Tag Archives: Rhine River

The Three Kings

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The Three Kings who visited the Infant Jesus are honored at a shrine in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral, where their relics were placed after being brought there in the 12th century from Italy. Images of the kings appear everywhere in this part of Germany; the rich gold reliquary holding their remains is one of the cathedral’s treasures.

 

“The purported relics,” our guide told us a few weeks ago, as if settling the matter.

But suppose we ask : “ Why were relics of the Three Kings brought there in the first place?” That invites some speculation.

The earliest Christian churches often traced their faith to those who brought it to them. Rome, for example, looked to the apostles Peter and Paul. Greece honors Peter’s brother Andrew for bringing the faith to their land. Other parts of the Christian world claimed other apostles, like Simon and Jude.

I wonder if Cologne, the Roman colony along the Rhine, at the “limes,” the end of the world, saw the Three Kings as appropriate patrons for their church so far from the land of Jesus as well as from the early churches first blessed by his gospel. Late in receiving the faith, did this land see the Three Kings as the bearers of the faith to them? They were not left out.

“Go out to the whole world,” Jesus told his disciples.

The cathedral reliquary (above) portrays Jesus in glory as Teacher and Lord. On the bottom left is a scene of the Three Kings paying homage to the Child on Mary’s lap. They come from the ends of the earth. On the bottom right, Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan, sanctifying not only the waters of that river but the waters of the Rhine as well. A simple portrayal saying everything: All nations are called to the promise of his life.

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St. Christopher, Pray for Us

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“The Vatican said recently he doesn’t exist,” our guide informed us as we visited Cologne Cathedral in Germany a week or so ago and looked up at the imposing statue of St. Christopher near one of its entrances. Then, we passed quickly on.

Afterwards, I told him the Vatican didn’t say Christopher never existed, but as of now there is no historical evidence for the popular saint who carries the little child on his shoulders. For one reason or another, no historical evidence exists for a good number of our early saints.

But does that mean there is no Christopher? Actually, If you look at what he’s doing, there have been–and still are– many Christophers. (Bearers of the Christ Child) His type of holiness is mostly unrecognized, but very real. He’s there in the men (and women) who day after day carry children on their shoulders, getting them where they must go and keeping them from the dangers little children face.

Not much glamor in that job, but children need carrying, especially today.

I was going out for supper with a couple the other evening, and they told me to take my own car because the back seat of their car was taken by safety seats for their two grandchildren. Modern Christophers.

On the flight back from Europe a number of Dutch teenagers were watching a video of big bare-chested Vikings flailing  each other with their swords in non-stop violence. Was the Christopher in the Cologne Cathedral a sign to generations past that masculine strength is more than swinging a sword? You’re strong when you serve the weak.

We need you today, St. Christopher.

On to the Rhine

Rhine

I’m going with a group on a cruise of the Rhine River leaving Wednesday. Here are a few notes about the trip for those on the cruise and those who may wish to follow us.

The Rhine River is a living history book as it winds its way 820 miles from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea.

Look for signs of Roman forts along the way. The ancient Romans tried to make the Rhine a kind of “Iron Curtain” to contain the barbarian tribes that wanted to enter the empire. They also found the fertile lands near the river good for growing grapes and other crops, so some of the forts became centers of trade, like Mainz.

After the Peace of Constantine (312 AD), Christianity brought the gospel to the lands along the Rhine. St. Boniface is an important figure. (c. 675 – 5 June 754 AD) A missionary from England he preached to the various Germanic tribes, became bishop of Mainz, and established monastic settlements along the river to fulfill his mission.

Boniface

Should he be our patron for the trip? “In her voyage across the ocean of this world the church is like a ship pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship, but to keep her on course…Let us stand fast for what is right and prepare our souls for trial…Let us be neither like dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor servants who run away before the wolf.”

In the 12th century with the growth of cities majestic cathedrals, like those in Strasbourg and Cologne, were built. Castles and buildings of local rulers line the river’s banks as defenses against invaders and symbols of power.

In the 14th century, the shrines and churches of the Franciscans and the mendicant orders appear. The 16th century brought the Reformation. We hope to sample some cathedrals and churches along the river.

The Rhine was a battleground through the centuries; the last two world wars have left their mark on the lands along the river.

We land in Basel, where John Calvin wrote his “Institutes” in 1536, a defense of Protestantism which he sent to Francis 1 of France. Francis kept France Catholic, however, and Calvin fled to Geneva and made it into a key Protestant center that had influence worldwide.

I hope to reflect particularly during our trip on the Reformation and the relationship of Protestants and Catholics today. Much has changed since the stormy beginnings in the 16th century. Pope Francis recently remarked to a group of European bishops that “Speaking about God has become more and more marginal” in Europe. The pope, a strong advocate of ecumenism, hopes all Christians will come together to face the challenge.

We will see many churches and signs of its Christian past on our trip down the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam, but I don’t think we’ll hear much about God or see many signs of Christian practice. Europe is increasingly secularized.

Some books that I’ll bring along on the trip.

“A Brief History of Spirituality” by Philip Sheldrake, Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Sheldrake has a wonderful gift for summarizing spiritual movements like monasticism and relating them to the world in which they take place.

“The World of Catholic Renewal 1540-1770” by R. Po-Chia Hsia, Cambridge University Press. The Catholic Church responds to the Reformation. A good study in social history.

“Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church” E.A. Livingstone, Oxford 1977 Just what it says: a lot of concise information about the Christian Church.

I also mentioned the Rhine trip in a previous blog: