Posted in category "History"

The Devil and the Nun

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 7, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Fishy Fridays, History, Scandals, Sex

On the morning of August 11, 1676, a young nun named Maria was found on the floor of her cell.  Her face was smeared with ink.  Her hand held a sheet of paper covered with inscrutable glyphs.  She told the other nuns that the Devil appeared to her in the night and tried to turn her away from her faith. To persuade Maria, the Devil took over her facilities and wrote a letter with her hand.  The writing was not in Latin or any familiar language. It was a mysterious jumble of occult symbols and archaic letters.  No one was able to decipher the letter by the Devil. 

Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione was 15 years old when she entered the Benedictine convent in Palma di Montechiaro, Sicily. She was 31 at the time of the Devil’s visit.  Maria had a history of struggling against the Devil.  She would scream at him at night. In the convent’s chapel, she would shriek and lose consciousness.  She was convinced that Satan was trying to turn her towards evil.

In 2017, director Daniel Abate and a research team from the Ludum science center in Catania, Sicily cracked the code.  They used an algorithm found on the Deep Web. “We heard about the software,” Abate said, “which is used by intelligence services for coding breaking. We primed the software with ancient Greek, Arabic, the Runic alphabet and Latin to descramble some of the letter.”  The team was eventually able to translate 15 lines, which were certainly devilish for a nun to express:

“Humans are responsible for the creation of God.”

“This system works for no one.”

“God thinks he can free mortals.”

“Perhaps now, Styx is certain.”

“God and Jesus are dead weights.

“We speculated that Sister Maria created a new vocabulary using ancient alphabets that she may have known,” Abate said. “This is a precise alphabet, invented by the nun with great care by mixing symbols that she knew. We analyzed how the syllables and graphisms (or thoughts depicted as symbols) repeated in the letter in order to locate vowels, and we ended up with a refined decryption algorithm.”  Abate thought Sister Maria had a good command of languages, which allowed her to invent the code.  There is no information on what happened to her after the incident.

The letter was an elaborate hoax by Sister Maria. Why did she do it? How was she sure that she would not be found out? If she knew ancient alphabets, didn’t any of the other nuns at her convent know them as well? Abate believes the nun had schizophrenia, which made her imagine dialogues with the Devil.

Here’s my guess across 344 years:  She was frustrated, pent-up, tormented by sexual desires or guilt. She had some doubts about the faith, which bothered her.  Her small stage as a woman and as a nun bothered her. She was conflicted, she wanted attention, and she acted out her doubts and obsessions. The Devil was a good prop.  Once she started with the screams and convulsions, she had to keep it up.  She probably wanted to keep it up; the letter was a good finale.  She won her fight against Satan and became a heroine in the convent.

Sister Maria most likely heard about other demonic possessions and Satanic letters in other convents.  The 17th century was full of them, all featuring young nuns tempted by sex and heresy including Aix-en-Provence in 1611; Lille in 1613, Loudon in 1634 and Louviers in 1647. They are full of real and imagined seductions by priests and other nuns. I am surprised that no one has thought to do a full-blown historical and psychological study on these possessions, and their links with sex, female rebellion, and church politics.

 

 

 

 

Lent 2020 – To Be A Catholic

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 26, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Faith, History, Politics

“Catholicism is a religion of the head as well as the heart, and to be a Catholic is to commit to dogmas that distinguish our faith from others. Like most religions, it also requires a lifelong struggle to practice that faith day to day. The practice can be difficult. Today’s America is a consumer-driven society filled with endless distractions and temptations for people struggling to live by spiritual as well as material impulses.” – Mario Cuomo, Commonweal Magazine, 2002

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) was governor of New York from 1983-1994.

An Examen for Ash Wednesday.  Have a good Lent.

 

 

 

The Conundrum of Father Richard Ginder

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 20, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

So I turned to the Garden of Love.  That so many sweet flowers bore.  And I saw it was filled with graves,  And tombstones where flowers should be;  And priests with black gowns were walking their rounds,  And binding with briars my joys and desires.  William Blake (1737-1827)

“Binding with Briars—Sex and Sin in the Catholic Church,” a book by the Rev. Richard Ginder, was published in the United States by Prentice-Hall, Inc. in 1975.  It was seven years after the first Dignity convention in 1968 and six years after the Stonewall Riots.  In other words, very early in the period of gay and lesbian liberation in church and American society.  He begins his book by identifying himself: “I am a Roman Catholic priest.  My diocese is Pittsburgh. I am in good standing and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice every day.”  This statement, like much about Fr. Ginder, poses a conundrum.  It’s true.  But it’s also true that at that time he was on “sick leave” from pastoral assignments, and mid-point in a 10-year probation negotiated by the Pittsburgh Archdiocese. 

In 1969, after an intensive investigation, police raided his apartment in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh and found photographs of teenage boys performing sex acts with Fr. Ginder and possibly other priests from the diocese.  The police also found his diaries, where Ginder detailed his and other clerics homosexual activities with young men over the previous three years.  Fifty-two charges were filed against him and he pleaded guilty to several. The Diocese interceded for Ginder and got him out of jail.

Fr. Ginder was among the priests identified in the now famous August 14, 2019 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on sexually abusive clergy. While not a pedophile, Ginder certainly approached or had sex with high school and possibly junior high school-aged boys.

“Writing this book has forced me to rethink the whole subject of morality—rather, not to rethink it but for the first time in my life to think it all the way through,” he writes in the Forward. “I have been working on this book for twenty-five years: reading, taking notes analyzing my own inner experience and comparing it to that of others. The seed was planted in 1949 when I first realized my sexual identity.”

Why did Fr. Ginder write this book?  He must have known going public with his opinions was a permanent career-killer.

I think three things happened.  The new Gay Liberation movement inspired him to speak out. He saw people, especially young people, leaving the church in droves because the institution did not address their real-life concerns and questions. That bothered him, because he loved the church and the Catholic faith. Lastly, Ginder was a writer as well as a priest.  He wrote about other controversial subjects but was banned from doing so on homosexuality. The need to express himself blew up the blockade.

The evolution of the book surprised him.  “But once I started writing, I felt the book taking on a life of its own. It began to unfold and grow almost of itself as I thought through this whole matter of sexuality in its relationship to religion. I began the book a conservative and ended a liberal.”

The evolution of this blog post surprised me. I have mixed feelings about Fr. Ginder. I began by despising Ginder as a priestly predator, and ended up admiring him as a complex, prophetic, creative, and flawed man.  He never acknowledged any remorse for the teenage boys he used sexually, or the emotional and psychic damage at least some of them experienced. I wonder if that is who he was as a person, or as a member of a schizophrenic clerical culture where such behavior was widespread and tacitly accepted? There’s no way of knowing.

However, how many heterosexual men ogle, fantasize and bed, if they can, 16 and 17-year-old girls? Growing up female, we learn at an early age how to deflect male sexual interest. It’s just homophobia tinged with misogyny that males become hysterical over sexual interest by other males.

Since Ginder emphasizes his evolution, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to timeline his life, and overlay his writing, arrests, and sexual abuse accusations to see when they occurred and what he was doing at the time.

1914:  Charles Richard Ginder is born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

June 11, 1940:   He was ordained a priest of the Pittsburgh Diocese at the age of 26 by Bishop Hugh Boyle.

8/1940 – 9/1942:   St. Gregory, Zelienople, PA and St. Mathias, Evans City, PA

9/1942 – 2/1946:   Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice (NFI)

Ginder was a Basselin Fellow and held a master’s degree in philosophy and a Licentiate in theology from The Catholic University of America.

2/1946 – 6/1950:  Saint Simon & Jude, Blairstown, PA.

1949 – Ginder discovers his homosexual identity when he was 35-nine years after his ordination. He regretted that over the next 25 years he was never permitted to express himself on the subject of homosexuality in either Our Sunday Visitor or The Priest. 

 In 2007, a 69-year-old male called the Pittsburgh Diocese to report he had been molested by Ginder in the late 1940s. He said that Ginder, who was assigned to a neighboring parish, would wait outside his school to offer him rides. He did not provide specific details.  After a few occasions, he no longer accepted rides from Ginder. He stated that the abuse he had suffered caused his marriage to fail; that he had feelings of guilt, and that he had attempted suicide.

 Late 1940s – Early 1960s:  Fr. Ginder was a widely read priest-columnist. His byline appeared in such prominent Catholic publications as Our Sunday Visitor where he wrote the controversial syndicated column “Right or Wrong.” At that time OSV was the most widely circulated Catholic periodical in the world with close to a million subscribers.  He founded and edited for 11 years My Daily Visitor for shut ins.  He also founded and edited The Priest, a journal for Catholic clergy which he edited for 24 years and The Catholic Choirmaster which he edited for 13 years. Ginder was also an accomplished organist and composer of sacred music. “I have written altogether one hundred twenty-four pamphlets with a total sale of twenty-six million copies. I have spoken and my musical compositions have been performed on all four of the major radio networks and on CBS-TV.” 

6/1950 – 12/1953:  St. George, Pittsburgh, PA (South Side)

12/1953 – 6/1959:  St. Joseph, Pittsburgh, PA (North Side)

12/1954 – 7/1962:  Censor Librorum for the Diocese of Pittsburgh

A male residing in Seattle, WA contacted the Pittsburgh Diocese on a number of occasions. He never provided details of his abuse but threatened to sue the Diocese. The male was advised in 1999 that the records pertaining to Father Charles R. Ginder were destroyed as Ginder had died in 1984. The male subsequently sent a letter wherein he stated that he was taken to New York, NY and Philadelphia, PA by Ginder. He estimated the trips occurred between 1958 and 1961. He said details would be provided in a book he planned to write. The male also advised that he was abused by another priest in Pittsburgh who now lived in Florida. He refused to name the other priest, however, in order to maintain “the element of surprise.”

 Fr. Ginder described himself as an open-minded conservative. His article on “Leftism in the Church” appeared in the March 27, 1960 edition of Our Sunday Visitor: “Right now in America, relativism is what might be called the ‘established’ system of thought. It is supported by the moneyed classes, the secular universities, even—insofar as that is possible—by the Government: which means that it has lavish rewards to confer on its own disciples…Confronted with such a situation, we Catholics can either convert them or join them. But if we join them, we will no longer be Catholic. We have to convert them, for by God’s own definition we are “the salt of the earth.”

6/1959 – 2/1961:  St. Mary, New Castle, PA

In 2013, an adult male reported that he was befriended by Ginder following the death of his brother in 1960. He stated that they often made trips from New Castle to Pittsburgh and had dinner together. The male recalled that on one occasion; he fell asleep in the front seat of the car following dinner with Ginder. He woke to find Ginder putting his hand up his pant leg, touching his thigh. When he asked what he was doing, Ginder explained that he was checking to see if the boy was cold. After this incident, he did not accompany Ginder anywhere else.

 12/1961 – 8/1962:  School Sisters of St. Francis, Bellevue, PA

7/1962 – 7/1963:  Health related leave of absence

8/1963 – 5/1964:  Our Lady of Mercy Academy (NFI)

5/1964 – 6/1964:  St. Januarius, Pittsburgh, PA

5/1964 – 6/1964:  St. John the Baptist, Pittsburgh, PA

6/1964 – 1/1967:  Sick Leave

1/1967 -?         :   St. John the Baptist, Baden, PA

In 2002, a 50-year-old male living in New Jersey reported that he had been abused by Ginder when he was between the ages of 15 and 17. He stated that he and a boy from Denmark would gather at the residence of the Bishop on many occasions. He stated that they would drink alcohol with Ginder and ‘sexual activity would occur there.’ According to the male, the sexual activity occurred with Ginder and the Bishop was aware of it. The male further stated that he lived with Ginder on Murray Avenue for a short time. He stated that the relationship with Ginder and others was ‘out of control.” He described Ginder as a ‘physically abusive monster.’”

 See my recent post on Pittsburgh’s Bishop Wright: “Lip Service: John Cardinal Wright Gives Himself a Celibacy Dispensation.”  Pittsburgh must have been a congenial posting if you were a sexually active homosexual priest in the 1960s.

1969:  Fr. Ginder’s apartment is raided by police.  They discover photos of Ginder and others in homosexual sex acts.  The Diocese negotiates Ginder’s release from jail and he is put on ten years’ probation.

1969:  Bishop John Wright is promoted or “kicked upstairs” to a Vatican appointment.

1970-1984:  Sick Leave.  Ginder lives in church facilities under psychiatric care.  For a time he lived in a Vincentian facility in McCandless, PA.

1975:  Ginder’s semi-autobiographic book, “Binding with Briars—Sex and Sin in the Catholic Church,” is published.

The book argued against Catholic positions on birth control, divorce, premarital sex and homosexuality.  Ginder also clearly came out against abortion, pedophilia, and legalizing homosexual relationships— “…the analogy with matrimony is all wrong. For one thing, it reeks of sacrilege, blasphemy, and bad taste.”

In the book Ginder addressed the nastiness and hostility of some religious people to homosexuals:  “The latent gay is sexually attracted by others of the same sex, but he refuses to admit it to himself and in fighting the tendency he often overreacts by lashing out at overt gays and harassing them as best he can.”  Ginder quoted Winston Leyland, a “priestly dropout” and editor of the Bay area publication, Gay Sunshine, who estimated that 40% of Catholic clergy was gay.

Ginder did touch briefly on Dignity, a newly formed organization for gay and lesbian Catholics.  He was mildly supportive. I think Ginder was less enthusiastic than he might have been, because he believed so strongly that gay people needed to stay in the Church, not go off or segregate themselves in other groups. In Chapter 13, “The Other Love,” he writes: “Now surely this book, especially this present chapter, has given the gay arguments and principles enough to form his conscience on gay sex and still receive the sacraments—so, Mr. and Ms. Gay, spread the word: Gays can be just as good Catholics as the rest and still have their sex. Don’t let them quit the Church, for their own good and ours—because, you see, we need their help in forming a consensus. We need them on the team.”

Fr. Ginder also offers a solution to gay and lesbian Catholics trying to keep the faith: “Keep trying to develop a personal religion, an immediate relationship with our Lord,” he says.  “Use the Church for the Holy Sacrifice, the sacraments, inspiration, and moral instruction; but keep your life centered on Christ. What matters is His, not the churchmen’s opinion of you.  Keep deepening your fundamental option with an intense and unshakeable loyalty to our Lord.”

As a Catholic lesbian who continues to identity herself as such 40 years after coming out, Fr. Ginder’s advice on how to remain in the church is true:  follow your conscience and keep your eyes on Christ.

 In 1975, Ginder was asked if he was sorry about his homosexual activities.  I don’t approve of it but sometimes you’re weak,” he said.

1976:  One year after the publication of “Binding with Briars,” Bishop Vincent M. Leonard, Wright’s successor, stripped Ginder of his priestly facilities.

1978:  Ginder was arrested in the Southside of Pittsburgh and convicted of sodomizing two 16-year-old boys and sentenced up to four years in prison. There was also a report that he attempted suicide.

1980:  Fr. Ginder lived at the One Hundred Acres Trappist Monastery in New Hampshire, not far from Boston, MA.

In 2011, an adult male reported sexual abuse through the Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire. He stated that in 1980, when he was approximately 15 or 16 years old, he attended an overnight retreat at Hundred Acres in New Boston. Another man, possibly a priest, attempted to assault him in his room. When he screamed loudly, Ginder came into the room. Ginder then offered to drive him home. During the car ride, Ginder pulled over by a river. He then fondled the young man on top of his clothes. The young man got out of the vehicle before it went any further and took a bus home.

 June 7, 1984:  Killed in a car accident. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published his obituary on Wednesday, June 13, 1984. The headline reads: “Priest touched by scandal is quietly buried in city.” 

“The Rev. Richard Ginder, once one of the most influential priests in the Catholic Church in the United States, was quietly buried here Monday.  Father Ginder, 70, removed from his priestly duties in the Pittsburgh diocese in 1976 following a sex scandal and a controversial book, was killed Thursday in a car accident in New Hampshire. At the time he was driving from his brother’s funeral. His brother, the Rev. Edwin S. Ginder, was a priest in Fort Tobacco, MD. Father Ginder’s funeral, was at St. Anne Church in Castle Shannon, PA.  Its pastor, Monsignor Charles Owen Rice, called Father Ginder – prominent editor, author and columnist – “the Andrew Greeley of his day.”

In the Forward to the book he acknowledges, “My opinions may have to travel underground in the Church until popular sentiment is ready to accept them.” That shift of opinion occurred 40 years after the publishing of the book.  It was made possible by the loss of respect and moral authority of the Church for how it handled clerical sexual abuse. Ginder was a part of that chain of abuse, shuffled around from parish to parish, his behavior tolerated and covered up with “sick leave” stays in various institutions and places.  Once the church ceased to protect him, the civil authorities were able to reach him for punishment.

Fr. Ginder did not acknowledge himself as a gay man in his writing, although he may have done so with other gay clergy.  What he did do in “Binding with Briars” was to assert that gay sex—sodomy– is normal to gay people and stated that the Church was out of touch with the sexual morality and lives of many of the faithful, gay and straight. This stance was leading to the marginalization of the Church and the loss of believers.  This loss was very painful to Ginder, and he wanted to stop the hemorrhaging.

“For several years I was the official censor of books for the Diocese of Pittsburgh,” he wrote. “It is with prayer and no little trepidation that I submit my analysis, hoping that it may bring some degree of comfort, however slight, to the reader.  All my life has been a preparation for the writing of this book.”

I wish I had known of Fr. Ginder’s book many years ago.  It would have been a great help to me in negotiating the agonies of faith and desire.  It would have been a great comfort, and is still a comfort today.  Thank you, Fr. Ginder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marguerite Porete and Her Killers

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 20, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, Dissent, Faith, History, Politics, Popes, Scandals

The chronicler William of Nangis describes the trial and execution of Marguerite Porete, 1310: 

“Around the feast of Pentecost is happened at Paris that a certain pseudo-woman from Hainault, named Marguerite and called ‘la Porete,’ produced a certain book in which, according to the judgement of all the theologians who examined it diligently, many errors and heresies were contained; among which errors (were the beliefs), that the soul can be annihilated in the love of the Creator without censure or conscience or remorse and that it ought to yield to whatever by nature it strives for and desires.  This (belief) manifestly rings forth as heresy.  Moreover, she did not want to renounce this little book or the errors contained in it, and indeed she even made light of the sentence of excommunication laid on her by the inquisitor of heretical depravity, (who had laid this sentence) because she, although having been lawfully summoned before the bishop, did not want to appear and held out in her hardened malice for a year and more with an obstinate soul. In the end her ideas were exposed in the common field of La Greve through the deliberation of learned men; this was done before clergy and people who had been gathered specially for this purpose, and she was handed over to the secular court. Firmly receiving her into his power, the provost of Paris had her executed the next day by fire. She displayed many signs of penitence, both noble and pious, in her death. For this reason, the faces of many of those who witnessed it were affectionately moved to compassion for her; indeed, the eyes of many were filled with tears.”

Marguerite

Marguerite Porete was a 14th century French mystic who wrote a book entitled “The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls and Those Who Only Remain in Will and Desire of Love.”  Written during the 1290s, the book was condemned by the French Inquisition as heretical.  Marguerite was jailed for a year and a half and asked to recant. When she refused to respond to her inquisitors, she was condemned to death. 

The book provoked controversy, likely because of statements such as “a soul annihilated in the love of the Creator could, and should, grant to nature all that it desires,” which some took to mean that a soul can become one with God and that when in this state it can ignore moral law, it had no need for the Church and its sacraments or code of virtues. This is not what Marguerite taught, since she explained that souls in such a state desired only good and would not be able to sin.

Not much is known about Marguerite’s early life, except that she was born in Hainault in what is now Belgium around 1248 or 1250. She lived during different periods in Valenciennes, Lorraine, Reims and Paris. She seems to have been a stubborn woman, determined to share her ideas despite ecclesiastical censure.  I don’t know why she refused to speak to her inquisitors during her trial and captivity.  It may have been disdain or defiance, or it may have been to induce a similar helplessness and frustration in her persecutors.  She refused to participate in an outcome that they had already decided.

Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University, London, said: “Little is known about Porete, apart from the record of her trial and what can be gleaned from her writings. It seems likely she was associated with the Beguines, a women’s religious movement which spread across northern Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries. Although the Beguines devoted themselves to charity, chastity and good works, they took no religious vows and their lifestyles varied greatly, from solitary itinerants (of which Porete was likely one) to enclosed communities. The Beguines were part of an era of vigorous spiritual flourishing during the Middle Ages. They were condemned by the Council of Vienne (1311-1312), which also condemned the Free Spirit Movement with which the Beguines were sometimes (and probably erroneously) identified.”

Her Killers – Bishops, Inquisitor, King

Gui de Colle Medio (or de Colmier) was bishop of Cambrai from 1296-1306.  He condemned The Mirror and ordered it publicly burned in Marguerite’s presence in Valenciennes. She was ordered not to circulate her ideas or the book again.

The next bishop of Cambrai, Philippe de Marigny, made her life worse.  His persecutions combined politics and religion.  Philippe Le Portier de Marigny was appointed bishop of Cambrai in 1301 and archbishop of Sens in 1309.  His half-brother, Enguerrand de Marigny, Baron Le Portier, was the chamberlain and chief minister to Philip IV, the king of France.  Enguerrand was influential in obtaining these appointments for his brother. Philippe de Marigny became an important figure in the trials of the Knights Templar, and in the execution of Templar’s grand master, Jacques de Molay. De Molay was burned alive with three other Templar leaders on a scaffold in front of Notre Dame Cathedral on March 18, 1314. He uttered his famous curse, and both King Philip IV and Pope Clement V followed him to death (and judgement) within a year. The new king of France, Louis X, had Enguerrand de Marigny hanged for sorcery in April 1315. 

Marguerite Porete’s main persecutor and tormenter was the Inquisitor William of Paris, also known as William of Humbert. This Dominican priest and theologian was the confessor to King Philip IV.  Appointed Inquisitor in 1303, William also played an important role in the trials and persecution of the Knights Templar. Interestingly, William died in 1314, the same year as Jacques de Molay, King Philip IV and Pope Clement V. Perhaps Molay included him in his curse.

The piety and politics of King Philip IV helped shape the deaths of Marguerite and the Knights Templar.  Many of the enemies of the crown were cast as heretics; a convenient label for a self-appointed defender of the Faith.  William of Paris supported the political machinations of the French king by suppressing the Knights Templar. The King aided the Dominican’s interests in ridding him of Marguerite—an independent and potentially dangerous religious voice.

Arrest and Trial

In 1308 William had Marguerite Porete arrested along with a Beghard, Guiard de Cressonessart, who was also put on trial for heresy.  Their trial began early in 1310 after they were held in prison in Paris for a year and a half.  Under tremendous pressure, de Cressonessart eventually confessed and was found guilty.  Marguerite refused to recant, withdraw her book or cooperative with the authorities, refusing to take the oath required by the Inquisitor to proceed with the trial.  William was not going to have any easy time proving her a heretic. Marguerite had consulted three church authorities about her writing and gained their approval, including the highly respected Master of Theology Godfrey of Fontaines at the University of Paris.  Godfrey’s involvement was an important factor in William’s handling of the trial, requiring him to build his case as carefully as possible.  He consulted over 20 theologians—an excessive number–on the question of The Mirror’s orthodoxy. 

Death

On May 31, 1310 William of Paris read out a sentence that declared Marguerite “called Porete,” a beguine from Hainault, to be a relapsed heretic and released her to secular authority for punishment. He ordered all copies of a book she had written to be confiscated.  William called her a “pseudo-mulier” (fake woman) and described The Mirror as “filled with errors and heresies.” William next consigned Guiard de Cressonessart, a would-be defender of Marguerite to life imprisonment.  Marguerite condemned to be burnt at the stake as a relapsed heretic.  On June 1, 1310 Marguerite was burned alive along with a relapsed Jew at the Place de Greve – today the Place de l’Hotel de Ville – in Paris.

Why Was Marguerite a Target?

 There are several possible reasons why so much effort was made to put Marguerite on trial and kill her.

  • A growing hostility to the Beguine movement by Franciscans and Dominicans. Beguines were lay religious women who were not under male authority and direction and were outside civic and ecclesiastical structures.  In 1311—the year after Marguerite’s death—ecclesiastical officials made several specific connections between Marguerite’s ideas and deeds and the Beguine status in general at the Council of Vienne.
  • The popularity of The Mirror of Simple Souls gave Marguerite a prominent profile other lay writers didn’t possess. She also wrote in French, not Latin.
  • Marguerite’s perceived association with the Free Spirit Movement or Brethren of the Free Spirit. Free Spirits were not a single movement or school of thought, but they caused great unease among churchman.  They were considered heretical because of their antinomian views.  One of beliefs some Free Spirits held is that they could not sin by having sexual relations with any person.  Extracts of The Mirror of Simple Souls were cited in the bull Ad Nostrum issued by the Council of Vienne to condemn the Free Spirit movement as heretical.

Was there a whiff of homophobia in William of Paris’ denunciation of Marguerite as a “pseudo-woman”?

Marguerite Porete’s era is a mirror to our own.  40 years ago conservative political and religious leaders like President Ronald Regan and Pope John Paul II colluded on major political actions and social change. Lay Catholics began to search for new ways to experience a direct relationship to God.  Many of these explorations were condemned since they were outside of traditional structures.  The prevailing norms of sexual and gender expression were openly questioned by ordinary people.  Sex and sexuality are fraught and fearful topics for the Catholic hierarchy, and many bishops tried their best to suppress them.  Their best allies were presidents focused on wealth and expansion.  Today, President Trump sounds and acts a lot like King Philip IV.

We can point to one improvement in the last 700 years.  We can no longer be burned at the stake. 

Further Reading:

The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor: The Trials of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart by Sean L. Field

Allegories of Love in Marguerite Porete’s ‘Mirror of Simple Souls’ by Suzanne Kocher

A Companion to Marguerite Porete and the Mirror of Simple Souls by Robert Stauffer and Wendy R. Terry

The World on the End of a Reed by Francesca Caroline Bussey

The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages by Robert E. Lerner

Courting Sanctity: Holy Women and the Capetians by Sean L. Field

Transmitting the Memory of a Medieval Heretic: Early Modern French Historians on Marguerite Porete by Danielle C. Dubois

Marguerite Porete: The Mirror of Simple Souls by Ellen Babinsky

 

 

Pious Trash: From the Depths of Our Hearts

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 18, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Bishops, History, Humor, Pious Trash, Popes, Scandals

Pope Benedict XVI has contributed content to a new book, From the Depths of Our Hearts, which appears along with an essay by Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.  The book, which was released this week, is an emotional defense of priestly celibacy. 

In an amazing coincidence, the book comes while Pope Francis is considering the possibility of allowing older, married men to be ordained as priests in the Amazon region.

What wasn’t mentioned in the book is an action Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, took almost 9 years ago to the day the book was published:  he welcomed married Anglican priests who planned to convert to Catholicism. In other words, the same Benedict that is writing from the depths of his heart on the need for priestly celibacy was the first pope to allow married Anglican priests who converted to Catholicism to serve as Catholic priests.  A small but revealing point:  these same men left the Church of England because they wholeheartedly disagreed with the ordination of women and openly gay priests.

If this isn’t bad/funny enough, Cardinal Sarah and Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Pope Benedict’s good-looking and long-time private secretary, are engaged in a slap-fest over Benedict’s participation in the book.  Did Cardinal Sarah use the 92-year-old, frail and mentally diminishing Pope Benedict in a fight against Pope Francis and/or to prop up book sales?

Archbishop Ganswein openly contradicted Cardinal Sarah’s official account of the genesis of the book, issuing a “clarification” on January 14, 2020 saying that while Pope Emeritus Benedict was certainly aware of Cardinal Sarah’s plan to produce a book on celibacy, Benedict “did not approve a project for a co-authored book and he had not seen or authorized the cover.” Archbishop Ganswein disclosed that he had, at the former pope’s request, asked Ignatius Press to remove the name of Benedict XVI as co-author of the book. Cardinal Sarah took a step back when he announced the same day on Twitter: “Considering the controversies that the publication of the book From the Depths of Our Hearts has provoked, it is decided that the author of the book for future publications will be: Cdl. Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI.”  So far, the publishers are standing firm with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as co-author.

Cardinal Sarah’s pal, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, has denounced Archbishop Ganswein for what he calls his “abusive and systematic control” of the pope emeritus.  Of course, Vigano may still be smarting from the time Archbishop Ganswein told news media that contrary to Vigano’s claim, Pope Benedict did not confirm Vigano’s “testimony” on Pope Francis and the Cardinal McCarrick scandal. Ganswein said the whole thing was “fake news.”

Isn’t it fun to watch conservative prelates go picnicking on one another!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Cardinal Angelo Sodano Finally Gets Dumped

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 28, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, History, Pious Trash, Politics, Scandals

On December 21, 2017 Cardinal Angelo Sodano celebrated the funeral Mass for fugitive Cardinal Bernard Law.  Over the protests of many, the Mass was celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica.  In his homily, Sodano said, “unfortunately, each one of us can sometimes lack in fidelity to our mission. That is why, at the beginning of every Mass, we say the ‘Confiteor.’”  This prayer begins, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned.” 

On December 21, 2019, the same day it was reported that Cardinal Sodano had shielded sexually abusive clergy in the Legion of Christ, Pope Francis accepted the 92-year-old cardinal’s resignation as dean of the College of Cardinals. Pope Francis used the occasion to express “my gratitude, including in the name of the members of the College of Cardinals, for the precious and punctual service he (Cardinal Sodano) has offered as dean for many years with availability, dedication, efficiency and a great ability to organize and coordinate.”

“For some three decades he was the man in the Vatican no one dared cross,” said Robert Mickens, the editor-in-chief of La Croix International. “Even the popes he served were careful to gain his consent because of the loyalty he commanded from any key people at all levels of the Roman Curia.”

In the December 21, 2019 report the Legion of Christ identified 33 priests and 71 seminarians as sex abusers. The report stated that Cardinal Sodano was the one who led efforts to cover up reports of abuse when he served as the Vatican’s Secretary of State.  Many of the reports of abuse involved the notorious predator priest, Marcial Maciel Degollago, the founder and director general of the Legion of Christ.  Maciel was respected by many within the Vatican, including Pope John Paul II, as a prolific fund raiser and seminarian recruiter. Near the time of his death in 2005 he was publicly revealed to be a thief, drug addict and serial sexual abuser of young men and boys.  Marcial maintained sexual relationships with at least two women and fathered six children.  He sexually abused two of his sons.

For many decades, Cardinal Sodano’s chief priorities have been power and money. Money from the Legion flowed to Sodano in the form of gifts and honoraria. “Cardinal Sodano was a cheerleader for the Legion,” said one of the ex-Legionaries. “He’d come give a talk at Christmas and they’d give him $10,000.”  “It was very clear that Angelo Sodano was going to do everything in his power to protect both Maciel and the Legion of Christ,” said Glenn Favreau, an advocate for ex-Legionaries who was ordained a deacon in the order and worked at its offices in Rome. “Sodano came over with his entire family, 200 of them, for a big meal when he was named cardinal,” recalled Favreau. “And we fed them all. When he became secretary of state there was another celebration.”

His family also benefited from his position and connections.  A nephew, Andrea Sodano, was involved in a real estate business with Raffaello Follieri, who was jailed in New York in 2008 on charges of fraud and money-laundering.  A major part of his business was buying up church and parish properties at fire sale prices to pay for lawsuits by sex abuse victims. The Follieri Group’s business claimed connections to “senior members of the Vatican hierarchy.” Follieri misused investor funds to pay Andrea Sodano for engineering studies and services he never performed.  In exchange, Sodano’s nephew traveled with Follieri to pitch church officials, and gain access to the Vatican grounds, attending a service with the Pope, get his picture taken with the Pope, and arrange for private tours of the Vatican gardens and museum.  Marical also hired Andrea Sodano as a building consultant for projects.  Legionaires overseeing one project complained to Marciel that Sodano’s work was late and poorly done; they were reluctant to pay his invoices. Marciel yelled at them: “Pay him! You pay him!”

How was Pope Francis finally able to get rid of Sodano? In 2005 Pope Benedict tried and gave up, keeping him as Secretary of State. Were the claws of this rapacious bird finally too weak to tear and rend and hang on any longer?  The Legion’s own report finally did the job. 

I can’t shake the image of Cardinal Sodano as a scarlet festooned Don Fanucci, the Black Hand leader in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and The Godfather Part II movie. Fanucci’s character is based on the personality of Ignazio Lupo, a real-life Black Hand gangster and mafioso specializing in extortion, robbery and murder. “You and your friends should show me some respect,” Fanucci threatened Vito Corleone. “You should let me wet my beak a little…Now don’t refuse me. Understand, paisan? Understand, paisan?…Tell your friends I don’t want a lot. Just enough to wet my beak. Don’t be afraid to tell them!” Fanucci did quite well until the day he threatened somebody tougher.  Surprise! He took a bullet to the head.

 

Pious Trash: Archbishop Carlo Vigano is Back in the News

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 20, 2019 | Categories: Bishops, History, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Scandals, Sex

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano is back in the news.  He wrote a letter of support to a man who organized a rosary protest of an AIDS benefit at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna held on November 30, 2019. The rosary activist is the same man who defended the faith by pitching Pachamama statues into the Tiber during the Synod on the Amazon in Rome.

Once again Vienna, the glorious capital that was able to resist the advance of the Ottoman Horde with the weapons of light and faith suffers — dismayed and scandalized — yet another homoerotic and blasphemous provocation…”

 “I join with all my heart the little flock, who are perhaps without a Shepherd but are called to gather in the Heart of the Immaculata to implore from her, through the reparative prayer of the Holy Rosary, God’s forgiveness for the offenses and outrages that have been perpetrated.”

 “Faced with the sinister vision of a church that seems to want to rebuild itself against the faith and against the truth of the human person, that supports and promotes that which degrades life and causes the loss of souls, we wish to redouble our faith and tirelessly implore the Immaculate Mother of God and our true Mother: Vitam praesta puram, iter para tutum, ut videntes Iesum semper colletemurKeep our life all spotless, make our way secure, till we find in Jesus, joy for evermore (Ave Maris Stella). ”

I assume that Vigano’s description of a little flock “who are perhaps without a Shepherd” is a veiled, but defiant statement that Pope Francis really isn’t Pope.  I mean, how could a REAL Pope be seen with all these Muslims, idol worshippers from the Amazon, and advocate mercy and welcome instead of showing sinners/liberals the door?

The same guy who trashed Pope Francis on the “secret memo” curbing Cardinal McCarrick’s public appearances, protected the sexual and possible criminal misconduct by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis when he was the U.S. papal nuncio.  When Nienstedt was cornered, Archbishop Vigano ordered the investigation called off, and evidence destroyed.  Vigano was recently exposed as looking the other way on West Virginia’s Bishop Bransfield’s sexual and financial excesses.  Bransfield was another prelate who had a taste for seminarians.  These guys behaved exactly like Cardinal McCarrick! Imagine that!

Archbishop Vigano witnessed–or was privy to–so much sin and scandal over the years in the Vatican and U.S. He wrote fewer nasty letters and made fewer sanctimonious public statements when he still had hopes of being named a cardinal.  Now that his fondest hope is dashed, he can really let it rip.

 

 

The Lady in Blue

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 1, 2019 | Categories: Faith, History

The Venerable Maria of Jesus of Agreda (1602-1665) was an abbess and mystic.  Her bilocation between her convent in Spain and native peoples in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona is legendary. 

Maria of Jesus spent her entire life within the confines of her family compound in Agreda, Spain. She never left her cloister. When Maria was twelve, her mother converted the home into a convent for herself and her daughters. When she was 25, Maria became abbess of this Franciscan Convent of the Immaculate Conception.

Sr. Maria is mainly known for three parts of her life: an 11-year period of bilocation to New Mexico and Texas; her correspondence of 22 years with King Philip IV and a four-volume work on the life of the Virgin Mary, titled the Mystical City of God.  She said the Virgin Mary herself dictated most of the material.  She was investigated by the Inquisition several times but exonerated. Her friendship with the king may have been an important factor in ensuring that outcome.

Maria said she first visited New Mexico in 1620. It was the first of more than 500 journeys or flights, sometimes as many as four in one day. They continued until 1631.  She did not know whether she traveled in the body or out of body.  They started when she expressed a desire to see and evangelize the native peoples.  They stopped, she said, when they had access to baptism and the Eucharist.

She spoke to people in Spanish but was understood.  She understood the languages native peoples spoke to her.  Because they did not know her name, they called her “The Lady in Blue” because of the blue cape or mantle she wore over her habit.

Sr. Maria was able to describe the plants and animals there, as well as the way people dressed and painted themselves. She described one landscape she visited as a place where two rivers meet.  In San Angelo, Texas, the Middle Concho River is joined by the South Concho River.  The current bishop of San Angelo, Bishop James Sis, said many of the native people in the area who are Catholic have a strong devotion to the Lady in Blue. 

In 1690, Franciscan priest Fr. Damian Massanet helped to create San Francisco de los Tejas, the first mission in east Texas.  In a report to the Viceroy, he relates an incident that took place during the expedition. While they were distributing cloth as gifts to the local people, their chief or “governor” as Fr. Massanet called him, asked for a piece of blue baize.  He wanted to use it as a shroud to buy his mother when she died.  Massanet writes, “I told him that cloth would be better, and he said that he did not want any other color than blue. I asked then what mystery was attached to the color blue, and the governor said that they were very fond of blue, particularly for burial clothes, because in times past a very beautiful woman visited them there, who descended from the heights, and that this woman was dressed in blue and that they wished to be like her.”

Two reports of a nun teaching the native people about Christ and Christianity reached the Archbishop of Mexico, Francisco Manzo y Zuniga about the same time. One report was from Maria’s confessor, Friar Sebastian Marilla, who contacted the Archbishop to learn if Maria’s report to him that she had mystically traveled to the southwest was true.  The other report came from missionaries in the territory who related how the natives sought them out under the direction of a Lady in Blue.  To determine the truth of the reports, the Archbishop assigned Friar Alonso de Benavides to investigate. Friar Benavides had arrived in New Mexico in 1626. He was a Franciscan priest of Portuguese descent. Charged by his order as Custodian (head) of the missions, Benavides toured New Mexico extensively, overseeing the establishment and strengthening of missions. 

In 1629 Benavides was sitting outside the Isleta Mission (south of Albuquerque, New Mexico) when a group of 50 natives from an unknown tribe approached him and asked that he send missionaries to their territory.  The travelers were Jumanos, and they had traveled a great distance from a place called Titlas, or Texas. The Jumanos said a woman dressed in blue had appeared in their midst and had taught them about the Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. She told them to ask for further instruction and baptism from the Franciscan missionaries. They knew where to find the Franciscan friars from the directions given to them by this Lady in Blue. Two missionaries were sent back with the Jumanos.  The friars found the people well instructed in the faith and baptized the entire tribe. 

Friar Benavides included this story in his famous 1630 Memorial, or report, which he personally presented to King Philip IV of Spain. This history of Spanish activity in the southwest included descriptions of the geography, culture of the native peoples, evangelization efforts, and the impact of contact with Spanish clergy, settlers and soldiers.  Benavides praised the abundant wildlife, arable land and potential mineral wealth of New Mexico.  It was a successful fund-raising document. King Philip IV continued to fully fund Franciscan missionary efforts in the region.

Benavides visited the abbess in Agreda in April 1631 and interviewed her over a period of three weeks. He wrote “she convinced me absolutely by describing to me all the things in New Mexico as I have seen them myself…She told me so many tales of this country, that I did not even remember them myself, and she brought them back to my mind.”  He even obtained the habit she wore when she went there.  “The veil radiates such a fragrance that it is a comfort to the spirit,” he wrote. 

Friar Benavides is primarily remembered for his 1630 Memorial which included the first mention of the Lady in Blue; and for bringing the religious statue of La Conquistadora to New Mexico.  On February 12, 1634, he presented Pope Urban VIII with a revised copy of his Memorial. In that edition Benavides urged that New Mexico be given its own bishop and a cathedral built in Santa Fe.  He actively lobbied for that appointment.  Instead, for some unknown reason, he was appointed as the new auxiliary bishop for the Portuguese colony of Goa. Benavides was last seen in Lisbon, taking ship for India.  After that, he disappears from history. He may have died crossing the Arabian Sea.

Another written testimony to the presence of Sr. Maria among the natives in Arizona comes from Captain Juan Mateo Mange, who traveled with Jesuit priests Eusebio Francisco Kino and Adamo Gil on the expedition to the Colorado and Gila rivers in 1699. The explorers questioned some elderly natives and asked whether they had heard stories about Don Juan de Onate, who passed through their region with soldiers and horses around 1606.  The people told the Spanish that they could remember hearing of such a group from the old people who were now dead. They added—without any prompting—that when they were children a beautiful white woman, dressed in white, brown and blue, with a cloth covering her head, had come to their land. She had spoken, shouted and harangued them…and showed them a cross.  Warriors had shot her with arrows, leaving her for dead.  She revived and disappeared into the air. They did not know where she came from or lived. After a few days, she returned again and then many times after to speak to them. 

Sr. Maria only mentions her bilocation in two documents written almost twenty years apart.  The first was a 1631 letter to Franciscan missionaries working in New Mexico to encourage them in their efforts to convert local people. She described her visits to native communities and the resistance to conversion by some members of these communities which feared Christianity as a source of evil. On several occasions the natives turned on her, and shot arrows at her, leaving her for dead. She said she felt the pain of the attacks, but when she would come to herself later in the Agreda convent there was no sign of wounds.

In 1650, Sr. Maria described her mystic journeys in a letter to Bishop Pedro Manero of the Inquisition.  In her letter she attempted to clarify some of the information included in Friar Benavides Memorial (or report) published in 1631. She argued that some of the descriptions he included were not false but had been exaggerated. She always maintained that she was unsure as to whether she had traveled in corporeal form or only in spirit, or whether it may have been an angel disguised as her.

Is there any truth to Sr. Maria of Agreda’s claims?

The native peoples of the southwest U.S. and Mexico had extensive trade and travel networks.  They also had contact with Spanish explorers, soldiers and religious since the 1530s—almost 100 years before Maria’s spiritual journeys.  It is probable they heard stories about Catholic beliefs, practices and veneration of the Virgin Mary. The Blessed Mother is often portrayed wearing a blue cloak in statues and art.  Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow shipwreck survivors, Esteban, Alonso Castillo and Andres Dorantes, sojourned with the Jumanos and other Pueblo peoples in their trek from Texas to Mexico.  They undoubtedly used Catholic prayers and blessings as part of their healing ceremonies as shaman-doctors.

Could the natives have witnessed a Marian apparition, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, or heard stories about Our Lady of Guadalupe?  She was also a beautiful woman dressed in a blue cloak.  She appeared to Juan Diego several times in 1531.  Stories of this apparition could have made their way north to other peoples. 

Another Spanish nun, Mother Luisa de Carrion (1565-1636) also claimed to have undertaken many visits to the native people of New Mexico.  Could it have been her?  In 1629 her cross was carried by Franciscan priest Francisco de Porras to a mission he established at Awatovi among the Hopi.  Mother Carrion fared less well with the Inquisition than Sr. Maria with her bilocation journeys.  She was forced to have her tongue measured “to determine if it was short, like a witch’s.” The political tensions and social fissions Fr. Porras caused by his proselytizing were resented by many tribal elders. Poison was suspected when he died in 1633.

Sr. Maria may have heard stories about New Mexico, the native peoples and Franciscan missionaries from travelers, pilgrims and others who visited Agreda.  I’m sure she yearned to go herself, but she was confined to a convent. In liminal space during prayer, Sr. Maria either took flight in her imagination, or really made the trip herself, bilocating to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. I believe Sr. Maria bilocated at least once, traveling to the Jumanos people of Texas to direct them to the Franciscan missionaries to be baptized.

Who is the Lady in Blue?  Was it Sr. Maria of Agreda; an apparition of the Virgin Mary, or a composite legend with its root in an ancient mystical event?  Whatever the truth may be, she is an incongruous figure: a venerated woman in indigenous folklore, and a useful evangelist who helped promote Spain’s colonial ambitions in the 17th century southwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Topic for Catholic Culture Warriors!

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 8, 2019 | Categories: Bishops, History, Politics

Here’s a novel thought for Catholic culture warriors: 

Instead of bitching and complaining about Pope Francis and the chance he will ordain married men as priests (and possibly women, gasp!) and admit women to the diaconate, why don’t you actively encourage young men in your diocese or parish to go the Amazon as missionaries and priests. There is a great need for pastoral care and the eucharist. There are no priests for hundreds of square miles. Young men today who yearn for the past glories of the Church have the chance to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers and martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries in the Americas. 

While there is a terrible shortage of priests in the Amazon, there is an abundance of clerics in Rome, “studying” or in the service of some bureaucracy. Scarfing down pasta and wine, they swish around in cassocks and live it up in fancy apartments. Time to send these guys packing.  What better place than the Amazon?

 

Dreams of Blood – The Mysterious Death of King William Rufus

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 29, 2019 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Bishops, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Saints

King William II of England, also called William Rufus, was killed by an arrow while he was hunting in New Forest on August 2, 1100.  It was a fortuitous death for his younger brother, Henry Beauclerc, who became King Henry I three days later.  It was a convenient death for Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, who battled King William constantly over church revenues and appointments and could now return from exile in France.  It was also providential for King Philip I of France.  King William regularly sent military expeditions to extend his influence and lands in Normandy, Maine and the Vexin.  William Rufus was planning a new campaign in France when he was killed. His successor, King Henry I, immediately cancelled it.

For centuries, the generally accepted explanation for King William’s death was a hunting accident.  That is possible. His older brother, Richard, was killed in a hunting accident in New Forest. But William’s death by an errant arrow was never completely accepted.  Some writers and scholars believe that he was assassinated in order to put his brother on the throne.  Could Henry Beauclerc, some nobles and the French king have colluded to kill him during a hunt?  Could rumors of a possible assassination attempt circulate through monasteries in England and France? Archbishop Anselm and other high-ranking clerics certainly lent support to the killing; they justified it as divine intervention by God to remove an evil and immoral king. 

William’s death is wrapped in several other mysteries. Why the large number of dreams foreshadowing his death? Were they inspired by rumor or gossip? The victim, his friends and enemies all dreamed of his death by an arrow. Why did Walter Tirel  abandon William’s body and leave for France so abruptly?

                Two Homosexuals – William and Anselm

The death of King William II may have had its roots in his struggles with Archbishop Anselm.  The king needed money for his soldiers and military campaigns.  To fund them, he left the sees vacant and pocketed the revenues himself.  Archbishop Anselm was a proponent of the Gregorian Reforms, eliminating secular investiture of bishops and married priests. A clash was inevitable.

It’s easy to speculate that both men were homosexual.  William, even as king, never married, had no offspring, and no reported mistresses or liaisons with women. One clerical chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, described the men at court as having too tight tunics, pointed shoes and hair down their backs like whores. The court was full of “sodomites.”

Anselm’s homoerotic emotions are evident in his passionate letters to fellow monks. They are full of yearning, desire, and anguish. We don’t know if he physically acted on his feelings.  Either way, they are quite a contrast to his admonishment to King William to rid his court and kingdom of homosexuality. Anselm asked the king’s leave to call a national synod of bishops. William responded: “What will you talk about in your council?” “The sin of Sodom,” answered Anselm, “to say nothing of other detestable vices which have become rampant. Only let the king and the primate unite their authority, and this new and monstrous growth of evil may be rooted out.” The king asked, “And what good will come of this matter for you?” “For me, perhaps nothing,” replied Anselm, “but something I hope, for God and for thyself.” “Enough!” rejoined the king, “speak no more on this subject.”

Both men disliked one another. William hated Anselm’s maneuvering. Anselm was extremely frustrated by William’s intransigence and went into exile.

 William’s Death – Accident or Assassination?

All the accounts of William’s death agree that he was killed by an arrow while hunting in New Forest on August 2, 1100.  The most complete account of the day comes from the Anglo-Norman monk, Orderic Vitalis. He wrote that King William dined with the hunting party, which was made up of William’s youngest brother, Henry, Walter Tirel, and Gilbert de Clare and his younger brother, Roger de Clare.  Walter Tirel was married to Richard de Clare’s daughter.  He had recently arrived in England from France. William had been presented with six arrows by his armorer the night before. Taking four for himself, he gave two to Tirel, saying, “Bon archer, bonnes fleches.” (“To the good archer, the good arrows.”) According to Orderic, William said, “It is only right that the sharpest arrows go to the man who knows how to inflict the deadliest shots.” 

William of Malmesbury in his Chronicle of the Kings of the English (1128) described the hunt: “The next day he went into the forest…He was attended by a few persons…Walter Tirel remained with him, while the others were on the chase. The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him…The stag was still running…The king followed it for a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun’s rays. At this instant, Walter decided to kill another stag. Oh, gracious God! The arrow pieced the king’s breast.  On receiving the wound the king uttered not a word; but breaking off the shaft of the arrow where it projected from his body…This accelerated his death. Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless, he leapt upon his horse, and escaped with the utmost speed.  Indeed, there were none to pursue him: some helped his flight; others felt sorry for him. The king’s body was placed on a cart and conveyed to the cathedral at Winchester…blood dripped from the body all the way.”  What were the sources of William of Malmesbury’s account of King William’s death and Walter Tirel’s flight from the forest?  He doesn’t say.  He implied that Walter Tirel killed William but didn’t state it.

The Peterborough Abbey’s version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that “on the morning after Lammas Day, the king William was shot with an arrow in hunting by a man of his.” Another chronicler, Geoffrey Gaimer stated, “We do not know who shot the king.” Gerald of Wales wrote, “The King was shot by Ranulf of Aquis.” Research into Ranulf of Aquis draws a blank; there is no indication of who he was. Could Gerald of Wales have meant Ralph of Aix, the armorer of King William?

In her 2008 book, King Rufus, The Life and Mysterious Death of King William II of England, Dr. Emma Mason argues that King William was assassinated by a French agent, Raoul d’Equesnes, who was in the household of Walter Tirel.  No one knows exactly who the killer was, but most people and historians assume it was Walter Tirel.  Could he have killed the king and fled England safely without a plan and accomplices? 

Walter Tirel was never charged for the crime and never returned to England. His son was allowed to keep his estates.  Abbot Sugar of St. Denis, historian, statesman and confidant of French kings, maintained Walter Tirel was innocent. “It was laid to the charge of a certain noble, Walter Thurold,” Sugar writes, “that he had shot the king with an arrow: but I have often heard him, when he had nothing to fear nor to hope, solemnly swear that on the day in question he was not in the part of the forest where the king was hunting, nor ever saw him in the forest at all.”

Who Benefited from King William’s Death?

      1. His brother, Henry, who became King of England three days later.

2. Archbishop Anselm, who returned to Canterbury from exile in France.

3. King Philip I of France – King Henry immediately cancelled King William’s plans for an invasion of France

  1. The de Clare family – close to King Henry, attained great wealth and prominence.

Missing Clues

  1. Where were the different members of the hunting party when the king was shot?

2. Who alerted Henry that William had been killed?

3. Why didn’t other members of the hunting party try to help the wounded king?

4. Why wasn’t the fletching of the arrow that killed King William identified?

5. Who assisted Walter Tirel in his escape from New Forest?

6. Why is there no mention of any attempt by Henry to find his brother’s killer?

Dreams of Blood and Death

Medieval people were interested in dreams and attempted to interpret them. Often a dream would be seen as a sign of future events, or a divine warning that someone needed to change their ways.  There are many accounts of dreams predicting the death of King William by an arrow. They all occurred just before or the day of the hunt. Was Archbishop Anselm privy to a plot to assassinate King William? Were senior clerics complicit in a plot to replace the king?  They could argue that their dreams justified his death as a just punishment from God.

King William II: There are two dreams attributed to the king.  In one version, the king dreamed that he was being bled by a surgeon who opened a vein in his arm.  A stream of blood spurt into the sky blocking out the sun.  The king awoke in terror and called for his servants to stay with him until dawn. In another story from clerical chronicler, William of Malmesbury, William “dreamt that he went to hell and the Devil said to him ‘I can’t wait for tomorrow because we can finally meet in person!’ He commanded a light to be brought and forbade his attendants to leave him.”  The king decided to forgo the hunt but changed his mind in the early afternoon when his good spirits returned.

Robert FitzHamon:  Anglo-Norman baron and magnate, related to William I and friend to William II – had many ominous dreams in the days leading up to the king’s killing. FitzHamon also reported the dream of a “foreign monk” to the king on the morning of the hunt: The monk has seen the king enter a church, “looking scornfully around the congregation with his usual haughty and insolent air.” He seized the rood (a crucifix) tearing apart its arms and legs. The figure of Christ lost patience and gave King William a kick in the mouth. He fell, and flames and smoke issued from his mouth, putting out the light of the stars.  William laughed at FitzHamon’s story, “He is a monk, and dreams for money like a monk: give him this,” handing FitzHamon a hundred shillings.

William Mortain, Earl of Cornwall:  Son of William I’s half-brother, Robert of Mortain. While out walking in the woods, the earl encountered a large black hairy goat carrying the figure of the king. The goat spoke to him, saying he was taking the king to his judgement.

Peter de Melvis:  He dreamt that he met a rough peasant man in Devonshire bearing a bloody arrow, who said to him, “With this dart your king was killed today.”

Fulchered, Abbot of Shrewsbury:  French-born Fulchered delivered a prophetic sermon at Gloucester Abbey (Serlo’s abbey) on August 1, 1100 – the day before William II was killed. “England is allowed to become a heritage trodden under foot by the profane, because the land is full of iniquity. Its whole body is spotted by the leprosy of a universal iniquity, and infected by the disease of sin from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet. Unbridled pride stalks abroad, swelling, if I may say it, above the stars of heaven. Dissolute lust pollutes not only vessels of clay, but those of gold, and insatiable avarice devours all it can lay its hands on. But lo! A sudden change of affairs is threatened. The libertines shall not always bear rule, the Lord God will come to judgement of the open enemies of his spouse, and strike Moab and Edom with the sword of his signal vengeance…The bow of divine vengeance is bent on the reprobate, and the swift arrow taken from the quiver is ready to wound. The blow will soon be struck, but the man who is wise enough to correct his sins will avoid the infliction.”

Serlo, Abbot of Gloucester:  Serlo was a Benedictine monk who was Norman by birth and a former chaplain to William I.  He had the respect of William II, who described him as “a good abbot and sensible old man.”  William was about to set out on the hunt when he received a message from Serlo, informing him of a recent vision one of his monks had experienced.  “I saw the Lord Jesus seated on a lofty throne, and the glorious host of heaven, with the company of the saints, standing round. But while, in my ecstasy, I was lost in wonder, and my attention fixed deeply on such an extraordinary spectacle, I beheld a virgin resplendent with light cast herself at the feet of the Lord Jesus, and humbly address to him this petition – ‘O Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, for whom Thou didst shed Thy precious blood when hanging on the cross, look now in compassion on Thy people which now groans under the yoke of William. Thou avenger of wickedness, and most just of all men, take vengeance, I beseech Thee, on my behalf, of this William, and deliver me out of his hands; for, as far as lies in his power, he has polluted me, and grievously afflicted me.’ The Lord replied, ‘Be patient and wait awhile, and soon you will be amply revenged of him.’” The King finished reading the message and laughed. “Does Serlo,” he asked, “think that I believe in the visions of every snoring monk? Does it take me for an Englishman, who puts his faith in the dreams of every old woman?”

Prior (Bernard?) of Dunstable: The prior had a dream in which he saw William’s armorer, Ralph of Aix, present a sheaf containing five arrows to the king.  The prior felt this boded misfortune but did not tell anyone.

Unknown Monk: While chanting on the morning of William’s death, he saw through his closed eyes a person holding out a paper which was written, “King William is dead.” When he opened his eyes, the person was gone.

Hugh, Abbot of Cluny:  St. Hugh, or Hugh the Great, was a powerful and influential leader. He had a personal reputation as a wise and savvy diplomat.  Hugh advised Pope Gregory VII in his investiture controversy with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. The abbot told Archbishop Anselm he dreamed about King William’s death. In his dream William had been summoned before God and condemned.  The king was killed the next day. 

Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury:  Anselm was in Lyons, France when he received news that King William was dead. In the middle of the night, an “angelic youth” appeared to Brother Adams, Anselm’s guard, and said to him, “Know for certain the controversy between Archbishop Anselm and King William is decided.” 

The episode was described in Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History) a chronicle compiled by various hands, but linked to two monks, Roger Wendover and Matthew Paris.  The Flowers of History also detailed Anselm’s dream about William’s death and his return to England.  “By the impiety and injustice of William Rufus, Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was driven into exile, and remained there til he saw in a vision of the night that all the saints of England were complaining to the Most High of the tyranny of King William, who was destroying his churches. And God said, “Let Alban, the proto-martyr of the English come hither,” and he gave him an arrow which was on fire, saying, “Behold the death of the man of whom you complain before me.” And the blessed Alban, receiving the arrow, said, “And I will give it to a wicked spirit, an avenger of sins,” and saying this he threw it down to earth, and it flew through the air like a comet. And immediately Archbishop Anselm perceived in the spirit that the king, having been shot by an arrow, died that night. And accordingly, at the first light of the morning, having celebrated mass, he ordered his vestments, and his books, and other movables, to be got in readiness, and immediately set out on his journey to his church. And when he came near it, he heard that King William had been shot by an arrow that very night, and was dead.”

Anselm reputedly wept or sobbed when he received news of King William’s death.  The people around him were astonished by his reaction.

 

Was there a Plot to Kill the King?

Yes, based on the number of dreams and premonitions. I believe Abbot Serlo caught wind of a plot and tried to warn William.  Archbishop Anselm may have heard rumors of a plot and started on his way back to England to reclaim his see at Canterbury. I think that Anselm wasn’t directly involved in the assassination, but he didn’t do anything to stop it. The abbots, bishops and other members of the hierarchy may not have known who killed William, but since they believed they would fare better under his younger brother, Henry, justified his death as a divine punishment. 

Who Killed the King?

Based on circumstantial evidence and intuition, I believe that it was one of the de Clares with the full knowledge and support of Henry. Walter Tirel was with the king when he was killed, or found the body, and the others told him to flee since he would be blamed. Tirel was never charged since King Henry and the others knew he was innocent.

Further Reading:

My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries by Rictor Norton (1998) – Best Beloved Brother – The Gay Love Letters of Saint Anselm

King Rufus: The Life and Mysterious Death of William II of England by Dr. Emma Mason (2008)

The Strange Death of William Rufus by C. Warren Hollister (1973)

The Death of the Red King by Paul Doherty (2006)