Dec 092019
 

Today is the feast of St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, also known as Juan Diego (1474–1548), a native of Mexico, and the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas. He is said to have been granted an apparition of the Virgin Mary (the Virgin of Guadalupe) on four separate occasions in December 1531 at the hill of Tepeyac, then a rural area but now within the borders of Mexico City. Juan Diego’s historicity and that of the alleged apparitions have been repeatedly questioned, but the Catholic church considers the matter settled in favor of Juan Diego.

The basilica of Guadalupe, located at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, claims to possess Juan Diego’s mantle or cloak (known as a tilma) on which an image of the Virgin is said to have been impressed by a miracle as a pledge of the authenticity of the apparitions. These apparitions and the imparting of the miraculous image (together known as the Guadalupe event, “el acontecimiento Guadalupano”) are the basis of the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is ubiquitous in Mexico, prevalent throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas, and increasingly widespread beyond. As a result, the basilica of Guadalupe is now the world’s most visited pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics, receiving 22 million visitors in 2010.

According to some sources, Juan Diego was an Aztec born in 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, and at the time of the apparitions he lived there or in Tolpetlac. He was supposedly respectful and gracious towards the Virgin Mary when first converted. He and his wife, María Lucía, were among the first to be baptized after the arrival of the main group of twelve Franciscan missionaries in Mexico in 1524. His wife died two years before the apparitions, although one source (Luis Becerra Tanco) claims she died two years after them. There is no firm tradition as to their marital relations. It is variously reported that (a) after their baptism he and his wife were inspired by a sermon on chastity to live celibately; alternatively (b) that they lived celibately throughout their marriage; and in further alternative (c) that both of them lived and died as virgins. Alternatives (a) and (b) may not necessarily conflict with other reports that Juan Diego (possibly by another wife) had a son. Intrinsic to the narrative is Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino; but beyond him, María Lucía, and Juan Diego’s putative son, no other family members are mentioned in the tradition. At least two 18th-century nuns claimed to be descended from Juan Diego. After the apparitions, Juan Diego was permitted to live next to the hermitage erected at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, and he dedicated the rest of his life to serving the Virgin Mary at the shrine erected in accordance with her wishes. The date of death (in his 74th year) is given as 1548.

The earliest notices of an apparition of the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac to an Indian are to be found in various annals which are regarded by Miguel León-Portilla, one of the leading Mexican scholars in this field, as demonstrating “that effectively many people were already flocking to the chapel of Tepeyac long before 1556, and that the tradition of Juan Diego and the apparitions of Tonantzin (Guadalupe) had already spread.” Others (including leading Nahuatl and Guadalupe scholars in the USA) go only as far as saying that such notices “are few, brief, ambiguous and themselves posterior by many years”. If correctly dated to the 16th century, the Codex Escalada – which portrays one of the apparitions and states that Juan Diego (identified by his indigenous name) died “worthily” in 1548 – must be accounted among the earliest and clearest of such notices.

Sánchez (1648) has a few scattered sentences noting Juan Diego’s uneventful life at the hermitage in the sixteen years from the apparitions to his death. The Huei tlamahuiçoltica (1649), at the start of the Nican Mopohua and at the end of the section known as the Nican Mopectana, there is some information concerning Juan Diego’s life before and after the apparitions, giving many instances of his sanctity of life. Becerra Tanco (1666 and 1675) gives Juan Diego’s town of origin, place of residence at the date of the apparitions, and the name of his wife as well as a listing of his heroic virtues, plus other biographical information. Chapter 18 of Francisco de la Florencia’s Estrella de el norte de México (1688) contains the first systematic account of Juan Diego’s life, with attention given to some divergent strands in the tradition.

The following account is based on that given in the Nican Mopohua which was first published in Nahuatl in 1649. No part of that work was available in Spanish until 1895 when, as part of the celebrations for the coronation of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in that year, there was published a translation of the Nican Mopohua dating from the 18th century. This translation, however, was made from an incomplete copy of the original. Nor was any part of the Huei tlamahuiçoltica republished until 1929, when a facsimile of the original was published by Primo Feliciano Velásquez together with a full translation into Spanish (including the first full translation of the Nican Mopohua), since then the Nican Mopohua, in its various translations and redactions, has supplanted all other versions as the narrative of preference. The precise dates in December 1531 (as given below) were not recorded in the Nican Mopohua, but are taken from the chronology first established by Mateo de la Cruz in 1660.

Juan Diego, as a devout neophyte, was in the habit of regularly walking from his home to the Franciscan mission station at Tlatelolco for religious instruction and to perform his religious duties. His route passed by the hill at Tepeyac.

First apparition: at dawn on Saturday December 9, 1531 while on his usual journey, he encountered the Virgin Mary who revealed herself as the ever-virgin Mother of God and instructed him to request the bishop to erect a chapel in her honor so that she might relieve the distress of all those who call on her in their need. He delivered the request, but was told by the bishop (Fray Juan Zumárraga) to come back another day after he had had time to reflect upon what Juan Diego had told him.

Second apparition, later the same day: returning to Tepeyac, Juan Diego encountered the Virgin again and announced the failure of his mission, suggesting that because he was “a back-frame, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance” she would do better to recruit someone of greater standing, but she insisted that he was whom she wanted for the task. Juan Diego agreed to return to the bishop to repeat his request. This he did on the morning of Sunday, December 10th when he found the bishop more compliant. The bishop, however, asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was truly of heaven.

Third apparition: Juan Diego returned immediately to Tepeyac and, encountering the Virgin Mary reported the bishop’s request for a sign; she condescended to provide one on the following day (December 11). By Monday, December 11, however, Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen sick and Juan Diego was obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12th Juan Bernardino’s condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out to Tlatelolco to get a priest to hear Juan Bernardino’s confession and minister to him on his death-bed.

Fourth apparition: in order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin and embarrassed at having failed to meet her on the Monday as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around the hill, but the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going; Juan Diego explained what had happened and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event and are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe, she asked: “¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?” (“Am I not here, I who am your mother?”). She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered and she told him to climb the hill and collect flowers growing there. Obeying her, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers unseasonably in bloom on the rocky outcrop where only cactus and scrub normally grew. Using his open mantle as a sack (with the ends still tied around his neck) he returned to the Virgin; she re-arranged the flowers and told him to take them to the bishop. On gaining admission to the bishop in Mexico City later that day, Juan Diego opened his mantle, the flowers poured to the floor, and the bishop saw they had left on the mantle an imprint of the Virgin’s image which he immediately venerated.

Fifth apparition: the next day Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had assured him, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen her, at his bed-side; that she had instructed him to inform the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe. The bishop kept Juan Diego’s mantle first in his private chapel and then in the church on public display where it attracted great attention. On December 26, 1531 a procession formed for taking the miraculous image back to Tepeyac where it was installed in a small hastily erected chapel. In course of this procession, the first miracle was allegedly performed when a follower was mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot by accident during some stylized martial displays executed in honor of the Virgin. In great distress, his companions carried him before the Virgin’s image and pleaded for his life. Upon the arrow being withdrawn, the victim made a full and immediate recovery.

The modern movement for the canonization of Juan Diego (to be distinguished from the process for gaining official approval for the Guadalupe cult, which had begun in 1663 and was realized in 1754) can be said to have arisen in earnest in 1974 during celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the traditional date of his birth,[u] but it was not until January 1984 that the then archbishop of Mexico, cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada, named a Postulator to supervise and coordinate the inquiry, and initiated the formal process for canonization.

The process of beatification was completed in a ceremony presided over by Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Guadalupe on May 6th 1990 when December 9 was declared as the feast day to be held annually in honor of the candidate for sainthood thereafter known as “Blessed Juan Diego Cuauthlatoatzin”. In accordance with the exceptional cases provided for by Urban VIII (1625, 1634) when regulating the procedures for beatification and canonization, the requirement for an authenticating miracle prior to beatification was dispensed with, on the grounds of the antiquity of the cult of Guadalupe.

An Aztec recipe is called for, and I give you a video concerning the antiquity of posole (white hominy) which I have mentioned several times already. Posole is a great favorite of mine – related to Argentine locro, which is also a fav.  This video is mostly in English, and the Spanish sections on Aztec cooking have English subtitles.  The speaker makes some claims about Aztec cannibalism, which are not completely confirmed, but have some confirmation in the early sources.  Aztecs practiced massive festivals of human sacrifice, and reputedly they ate the people who they sacrificed. Some anthropologists, including Marvin Harris and Michael Harner, argue that they ate human flesh because they lacked large domesticated animals as a staple protein source.  Much like the narrative of Juan Diego, this speculation is not thoroughly accepted by academics.

Nov 092016
 

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Today is the celebration in the Anglican community of Margery Kempe (c. 1373–after 1438), an English Christian mystic, known for The Book of Margery Kempe, which she dictated and which is generally  considered to be the first autobiography in the English language. Her Book chronicles her domestic tribulations, her extensive pilgrimages to holy sites in Europe and the Holy Land, as well as her mystical conversations with God. She is honored in the Anglican Communion, but she was never made a Roman Catholic saint even though she was a devout Catholic; her views were not considered orthodox at the time, nor now. My considered opinion is that she is not hailed as a saint within the Catholic church because she was a woman and has been written off as a “crazy lady,” whereas if she had been a man and done what she did, she’d be in the list of saints.

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She was born Margery Burnham or Brunham around 1373 in Bishop’s Lynn (now King’s Lynn) in Norfolk. Her father, John Brunham, was a merchant in Lynn, mayor of the town and Member of Parliament. His mercantile fortunes may have been negatively affected by downturns in the economy of the 1390s (especially in the wool trade), although he was clearly a successful politician. The first record of her Brunham family is a citation of her grandfather, Ralph de Brunham in 1320 in the Red Register of Lynn. By 1340 he had joined the Parliament of Lynn. Margery’s kinsman, possibly brother, Robert Brunham, became a Member of Parliament for Lynn in 1402 and 1417. That is, unsurprisingly, she was well connected and had considerable means at her disposal.

Margery was almost certainly illiterate, although scholars do seem to want to hash out this point now and again. No records exist of any formal education for Margery and, as an adult, a priest read to her “works of religious devotion” in English, which suggests that she was unable to read them herself.  She seems to have learned various texts by heart which would have been common for an illiterate, but intelligent, person. Margery appears to have been taught the Pater Noster (the Lord’s Prayer), Ave Maria, the Ten Commandments, and other “virtues, vices, and articles of faith.” At around 20, Margery married John Kempe, who became a town official in 1394. Margery and John had at least fourteen children, some of whom likely died during infancy. A letter survives from Gdańsk which identifies the name of her eldest son as John and gives a reason for his visit to Lynn in 1431.

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Margery was an orthodox Catholic and, like other medieval mystics, she believed that she was summoned to a “greater intimacy with Christ,” in her case as a result of multiple visions and experiences she had as an adult. After the birth of her first child, Margery went through a period of physical crisis for nearly eight months. During her illness, Margery reports that she envisioned numerous devils and demons attacking her and commanding her to “forsake her faith, her family, and her friends” and that they even encouraged her to commit suicide. Then, she reports that she had a vision of Christ in the form of a man who asked her “Daughter, why have you forsaken me, and I never forsook you?” Margery affirms that she had visitations and conversations with Jesus, Mary, God, and other religious figures and that she had visions of being an active participant during the birth and crucifixion of Christ. These visions physically affected her bodily senses, causing her to hear sounds and smell unknown, strange odors. She also reports hearing a heavenly melody that made her weep and want to live a chaste life. Margery was also known throughout her community for her constant weeping as she begged Christ for mercy and forgiveness. Margery did not join a religious order, but did carry out her life of devotion and crying quite publicly. Her visions provoked public displays of loud wailing, sobbing, and writhing which frightened and annoyed both clergy and laypeople. At one point in her life, she was imprisoned by the clergy and town officials and threatened with the possibility of rape. However, Margery does not record being sexually assaulted. Finally, during the 1420s Margery dictated her Book, known today as The Book of Margery Kempe which illustrates her visions, mystical and religious experiences, as well as her sexual temptations, her travels, and her trial for heresy.

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Nearly everything that is known of Margery’s life comes from her Book. In the early 1430s Margery decided to record her spiritual autobiography. In the preface she describes how she employed as a scribe an Englishman who had lived in Germany, but he died before the work was completed and what he had written was unintelligible to others. A 1431 letter discovered in Gdańsk suggests the likelihood that this first scribe was John Kempe, her eldest son. She then persuaded a local priest, who may have been her confessor Robert Springold, to begin rewriting on 23 July 1436, and on 28 April 1438 he started work on an additional section covering the years 1431–4. The complete text in Middle English can be found here: http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/staley-the-book-of-margery-kempe There are “translations” available in modern English, but you should be able to read the original.

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The narrative of Margery’s Book begins just after her marriage, and relates the experience of her difficult first pregnancy. After describing the demonic torment and the apparition of Christ that followed, Margery undertook two domestic businesses: a brewery and a grain mill (both common home-based businesses for medieval women). Both failed after a short period of time. Although she tried to be more devout, she was tempted by sexual pleasures and social jealousy for some years. Eventually turning away from her vocational choices, she dedicated herself completely to the spiritual calling that she felt her earlier vision required. Striving to live a life of commitment to God, in the summer of 1413 Margery negotiated a chaste marriage with her husband. Although Chapter 15 of the Book describes her decision to lead a celibate life, Chapter 21 mentions that she is pregnant once again. She later relates that she brought a child with her when she returned to England. It is unclear whether the child was conceived before the Kempes began their celibacy, or in a momentary lapse after it.

Some time around 1413, Margery visited the female mystic and anchoress Julian of Norwich at her cell in Norwich – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/julian-norwich/  According to her own account, Margery visited Julian and stayed for several days. She was especially eager to obtain Julian’s approval for her visions of and conversations with God. The text reports that Julian approved of Margery’s revelations and gave Margery reassurance that her religiosity was genuine. However, Julian did instruct and caution Margery to “measure these experiences according to the worship they accrue to God and the profit to her fellow Christians.” Julian also confirmed that Margery’s tears were physical evidence of the Holy Spirit in her soul.

The manuscript of the Book was copied, probably slightly before 1450, by someone who signed himself Salthows on the bottom portion of the final page, and contains annotations by four hands. However, Margery’s Book was essentially lost for centuries, being known only from excerpts published by Wynkyn de Worde in around 1501, and by Henry Pepwell in 1521. In 1934 a manuscript (now British Library MS Additional 61823, the only surviving manuscript of Margery’s Book) was found by Hope Emily Allen in the private library of the Butler-Bowdon family. It has since been reprinted and translated in numerous editions.

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Margery and her Book are significant because they express the tension in late medieval England between institutional orthodoxy and increasingly public modes of religious dissent, especially those of the Lollards. Throughout her spiritual life, Margery was challenged by both church and civil authorities on her adherence to the teachings of the institutional Church. The Bishop of Lincoln and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, were involved in trials of her allegedly teaching and preaching on scripture and faith in public, and wearing white clothes (interpreted as hypocrisy on the part of a married woman). Margery defended her orthodoxy in each case. In his efforts to suppress heresy, Arundel had enacted laws that forbade women from preaching.

I am particularly interested in Margery’s travels and pilgrimages which would have been unusual for a Medieval woman, and which show her perseverance in the face of difficulties. She was initially motivated to make pilgrimages by hearing or reading the English translation of Bridget of Sweden’s Revelations. This work promotes the purchase of indulgences at holy sites (much railed against by Chaucer and, later, Luther). Margery went on many pilgrimages and purchased indulgences for friends, enemies, souls trapped in Purgatory, and herself.

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In 1413, soon after her father’s death, Margery left her husband to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the winter, she spent thirteen weeks in Venice but she talks little about her observations of Venice in her book. From Venice, Margery travelled to Jerusalem via Ramlah. It is thought that she passed through Jaffa, which was the usual port for people who were heading inland. One detail that she recalls was her riding on a donkey when she saw Jerusalem for the first time, probably from Nabi Samwil, and that she nearly fell off of the donkey because she was in such shock from the vision in front of her. During her pilgrimage Margery visited places that she deemed holy. She was in Jerusalem for three weeks and then went to Bethlehem, Mount Zion, the supposed tomb of Jesus, and the supposed cross itself. Finally, she went to the River Jordan and Mount Quarentyne  (supposedly where Jesus had fasted for forty days), and Bethany where Martha, Mary and Lazarus had lived, and where Jesus is reported to have stayed on visits to Jerusalem from Galilee:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/lazarus-bethany/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/martha-of-bethany/

After she visited the Holy Land, Margery returned to Italy and stayed in Assisi before going to Rome. Like many other medieval English pilgrims, Margery stayed at the Hospital of Saint Thomas of Canterbury in Rome. During her stay, she visited many churches including San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santi Apostoli, San Marcello and St Birgitta’s Chapel. She did not leave Rome until Easter 1415.

When Margery returned to Norwich, she passed through Middelburg (in today’s Netherlands). In 1417, she set off again on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, travelling via Bristol, where she stayed at Henbury with Thomas Peverel, bishop of Worcester. On her return from Spain she visited the shrine of the holy blood at Hailes Abbey, in Gloucestershire, and then went on to Leicester. Margery recounts several public interrogations during her travels. One followed her arrest by the Mayor of Leicester who accused her, in Latin, of being a “cheap whore, a lying Lollard,” and threatened her with prison. After Margery was able to insist on the right of accusations to be made in English and to defend herself she was briefly cleared, but then brought to trial again by the Abbot, Dean, and Mayor, and imprisoned for three weeks. She returned to Lynn some time in 1418.

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She later visited important sites and religious figures in England, including Philip Repyngdon (the Bishop of Lincoln), Henry Chichele, and Thomas Arundel (both Archbishops of Canterbury). During the 1420s Margery lived apart from her husband. When he fell ill, however, she returned to Lynn to be his nurse. Their son, who lived in Germany, also returned to Lynn with his wife. However, both her son and husband died in 1431. The last section of her book deals with a journey, beginning in April 1433, aiming to travel to Danzig with her daughter-in-law. From Danzig, Margery visited the Holy Blood of Wilsnack relic. She then traveled to Aachen, and returned to Lynn via Calais, Canterbury and London (where she visited Syon Abbey). There is no record of her death.

Margery spent a good part of her life avoiding meat, so a Medieval vegetable dish is warranted to celebrate her life today. This recipe for spiced fennel comes from the Forme of Cury, a 14th century collection of recipes I have called on before. Here’s the original text:

FENKEL IN SOPPES.

Take blades of Fenkel. shrede hem not to smale, do hem to seeð in water and oile and oynouns mynced ðerwith. do ðerto safroun and salt and powdour douce, serue it forth, take brede ytosted and lay the sewe onoward.

Not complicated, although there’s some question as to spices. The recipe calls for “powdour douce” (sweet powder) which is about as useful as saying “mixed herbs” as you sometimes see in modern recipes. My recipe here is probably a decent approximation, but cooks would have made their own choices, and you can too. Ginger is known to have been the principal ingredient. Most likely the ingredients would have been grated or ground in a mortar.

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Sweet Powder

Ingredients

3 tbsp ginger
2 tbsp sugar
1 ½ tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered cloves
1 tsp powdered nutmeg

Instructions

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight container.

The braised fennel recipe is not difficult to recreate. You can add some white wine to the braising liquid, or use stock if you like instead of water.

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Fenkel in Soppes

Ingredients

1½ lb trimmed fresh fennel root, sliced
8 oz onions, minced
1 tbsp sweet powder (above)
1 tspn powdered saffron
salt
2 tspn olive oil
6 slices of wholemeal bread

Instructions

Put the fennel, onions, spices, oil and salt to taste in a lidded pot and barely cover with water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered for about 20-30 minutes or until the fennel is cooked but not mushy. Stir occasionally during cooking process.

Toast the bread.

Place a slice of bread in a soup bowl and pour over it the fennel and cooking juice.

Sep 092016
 

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Today is the beginning of this year’s (2016) Hajj (حج‎), the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca which is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that they are under obligation to carry out at least once in their lifetimes provided that they are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence (istita’ah). It is one of the five pillars of Islam, alongside Shahadah (canonical creed), Salat (daily prayer), Zakat (charity), and Sawm (fasting).  Hajj is now one of the largest annual gatherings of people in the world.

The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th (or in some cases 13th) of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is strictly lunar, the Islamic year is about eleven days shorter than the solar Gregorian year. Therefore, the Gregorian date of Hajj moves back incrementally from year to year.

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The Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but elements of the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca are considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham (or Ibrahim in Arabic). During Hajj, pilgrims join various processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals. In theory each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka’aba (the cube-shaped building and the direction of prayer for all Muslims worldwide), runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and performs symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at three pillars. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha. Because the pilgrims number in the millions now it is not possible to perform all of these actions as formally specified, so there are acceptable substitutions. For example, pilgrims can buy tokens for food to be distributed to the poor in place of animal sacrifice.

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According to the Qur’an, some components of Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham, conventionally dated around 2000 BCE. By Islamic tradition, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife Hagar (his concubine according to Torah) and his son Ishmael alone in the desert of ancient Mecca. In search of water, Hagar desperately ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah but found none. Returning in despair to Ishmael, she saw the baby scratching the ground with his leg and a water fountain sprang forth underneath his foot. Later, Abraham was commanded to build the Ka’aba (which he did with the help of Ishmael) and to invite people to perform pilgrimage there. The Qur’an refers to these incidents in verses 2:124-127 and 22:27-30. It is said that the archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from Heaven to be attached to the Ka’aba.

In pre-Islamic Arabia, a time known as jahiliyyah, the Ka’aba became associated with religious idols. In 630 CE, Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca, cleansed the Ka’aba by destroying all the idols, and then consecrated the building to Allah. In 632 CE, Muhammad performed his only pilgrimage with a large number of followers, and instructed them on the rites of Hajj. It was from this point that Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam.

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During medieval times, pilgrims would gather in big cities of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq to go to Mecca in groups and caravans comprising tens of thousands of pilgrims, often under state patronage. Hajj caravans, particularly with the advent of the Mamluk Sultanate and its successor, the Ottoman Empire, were escorted by a military force accompanied by physicians under the command of an amir al-hajj. This was done in order to protect the caravan from Bedouin robbers or natural hazards, and to ensure that the pilgrims were supplied with the necessary provisions. Muslim travelers, such as Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta, have recorded detailed accounts of Hajj-travels of medieval times. The caravans followed well-established routes called in Arabic darb al-hajj, lit. “pilgrimage road”, which usually followed ancient routes such as the King’s Highway.

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Until the 20th century the Hajj was generally manageable, although complex and hazardous, in terms of numbers of pilgrims. In the 1920s numbers were actually falling from a peak of about 60,000. But then the trend reversed itself so that there were about 100,000 pilgrims in 1950, and, with the advent of cheap air travel, had reached over 3 million by 2012. The following year the Saudi government limited the number of pilgrims to around 2 million in order to better manage security, transportation, accommodations, sanitation, and food. Even so there have been tragic incidents. In 2015 somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 pilgrims were killed in a stampede (official reports vary), and such incidents are not uncommon. Thousands have died in stampedes in the past 25 years.

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In April 1964 celebrated civil rights activist, Malcolm X, performed the Hajj after he had left the Nation of Islam and become a Sunni Muslim. In his Autobiography (as dictated to Alex Haley), he recalls how the Nation of Islam had turned his life around in prison where he was serving time for robbery, but he had become jaded with the loose morals and corruption of leader Elijah Muhammad and decided to quit despite becoming a celebrity within the movement. Several Sunnis approached him and, having converted, convinced him to go on the Hajj. This was to be a transformative event for Malcolm.

He flew to Saudi Arabia to start  his Hajj, but was delayed in Jeddah when his U.S. citizenship and inability to speak Arabic caused his status as a Muslim to be questioned. Only confirmed Muslims may enter Mecca. He had received Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam’s book The Eternal Message of Muhammad with his visa approval, and he contacted the author. Azzam’s son arranged for his release and lent him his personal hotel suite. The next morning Malcolm learned that Prince Faisal had designated him as a state guest. Malcolm  later said:

There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.

Well, that was over 50 years ago. Certainly, civil rights for African-Americans in the U.S. have improved since then, but you can hardly say that these Islamic ideals have prospered. In fact Muslims have joined the growing ranks of despised minorities in the U.S. Malcolm’s experiences should have been a lesson. Instead he was murdered.

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The state of holiness known as Ihram has as one of its tenets the notion of the absolute equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of God. To this end, all male pilgrims wear the same garb: two white seamless cloths, with the one wrapped around the waist reaching below the knee and the other draped over the left shoulder and tied at the right side. Women wear ordinary dress that fulfills the Islamic condition of public dress with hands or face uncovered. There are prescribed ablutions in preparation, and during th pilgrimage participants must refrain from certain activities such as clipping the nails, shaving any part of the body, having sexual relations; using perfumes, damaging plants, killing animals, covering the head (for men) or the face and hands (for women); getting married; or carrying weapons.

Beyond the usual Muslim limitations, there are no general food prohibitions for the days of Hajj as in the month of Ramadan http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ramadan/ , although some of the specific rituals, such as circling the Ka’aba, must be done while fasting. The meat plus rice dishes of South Asia and the Middle East – biryani, pilaf etc. – are great dishes for the Hajj days. They are easy to make in large quantity and, as these photos show, are great for communal eating.

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Al kabsa is perfect because it is a national dish of Saudi Arabia where Mecca is located. No surprise that al kabsa can be made numerous ways. It is a complexly spiced dish and nowadays pre-mixed spices are sold for it. I have the same feeling about this as I do about curry powder – that is, I hate it. Make the mix yourself. Some cooks us whole spices, some ground. I prefer ground, but you can take your pick. My favorite method is to brown some onions, then some chicken. Then add spices and sauté to bring out the flavor. Next add stock and tomato paste (or crushed tomatoes) and simmer until the chicken is cooked (about 30 minutes). Remove the chicken and set aside. Add rice to cook in the chicken broth. When the rice is almost cooked, briefly finish off the chicken by grilling it over charcoal or roasting in a pit oven. Bring the dish together by serving the rice on a large platter, mixing in the chicken, then sprinkling with chopped nuts and raisins.  Serve with sliced cucumbers, yoghurt, and flat bread. Here’s a suggestion for ingredients. Of course you can vary the amount and type of spices. This version is common.

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Al Kabsa

1 chicken cut in 8 pieces
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 L chicken stock
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 tsp each black pepper, powdered cloves, powdered cardamom, saffron threads, powdered cinnamon, and powdered nutmeg
1 black lime
2 bay leaves
2 cups basmati or long-grained rice
chopped almonds or pistachios
raisins

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Jul 252013
 

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Today is the feast of St James the Greater.  James (Jacob in Aramaic/Hebrew) has a very prominent place in the gospels and is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles.  He is one of the first of the apostles to be called to follow Jesus:

“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” (Mark 1:16-20)

Three of the four mentioned here – James, John, and Simon (later Peter) – are described in the gospels as a privileged inner circle among the apostles.  Simon/Peter and John went on to be leaders of the new church in Jerusalem, but the James who is described in the Acts of the Apostles as the head of the church is not James son of Zebedee (the apostle), but, rather James the Just (described as the brother of Jesus).  James the Greater’s execution is, however, noted in Acts, and he is traditionally recognized as the first of the apostles to be martyred for his faith by King Herod (usually identified as Herod Agrippa):

“About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.” (Acts 12, 1-2)

Jesus gave James and his brother John the surname/nickname Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder.” No one knows what this name refers to, but could possibly mean they had fierce tempers, or were powerful orators and advocates, or both.

Saint James (Santiago) is the patron saint of Spain and according to legend, his remains are held in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the Celtic region of NW Spain. The traditional pilgrimage to the grave of the saint, known as el camino de Santiago (“the way of St James”), has been the most popular pilgrimage for Western European Catholics from the early Middle Ages onwards. 125,141 pilgrims registered in 2008 as having completed the final 100 km walk (200 km by bicycle) to Santiago to qualify for a Compostela (certificate of completion and plenary indulgence). When 25 July falls on a Sunday, it is called a Jubilee year, and a special east door is opened for entrance into the Santiago Cathedral. Jubilee years can fall every 5, 6, or 11 years. In the 2004 Jubilee year, 179,944 pilgrims received a Compostela.

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The city of Santiago de Compostela became the seat of the saint, from the legend of his body having been miraculously translated there. His remains were supposedly conveyed from Jerusalem, where he died, to Spain in a ship of marble.  On arrival the horse of a Portuguese knight plunged into the sea with its rider and, when rescued, the knight’s clothes were found to be covered with scallop shells. So the scallop shell became the sign of the pilgrim, usually worn on a coat or hat. Medieval Galicians  who were willing to accept passing pilgrims into their homes hung scallop shells over their doors. In French, une coquille Saint-Jacques – literally, a “St James shell” – is the culinary term for scallop.

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The remains of the Apostle lay forgotten until the year 813, when a hermit named Pelayo was led to their hidden site by a shining star (compostela). The local bishop had the cathedral erected at this location where the bones of the saint supposedly lie in a chapel located in the basement of the church. The pilgrimage to Compostela became almost as popular and important in medieval Europe as that to Jerusalem. Because of this, seventeen English peers and eight baronets have scallop shells in their arms as heraldic charges.
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I’m really torn concerning the recipe of the day. Coquilles Saint Jacques is the obvious choice, but there is an old English saying that if you eat oysters on St James you will have good fortune for the coming year.  I think the simplest compromise is to make Coquilles Saint Jacques for dinner and have a few oysters on the half shell as an appetizer.  You can get baking scallop shells online or in a good cookware store.  In a pinch you can make this dish in ramekins but it really is not the same. Asparagus makes a nice accompaniment.
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Coquilles Saint Jacques

Ingredients:

1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions
1 bay leaf
2 tspns finely-minced fresh tarragon
½ tspn salt
½ pound sliced fresh mushrooms
1 pound washed scallops (bay scallops are best in this recipe; if only sea scallops are available, cut into crosswise slices 1/8″ thick)
3 tbsps butter
4 tbspns flour
¼ cup whole milk
2 egg yolks
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
½ tbspn butter
6 tbspns grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese
6 scallop shells or ramekins of ? cup capacity
Sprigs of fresh herbs for garnish: tarragon or flat-leaf parsley

Instructions:

Simmer the bay leaf, tarragon, salt and pepper in the wine for 5 minutes. Add the scallops, mushrooms and enough water to barely cover them.

Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer slowly for 5 minutes. Remove scallops and mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Reduce the cooking liquid to one cup by rapidly boiling. While the liquid is reducing, whisk the egg yolks and cream in a bowl.

In a separate saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour, and cook over low heat for two minutes, stirring constantly. Do not allow this roux to brown.

Remove from the heat. Add the cooking liquid slowly while whisking.  Then add the milk, whisking to blend into a smooth sauce. Return to the heat and simmerl for one minute.

Whisk the sauce from the pan into the egg yolk mixture, by driblets. Return to the pan and simmer, stirring, for 1 minute. Thin with cream if necessary. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a few drops of lemon juice.

Mix ? of the sauce with the scallops and mushrooms.

Butter the shells or ramekins; spoon in the scallop mixture and cover with the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter.

Arrange the shells on a broiling pan.

The recipe can be prepared up to this point at any time before the meal. Fifteen minutes before serving, set the scallops 8 to 9 inches beneath a moderately hot broiler to heat through gradually, and to brown the top of the sauce.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6