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The Spanish Expulsion of the Jews to WW1

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We can’t recommend this charming article enough, partly because it is so well-written, but also because of the light it sheds on important world events. If the information age we are living through is anything, it is the re-writing of history – and this re-writing will change the world beyond recognition.


On hearing the word ‘revisionism,’ suspicion lurks in the mind of some, and alarms sound in the mind of others. Suspicion is the elder sister of twins, credulity and incredulity. And of all kinds of credulity, the most obstinate and wonderful is that of zealots; of men who resign the use of their eyes and ears, and resolve to believe nothing that does not favor those whom they profess to follow.

Hence the law of truth, which most would accept in principle, is broken without penalty, without censure, and in compliance with inveterate prejudice and prevailing passions. Men are willing to credit what they wish, and encourage rather those who gratify them with pleasure, than those who provide them with fidelity, (or at least try to.)

Still, revisionism implies nothing else but an effort to seek historical truth and to discredit myths that are a barrier to peace and general goodwill among nations. There is nothing upon which more writers, in all ages, have laid out their abilities, than revisionism. And it affords no pleasing reflection to discover that a subject so controversial is anything but exhausted.

It may surprise some that the first undisputed revisionist was a relatively little known Renaissance scholar named Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457). He used his knowledge of classical Latin to prove that an important text written by Emperor Constantine, one thousand years before, was actually a forgery. To the skeptic who understandably asks, “So what?” the answer may surprise him.

That discovery destroyed the historical justification for the Catholic Church to have a judicial right to the possession (essentially at will), of earthly lands and geographical domains.

The forged document titled “The Donation of Constantine,” stated, “I, Constantine, donated the whole of the Western Roman Empire to the Roman Catholic Church, as an act of gratitude for having been miraculously cured of leprosy by Pope Sylvester I.”

Lorenzo Valla proved that the vernacular Latin of the forged ‘donation’ was in use only in the 8th century AD, rather than the 4,th when the document had allegedly been written.

The incentive for Valla’s research was a land dispute between his patron Alfonso V of Aragon and the Pope of the time. Understandably the Church rejected the conclusion, but rather than been pilloried, insulted, derided, ostracized, banned or burned, Valla actually even enjoyed the patronage of Pope Callixtus III. Perhaps the spirit of the Renaissance inspired indulgence and forbearance, instead of hatred and revenge. Which is more than can be said about what happened to recent revisionists of more recent events.

To step back a little, let’s take the American Revolution for example. Patriotic historians have hailed the dumping of English-imported tea into Boston harbor as evidence of an unsullied love of freedom and of courageous revolting by idealistic patriots against a tyrannical enemy and extortionist import taxes.

But revisionists have shown that the first financier of the Revolution was John Hancock, a wealthy merchant from a family that made its fortune from smuggling. Tea happened to be a major item, generously drunk by colonists and locals.

It just so happened that England had a large overstock of stored and unsold tea from the East Indian Company. To dispose of it they sold it in America at a price that, even with the import tax, was less than the cost of the tea smuggled in America from Holland. This substantially cut into the profit of the Hancock business. Hancock but caught the stream in the torrent of occasion

In 1812 America wanted to conquer Canada to bring freedom thither, as pompously declared by Gen. William Hull in his annexation proclamation, before being defeated at Detroit. Two years later, during the peace negotiations with the British, the Americans denied of ever having intended to annex Canada. “But how about Gen. Hull’s declaration in Detroit?” asked the British. “That was not really government-sanctioned policy,” was the reply, as documented in the records.

And when the British requested some territorial exchanges and concessions that would have preserved independence for some American Indians, the Americans flatly refused. In a report to his boss in London, Lord Bathurst, the British negotiator Henry Goulburn wrote “…till I came here I had no idea of the fixed determination which there is, in the heart of every American, to extirpate (sic) the Indians and appropriate their territory.”

Yet, in the non-revisionist annals of history, the war of 1812 was “The War That Forged A Nation.”

To the Civil War (1861-1865), the term ‘revisionism’ has not generally been applied – though, to be pedantic about it, in the South the same war was called “War for Southern Independence.” Yet unofficial revisionists have focused on the causes of the Civil War far more than on the causes of either World War. Nevertheless, it is no longer impolitic to say that the war had little and only tangentially to do with slavery emancipation.

Revisionists have equally shown that, at the time of the Spanish American war in 1898, President McKinley, with the full Spanish concessions to his demands in his pocket, concealed the Spanish capitulation from Congress and demanded war. Which in turn required an excuse (“casus belli” is the technical term). The sinking of the Maine did nicely, with 268 dead American sailors. Blowing up the Maine was the 9/11 of the Spanish-American War.

Today it is acceptable to tell the truth about the Maine, partly or mostly because 120 years have worn out the print of remembrance, and much greater horrors have shown the immense power of immense evil.

Besides, the relatively recently published “Operation Northwood” papers show a detailed plan for a false flag operation that included the killing of an unspecified number of Americans, to justify the invasion of Cuba during Kennedy’s time. And, as universally acknowledged, the false North Vietnamese attack on an American frigate in the Gulf of Tonkin was the notorious excuse for the Vietnam War.

It is somewhat disheartening to agree with Oscar Wilde that “truth is a matter of style.” And if use almost can change the stamp of nature, habituation to mass media bombardment using the same story can make the story appear true and quell the power of independent thought.

Furthermore, insensibly and by degrees, the popular media, controlled by a state-within-the state, has cleverly assuaged the mesmerized audience to believe and accept that astuteness redeems any evil. Actual cases have literally shown that with lots of money even a moderately unintelligent criminal can get away with murder.

As for 9/11, I will not repeat what has been said, written, debated or demonstrated by thousands of others. In my mind there remains printed the expression of Larry Silverstein, either owner, or renter, or lessee of the towers, depending on intricate legal arguments and definitions. When he claimed on television that he did not go to his office on 9/11, because he had an appointment with a dermatologist, and his wife insisted that he keep it. Physiognomy, however, is a justly debatable science, immune to revisionism.

It was WW1 that actually brought the term “revisionism” into general use, and for good reasons. For the revisionists counted on an accurate assessment of the causes of the War for a review and re-write of the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty assigned to Germany and Austria the sole responsibility for the conflict.

The Germans were ‘Huns’ (sic), suggesting wild hordes of horse-mounted barbarians who brought havoc to the Roman Empire. That the German ‘Huns,’ in 1914, had the most socially advanced measures and safety-net for workers in Europe, including the equivalent of social security, was deemed irrelevant.

But at the onset of the war new methods of communication, mass journalism and propaganda could whip up popular opinion and mass hatred as never before in the history of warfare. By then propaganda, especially of the Edward Bernay’s type, was the arbiter of good and evil, as discussed in the article “The Fraud of Freud.” Propaganda, then and now, is ever ready to surprise the unawareness of the thoughtless, prone to be misled by meteors mistaken for stars.

Media-whipped-up hysteria made Germany entirely responsible not only for the outbreak of war in 1914 but also for the American entry in April 1917.

President Wilson, who decided to join the war to make the world safe for democracy, even imprisoned union leader Eugene Debs for having said that profit, not democracy was the only motive for that decision.

Other revisionists connected the entry of America in WW1 to the quid-pro-quo worked-out in England by certain bankers, in exchange for the Balfour declaration and the consequent eventual ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

At Versailles, the victors alleged that, on July 5, 1914, the Kaiser had called a Crown Council of leading German government officials, ambassadors, and financiers. Where he told them to ready themselves for the war he would shortly declare. Whereupon the financiers asked for a two weeks delay, to sort out loans and securities. The Kaiser agreed and then left for his habitual summer North Sea vacation on his yacht. All this was, allegedly, concocted to give the enemy a false sense of security.

An American revisionist proved from available documents that the Crown Council legend was a complete myth. Some of the alleged participants were not in Berlin at the time. And the Kaiser’s actual attitude, on that 5th of July, was 180 degrees opposite to the official narrative, while the two-week time requested by the bankers was imaginative fabrication.

What actually happened has a tinge of Clintonian-style scandal. The secretary to the German Ambassador in Constantinople, Baron Hans von Wangenheim, revealed the facts.

Von Wangenheim had a mistress in Berlin and, in the early days of the crisis of 1914, she demanded that he return at once to Berlin to settle some critical matters with her. He complied and, to conceal from his wife the real reason for the trip, he told her that the Kaiser had suddenly summoned him to Berlin.

On his return, he told his wife about the fanciful Crown Council he had dreamed up. Shortly later, with his wife by his side, von Wangenheim met Morgenthau, then the American Ambassador at Constantinople, at a diplomatic reception.

Morgenthau had heard about von Wangenheim’s trip to Berlin and pressed him to say something about it. Under the circumstances, von Wangenheim could only repeat the myth he had told his wife. To what extent liquor may have lessened his restraint, and how much Morgenthau elaborated on what von Wangenheim actually said will be forever buried several fathoms in the earth, or sunk into the bottomless sea of things unknown.

Still, that preposterous tale demonstrates the value of revisionism and how momentous and tragic events hang on the most palpable fabrications. For on its basis, the then British Prime Minister Lloyd George advocated the hanging of the German Kaiser (which the Dutch refused to do, for the Kaiser was in exile in Holland).

More recently, Colin Powell’s vial full of milk, paraded as antrax at the United Nations, was the excuse to wage a war on behalf of Israel that netted the destruction of a country, the death of over thousands of American soldiers and a million plus Iraqis.

What caused WW2 would demand an equal or greater volume of revisionism, if free speech were not equated to heresy. To name just one, mostly-buried and poorly-answered question – England declared war on Poland because Germany had invaded part of it, to recover lands lost in WW1. Why did not England declare war on the USSR, who invaded Poland from the East to recover land lost under the terms of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty in WW1? Here the revisionists hit a lexical wall. England and France did not declare war on the USSR because the USSR was “in a state of neutrality.”

One current hot topic for revisionism is the so-called “Russia-gate.” In the US – according to statistics – less than 10% can even locate Ukraine on a map, as fascination for sports alone dramatically outweighs any potential interest in foreign things, let alone foreign history or the policies of foreign governments.

But even for millions in business or business related occupations, concern in foreign matters yields no physical, tangible residue, in the way of durable goods or profit. Consequently, such interests are deemed imbecile and distasteful to men whose habitual occupation is with the acquisition of wealth or the thought of it.

Therefore to suggest that Russia influenced the American electorate to vote for Trump, brings sublimity to the ridiculous. Yet even the “The New York Times,” which usually exhibits a shrewd eye to the limits within which dishonesty is the best policy, has succumbed to the temptation of promoting a legless fabrication. While the insupportably disagreeable lackeys of the information industry continue to lie without being belied, deceive without being unmasked, and wear the medals of their own crimes.

I will conclude this scant and thoroughly incomplete anthology of revisionism by referring to the Spanish Inquisition, which, more than from history books, is remembered thanks to the related satirical sketches of Monty Python.

Telegraphically compressed, the history goes as follows. In 1391 various rulers of Spain banned the Jews from their respective kingdoms. Or rather, the Jews were told to convert (to Christianity), or leave. Those who could leave left, those who didn’t and did not convert suffered persecution. Of those who converted, henceforth called “conversos”, many maintained their important and lucrative positions inside what today we call the establishment.

As an instance – and the related documentation is ample – take the case of Alonso de Cartagena. When 4 or 5-year old, he was baptized by his father Shlomo ha-Levi. Ha-Levi, in turn, had converted to Christianity just before the anti-Jewish pogroms of 1391, and later was elected bishop of Cartagena and Burgos, while his wife remained faithful to her original faith.

Anyway, the perception at large that the conversion to Christianity was just a front, led to two important developments. In 1492 King Ferdinand, who now ruled Castile and Aragon, banned from Spain the unconverted Jews with no exception, while the Inquisition (a kind of National Security Agency), set itself to determine if the conversion was sincere or not.

This decision to expel had been brewing for some time. In the meantime Pope Eugenius IV had nominated Cartagena Junior as Bishop of Burgos. Cartagena was a very learned man who translated Cicero and the books of Seneca in Castilian. And he also set himself to combat the view that Jews could not really be Christian, in his treatise titled “Defensorium.”

According to his (we can call it revisionist) view, the idea of the Jews being the “chosen people” was a misinterpretation. Abram’s circumcision – he wrote – was just a mark of an alliance, not a result of his merits. This is why “(God) generously decided to give his people the law, so that the distinction among peoples be perceived not only in the flesh by cutting off the foreskin, but also in the customs by cutting off vices.” [Dios] se dignó darle generosamente la ley para que la diferencia no fuese percibida sólo en la carne, por el corte del prepucio, sino en las costumbres, por el corte de los vicios” (Cartagena, Defensorium).

But this was not enough. Unsubstantiated historical rumor says that Ferdinand was reluctant to pass the expulsion measure, considering that he had received a very generous offer from prosperous members of the Spanish AIPAC of the time. At which Torquemada allegedly threw a cross at the feet of Ferdinand and said, “Christ was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. Would you betray him, just because the reward is higher?”

Even so, the debate did not end, after the Jews’ expulsion of 1482. For in 1539 Ignatius of Loyola along with four other conversos and one established Christian, founded the Jesuit order. Bitter fights between the parties of “Jesuits-conversos-in” and “Jesuits-conversos-out,” lasted well into the 17th century.

In the overall context, it is interesting to consider the views of Benzion Netaniahou, father of Benjamin Netan-you-know-who.

Benzion died in 2012 aged 102, and in 1995 published his book titled, “The Origins of the Inquisition.”

According to a commentary by a critic, B. Netaniahou’s intent was ,

“to dissect the consequences of Jewish naiveté. His fascination with medieval Spain wasn’t based only on the behavior of the victimizers but of the victims.

He not only drew a line connecting what he defined as the racial anti-Semitism of the Inquisition with Nazism, but implicitly drew a line between the Jews who saw medieval Spain as their golden land and the Jews who saw modern Germany as their new Zion.

It is precisely that dread of Jewish self-deception that has defined the politics of Benzion’s son.”

Other revisionist critics have disputed that B. Netaniahou wished to portrays Jews as naive, by quoting the following passage from his book,

It was primarily because of the functions of the Jews as the king’s revenue gatherers in the urban areas that the cities saw the Jews as the monarch’s agents, who treated them as objects of massive exploitation.

By serving as they did the interests of the kings, the Jews seemed to be working against the interests of the cities; and thus we touch again on the phenomenon we have referred to: the fundamental conflict between the kings and their people—a conflict not limited to financial matters, but one that embraced all spheres of government that had a bearing on the people’s life. It was in part thanks to this conflict of interests that the Jews could survive the harsh climate of the Middle Ages, and it is hard to believe that they did not discern it when they came to resettle in Christian Europe.

Indeed, their requests, since the days of the Carolingians, for assurances of protection before they settled in a place show (a) that they realized that the kings’ positions on many issues differed from those of the common people and (b) that the kings were prepared, for the sake of their interests, to make common cause with the “alien” Jews against the clear wishes of their Christian subjects.

In a sense, therefore, the Jews’ agreements with the kings in the Middle Ages resembled the understandings they had reached with foreign conquerors in the ancient world.”

Conclusion? The resentment against the Jews was the fault of the kings. Or rather, Jews were not naive, as one of the book reviewers suggested. Instead they realized that in allying themselves with exploiting ruling elites, they would incur the wrath of the people and thus require princely assurances of protection.

The Jewish alliance with local exploitative elites is a constant among alleged causes of anti-Jewish resentment, in Europe and elsewhere. Whether this set of affairs can be observed in the current Zeitgeist of American history, I do not feel qualified to determine. Considering that the purpose here is/was to review revisionism, not to draw, declare or dismiss sundry articles of truth.

Furthermore, of things that revolve around human life, the world is the proper judge. To despise its sentence, if it were possible, is not just; and if it were just, is not possible. For in the end, as it was said, and not by me, “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”


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New skeleton find could reveal more about Vesuvius eruption

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The remains of a man presumed to be aged 40-45 were found under metres of volcanic rock roughly where Herculaneum’s shoreline used to be, before Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD pushed it back by 500 metres (1,640 feet).   

He was lying down, facing inland, and probably saw death in the face as he was overwhelmed by the molten lava that buried his city, the head of the Herculaneum archaeological park, Francesco Sirano, told the ANSA news agency.

“He could have been a rescuer”, Sirano suggested.

As Vesuvius erupted, a naval fleet came to the rescue, led by the ancient Roman scholar and commander Pliny the Elder. He died on the shore, but it is believed that his officers managed to evacuate hundreds of survivors.

The skeleton might have otherwise belonged to “one of the fugitives” who was trying to get on one of the lifeboats, “perhaps the unlucky last one of a group that had managed to sail off,” Sirano suggested.

It was found covered by charred wood remains, including a beam from a building that may have smashed his skull, while his bones appear bright red, possibly blood markings left as the victim was engulfed in the volcanic discharge.

Archaeologists also found traces of tissue and metal objects — likely the remains of personal belongings he was fleeing with: maybe a bag, work tools, or even weapons or coins, the head of the archaeological park said.

Other human remains have been found in and around Herculaneum in the past decades — including a skull held in a Rome museum that some attribute to Pliny — but the latest discovery can be investigated with more modern techniques.

READ ALSO: Study finds 2,000-year-old brain cells of man killed in Vesuvius eruption

“Today we have the possibility of understanding more”, Sirano said.

Researchers believe that in Herculaneum temperatures rose up to 500 degrees — enough to vaporise soft tissues. In a phenomenon that is poorly understood, a rapid drop in temperature ensued, helping preserve what remained.

Although much smaller than Pompeii, its better-known neighbour outside the southern city of Naples, Herculaneum was a wealthier town with more exquisite architecture, much of which is still to be uncovered.

READ ALSO: Where are Italy’s active volcanoes?



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Lou Reed: The Velvet Underground: an inside look at the band that gave a voice to the outsiders | USA

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The importance of The Velvet Underground has been endlessly discussed. They are, with a nod to The Beatles, the modern rock group par excellence. Formed by Lou Reed and John Cale in New York in 1965, the band was immediately endorsed by Andy Warhol, with whom they would collaborate until 1967, although his influence would never leave them. The Velvet Underground were a sixties group that, during its five years of existence, failed to fit into their era for a single day. While others sung of love and good vibrations, they designed a revolutionary and perverse alternative for rock.

It was an alternative that remains valid to this day, half a century after the group was mortally wounded by the departure of Reed in August 1970. To corroborate this, Apple TV will premiere The Velvet Underground in October. Directed by Todd Haynes, the documentary is full of never-before-seen footage and interviews with people who were in the thick of it at the time, more than compensating for a dearth of movies about a band that can be described as legendary without fear of slipping into musical nepotism.

Lou Reed in ‘The Velvet Underground’ documentary.
Lou Reed in ‘The Velvet Underground’ documentary.

The documentary arrives in good company. At the end of September I’ll be your mirror: A tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico was released, an album of cover versions of the group’s influential debut album when the line-up consisted of Reed, Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker. A posthumous work by producer Hal Willner, who died of Covid-19 in 2020, it features contributions by Thurston Moore, Sharon van Etten, Iggy Pop, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett and Michael Stipe, among others.

Speaking about the original The Velvet Underground & Nico, released in 1967, Haynes said in an interview with Uncut magazine earlier this year that it is music that makes you think about how fragile identity is, and also about life. The journalist Susana Monteagudo concurs with Haynes. “The Velvet Underground were the first punk group in terms of transgression of codes and creative freedom,” says the author of books including Illustrated History of Rock and Amy Winehouse. Stranger than her. “As well as practicing the philosophy of do-it-yourself and rejecting the commercial course of the music industry, they subverted the establishment by making dissidence visible on every level, not just in artistic terms. They embraced the marginal and they were too nihilistic, cynical and sinister for the Flower Power era.”

The Velvet Underground did not belong to their time, but to the future. Cale wanted to fuse rock and roll with experimental music. Reed’s lyrics were open to the influence of writers like Burroughs, Delmore Schwartz and John Rechy. They were a loud and screeching band, but they also composed melodic songs. This contrast is most evident on The Velvet Underground & Nico, which contains some of the group’s most beautiful songs. I’ll be your mirror and Femme Fatale are sung by Nico (who also provides vocals on the chorus of Sunday morning, originally written for her but eventually sung by Reed), one of the most conflicting elements of the band.

For trans artist Roberta Marrero, Nico, the German model and singer who died in 1988, was an “icon of undisputable beauty, as well as being a pioneer who opened the door for other greats like Siouxsie.” In spite of her beauty, Nico did not fit the prevailing pop girl model of the time. Her singing style was far removed from traditional rock and openly reflected her Germanic and Gothic roots. Her inscrutable personality was married to a talent that after she left the Velvet Underground would manifest itself in unclassifiable works such as The marble index (1969), whose idiosyncrasy – tearing up the blueprint of pop music and exploring musical latitudes reserved for men – would inspire Kate Bush and Björk, as well as more contemporary artists such as Julia Holter, St Vincent and Anohni.

The Velvet Underground, clockwise from top left: Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale, Moe Tucker and Nico.
The Velvet Underground, clockwise from top left: Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale, Moe Tucker and Nico.

The Velvet Underground also broke with the heterosexual tradition of rock music. In Monteagudo’s view, in addition to creating a literary imagery “where there was room for homosexuals, trans women, prostitutes, junkies and outsiders in general,” they were also “a band not exclusively made up of males, and men who at the same time did not identify with a heteronormative masculinity, especially in the case of Lou Reed. They integrated and normalized diversity in their sphere because their way of life was linked to this concept. It was also the dawning of the ambiguous, the queer.” Marrero believes that “they brought non-normative sexualities to the forefront, such as sadism, more so than homosexuality. Although when I think about it, I’m waiting for my man could be talking about a gigolo and not a drug-dealer. In reality, it’s very ambiguous.”

This divorce from the prevailing canons also had a lot do with the presence of Maureen “Moe” Tucker. Her drum work with the band anticipated a trend that would not take hold until 1977, with the explosion of punk. From that point on, the female role in groups ceased to be principally pigeon-holed into certain instruments and roles. In Monteagudo’s opinion, Tucker is “a key element of this breaking of stereotypes and, as such, a figure to be held up by feminism. Her playing style, as unorthodox as it was influential, is one of those achievements that should be emphasized by the movement. Furthermore, her androgynous image and her discretion made her a counterpoint to Nico’s glamour.”

Revered by bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, who dedicated a song to her, and as Marrero asserts, a precursor to drummers such as Hannah Billie, formerly of Gossip, Tucker is, along with Cale, one of the survivors of the Velvet Underground’s original line-up. Due to her social media stance on Donald Trump and gun ownership, Tucker has also become the band’s least popular member.

Warhol’s influence was a determining factor behind The Velvet Underground developing such a peculiar personality. In the strictly musical sense, the band projected through their instruments some of the ideas on repetition, improvisation and saturation that the artist applied to his experimental movies. On the literary side, the people who frequented Warhol’s Factory left their mark on songs including That’s the story of my life (inspired by Billy Name, the Factory’s archivist) Femme fatale (inspired by the ‘it’ girl Edie Sedgwick) or the Reed-penned Candy says, which is about Candy Darling, an icon of the trans community.

“When Candy says was released in 1969 nothing changed,” says Marrero, “but I think it was a marvelous celebration of trans culture on the part of the group. It is one of my favorite songs. You have to read the lyrics in a historical context because all that stuff about being trans and hating your body is a discourse that is now quite outdated in our community.” Marrero also notes that, years later, Reed was in a relationship with a trans colleague, Rachel Humphries, the two sharing a “romantic relationship that was utterly silenced by the hetero-ciscentric music press.”

When he started his solo career Reed would again talk about Candy Darling and other trans actresses on Walk on the wild side, one of the hits on his acclaimed 1972 album Transformer, a record that finally delivered many of The Velvet Underground’s artistic ideas to a wider audience. By that time, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Suicide, Modern Lovers and New York Dolls we ready to do the group’s legacy justice.

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A Treasure of Old Christian Paintings in a Russian Church in a Remote Forest

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One of the editors of RI actually visited this church this summer, and we can assure you, it is REMOTE!  Brumfield, in his understated way, doesn’t describe the condition of the road leading to this village, but it is barely passable at times.  The number of remarkable architectural and other treasures hiding in the Russian hinterlands, especially in the north, is rather extraordinary.


This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.  You can find a complete list of his articles on RI here.

The original headline for this article was: The Church at Korovye: Abandoned Treasure of Russian Art


The turbulence of the past century has left many abandoned architectural monuments in Russia’s regions — parish churches, former estate houses, log houses and churches in villages where no one lives. However modest, they all reflect the history of their area, and some of them are — or were — masterpieces of creativity.

One of these monuments is located in the tiny village of Korovye near the Viga River just off the road to Chukhloma. Although the village name is modestly derived from the word for “cow,” its church has the imposing and unusual dedication to the Convocation of the Mother of God. Within the abandoned church is one of the most unusual displays of religious art in all Russia. On the walls of the main structure, the artist in effect created a miniature Renaissance palazzo for the display of the sacred images.

The village of Korovye was originally known as Verkhniaia pustyn (“Upper wilderness”), a reference to one of the three monastic retreats founded in the Chukhloma area by St. Avraamy Gorodetsky. Dissolved in the middle of the 18th century, the small monastery’s two wooden churches — dedicated to the Convocation of the Virgin and to Elijah the Prophet — were converted to use as parish churches. In 1797, parishioners provided resources to rebuild the former as a large brick church that would serve a group of 34 villages (most of which no longer exist).

Attributed to the noted Kostroma architect Stepan A. Vorotilov (1741-1792), the design reveals a professional mastery unusual for a rural church. Whereas typical parish churches had a sprawling refectory with additional altars that pushed the main structure away from the bell tower, here all the components are tightly integrated.

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The structure rests on a ground floor that contained secondary altars and was used for worship in the winter months. Above the ground floor rise the essential components of a parish church: the main worship space with two rows of windows and five cupolas, a rectangular apse for the primary altar at the east end and on the west, a compact refectory and magnificent bell tower over the main entrance.

This sophisticated, technically demanding design created a coherent visual tie between the primary components of the church: the bell tower and the core structure with five cupolas. The main interior space on the upper floor was dominated by an elegant neoclassical iconostasis. 

The majestic character of this design was demonstrated when the Convocation Church was chosen for a visit by Emperor Alexander I and his wife Empress Elizabeth on their way back from a visit to the Urals territory in the fall of 1824. Indeed, during the first half of the 19th century, this church could claim to be the most imposing in the Chukhloma region, surpassing even those in Chukhloma itself.

A fire in the late 1890s damaged much of the interior and led to a major renovation that extended from 1903 to 1906. On the ground floor, a refectory (containing altars to Elijah the Prophet, St. Nicholas and St. Avraamy Gorodetsky) was expanded on the north and south sides. The expansion was artfully hidden by a grand staircase that curved upward from both sides to the main portal on the second level of the bell tower. This skillful renovation — and particularly the stairway — gave the church a still more imposing appearance as it soared above the two main streets of the village.

Yet the great miracle occurred on the interior, whose walls were repainted under the direction of a Moscow artist identified as Anufry A. Bakhvalov, a native of this area. Although the work of Anufry Bakhvalov is little known, the scope of imagination represented by these wall paintings is extraordinary, even daring. The artist did not simply depict the religious subjects in a Renaissance-based style typical of academic painting, he painted the subjects within imposing Renaissance frames situated between neoclassical columns with lavish composite capitals — and all of this in trompe l’oeil (on a flat, two-dimensional surface). At some points, Bakhvalov even painted the shadows cast by the illusory frames. The interior space had become a miniature Renaissance art gallery.

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Surviving fragments of the paintings on the north and south walls include full-length figures of St. Vladimir, St. Catherine, St. Nicetas and St Macarius on the lower level between the windows. The upper level of the north and south walls is devoted primarily to a portrayal of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with their symbols — another unusual artistic decision. (The Evangelists are often depicted on spandrels beneath the main dome, but spandrels are absent in this structure.) On the south wall are John (now effaced) with the eagle, and Mark with an endearingly vivid depiction of a guardian lion. On the north wall are Matthew, compelling in his concentration and assisted by an adoring angel; and Luke with the bull (both largely destroyed). The north wall also contains a depiction of Christ with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus — one of the most moving episodes in the Gospel account of the life of Christ.

Equal to the Evangelists in their artistry are the three scenes above the arch in the west wall: the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes (Christ feeding the Multitudes) on the left side; Pentecost (Mary and the Apostles) in the center; and a vivid depiction of Balthazar’s Feast on the north side of the west wall. Throughout, there is evidence of the artist’s knowledge of Renaissance art, particularly in Balthazar’s Feast, which depicts armed horsemen storming through the gate of the burning city. On the east, the apse contained a depiction of the Last Supper, now almost effaced.

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The ceiling vaults in their height represented a culmination of the visual program. Although much has been lost, fragments remain of the august display of the Synaxis (Gathering) of the Archangels, part of the larger concept of the Convocation of the Virgin. Crowned archangels and angels gather on the north and south flanks, while the east flank was devoted to the cartouche with the Crucifixion (destroyed). The west flank presumably had a depiction of the Mother of God enthroned.

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Unfortunately, the Convocation Church’s glory days were soon eclipsed by the rise to power of an avowedly atheistic regime. Although it survived longer than many other churches, the Convocation Church was closed in 1937 during a renewed wave of terror against religion. Subsequently the icons were removed, and the ground level was used as a storehouse for various purposes. The cupolas were destroyed, and in the 1980s, the area of the church was apparently used as a detention center for juvenile delinquents.

Unprotected and exposed to the elements as well as vandalism, the artwork of the upper level began to collapse. Recently, the roof of the church was replaced and the arch in the upper west wall was reinforced with a firm wooden brace. The upper level has been swept of debris, but the interior is still exposed and under threat of further deterioration. The fate of the remains of this extraordinary artistic creation is still in question.

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