Friday, February 24, 2006

The Vatican Exhibit

When we went to the Vatican Exhibit last Sunday we had an addition to our normal crowd. My friend, "Cathy", was with us, so she is going to help me with this post.

The adventure began with a video preping us for the exhibit. In the next room there was a model of the old St. Peter's Basilica. A little further on was the highlight of the exhibit(for me at least), the Mandylion. One of the first paintings done of Jesus, It is surrounded by an ornately carved frame made of gold and jewels. Here is a picture(obviously).

The Mandylion is featured in a enchanting book entitled The Weka-Feather Cloak By Leo Madigan. It is set in New Zealand. Its complex plot makes it difficult to summarize. It is about an aspiring young artist, Danny Mago, and his adventures while helping out at a convent. He finds an elevator that takes him to many of the different scenes of his adventures.

Later on in the exhibit was a replica of the scaffolding Michelangelo used to paint the Sistine Chapel. As you walk on the replica you see above you the famous portrayal of God bringing life to Adam at the begining of time. Michelangelo had to poke holes into wet plaster so the paint would soak into it and make it last longer than normal. So fresh plaster was always needed to paint these frescoes. In fact the word fresco comes from the italian word for fresh.

In the following rooms were many different artifacts of the Vatican anywhere from the popes garments, thrones, Staffs (We were especially impressed with Pope John Paul II's staff) and chalices. There were many, many chalices but one of my favorites was the simplest in the exhibit. While most of them were ornately carved of gold and bedecked with jewels of all sorts, this one was a simple cup and the paten was the bottom of a can. It was a chalice used by the prisoners in one of the worst death camps in Europe, Auschwitz. Although that was my favorite many other ones were quite spectacular. My second favorite chalice was one that had pictures of saints as well as the typical carvings and jewels. But the chalices were not by any means the only things to be encrusted with gold and gems. The Pope's vestments and the like were simply covered with them. In the last room was the staff of Pope John Paul II. Knowing that it was the staff that belonged to the great Pope, that he actually touched it, was an overwhelming feeling. At the very end of the exhibit there was a cast of Pope John Paul II's hand that you were invited to touch.

Anyways the exhibit was really, really neat and it is well worth the trip, the cost etc. as is the optional audio tour.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Excavations under St. Peter's Basilica

This article is really, really interesting and..... I can't say (my mom won't let me use cool in my posts.)
It is about the excavations, under St. Peter's Basilica, also known as the scavi. While trying to make room for a spectacular tomb for Pope Pius XI it was necessary for the workmen to dig under St. Peters. While engaged in this noble task the workmen found a series of old tombs found to be a necropilis. Pope Pius XII organized a excavation of the site. Near the center was a altar shaped tomb, the wall behind was covered with graffiti. One piece of the graffiti seemed to say, Peter is here! So it seems that the tomb of St. Peter has come to light. It was found in exactly the place tradition said it would be.
To learn more about the scavi read this article.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More Links on the Sistine Chapel

Here is a nice site that lets you explore the walls of the Sistine Chapel (the frescoes not painted by Michelangelo).

The whole Web Gallery of Art looks like a great site.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Old St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel

We just went to an exhibit on objects from the Vatican. They mostly had works of art having to do with St. Peter and the popes, but also about St. Peter's Basilica - both the old one (built by Constantine) and the new one (built during the Renaissance). We also got to talk to a nice volunteer who told us a lot about Old St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel and answered our questions we had about them.

They had a neat model of the Old St Peter's at the exhibit - we found a drawing of it on the Internet (shown above with link to the site). I was excited to see it, because I never knew what it looked like and we were just reading about it yesterday. Old St. Peter's was built in the 300s at the place where St. Peter died, which was a Roman circus (it's not a circus with clowns and jugglers, it's more like the Colosseum - they might have chariot races and gladiator fights and things like that). Around 1450, the pope decided to take it down because it was falling apart. From 1475-1483 they built a chapel and when it was completed, the pope hired Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, and Perugino to paint the walls on the sides of the chapel. They painted the ceiling blue with stars. In 1508, another pope, hired Michelangelo to paint frescoes of the twelve apostles on the ceiling. After he started the work, Michelangelo decided that he didn't like them and came up with a different idea that we can see today. He finished the frescoes in 1512.

The groundbreaking for the new St. Peter's Basilica was in 1506 and it was consecrated in 1626.

Terri adds her own commentary about something that impressed her at the exhibit:

We saw the Mandylion [hat tip - Mrs. Brown]. The frame was made only out of gold, silver and jewels. It had angels on each side - their wings were gold and their bodies were silver. The picture was of God's face. It was really neat.

Slight Change of Plans

Instead of moving on to Greece next week and then hitting one more European country, we decided to take a week on Vatican City (this was inspired by our visit today to the exhibit St. Peter and the Vatican: Legacy of the Popes). We'll study Greece the following week, and then move on to Africa, beginning with the most familiar - Egypt.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Italy and the Olympics

We've been busy learning about Italy and enjoying the Olympics this week.

The DVD (2 disc set) Visions of Italy is breathtakingly beautiful (aerial tour of the country - gorgeous! - we borrowed it from Netflix).

Italy is one of the countries we are so familiar with that it's hard to know where to begin. At the moment, it seems that there's no place quite like Torino (Turin).

Turin has always been famous, in my mind, for the "Shroud of Turin" - a cloth widely believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus. This website has a lot of helpful information, and the film Silent Witness is quite good. It examines a number of different scientific angles that suggest the authenticity of the Shroud.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati lived in Turin from 1901-1925. He's been receiving some extra attention with the Olympics arriving in his hometown because of his own interest in sports and the outdoors and because of one of his devotees who is competing in the Olympics: Rebecca Dussault's Olympic Journal (hat tip - Flying Stars).

Saint John Bosco (1815-1888) lived and worked in Turin as well.

Here are some beautiful pictures of Turin

Official Website: City of Turin

Eating in Turin (with an emphasis on chocolate - Turin claims to be the birthplace of chocolate)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Look Back at France

Although we're working our way from Poland to Italy this weekend, today is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and "the Map Guy"'s aunt has a beautiful post of her own experience living in Lourdes for several years.

The movie Song of Bernadette is a great film about the appartions of Mary to Saint Bernadette in the 1850s. (It won the Academy Award for best picture in 1940!) You may find it at your local library.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Narration: The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse

2004, Scholastic, 30 pages, hardcover
ISBN: 0439435404

(narration by "Terri" age: almost 8)

Once upon a time there lived a girl and her older sister in the city of Warsaw in Poland. The girl, after she escaped from the ghetto, loved playing with the cats that were wild (the cats' owners could not take care of them anymore because they were too poor or that they escaped from the houses that got bombed by the Germans). She and her sister were making plans about getting food into the ghetto for the people there. People were trying to get food into the city for the poor people who lived in the ghetto. They were sneaking it into the city on trains (in backpacks and bags). Someone found out that the Gestapo were going to try to get the food away from the people coming in on the trains. The girl and her sister were worried that the people would get arrested and that the poor people in the ghetto would die from not getting enough food.

The girl had an idea. She asked lots of people to come over to get the cats and hide them in baskets, bags and backpacks. And they all went to the train station and saw the soldiers with dogs (but they seem more like wolves). Suddenly the train came and the people got off of it and the dogs were set loose. And right when the dogs were set loose, the good people set the cats loose too. So the dogs couldn't get at the people because they loved cats more than the other food (the cats got away). So the good people with the food got safely away and brought it to the poor people in the ghetto.

I liked the book because the main girl was really smart about what she did.

Some places to go for Literary adventures in Poland

Interesting title, huh? I'm still experimenting. Anyways, hopefully my mind won't blank as much as it usually does.

Escape from Warsaw By Ian Serraillier

When both their parents are taken away, their father to a concentration camp and their mother to work in Germany, the Balicki children are alone in the bombed city of Warsaw occupied by the Nazis during WWII. Ruth, Edek and Bronia manage quite well, then Edek is captured by the Nazis and sent to work in Germany. Ruth who had been running a sort of school, one day meets a boy who had met her father during his brief stay in Warsaw. They learn from him that their father had escaped and are reminded that they are to go to Switzerland to meet up with their parents. The Girls, accompanied by the boy, Jan, leave Warsaw on the long journey to Switzerland. The journey is long and the way is hard, even when they find Edek again. Read this book to learn about that journey and the hardships along the way.

I haven't actually read a whole lot of books on Poland but there are plenty to keep you busy. Also some great people came from there and any books about or by them could easily qualify for this list. Among those people are:

Pope John Paul II:

Aside from being a wondeful Pope, Pope John Paul II wrote many books. Also books and movies about him, Witness to Hope for instance, are probably wondeful. (I have only seen the movie, for Witness to Hope and listened to some of it on audio.

St. Maximilian Kolbe:

This great saint died in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. e was in a concentration camp for being a priest. One day one of the other prisoners escaped. To punish the camp the Nazis decided to kill twenty of the other prisoners. They lined everyone up and began to pick. One of the men chosen protested that he had a wife and children and begged the Nazis to let him go. The Nazis refused until Fr. Kolbe offered to go in his place. St. Maximilian Kolbe died along with nineteen others, they were starved to death.

St. Hyacinth:

St Hyacinth was a native of Poland, but he did not stay there. Even in the 1200swhen he lived and the transporation options were limited he traveled all over Europe and preached the Gospel. I am going to be reading a book on him later this week I believe.

I can't think of many right now, or maybe I just haven't read many, but if you have read any that I missed please add them, this list seems rather incomplete.

Narration: Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serralier

Scholastic, 218 pages, softcover
ISBN: 0590437151

Ruth, Edek and Bronia were children who lived in Warsaw, Poland, at the beginning of World War II. Their father got taken away to a concentration camp, but before he left he told his family to meet him in Switzerland. One night the Germans came and took their mother, so the children had to take care of themselves. In the summer they lived in the forest and in the winter they would go back and live in a cellar of a bombed house in Warsaw. Next Edek got taken away to work for the Germans.

During that time Warsaw got completely destroyed (because of the Warsaw uprising) and around that time Ruth and Bronia had to live in the forest even in the winter.

After several years the father escaped, but when he got back to Warsaw, he found that his house was gone. He met a boy named Jan and left him with a message (that he was safe and going to Switzerland) and a Silver Sword (which was a special paper knife he had given to his wife, and would prove that Jan met their father).

Sometime later on, Ruth found Jan hurt in the street and took care of him. Jan told them about meeting their father. The three of them (Ruth, Bronia and Jan) decided to leave the city together to head towards Switzerland even though they didn't know where Edek was.

Along the way they were eating at a restaurant when they met Edek, who had escaped from the Germans. He told them the story later that he escaped by hanging on to the underside of a train! When he was under the train, it went through a big puddle. He got wet and then froze to the train. So, by the time he found his sisters, he was sick. By this time the war was over.

I just looked at a map of Europe and found that they traveled about 750 miles from Warsaw, Poland, to Lake Constance on the border of Germany and Switzerland! They traveled by boat , truck and train, but mostly on foot. It took them months to get there and the trip was very hard and dangerous. After a stormy ride across the lake, they were reunited with their father and their mother (who had been in a concentration camp for years, but found by their father).

I really liked this story. It was really exciting and sometimes funny.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Famous Sites in Poland - in and around Krakow

Witness to Hope (a video based on George Wiegel's biography of Pope John Paul II) and Rick Steves' travel video on Poland provided a nice introduction to some of these sites for us:

Wawel Royal Castle

Wawel Cathedral People Buried in Wawel Cathedral Photos

Wieliczka Salt Mines more info more photos

Jagiellonian University famous alumni include Nicholas Copernicus and Pope John Paul the Great (on the website, the "history/museum" and "walk through" sections are worth a peek)

Czestochowa Sanctuary

Auschwitz-Birkenau - a pair of the most terrible Nazi concentration camps in all of Europe. Poland had a long history of peace between Catholic and Jews and for that reason had one of the largest Jewish populations in all of Europe. I heard the figure (from the Rick Steves' video) that only 10 percent of Poland's Jewish population survived the war. St. Maximillian Kolbe and St. Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta) were killed here. Elie Wiesel, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, wrote of his life at Auschwitz as a teenager in his bestseller Night (the book is suitable for older teens and adults). It was also from Auschwitz that Oscar Schindler saved more than 1200 Jews on his famous "list". (The movie is amazing, but very difficult to watch and best suited for older teens or adults - younger children could read A Place to Hide: True Stories of Holocaust Rescues by Jayne Pettit).

UPDATE: There were actually three parts to Auschwitz - Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II/Birkenau and Auschwitz III.

Side Note on the Olympics

We eagerly look forward to watching the Olympics whenever they come around and we planned next week's "week in Italy" partly because of the Olympics (starting this Friday - February 10th) being in Turin (also the home of the famous "Shroud of Turin" - believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus).

Here is a website to explore past Olympic games and moments
Here you can learn more about different sports included in the Olympics

Love2learn Mom adds: The Olympics are the one time at which I slightly regret our decision not to have cable. Network TV coverage stinks.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Re-orient yourself - Happy New Year!

Nope - not a month late - it is actually the Chinese New Year. The old Chinese calendar is a Lunar (moon)-based calendar. So they celebrate new year based on the new moon. New Years Day was this last Sunday.

The lunar calendar is not 365 days long though. So they get "off" if they don't do something fancy. What they do is to add a month once in a while. Sounds like our leap year doesn't it? We have a solar calendar so it makes sense to add a day (the day IS a solar cycle). They have a lunar calendar so it makes sense to add a month (one cycle of the moon).

Unfortunately, I don't know the math of their leap years - I heard about it from a native chinese woman who I was not very good at understanding. There is a fairly clear description here from someone who seems to have spent some time getting it all straight in his head. But it is a bit much for my weekend-head to wrap around and so he loses me in terms like intercalation.

By the way it is the year 4704 - and a year of the Dog in this calendar !!

Sorry for the oriental jump - a non-linear jump out of the regular flow here. I hope no one minds too much.

Great Deal on Aerial Tours of Europe

This week we discovered a new video series courtesy of our local library. The title we viewed yesterday was Visions of England - more than an hour of aerial views of interesting sites and architecture of England. Beautiful music and interesting commentary nicely complement the breathtaking scenery (and the kids got a kick out of spotting the shadow of the helicopter on occasion), but we were especially grateful for the labels of famous sites that show up on screen. The video takes in lots of castles, gardens and famous sites (we particularly enjoyed the White Horse made famous by Chesterton in his great ballad) as well as a generous tour of London itself.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A List for literary adventures taking place in France

I was getting tired of just, "Reading List for ......." so I'm trying a new title.
Anyways here is a reading List for the country of France.

Twenty and Ten By Clare Huchet Bishop
Twenty French children are living in a country house with Sister Gabrielle during WWII. Children were often sent to the country during the war. One day a man comes to ask them to take in ten Jewish children. They do but the Nazi soldiers come to look for the fugitives. This is the wonderful story of there adventures during that time.

The Scarlet Pimpernel series By Baroness Orczy
These were mentioned also in the England section, but since they take place in both countries it deserves a place in this list as well.

St. Therese and the Roses By Helen Walker Homan
A wonderful story about St. Therese the Little Flower. As it was my first chapter book I can bear testimony that it is a wonderful introduction for children to the life of this great saint.

A Long Way From Welcome By Echo Lewis
The two things Maggie fears most are big cities and changes. When her mother remarries she is sent to live with some nuns for the summer in a convent in Paris. Although this is a combination of the two most dreaded things in the world for her she makes friends and gets caught up in a mystery. This is a great book and I highly reccomend it.

I can't think of many now but doubtless I will remember some later on. If you have any additions to make please do, I love comments!

Saints and Heroes of France

Saint Joan of Arc was a girl who lived in the early 1400s. She led the soldiers to fight the English and got them out of France. She was brave and always tried to do what God wanted. The enemy captured her and they killed her.

Saint Bernadette was a girl who lived in the 1800s in Lourdes, France. She saw Mary in a grotto, but a lot of people didn't believe her. One of the times at the grotto, a lot of people came with her. Mary talked to her and told her to wash in the spring. The problem was there wasn't a spring nearby. Bernadette asked Mary what she meant. Mary told her to dig in the dirt and the people thought Bernadette was weird because they saw her digging in the dirt, but they couldn't see Mary. Water started coming from the ground where Bernadette was digging. That was amazing. Sick people started to wash in it and some of them got better! Today there's a church there and the spring is there too. Sick people still go there and some of them get better.

Saint Therese of Lisieux

Saint John Vianney became a priest after the French Revolution. He became the parish priest at Ars and started a school there. The devil got really angry because he was converting people. He made a lot of noise at night and tried to scare him, but every night that the devil would bother him, the next day a great conversion would take place. He was a very holy priest.

Heroes of the Holocaust: France

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Two Museums in Paris plus a Side-Trip

The Louvre - this used to be a palace for Kings and Queens of France. It was first built around the 1200s, but it was added onto over and over again, until it's really huge now. The Kings and Queens bought a lot of art and when they left (because they had other places to live) it was still there and so they decided to turn it into a museum. Until about twenty years ago, the government still had some offices in there, but now they've moved out so the museum has more room to display paintings.

I just looked through our big book called Paintings in the Louvre and especially liked paintings by Annibale Carracci (who painted in the 1500s) and Raphael (I just told my mom "I was wondering who painted all these neat paintings, and I looked, and it was Raphael!")

Musee d'Orsay - this was originally a train station which opened around 1900 right near the Louvre.

We have a book on the Musee d'Orsay which tells this funny story: "Another architectural marvel built for the World's Fair of that year was the Grand Palais, a breathtaking glass-roofed exhibition hall dedicated to French art. The painter Edouard Detaille - today represented in the Musee d'Orsay - commented humorously of the two edifices: 'The train station is splendid; it looks like a Palace of the Fine Arts. Since the [Grand Palais] looks like a train station, I suggest that Laloux switch their purposes while there's still time.'"

The building wasn't long enough for most modern trains, and so wasn't used as a station anymore by the 1940s. In 1970, the government was going to demolish it to put up a hotel, but the people of Paris didn't want that to happen They decided to make it a museum and it finally opened up in 1986 for art from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The paintings I especially liked from this museum (in our book) were: The Virgin of the Host by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and paintings by Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh (those are kind of unique).

Monet's House and Gardens (Giverny)

Today my mom read a book called Linnea in Monet's Garden to us. It was about a girl who went to Monet's house because she liked his paintings. The book mentioned the Musee d'Orsay in it, so my little sister got out our big book about the Musee d'Orsay and found a lot of the paintings from Linnea in Monet's Garden. It was a lot of fun looking through the different books with everyone.