Apr 142017
 

Today is Good Friday this year (2017). Good Friday commemorates the execution by crucifixion of Jesus and in most Christian denominations it is a very solemn day. When I was a youth in Australia and England not much happened in churches on Good Friday and pretty much everything was closed: shops, pubs, restaurants, etc. It was a rare public holiday when only the most essential workers reported for work. Absolutely everyone else had the day off. Any worker on an hourly wage who had to work received triple pay which was highly unusual (Christmas was the only other day when this was mandated). Double pay was the normal rate for overtime on holidays. The crucifixion may be the most painted subject in Western art history.

What happens on Good Friday ecclesiastically represents a deep divide between Catholic and Protestant traditions historically although these days there is some merging of ideas as some Protestant denominations become a bit more attuned to the re-enactment of Biblical events. One cannot help but be struck by the fact that all Catholic churches are dominated by a crucifix and Protestant churches emphasize the empty cross. It was drilled into me as a boy in the Presbyterian church that our focus is on the resurrection and not Christ’s suffering. I won’t belabor the point. When I was a parish minister some of my churches went on cross walks around the town on Good Friday with other denominations, and I joined in – semi-reluctantly.  Public displays of this sort do not appeal to me. The crucifixion was a hideous act of torture perpetrated on an innocent man, but it happened 2000 years ago. Whilst I abhor the act utterly, it is over.

The events of Easter were probably fixed very early in oral and written narrative because there were some eye witnesses to actual events. But these narratives are unsatisfactory as history as they are retold in the various gospel versions. Even if you accept the idea that the gospels were written by the men they claim as authors (which I don’t), none was a direct eye witness (although John obliquely claims to have been there). The much more likely story is that when Jesus was arrested, all the apostles scattered in fear of their own lives. The story of Peter’s famous denial of his association with Jesus during his trial is perhaps symbolic of what they all actually did at the time. The gospels all report that the women who had followed Jesus as disciples had no such qualms, and they both actively and visibly lamented his fate on his way to Golgotha and on the cross itself.

Slanting the interpretation of actual events to suit a particular ideology is not an invention of modern journalism. The gospel writers were masters of this trade. This is what we know. Jesus was arrested in the suburbs of Jerusalem in the evening after having dinner with his closest associates, he was tried and condemned to death, and was crucified. I don’t think many serious historians would dispute these bare facts, but there is endless speculation concerning the details.

The point that I want to emphasize is that ALL the gospels want to whitewash the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and lay the blame for Jesus’ execution squarely on the Jewish Temple authorities. The thing is that at the time Jewish authorities had wide latitude because the Romans feared insurrection in a troublesome province that could not be subjugated in the way that other parts of the empire had been. Religion was an especially touchy subject. Things finally came to a head roughly 35 years later in 70 CE when the Romans, tired of all their accommodations, simply crushed the people in a mass slaughter, destroyed the Temple, and dispersed the remnant of the population. The Romans were most decidedly in charge, although the Jewish leaders held considerable influence in Jesus’ day. So what really happened?

The gospel narratives are highly unsatisfactory. Their thrust is patent. According to the gospel writers, the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus out of the way because he was subverting their authority and they used the Roman governor as their shill to accomplish what they could not do legally. Pilate is made out to be an insightful man who just wants to keep the peace. His examination of Jesus leads him to two conclusions: that he is entirely innocent, and that he really is the Jewish Messiah. But . . . for the sake of order in the province he’s willing to go along with what the Temple priests apparently earnestly want. Just to underscore the point the gospels create this scene of Pilate displaying Jesus and Barabbas to the Jewish mob and asking which one they want freed, because, as governor, he has license to free one condemned man at Passover. The mob is content to free a murderer and let Jesus die. Can we really accept this scene historically?

That Jesus was condemned to death is beyond dispute. That a mob was asked to choose between him and another condemned man is highly questionable. Are we expected to believe that for a week Jesus was surrounded by adoring fans who were so loyal that the priests were afraid to even go near him, yet these very same people all of a sudden turned on him and wanted him dead? This strains credulity to the breaking point, although it makes good reading. Yup, mobs are fickle. This theme, in fact, permeates the gospels: Jesus performs miracles time and again, yet people, whilst being amazed at the time, simply turn away and go about their business. Why would they not do the same at a critical juncture?

It is unlikely in the extreme that Pilate had the capacity to release a condemned man on a holiday, and that, even if he had such leeway, he would use it. He decides Jesus is utterly innocent and Barabbas is completely guilty but lets the mob decide their fate? Seriously? I’ll happily accept that Roman authorities were arbitrarily capricious, but not that wanton. They had no qualms about crucifying hundreds of slaves who revolted to make a point; I can’t see Pilate letting a convicted murderer go on a whim.

Inasmuch as we can get at the truth at all I suspect that things were much less clear cut at the time. Certainly it was Passover time and feelings were high in Jerusalem. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the provinces had flocked into the city for this special occasion. Such pilgrims were especially attuned to the tenets of Jewish faith, otherwise they wouldn’t have been there. Many of them were taken with Jesus’ teaching because it was revolutionary. He was not condemning Jewish faith at root: far from it. He clearly affirmed the basics of Jewish teaching, but asserted that its basics had been subverted by rigid legalists, and the foundational message had been lost. Love (of God and others) comes first and the Law grows out of that, not the other way round. It’s that simple.

Some people were attracted to Jesus’ teaching, others weren’t. The Temple priests, notably, were not amused and wanted him out of the way. He was disrupting centuries old tradition that anchored Jewish identity (as well as their places in the hierarchy), even though it’s clear that he was a devout Jew in honoring the Passover, the Torah, and the like. His message was basic: “follow the spirit of the Law, not the letter.” The Romans would have been on edge at the time because the Passover’s clear message was that historically the Jews were enslaved by Egypt, but were miraculously freed under Moses. They could easily transform this message into rebellion against their current oppressors. The overarching outline of the gospels’ narrative is, therefore, likely to be accurate. Jesus was betrayed by one of his associates to the Temple priests, who, in turn, handed him over to the Roman leadership for disposal. The Romans were probably happy to oblige to keep the peace with the powers that be in the Jewish community, and that was that. All of Pilate’s wise philosophizing and hand wringing (and washing), is almost certainly an invention. This guy is a troublemaker; get rid of him. Case closed. His followers were left to make sense of all that followed.

Hot cross buns are the enduring staples of England and the nations of the former empire on this day. Good Friday just isn’t the same without one. I’ve never baked them myself because I’ve never seen the point. They are available, sometimes fresh from the oven, in bakeries and supermarkets worldwide. I can’t do any better.

Passionfruit strikes me as a much more interesting, and apposite, possibility for the day. I love the flowers and the fruit, which I use in a variety of ways. Early colonial missionaries in Latin America, when they discovered the indigenous vines, quickly exploited the complex flowers as a teaching tool. The flower has spikes protruding from the center, symbolizing the crown of thorns. Three stigmata symbolize the three nails and five anthers represent the five wounds Jesus received on the cross. The flower’s trailing tendrils were likened to the whips used in his scourging.

The vines are found everywhere these days. I’ve come across them in Argentina, Australia, Madeira, Kenya, Bermuda, China, and even spreading abundantly over a neighbor’s door when I lived for a short spell in the Oxfordshire countryside a few summers ago. As a boy I liked to have a passionfruit scooped out over vanilla ice cream – and still do. It’s a very easy and tasty treat. It’s hard to find unadulterated passionfruit juice, nectar, or preserves because of the expense involved. I don’t like mixtures with other fruit because the plain passionfruit pulp’s taste is exquisite. I’ll buy them only if I have no other choices. I have made passionfruit ice cream, which was heavenly, and soon gone.  Today I am making fresh whipped cream (unsweetened) with passionfruit pulp folded in. Sugar spoils the natural taste for me. All I’ll need is a spoon.

 

May 302015
 

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On this date in 1431 Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc), nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” (French: La Pucelle d’Orléans), was burnt at the stake in Rouen in Normandy by an English dominated tribunal during the Hundred Years’ War. She is still celebrated as a heroine of France and is a Roman Catholic saint. She was born to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle, a peasant family, at Domrémy in north-east France. Joan said she received visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine instructing her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War. Upon Joan’s personal petition, the uncrowned King Charles VII sent Joan to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained immediate prominence throughout the army after the siege was lifted in only nine days. Several additional swift victories led to Charles VII’s coronation at Reims. This long-awaited event boosted French morale and paved the way for the final French victory.

On 23 May 1430, she was captured at Compiègne by the Burgundian faction which was allied with the English. She was later handed over to the English, and then put on trial by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon on a variety of charges. After Cauchon declared her guilty, following a ludicrously unfair trial, she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431, dying at about nineteen years of age.

Twenty-five years after her execution, an inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III examined the trial, debunked the charges against her, pronounced her innocent, and declared her a martyr. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. She is one of the nine secondary patron saints of France, along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis, St. Michael, St. Remi, St. Petronilla, St. Radegund and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Joan has been a popular figure in literature, painting, sculpture, and other cultural works since the time of her death, and many famous writers, filmmakers, and composers have created works about her. I imagine that most people know the general outline of her short life, so I’d like to focus on her last days which involve some things that are not necessarily common knowledge.

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Joan’s presence during sieges had miraculously encouraged the troops, and, despite her complete lack of military training, her advice to the military leaders led to dramatic successes. In a short time she went from being ridiculed and ignored to a national heroine. There was certainly a general sense among the French leadership, up to and including the king, that the French army couldn’t do any worse, so why not follow Joan’s advice? She quickly showed that nothing succeeds like success. Joan traveled to Compiègne in May 1430 to help defend the city against an English and Burgundian siege. A skirmish on 23 May, when her force attempted to attack the Burgundians’ camp at Margny, led to her capture. When the troops began to withdraw toward the nearby fortifications of Compiègne after the advance of an additional force of 6,000 Burgundians, Joan stayed with the rear guard. Burgundian troops surrounded the rear guard, and she was pulled off her horse by an archer. She agreed to surrender to a pro-Burgundian nobleman named Lionel of Wandomme, a member of Jean de Luxembourg’s unit.

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Joan was imprisoned by the Burgundians at Beaurevoir Castle. She attempted several escapes, on one occasion jumping from her 70-foot (21 m) tower, landing on the soft earth of a dry moat, after which she was moved to the Burgundian town of Arras. The English negotiated with their Burgundian allies to transfer her to their custody, with Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, an English partisan, assuming a prominent role in these negotiations and her later trial. The final agreement called for the English to pay the sum of 10,000 livres tournois to obtain her from Jean de Luxembourg.

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The English then moved Joan to the city of Rouen, which served as their main headquarters in France. Historian Pierre Champion notes that the Armagnacs attempted to rescue her several times by launching military campaigns toward Rouen while she was held there. One campaign occurred during the winter of 1430-1431, another in March 1431, and one in late May shortly before her execution. These attempts were beaten back. Champion also quotes 15th century sources which say that Charles VII threatened to “exact vengeance” upon Burgundian troops whom his forces had captured and upon “the English and women of England” in retaliation for their treatment of Joan.

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Joan’s trial for heresy was politically motivated. The tribunal was composed entirely of pro-English and Burgundian clerics, and overseen by English commanders including the Duke of Bedford and Earl of Warwick. Legal proceedings commenced on 9 January 1431 at Rouen. The procedure was illegal on a number of points, which would later provoke scathing criticism of the tribunal by the chief inquisitor who investigated the trial after the war. To summarize some major problems: Under ecclesiastical law, Bishop Cauchon lacked jurisdiction over the case. Cauchon owed his appointment to his partisan support of the English government which financed the trial. The low standard of evidence used in the trial also violated inquisitorial rules. Clerical notary Nicolas Bailly, who was commissioned to collect testimony against Joan, could find no adverse evidence. Without such evidence the court lacked grounds to initiate a trial. Opening a trial anyway, the court also violated ecclesiastical law by denying her the right to a legal adviser. Worse, stacking the tribunal entirely with pro-English clergy violated the medieval Church’s requirement that heresy trials needed to be judged by an impartial or balanced group of clerics. Upon the opening of the first public examination Joan complained that those present were all partisans against her and asked for “ecclesiastics of the French side” to be invited in order to provide balance. This request was denied.

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The Vice-Inquisitor of Northern France (Jean Lemaitre) objected to the trial at its outset, and several eyewitnesses later said he was forced to cooperate after the English threatened his life. Some of the other clergy at the trial were also threatened when they refused to cooperate, including a Dominican friar named Isambart de la Pierre. These threats, and the domination of the trial by a secular government, were obvious violations of the Church’s rules and undermined the right of the Church to conduct heresy trials without secular interference.

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The trial record contains statements from Joan which the eyewitnesses later said astonished the court, since she was an illiterate peasant and yet was able to evade the theological pitfalls which the tribunal set up to entrap her. The transcript’s most famous exchange is an exercise in subtlety. “Asked if she knew she was in God’s grace, she answered: ‘If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.'” The question is a scholarly trap. Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have been charged with heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt. Notary Boisguillaume later testified that at the moment the court heard this reply, “Those who were interrogating her were stupefied.”

Several court functionaries later testified that important portions of the transcript were altered in her disfavor. Under Inquisitorial guidelines, Joan should have been confined in an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of female guards (i.e., nuns). Instead, the English kept her in a secular prison guarded by their own soldiers. Bishop Cauchon denied Joan’s appeals to the Council of Basel and the Pope, which should have stopped his proceeding.

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The twelve articles of accusation which summarize the court’s finding contradict the already doctored court record. Joan was illiterate but signed an abjuration (acceptance of the court’s findings) she did not understand under threat of immediate execution. The court substituted a different abjuration in the official record. The critical problem for the court was that they had no hard evidence of heresy on Joan’s part and, besides, heresy was a capital crime only for a repeat offense. So a repeat offense of “cross-dressing” was now charged against her. Even this charge was problematic because Joan agreed to wear feminine clothing when she abjured.

According to the later descriptions of some of the tribunal members, she had previously been wearing male (i.e. military) clothing in prison because it gave her the ability to fasten her hosen, boots and tunic together into one piece, which deterred rape by making it difficult to pull her hosen off. A woman’s dress offered no such protection. A few days after adopting a dress, she told a tribunal member that “a great English lord had entered her prison and tried to take her by force. [i.e. rape her]” She resumed male clothes either as a defense against molestation or, in the testimony of Jean Massieu, because her dress had been taken by the guards and she was left with nothing else to wear.

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Her resumption of male military clothing was labeled a relapse into heresy for cross-dressing, although this would later be disputed by the inquisitor who presided over the appeals court which examined the case after the war. Medieval Catholic doctrine held that cross-dressing should be evaluated based on context, as stated in the “Summa Theologica” by St. Thomas Aquinas, which says that necessity would be a permissible reason for cross-dressing. This would include the use of clothing as protection against rape if the clothing would offer protection. In terms of doctrine, she had been justified in disguising herself as a pageboy during her journey through enemy territory and she was justified in wearing armor during battle and protective clothing in camp and then in prison. The Chronique de la Pucelle states that it deterred molestation while she was camped in the field. When her soldier’s clothing wasn’t needed while on campaign, she was said to have gone back to wearing a dress. Clergy who later testified at the posthumous appellate trial affirmed that she continued to wear male clothing in prison to deter molestation and rape.

She referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned on the matter. The Poitiers record no longer survives but circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics had approved her practice. She also kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison. Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle for practical reasons, as did Inquisitor Brehal later during the appellate trial. Nonetheless, at the trial in 1431 she was condemned and sentenced to die. I wonder how many people in the LGBT community know that the accusation that stuck and led to her execution was cross dressing?

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Eyewitnesses described the scene of the execution by burning on 30 May 1431. Tied to a tall pillar at the Vieux-Marché in Rouen, she asked two of the clergy, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her. An English soldier also constructed a small cross which she put in the front of her dress. After she died, the English raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive, then burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics. They cast her remains into the Seine River. The executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, later stated that he “…greatly feared to be damned.”

The Hundred Years’ War continued for twenty-two years after her death. Charles VII succeeded in retaining legitimacy as the king of France in spite of a rival coronation held for Henry VI at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, on 16 December 1431, the boy’s tenth birthday. Before England could rebuild its military leadership and force of longbowmen, lost in 1429, the country lost its alliance with Burgundy at the Treaty of Arras in 1435. The Duke of Bedford died the same year and Henry VI became the youngest king of England to rule without a regent: his weak leadership was probably the most important factor in ending the conflict. Kelly DeVries argues that Joan of Arc’s aggressive use of artillery and frontal assaults influenced French tactics for the rest of the war.

In 1452, during the posthumous investigation into her execution, the Church declared that a religious play in her honor at Orléans would allow attendees to gain an indulgence (remission of temporal punishment for sin) by making a pilgrimage to the event. A posthumous retrial opened after the war ended. Pope Callixtus III authorized this proceeding, also known as the “nullification trial”, at the request of Inquisitor-General Jean Bréhal and Joan’s mother Isabelle Romée. The aim of the trial was to investigate whether the trial of condemnation and its verdict had been handled justly and according to canon law. Investigations started with an inquest by Guillaume Bouillé, a theologian and former rector of the University of Paris (Sorbonne). Bréhal conducted an investigation in 1452. A formal appeal followed in November 1455. The appellate process involved clergy from throughout Europe and observed standard court procedure. A panel of theologians analyzed testimony from 115 witnesses. Bréhal drew up his final summary in June 1456, which describes Joan as a martyr and implicated the late Pierre Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta. The technical reason for her execution had been a Biblical clothing law. The nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture. The appellate court declared her innocent on 7 July 1456.

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These days Rouen, one of my favorite spots in the world, is famous for its duck dishes. It is said that if you visit Normandy you should have duck in Rouen, tripe in Caen, and omelet in Mont St Michel. I’ve done the first two, but the third must wait. The specialty of Rouen duck derives from the 19th century and not Joan’s era, so it is not strictly appropriate to honor her. As a compromise I suggest roasting a duck and serving it with a 15th-century “black” sauce used in France (and England) for capons. A 14th century English recipe is as follows:

Sawse noyre for capouns yrosted. Take the lyuer of capons and roost it wel. Take anyse and greynes de parys, gynger, canel, & a lytull crust of brede, and grinde it smale, and grynde it vp with verious and with grece of capouns. Boyle it and serue it forth.

This reminds me very much of a sauce I make for roast turkey by poaching the giblets in stock with seasonal spices, adding the roast liver, and then processing, followed by thickening and reduction with a light roux. In this recipe the spices are anise, ginger, cinnamon, and grains of paradise, with verjuice acting as salt (and a sour note), and breadcrumbs being the thickening agent. Grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) are a 15th century black pepper substitute – warm and peppery with citrus notes. It’s available online or you can substitute black pepper. With a kitchen I could recreate this recipe in a heartbeat.

The 15th century French recipe:

Ung pignagoscé sur chapons: bien cuis en bon boullon, decopez par lopins, puis suffris en beau sain de lard; prenez les foyez de vos chapons et les broyez tresbien, puis prenez pain harlé, tempré en bon vergus, tout passé parmy l’estamine, gingembre, clou, graine, deffait de vin rouge et de vin aigre; faictez tout boullir ensamble; et du persin effueillié; jettez par dessus vostre grain chaudement.

My Medieval French is not particularly competent, but here is my free translation following what I take to be the spirit rather than the literal meaning of the text (and without sufficient research). Corrections welcomed. I’m not sure what a pignagoscé is but it’s not too important – a poached and sauced dish.

A Pignagoscé of Capons.

Poach the capons in a rich stock until well cooked. Hack them in pieces and sauté in fine rendered lard. Grind up the livers of the capons. Soak toast in verjuice and strain through a sieve. Add ginger, cloves, grains of paradise, red wine, and vinegar and boil it all together with parsley. Pour the sauce over the meat.

Now you have all the info I have. Go to it !! I ALWAYS roast poultry at very high heat emulating historical cooking methods. This renders the fat quickly, crisps the skin, and keeps the meat juicy and tender.

©Roast Duck with Black Sauce

Ingredients

1 duck with giblets
2 or 3 duck livers
¼ tsp. anise seed
¼ tsp. grains of paradise, ground (or black pepper)
¼ tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh parsley finely chopped
1 tbsp toasted bread crumbs
¼ cup red wine and white vinegar mixed
1 cup rich chicken stock
2 tbsp duck fat

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Dry the duck skin thoroughly with paper towels and leave it out to air dry for an hour or so. Prick the skin very well with a fork. Place it on a baking tray with a rack in it so that the duck does not rest on the bottom.

Roast the duck for about 40 minutes, pricking the skin every 10 minutes or so with the livers in the cavity. Pricking helps release the fat and provides a self basting. The skin will become a beautiful mottled golden-brown.

Meanwhile poach the giblets (and neck) in the stock with the wine/vinegar mix, parsley, and spices.

When the duck is about ready to serve, melt the duck fat over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet and then add the breadcrumbs. Sauté briefly until a paste forms. Strain the stock into a food processor and add the roasted livers. Pulse until the livers are ground. Add to the breadcrumb paste slowly over low heat, whisking constantly. Heat until the sauce thickens.

Remove the duck from the oven and take off the skin. Cut into bite sized pieces. Serve separately on a heated plate. Cut the duck into 8 pieces: 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 4 breasts. Arrange on a platter and pour over the sauce. Serve with boiled new potatoes and crusty bread.

Serves 4

Jun 222014
 

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It was on this date in 1633 that Galileo Galilei was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Inquisition for heresy, ostensibly for attempting to argue that the sun stood still and the earth revolved around it. What has become known as the “Galileo Affair” has been cast by historians and the general public as a classic case of a rational scientist who was right being punished by a superstitious and ignorant church that was wrong. As is very common in popular conceptions of history, this is a serious misinterpretation of events. Let me see if I can shed some extra light on the affair. In the process you will see that Galileo’s enemies were mostly fellow scientists at first and not the church, Galileo held a number of scientific beliefs that were wrong, many high church officials supported Galileo, Galileo went out of his way to alienate the church, and his punishment was not particularly severe given what could have happened to him. In a nutshell I would characterize the affair as a classic case, very common in the era, of a brilliant person being at first favored by patrons who subsequently turned against him for one reason or another. It happened to politicians, artists, musicians, and scientists.

I will begin by saying that the affair was quite protracted, beginning in 1610 when Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius (The Starry Messenger), describing the surprising observations that he had made with the new telescope, including the phases of Venus, mountains on the moon, and the Galilean moons of Jupiter. I should dispel some common folklore here. Galileo did not invent the telescope, nor was he the first person to use one to observe the sky, although it was initially used primarily in warfare to observe enemy movements. What he did do was improve on the design significantly so that he had an instrument with 30x magnification, and, thus, able to observe things no one had ever seen before. Using these observations Galileo promoted the heliocentric (sun-centered) theory of the solar system of Nicolaus Copernicus, published in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (The Revolutions of Heavenly Bodies) in 1543.

The Starry Messenger caused great difficulty in the scientific community because it contradicted the accepted wisdom of the day as laid down by Aristotle, and also Ptolemy. Aristotle believed that all heavenly bodies revolved around the earth, that the moon was a smooth sphere, and that the stars were located on a transparent sphere that revolved around the earth and were all the same distance from the earth. These were reasonable assumptions at the time because they fit the observable facts, and because there were no scientific theories that would have been able to explain otherwise. When astronomers, such as Kepler, Copernicus, and Tycho Brahe, all of whom preceded Galileo, proposed heliocentric theories, they were doing so for mathematical neatness, not because they had proof. Galileo did not really have proof either. What he did was supplement the ideas of his forebears with additional observational evidence that fit their theories better than Aristotle’s. It was not until Isaac Newton, a generation later than Galileo, proposed his theories of inertia and gravitation that all the pieces were in place to replace geocentric (earth-centered) theories of the solar system with the heliocentric one.

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Let me be very clear here. I am not denigrating Galileo as a scientist. I believe he is quite fairly dubbed “the father of physics” by such luminaries as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. He was scrupulous in his observations, he created invaluable principles of scientific method that have been used ever since, and he did not allow theories to stand that were not supported by empirical observation. He did, however, overreach when it came to the motion of the earth. He did, indeed, prove that Aristotle was wrong; he did not prove that Copernicus was right. As I have taught all my professional life, proof is a tricky thing and hinges on the rules you are playing by. For every scientific observation there are MULTIPLE explanations. Which you pick depends on a number of factors. Generally you go with the theory that fits the best; but there are always messy bits that your theory cannot account for.

Galileo’s observations were a gigantic nuisance for the scientists of his day, and for the church which supported them, because Aristotle was their guiding light. They were actually less of a nuisance for the church in regard to Biblical teaching because the Bible does not definitively say anything about the absolute motions of heavenly bodies. It uses the same language that we use, such as, “the sun rises” or “the stars move across the sky.” We say those things without believing the earth is the center of the universe. Aristotle, a pagan, was the problem.

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Jesuit astronomers, experts both in Church teachings and science, were at first skeptical and hostile to the new ideas. However, within a year or two the availability of good telescopes enabled them to repeat the observations. In 1611, Galileo visited the Collegium Romanum in Rome, where the Jesuit astronomers by that time had repeated his observations. Christoph Grienberger, one of the Jesuit scholars there, sympathized with Galileo’s theories, but was asked to defend the Aristotelian viewpoint by Claudio Acquaviva, the Father General of the Jesuits. Furthermore, there were holdouts. Christopher Clavius, one of the most distinguished astronomers of his age, never was reconciled to the idea of mountains on the Moon, and outside the Collegium many still disputed the reality of telescopic observations. In a letter to Kepler of August 1610, Galileo complained that some of the philosophers who opposed his discoveries had refused even to look through a telescope:

My dear Kepler, I wish that we might laugh at the remarkable stupidity of the common herd. What do you have to say about the principal philosophers of this academy who are filled with the stubbornness of an asp and do not want to look at either the planets, the moon or the telescope, even though I have freely and deliberately offered them the opportunity a thousand times? Truly, just as the asp stops its ears, so do these philosophers shut their eyes to the light of truth.

Can’t fault him there. There are closed-minded people in every generation. Not sure about the asp closing its ears though. I’ll let it slide.

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At this time, Galileo also engaged in a dispute over the reasons that objects float or sink in water, siding with Archimedes against Aristotle. The debate was unfriendly, and Galileo’s blunt and sometimes sarcastic style, though not extraordinary in academic debates of the time, made him enemies. During this controversy one of Galileo’s friends, the painter, Lodovico Cardi da Cigoli, informed him that a group of malicious opponents, which Cigoli subsequently referred to derisively as “the Pigeon League,” was plotting to cause him trouble over the motion of the earth, or anything else that would serve the purpose. According to Cigoli, one of the plotters had asked a priest to denounce Galileo’s views from the pulpit, but the latter had refused.

One of the first suggestions of heresy that Galileo had to deal with came in 1613 from a professor of philosophy and specialist in Greek literature, Cosimo Boscaglia. In conversation with Galileo’s patron Cosimo II de’ Medici and Cosimo’s mother Christina of Lorraine, Boscaglia said that the telescopic discoveries were valid, but that the motion of the Earth was obviously contrary to Scripture. Galileo was defended on the spot by his former student Benedetto Castelli, now a professor of mathematics and Benedictine abbot. Galileo decided to write a letter to Castelli, expounding his views on what he considered the most appropriate way of treating scriptural passages which made assertions about natural phenomena. Later, in 1615, he expanded this into his much longer “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina” (an open letter which was the equivalent of a publication).

Tommaso Caccini, a Dominican friar, appears to have made the first dangerous attack on Galileo. Preaching a sermon in Florence at the end of 1614, he denounced Galileo, his associates, and mathematicians in general (a category that included astronomers). The biblical text for the sermon on that day was Joshua 10, in which Joshua makes the Sun stand still. In late 1614 or early 1615, one of Caccini’s fellow Dominicans, Niccolò Lorini, acquired a copy of Galileo’s letter to Castelli, and publicly questioned its orthodoxy. In consequence Lorini and his colleagues decided to bring Galileo’s letter to the attention of the Inquisition. In February 1615 Lorini accordingly sent a copy to the Secretary of the Inquisition, Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati, with a covering letter critical of Galileo’s supporters. What we see, therefore, is not Galileo standing alone against the church, but, rather, two factions within the church in deadly conflict.

On March 19, Caccini arrived at the Inquisition’s offices in Rome to denounce Galileo for his Copernicanism and various other alleged heresies supposedly being spread by his pupils. Galileo soon heard reports that Lorini had obtained a copy of his letter to Castelli and was claiming that it contained many heresies. He also heard that Caccini had gone to Rome and suspected him of trying to stir up trouble with Lorini’s copy of the letter. As 1615 wore on he became more concerned, and eventually determined to go to Rome as soon as his health permitted, which it did at the end of the year. By presenting his case there, he hoped to clear his name of any suspicion of heresy, and to persuade the Church authorities not to suppress heliocentric ideas. In going to Rome Galileo was acting against the advice of friends and allies, and of the Tuscan ambassador to Rome, Piero Guicciardini.

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Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, one of the most respected Catholic theologians of the time, was called on to adjudicate the dispute between Galileo and his opponents, both religious and secular. The question of heliocentrism had first been raised with Cardinal Bellarmine, in the case of Paolo Antonio Foscarini, a Carmelite father. Foscarini had published a book, Lettera … sopra l’opinione … del Copernico, (Writings on the the opinions of Copernicus) which attempted to reconcile Copernicus with the biblical passages that seemed to be in contradiction. Bellarmine at first expressed the opinion that Copernicus’ book should not be banned, but would at most require some editing so as to present the theory purely as a mathematical device and not as a theological opinion. In fact the church had used Copernicus in the 16th century to rectify errors in the calendar.

Bellarmine’s position regarding Galileo and Copernicus was subtle and complex. If I can distill its essence, he argued that you have to have conclusive proof that scriptural statements are in error. Without such proof you have to side with the Bible. But, if conclusive proof exists, theologians must reconsider their positions, and find some way to reconcile the Bible with science. This seems to me to be a reasonable position to take, given the times, and the fact is that neither Galileo nor Copernicus had conclusive proof. What they had were increasingly troubling observations, which were much more damaging to Aristotle than to the Bible. Galileo himself conceded that his evidence was not sufficient to overturn Aristotle and the Bible on the question of geocentrism versus heliocentrism, although it strongly favored the latter.

On February 19, 1616, the Inquisition asked a commission of theologians, known as Qualifiers, about the propositions of the heliocentric view of the universe. Historians differ as to why the Inquisition took up the matter. Some believe that it was inevitable because of the conflict between heliocentrism and the Bible; others believe it was brought about because Galileo was so publicly aggressive in his support of heliocentrism, and so sarcastically condemnatory of its opponents. Perhaps if he had been more tactful, the matter might have rested. I don’t know.

On February 24 the Qualifiers delivered their unanimous report: the idea that the Sun is stationary is “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” Curiously the original document was not released for public scrutiny until this year (2014). The Vatican has always taken the position that the condemnation of Galileo was justified to a degree.

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At a meeting of the cardinals of the Inquisition on the following day, Pope Paul V instructed Bellarmine to deliver this result to Galileo, and to order him to abandon the Copernican opinions. Should Galileo resist the decree, stronger action would be taken. On February 26, Galileo was called to Bellarmine’s residence and ordered, “to abstain completely from teaching or defending this doctrine and opinion or from discussing it… to abandon completely… the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing.” Following the Inquisition’s 1616 judgment, the works of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and others advocating heliocentrism were banned.

With no attractive alternatives, Galileo accepted the orders delivered, even sterner than those recommended by the Pope. Galileo met again with Bellarmine, apparently on friendly terms; and on March 11 he met with the Pope, who assured him that he was safe from persecution as long as he, the Pope, should live. Nonetheless, Galileo’s friends Sagredo and Castelli reported that there were rumors that Galileo had been forced to recant and do penance. To protect his good name, Galileo requested a letter from Bellarmine stating the truth of the matter. This letter assumed great importance in 1633, as did the question whether Galileo had been ordered not to “hold or defend” Copernican ideas (but which would have allowed their hypothetical treatment) or not to teach them in any way. If the Inquisition had issued the order not to teach heliocentrism at all, it would have been ignoring Bellarmine’s position.

In the end, Galileo did not persuade the Church to stay out of the controversy, but instead saw heliocentrism formally declared false. It was consequently termed heretical by the Qualifiers, since it contradicted the literal meaning of the Scriptures, though it is important to note that this position was not binding on the church.

Just in case you are lost at this point, justifiably, let me sum up. The saner leaders within the church were aware of the usefulness of Copernican theory in calendric calculations and of the validity of Galileo’s observations. But they were not about to bring all of society crashing down around their ears by denying the validity of the Bible without more conclusive proof. Their solution had been a cautious middle way, namely, treat heliocentrism as purely hypothetical. But when push came to shove, the church was forced to side with the Bible against Copernicus in its formal pronouncements.

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In 1623 Pope Urban VIII ascended the papal throne. He showed great favor to Galileo, particularly after Galileo traveled to Rome to congratulate the new pontiff. Bolstered by papal approval, Galileo published A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632. It was an account of conversations between a Copernican scientist, Salviati, an impartial and witty scholar named Sagredo, and a ponderous Aristotelian named Simplicio, who employed stock arguments in support of geocentricity, and was depicted in the book as being an intellectually inept fool. Simplicio’s arguments are systematically refuted and ridiculed by the other two characters. Although Galileo states in the preface of his book that the character is named after a famous Aristotelian philosopher (Simplicius in Latin, Simplicio in Italian), the name “Simplicio” in Italian also had the connotation of “simpleton.”

Here’s where Galileo made a fatal political gaff. Pope Urban encouraged Galileo to write the Dialogue on the proviso that his opinions be included. Galileo did, indeed, include the pope’s point of view, but in the mouth of Simplicio where they were mercilessly ridiculed by Sagredo and Salviati. Not a smart move. With this act Galileo lost almost all support from his defenders in Rome, not because they had changed their opinions regarding science, but because they were pragmatists. These were the days of Machiavelli and the Medicis when political rivals were quietly bumped off. Subsequently Galileo was ordered to stand trial on suspicion of heresy in 1633.

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Galileo was interrogated while threatened with physical torture. A panel of theologians, consisting of Melchior Inchofer, Agostino Oreggi and Zaccaria Pasqualigo, subsequently reported on the Dialogue. Galileo had thought to escape the heresy charge by casting the book in the form of a dialogue – that is, he was trying to escape the accusation of advocating heliocentrism personally (which he had been banned from doing), by presenting BOTH sides of the argument. In theory the Dialogue was supposed to be a “fair and balanced” treatment.But his blatant ridicule of Simplicio made it clear what side he was on, and the panel concluded that the Dialogue strongly advocated heliocentrism – a fair conclusion.

Galileo was found guilty, and the sentence of the Inquisition, issued on 22 June 1633, was in three essential parts:

Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to “abjure, curse, and detest” those opinions.

He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition. On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.

His offending Dialogue was banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future.

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After a stay with the friendly Archbishop Piccolomini in Siena, Galileo was allowed to return to his villa at Arcetri near Florence, where he spent the remainder of his life under house arrest. He continued his work on mechanics, and in 1638, he published a scientific book in Holland. In fact, Galileo did some of his best work in this period which would eventually lead to the science of the Enlightenment. The Inquisition could have been much harsher. They could have executed him, or locked him in a cell and thrown away the key. They did not. They left him alone, although publicly condemning him, and prohibiting him from traveling.

My overarching point is that there was enough blame to go around for all parties involved. Egos and expediency trumped facts. Galileo did not have the necessary proof for heliocentrism, and some of his hypotheses, such as his explanation for the tides, were quite wrong. But he was stubborn and impolitic. The church was on shaky turf too, but was populated by equally stubborn men with powerful vested interests to defend. I don’t condone either side in this. My role here is merely to show that we must be wary not to cast this trial, or any other similar historical encounter, in simple black and white terms, such as characterizing it as a contest between a lone, brave scientist who was right versus an ignorant and superstitious church that was wrong. History resides in the grey areas.

As a small postscript let me also point out that in hindsight we are not justified in saying that Galileo was right and the church was wrong scientifically.  Einstein’s general theory of relativity argues that in the absence of an absolute frame of reference (which does not exist), it is no more correct to say that the earth goes round the sun as that the sun (and all the universe) goes around the earth.  Both depictions are legitimate.  Heliocentrism just makes the equations a little simpler.

My recipe for the day is, aptly, a new discovery for me. It is taken from the classic cookbook by renowned papal chef, Bartolomeo Scappi (c. 1500-1577), Opera dell’ arte del cucinare, published in 1570. It contains over 1,000 recipes along with detailed instructions concerning cooking methods. My eye fell on some recipes for cardoons and artichokes (cardi, & carciofani), simply because I had never heard of cardoons before – always learning. The cardoon is a plant related to the artichoke, but cultivated for its edible leaf stems rather than its flower bulb (as the artichoke is).

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Cardoon leaf stalks, which look like large celery stalks, can be served steamed or braised, and have an artichoke-like flavor. They are harvested in winter and spring, being best just before the plant flowers. In the Abruzzi region of Italy, Christmas lunch is traditionally started with a soup of cardoon cooked in chicken broth with little meatballs (lamb or, more rarely, beef), sometimes with the further addition of raw egg (which scrambles in the hot soup) or fried chopped liver and heart. Cardoons are also an ingredient in one of the national dishes of Spain, cocido madrileño, a slow-cooking, one-pot, meat and vegetable dinner simmered in broth.

Here is part of Scappi’s original followed by a loose translation:

Per far minestra di cardi, & carciofani con brodo di carne, & altre materie. Cap CCXIII Secondo Libro

Piglisi il cardo nella sua stagione, liqual comincia in Roma da mezo Settembre, & dura per tutto Marzo, & habbianosi le parti piu tenere, & bianche delle coste, perchioche quelle che saranno rosse, & leggiere non son buone, mondinosi, & faccianosi stare in molle nell’acqua fredda per tre hore almeno, mutando loro l’acqua. Il che si fa per cavar loro l’amaritudine, & perche nello storcere che fanno vengono piu tenere. Il simile facciasi della parta diu tenerea del pedone, & lascinosi cuocere con brodo grasso di carne grassa nel modo che si cuoceno i finocchi nell’antescritto capitolo 207. Et se si vorranno prima perlessar con acqua semplice sarà in arbitrio, & cotti che saranno cuocanosi con esse carni. Ma essendo cotti solo con brodo, & cervellate gialle, se ne potranno coprir capponi, galline, & altri ulcellami, alessati con cascio, zuccaro, pepe, & cannella sopra. Si potrebbeno ancho stufare li detti cardi con diverse carni salate, & ucellami nel modo che si stufano le cipolle nel capitolo 209.

To make a soup of cardoons and artichokes with meat broth and other items. Chapter 213. Second book

Take cardoons in season, which starts in Rome in the middle of September and lasts all the way to March. Take the most tender part, the white of the ribs, because that which is red and soft is not good, peel them and let them soak in cold water for at least three hours changing the water periodically. You do this because it leaches out the bitterness, and because the cardoons unravel and become more tender. You can do the same with the most tender part of the foot [unclear meaning], and let them cook in the broth of fat meat in the way that one cooks fennel described in chapter 207. And if you want to first parboil them in plain water that is your decision, and when they are cooked [ that is, parboiled in water] cook them further with meat. They can be cooked with broth and yellow cervellate [sausage]. If you want to sauce capons, chicken, and other birds boil them then serve them with cheese, sugar, pepper and cinnamon sprinkled on top. One can also stew cardoons with various salted meats and birds in the way that one stews onions in chapter 209.

Not surprisingly I do not have a stalk of cardoons knocking around my kitchen, nor any notion of where I might find them in Buenos Aires. But I did have some Swiss chard in the refrigerator, and I think the stalks make a fair substitute. I did have a rich and fatty meat broth left over from some osso bucco I stewed a few days ago, however. So I poached the chard stalks in the broth to which I added freshly ground pepper and powdered cinnamon. Here is the result.

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I’d call it a qualified success. If I were not trying to replicate an old recipe I would probably do it a little differently. I’m not a fan of cinnamon in savory dishes. I’ll wait until I have real cardoons to experiment further.  They can be grilled, broiled, baked, or breaded and deep fried as well as poached.