Crimes and Punishments or We Need Brave Leaders

Is there a way to turn back the clock?  Following the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the three Israeli youth last June I wrote an essay proposing to regard the killing as an atrocious crime. I feared that treating it as a national tragedy would lead to another war, it did.

Today, with yet another horrible murder, more than ever, we desperately need  sane and brave leaders on both sides to stop the madness. It was done before,  Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat proclaimed:  "Now it is time for all of us to show civil courage, in order to proclaim to our people and to others: no more war, no more bloodshed, no more bereavement, peace unto you” .. "Let there be no war or bloodshed between Arabs and Israelis. Let there be no more suffering or denial of rights. Let there be no more despair or loss of faith. Let no mother lament the loss of her child:" The  Camp David Accords on March 26, 1979.

Please read more in The Times Of Israel

1153 Hits

Sanctuary: Tempio di San Michele Arcangelo


If you are of a spiritual or religious nature you might have a favorite space…a sanctuary of sorts, where you find a certain kind of peace. I think that it is nearly impossible to put the nature of that peacefulness into words. You know it when you see it…or, rather, when you experience it.  Sometimes, maybe, you can recapture part of that peacefulness by reflecting back on that special place even though you are far away from it. Being out in nature might be a special place for some people. Maybe a library or a church works for others.

b2ap3_thumbnail_078-Etruscan-Arch.JPGA little over ten years ago I encountered such a place on a trip to Italy. My daughter was spending a summer semester in Perugia, in Umbria, and my wife and I went over at the end of her term to visit and help her move back home. We stayed about six days in Perugia and fell into the rhythm of the place. We would stroll along the Corso Vannucci during the evening’s passeggiata, stop for gelato or a glass of wine, and generally suck in as much of the place that we could. The town is ancient; it was an Etruscan city before the Romans arrived and has gone through a great deal of turmoil over the centuries. The massive Etruscan walls and city gates are still in evidence.

b2ap3_thumbnail_561_0360.JPGAll of this is background just to introduce the place.  One afternoon I was walking with my daughter through some back streets and past the huge city gate and we came upon  an old church. Perugia is full of churches…you are never more than a couple blocks from a church. But this one had something different about it. We had arrived at the Temple of Saint Michael the Archangel. The place is known by several names: Tempio di Sant’angelo or Chiesa Sant’Angelo or Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo and it dates back to the 5th century. The columns are salvaged from an older Roman temple that once existed on the site. There was probably an Etruscan temple before that.

b2ap3_thumbnail_561_0354.JPGUnlike many churches in Italy, this one is very plain and built in the Greek style. It is basically round with various alcoves and side chapels. There are remnants of ancient frescoes on the walls and burial crypts beneath the floor. Sunlight streams in through a windowed inner gallery supported by the old columns.

b2ap3_thumbnail_561_0358.JPGI think it is the intimacy of the place that appeals to me. I’ve been there several times, years apart, and it always has the same affect on me. There are usually no other visitors. It is off the beaten path and at the end of a residential street. The church offers one of the few places in Perugia where grass grows and students seek it out the grounds as a place to relax or study. On one occasion, an art class was touring the place and enduring what sounded like a boring lecture from their professor. That should have demolished any interest the students had in the place.

b2ap3_thumbnail_086-Temple-Bap-3.JPGBeing as old as it is, there are many relics and remnants of earlier times. The Knights Templar had possession for a while and there are carved memorials covering burial crypts. The baptismal chapel is an alcove with light streaming through a single window. There are remnants of ancient frescoes on the walls. The early Christian fish symbol is present in a carving. There are various plaques and engravings going back centuries. Being a Christian house of worship for fifty generations, I guess the church has earned many devotional decorations and additions. There was a major renovation carried out in the late 1940s that uncovered the older frescoes.

Here are a few other images from the place.


Floor crypts…







b2ap3_thumbnail_083-Temple-S-M-Interior.JPGIn one alcove there is a “life size” marble statue of St. Michael the Archangel but it seems relatively modern and almost as an afterthought. It really doesn’t add anything to the place or the serenity that permeates it.


Some of the early Roman temple columns were of different heights with slightly different capitals. That didn’t seem to matter and it adds a little more charm to the place.

Of all the places I’ve been and the many churches I’ve wandered through here or in Italy or even in Peru, I’ve never come across a more spiritually charged place.  I think that this is a personal response and I hope you might have encountered a special sanctuary of your own somewhere.




Recent Comments
Orna Raz
This is a beautiful description: I love the line when you talk about the surprise of finding a perfect place--it is so true that y... Read More
Friday, 19 September 2014 14:55
Ken Hartke
Thanks, Orna. It's funny how some places seem to have a special power to pull you in. It has been four years since I last visited ... Read More
Friday, 19 September 2014 16:17
Indeed. Some places do have that "special power to pull you in." I experienced that at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona - I ... Read More
Sunday, 22 February 2015 14:49
3729 Hits

Pax Aeterna



















A story of St Clare of Assisi, friend of St Francis and founder of the Poor Clares


I hear them, wave upon wave, mounted upon terrified steeds, poor abused beasts who have no Francis to calm them. I hear the clash of steel, the primal screams and cries, the whinnying, the shuddering clack of wood upon wood and stone. Francis raised these walls with his own bare hands until they were chafed sore and bleeding, so eager was he to protect us from the barbarian at the gate. Outside, the meeker Guelphs, defenders of His Holiness, the Pope, are pitted against the mighty Ghibellines of the Roman Empire who have enlisted hordes of bloodthirsty Saracens to strengthen their arm. How easily the world, in the folly of its pride, rushes lemming-like to perdition!

As I lay on my narrow pallet, in the frigid heat of fever, my mind clamours for peace, but hope begins to seep from my heart. I mutter the Rosary in broken phrases, almost non-believing. Holy Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Is this how it all ends? In defeat? My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?

A vision shimmers on the wall. I see armies swarming into the valley, thousands strong, to let loose their stinging assault upon this fortified city, mindless, and with a single purpose. The axe is laid to the root of the tree. Will the earth beneath us hold out against the apocalypse? Surely the Lord will prove his mettle.

A thin shaft of light is falling obliquely on austere slab. It dilates with promise, bathes the dust motes in praeternatural gold and proposes peace. Lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world. No sooner is the notion formed than a cloud shrouds it. The sun is a fickle mentor. Yet he who made the sun...

A shifting presence bends my ear. There is an angel in the wings of these crowding shadows, two, several. Fear not, I bring you... What? What do you bring? Oh, speak! Francis, is it you? Your spirit is never far from us. Plead with the Saviour, I beg you! Intercede for us in our frailty!

I remember my first sight of him that day we strolled in the market place, my cousin, Pacifica, and I. It was the Friday before Palm Sunday, a day of Sorrowful Mysteries, but a day of joy and liberation for me. We wandered among the vendors and purchasers of oil, lemons, basil and oregano, the smell of tanned leather wafting us, dogs and chasing children winding about our path. In Assisi, animals exude a special vitality and have the eyes of creatures whose inner souls contemplate paradise.

"Chiara, who is that man so oddly attired in crude sackcloth that he compels an audience?" she demanded.

"It is certainly not on account of his clothes or his stature!"

"I want to know what he's saying."

We latched on to the gathering of rapt citizens around him, cut short in their busyness by his resonant tones, the way his blue eyes mirrored the sky as he sought inspiration there. He spoke at once with the tongue of men and angels, telling how he'd abandoned wealth to follow in the footsteps of Christ. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He had chosen poverty, he said, to be at one with the Lord, the mendicant, the leper, the outcast, the dregs of the Commune. Now he applied himself to cultivating his vegetable plot, caring for animals and tending the sick and maimed. An ascetic life, but no mere subsistence. A banquet for allcomers. He had learned to lean on an unfailing Providence. If the Second Coming should take him unawares, the Lord would find him digging his garden, filling a manger with hay, or binding up the wounds of the afflicted.

His message was so cogent, it struck through my heart like a rapier. I became conscious of our fine merino and silks, how expensively we were shod. The raiment which had covered me in vainglory and was designed to attract the rich suitor my parents craved, suddenly became rags and tatters in my sight. How could I bear the destiny they had mapped out for me? How could I marry a man I did not care for, when the countenance of this poor anchorite was emblazoned with a love whose dimensions I should never comprehend?

In the dead of night, I put on my cloak, gathered up my skirts and, seizing a torch, made good my escape from the parental roof, never to return. Francis and his friars welcomed me at the Portiuncola. There, in the chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli, I removed the fillet from my flowing locks which he cut off as though harvesting corn with a sickle. He then furnished me with a rough tunic, like his own, and a veil of the same fabric instead of a hood.

Divested of opulence, I vowed that henceforward Jesus should be my only Spouse.

All that was long ago, when Francis was in his prime. In the intervening years, with hard work, courage and his  dedicated aid, we have established an Order of Poor Clares here at the Convent of San Damiano. It is radical and seeks to unfold the privilege of poverty under the noses of those noble Umbrians who take wealth for granted and seek to perpetuate its tyranny.

I think it took its toll on our dear Brother. He seemed frequently to ail, but never complained. The radiance of purpose never quite forsook him. I knew he was a saint and needed not the unction of Rome when the Five Wounds appeared on his hands. They bled and would not heal, but neither did they fester. Mortality had its way, but not corruption.

Hark! What is that? Dear God! The felling of Jericho! Our walls are breached! Our cloisters are ransacked by jackbooted infidels who will revel in their pleasure with innocent virgins. They are crying out in terror, these children, cowering in corners, behind doors. I am weak, my breath forsakes me. I raise myself, panting wildly, and instruct the older women to take up the silver and ivory Monstrance which bears the blessed wafer, the beloved Body of Christ, and raise it high before the enemy. Beseeching the Almighty from the depths of distress, I fall prostrate on cold stone.

"Behold, my Lord, is it possible You want to deliver into the hands of pagans Your defenceless handmaids, whom I have taught out of love for You? I pray You, Lord, protect these Your handmaids whom I cannot now save by myself."

By a miracle, I hear with such clarity the precious voice of a child. "I will always protect you."

"My Lord," I venture, "if it is Your wish, protect also this city which is sustained by Your love."

"There will be many trials, but I will always defend it."

I rub my eyes. It is hard to believe the scene before us. These marauding troops are falling under a spell. They throw down their bludgeons and bows, their swords and sabres, and turning tail, seethe back over the hill like a colony of ants possessed. Hell is defeated. They are gone!

The echoes die away. The birds erupt into sweeter song, the flowers lift up their heads with sentient colour, and I am restored once more. What was it all about, the Shadow of Death?

Listen! ...The hills are awash with the sound of silence, older than time. I finger the Pax Cross on my breast, symbol of beloved Assisi.

This is the Peace of Heaven, do not doubt it.



© © Rosy Cole 2009

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Such a vivid description, Rosy.
Tuesday, 12 August 2014 08:25
Rosy Cole
Thank you, Katia. I suspect that faith and perception were quite different in those days and even mundane reality starker, more bl... Read More
Tuesday, 12 August 2014 15:56
2544 Hits

God, Peace and Life: The Mourners Kaddish And Icarus

 On this day seven years ago my husband Tzvi died. In previous years, on the anniversary of his death,  I used to go up to his grave  with one of his devoted students. As is the custom in Jewish religion, he read  the Mourners  Kaddish  for my husband , it was a lovely gesture.

The Kaddish is a prayer in Aramaic, it  praises God and expresses a yearning for the establishment of His kingdom on earth. The prayer is recited by a man, usually a family member, at funerals and memorial services.

I am used to the music of the Kaddish, and could almost chant it by heart. Still  since I know only few words in this ancient  language,  I have never really contemplated the meaning of  the words, until yesterday when I looked for the English translation of the prayer for the purpose of writing this post..

 The Mourners Kaddish

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.) in the world that He created as He willed.

 May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,

and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,

swiftly and soon. Now respond: Amen.

(Cong Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)

May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,

mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He

(Cong. Blessed is He) beyond any blessing and song,

praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now respond: Amen.

May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life

upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.

He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,

upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.

 The Kaddish is mostly about the greatness of God. It mentions the fact that He created the world the way He willed. But what I find most interesting is that this significant prayer ends with a wish that peace will descend from heaven and enable life on earth. If we consider that this is a mourner prayer, it is curious that death is not mentioned only God, peace and life.

A mourner’s prayer with no dead person could be compared to a painting about the Fall of Icarus with no Icarus or his wings, as can be seen in the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel. In that painting a ploughman is working the land, concentrating on his work, and only some smoke in the background faintly suggests that a tragedy takes place elsewhere. This painting was also the inspiration to W. H. Auden’s  poem Musee des Beaux Arts.

  Musee des Beaux Arts by  W. H. Auden

 About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

 In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Like the absent death in the Mourners Kaddish, Auden points out that in Bruegel's painting everything turns away from Icarus' fall. In both cases we would rather turn our attention away from death and other tragedies as life goes on .  

 The Mourner Kaddish ends with the familiar words: "He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen." The bond between peace and life is especially meaningful  in time of war. This year I choose to say the Mourners Kaddish myself , and when I get to the last two lines I shall say the the words with special intention hoping that finally God and man would  listen and bring Peace to our area, Amen.


Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
I actually saw that painting by Brueghel only a couple of weeks ago! Amen to that. And my prayers go to Tzvi, you and all those... Read More
Monday, 21 July 2014 10:44
Orna Raz
Thank you dear Katia for your kind words. And you are fortunate to be around such a fine museum:-)
Monday, 21 July 2014 12:38
Rosy Cole
Amen to all of that, Orna. It's what we all pray for and look towards. (My husband died 11 years ago on the 19th - also a Saturday... Read More
Monday, 21 July 2014 14:39
2445 Hits

Writing For Life

We are a small, friendly community who value writing as a tool for developing a brighter understanding of the world and humanity. We share our passions and experiences with one another and with a public readership. ‘Guest’ comments are welcome. No login is required. In Social Media we are happy to include interesting articles by other writers on any of the themes below. Enjoy!

Latest Blogs

A friend recently reminded me of the power in kindness when she asked, what makes an urban area kind? My first thought was, how can an object or mass...
The other evening, my wife and I went for a stroll along the Thames Path  not far from London's Chelsea Harbour and stopped to sit awhile in a  deligh...
“I was inspired by the marvelous example of Giacometti, the great sculptor. He always said that his dream was to do a bust so small that it could ente...
Over the years, I’ve written about some of life’s certainties — birth, death, time and change. You can guarantee we will all experience those things. ...

Latest Comments

Nicholas Mackey A life in trees
08 August 2020
Thank you, Rosy for reading and commenting.
Stephen Evans The Lessons of Gurnemanz
06 August 2020
Interesting -thank you! have to see if I can find those books. The Osiris story is in my Emerson p...
Rosy Cole The Lessons of Gurnemanz
06 August 2020
I read this today in Eliot's notes on The Wasteland:Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal...
Monika Schott PhD Expectations
03 August 2020
Rosy, I'm so touched by your beautiful description of my writing, it's never been described in that ...
Rosy Cole A life in trees
02 August 2020
Trees have such awesome vigour and staying power. There's a silver birch, fifty or sixty feet high, ...