Vestiges from a time long past: Lyme Regis and three female paleontologists

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My article on Mary Anning, Mary Buckland and Charlotte Murchison who lived exciting times in Paleontology in the 19th century got recently published on the Biologos website.

This was a great opportunity to deeply delve into their lives, their views, and discoveries, but also into the “Jurassic Coast”, the coastline from East Devon to Dorset, with rocks recording 185 million years of the Earth’s history. And in Dorset is Lyme Regis, the home town of Mary Anning.  In the early 19th century, Lyme Regis in Dorset was a very frequented seaside resort famous for its beauty where many of the upper classes spent their time during summer. The town had well-built houses which, though numerous, are still often incapable of containing all the people that visited it during the season. Lyme offered its visitors walks and drives, shops, assembly rooms, baths and cures for invalids. One of Lyme’s main attractions was the Cobb, a long harbor wall that stretches into the sea. The harbor, at times more important than the port of Liverpool, dates back to the 13th century.

Jane Austen visited the place in 1804, and in her last novel ‘Persuasion’, she describes the place as follows:

[A]s there is nothing to admire in the buildings themselves, the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more, its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands, make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth, declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood.

If you haven’t read the book, you should put in your reading list!

Another recommendation is this wonderful documentary “Walking through time – Britains Jurassic Coast” with Dr. Tori Herridge, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London:

Love-in-a-mist and a hymn for Easter

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Love-in-a-mist

This picture Love-in-a-Mist, Sweet Cherry, and Spanish Chestnut has been created in Vienna by Joris Hoefnagel (Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 – 1600) and is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Hoefnagel was self-taught and famous as manuscript illuminator and as one of the first artists to work in the new genre of still life. In 1591, Hoefnagel was appointed court artist to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, and he demonstrated his astounding technical facility when he added illuminations to a manuscript completed thirty years earlier by the celebrated scribe Georg Bocskay.

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Albertus Magnus and the Automaton – or Androides

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In a post titled Albertus Magnus as Scientist, I described the legend that Albertus Magnus manufactured an automaton that, my means of mercury, probably was able to move and make sounds. It is said that Thomas Aquinas, surprised by this automaton in the middle of the night, smashed it, crying “Salve!Salve!” – I found a source dating back to 1753.

And I am happy to report, that this story has been taken up by Christopher Anadale, PhD. in this youtube video:

Confidence in troubled times

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Helmut Moritz, Prague, 2012

Today is my Father’s 85th birthday. To celebrate this event, here is a wonderful poem that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote during his time in prison. It is one of my Father’s favorites.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

1. By kindly powers surrounded, peaceful and true,
wonderfully protected with consolation dear,
safely, I dwell with you this whole day through,
and surely into another year.

2. Though from the old our hearts are still in pain,
while evil days oppress with burdens still,
Lord, give to our frightened souls again,
salvation and thy promises fulfill.

3. And shouldst thou offer us the bitter cup, resembling
sorrow, filled to the brim and overflowing,
we will receive it thankfully, without trembling,
from thy hand, so good and ever-loving.

4. But if it be thy will again to give
joy of this world and bright sunshine,
then in our minds we will past times relive
and all our days be wholly thine.

5. Let candles burn, both warm and bright,
which to our darkness thou has brought,
and, if that can be, bring us together in the light,
thy light shines in the night unsought.

6. When we are wrapped in silence most profound,
may we hear that song most fully raised
from all the unseen world that lies around
and thou art by all thy children praised.

7. By kindly powers protected wonderfully,
confident, we wait for come what may.
Night and morning, God is by us, faithfully
and surely at each new born day.
__________________

1. Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
Behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
So will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
Und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.

2. Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
Noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.
Ach, Herr, gib unsern aufgescheuchten Seelen
Das Heil, für das du uns bereitet hast.

3. Und reichst du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern
Des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
So nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
Aus deiner guten und geliebten Hand.

4. Doch willst du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
An dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
Dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken
Und dann gehört dir unser Leben ganz.

5. Lass warm und still die Kerzen heute flammen,
Die du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht.
Führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.
Wir wissen es, dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.

6. Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
So lass uns hören jenen vollen Klang
Der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
All deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.

7. Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,
Erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen
Und ganz gewiss an jedem neuen Tag.

On the feast of the Archangels

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Today is the feast of the Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. In today’s first reading, we heard:

“War broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it.” (Rev 12, 7-9)

This scene is depicted in the Michaelerkirche in Vienna. The integration of the Baroque sculpture into the Gothic architecture is truly amazing.

Wikipedia explains: “The high altar was designed in 1782 by Jean-Baptiste d’Avrange. It is decorated with the monumental stucco alabaster Rococo sculpture Fall of the Angels (1782) by sculptor Karl Georg Merville. It represents a cloudburst of angels and cherubs, falling from the ceiling towards the ground. It was the last major Baroque work completed in Vienna. The centerpiece of the high altar is Maria Candia, a Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary, belonging to the Cretan School of hagiography.”

(The photo is taken from Wikipedia)

Mary as guide to Jesus

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This is to share two gems that I have discovered resp. rediscovered recently. Both text are on Mary and both have to do with St. Bernard of Clairvaux whom the Church commemorates today.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 20 August 1153)  was born to the French nobility and joined together with four of his brothers and 25 friends the Benedictine abbey of Citeaux at the age of 22; his father and another brother joined soon after. Imagine the eyes of the abbot when 30 young and not so young men came and asked to be admitted as monks. It surely was an incredible moment!
He founded and led the monastery of Clairvaux which soon had over 700 monks and eventually 160 daughter houses. He served as adviser to the French kings, he attended the Second Lateran Council and fought the Albigensian sect (a Gnostic sect). He preached in France, Italy, and Germany. He was the spiritual adviser to Pope Eugene III, who had originally been one of his monks. He was canonized in 1174, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius VIII. The two greatest loves of his life were Jesus and Mary.

Here is the text:

In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal. [1]

Around hundred years later, Dante Alighieri would write his “Divine Comedy”. In the last Canto (Paradiso, Canto 33), Dante, led by Beatrice (representing theology), through the celestial Spheres, finally arrives at the highest of heaven. And here St. Bernard comes into play: He asks the Blessed Virgin Mary to obtain from the Trinity the grace for Dante to contemplate the brightness of the Divine Majesty. Here is the text (in the translation by Allen Mandelbaum):

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Mary and the Trinity [3]

Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
more humble and sublime than any creature,fixed goal decreed from all eternity,
you are the one who gave to human nature
so much nobility that its Creator
did not disdain His being made its creature.That love whose warmth allowed this flower to bloom
within the everlasting peace—was love
rekindled in your womb; for us above,

you are the noonday torch of charity,
and there below, on earth, among the mortals,
you are a living spring of hope.

MG_Mandorla_Seckau

Our Lady in Seckau [4]

Lady, you are so high, you can so intercede,
that he who would have grace but does not seek
your aid, may long to fly but has no wings.Your loving—kindness does not only answer
the one who asks, but it is often ready
to answer freely long before the asking.In you compassion is, in you is pity,
in you is generosity, in you
is every goodness found in any creature.

This man—who from the deepest hollow in
the universe, up to this height, has seen
the lives of spirits, one by one—now pleads

with you, through grace, to grant him so much virtue
that he may lift his vision higher still—
may lift it toward the ultimate salvation.

And I, who never burned for my own vision
more than I burn for his, do offer you
all of my prayers—and pray that they may not

fall short—that, with your prayers, you may disperse
all of the clouds of his mortality
so that the Highest Joy be his to see.

This, too, o Queen, who can do what you would,
I ask of you: that after such a vision,
his sentiments preserve their perseverance.

May your protection curb his mortal passions.
See Beatrice—how many saints with her!
They join my prayers! They clasp their hands to you! [2]

And her intercession was successful for Dante. It will also be successful for us.

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[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Homily II on the text “Missus est”

[2] Dante Alighieri, Paradiso Canto 33, 1-45 on Digital Dante

[3] Siegel, Jane. “Illustrations from Early Printed Editions of the Commedia.” Digital Dante.New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017.

[4] The picture of Our Lady is in the Benedictine Abbey in Seckau, Upper Styria, Austria. It is very small, made from alabaster and dates back to 1200. The frame is made by one of the monks in the second half of the the 20th century.

Sophie Scholl

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“Man muss einen harten Geist und ein weiches Herz haben.“
“Il faut avoir l’esprit dur et le coeur doux.“
“You need to have a strong spirit and a compassionate heart”.
– Jacques Maritain

Sophie Scholl

This was the preferred quote of Sophie Scholl. She and her brother Hans together with Christoph Probst were murdered on 22 February 1943 – today 75 years ago – by the Nazi regime. The “White Rose” – the resistance group that her brother  and she founded with some friends – represents one of the young faces that did not bend in the moment of atrocity. She was 21 years old when she died. When she saw her mother a few hours prior to her death, she said: “You know – Jesus.”