Saturday, January 15, 2011

Feast of St. Nino: Apostle of Georgia

January 14 is the feast of St. Nino the Apostle of Georgia.
No, not that Georgia.
This Georgia-
I'll bet Georgians have an awful time with this one when they visit the US!

Georgia is a fascinating country. It has a long, mostly traumatic history of invasions and war, yet in the 300's (that's right, 4th Cent.) Georgia earned the distinction of being one of the first Christian nations in the whole world. This remarkably quick conversion is traditionally due to the amazing witness of one young lady, St. Nino. Hence she has been titled the Apostle (one who first brings the good news) of Georgia.

In the icon above, you can see that St. Nino has been depicted with all the traditional trappings of an evangelist (the Bible) and a saint (the halo). What makes her distinct from other saints is the cross she holds, which was made from a grapevine. Consequently, the crossbar of St. Nino's cross is always shown as bent downward on both ends.
St. Nino was supposedly taken as a slave into Georgia where she performed a miracle and won (as is typical) the respect of the Queen, who was her first major convert. The King (as usual) was harder to convince, but once he converted, he imposed conversion on his entire kingdom (so the story goes).
You'll notice, after looking at depictions of other famous ancient Georgians, the distinctive long, dark braids make St. Nino look particularly Georgian (see the picture below of Queen Tamar, Georgia's most powerful monarch).
Over the years these beautiful Georgian braids have grown to unrealistic lengths. Online I've seen a whole troop of Georgian dancers with equally sized (can anyone get braids this skinny? I can't!) three foot long braids. I say to myself, "They must be hair pieces!" but I have no idea really. Maybe most Georgian ladies are blessed with perfectly braid-able hair?
As you can probably guess from the amount of time I'm spending talking about braids, Georgian culture, with its familiarity with all things medieval, has me enthralled. It all started with one video.
It is really a must-see in my opinion.
So, I figure, since St. Nino's life is mostly shrouded in mystery, and because I can't find if native Georgians do anything special on St. Nino's day, it's a perfect day to learn about Georgian culture, specifically two amazing looking traditional Georgian foods:
Georgian cheese bread or Khachapuri
 Georgian meat dumplings or Khinkali (Note from wikipedia, you're not supposed to eat the pleated top because it's quite tough.)

I love cheese bread and meat dumplings. I was not shocked that these were two of the most popular national dishes. Personally, I think this cuisine is the perfect meeting of oriental and occidental foods. It's like a Chinese-Italian smoosh with some great Middle Eastern flavors (pomegranate anyone?) thrown in.

Georgian national dress and dance are both magical. Samaia is a dance that honors the memory of the great Queen Tamar. I've read different interpretations of why there are three girls that represent the one queen (her overwhelming power?), but I'm convinced the hands are held in such a way because they are mimicking the poses shown in medieval frescoes.

I'm having trouble finding much upbeat Georgian music in iTunes. Most of the authentically Georgian music that is available for purchase over here in the West are slower polyphonic ballads. If you love Greek and Russian Orthodox chanting, you'll love Georgian traditional music.

This a culture worth celebrating in my opinion. Thank God for St. Nino and her humble mission!

P.S. I would ignore Wikipedia's insistence that Catholics celebrate this feast on Jan. 15. I find other sources to be more trustworthy in these matters.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Low budget plans for the Feast of St. Cecilia

Even though I'd like to say we're doing something traditionally Roman for the feast of the martyr Cecilia, the menu developed more from a desire to save money than anything else.

Meatloaf (with no eggs) topped with sauerbraten sauce
Onion and leek soup
Garlic bread

St. Cecilia, ora pro nobis!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Elizabeth of Hungary

What a great pair! I love these two being back to back, though it does make for a lot of dishes to wash.

Our Feast Day menus:

November 16- St. Margaret of Scotland:
Scottish Pies (ground beef, seasonings, and some really easy hot water pastry) Next time I make these I'm going to up the sauce. It was a bit dry for my taste. I made these by smashing together a few recipes because I couldn't find one that was not in metric and authentic.

Roasted Red Potatoes
Spinach on ciabatta with cheese on top
Scottish shortbread ( This was a really good recipe. I tried to make my own designs with a knife and then with a toothpick. It kind of worked. I had to take it out of the oven to emphasize the designs when they were almost finished baking because they started to disappear. Maybe someday we can splurge on a mold.)

November 17- St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Hungarian Goulash (What else?!) in the slow cooker (really easy) over egg noodles.
Glazed Carrots
Beigli (if we're lucky) This is a Hungarian desert that features walnuts or poppy seeds. They are typically made for Christmas, so I thought today would be the perfect day to give them a test run. The dough is a risen yeast dough, so I'm not sure when I'll have the time for these.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary is one of my favorite saints. She died at the young age of 24 after having been married, been queen, had three children, become a widow, and lived as a servant of the poor. It encourages me that even though your life on this earth might not be that long, God still has plenty of plans for you to impact his world for the good.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

All Saints is fast approaching!

Where has the time gone? It's almost November 1st the feast of All Saints!

As a side note, I've found the popular story as to why Halloween is on Oct. 31st to be a bit misleading. Halloween is the eve of All Hallows (All Saints) Day. It's placement in the calendar is just so because it is (used to be) the vigil fast before one of the most important feast days.

So, the real question is, why is All Saints on November 1st? Pope Gregory III dedicated an oratory in the original St. Peter's Basilica to All Saints on November 1st in the mid 700's. So, as to the argument that ancient Celtic peoples celebrated this day as the day of the dead and therefore All Saints was placed there to help Christianize them doesn't hold water. 

1. Ireland began to be Christianized in the mid 400's thanks to Palladius and St. Patrick.
2. In the 400's the universal church (East and West) was celebrating All Saints on May 13.
3. By the 600's Ireland was sending missionaries out to convert other people (probably safe to guess that most of Ireland is fully converted).
4. Mid 700's Pope Gregory III, of Syrian extraction, dedicates the oratory to All Saints on Nov. 1st. Was he thinking about pagan Celtic tradition? I don't think so. The Irish didn't need accommodations for ancient pagan beliefs. They had already been celebrating All Saints on May 13 with no issues in Ireland for hundreds of years.
5. Even though the saints are dead, both Christian theology and popular understanding see the saints as alive in heaven, able to enjoy the company of God, Jesus and the other saints. Would that be the day of the dead or day of the living?
(For more details see:

I love Medieval art depicting groups of Virgin Martyrs. The way the artists incorporate the symbolism is like a new discovery to me. The best type of paintings in this category (in my opinion) are the Virgo inter Virgines "Virgin among the Virgins." Unfortunately, there has only been one thorough, scholarly study of these types of paintings, a dissertation by Stanley Edward Weed in 2002. You can find an abstract of the article online, but you have to pay/belong to a research library to read the real dissertation.

However, I can show you the few Virgo inter Virgines paintings I could find.

This is by the Master of the St. Lucy Legend (an anonymous artist known by his most famous work of art). L-R- St. Apollonia (holding her tooth in a pair of tongs), St. Ursula (a very tiny piece of arrow sticking out from under her skirt), St. Lucy holding her eyes on a plate, an unidentified saint with a bell and a crown, St. Catherine of Alexandria (her wheel decorates her dress), St. Mary Magdalene (holding nard perfume), St. Barbara (her cloak decorated with her symbol, the tower), St. Margaret (holding a cross, and St. George slaying the dragon in the distance behind her), St. Agnes (identified by her lamb),  St. Agatha (holding her breast in a pair of tongs), St. Cunera (a companion of St. Ursula, holding a crib, and an arrow).

The unidentified saint drives me crazy! I wish I could figure out who it is. Maybe it was meant to be St. Gudule holding a lantern?

This is Gerard David's masterpiece, and my favorite of the whole genre. I searched high and low for the identities of a few of the saints who are very small or who seemed to have no identifying marks. I finally found a French website that listed their names. I haven't been able to corroborate the names with another site, so take this for what it's worth.
L-R- St. Dorothy, recognized by her basket, (man above her is the donor), St. Catherine of Alexandria (crown), St. Agnes (lamb), unidentified saint, St. Fausta (holding a saw, instrument of her martyrdom), Mary and baby Jesus, St. Apollonia (holding her tooth), St. Godelieve (wearing the scarf that was the instrument of her martyrdom),  St. Cecilia (looking at her musical instrument), St. Barbara (a tiny, tiny tower on her cap), donor's wife, St. Lucy (holding a ring).

I wonder if the unidentified saint is really the daughter of the donor. She only has her face to identify her.

Happy All Saints and All Saint's Eve!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Happy Sukkot

I must admit. This is one of the holidays I envy the most. I would love to celebrate it. Maybe next year... Maybe next year in Jerusalem :) Just teasing.

Happy Sukkot

The best thing about Sukkot is the tent-like structures. Yes, it recalls forty years of wandering in the desert.

Yes, it's probably every Jewish kid's dream come true. Camping in our own backyard all together?! My sister and I always had to camp in our backyard by ourselves. Our parents were much to grown up to leave their mattress behind. Pity.

Thinking about wandering around the desert between Egypt and Israel made me wonder if there is any parallel in the New Testament.

Ahhh... of course.

You should totally check out this movie if you haven't seen it. It's about Sukkot in Jerusalem.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Modesty Update

A long time ago, I mentioned my interest in developing a fashion style that was modest and comfortable.

I've come to a few conclusions about what needs to be included in my fashion line.

1. Tunics- great for casual days over jeans, and also ok for dressier days over slacks.
2. Pockets are a must!- I love to wear skirts, but they never have pockets these days. I think we should bring pockets back.
From Revamp Vintage (click the photo for link)

3. I don't want to mess with zippers or button holes, so I'm going to make lace up bodices.
4. Today lace up bodices are associated with corsets and weddings or corsets and lingerie. Therefore, I'll make a few stomachers to hide the laces or have the laces go straight across. 

5. The above photo of a stomacher and bodice has a great kerchief that covers of the neckline and makes the dress more modest. It tucks into the bodice. That's a great idea!

6. You've gotta have an apron! Also, this look will be compatible with different types of headcoverings. More about those later.

6. As for the silhouette of these dresses, I'm going with a 1916 look. I think 1916 was the best fashion year. Plus, it will easily translate to modern clothing. It's also not elaborate, but still feminine.



Look out world 1350, 1760 and 1916 are going to join forces in defense of fashion, modesty, and lack of sewing skills!

Awesome symbolism

This year has been a great one for symbolism.

Back in April Easter Sunday fell very close to Passover. Since the original Easter happened shortly after Passover. I thought this coincidence was very fitting.

This Saturday September 18 is another joint Catholic and Jewish celebration day. For both faiths it is a day of fasting.

For Catholics (Traditional ones because around Vatican II these days were dropped from the calendar) September 15, 17 and 18 are days of fasting called Ember Days. These days were meant for fasting and public prayer and petition for the forgiveness of our sins. There are four other sets of Ember Days throughout the year. A fun rhyme was invented to help laypeople to remember when these days occurred.
"Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie."

From this little rhyme you can see that Ember Days occur after the first Sunday in Lent (usually), after Whitsun Day (or Whitsunday) which is better known as Pentecost, after Holyrood (Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is Sept. 14, it's still not too late to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the Cross!) and after St. Lucy's Day (Dec. 13). So there are Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter times to fast. As you can probably guess, these fasting times were especially important to medieval society since they were completely at the mercy of nature and harvest each year. (Maybe in modern times we should have four times a year to fast and pray for our government and economy since we're at their mercy?)

So, each set of Ember Days includes a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Wednesday and Friday are traditional fasting times for Christians. To this day, observant Orthodox Christians fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. Friday, also observed by traditional Catholics, was the day of the week Jesus gave his life for our sins. Wednesday, only observed today by the Orthodox, was the day of the week Judas betrayed Our Savior. Saturday is a fasting day in memory of Jesus being placed in the tomb.

In another awesome coincidence, the extra day of fasting on Saturday this week coincides with Yom Kippur, the most solemn fast and petition for the forgiveness of sins in the Jewish calendar. 

Maybe this symbolism of the two fasting days happening on the same day is a call to prayer and fasting?

What's to come? If you look at a Jewish calendar around the December 15, 17, and 18 Ember Days, you'll see that Asera Be'Tevet falls on December 16th. This day is a day of fasting in remembrance for the day Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sts. Monica and Augustine

Happy feasts of Sts. (plural abbreviation for saint) Monica and Augustine! Today (August 27) is St. Monica's feast and tomorrow (August 28) is Augustine's. St. Monica was the longsuffering, mother of St. Augustine. Even though you wouldn't know it from Augustine's current rep he was quite the ne're-do-well as a young man. His mother prayed for years for Augustine's salvation, and just before she died she saw him convert to Christianity! I love this story because it's a great encouragement for all of us who have family members that have not yet come to love Christ.

These two saints are also awesome because St. Monica was most likely Berber (northern African people group... look them up, they're cool) and her husband was probably of Roman extraction. They lived in a Roman colony in the north of Africa. That would make St. Augustine the first mixed-race saint (that I can think of). Augustine is also a great ecumenical (trans-denominational) saint. He's one of the few early church Fathers that Protestants and Catholics both agree was awesome.

I tried to read Augustine's confessions two weeks ago. They had a copy at our library. Unfortunately, the translation was made in 1920 something, so it was very formal. It was like reading Shakespeare. I can enjoy Shakespeare because I know I'm reading exactly what he wrote, but in translation flourishes and thee's and thou's are just too much! It's a translation! You can make a translation readable if you want to. - Rant over-

The part of the Confessions I did force myself to read was awesome. Augustine describes his conversion moment with detail and emotion. I've never heard of a grown man admitting to so many tears. It's definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Maria Goretti

This blog has become quite neglected, but it was all worthwhile because now I have finished my first year of teaching, and turned in my master's thesis. My husband and I have also purchased our first home!

What day better to come back to the blog than the Feast of St. Maria Goretti. One of the youngest saints ever. She was filled with the life of Christ at a young age, and joined him in heaven at a young age as well. Sadly, she's one of the 20th century saints that we do not have a picture of. Her family was very poor. I like the depiction of her posted below.
I like this statue because it is symbolic as well as realistic. Maria is depicted as a young girl, but she has a womanly confidence about her. She is barefoot and carries the instrument of her martyrdom. Maria Goretti died before her twelfth birthday, defending herself from a neighbor boy who wanted to rape her. She was very poor, so her discalced (shoe-less) appearance is right on target. She was a mature (although vulnerable) young girl. She stayed at home alone to care for the baby of the family and the household chores while her mother, brothers and older sister worked in the fields. For her defense of her virginity until the end, Maria is considered a martyr. I won't go into the grusome details about how exactly she was killed. You can look that up yourself. The important thing is, with her dying breaths she forgave her attacker.

The story of Maria Goretti has come under attack by various people and groups. The first was a general response by feminists ( that the veneration of Maria Goretti promoted virginity at all costs, and the idea that it is better to be dead than raped. This is kind of like the question raised by so many pogroms and the Holocaust, would you spit on the Bible if someone threatened to kill you if you didn't? I agree that we should preserve life if at all possible, including our own, but when it comes to dying for what you believe in, when does the greater import shift to our honorable death, rather than attempting to preserve our life?

In addition, an Italian writer has taken issue with basically the entire story about Maria Goretti. He claims that she could not have physically fended off her attacker and therefore did not die a virgin. This raises the question are virgins only virgins physically? Is there not a spiritual side? I suggest this based on the following scripture verse:

Matthew 5:28: "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

If someone looks lustfully and committs adultery in their heart (but not physically), God sees this as a sin. Therefore, if someone is raped, but is pure in heart (even if not a virgin physically) does God see the physical reality or the heart condition? This reminds me of the suggestion that because Mary gave birth to Jesus, her womb was no longer "virgin" and therefore she was no longer a virgin.

My outlook about Maria Goretti is this: Yes, she said, she'd rather die than be raped. I would argue she wasn't concerned as much for her own physical virginity, but for her attacker's soul. Of course, that can be debated. What is clear is that Maria Goretti did not kill herself by that statement. Her attacker decided to pull out a knife and stab her. How quickly his lust changed to hatred! She did not in any way kill herself or put herself in danger. Who's to say that his intention wasn't to kill her in the first place?

There is also a cultural difference that needs to be considered. In Southern Italy, there had long been a custom of young men winning a bride by rape and/or abduction. Maria Goretti, although young, was no doubt old enough to know about this cultural norm. She still insisted that it was a sin, even if the young man intended to marry her afterward. Of course, we do not know that's what he intended, but it has been argued, so I thought I'd bring it up. For further information about this custom, see especially Franca Viola's story.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Happy Pentecost everyone!

Thank the Lord for sending us the Helper!

You can read about Passover in the Book of Acts. All of the disciples had been gathered for nine days praying together and the Holy Spirit came down and graced them all with the gift of tongues simultaneously, which was awesome because Pentecost was one of the three Jewish festivals that required pilgrimage to the Temple for everyone who did not live in Jerusalem. So, the city was filled with Jews from all over the known world who spoke many different languages.

The tongues of fire which came down and rested on the disciples' heads is the most common depiction of Pentecost, hence the above picture. And before you point out (like my husband did) yes I realize the picture is a bit.... romanticized. :) I can't help it. I really like this painting.

Of course, according to the Jewish calendar we already had Pentecost. It began at sunset on the 18th of May. Pentecost is the Feast of "Weeks" or Shavuot. It comes after Passover and serves as a book end to the celebratory season of Passover. In the Bible Shavuot is a holiday in which one brings the first fruits to the Temple and has a celebratory feast. Traditions surrounding the holiday developed and the holiday got a new focus. This makes sense since most Jews today are not living in agricultural societies. The new focus is on the Torah, God's Law. Some Jews participate in all night Torah study sessions, which I was inspired to do, but sadly it was a weeknight and so it wasn't doable. A second tradition is reading the Book of Ruth, which does tie to first fruits I suppose since there's a whole lot of gleaning in that book. Third, one is supposed to partake of dairy! I love dairy, but being lactose intolerant we celebrated dairy in a round about way.

We made soy cheesecake (which the husband has been asking for for months), and tofu manicotti. Our manicotti was not as pretty as that though. Finally, one is supposed to decorate the house with greenery and flowers. This we didn't do.

A more modern tradition for a Christian celebration of Pentecost is to have red foods. Some people have red velvet cake, and some people have strawberries! We went for the second route since they are much healthier and also on sale because of the bumper crop California had this year.
So, however you celebrate Pentecost, I wish you a joyful one! Keep in mind this feast is also the official end to the Easter season. This really makes sense if you look at it in the light that Pentecost marked the end to the joyful Passover season (hence the term Paschal Season).