Monthly Archives: June 2010

Manna from Heaven



We all like to eat.  It gives us pleasure and the comforting feeling of a full stomach.  We also like an aperitif before dinner because it gets the conversation going and wets the appetite.   But when the meal arrives on the table do we consider what has gone into it, how it was prepared and how the cook was feeling as it was being produced?  Do we eat it because of hunger or because it looks familiar and will satisfy us? 

We have greater appreciation of food when the preparation is a loving ritual because it feeds our eternal search for happiness or the ‘pleasure principle’.  That which has been lovingly prepared can be enriched in taste and goodness by blessing.  The Eucharist is a ritual meal where one eats the body and drinks the blood of Christ in order to become like him.  One hopes to be eaten and drunk, assimilated by the bread and wine. 

There is a school of thought that says we are what we eat, we become what we ingest into our bodies.  Once swallowed the food ceases to be what it was and is incorporated.  It becomes one with our body the earthly temple of our soul.

The wine we drink with food can seem well behaved in the glass.  We take one sip, then two and soon the glass is empty.  The liquid is assimilated and gives a lightness of being.  The world remains the same but with a drop of pleasure.  Depending on how many glasses we consume a subtle reversal may occur.  The wine drinks us – we are drunk and we enter a different world.

We can eat ourselves to death by consuming too much that is bad for us.  A dietician talking of dinner would advise us about nutrition, what the body needs to grow and maintain itself, what is good for us, not of the pleasures of taste.  Contrary to advice on the values of food, some say that we don’t actually have to eat to live.  Universal life energy is all around us and we can absorb it simply by breathing.  Manna from heaven can be seen by the human eye.  If we sit quietly and gaze into the sky on a clear sunny day we may observe pockets of this energy swirling in the air.  This substance is what sustains our individual energy systems.  When we are open and draw this life force into our bodies we will stay healthy and full of joy.




The peak of light at Litha celebrates Sun King’s crowning.

The joyous height of Summer is in full bloom.


Nature Spirits transcend the veil to dance and leap the flames

of Solstice Fires whose cherished charred embers charm.


The goddess adorned with white elder surveys nature’s fruits

as they grow from fertility to fruition


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A Tale of Two Fernandos

Germaine de Foix

There were two Fernandos of Aragon. One the Catholic King Fernando 11.  The other the Duke of Calabria, son of the King of Naples.  King Fernando 52 was the widower of Queen Isabel of Castille.  He married the French beauty Germana de Foix who was just 18.

The Duke of Calabria was the same age as the bride and fell in love with her.  The king did not like the young man’s attentions to his wife at court.  So when the king captured his father’s kingdom, he imprisoned the Duke in the most escape proof tower in all Aragon – that of Xativa castle.  He was incarcerated in 1512.  A decade of his life passed in this tower, his only diversion the books he was allowed and dreams of Germana de Foix.

Eventually news reached the Duke that the old king had died, but supplications to the new king for release went undelivered.  However, one day in 1521 his tower was breached by some angry peasants who were involved in the War of the Germanies (peasant’s and craftsmen’s revolt).

His liberators demanded that the Duke go with them to the court of the new King to demand an audience to air their grievances.  The noblemen preferred to employ cheap Moorish labour and the peasants had no work.

Fernando Duke of Calabria did not hold much hope of being received at court, but gladly promised to go with the peasants who offered him freedom at a price.

The Duke was well received by King Charles 1, and unexpectedly found his true love, now a widow at court. The couple were soon married and named Viceroys of Valencia. The Duke’s library, accumulated over his 10 years imprisonment was preserved in the library of Valencia University until April 2000, when it was transferred to the new Valencia Library (Biblioteca Valenciana) for its opening. This futuristic ‘intelligent’ library, which has books from seven centuries of Valencian culture, is housed in the city’s recently restored monastery of ‘Sant Miquel dels Reis’, which was built in1546.  The Monastery will also house the mausoleum of the Viceroys the Duke of Calabria and Germana de Foix.

But, what of the peasants?

The War of the Germanies precipitated the expulsion of the Moors in 1609.  This caused massive depopulation and plunged the area into economic crisis.  It was the Moors (people of Arabic descent) who were the majority in ordinary society in those days.  They were the workers and the craftsmen, the backbone of the working people.

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Knights, Dukes and Popes

During the reconquest of Spain from the Moors the Duchy of Gandia in Aragon was liberated in 1240.  The oldest parts of its Palace date from the end of that century and are probably built over the remains of the Arab Alcazar by the Knights Templar.   The Collegiate Church (500 years old) was built when the mosque and the Church of St. John of Jerusalem were demolished during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Elizabeth of Castille.

The original rooms of the Ducal Palace have high towering ceilings typical of the Templar style.  In the palace we can see many ancient documents, including St Teresa’s manuscript of Interior Castle and the book of the ‘fueros’ (rights and privileges of the people) granted by James 1 the conqueror.  His son James the Just (1291-1327) gave refuge to his great aunt Constanza de Suabia, ex Empress of Constantinople.  She came to live at the Palace and discovered ‘ unos curiosas pinturas mudejares’  some strange Arab paintings but unfortunately these have been lost, probably confiscated or destroyed during the Inquisition.

The Castle of Peniscola in Castellon is also the work of the Priest Knights Templars who claimed the castle as right of conquest after taking it from the Moors.   It was rebuilt between 1294 and 1307 under the direction of Berenguer Cardona, Master of ‘Temple en Aragon y Cataluna y Visitador General en Espana’. 

In 1308, after the persecution of the Templars in France by Philip the Fair, the Knights Templar in Spain became known as The Knights of Montesa. This order was formed largely from Templars, but also Hospitalers.  The first Master of the Montesa Order was a Hospitaler who met with an untimely and mysterious death.

Jaques De Molay the last Templar Grand Master was burnt at the stake, but the curse he made on his persecutors meant that Pope Clement and King Philip of France, who ended the Templar order, soon met their own deaths.   Successive Popes continued to be crowned in France but in 1377 Pope Gregory was crowned in Rome and Benedict XX111 in Avignon causing the schism of the Catholic Church.   Benedict XX111 or Papa Luna was Spanish and his crest shows a crescent moon.  He ruled in Avignon from 1394 until 1417 when he was deposed.  He then returned to Spain to reside at the Castle of Peniscola retaining the support of many followers including St. Vicente Ferrer .

Papa Luna lived the rest of his life at the castle.  His study (Torre del Papa) was a small room at the height of the castle with a narrow staircase giving direct access to the sea.   Using this narrow stairway he was able to make excursions by boat unnoticed.  He accumulated a vast library said to be the precursor of the Renaissance.  Attempts were made on Papa Luna’s life but he survived all including a poisoning.  Before he died in 1423 he named his successor, Clement V111, who also resided at the castle.  However in 1429 Clement recognised the Rome Pope Martin V. 

The castle of Peniscola in Castellon known as the city in the sea still stands as majestic reminder of the skill of the Templar builders and was the scene for the filming of El Cid.

The most famous Duke of Gandia is St.Francis Borja (1510-1572) grandson of the Borja Pope Alexander V1 (who presided at the beginning of the inquisition) he was also related to the Catholic Monarchs.  St. Francis founded the Jesuits in Gandia (he became third general to Loyola and was one of the first seven Jesuits) he was also a knight of Santiago.  He was priested in 1554 after the death of his wife in 1546.  He is patron saint of Gandia and is credited with giving education to the people at the beginning of the Renaissance.  As a young nobleman, during the War of the Germanies or Peasant’s Revolt, he took refuge at the Castle of Peniscola.

 After the deportation of the Moors in 1609 St.Francis returned.  He created a small chapel in the shape of a casket or ‘tomb of matter’ and this survives today.  The chapel tomb was embellished after the saint’s death with rich decorations and its original walls and floor completely covered.  The Jesuit Order was banished in 1767 and this caused the abandonment of the University, but they were able to return in 1776.  During the Civil War (1936-9) The Jesuits hid many valuable artefacts and manuscripts which can be seen at the Palace today.  One fine example at the end of the ‘Golden Gallery’ is a tiled freeze depicting The Creation.   The Jesuits remain at the Palace and still run the school.

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