Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Should they limit numbers to the Sistene Chapel?

On the BBC website today is an article asking whether the number of visitors allowed into the Sistene Chapel should be curtailed. One of the reasons given is the damage that the 5 million annual visitors exhalations must be doing to Michelangelo's frescoes.

Friday, 26 October 2012

From Bristol with Bubbles and Bumble Boxes

Bristol Cathedral
©Deborah Cater

Gloriously half-empty, my flight from Bristol to Málaga yesterday was both enlightening and surprisingly tasty. As a frequent traveller who nonetheless has to count the pennies/cents/groszy, I take the cheapest flight available to get me to my destination (when I'm not on the train that is). This proved to be Easyjet. In need of some nibbles I perused the Boutique and Bistro brochure for the Snack Pack staple that has seen me right on previous flights. It was not there. It has been replaced by the appallingly named, though prettily decorated Yumble Bumble Snack Pack and the Feel Good Snack Box (£4/€5). Not being a fan of dried fruits but a cheese-aholic I plumped for the Yumble Bumble which offered hummus, mini grissini sticks, spreadable cheese, crackers, Spudmuckers crisps, a yoghurt and apricot bar and a Lindt chocolate.

One of Easyjet's tasty snack boxes

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

SOFIA (II) Churches

Churches are not just places of spiritual contemplation, they reflect the architectural preferences of the times in which they were designed, built and often re-built. Sofia has a plethora of churches that range from the Roman times to the early twentieth century. I made what could be described as a valiant effort to see as many as possible in one day without boring my companions (or myself for that matter) or to the detriment of other Sofia sights. We managed by taking a route that led us from hotel to churches, a market and a lovely bar on a warm and sunny day that belied the previous day's greyness.

From our hotel we turned onto Bulevard Knyaginya Mariya Luiza and toward Sveta Nedelya church which stands on a plaza around which the traffic flowed. The snow on the mountains twinkled in the sun that was making a welcome appearance and the slush no longer stained our boots as we made our way to the church. We were at the hub of the historical Sofia with trams rattling past which we successfully managed to dodge.

Friday, 12 October 2012

SOFIA (I) Synagogue and Market

Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, a city that has been part of numerous empires and political and idealist states, is doing its best to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of communism. It has not been an easy task and Sofia's true colours are still a little besmirched from the post-WWII years but it is growing both physically and economically.

In March 2009 I arrived in Sofia as the last of the winter snow lay in grey heaps at the side of the roads and a pale sun did its best to lift the gloom. Our hotel was a small boutique establishment which on closer examination of the literature revealed itself to be the first gay hotel in Sofia. It was ideally positioned not far from the shopping district and within easy walking distance of the numerous churches and monuments of the city. Particularly easy to reach were the synagogue and market hall opposite the hotel.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Beauty of Carmel and St. Teresa of Avila Medal

Whilst renovating a house in the Andalucían mountain village of Salares a friend discovered within one of the walls a religious medal. One evening I had a quick look to see if I could find out anything about it and was very pleased to be able to identify its potential age, its subject and a little of the background history.

Although the medal is worn it is still possible to make out the inscriptions on each side of the medal. On one side is a female saint with hands clasped together in prayer with the inscription .S.Teresia whilst on the other is the Virgin Mary holding the child Christ with the inscription Mater.Decor.Carmel. This provided a very good starting point and I set out to look for the most appropriate Saint Teresa.

I decided that the most likely of the saints was Saint Teresa of Avila who was a Spanish mystic and became one of the most revered women in the Catholic Church for her teachings and writings, becoming a Doctor of the Church which is an accolade attained by very few women. As Teresa was a Carmelite nun it gave greater credence to my having settled on the right saint as Carmel is part of the inscription. Teresa is the patron saint of headache sufferers, sick people, Spanish writers and lace makers amongst others.  Born in Toledo on 1515 she died in 1582 and was canonised in 1622. Lace-making is still a very popular craft in the mountain villages of the Axarquia region of Andalucía including Salares, Sedella and Competa and with that in mind I have hazarded a guess that this may well have been the reason that St. Teresa was chosen for the subject of the medal though further research would be required to make this a more definitive assumption.

As I looked for images of this medal or similar I was pleased to come across what was almost an exact replica of the one I had in front of me. Produced in the 1990s it was a copy of a medallion that had been among the cargo of a shipwreck in 1772 off the coast of Anguilla in the Caribbean. The ship El Buen Consejo left Cádiz bound for Vera Cruz on May 29th, 1772 and hit the reef off of Anguilla in the Caribbean on July 8th. On board were 52 Franciscan monks who were set to carry on from Vera Cruz to the Philippines on missionary work; with them they had a stock of bronze medallions. The contents that remained within the shipwreck were brought to the surface post 1986 having been out of sight for over 200 years. Contemporary reports of the shipwreck say that the ship was grounded in shallow waters allowing the Spaniards to remove a good deal of the cargo and supplies before the hurricane season hit and the ship was sent to the bottom of the sea with some, if not all, of the medallions on board.

Taking into account the dates of the canonization of St.Teresa, the shipwreck and rediscovery of El Buen Consejo, the place in which the medal was discovered and the amount of wear on the medal we can be very certain that the medal can be placed within the date ranges of 1622 and 1986. It would be fairly safe to reduce the time period still further. The earliest date cannot be before 1622 as that was when Teresa of Avila was canonized, that is therefore an unmoveable date. The wreck of El Buen Consejo was not rediscovered until 1986 (of course the medals may have continued to be produced so there may not be a definite link to El Buen Consejo) and combined with the fact that the medal was found within the wall of a house that had not had any renovation carried out in villagers’ memories, the medal can almost certainly be assumed to date from prior to 1900. A good number of the houses in the village of Salares date from about 200 years ago but the records are hard to find regarding specific properties. Stretching the hypothesis of the date of the medal even further it is possible that the medal could date from around the time of the shipwreck of El Buen Consejo in 1772 when we know for certain that medals of this description were being made. A conservative view therefore of the dating of the medal would be from 1622 to 1986 whilst an optimistic view would be from 1622 to 1772.

In order to fully ascertain the date of the medal more research needs to be carried out:
  •   The medal needs to be tested to discover the type of metal from which it is made (quite likely silver or a nickel based mix),
  • the date of construction of the house in which it was found needs to be ascertained
  •  more information on the production of the Beauty of St Teresa Carmel medal, i.e. which areas produced them, how were they distributed and so on.

In the meantime the medal is being cared for and enjoyed by its new owners.

Information on the shipwreck of El Buen Consejo can be found at

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