Skip to main content

Aachen, Germany

Our first destination after settling into our European home in August was Aachen, Germany, known in French as Aix-la-Chapelle. Despite being in a different country, it was only a short train ride from Verviers, Belgium, and although today the town is little known beyond its own regions, it was once the capital of the illustrious Charlemagne and his Frankish Empire.

I was amazed by Aachen Cathedral, the coffin of Charlemagne, and the old Byzantine-style mosaics on the ceiling of the cathedral. But I also enjoyed the cultural experience–this was my first visit to Germany, after all! It was also my first time to leave Belgium while in Europe, and the first place to visit where French was not spoken (I certainly utilized the two German words I know: hallo and danke!). Read More

Hymn of the Week – David’s Song of Thanks

[O]n that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers.

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him; sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Israel his servant,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
Read More

The Vanity of Versailles

Gates of Versailles

It was the gold that shone most brightly in the morning light, and as we stood outside the palace gates of Versailles, it was easy to understand how the exterior of this grand edifice was built to impress. On either side of the royal gates was a tall, Classical-style building, and where the frieze would normally be found, the inscription A Toutes les Gloires de la France was carved in large letters, for all to see—“To All the Glories of France.”

Gazing on all this glory, meant to reflect the power of the king of France and the splendour of his kingdom, the first words of Ecclesiastes came to mind: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” Even though these things once impressed peasants and nobility alike in favour of the king, today they are simply a relic of the grandeur that once was, an empty palace open for anyone who will buy a ticket to see it. Even though it is still a very grand place, the vanity of it all is perhaps more evident in modern light.

Dachau Concentration Camp

(Photo by Ivan  Bustamante, available under the Creative  Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence)

(Photo by Ivan Bustamante, available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence)

I must admit, Dachau Concentration Camp was not a place I wanted to visit. After watching the documentary film there, I really didn’t want to see any more, and the entire time we were there I kept thinking about its purpose. It is a memorial, made so that people can come and remember what had happened there. But I kept asking myself this: Why remember? If I were one of the few prisoners who survived, remembering would be the last thing I would want to do—in fact, I would do anything to forget what had happened during those dark times.

Those people were starved, tortured, worked literally to death, deceived, and murdered. The film we watched called it slavery, but it was worse than slavery. At least a slave master wants his slaves to be in good health so that they can work well; the tenants of Dachau were only there for horror and humiliation.

Why remember? Finally it struck me—not from within but from a monument with these words: “May the example of those who were exterminated here…because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.” The survivors came back and remembered because they didn’t want it to happen again. I fear that if something like this does reappear, it will come as subtly and deceitfully as Hitler’s ideas came—but perhaps memorials like Dachau will do their part to convince mankind of the horror that such ideas can bring.

Aquæ Sulis

Curse tablet

The goddess worshipped at the ancient Roman-British resort Aquæ Sulis was none other than Sulis Minerva, an entity based on the Roman goddess Minerva but having characteristics of the Celtic goddess Sulis. When the Romans happened upon the hot springs there, they naturally thought of Minerva as the one who made hot water bubble forth from the ground, and when they found that the natives regarded Sulis as the keeper of the spring, they saw a chance for religious unity.

Travelers from all over the Roman Empire visited the magnificent baths and the settlement that grew up around them, and many took part in a unique method of prayer to the goddess. Instead of voicing their prayers aloud, they scratched the words upon a flattened piece of lead or pewter, then folding it up and throwing it into the Sacred Spring. Although one has been found written in the British Celtic language, most were in Latin. I found this very interesting, but I was shocked when I began reading the prayers themselves. Instead of addressing their goddess with reverence, the prayers were stated in a very straightforward way, in a language that was almost commanding. And more striking than this was that nearly every prayer was a curse. “I curse him who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether man or woman, whether slave or free, that…the goddess Sulis inflict death upon…and not allow him sleep…now and in the future,” such were the inscriptions on these petitions to the goddess.

How could these people be so bold, and so cruel? Perhaps the boldness had to do with the privacy that this medium afforded them. They could be confident that no human eyes would ever read those words (so they thought), and they trusted that Sulis Minerva would read them and deliver the vengeance that they sought. But why such cruelty? We may never know, but I dare say that while we might never dream of praying to our God to curse other people, thoughts of ill-will do cross our minds at times.