Monday, 22 October 2012

Ice Tribute to Titanic

This is one the of most impressive memorials I have ever seen.

In Belfast, Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo sculpted 1,517 ice figures, representing every victim to the Titanic disaster. It was here that the Titanic was built, and this tribute was organised to coincide with the centenary of the sinking on 15 April 1912. The little figures were 15in high, and gradually, they melted, one after the other...

Check out the beautiful pictures here:

Saturday, 20 October 2012

First Native American saint to be canonised

This weekend, Kateri Tekakwitha, "Lily of the Mohawks" will be the first Native American to be canonised by the Catholic Church. Kateri was born in 1656, in the midst of power struggles between the English, Dutch and French (as well as between Native American tribes) all demanding territory and denomination over the other. Millions of Native Americans were decimated from smallpox and other European diseases - Kateri's parents and brother died from smallpox, and Kateri herself was left physically scarred. "Tekakwitha" is a Mohawk word that translates to "the one who walks groping her way."

The Mohawks blamed the Jesuits for this decimation from smallpox, and they massacred several priests in Kateri's village (three were later canonised.) However, shortly after Kateri was born, the French signed a peace treaty with the Mohawks, and one clause stated that Jesuits could work with the tribe.

On Easter Day pin 1676, Kateri was baptised, and the site is now a shrine visited by hundreds of people every year. Many tribes fused Christianity with their native culture in order to survive in this changing world, but Kateri's decision was not popular with the Mohawks. Her uncle was outraged at her baptism, particularly after she spurned the man he had chosen for her husband. Kateri travelled to a Jesuit village in Montreal, and devoted herself to Christianity, often torturing herself by walking barefoot on ice and hot coals, lying on a bed of thorns, and self-flagellation. Academics think she was influenced by the harsh rituals Mohawk men would undertake before a battle, but even contemporary Jesuits thought she was taking it too far.

Kateri died when she was 24, and ever since, Catholics have prayed to her and many have been convinced she has performed miracles. Immediately after she died, the scars from smallpox disappeared, and the Jesuits claimed they saw visions of her. As late as 2006, it was claimed that a small boy was healed in the US after touching a piece of Kateri's wrist bone. Others have apparently been cured of burns and even kidney disease.

However, some Mohawks today find it hard to identify with a chaste, self-flaggellating convert to Catholicism. She bore no children, and she can be interpreted as a symbol of the struggles between Europeans and the Mohawks...

Regardless, relics, including bits of cloth which have touched the bones of Kateri, are apparently selling fast.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Echoes of 1066

The Battle of Hastings in 1066 is probably a date that 99% of the population know off by heart. But many would probably wonder what the significance of the battle is today.

This battle and subsequent 'fusion' of the Anglo-Saxon and Franco-Latin languages created a wide and rich vocabulary - this is why we have different words for something that means pretty much the same thing (for example, fatherly and paternal). The 100 Years' War (1337-1453) may never have happened, and the relationship between France and England would have been completely different. Close ties between the Scottish Kings and the Normans continued for centuries, meaning that the present royal family would have been very different. Shakespeare's plays would probably have been closer to c16th Dutch or German than what it is today. And without the conquest, would there ever have been a United Kingdom?

Really interesting article in The Telegraph!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

WW1 Commemoration

The history of World War One has always fascinated me, even though my chosen period of study is c.19th America. My ancestors fought in the war, and visiting the battlefields 7 years ago was a wonderful and moving experience, one that I shall never forget. So I was pleased to hear that the government are pledging £50 million to mark the centenary of the war next year. The money will go towards national commemorations, museum exhibitions, and encouraging local communities to get involved in historic projects; the ultimate goal will be to honour those who served. Part of the money will also go to the Imperial War Museum and to schools across the country, who will get to travel to France and Belgium to see the cemeteries, museums and the famous Menin Gate.

"If I should die, think only this of me, that there's some corner of a foreign field, that is forever England."

Assassination Site will become tourist attraction

From 2013, tourists will be allowed to stand on the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated. Apparently, this didn't happen on the steps of the senate but in a theatre - which is fascinating in itself because most history documentaries I have seen, including the recent programme by Andrew Marr depict Caesar being repeatedly stabbed in the Senate.

Today, the area is called Torre Argentina Square and is in the very heart of Rome, but it's also known as the Stray Cat Colony because not many tourists go there. A fact archaeologists are hoping to change. (I'm sure Caesar would probably appreciate a move away from the 'Stray Cat Colony' too.)

Archaeologists report that every year, flowers are left by an unknown person on this ancient site every year on the anniversary of the assassination on March 15, 44BC.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Resurrection of the Pony Express

Cruising along Route 66 this year, I stopped at a small town near the Petrified Forest - Holbrook, Arizona. After making friends with the gun-wielding cowboy who ran the visitor centre (he called me babe), he proceeded to tell me the fascinating history of the Hashknife Pony Express.

The original Pony Express (April 1860 - October 1861) was the mail service organised by William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell and was set up between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, a journey of nearly two thousand miles. Men would ride across the Plains, the Sierra, and the Rockies, stopping at particular relay stations to pick up fresh horses, food and even new riders. This incredible journey would take around ten days, but after the introduction of the telegraph, it was rendered irrelevant.

However, in Holbrook, the Pony Express rides again (ahem). The Hashknife Pony Express, organised in 1958, had its 50th anniversary in 2008. A group of dedicated riders form the "oldest, officially sanctioned Pony Express in the world." From Holbrook, riders travel 200 miles to Scottsdale over three days, delivering 20,000 first class post with the Pony Express stamp on each letter. Rain or shine.

Apparently, the same posse also search for lost tourists in the desert. And whatever the conditions, they don't come back until they find them...