From Disputatio Pipini cum Albino:
P. Quid est frigus?
—A. Febricitas membrorum.
P. Quid est gelu?
—A. Persecutio herbarum, perditio foliorum, vinculum terrae, fons aquarum.
P. Quid est nix?
—A. Aqua sicca.
P. Quid est hiems?
—A. Aestatis exsul.
Pepin: What is cold?
—Alcuin: Feverishness of the limbs.
Pepin: What is frost?
—Alcuin: Punisher of plants, ruin of leaves, fetterer of earth, source of water.
Pepin: What is snow?
—Alcuin: Dry water.
Pepin: What is winter?
—Alcuin: The exile of summer.
The scene earlier today on my family’s street in southeastern Louisiana:
(Photos courtesy mater Cuius Plurium.)
What sort of uncle darts into French Quarter traffic with a five-year-old to take snapshots of medieval-themed statuary? A very bad uncle.
“I think you’re a good uncle,” he insisted later over ice cream cones, reminding me that we should all be quicker to heed the beatific wisdom of children.
But what say you, Miss of Arc?
On the matter of children playing in traffic, the Maid of Orleans has chosen saintly silence.
After he’s wandered the French Quarter for the thousandth time and snapped a sufficient number of crawfish in half, what does the errant medievalist do when he’s in New Orleans? Demonstrating a disregard for common sense which he urges his dear readers not to emulate, he seeks out a shrine to a medieval saint in the city’s Ninth Ward.
In the heart of a half-abandoned neighborhood, the small, above-ground cemetery occupies two compact blocks.
The saint’s shrine is pleasant but unremarkable—until you look at it from the side. Then it become an apse whose cathedral has flown away.
Inside the shrine stands the saint, with a friend. According to medieval legend, Roch miraculously cured the sick while making the pilgrimage to Rome. Eventually he also came down with the plague, but miracles—and food provided by a dog—kept him alive. The dog’s name is unknown, but “it has been reported that some people think the dog is at least as holy as Roch and offer prayers to the dog.”
In 1867, after his entire congregation survived a yellow fever outbreak, the New Orleans priest who prayed for the saint’s intercession raised this shrine in thanks—and, as an inscription over the front door reveals, “in fulfillment of vow.”
A barred alcove holds a collection of tokens offered by the grateful. Most of them represent body parts believed to have been cured through the saint’s intercession. Several pairs of old, awful crutches hang against the wall.
Outside, even as a storm rolls in, the cemetery is peaceful: empty, but hardly sad.
A hint of sadness waits across the street, where a monument to miraculous cures faces the troubles of the 21st century. Rarely have the Middle Ages seemed like the more hopeful place to be.
Back in July, while visiting family, I discovered that downtown New Orleans had been deprived of a prominent literary landmark.
Today, an email missive brings good news: Ignatius has returned. All hail the restoration of theology and geometry to Canal Street!
Behold the grandeur of his physique! The complexity of his worldview! The decency and taste implicit in his carriage! The grace with which he functions in the mire of today’s world!
(Photo courtesy of the blogger’s very cool mom.)
“Lo, for four winters I ravaged the playground, terrorized the feeble hearts of toddlers, deprived neighboring preschoolers of juice—until one day, a sibling arrived, taking the place that the protector of warriors formerly bestowed upon me…”
Swa cwaeð min sweostorsonu, snottor on mode…
Now here’s a story Ken Burns might have retold: on Monday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran an article about retired archbishop Philip Hannan, who recently recounted his experiences as a military chaplain for the oral history project at the National World War II Museum. As a young priest, Hannan parachuted into battle alongside his men, and he helped to liberate a concentration camp—but one of his deeds that wasn’t a matter of immediate life and death also bears repeating:
When the regiment took Cologne, the first thing Hannan did was visit the cathedral to see whether its “wonderful collection of art” survived the war.
Hannan said the German prelates tried to protect the art by storing it in boxes made of brick. He worried those boxes would be bait for American soldiers, who had come into possession of some British-designed Gammon grenades and were eager for targets to test them out.
He was forbidden to cross the Rhine river, but he ignored the orders and set out in search of the German archbishop. That bishop appointed him protector of the cathedral, and Hannan made sure his paratroopers guarded it.
If not for Hannan, countless medieval treasures might have been destroyed, including several remarkable reliquaries, a famous tenth-century crucifix, and other irreplaceable artifacts that help us understand the past.
It’s become a cliché to say that during World War II, Allied forces “saved the world.” A few, showing foresight and decency, also saved the Middle Ages.
Ignatius J. Reilly may not be back at his post, but my spies in New Orleans have alerted me to two Ignatius sightings in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
The first, a letter to the editor, remembers the meeting between Thelma Toole and the recently deceased Tom Snyder:
When that amazing novel was drawing attention from readers all over the world, Mrs. Toole flew with a friend, Joel Fletcher, to New York one morning and flew back that night—like Ignatius Reilly, unwilling to spend more time out of her native city. As Ignatius proclaimed, “Out there is the heart of darkness.”
She bantered and flirted with Snyder, who repeatedly called her “Mrs. O’Toole.” They joked about their Irishness and discussed the novel that had made her son posthumously famous. I’m not sure Snyder, who probably expected to interview some sedate elderly lady, was prepared for the phenomenon that was Thelma Toole on her mission to keep the memory of her son and his work before the public.
The other sighting occurs in this article about the Church of St. Henry, where the church, the pastor, the deacon, and the custodian are all named Henry. Unsurprisingly, this “confederacy of Henrys” is the church that convinced Ignatius to stop attending mass. The parish, the reporter tells us, is “as New Orleans as it gets.”
Can the return of Ignatius to Canal Street be far behind? Stay tuned…
Two weeks ago, while visiting family in Louisiana, I posted about the unfortunate removal of the Ignatius J. Reilly statue from its place of prominence on Canal Street in New Orleans.
Yesterday, an intrepid and inquisitive relative informed me that Ignatius hasn’t yet resumed waiting for his mother under the clock outside the old D.H. Holmes department store. However, the clock—which had been removed earlier this month—is now back in place. Can Ignatius (who is, perhaps, just off shopping for lute strings) be far behind?
I’ll await word of further developments from my family—and I invite updates from any New Orleans-based readers as well. Keep checking this blog for all your breaking cult-novel-protagonist-statue-restoration news.
“In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress.”
But wait. Where’s Ignatius?
According to the desk clerk at the former D.H. Holmes—now the Chateau Sonesta Hotel—Ignatius was removed two days ago because “someone kept tryin’ to steal him.”
Such an offense against taste and decency! Clearly it reflects the would-be thief’s lack of theology and geometry. Why, it even casts doubts upon one’s soul…