass."


So, in late September 1493 the Second Voyage departed from Cadiz; they arrived three weeks later. Here is Admiral Morison's superb description:
"This outward passage must have been very close to a sailor's dream of the good life at sea. Sailing before the trades in a square-rigger is as near heaven as any seaman expects to be on the ocean. You settle down to the pleasant ritual, undisturbed by shifts of wind and changes of weather. There is a constant play of light and color on the bellying square sails (silver in moonlight, black in starlight, cloth-of-gold at sunset, white as the clouds themselves at noon), the gorgeous deep blue of the sea, flecked with whitecaps, the fascination of seeing new stars arise, the silver flash when a school of flying fish springs from the bow wave, the gold and green of leaping dolphins. And on this Second Voyage of Columbus there were seventeen ships in company, so that from the high-pooped flagship one could see white sails all around the horizon. Every day the faster vessels romped ahead, racing one another, but toward sundown, as the hour of singing the Salve Regina approached, all closed [round the flagship]... At eleven, at three and at seven o'clock the watch is changed. Just before the morning watch goes on, a priest on board the flagship celebrates what used to be called a 'dry Mass' -- going through all the motions but not actually consecrating the elements, lest the rolling of the ship cause them to be spilled or dropped. On the other vessels the men watch for the elevation of the host as the signal to kneel and cross themselves; then a hymn is sung, the glass is turned, the watch relieved, and everyone cracks on sail to race the others during the daylight hours."

It was on this Second Voyage that the first future US territory was discovered: St. Croix. Columbus called it Santa Cruz -- and it was there that "the Spaniards had their first fight with natives of America."
They also explored much of the southern coast of Cuba, including Guantánamo Bay (which the U.S. has controlled since 1903) and, very likely, the Bay of Pigs.

Let us jump back to the beginning.

Fr. Hardon says that Spain is "a country that for 700 years had suffered martyrdom under Islam, in defense of the Catholic Faith." It was only a matter of months between the time that the Moors were finally expelled, and the summer day when Columbus (thanks mostly to the Catholic queen Isabella) was able to launch his epochal First Voyage.

[Columbus standing outside Minnesota Capitol]

Cristoforo -- named for Saint Christopher -- was born and reared in Genoa, the republic that included Corsica. (Noble ancestors, indeed, to produce a pair of men such as Columbus and Napoleon!)

His father, Domenico Colombo, produced woolen cloth. "[Years later the son would name] the oldest city in the New World, Santo Domingo, after his father's patron saint."

In his mid-20s Columbus traveled to Portugal, "then the liveliest and most progressive country in Europe." He and his brother started a sea-chart business, and later joined the merchant marine -- "the finest and most far-ranging in the world." Christopher married into a prominent Portuguese family.

Unable to convince the King of Portugal (a nephew of Henry the Navigator who had founded the Portuguese empire) to underwrite his westward voyage, Columbus turned to Spain. 


On this First Voyage, Columbus "saw the first maize or Indian corn ever observed by a European, the first hammocks, woven from native cotton, and the first yams and sweet potatoes..."

The Indians on Cuba smoked cigars -- and through the Spaniards the use of tobacco "spread rapidly through Europe, Asia and Africa."
(Coconut palms and banana trees were among the items introduced to the Caribbean by the Spanish.)

Though some of the Indians wore small pendants of gold, Columbus' expedition found no gold on the assorted islands -- until they got to Haiti "which saved Columbus' reputation."

"They established a Spanish settlement, Navidad, on the north coast of the island of Hispaniola in what is now Haiti. That settlement was destroyed by the natives but Columbus on a later voyage established Isabela farther to the east on the north coast. The Spanish colony on the southern coast, Santo Domingo, became a staging point for later expeditions and provided supplies for the conquistadores in Mexico and elsewhere. The first administrator for Santo Domingo was a brother of Christopher Columbus. Spaniards were given estates on the island and the right to compel the labor of the natives."

(Haiti eventually became the first republic of people of African descent. Its revolution was a racial bloodletting. Haiti and the US, "were the only two countries which were not able to abolish slavery without the extensive bloodshed of civil war." The other side of Hispaniola would become the Dominican Republic. Both countries have populations of 9 million but the DR has 10 times the GDP, speaks Spanish, and looks to Spain for its heritage. Haiti speaks French and has cultivated a black African identity. These neighbors, so close, are often deeply set against each other culturally.)

The homeward passage "was a far greater test of Columbus' courage and seamanship and ability to handle men than anything he had hitherto experienced... The Admiral had to fight the elements and human weakness as never before or since."

That winter was so cold, the harbor of Genoa froze over!

(The caravel, used by Columbus and the early explorers, was an idea launched in Portugal. The small ship had the ability to "tack" into the wind. See this video, beginning at 5:45 mark.)

Once back in Spain, Columbus was derided by some of his own fellow travelers seeking their backpay from the King. His two sons, pages at the royal court, "were mortified by these wretches hooting at them and shouting, 'There go the sons of the Admiral of the Mosquitos, of him who discovered lands of vanity and delusion, the ruin and the grave of Castilian gentlemen!'"

                                                                                                [Fourth Voyage]

"Columbus' fourth and last voyage to America is in many respects the most interesting... He always referred to it, in the short span of life that remained to him, as El Alto Viaje, The High Voyage."
[It lasted two and a half years, including a year marooned in Jamaica.]

"[In the last days of 1502] the fleet put in at the present harbor of Cristóbal, Panama Canal Zone, and there kept Christmas and New Year's 1503, very miserably..."

They made it back across the Atlantic in November 1504. The Catholic Queen died later that month -- greatly to the Admiral's grief and loss. He would succumb to his own final illness a couple years later, at age 54:

"...[T]he Admiral, remembering the last words of his Lord and Saviour, murmured as his own, In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum -- 'Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit.'

"It was a poor enough deathbed for the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Viceroy and Governor of the Islands and Mainlands in the Indies; and a poor enough funeral followed. No bishops or great dignitaries were present... "

As an Anglo reader, I was struck by some of the quixotic contradictions in the temperament of Spanish noblemen:
  1.  They were men of unflappable courage, but with an abhorrence of manual labor. (Morison: "Why these Spaniards and Genoese could not fish for themselves or plant their own cornfields has never been explained; it is clear that if the Indians had not fed them, they would have starved to death.")
  2. Spain was the most devout Catholic country, but three centuries after Columbus when Napoleon invaded, the Spanish guerilla fighters met every French atrocity with plenty of their own.
  3. There is a deep kinship of La Raza -- a bond between the men of Spain and the New World that extends through the centuries. Here is an old "BookNotes" interview with Georgie Anne Geyer, in which she talked of the surprising friendship of Generalissimo Franco and Castro. From her book on Fidel: "Both had roots in Galicia [the far northwest area of Spain]... and had been filled with admiration for each other for many years... They had yearned to meet, and when Franco died [in 1975], Castro decreed a full week of official mourning in Cuba."

Professor Morison says that "Columbus, even more than most sailors, was devoted to the Virgin Mary, protectress of mariners." His favorite prayer invoked (in Latin) the Holy Family to be with us on the way:
'Jesu cum Maria
sit nobis in via.' 

"Back in the fifteenth century, China sent ships on a voyage of exploration longer than that of Columbus, more than half a century before Columbus, and in ships more advanced than those in Europe at the time. Yet the Chinese rulers made a decision to discontinue such voyages and in fact to reduce China's contacts with the outside world. European rulers made the opposite decision and established world-wide empires, ultimately to the detriment of China..."
                            (Thomas Sowell)


UPDATE -- Pence had this comment on the Sowell quote: "When the Chinese found they had nothing to take or learn from the new lands, they went back home. The Spaniards were motivated by what they could claim... but, also, they brought a gift called eternal salvation to give their long-lost distant cousins descended from Adam. The mission entrusted to the fishermen at the Sea of Galilee was continued by the Admiral of the Ocean Sea."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The 'Alhambra' (in Granada) and 'El Escorial' (northwest of Madrid)

A century after the death of Muhammad, the famous battle of Tours occurred (732 in France); thus, the Islamic expansion into Europe was stopped. By that time, however, the Moors had achieved control over Spain; they would not relinquish their last southern stronghold there, Granada, until the early days of that famous year of 1492.
[Madrid, not shown, is just NE of Toledo]

One of the most recognizable Moorish palaces is the Alhambra. Many Americans were first introduced to it by Washington Irving in his Tales from the Alhambra -- he was our ambassador to Spain in the 1840s. (Among the biographies he penned was one about Columbus and another on Muhammad.)

After moving to Granada, Irving was allowed to live in the palace-fortress which Moorish poets described as "a pearl set in emeralds." He called his residence "my Moslem elysium."

An excerpt from his book:
“When the Moors held Granada... they thought only of love, music, and poetry... In those days, if anyone asked for bread, the reply was, make me a couplet; and the poorest beggar, if he begged in rhyme, would often be rewarded with a piece of gold.”  

The picture below is from this website with many excellent photos of the Alhambra.

In this short video, the guide illumines some of the mathematical proportions at the heart of the design.

It was in Alhambra's "Hall of the Ambassadors" (pictured below) that Columbus received the go-ahead from Ferdinand and Isabella for his first voyage.


A number of decades after the "Admiral of the Open Sea" and his two royal benefactors had gone to their eternal reward, the man ascended the throne who would preside over Spain's most glorious and powerful era: Philip II. 

(This was during the years of the Council of Trent, as Church leaders struggled to clean up corruption and renew evangelization in the face of the massive Protestant revolt.)

One of the most imposing structures that King Philip built -- with the aid of architect Juan Bautista de Toledo, who had studied in Rome -- was El Escorial. It was situated some 30 miles from Madrid, the city that Philip now designated as the national capital.

Which Spanish saint was the king honoring with the construction of El Escorial? Saint Lawrence -- one of the seven deacons of Rome killed in the year 258. The Spanish army had defeated a French force in 1557 on his feast day, August 10th. So, it was decided that the floor of the palace-monastery would be "laid out in the form of a gridiron, the means by which St. Lawrence was martyred."


(The reign of King Philip lasted more than four decades. The two biggest setbacks were when the Netherlands revolted, starting in 1566; and the defeat of the “Invincible Armada” in their 1588 quest to topple Queen Elizabeth for English interference in the Netherlands.

The Philippines -- today's third most populous Catholic nation behind Brazil and Mexico -- is the namesake of Philip of Spain.)


Check out this five-minute video of El Escorial.