Archive for the History Category

The man who found the Ark.

Posted in History with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2009 by Silvia
Ark of the Covenant
Image by Cryptonaut via Flickr

Hancock, Graham, The Sign and the Seal, 1992.

Somewhere in the mountains of Ethiopia, the Author talks to a blind old man who is the Guardian of the Ark of the Covenant… And this is the start of one of the most extraordinary adventures of Archaeological discovery that I’ve ever read.

The blind unarmed man is the only privileged one who has the possibility of contacting with one of the most treasured myths of the History of Mankind… Except during the ceremony known as the Timkat, in the month of January, when the Ark comes out in the streets, in a sacred procession, duly covered to prevent its destructive effects over the ones who look at it… That’s why the old man is blind.

It’s a lifetime job, a responsibility that the blind man carries with his heart, and defends with his life. And he is so happy, closer to the Lord. Before he dies, he must choose a successor. The “skills and qualifications” required are ” love to God, purity of the heart, mind and body”.  It’s absolutely fascinating.

The problem, or the “miracle” is that in the country of a thousand churches, there is one thousand arks, each one hidden and protected in the Holy heart of the church, a place where no-one ever is allowed to enter. Which one is the real? Someone said that the most hidden thing is the one that lies carelessly ahead of our eyes. There is no doubt that the Ethiopians are very wise and I’m glad the Ark didn’t end in some military deposit  as it happens in the genial Indiana Jones’ s film (The raiders of the lost Ark, Steven Spielberg, 1981).

It is amazing to think that effectively, there still is an Ark of the Covenant. To believe that it’s there, in Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, devastated by war and hunger, it’s astonishing. But after reading this book, the path of this lonely researcher, his fight against all the bureaucratic difficulties and all the political obstacles, his way through the countries where the Templar knights left their mark, there’s a secret growing faith inside of me that it’s the truth.

But how did the Author get to this amazing conclusion? He started by reading the Holy Bible. The Bible is a depository of wonderful mysteries and historical secrets, sometimes coded, sometimes so obvious that we almost can’t believe what our eyes see. The Bible explains the origins and even the construction of the Ark of the Covenant – its every detail – but there is a point when it simply disappears. Such an important Holy and historical object is left without any reference to follow.  a strange fact or coincidence because, as the Author says, this Ark is part of the very foundation of the Jewish faith (please forgive me if I’m wrong, but everything points that way). Now, the disappearance of the Ark might not be such an outstanding mystery, but the absence of posterior references to it in the Holy Bible certainly is.

Then, he visited the Cathedral of Chartres, a stone book. There, he perceived the unusual presence, among the prophets and the saints, of the Queen of Sheba. What would she be doing there? She had, in the legend, a relationship with king Solomon, as the Author refers from the reading of the Kebra Nagast, and there is a remote possibility of her conversion to the Jewish religion, but in some other documents its said that she left king Solomon’s court and this conversion never happened. The possibility is that, with the conflicts that threatened and still threaten Jerusalem in our days, king Solomon thought that the Ark would be safer in a (by then) stable and peaceful country like Ethiopia. And by strange or not coincidence, the Portuguese, in the time of the Descobrimentos, knew the Ethiopia as the only christian country in the African continent.

This is just a taste of this fantastic book. I won’t say any more, because I don’t want to spoil your pleasure of reading it.

To finish, I just want to pay my honour to the Ethiopian people and to the country, which I knew, before i read this book, as a tragically dry and suffering one, and now I know it a country of outstanding beauty, of “miracles” and mysteries, the country where the glorious Blue Nile starts. Peace be with you.

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Not in the name of the Dutch people!

Posted in History with tags , , , , , , on July 7, 2009 by Silvia
Anne Frank
Image via Wikipedia

I was listening to Mr. Geert Wilders on the news today, and I couldn’t believe that he, when condemning the immigration in general and the Islam in particular, was talking, as he said, in behalf of all the Dutch people. So, I decided to verify.

I know the Dutch people ever since I used to do research for my school assignments in the Embassy of Netherlands, when I was still fourteen. They were always friendly, joyful, and I never saw the slightest indication of xenophobia anywhere. When they came to Portugal to support their team in 2004, were one of the most peaceful and funny claques in the whole competition.

There was something wrong, then. Because the fact that Mr. Wilders conquered a seat in the European Parliament is a sign that many people voted in his party. Right? Wrong. In terms of numbers (the source is Wikipedia), in 12.378.500 potential voters, only 4.573.743 voted. The Christian Democrats won 20 per cent of the votes and the ANP, the party whose leader is Mr. Wilders, won 16 per cent. In 4.573.743, this means that 731. 799 individuals voted in his party, that is, 5,9 per cent of the number of potential voters. I understand that the numbers may be boring, but when we actually think of the Dutch population, this has a very special meaning.

According to the Wikipedia, an estimate of 2005 pointed “80,9% as Dutch, 2,4% as Indonesian, 2,4% as German, 2,2% as Turkish, 2,0% as Surinamese, 1,9% as Moroccan, 0,8% as Antillean and 6% as Others”. How do these persons feel when this gentleman speaks of this supposed position of the Dutch population against them?

The Netherlands was always, throughout History, an open and free country, and it has, just like Portugal, a “tradition” of immigration. The same numbers, in the Wikipedia, reveal that we can find Dutch descendents in the United States, in South Africa, in Australia and in the Canada. In the U.S. “5 million Americans claim total or partial Dutch ancestry” and in South Africa there are “3 million Dutch descendents”.

As to religious freedom, the Wikipedia quotes “250.000 Buddhists, 95.000 Hindus, 850.000 Muslims and 45.000 Jewish.” Between the Christians, who most certainly are not an exception, there are “7.261.000 Protestants and 3.703.000 who follow the Roman Catholic Church.”

Going back in time to the painful memories of the World War II, I must recall this very special little girl, Anne Frank, whose Diary arrived to us as a testimonial of the supreme disgrace. She wrote her extraordinary Diary between the dates of 12 June 1942 and 1 August 1944, while she was hiding in an annex in Amsterdam. Her example of courage remained in our hearts and will teach the next generations about “things not to do”. Or it was this way when I was in school. Anne Frank died in a concentration camp in March of 1945. She was only fourteen.

Anne Frank’s legacy to the World is a tribute to Peace. It’s a small, brilliant and moving little book that hopefully won’t be forgotten. We can’t let it be forgotten. 

So, in that beautiful country of tulips and windmills, that generous and happy people must show the world that no! Mr. Wilders is wrong, and he can’t raise his voice in behalf of a nation when he is the representative of a minority that dares to condemn other minorities, in the name of… What?

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

(Anne Frank)

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A Love Story

Posted in History with tags , , , , , on July 5, 2009 by Silvia


Front of the monastery

Front of the monastery

In 1339, D. Pedro, prince of Portugal and heir to the throne, married D. Constança Manuel, great-granddaughter of the king Fernando III of Castela. It was an agreed marriage, based on the importance of strategic alliances, as all the marriages between royal families used to be. But Constança brought with her, in her court, a chambermaid whose beauty would remain in History. Her name was Inês de Castro. This improvidence of the future queen would lead to disastrous consequences and to one of the most troublesome ages in the History of Portugal.

One day, in a ball in the palace, D. Pedro saw Inês. Fascinated by her beauty and graciousness, he couldn’t take his eyes of her. He fell in love with her and, for state reasons or not, his love was returned. (We all saw what happened in The other Boleyn girl, by Justin Chadwick) They started meeting and she had four children of the prince; three of them were boys.

It was normal and proper to a heir to have his concubines, and culturally no-one could blame him for that. But the problem here was the traditional rivalry between Portugal and Castela. Inês was great-granddaughter of the king Sancho IV of Castela. The relationship between her and D. Pedro afforded an approximation of the prince to her brothers, Fernando de Castro and Álvaro Pirez de Castro, individualities who had a huge influence in the court of Castela. Fearing for the independence, suspecting of conspiracy, the people and the noblemen of the reign disapproved this love story.

The relationship between D. Pedro e Inês de Castro soon came to knowledge of the king D. Afonso IV, who, in the name of moral and “good manners”, exiled Inês in the castle of Albuquerque, near the boundaries of the kingdom. But D. Pedro didn’t give up and they kept corresponding through messengers.

Ogival arch and vitral

Ogival arch and vitral

In 1345, D. Constança died, giving birth to her first son and next in lineage, D. Fernando I of Portugal. D. Pedro was relieved and ordered Inês de Castro to come back to the north of Portugal. They started living together in his house and this fact had an enormous impact in the court. The scandal forced the king, D. Afonso IV to take drastic measures. He arranged a new marriage to D. Pedro, with a noble Lady whose name isn’t mentioned. D. Pedro refused, alleging that he was still mourning D. Constança and it was too soon to think of another marriage.

But the rumours were circulating that there was a new conspiracy to kill the legitimate heir to the throne, D. Fernando, and establish a son of their union as the future king.

D. Pedro and Inês de Castro moved from the north to Coimbra, in the Paços of Santa Clara; a residence which had been designed by Pedro’s grandmother, the queen Santa Isabel, to be a place where the heirs could live with their legitimate wives. Then, a new rumour was originated, that the heir had secretly married D. Inês. Such incident, if it was true, would have serious implications in the kingdom.

The king, D. Afonso IV, decided that the best solution was to order the killing of D. Inês de Castro. In the seventh of January 1355, the king sent Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves e Diogo Lopes Pacheco to the Paços of Santa Clara, with the mission of killing Inês. So many tears Inês cried in the river Mondego that the Fountain of Love was created.

Here lies Ines

Here lies Ines

D. Pedro became the eighth king of Portugal in 1357. In 1360, he decided to legitimate his children, by declaring that he had secretly married Inês. There were no proofs of this marriage, except for the king’s word and the chaplain who supposedly did the ceremony.
Meanwhile, he chased the murderers of his beloved, who had run to Castela. The legend says that he tore one’s heart through his chest and the other one’s through his back. Then, he made a feast.

D. Pedro raised his beloved from the tomb and did a procession with her through Portugal. Everybody was forced to kiss her hand and to salute her as the queen. Even though she was dead, the coronation ceremony was properly accomplished.
D.Pedro ordered the elaboration of two magnificent tombs, which can be seen in the Alcobaça Monastery, and removed his beloved’s body to this sacred place. He joined her in 1367. Their bodies lie face to face, so that, in the revival day, the first thing that they see is each other.

This is Pedro's tomb

This is Pedro's tomb


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