Date for your diary – Transylvanian Book Festival

Advance notice to all. The fourth Transylvanian Book Festival is planned for 10-13 Sep 2020 in Richis in Transylvania, Romania. Hope to see many of your there!

Follow updates on the blog as well as the official website here.

Travellers’ Film Club, Spring Season

An update for you all on the Travellers’ Film Club showings in Feb and March.

Thursday 13th February
Assignment in Vietnam (1969) directed by Richard Taylor, with cameraman Chris Menges. This award-winning film from the BBC’s World About Us strand follows three long-serving journalists, each respected for their independence of mind, as they seek to report the war in Vietnam at a time of stalemate. One of the earliest colour documentaries put out by the BBC, the golden touch of Chris Menges can be felt in the camerawork. The director Richard Taylor made over 60 documentaries in his career, driven by a mission to give a voice to those who were rarely heard. His son Ben will be present at the screening to flesh out the film and its context.

Thursday 12th March
Man with a Movie Camera (1929), directed by Dziga Vertov. The great classic of Soviet modernist documentary making. Revolutionary and inventive, it shows urban life in the Soviet city in a way that it had never been thought of before. Often cited as the best documentary ever made.

Holy Redeemer Church Hall, Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE

Free entry with a pay bar

Doors Open: 6.00 pm
Film showing: 6.30 pm

Holy Redeemer Church Hall
Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE

2020 Year of Pilgrimage – to be a pilgrim in Britain’s Green and Pleasant Land

Walking routes are being launched next year that track ancient paths of pilgrimage to the nation’s cathedrals. Let’s all get out there to lose ourselves, make exciting new discoveries and find peace. After all, Solvitur ambulando. Or looking at it another way:

‘The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.’ G. K. Chesterton.

Taken from the Times, September 21 2019 Bess Twiston Davies

A man was recently observed in tears in the nave of an English cathedral. “I am a secular person,” he shouted. “But something about this place has got to me.”

Surveys of the 10.5 million Britons a year who visit England’s 42 cathedrals suggest that such a reaction is not unusual.

“Frequently people are almost ambushed by the atmosphere,” said the Rev Dr Dee Dyas, director of York’s Centre for Pilgrimage Studies.

Dyas has researched medieval English cathedrals and the ways in which visitors respond to them; awe at being in a 900-year-old building and marvel at the craftsmanship are typical responses. According to an Association of English Cathedrals (AEC) poll, only 10 per cent arrive intending to pray, yet nearly half unexpectedly find themselves lighting a candle or leaving a written prayer. Last year 240,000 people lit a candle in York Minister.

“The overwhelming comment in cathedral visitors’ books is: I have found some peace here. People talk incessantly of the spiritual experience they have had in cathedrals,” said the Very Rev Adrian Dorber, dean of Lichfield Cathedral and chairman of the AEC, which has decreed 2020 the Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimage.

This nationwide celebration is inspired by several significant anniversaries: next year is the 800th anniversary of the consecration of the shrine of St Thomas Becket, while Bury St Edmunds is honouring the millennial anniversary of the founding of the Benedictine monastery St Edmund’s Abbey. Handbooks will detail symposiums, lectures on relics, workshops exploring saints and miracles, night-time cathedral events, concerts and plays including TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Dorber hopes to showcase the “hidden gems” of lesser-known provincial cathedrals off the tourist track.

“There are places with Saxon foundations like Lichfield, while Chelmsford Cathedral is a treasury of modern art,” he said.

Indeed, visitors have a unique chance to “touch things such as an [ancient] carving or a piece of wood in a cathedral in a way that you never could with objects on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum”, said Diana Evans, the head of strategy for places of worship at Historic England. Definitions of who or what a pilgrim is are changing, she said: “There’s an increasing realisation that you don’t have to sign up to the faith of a building to go there as a pilgrim.”

What is beyond doubt is the growing popularity of cathedrals among pilgrims. “We’re noting a huge increase in the numbers of people walking purposefully with a spiritual agenda,” Dorber said.

Of 1,300 people who recently downloaded a walking route from the British Pilgrimage Trust (BPT) website, 60 per cent were first-time pilgrims. The aim of the walks, also printed in English Heritage handbooks, is to make pilgrimage paths more accessible. “People are reconnecting with the ancient tracks walked by their ancestors,” said Guy Hayward, a co-founder of the BPT.

So what is driving this uptake in pilgrimages? “The top reason for pilgrimage is emotional well-being,” Hayward said. He views this as part of a broader sociological trend. “The rise of pilgrimage is part of the shift from the age of knowledge, which has dominated the past three centuries, to the age of experience.”

This move away from an enlightenment model of acquiring knowledge links into developments in neuroscience, Dyas said. “Research in America suggests that emotion is the main trigger for reasoning and a change of behaviour,” she said. “Therefore, the ways that buildings make people act is very important.”

In 2014 Dyas conducted a project to explore the design and purpose of medieval cathedrals. “We recreated in digital form what the pilgrim experience would have been like in Canterbury with help from archaeologists, architects and social scientists,” she said.

The pilgrim left a grey-toned world to enter a sacred space filled with glittering jewel-like colour in glass, painted tombs and stone. “Medieval cathedrals were designed to reveal a sense of God’s majesty to the pilgrim,” Dyas said.

Their beauty was intended to inspire pilgrims with a glimpse of paradise or to prompt a spiritual encounter. Pilgrims were also drawn to the tombs of saints such as Becket in the hope of obtaining a miraculous healing.

In Hereford Cathedral lies the shrine of St Thomas de Cantilupe, who died in 1282. Seven years later the Welsh outlaw William Cragh marched into the cathedral holding a noose that had been used to hang him. Witnesses alleged that Cragh had died on the scaffold, only to come back to life after his parents prayed to Cantilupe. In July 2018 Hereford launched the St Thomas Way, tracing Cragh’s journey from Swansea, and next year Cantilupe’s skull will be held at the cathedral. “You might say relics aren’t a very Anglican thing, but they are to do with the human body and remind us that saints were flesh and blood,” said the Very Rev Michael Tavinor, dean of Hereford.

Relics were swept out of England’s cathedrals by the Reformation. In 1538 King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell banned the pilgrim practice of “wandering unto shrines”. The resulting decline of pilgrimage lasted until Victorian times, when its resurgence was linked to the beginnings of tourism to the Holy Land. Since then pilgrimage has evolved and it is no longer seen as an exclusively religious phenomenon. Indeed, Hayward says that pilgrimage can be a “container practice” including “yoga, chanting and holding stones”.

Next year pilgrims can trace their predecessors’ routes to cathedrals on tracks old and new. They can even start the road to the Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostela from Co Durham. From next Saturday the route known as El Camino Inglés (the English Way), from the Galician coast to the shrine of St James, may start with an initial 22-mile hike through the county.

Those who don’t make the journey to Spain can obtain a “pilgrim passport”, which throughout 2020 can be bought at cathedral bookshops and stamped at each cathedral visited.

Highlights of the Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimage:

Spring 2020 Six Northern Saints routes will be launched, including four to Durham Cathedral.

May Pilgrim walks will be launched in Ely and St Benet’s Abbey, Norfolk, to follow the path of medieval pilgrims to Bury St Edmunds. The town will host an exhibition of manuscripts from the Benedictine monastery, which had been kept in Cambridge for the past 500 years.

July Canterbury Cathedral marks the 800th anniversary of the translation of the body of St Thomas Becket to a new shrine.

August 1 Cantilupe Capers, a day of medieval-themed activities in Hereford.

October 2020 to February 2021 The British Museum holds an exhibition on St Thomas Becket.

November 2020 Lincoln Cathedral marks the 800th anniversary of the canonisation of St Hugh.

The World Nomad Games 2020

Kyrgzstan score in the 2018 kok-boru final against Kazakhstan

Here’s something interesting for you. Perhaps you have never heard of the World Nomad Games, but there have now been three events since 2014, all held in Kyrgyzstan. The last event in 2018 involved 2,000 participants with teams from 82 countries participating in 37 sports. The next in the series is to be held in Turkey, reportedly in Bursa in the north-west of the country near to Istanbul, and I am aiming to attend.

Some participating countries have long nomadic histories. Others are mainly there for the fun of the games. Sports include eagle hunting, bone throwing and mas-wrestling, a game involving two competitors attempting to wrest control of a small stick. Part of the mission of the games is to promote the revival and preservation of the historical heritage of nomadic people. There is strong and growing participation by women.

Aida Akhmatova from Kyrgyzstan fires at three targets along a 120-metre track before placing second for the women’’s division of mounted archery. To make the competition fair, none of the athletes are familiar or accustomed to their horse, and the women must alternate the horses among them. Not only are they up against the challenge of hitting their targets, but also controlling their horse

The biggest draw and most fiercely contested of the sports is kok-boru, a violent Central Asian form of polo in which two teams battle for control of a decapitated goat carcass. Taking possession of the goat is a tricky manoeuvre in which the rider gallops past the carcass and swoops down to grab a leg and pull it up. There follows an almighty horse melee in which punches are thrown, whips fly and the goat is tugged back and forth, before one horseman emerges in a cloud of dust to gallop towards the goal, shaped like a paddling pool, and dunk the goat in to score.

Watch Mas Wrestling …

There are few details available at present. Only brief press releases. Even the dates are unclear, but all previous events appear to have taken place in the first week of September. If there is enough interest it might be possible to arrange a small group of blog readers to attend. If you are interested just drop me a line. There will be nothing formal and the idea would purely be to have others to attend with. As I learn more I will keep you updated.

Visit the 2018 website to find out more about the event and view some amazing pictures.

Guardian articles here and here.


The Legend of Kok Boru!

Committing once again to their own personal adventure

A thoughtful little piece published recently in The Irish Catholic about the benefits of walking and how medieval friars got around.

By Fr Conor McDonough

The New Year brings with it a barrage of holiday offers. Travel agents and airlines know that the depths of winter create in us a desire for the delights of summer, and they know how to capitalise on that desire: leave behind the clouds, the rain, the gloom and head for the sunshine!

For me, the idea of a sun holiday holds no excitement but there’s something universally appealing, I think, in the idea of exploring a new place, new tastes, a new perspective. It’s not always a matter of mere escapism. We’ve all experienced the spiritual difference that a holiday can make. Someone might be in a bit of a rut at home, head away for a few days, and come back ready to face their challenges with renewed energy.

T.S. Eliot put it well in his stunning long poem, ‘Little Gidding’: “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time”.

Bookshops
As a book lover, reading travel literature has almost the very same effect. And there must be lots like me, because the travel writing sections of our local bookshops are overflowing with new publications, as well as reprints of classics of the genre. To read Patrick Leigh Fermor is to be with him, on the same road, wandering through 1930s Europe, ready for adventure.

To read William Dalrymple is to be in old Delhi with eyes wide open. To read a compilation like The Oxford Book of Exploration, as I am doing now, is to be at frontiers everywhere, from Arctic wastes to African jungles. I open these books out of curiosity, but by the time I’m finished them, I’m usually readier to live out my own adventures as a Dominican friar in Dublin 1.

It seems earlier generations of friars understood this secret too, because they played a key role in the production of early travelogues.

The 14-Century Italian Franciscan, Oderic of Pordenone, accompanied by James of Ireland, travelled as far as China. The account he wrote of his travels, including detailed descriptions of Sumatra, became wildly popular.

Prison
Around the same time, a Dominican friar, Jordan of Severac, was writing a description of the people, customs, and landscapes of India, where he had been made bishop. And we have, too, the travel diary of two Irish Franciscans – Simon and Hugh – whose journey in 1323 from Clonmel to the Holy Land included an unwelcome delay in a Cairo prison.

Even the Venetian merchant Marco Polo, according to recent research, seems to have worked closely with Dominican friars in compiling and publishing the story of his travels in the East.

Friars didn’t just produce these works, they copied them, translated them, and used them in their preaching. We can see this in medieval Ireland: the Limerick Dominicans had in their library an account of travels among the Mongols; the Franciscans in Timoleague, Co. Cork had an Irish translation of Marco Polo’s travels; and the Franciscans in Kilcrea, Co. Cork had an Irish version of the semi-fictional travels of Sir John Mandeville.

We could put all this down to mere curiosity, but I think there’s a spiritual point to it too. Preaching friars had one major task: to help all their listeners on the personal journey to heaven. Think of a friar preaching in, say, Sligo in the Middle Ages. His hearers might never have left their parish, but if he could tell them a good story about adventures in Mongolia or India, it might spark in them the desire to commit once again to their own personal adventure, to step out bravely on the road to the heavenly kingdom, whose wonders “eye has not seen nor ear heard” (I Cor 2:9).

At the start of a New Year, the same road stretches out before us too. Ar aghaidh linn!

This
 Boots 
was 
made 
for
 walking
How did friars get about in the Middle Ages? Well, unless they had special permission to ride horses, they were meant to walk, just like Jesus did, just like the apostles did.

The great 13th-Century Dominican scientist and theologian, Albert the Great, was so dedicated to this aspect of evangelical poverty he was given the nickname ‘Bishop Boots’.

At one gathering of friars, he waited on the road to surprise the brothers arriving on horses and carriages…if you’ve got a step counter for Christmas and need a bit of courage to stick to your New Year’s resolution to get walking, ask for the intercession of Bishop Boots!

Travellers’ Film Club: The Epic of Everest, Thu 16 January 2020

Next in the series of the amazing Travellers’ Film Club run by Eland.

The Epic of Everest is John Noel’s extraordinary documentary about the 1924 attempt on Everest in which George Mallory and Andrew Irvine lost their lives. The film includes incredible early footage of remote Tibetan communities as well as nail-biting coverage of the ascent itself and masterly capturing of the chillingly beautiful environment. Shot on a hand-cranked movie camera in brutal conditions, it is a masterpiece of early documentary making.

The Epic of Everest
(1 hour, 25 minutes)

Thursday 16th January
Doors Open: 6.00 pm
Film showing: 6.30 pm

Holy Redeemer Church Hall
Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE

In the Trail of Odysseus

I shall soon be making a working visit to Odessa in the Ukraine. I’m hoping to have a few hours to walk around and make my own impressions of the city apart from the usual swift drive to the hotel and office, interspersed with a dinner in “one of the best restaurants in town”. This made me think of a post that we put up in October 2010 which covered Paddy’s introduction to a wonderful book, In the Trail of Odysseus which is the story of Yiankos Danielopoulis a Black Sea Greek. There is just one copy left on Amazon UK. If you are fascinated by this part of the world and tales of people who come through trial after trial, you will want to snap it up. Over to the old post …..

I think this is a rare treat, even for those of us who have read much of Paddy’s work. This introduction to In the Trail of Odysseus by Marianna Koromila is full of longing for the world at the edge of the Black Sea that he discovered in 1934 and which so soon was to disappear forever.

“The whole region seemed an enormous and mysterious antechamber to the whole Mediterranean, unbelievably remote and enigmatic, and ever so soon in danger of fading.”

It is the story of Yiankos Danielopoulis who died in 1987 at the age of 88. As a Black Sea Greek living through the 20th century his life was uprooted time after time, until at last he was able to settle in Mount Hymettos in mainland Greece in the 1950’s.

I have been sent some scanned copies of Paddy’s introduction, by blog corespondent James, to the English translation to the book which I hope you will enjoy and inspire you to purchase the last few copies of the book from Amazon!

To help you further, here is a short synopsis by John Colvin Body which appears to have been published in the Daily Telegraph in 1994.

“In the Trail of Odysseus by Marianna Koromila tr by Nigel Clive Michael Russell, L14.95 this modern-day “Odysseus” is Yiankos Danielopoulos, one of 12 Thracian children born in Vasiliko, a whitewashed Greek village of the Ottoman Empire in 1899, and dying in Attica 88 years later. His life has been compiled by Marianna Koromila from a privately printed family record that she acquired from his daughter. It reflects the turmoil of that region in the 20th century. Born under the Empire, Yiankos lived in Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Greece, surviving two nationalities, seven homes and 13 professions, all imposed by “the gale of the world”. Bulgarian violence, Bolshevik revolution, civil war and Communist take-over were his Eumenides. As a child, he “listened to the rattle of the pebbles as they were washed up by the waves”; saw woods, vineyards, wheat fields and boats unloading below his window on return from fishing. The Thracian traders and shipowners, with relations in all the Black Sea ports, he described as the seagulls which followed the fish. In winter, wolves descended from the mountains, threatening the village. “Union is strength,” said Yiankos’s father when the horses drove them off.

The Great Powers then changed lines on maps. Vasiliko came under the Bulgars, and life became untenable. Yiankos and his brothers moved to Constanza in Romania and opened a grocer’s shop. An admiral’s wife fell in love with one of the brothers. The shop received the navy’s warrant. Funds accumulated. Bulgaria then invaded and the family fled to Galatz (also in Romania) with their assets – 50 cases of macaroni. Yiankos dealt profitably in foreign exchange; money was made. But Galatz became an impossible place, what with bombing and Cossacks shooting holes in wine-cases and drowning in the alcoholic flood. The Danielopouloses escaped to Russia, packed like sardines in a stinking refugee train. Life in their new Russian home, Berdiansk, was lucrative until the Bolshevik and Anarchist massacres began, when the family escaped to Novorosisk in 1917, where the Russian fleet had scuttled. They steered clear of politics, which preserved them, but chaos came. The family escaped by tug back to Constanza, having profitably run cafe, shop and currency exchange in the middle of a revolution. Back in Romania, they enjoyed “party-time” – the annees folles of the 1920s – until the Crash of 1929. Thanks to family unity, they picked themselves up again, flourishing even during the German occupation of 1940.

But later, in 1950, when Soviet theft and odious oppression became intolerable, Yiankos, his wife and daughters left for Greece. They arrived in Mount Hymettos penniless, but went on to farm pistachio, orange, lemon and tangerine trees, cows, hens and vegetables. Yiankos had survived once more. Nigel Clive’s sparkling translation of Koromilos’s book is richly enhanced by Patrick Leigh Fermor’s introduction to that legendary world of the day-before-yesterday.”

 

Buy In the Trail of Odysseus at Amazon.

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Related article:

The mystery of The Black Sea Cave