Cañada Real

Canada Real


John Laurenson, a reporter for the BBC’s “Heart and Soul” program, investigates the role Christianity and Islam play in the lives of the people living in Madrid’s Cañada Real, one of the poorest regions in Spain.

Cañada Real

St. James and Pilgrimage

Santiago de Compostela-ShellAccording to Christian tradition, after Jesus’ death the apostles divided the world into missionary zones, with James drawing the Iberian Peninsula.  Medieval lore indicates that after James’ missionary work in Spain, he returned to Jerusalem, where he was martyred.  Thereafter, his body was placed on a boat that, with the help of angelic guidance, landed off the coast of northern Spain.  Queen Lupa then interred the body in a tomb that, due to Roman persecutions, eventually became lost to Christian memory.

The vision of a ninth-century hermit, however, lead to the “discovery” of the tomb.  After Teodomir, a local bishop, proclaimed the relics authentic, King Alfonso II of Asturias had a small church built at the site.  Christians from the region, beleaguered by over a century of Muslim advances, flocked to the church to venerate the relics and were subsequently emboldened to  undertake the “Reconquista,” a campaign to win back Spain for Christianity (a program that would not be complete until 1492).  In the centuries that followed, Santiago de Compostela’s fortunes rose and fell with historical events (e.g., the Crusades, Muslim attacks, and the Protestant Reformation), but in recent decades it has become a popular pilgrimage destination, receiving over one hundred thousand visitors annually.  Many of these pilgrims walk in the footsteps of their medieval forerunners by traveling on the path known as “El Camino” (The Way).

In the following interview, NPR’s Jacki Lyden discusses author David Downie’s recent pilgrimage on The Way, an experience he has documented in his book Paris to the Pyrenees.

David Downie, Paris To The Pyrenees

Pope Francis

Pope Francis
The recent election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio represents a historic moment in the Catholic Church: not only is he the first pope from the Americas, he is also the first Jesuit to attain this position. In this audio discussion, the BBC’s Heart and Soul program examines the life and character of Bergoglio and explores the directions that the Catholic Church might take under his leadership.

Pope Francis

On Blasphemy

The societies of the ancient Mediterranean world assumed a reciprocal relationship between the divine and human beings.  Nations and cities looked to their patron deities for prosperity and protection, especially in times of political, economic, and social pressure, while individuals throughout the Mediterranean flocked to the Delphi to pose questions to the oracles in hopes of receiving divine guidance.  Similarly, the Romans promoted the notion of the pax deorum, the belief that social order rested on human behaviors that showed proper respect to the gods.

Embedded within this cultural ethos was a deep suspicion of those who challenged or refused to participate in this compact.  In the fifth century BCE, the Athenians pronounced a death sentence on the philosopher Anaxagoras for his materialist cosmology.  Although he managed to escape to Asia Minor, his younger contemporary Socrates was less fortunate: at his trial, Plato records that Meletus charged him with rejecting the gods of the city and introducing new divinities (Apology 26b-d).  Even in Classical Athens, freethinking had its limits (see Richard Janko, “Socrates the Freethinker,” in A Companion to Socrates, ed. Sara Ahbel-Rappe and Rachana Kamtekar [Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2009], 48-62).

The Israelite tradition similarly condemned impiety as a offense worthy of death (Leviticus 24:15-16), and the gospel tradition states that the high priests charged Jesus with blasphemy after he claimed to be the messiah (Mark 14:61-64; cf. Matthew 26:63-66), even though claiming messianic status did not traditionally warrant a death sentence.  Later followers of Jesus encountered a similar fate for their exclusive allegiance to God, with Roman imperial authorities condemning to death those who refused to honor their divinities.  Ironically, when Christianity came to dominate European life, they too wielded the charge of blasphemy against their opponents (e.g., Giordano Bruno, George Fox, and William Penn).

Blasphemy thus has a long history in the Western tradition and has reappeared most recently in Greece, a nation under severe stress.  In the following NPR segment, Joanna Kakissis explains that political and religious conservatives have cited Greece’s old blasphemy laws as a way of silencing those who would dare to offend God.  In the background of these efforts is the assumption that an insult to the divine causes cosmic and social disorder–a revival of the ancient trope.

Old Greek Blasphemy Laws Stir Up Modern Drama

Coptic Christians Appoint New Pope

The Coptic Orthodox Church, centered in Egypt, is one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.  Although the origins of this group remain unclear, the message of Jesus took root and flourished in this region from a very early period: Apollos, Paul’s friend and fellow missionary, came from Alexandria according to Acts 18:24, and P52, the oldest New Testament manuscript, was found in Egypt and dates to the first half of the second century.  In the fourth century, Egypt became a center for asceticism and monasticism, while the contemporaneous Nag Hammadi codices offer further evidence for early Christian diversity in this region.

On November 4, the Coptic church nominated a new pope, Bishop Tawadros II, and the enthronment ceremony occurred on November 18.  In the audio segment below, the BBC’s Heart and Soul program covers the ceremony and examines the church’s position within the predominantly Muslim country.

To learn more about Egyptian Christianity in antiquity, see Birger A. Pearson and James E. Goehring, eds., The Roots of Egyptian Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986).  For a survey of the history of the Coptic Church, see Otto F.A. Meinardus, Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1999).

The Copts and the Constitution