Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

This is the first of my posts on Holy Land sites.  Over the months there will be more.  We cannot be sure where most things in the Bible actually happened because, at the time, people didn’t put down GPS markers.  For instance, there are two competing sites of the crucifixion in Jerusalem.  The Via Dolorosa has changed routes several times.  The upper room touted as the site of the Last Supper is in a building erected in the 11th Century – AD.  This is one of three sites claiming to be the place Jesus was baptized.  If you’re looking for … Continue reading Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

Khor Virap Monastery, Armenia

Khor Virap is the Armenian monastery closest to the sacred Mt. Ararat.  Because of a combination of fog and cloud we were only graced with fleeting glimpses of the mountain and never got its picture.  But when we got to the Monastery a man pushed pigeons into our hands (he said they were doves) and told us to release them with our fondest dreams so they could fly off to the holy mountain (which is in Turkey, behind barbed wire and watchtowers that the clouds did not obscure from the monastery).  Apparently, by releasing doves we were following the example … Continue reading Khor Virap Monastery, Armenia

Sacré Coeur in Casablanca.

The French Cathedral Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Cathedral) is at the heart of French Colonial Art Deco Casablanca.  It was built in 1930, abandoned for Catholic worship in 1956 on Morocco’s independence.  It sat derelict for years and reopened as an art gallery just before I got there in 2005.  It is built in a mix of Gothic and Art Deco styles with Islamic touches.  The stained glass is set in cutwork geometric patterns much like the decoration in a mosque.  Paul Tournon was the architect for this church turned art gallery.  It serves its new purpose well.  For more … Continue reading Sacré Coeur in Casablanca.

The Evolution of Egyptian Pyramids.

Egyptian pyramids evolved.  They did not just pop out of the ground at Giza.  A series of mistakes litter the desert.  In a short space of miles you can see those mistakes and follow that evolution. Saqqara has a stepped pyramid (and rubble of a step pyramid that didn’t hold up so well.)  It was an early incarnation of Pharaonic funeral monuments.  Then the builders decided to shift to smooth sided pyramids.  The Collapsed Pyramid at Meidum was their first big mistake.  The builders made the angle too steep.  Instead of the pressure of the weight at the top of … Continue reading The Evolution of Egyptian Pyramids.

“A Mighty Fortress” The fortified churches of Thierache, France.

In Eastern France there are several war related “roads” to follow, the “road of the fortified towns,” “The road of the battlefields” linking battlefields of the two world wars, and “The road of the military cemeteries.” Wars happened here with alarming regularity.   The road I found most fascinating was the “The Road of the Fortified Churches” celebrating about 65 churches (God’s castles someone called them) built in the Thierache region for the protection of the civilian population.  These towns sat on the border between Champagne and Picardy near Flanders.  They could not afford to wall themselves.  Many did not have … Continue reading “A Mighty Fortress” The fortified churches of Thierache, France.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria, 1997

These pictures are faded.  We scanned them to put on this website.   March 1997 There are fine monasteries, isolated in the mountains, and of only passing interest to the Turks, so they remain.  We went to Rila.  It is a four story arcaded and fortified place with fine frescos that have the faces of donors to the monastery depicted as saints, and demons.  I don’t know if the placement has anything to do with the size of the donation.  While we happily spent hours in the monastery on one fine Sunday, it is the mountains rising around it that … Continue reading Rila Monastery, Bulgaria, 1997

Rakoivishki Monastery, Bulgaria.

This is from October 2011. We drove back to Serbia by back roads.  The main attraction was to be Belogradchik, an Ottoman fort built around a series of natural red rock monoliths.  In pictures they look spectacular, but we had fog down to the deck so I really can’t testify to them first hand.  Now I know how cruise ship passengers arriving in Sitka must feel.  We also visited the Rakovishki Monastery, which was a center for Bulgarian Nationalism against the Turks.  The Turks destroyed much of the monastery in 1850 but left one chapel from the 11th century unharmed.  … Continue reading Rakoivishki Monastery, Bulgaria.

Sighnaghi, Georgia

Sighnaghi, with only 2,100 people, is a mountain top architectural gem.  Its name comes from the word siginak, Turkish for “shelter.”  It was built in the 18th century as a fortified town on the frontiers of Moslem Azerbaijan and Dagestan.  It main industries are wine making, carpet making and, now, tourism.  The town is circled by about 4.5 kilometers of wall with 23 defensive towers.  The wall winds around the mountain side.  I walked along the top for about a half a kilometer between several of the towers with great views of vineyards running down the mountain. Continue reading Sighnaghi, Georgia

Bodbe Monastery (St. Nino’s Convent), Georgia

Bodbe, about two km from Sighnaghi, has a 5th century convent that shelters the remains of St. Nino, who converted the King and Queen to Christianity in the 4th Century.  The convent was rebuilt between the 9th and 11th centuries.  George tells me that all that remains from the 5th century is the foundation.  It, and St. Nino’s spring, a constant source of holy water a few hundred meters away are pilgrimage points.  The chapel’s frescoes are from the 1820s.  The Soviets plastered them over and used the building as a hospital.  Some of the frescoes have been restored.  The … Continue reading Bodbe Monastery (St. Nino’s Convent), Georgia

Alaverdi Monastery and Cathedral, Georgia

At Alaverdi, on the other side of the pass we visited a monastery that has a cathedral within its walls.  Until the new Tbilisi Cathedral it was the tallest Georgian church.  It, like the Tbilisi church, has a soaring feeling of light even though the walls are decorated with frescoes.  These frescoes were covered with whitewash or plaster by Moslem invaders, restored, and covered again by the Communists.  A monk Joseph (Yoseb) Alaverdeli founded the cathedral.  But Alaverdi has another meaning in Arabic “God Provides.”  God provides good grape and Alaverdi Monastery is at the center of Georgia’s wine industry. … Continue reading Alaverdi Monastery and Cathedral, Georgia

Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral, Tbilisi, Georgia

I had waited for the number 4 minibus for a long time so I decided to spend 10 times the amount and take a cab to the Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral.  Georgians say it is the largest Orthodox Church in the world.  Serbs dispute that saying St. Sava is bigger.  Sameba Cathedral has a tall tower with a gilded cupola that reflects sun in the day and floodlight at night.  It dominates Tbilisi.  As the cab followed the route the mini-bus would have taken I discovered the problem.  Police were rerouting traffic.  The mini-bus was not going to stop at … Continue reading Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral, Tbilisi, Georgia

Gergetis Sameba Monastery, Georgia

The 14th century Gergetis Sameba (Gergeti Trinity) walled monastery sits above Kazbegi and below Mt. Kazbeg at 7120 feet above sea level – and reflects light from a glacier that hangs 2,800 feet above the monastery. The monastery was a place of refuge for icons and relics from the Mksheka Cathedral (Perhaps including St. Andrew’s foot) when southern Georgia was overrun by Turks, Persians or Arabs.  In 1988 the Soviets built an aerial tramway to the monastery but when Georgia broke away from the Soviet Union the residents tore it down.  For them pilgrimage should not be easy.  The tramway … Continue reading Gergetis Sameba Monastery, Georgia

Ananuri Citadel and the Church of the Assumption, Georgia

Ananuri, a citadel used to sit on a ridge above a river that has been dammed so now sits on a point in the Zhinvili Reservoir.  The town that it towered over is underwater.  The Church of the Assumption was used as a barn in Soviet times and the frescos were whitewashed.  Some have now been uncovered.  The carvings on the outside walls of the Assumption Church include a huge cross visible from the highway and grape vines loaded with fruit.  Nicholas says the reason Georgians greet guests with wine is in commemoration of the Eucharist.  Each greeting is a … Continue reading Ananuri Citadel and the Church of the Assumption, Georgia

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mksheka, Georgia

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mksheka is the mother church of Georgian Orthodoxy.  St. Nino converted the King and Queen there.  I posted pictures from here in May but I had no pics from inside the church.  Nicholas, my cab driver, spoke good English and he arranged permission for me to take pictures if I did not use a flash.  There was a service in progress.  It was conducted in Russian but the choir sang Georgian hymns.  Nicholas pointed out one very strange and old fresco with three concentric circles.  The Trinity sat in the bull’s eye, between the inner and middle circles, the … Continue reading Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mksheka, Georgia

St. Michael’s Cathedral, Sitka, Alaska, June 2013

At noontime we were heading for an organ recital at the Lutheran Church.  We were stopped in our tracks when the bell tower of St. Michael’s erupted in glorious change bell ringing.  I had not heard the bells in years, mostly because we have been out of Sitka for years.  The Lutherans had to wait while we enjoyed the joyous sound.  We arrived at the recital late.  After the recital we noticed a sign on St. Michael’s Cathedral saying that for the first time we could see the altar.  Each time in the past when I had been in the … Continue reading St. Michael’s Cathedral, Sitka, Alaska, June 2013

Mtskheta and Jvari Church, Georgia, 2013.

Jvari (Holy Cross) Church is near Tbilisi, about a three hour walk or half hour drive.  It looms over Mtskheta.  Before Georgia became reasonably prosperous it used to be a full day excursion, now it a common picnic spot for people wanting to get out of town for an hour or two.  It is the spot where the King Mirian, who was converted to Christianity by St. Nino and, in turn made Georgian a Christian nation (Georgia was a “Christian” country before Rome) erected a cross to mark his, and his nation’s conversion.  The church itself was built to shelter … Continue reading Mtskheta and Jvari Church, Georgia, 2013.

Tracking an Old Memory, Dobrun, BiH

This is from a June, 2010 letter: Thirty Eight years ago, (in 1972) Suzi and I fleetingly encountered a narrow gauge steam powered train while driving the back roads of Bosnia.  Last week, near the same place, we saw that train again.  The rail company is just re-opening the narrow gauge line into Bosnia after closing it in the 70s.  This time we chased the train to get a better look, driving onto side roads and catching up with it at a siding where the engine could un-hook its cars, shuffle around to the other side of the train, and … Continue reading Tracking an Old Memory, Dobrun, BiH