Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

A Baroque Church Portal

This church portal in the Oude Kerk of Amsterdam was originally in the Nieuwezijds Kapel, or Church of the Heilige Stede. That church was originally built in commemoration of the 1345 Miracle of Amsterdam, but after the ‘Alteration’ of 26 May 1578 — when Amsterdam’s Catholic city government was deposed and replaced by a Calvinist one — it and all the city’s other churches were taken over by the new Protestant administration.

In 1908 the elders of the Protestant congregation of the Nieuwezijds Kapel decided to demolish the fifteenth-century church and build a smaller one on the site, while building shops on the remainder of the site to prevent the resurgent Dutch Catholic church from building any chapel or shrine on it. This seventeenth-century baroque enclosed portal was then transferred to the Oude Kerk where it remains today.

Despite the anti-Catholicism of the Nieuwezijds Kapel elders in 1908, the Miracle of Amsterdam is still comemmorated every year on 15 March when thousands of pious Hollanders march in the evening Silent Procession (Stille Omgang). This year’s procession attracted 7,000 participants.

April 26, 2016 10:10 am | Link | No Comments »

An Old Name Returns to Banking

or: What Daniel O’Connell has to do with the 2008 Banking Crisis

Daniel O’Connell was a remarkable man by any stretch of the imagination, and is most often recalled for his part in bringing about the Relief Act of 1829 which emancipated the Catholics of Great Britain and Ireland from an officially oppressed legal status. Among his many achievements, however, was in London in 1825 founding the National Bank of Ireland.

As the RBS Group’s website notes, O’Connell:

…helped draw up the agreement that established it, spoke at public meetings to drum up support for it, invested in it, attended its first board meetings and, in 1836, was appointed its governor. He became an important figurehead for the new bank and there was even a proposal, not implemented, to put a bust of O’Connell on the bank’s notes.

The National Bank was created with the aim of injecting cash into the rural economy in Ireland, and its charter ensured that half of its returns would accrue to local shareholders in the country. O’Connell, not the best manager of financial affairs, ended up accruing huge personal debts to the bank and had to be quietly bailed out by several others (commencing a tradition of surruptitious banking amongst the nation’s major politicians).

Anyhow, the National Bank expanded across Britain and Ireland. In 1966 its Irish core was sold to the Bank of Ireland, and the English and Welsh branches were acquired by the National Commercial Bank of Scotland (which was a 1959 merger of the National Bank of Scotland and the Commercial Bank of Scotland). This, in turn, merged into the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1969, with the superfluous National Bank branches being turned into Williams & Glyn’s Bank the following year. (more…)

April 15, 2016 4:00 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

A Land, not a Republic

Bohemians seek to rename Czech Republic as ‘Czechia’

What are we to make of the growing movement against the name ‘Czech Republic’? It seems a welcome development, although one has a certain hesitancy in adopting the name ‘Czechia’ which somehow just doesn’t ring true from the English tongue.

Many will still automatically recall ‘Czechoslovakia’, an artificial country invented in 1918 which lasted a surprising seventy-four years. Its two successor states will celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary of independence next year, and perhaps this landmark event has provoked some introspection regarding the country’s name.

It’s not that the Czech Republic is alone: there are plenty of countries whose official names included an adjectival demonym — the French Republic, the Italian Republic, and the Hellenic Republic spring to mind. But these three examples all have names that more readily spring to mind — France, Italy, Greece — and which are used more frequently then the official state names.

Besides the Czech Republic, the only other example of a country known only as ‘the [demonymic adjective] Republic’ is the Dominican Republic, which cannot be known as Dominica owing the nearby sovereign island of the same name. (The island Dominica was named after Sunday whereas the DR was named after Saint Dominic, the patron of its largest city.) Even the Central African Republic is often referred to as Centrafrique (in French, at least).

Is it a move against republicanism? Not especially. When neighbouring Hungary adopted its new constitution it dropped the state name ‘Hungarian Republic / Republic of Hungary’ in favour of just plain ‘Hungary’ while maintaining a republican form of government. More influential perhaps is that it’s often viewed as a bit tinpot-dictatorship to have the word ‘republic’ in your country’s everyday name. (more…)

April 15, 2016 2:30 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Michael Ellis

Stumbled upon the website of a firm called Thameside Media whose architectural photographer, Michael Ellis, has done some superb work in capturing English churches on film (metaphorical film, I suppose, now that the world has gone digital). (more…)

April 14, 2016 2:44 pm | Link | No Comments »

St Pancras Town Hall

St Pancras Town Hall is an interwar classical building by the architect A.J. Thomas (of whom I know little). The façade is a little clunky but in the warmer months it’s adorned with arrangements of flowers that soften this stern civic edifice with a bit of welcome frivolity.

When the Metropolitan Borough of St Pancras was merged with the neighbouring bailiwicks of Hampstead and Holborn to form the London Borough of Camden in 1965 this was chosen as the town hall of the new entity, so it’s now referred to as Camden Town Hall.

But of course of all the buildings under the patronage of the fourteen-year-old, fourth-century martyr Pancras, the most prominent is the international railway station across the Euston Road (below) that connects this metropolis with the rest of the continent across the Channel.

April 11, 2016 11:00 am | Link | No Comments »

Master Mitsui’s Ink Garden

Daniel Mitsui is one of the most interesting artists out there, exhibiting a wide range of influences from the Celtic to the Oriental. Among his latest works is an ink drawing on a Catholic theme. As Daniel explains:

I received a commission to create a Catholic religious drawing in a Chinese style. These explorations into artistic traditions outside of European Christendom are always exciting, and China was new territory for me. When developing the concept for the project, I looked to one of the early missionaries to China, the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci.

Some time in the very early 17th century, Ricci gifted four European prints to the Chinese publisher Cheng Dayue: two engravings by Anthony Wierix from a series illustrating the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, another by the same artist reproducing the painting of the Virgin of Antigua in Seville Cathedral, and one by Crispin De Pas the Elder from a series illustrating the life of Lot.

Master Cheng copied these images into his Ink Garden, a model book of illustrations and calligraphy. The missionary saw this as a good opportunity to disseminate lessons in Christian doctrine and morality among the Chinese population.

Continue reading here.

April 4, 2016 7:05 pm | Link | No Comments »

Canalside Wanderings

The sun put its hat on this weekend, and after a delicious and vaguely German breakfast by King’s Cross on Saturday I fancied a little canalside wandering. Walking the Regent’s Canal from the new Central Saint Martins all the way to Paddington, I stumbled across the Catholic Apostolic Church in Little Venice (above). It has been over ten years since I popped in to the former Edinburgh outpost of this strange and fascinating denomination, now much reduced in numbers since its apex in the late Victorian period. (more…)

April 4, 2016 7:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Diary

EVERYONE was at the Opera last night. It was the final performance of a magnificent production of Il trittico, Puccini’s triptych of three one-act operas alluding to the Divine Comedy. While I go to the theatre fairly often I hadn’t been to the opera since many many moons ago when I was dating una Italiana who had a taste for it. These days, the Mad Architect is one of the handful of people I tend to go see things with. His tastes are similar to mine but he is easily irritated and always seems to pick a fight with some other member of the general public (or once, on the Eurostar, the barman – but it was actually deserved in that case). This can provide some intense amusement to the observer so long as you are prepared to disown him totally at a moment’s notice (which I have yet to do).

Anyhow, during the first interval we wandered out onto the open terrace – from whence smoking has since been banned – and who should we stumble upon but the charming and deeply fun Valentine Walsh, one of the finest art restorers in Europe, with a relation of hers. Then, but a few seconds later, our own roving reporter Alexander Shaw appeared with an old school friend. As I sometimes point out, London can feel like a delightfully small town. The Spectator’s Rod Liddle and Michael Portillo of ‘Great Railways Journeys’ fame were also in evidence, but we let them be.

But what of the opera? The first act, Il tabarro, is set on the banks of the Seine and was well sung but more than the singing I admired the highly architectural setting imagined by the mononomical set designer ‘Ultz’. (How one both derides and admires the arrogance of arrogating to oneself a single name – but then, like Hitler and Stalin, I myself am often known by surname alone.)

The second one-act opera in this triptych, Suor Angelica, was the real meat. Here is a deeply intense display of love and hatred, sin and repentance, compounding personal tragedy with the reality of mortal sin. Sadly we were deprived of the vision of the Blessed Virgin called for in Puccini’s original but it was surprising that director Richard Jones played the opera’s Catholicism straight and frank, without any of the usual modern snobbish sneering. Ermonela Jaho was powerful in the title role, convincing. Valentine was in tears.

But if Il trittico is like a three course meal then Gianni Schicchi is the delicious pudding. When Buoso Donati dies and leaves all his wealth to a monastery, his eight predatory relatives are forced to call upon the clever peasant Gianni Schicchi to use his worldly cunning to fake a new will. This is Italian farce at its most amusing but also its most beautiful and as Gianni includes the most well-known operatic song in the world – O mio babbino caro – it’s a crowd pleaser as well.

The Mad Architect noted that the English don’t really enjoy opera: they take it far too seriously, whereas the Neapolitans love it and join in the singing, even if they don’t know the words. Alexander thinks the Royal Opera House has become little more than a giant cruise ship for plutocrats and then descended into telling us his plan to sell Deptford to the French (or was it to Hong Kong?).

My only complaint was the surtitles, which often did not match the original Italian. This happens on Scandinavian crime dramas as well, in which non-blasphemous swear words are inaccurately translated as blasphemous English ones. But this is probably some contrived vogue in the realm of translators, that you mustn’t translate things as they are but to something somewhat similar but not quite the same, thus depriving you of the character of the original language.

What’s next on the agenda then? Sometime at the Old Vic, I think, and then something at the Almeida, and later on this year there’s Ryszard Kapuściński’s book on Haile Selassie, The Emperor – “I was working in the Ministry of Ceremonies then, Department of Processions…” – being done in a stage version at the Young Vic.

March 16, 2016 2:00 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

A Gothic Library for Christchurch

Christchurch, the oldest city in New Zealand, was known for its gothic cathedral before the February 2011 earthquake destroyed its spire. Modern architects, as voracious a species as ever existed, descended upon the city like a plague, declaring that everything traditional must be demolished and hideous glass hulks raised instead. They succeeded in convincing the city’s Anglican authorities to deconsecrate the cathedral (despite remaining mostly intact) and plans for its future remain vague.

Local architectural designer & engineer James Carr has come up with a proposal to build a central library for Christchurch on Cathedral Square. The design complements the gothic cathedral (or whats left of it) and would be a handsome addition to the city.

More whimsical perhaps is Mr Carr’s idea to build a gothic rugby stadium in Christchurch.

February 25, 2016 1:45 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Suid-Afrika

Suid-Afrika — ’n kleine bietjie van Hemel.

February 24, 2016 10:15 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Nick and Miriam

The Lib Dems are justifiably an unpopular lot, but their obvious defects aside one can find time to love a bare few of their number.

Sir Ming — sorry, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem now — will always be my favourite Liberal leader: captain of the Scotland team at the 1966 British Empire & Commonwealth Games, Chancellor of the University of St Andrews, as well as my MP when I lived in the Kingdom of Fife.

The prize for favourite unsuccessful Liberal candidate goes to my former tutor, the arch-monarchist Rt Rev Dr Ian C Bradley, who contested Sevenoaks for the Liberals at the February 1974 general elections. (Incidentally, the seat was later contested by Tim Stanley for the Labourites in 2005.)

But I also have to confess I’ve always rather liked Nick Clegg. While the overwhelming majority of politicians are mediocre, he enjoys the élan of a continental mediocrity rather than a more English strain. In fact, Nick Clegg’s incredibly boring and voter-friendly English name disguises a polychromatic background. On his father’s side he is descended from the Engelhardts (a Russian noble family of Baltic-German ancestry) and is indeed a distant cousin of Count Michael Ignatieff, leader 2009-2011 of Canada’s Liberal Party, while his mother is a Hollander of the Dutch East Indies. No surprise then that Clegg claims fluency in French, Dutch, German, and Spanish. What a waste he was as DPM: he would’ve made a decent Foreign Secretary.

I suppose as an inveterate cosmopolitan myself I must subconsciously find some strange affinity with this ex-leader of the Lib Dems. But chatting with my friend Roland the other day we decided that really the best thing about Clegg is not the man himself but his spectacular wife.

Being stylish, beautiful, Spanish, and Catholic, Miriam González Durántez manages to combine many wonderful and desirable qualities. She is also very obviously in charge. “Oh, Nicky darling, you are agnostic? How cute. The children are being raised Catholic.” And she looks great in Liberal yellow — not a colour every woman can pull off.

If the Lib Dems are looking to increase their vote-share and return to former prominence they could do worse than making Miriam leader. But then — with the exception of Leeds North West with its Chestertonian pro-life real-ale-and-trams-obsessed Lib Dem MP — this is a party unlikely to ever capture the Cusackian vote.

February 22, 2016 11:15 am | Link | 1 Comment »

Germania

I’ve been reading Golo Mann’s History of Germany Since 1789 — cracking stuff.

This depiction of Germania, the personification of the German nation, was for a stained-glass window in the Reichstag building, built between 1884 and 1894 in Berlin and since 1999 home once again to the German parliament.

February 22, 2016 9:05 am | Link | 7 Comments »

Desk

My old desk when I was working at The New Criterion in New York.

The bottle of Pimm’s — a gift from “Mr & Mrs Peperium” — was, alas, knocked over and broken by the cleaner.

February 19, 2016 10:07 am | Link | No Comments »

St Mary Redcliffe

The Church of St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol was famously described by Elizabeth Tudor as ‘the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England’.

February 18, 2016 9:45 am | Link | No Comments »

A thoughtful leader

As newspapers go, the Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald is devilishly difficult to obtain. Its coverage of internal squabbles within the Marxist-Lefebvrist faction of the Communist Party of Great Britain makes for compelling reading and it is likewise to be thanked for its sensitive reporting on the goings-on of various disenfranchised Indian princely families. Alas, I have never discovered whether it is possible to subscribe to this illustrious periodical, and a visit to the City of London address printed on its editorial page revealed only that the building had been bombed out during the Blitz and more recently redeveloped into a giant postmodern office block housing ‘management consultants’.

As is often the case in times of difficulty, it is not in the metropole but in the periphery one finds comfort. I am currently enjoying a few days in Wexford town (or Veisafjǫrðr as the Feudal Times & Reactionary Herald would doubtless call this old Viking settlement in Ireland). This very day I was enjoying a delicious pub lunch — stuffed chicken wrapped in bacon with peas and mash all united by a gravy of optimal viscosity accompanied by a locally brewed Schwarzbier — when I was delighted to discover next to me a copy of the illustrious title left by a previous punter. A few weeks old and already well-thumbed, it nonetheless included this thoughtful editorial regarding the recent Rhodes controversy in Oxford which our readers might, despite its pretentious prose, find interesting:

Ex Africa semper aliquid novii a Roman of old once noted. We have recently and from many quarters heard much criticism of Mr Ntokozo Qwabe — a Rhodes scholar from the late lamented Union of South Africa — concerning his call for the removal of the statue of Mr Cecil Rhodes (quondam Prime Minister of the Cape of Good Hope) from the High Street frontage of Oriel College, an institution much beloved by many of the readers of this newspaper.

As Mr Qwabe is one of those currently enjoying the fruits of Mr Rhodes’s rather typical largesse, he has doubtless left himself open to accusations of hypocrisy and ingratitude. Nonetheless, we believe a certain lassitude and forgiveness is called for in this case as recent utterances pouring forth from his loquacious tongue have proved more amenable hearing to ear-trumpets both feudal and reactionary. For we are informed the young scholar has a new target in his sights: the tricolour flag of the dreaded French Republic. Mr Qwabe has called for it to be banished from the streets and quadrangles of both town and university, deriding this “violent symbol” of a republican regime that has “terrorised innocent lives”. Such a forceful allusion to the regicides of 1793 is to be welcomed firmly.

True to their typical form, the tweeded, begowned, and enscarfed undergraduates of Oxford’s colleges have taken up Mr Qwabe’s plea. Already the blue-white-and-red flag which until recently hung from the Pierre Victoire restaurant in Little Clarendon St has been replaced by a lily banner. It is regrettable, though, that a screening of ‘Le roi danse’ at the School of Modern Languages resulted in intermittent street violence between roving bands of rival Legitimiste and Orleaniste students, egged on by Bonapartist townsfolk from working-class enclaves in Jericho and Cowley. (The biretta of an innocent Oratorian is believed to have been knocked off in the ensuing melee.)

Mr Qwabe may have arrived on these shores with plans for revolt and ‘transformation’ but it is clear that Oxford is having its usual desired effect on this bright young man. Tumult is giving way to torpor, and doubtless this Rhodes scholar will return to the happy land of the assegai and the rondavel a good deal more broad-minded and reactionary. We wish him well.

February 17, 2016 6:30 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Frankfurter Hefte

German typography and print design in the 1950s combined elegance and simplicity, as shown here in the front cover of Frankfurter Hefte, the political monthly founded by Eugen Kogon and others in 1946. (more…)

February 16, 2016 6:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Haus Altmark

While the remarkable rebuilding and rehabilitation of Dresden is of a much more recent vintage, the historicist design of Haus Altmark (Herbert Schneider, 1953-1956) in that city is another good example of the Socialist Classicism of the DDR.

(c.f. Leipzig Opera House)

February 15, 2016 11:00 am | Link | 1 Comment »

Joy

Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rarer. Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak. When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer. I don’t have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice.

I can understand that. There is a moral attitude at work here. But this attitude is nonetheless wrong. The loss of joy does not make the world better — and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good. Joy, then, does not break with solidarity. When it is the right kind of joy, when it is not egotistic, when it comes from the perception of the good, then it wants to communicate itself, and it gets passed on. In this connection, it always strikes me that in the poor neighborhoods of, say, South America, one sees many more laughing happy people than among us. Obviously, despite all their misery, they still have the perception of the good to which they cling and in which they can find encouragement and strength.

In this sense we have a new need for that primordial trust which ultimately only faith can give. That the world is basically good, that God is there and is good. That it is good to live and to be a human being. This results, then, in the courage to rejoice, which in turn becomes commitment to making sure that other people, too, can rejoice and receive good news.

— Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth (1997)
February 12, 2016 9:32 am | Link | No Comments »

Lourdes: To Be a Pilgrim

As today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes — and consequently the World Day of the Sick — here is the documentary we made regarding the Order of Malta’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes each May.

February 11, 2016 10:15 am | Link | No Comments »

Flag of an African Slaver

Flag of an African Slaver
c. 1862-1866; hand-sewn cotton; 9 ft 2 in x 15 ft
National Maritime Museum
Greenwich, London

The simple image of an African, garments aflutter, on a plain background provides a strikingly modern design as the commercial emblem of a firm engaged in the trade in human misery.

This flag was captured by Commodore Arthur Eardley-Wilmot while on anti-slavery operations off West Africa and given to his friend William Henry Wylde who supervised anti-slave-trade efforts at the Foreign Office in Whitehall.

The eradication of the slave trade is arguably the greatest peacetime achievement of the Royal Navy as well as powerful proof that the supremacy of economics can be overcome and made subject to morality. This is not just a possibility, but a necessary precondition for any humane and civilised order in society.

February 10, 2016 8:45 am | Link | No Comments »
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