Stairway to Heaven

lestnicaThe sculpture by the Spanish artist Eugenio Merino “Stairway to Heaven” offended just about everyone. Embassy of Israel in Madrid even expressed formal protest.

According to the artist, however, his intention was to convey the idea of tolerance and appeal to the followers of the three religions to respect one another’s beliefs: Rabbi holds the Koran, a Catholic priest read the Torah and the knelt Muslim has the Bible at his side. Muslims, on the other hand, may as well  interpret the sculpture as showing  that Islam is at the base of the institute of religion.

In postscript, the blogger on whose page I found the article (in Russian, here,) suggests to add a levitating Buddhist above. Something like this, perhaps, characteristically for Buddhas, defying gravity:with buddha.jpg

Eugenio Merino is no stranger to a controversy. Among other things, he has been taken to court by the Franco Foundation  for works Merino has made using the image of the late authoritarian ruler. His work Punching Franco is a lifelike head of Franco designed to be used as a punchbag; the Franco Foundation says it is “demeaning”. ( Dictators in fridges: the artist putting Franco and co in cold storage.)

Eugenio Merino

Eleven Thousand Virgins

“Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins" Jean Bourdichon, 1503-1508.

“Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins” Jean Bourdichon, 1503-1508.

According to a legend that appeared in the tenth century, Ursula was the daughter of a Christian king in Britain and was granted a three year postponement of a marriage she did not wish, to a pagan prince. With ten ladies in waiting, each attended by a thousand maidens, she embarked on a voyage across the North sea, sailed up the Rhine to Basle, Switzerland, and then went to Rome. On their way back, they were all massacred by pagan Huns at Cologne in about 451 when Ursula refused to marry their chieftain. (From St. Ursula, Catholic Online.)

The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula (1610), is a painting by the Italian artist Caravaggio (1571–1610) and thought to be his last picture.

The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula (1610), Caravaggio (1571–1610), thought to be the painter’s last picture.

Ursula was said to have been shot by an arrow by the leader of the Huns — yes, that tall, dark and handsome fellow with a bow in the Caravaggio’s painting.

A remarkable emergence of such an incredible number of virgins — 11,000 — isn’t it? Interesting that in early martyrology there is no mention of the most holy Ursula. Only in the tenth century, that is some 650 or 450 years after the supposed date of martyrdom, appears the first two maiden martyrs of Cologne, named Marta and Saula. Martiresses? No, feminine of martyr, is martyre.)  In the litany of the XI century, five virgins are named: Martha, Saula, Paula, Brittola and Ursula. In the litanies that followed, the number of virgins increased to eight, later to eleven and later still, to twelve. Suddenly, the number of virgins increased to a whooping 11,000. Why so many and so suddenly? Whence have they come from?

The most interesting and the likeliest explanation is this: The name of one of the unfortunate maidens was Undetsimilla. This name has been read and understood as undecim milla — eleven thousand  in Latin. Consequently, from then onward, the text was translated and interpreted with the entire eleven thousand virgins. And that’s, mind you, a whole lot of virgins.


Hours of Catherine of Cleves

Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Text: Latin. Artist: Master of Catherine of Cleves. Utrecht, Netherlands, about 1440 year. Tempera on parchment. The Morgan Library and Museum, New York / The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440, MS M.945, f. 60v, The Morgan Library & Museum.

Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Text: Latin. Artist: Master of Catherine of Cleves. Utrecht, Netherlands, about 1440 year. Tempera on parchment. The Morgan Library and Museum, New York / The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440, MS M.945, f. 60v, The Morgan Library & Museum.

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is the greatest Dutch illuminated manuscript in the world. Its 157 miniatures are by the gifted Master of Catherine of Cleves (active ca. 1435–60), who is named after this book. The Master of Catherine of Cleves is considered the finest and most original illuminator of the medieval northern Netherlands, and this manuscript is his masterpiece.

Catherine of Cleves Praying to the Virgin and Child

Catherine of Cleves Praying to the Virgin and Child

This digital facsimile provides reproductions of all 157 miniatures (and facing text pages) from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. The original one-volume prayer book had been taken apart in the nineteenth century; the leaves were shuffled and then rebound into two confusing volumes. This presentation offers the miniatures in their original, fifteenth-century sequence.

St. George Slaying the Dragon

St. George Slaying the Dragon

The manuscript was commissioned by Catherine as prayer book. It contains an amazingly rich series of devotions illustrated with especially elaborate suites of miniatures.

Guardian Angel and Demon Fighting over the Book of Life

Guardian Angel and Demon Fighting over the Book of Life

Who Was Catherine of Cleves?

Catherine of Cleves (1417–1476) is known for two things: her Book of Hours and her protracted political battle against her husband. In 1430 she married Arnold of Egmond (1410 –1473), becoming duchess of Guelders. Although she bore her husband six children, the marriage was not happy. By 1440 Catherine refused to live with him.

The war between husband and wife was sparked by Arnold’s disinheriting his only living son, Adolf (1438–1477). Rumor had it that Adolf accused his father of homosexuality. Catherine sided with her son, suspecting that her husband molested their only son. These allegations started a big scandal in the duchy. Catherine demanded freedom for her and the children along with their share of the inheritance.  Arnold categorically denied the charges and flatly refused to give in to Catherine’s demands. The cities of Nijmegen, Zutphen and Arnhem supported Catherine and her son while Roermond sided with the duke. In 1465, Catherine and her son conspired to imprison Arnold and forced him to abdicate. Adolf, becoming the duke upon inheriting the duchy, spent six years in ceaseless struggles with his father’s supporters.

In 1471, Catherine watched in horror as Arnold secured his freedom and regained his title, imprisoning Adolf in turn. Arnold died in 1473, disinheriting both his wife and their son. Catherine’s death in 1476 robbed her of seeing the release of her son. Adolf’s liberty was short-lived for he died the very next year.

St. Michael Battling Demons

St. Michael Battling Demons

Now back to the Book. Master of Catherine of Cleves possessed a remarkable sense of observation. Combined with an interest in everyday objects it created a style far ahead of its time. It would come to fruition only in seventeenth-century Dutch still-life painting. Narrative was also one of the great talents of the artist — he could tell a good story.

Mouth of Hell

Mouth of Hell

The subjects of the images in Horologion vary from religious to secular with an great number of illuminations depicting Hell and Devil in different guises. This is all the more surprising since, as a rule, Hell was never depicted in women’s  Horologions. The reason of such an unusual iconography in Catherine’s Horologion defies explanation.

Last Judgment

Last Judgment

The Book is also famous for the artist’s innovative borders, no two of which are alike.

Arnold of Egmond, Catherine of Cleves’ Husband, Praying to Christ

Arnold of Egmond, Catherine of Cleves’ Husband, Praying to Christ

St. Michael Weighing Souls

St. Michael Weighing Souls

Souls Released from Purgatory

Souls Released from Purgatory

Hours of Catherine of Cleves9

St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence

Ten Thousand Martyrs and St. Acacius

Ten Thousand Martyrs and St. Acacius

Tree Growing from Adam’s Grave

Tree Growing from Adam’s Grave

The Virgin and the Crucified Christ

The Virgin and the Crucified Christ

Hours of Catherine of Cleves92

Judging The Infallible FSM


The US District Court of Nebraska has denied a prisoner’s right to practice Pastafarianism by ruling the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or FSMism, is not a religion but a “parody.”

Stephen Cavanaugh, a prisoner in a Nebraska state penitentiary, sued the state in 2014 seeking $5 million in damages for “deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain” over the alleged breach of his right to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster or “His Flying Noodliness.”

He claimed he was not allowed to dress in “full pirate regalia,” which is required by his faith, although those practicing recognized religions were allowed to wear their necessary attire.

He also said prison officials were stopping him from holding religious services for his deity.

District Judge John Gerrard ruled Tuesday in a 16 page decision that The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was not a religion and that Cavanaugh’s claim was not plausible under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or under the state or federal constitution.

“It is, rather, a parody, intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education.”

“This case is difficult because FSMism, as a parody, is designed to look very much like a religion. Candidly, propositions from existing case law are not particularly well-suited for such a situation, because they developed to address more ad hoc creeds, not a comprehensive but plainly satirical doctrine.”

Source: Federal judge rules the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not a God

One Million Buddhas: Wat Phra Dhammakaya

million Buddhas In order to familiarize yourself with all the temples of Thailand one need more than one day, one week or even a month. There are about 40 thousand temples, each with its own peculiarity. Perhaps one of the most interesting  is the Buddhist temple of  Wat Phra Dhammakaya.million Buddhas2 Located in Khlong Luang district, only 16 km from the Bangkok international airport, the temple is famous for its enormous size. However, very few people know about it.Buddhist monks pray at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok on Makha Bucha Day

Buddhist monks pray at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok on Makha Bucha Day February 14, 2014. Makha Bucha Day honours Buddha and his teachings, and falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj (THAILAND – Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) *** Local Caption *** Biarawan Buddha berdoa di kuil Wat Phra Dhammakaya, provinsi Pathum Thani, Thailand, pada Hari Makha Bucha, Jumat (14/2). Pada Hari Makha Bucha, umat Buddha memperingati Buddha dan ajaran-Nya, dan jatuh pada hari bulan purnama di bulan ketiga penanggalan bulan. ANTARA FOTO/REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/ox/14.

million Buddhas95Wat Phra Dhammakaya is more than impressive no matter which way you look at it, with its huge dome at the center of the monastery adorned with a mind boggling three hundred thousand golden Buddhas. This is a lot more than the number of statuettes that made famous the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (Man Fat Tsz), is a Buddhist temple in Sha TinHong Kong.

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Another 700,000 Buddhas displayed inside the temple. The golden dome is surrounded by a platform for meditation, serving as a memorial in honor of the founder of the sect, Phramonkolthepmuni.million Buddhas91

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is the center of the Dhammakaya Movement, a Buddhist sect founded in the 1970s and led by Phra Dhammachayo (Phrathepyanmahamuni). million Buddhas1

The temple was established in February of 1970, and the main chapel was completed in 1982. The leaders of the movement were accused of commercialization of religion, since Wat Phra Dhammakaya, worth $1 billion looked more like a giant spaceship, stadium or  a flying saucer rather than a traditional Buddhist temple.  million Buddhas94In 1999, however, and again, in 2002, it became the center of a scandal on a national scale. Wikipedia article has all the details of the controversy and ensuing allegation of embezzlement and money laundering. 

The author of the fabulous photographs used in this post, except for the Reuters/Damir Sagolj and National Geographic, is Aleksej Pitalenko (Алексей Питаленко.)


Cover-up! #statuenude

coverupAs of today, these demure but solid white panes fence many sculptures at the Rome’s Capitoline Museum to obscure nudity. The action was taken as a sign of respect for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose country is a strongly conservative Islamic republic, according to Italian news agency Ansa.

It was Italian PM Matteo Renzi’s order to hide all the nude sculptures on display at Capitoline Museum, so as not to offend Iranian President.

Mr Rouhani arrived in Rome on Monday to sign contracts, summing up to €17 billion ($18.4 billion).

It’s not the first time Italy has covered up artworks to avoid misunderstandings with Muslim guests. In October of 2015, when the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, visited Florence, the “Gazing Ball” statue by American sculptor Jeff Koons was covered up to avoid the sheikh’s blushes.

Gazing Ball (Barberini Faun) (2013), Jeff Koons, in the Palazzo Vecchio. Photo: Pietro Savorelli

Gazing Ball (Barberini Faun) (2013), Jeff Koons, in the Palazzo Vecchio. Photo: Pietro Savorelli

Many Italians responded with barely concealed irony over the covering of the sculptures. Some responded by sharing images of statues with exposed genitals across various social media platforms under the hashtag #statuenude. coverup

Many people also shared a seemingly doctored image pictures similar to the official photo of the delegation against the backdrop of a different painting with no nudity in it.coverup

An article in the Independent,  Italy covers up naked statues for Iran President Hassan Rouhani’s visit has a tiny video clip from the hallways of the museum and, more importantly, an indignant reaction of some Iranians to the Italy’s bending down to the “Islamic values.” Most harsh and outspoken is a statement issued by Iranian women’s rights campaign group My Stealthy Freedom.

How Adam Lost His Baculum

Adam&EveBaculum is a technical term for the penis bone. It is often illustrated with some impressive looking bone, such as the one below. Walrus-Baculum1

Whereas baculum is present in most placental mammals, human males manage without — the human penis is haemodynamic, meaning an erection is achieved by blood pressure alone. This peculiar phenomenon interested evolutionary scientists for many years, no big surprise here. However, as of late, and for entirely different reasons, theologians, too, got into the discussion.

It started in 2001 with the publication of a letter entitled Gilbert and Zevit. 2001. Congenital human baculum deficiency: The generative bone of Genesis 2:21-23. and published — surprise! — in the American Journal of Medical Genetics.  The authors of the letter are Scott F. Gilbert and Ziony Zevit, a Distinguished Professor of Biblical Literature and Northwest Semitic Languages at American Jewish University in Bel-Air, California.

The central premise of the letter is that God used Adam’s baculum, rather than his rib, to create Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Ribs lack any intrinsic generative capacity. We think it is far more probable that it was Adam’s baculum that was removed in order to make Eve. That would explain why human males, of all the primates and most other mammals, did not have one.


In the left panel of his  Garden of Earthly delights, Hieronymus Bosch depicts the introduction of Adam and Eve by God.

But of course, Adam (and all his descendant human males) don’t have an uneven number of ribs compared to women.  Baculum, on the other hand, is suspiciously missing! Besides, Professor Zevit asserts that the Hebrew word ‘tsela’ in the Old Testament was incorrectly translated as ‘rib’. The word ‘refers to limbs sticking out sideways from an upright human body.’

Well, it is a big question why  American Journal of Medical Genetics published the letter, I’d say.  Meanwhile,  Professor Zevit published a book  What really happened in the Garden of Eden? where, among many other interesting things about everyday life in the Garden of Eden, the story of Adam waking up to Eve without os penis (baculum) is prominently featured.Adam&Eve4

The Biblical Archaeological Review Magazine reviewed the book, all right, much to collective dismay of its many readers. Some of the readers  expressed their outright dismay and disappointment with the magazine for publishing such “smut” and wished to cancel their subscription immediately.
As recently as yesterday, Haaretz reviewed the book as well.  Elon Gilad titled his review Why God Didn’t Use Adam’s Penis Bone to Make Eve, arguing that the “rib theory of Creation prevails: Ancient linguistics provide no support for the theory that Eve was fashioned of man’s mysteriously absent penis bone.”

As important for Judeo-Christian theologians this bickering might be, there is still a question for those who pray other gods or don’t pray at all. Why do humans lack a baculum?  Richard Dawkins, for instance, has hypothesized that sexual selection may be responsible.

“It is not implausible that, with natural selection refining their diagnostic skills, females could glean all sorts of clues about a male’s health, and robustness of his ability to cope with stress, from the tone and bearing of his penis.” (The Selfish Gene, 30th Anniversary Edition.)

Suzanne Harvey in How Did Man Lose His Penis Bone? agrees:

“Sexual selection works on the premise of ‘honest signals’. Put simply, females need to select high quality males to ensure the best genes for their offspring, and a penis that works predominantly through haemodynamics takes a lot of energy to produce. Therefore this is an honest signal of the most healthy males in the same way that the healthiest stags grow the largest antlers. In the end, for all the dissection, microscopic analyses and experiments with cadavers, Adam may have given up his penis bone for Eve after all.


Pretty Dead Of Toraja

These are the Toraja people. Dead and alive. Like in “really dead” and “previously buried.” The “really dead” in this picture were exhumed, washed, dressed and celebrated in the uniquely original ritual  Ma’nene, or The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses, no other people but Toraja observe.Toraja99Toraja are an ethnic group indigenous to a mountainous region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  Their population is approximately 650,000, of which 450,000 still live in the regency of Tana Toraja (“Land of Toraja”).  Most are Christian, others are Muslim, and a minority still retain the local beliefs known as Aluk Todolo (“Way of the Ancestors”), which are most visible during funeral festivities and burial customs.

The images of the Ma’nene ceremony are rather unsettling, unless you are a habitual viewer of dead corpses in various stages of decomposition and enjoy watching zombie movies, relishing the sight of decaying flesh, which I’m not.

Read more about Toraja and their peculiar custom on page 2, where I intentionally hid the images, since most of them aren’t for the fainthearted, thus readers’ discretion is strongly advised.

Cosmas and Damian, Unmercenaries


Cosmas and Damian Miraculously Transplant the Black Leg of the Ethiopian Onto the White Body of the Patient, aka Legendary Transplantation of a Leg by Saints Cosmas and Damian, Assisted by Angels, circa 1600s, artist unknown.

As it should be but not always so, good deeds, too, attract following.

Twin brothers Cosmas and Damian (died c. ad 287) were reputed physicians, and early Christian martyrs. They practiced their profession in the seaport of Aegeae, then in the Roman province of Syria.

Their most famous surgery, performed not without a considerable divine professional assistance, is depicted above. Sts Cosmas and Damian are regarded as the patrons of physicians and surgeons.

For their services brothers charged not a single penny (silver pieces, headless chickens or whatever currency has been on circulation in those ancient times.) Thus people names them Holy Unmercenaries. Their exemplary lives and martyrdom brought many nonbelievers into a Christian faith. 400px-Bartolomeo_Vivarini_-_De_heilige_Damianus_(of_Cosmas) 400px-Bartolomeo_Vivarini_-_De_heilige_Cosmas_(of_Damianus)


Master of Los Balbases, ‘Saints Cosmas and Damian Performing a Miraculous Cure by Transplantation of a Leg’. c. 1495

Inevitably, this  drew attention of the Roman authorities to the brothers. Soldiers were sent to summon them but the Christians hid them for the sake of those who resorted to their aid. Not having found brothers, Romans herded and seized other Christians. Cosmas and Damian, however,  left the shelter and surrendered to the captors, asking them to release the hostages taken in their stead.

These were the trying times for the budding religion — the persecution under  Diocletian. Cosmas and Damian were thus arrested and ordered to recant under torture. They stayed true to their faith, enduring being hung on a cross, stoned and shot by arrows and finally suffered execution by beheading. Anthimus, Leontius and Euprepius, their younger brothers, who were inseparable from them throughout life, shared in their martyrdom.

Northern French Martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian with their Three Brothers, part of an altarpiece Date circa 1480.

Northern French
Martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian with their Three Brothers, part of an altarpiece
Date circa 1480.

However, its not as much the saintly lives of the brothers as the ample inspirations their saintly lives provided for the art and painters for generations that is, obviously, the subject of this post.

Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Condamned Date between 1438 and 1440

Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Condamned
Date between 1438 and 1440


Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Crucifixed and Stoned Date 1438-40


Le martyre des saints Cosme et Damien Italiano: Decapitazione dei santi Cosma e Damiano Dated between 1438 и 1443


Fra Angelico – Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Salvaged


Sepulchring of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Date between 1438 and 1440.

Oh, For Haven’s Sake!


Robots with intelligence equal to or beyond that of humans is called “strong AI” or “strong AGI” where AGI stads for Artificial General Intelligence.  When, one wonders, technology to create strong AI will become an everyday occurrence? Some experts are betting it will happen in the next two decades.roadmap-5-ai

Great! No?

In the past year, people-in-the-know — Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking among others — have warned about an eminent to threat to humanity — the rise of super-intelligent robots. (More on the subject: AI Or Die — Summoning The Demon and Number 1 Risk For This Century.)

What would their super-intelligent high-tech “brains” makeup be? Would super-intelligent robots have any MORALS whatsoever? What moral compass will guide them while their superior intelligence, having digested the entire uploaded Wikipedia, start developing ideas of their own?

robotWhat could be better than religion, right? No?

Shouldn’t any superintelligence created by humans have a notion of God?

Preaching God to automatons, no matter how autonomous, sounds kind of wacky, no?

Actually, not so much, if one doesn’t overlook statistics of U.S. demographics in relation to Christianity. About 75 percent of adult Americans identify themselves as Christians, and 92 percent of our highest politicians in U.S. Congress belong to one or another denomination of Christian faith.

jesusAn associate Pastor of Providence at the Presbyterian Church in Florida, Reverend Dr Christopher Benek, believes religions may help AI live alongside mankind.He is convinced that AIs won’t be worse than us or that they will intentionally mistreat people.

I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings. It’s redemption to all of creation, even AI. If AI is autonomous, then we should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world.’ (from a recent Gizmodo interview with  Reverend Benek by  Zoltan Istvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager.)

The question of “soul” is quintessential in the coming transhumanist age of machine intelligence. Does AI have a soul? Can it be saved?

Marvin Minksy, a pioneer on the field of artificial intelligence and an MIT professor doesn’t see why not.

‘What humans have is a more complex and larger brain than any other animal — maybe a whale’s brain is physically large, but it’s not structurally more complex than ours,‘ he told the Jerusalem Post.

‘If you left a computer by itself, or a community of them together, they would try to figure out where they came from and what they are.’

Even Pope Francis recently sounded off on the possibility of aliens being converted when he affirmed that the Holy Spirit blows where it will.

Dominican monk robot?

Dominican monk robot?

Pope Francis said he would welcome Martians to receive baptism. Would the Catholic Church be as welcoming to a fanciful pile of electronically wired inorganic hardware created by human hands?

Also, god knows what surprises alien chemistry holds… No wonder some scientists are seriously suggesting that alien life that earthlings meet one day might as well be smartly put together alien machines.

To think of it, earthlings that aliens meet might be human-made super-advanced AGIs. What if these machines greet extraterrestrials with a smile and warm “Do you accept Jesus as your personal savior?”   “Allahu akbar!”  “Namaste” or whatnot.

silver-robot-with-cosmosOnce you start thinking like that, it opens up even more questions: How would AI fit into to the religious tension already present around the world? Who is to say a machine with human intelligence wouldn’t choose to become a fundamentalist Muslim, or a Jehova Witness, or a born-again Christian who prefers to speak in tongues instead of a form of communication we understand? If it decides to literally follow any of the sacred religions texts verbatim, as some humans attempt to do, then it could add to already existing religious tensions in the world.  (Zoltan Istvan’s  article in Gizmodo When Superintelligent AI Arrives…)

Interesting article, actually, with a great number of  amusing comments too…

‘Who is to say that one day AIs might not even lead humans to new levels of holiness?’  Indeed. That is, if humans would reach ANY level of holiness by the time THEY arrive.