Uncovering the (very) early Christian church

A quick item of interest: archaeologists have uncovered what might be the earliest Christian church yet discovered in Israel–it apparently predates Constantine by several decades.

Mad Kings and stranger things

Prior to our trip to Germany, everything I knew about “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886, reigning from 1864 until his death) came from two sources: (1) The poster of one of his castles, Neuschwanstein, in the snow which is ubiquitous at all college poster sales; and (2) Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace, in which during Betsy’s stay in Munich just before World War I, a local girl tells her how much the Bavarians had loved their Mad King.

King Ludwig didn’t have any great impact on history, and most Americans probably don’t know much more about him than I did. But it seemed obvious that one of our stops on our trip would have to involve joining the mobs of people who every day queue up to see Ludwig’s two most-visited castles, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.

Somehow, during our rushed tours through Ludwig’s family home of Hohenschwangau, and his never-finished fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein, I got interested in him. He is one of those figures who doesn’t soon fade into dry obscurity like most other dead kings. One reason are the flamboyant castles he had built which still remain in the landscape; another is his mysterious death, always fodder for later speculation and wild theory.

But I think he’s just one of those historical figures whom everybody wants to love. Historians and laypersons alike are eager to spring to his defense. People see in this wealthy royal wastrel shyness, generosity, and vulnerability that elicits sympathy and liking–or maybe that’s just the way those who profit from Ludwig’s memory find it beneficial to portray him.

Anyway, read and find out if you feel the same. You’ll find a “detailed biography” and pictures, as well as tourist info here, also check out the Wikipedia entry. Also, even though he died over 100 years before the advent of the Internet, King Ludwig has his own website! What an amazing guy.

Finally, here is the Mad King history lesson I imbibed from the Betsy book mentioned above:

The second King Ludwig (a dull Maximilian came in between) had been gloriously mad, Tilda said. He was dark and very handsome. On top of the Royal Residence in Munich he built a winter garden where, clad in silver armor, he used to float in a swan boat like Lohengrin’s. This mad Ludwig was the patron of Wagner.

He built fabulous castles in lonely mountain spots. They often had French salons and gardens, for he was in love with Marie Antoinentte.

“But, Tilda! She was beheaded before he was born.”

“He loffed her,” Tilda declared.

He used to ride through the mountains in a carriage drawn by four white horses. In the winter his golden sleigh was shaped like a swan. He would drive all night through snow and storm. The villagers in their beds would hear him rushing by. Or they caught glimpses of him, his face pale, his eyes blazing under a diamond-studded cap…The peasants loved him, she said, in spite of his extravagances, and when he died…

“What did he die of?” Betsy interrupted.

He drowned himself, Tilda answered, because he was forced to abdicate. The peasants made a hero of him then. To this day young mountaineers wore his picture in their hats.

“England expects that every man will do his duty”

I’m two weeks late in noting this, but October 1805 was a very busy month for a certain one-armed British admiral. On the anniversary of Trafalgar, US News & World Report just ran a good article discussing the battle and its importance in the grand scheme of European history.

Samurai family crests

In depictions of battles in medieval Japan, the beautiful and ornate family crests sported by samurai are sometimes as visually arresting as the actual chaos of battle. These samurai crests can be quite intricate in design, and are often based on specific flower motifs.

Here’s a short essay on the cultural significance of Japanese family crests through the years, and another that focuses on their military and heraldic functions.