Museum Asks For Your Help Reassembling Medieval Cross

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is asking for your help in reassembling an early medieval carved stone.

The Hilton of Cadboll Stone was carved in Scotland around 800 AD by the Picts, a mysterious people who have left little in the way of a written record but created some incredible art. The stone was carved shortly after the Picts converted to Christianity and includes one of Scotland’s earliest representations of Jesus.

This particular stone has had a rough time in the past 1200 years. At some unrecorded date it was snapped off from its base, then later defaced by Protestant reformers. In 1676, the Christian cross on one side of the stone was chipped off and replaced with an inscription commemorating a local man, Alexander Duff, and his three wives.

While one side is still impressive, as you can see here, it seemed the rest of the stone had been defaced beyond all hope of restoration until a recent excavation at the original site uncovered the stones’ base.Unfortunately it’s smashed into some 3,000 pieces, and that’s where you come in. The museum has put every piece through a 3D scanner and is launching a website where you can try your hand at reassembling it.

The project is part of the museum’s upcoming exhibition Creative Spirit Revealing Early Medieval Scotland, which will open October 25. It focuses on the Early Medieval period (around 300-900 AD), an time between Scottish and Viking influence and marking the arrival of Christianity and emerging powerful elites. The online reassembly will begin on that date at the special website Pictish Puzzle.

The museum is especially calling for gamers to help out because, they say, gamers are better at manipulating 3D images and finding patterns.

Might be a fun break from killing zombies.

Otranto Cathedral: Where You Can See The Remains Of Catholicism’s Newest Saints

Pope Francis has beatified a long list of religious figures in the first creation of saints of his papacy, the Guardian reports. Included in this list are the 813 Martyrs of Otranto. These were victims of a massacre in the southern Italian town in 1480 when Ottoman soldiers beheaded them for refusing to convert to Islam.

It was common in Medieval and Renaissance Europe to display the remains of martyrs and saints, and the Martyrs of Otranto were no exception. They are on display in a huge ossuary in the Cathedral of Otranto. It’s a fitting home since many Otranto residents took shelter in the cathedral during the Ottoman attack on their city. Eventually, the Ottomans broke in, took away the people and turned the cathedral into a stable. The cathedral was reconsecrated the following year when the Italians recaptured Otranto.

The cathedral, first consecrated in 1088, has more to offer than the arresting sight of hundreds of bones stacked up on a wall. The floor is covered with one of the most impressive medieval mosaics in Europe – a complex 12th-century work of art showing Biblical scenes, Heaven, Hell and the Garden of Eden. There are also traces of early frescoes on the wall, a gilded ceiling and some fine Gothic tracery.

Some of the remains of the Martyrs of Otranto are kept in Santa Caterina a Formiello in Naples. Italy is one of the best countries to see bits of holy people from the past. There are numerous saints’ relics in Rome, including a crypt of mummified monks. The city even has a Purgatory Museum. The Basilica of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay, France, has Mary’s bones. Further east in Sozopol, Bulgaria, is a church with the bones of John the Baptist.

[Photo courtesy Laurent Massoptier]


Famous Roman ‘Tomb’ May Have Actually Been A Temple

At the Roman necropolis in Carmona, Spain, visitors are led to the popular “Elephant’s Tomb,” a large underground chamber that gets its name from a crude sculpture of an elephant found there.

Now archaeologists are saying it may not be a tomb at all, but rather a temple to one of the ancient world’s most mysterious religions. A team from the University of Pablo de Olavide, Seville, has analyzed the structure and says it was once a mithraeum, an underground temple for the god Mithras.

Mithraism centered on secret rites centered on the mystical slaying of a bull was one of the most popular faiths in the last years of paganism. Several mithraeums are scattered about Europe, including in London, Mérida, and along Hadrian’s Wall.

The archaeologists point out that its general shape, with a columned, three-chambered room leading to an area for altars, is the same as other mithraeums. They also found astronomical alignments. Sunlight would hit the center of the chamber during the equinoxes, and during the winter and summer solstices, the sun would light up the north and south walls respectively. As the sun shines through the window during the spring equinox, Taurus rises to the East and Scorpio hides to the West. The opposite occurred during the autumn equinox. Taurus and Scorpio figure prominently in the religion’s astrological symbolism, with the God Mithras slaying a bull as a scorpion stings the animal’s testicles.

It was only later that the temple was turned into a burial chamber, researchers say.

Carmona is less than 20 miles from Seville and is a popular day trip from there.

[Top photo courtesy Daniel Villafruela. Bottom photo courtesy Henri de Boisgelin.]

VIDEO: What People In Jerusalem Wish For

When the news talks about the people of Jerusalem, it’s usually to highlight their differences. While those certainly exist, there’s more to it than that. People all have their own opinions and priorities and the folks living in Jerusalem are no exception. In this video, a group of Jerusalem residents are asked all the same question: if you had one wish, what would you wish for?

Their answers are surprising, and cut across religious, political and ethnic lines. There doesn’t seem to be any agenda to this video, as the divisive comments (some quite nasty) are left in along with the heartwarming ones. Naturally, many address the big issues, while some are tied up in their own affairs. This reflects my own experiences in Israel, where people range from good to bad to just plain ugly.

But mostly good, and that’s important to remember.

Should Easter Be A Long Weekend In The US?

At the stroke of midnight, fireworks lit up the night sky on the Greek island of Naxos. In a square outside a centuries old church, at least half the island’s population gathered to celebrate the occasion. Children ran around and threw firecrackers, senior citizens occupied all the choice benches and everyone was dressed to the nines and holding lit candles. An hour or so after midnight, everyone filed out of the square and retreated to their homes for a huge feast that breaks the Lenten fast. This is how Orthodox Easter is celebrated in towns and villages all over Greece.

If you’ve never spent Easter Sunday in a predominantly Christian country like Greece, Italy or many others in Europe and Latin America where it’s the biggest holiday of the year, you’re missing out on the travel experience of a lifetime. Here in the U.S., Easter isn’t even a public holiday worthy of a long weekend. In many parts of the country, you can drive around and shop and not even realize that it’s an important Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I’ve spent Easter in a variety of countries where everything completely shuts down for a few days. As a traveler, that can be disruptive and annoying. But I will never forget how joyous an occasion Easter was in Naxos. Nor will I forget an Easter Sunday I spent in Modica, in southeastern Sicily several years ago (see top photo). The entire town turns out onto the streets, dressed to kill, for a colorful procession with marching bands and then after Mass, everyone repairs to a house or restaurant for a meal fit for a king. Everyone you meet wishes you a buona Pasqua and the good vibes are contagious, even if you aren’t religious.

According to the most recent census data, about 76 percent of adults in the U.S. self identify as Christians (3.8 percent practice other religions, 15 percent don’t practice any religion, and 5 percent refused to answer the question). The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state yet Christmas is a government holiday while Easter is not. Peter Steinfels, writing in The New York Times in 1998 wrote that America was “too religious and too Christian to ignore Easter, but also too pluralist and too secular to absorb it comfortably as a national holiday.”

We are indeed a diverse country, which presents interesting opportunities for visitors to our shores, but it’s also very special to visit a largely homogenous country during a major holiday because it’s fascinating to see an entire place come to a standstill as a community celebrates out on the streets together.

Easter is a religious holiday and we’re a largely secular country, so there are good reasons why it isn’t a public holiday. But I think making Easter a long weekend would be good for the travel industry and good for the country. We take an average of 13 days off per year, compared to 38 in France, 34 in Brazil, 32 in Sweden, 27 in Germany and 19 in Australia, for example.

Surely even those who don’t celebrate Easter wouldn’t mind a long weekend, would they? Or would the declaration of Easter as a national holiday be offensive to non-Christians who are already uncomfortable with Christmas being a public holiday? Let us know how you feel about this in the comments and in the poll.


[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Klearchos Kapoutsis and jpereira_net on Flickr]