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What a fascinating story, thank you!
This is becomming a much more serious problem then the past generally here, added to a general problem of general attitude towards organized religion.
While constiutionally Spain has separation of church and state there are still some remnants ramaining. For example by "concordat" (like a treaty) with Rome,
the king has the right to appoint bishops, though the last two never got involved and the last time the head of state used this right was the dictator Franco over 50 years ago.
Generally there is a decrease in religion across Europe. My village of 5000, has 500 Muslims, the rest self identify as Catholic, but this is cultural if one figures that
we have 8 churches, only two have regular Sunday services, and the total attendance is about 15% of a full house. In addition to the European trend, the problem is that the bishops were in league with the dictatorship. So a parent whose kid did not make his first communion, or was not baptized, they were declared unfit, kids removed from the home and put in a Catholic orphanage. So when Franco died, and we got a democratic constitution people stopped attending services and generally ignore what the bishops say. When I was a kid, churches were generally opened from around 06:00 until 22:00 here, and where I have lived in Scotland, the U.S. and Mexico. Today, most are locked except for just before and after specific services. For non historic churches this to protect them from vandalism, and petty theft, altar wine, furniture and stuff. However for historic churches, which are basicly store house of fine museum worthy art, the motivation is private collectors, and the antique trade which as mentioned is very hard to monitor.
1. In the UK the motorways have places called "services", unlik businesses near off ramps in the U.S. these areas are not accessable to the off freeway road system, and are often connected with bridges containing, restaurants, shops, and even hotels. There is one such where I was having dinner in Sherwood Forest (Nottingham). In the next booth were two women in their 40s comparing loot. In Pisky, Presby, and RC (before 1967) churches there is a "mass book", that contained all the possible readings, valuable in itself, but of more interest, is the ribbons of different colors, that the priest or minister, placed so that he could easily skip between the texts for that service. Some of these, often older then the books themselves are hundreds of years old, embroidered by nuns, or women of the parish, real works of art. What these women had been doing is visiting open and unguarded country churches, and simply cutting their attachment form the bindings, and stealing them, there were about 18 of them, figuring 6 per missal, they must have hit 3 churches. After I finished my meal, there are always traffic officer having coffee and doughnuts in a cafe near the petrol pumps, I told them, and the women were arrested, I was never called to appear because they were caught with the evidence still on their table.
2. During the Spanish Civil War, many churches, parish and private chapels, were sacked, so there is a lot of church art on the antique market. To protect both the buyer, and the original church, when one purchases these items, one gets a certificate of provenance, which protects the buyer, and holds the antique dealer responsible in case the real owner appears years later. (I have two church chandaliers with such documents. My antique dealer is reputable and bonded, so if they are successfully reclaimed, I am reimbursed my purchase price. One popular item is a tabernacle, often ripped from an altar. As only the façade, door, door frame are meant to be seen, this is the valuable part, but more so if one has the part that was built into the altar. In our fairs or festes, many businesses have booths where they sell their best stuff, give out business cards, for people to go to their shops later. In the next village, Felanitx, I stopped by such a booth where I knew the dealer, looked around, played innocent, and asked him about an interesting item. He said it was a tabernacle, he had purchased at some estate sale, and knew nothing about its provenance before that. I suggested, that it was not a tabernacle but much more valuable. He asked why. I said that church art whether pictorl (which this one was) or symbolic bore some relationship to its location. So if not the Last Supper, bread and wine, wheat or grapes, or specific christian symbol, it was probably not a tabernacle, but a container or cupboard of some sort. It was quite complicated in that the façade was curved and instead of doors opening they simply slid in groves, with a complete picture only when they were closed. While the picture was Biblical, is was not necessarily Christian as Abraham´s non sacrifice of Isaac, was an OT text - one used by Islam also. I suggested that it might have been stolen from a Jewish synagogue, and because of its height to width ratio (much to high to hold a chalice, was probably designed to hold the Torah Scrolls, which would also justify the picture. I asked if I could check it out. In doing so discovered that it was probably 19c, but more important had some markings in the interior woodwork, in German script. Since the Spanish Civil war did not particularly involve sacking synagogues, coupled with the German lettering suggested that it could well be Nazi loot from WWII, which might be identified as Jewish property, even if a legal owner could not be found. If this was true, and since the dealer had a reputation and was bonded, he had every reason to research it. From the Spanish end, he was unable to produce any providence, beyond the estate sale. Because of the genocide, there is a lot of treasure that is impossible to return to original owners or heirs, so these items belong to various Jewish organizations. I was right, in my identification, because a Jewish committee, was not only able to identify its function, but also its original synagogue, which along with its congregation no longer exists, So the dealer in question had his reputation improved, got his money back from the bonding company, but the company itself was reimbursed from the estate from which it was purchased. Since the heirs neither had a documented claim to the object, nora record of their acquesition of it, the matter was closed.A more modern issue, one village here, Sa Pobla, has an annual piping festival, with pipers from around the world. Because pipe bands are not professional musicians, they have considerable costs in attending. To help out, the host village "sells" these bands to other villages to help them pay for their trip. a few villages away from Sa Pobla, is Caimari which has an olive festival that same weekend and paid for a Scottish pipe band made up of policemen from a county near London. One of the pipers had an antique set of pipes which had belonged to his Scottish great grandfather, wood was ebony, mountings were ivory (illegal today) or silver. After their playing, they went for supper, leaving their pipes in the trunks of their rented cars. These pipes were stolen. As an abuse of hospitality, this made the local press as a scandle so it was commo
Three great stories - thank you very much!
You know, it occurs to me (quite forcefully after your stories) that all of those riches and art that the church has locked away, would do far more good if they were sold off to museums & collectors all over the world. The world would gain access to all those beautiful objects, and the church would gain a massive income they could use to keep open schools, and in their various missions.
It just seems wrong for it to all be locked away, when there's so much good it could do.
I agree, my village used to have a hospital but with modern tech, village hospitals, as opposed to clinics, are obselete. As a result, ours has been turned into a museum, If I had my way, 20 of the 21 altars in our church (altars here are furniture, not a part of the structure) would be removed and put into an added wing of our museum. Note that their functions for private masses are not a part of the post Vatican II church, thus creating more space for the events that fill our church more then services - meetings, conferences, drama and concerts.
The problem is not the pope, but the curia and the unreformed Catholics.
Yes, the pope is said to be infallable, but it does not really matter what he wants, if the religious civil service drags its feet.
One of the reforms post Vatican II, regards baptism, the church does not say much now about original sin (theologicly weak anyway) but the service as an initian ritual into the community of the parish. Many new churches do not have baptistries, other older ones have replaced them with a font of some sort up at the front. Our baptistry, a chapel, a work of art is only large enough to hld about 20 max, where baptisms are scheduled by the family and involve invited guests with a party afterwards. Of course the baby has no clue as what is going on. So when our rector refused to schedule private baptisms, but has them during mass, usually on Sundays, there was a public outcry, not from those who are regular attenders but those who only want to use the church as an egoistic background for a private event. Of course the press will do anything to sell papers, so the photo accompanying the report, showed our empty baptistry, with the iron grill separating it from the nave,not only closed, but locked with a chain. Fake news, since I have never seen the grill closed, yes it has a built in lock so there is no need for a chain and padlock, where ever that came from. The various valuable things would be safe in our local museum, permanent staff and CCTV. And the regional arts coucill already takes the various treasures for exibitions. Related to this is the concept of separation of church and state, America claims to have such but in reality not only legally defines an approved religion, but supports it with everyone´s tax money. In the historical past, there might be some justification, as in Europe before Napoleon, the church had a monopoly on all social services. Everywhere that Napoleon conquered, this responsibility passed to the city hall. So if one does an item analysis of church income and expenses, the majority has nothing to do with charity or social services, it goes for maintenance and expansion of capital, and support for the administrive superstructure, which sits on tax free land (except for that belonging to Quakers in the U.S.)
When the communists took over Yugoslavia, they had the right idea. The stuff to which you refer was created and paid for by the local community, so the communists confiscated all the churches as a part of the national heritage, then rents the uses of them back to the congregations that want to use them. To a certain extent that has happened here. Our priests are self supporting on saleries, of our 8 churches, only two have services, the others have been given to the town for secular purposes. For example, one is part of our senior citizen´s club. During the day, instead of pews it has card tables with access to a bar. Resting on what was the altar is the bingo board, the side altars have speakers, and the pulpit is used by the bingo caller. The walls between the cells have been knocked out and the space turned into classrooms.
Note that as a volunteer, I have no problem (objected to by mostly Germans, Americans, and people from peninsular Spain) charging 3€ for my tour, because without me the building would be locked, and when opened for them, the electricity often costs more then they pay. The money has all been spent on electricity, and maintaining the structure. God does not require a structure if they just want to pray, and they can enter any time it is opened before or after services. Besides allowing them to look around and take pictures, my tour lecture puts what they are seeing in an historical perspective often different from theirs. As a regular, I do this on market day between 11 and 12, often open the door early if someone is waiting, and always check the street at 12 before locking up. On average, it is a bargain considering the cost of electricity, so called "great houses" here charge 6e pp, 3€ for kids, and provide a lot less information. The real income comes from bus parties from senior citizens clubs outside the village, cruise ships, and hotel organized tours. So if I have a tour bus, at 3€ perhead, that means I bring in about 150€ per hour, but as the church if the focus of the tour, the fee for the bus tour itself is higher because it provides lunch, wine tasting, the art museum, two factories (sausage, and agricultural), and free time in the market and the city hall, which brings in money for the village, which is a working community not designed for tourism. So the tourists actually see the real Mallorca, as opposed to beaches, shopping malls, and selected restaurants with tourist food.
I think that if this particular pope stays in office long enough, we'll start to see some changes in that direction. He seems to not be impressed with the trappings, and more concerned with the poor.
I would hope so, but it is like any CEO, president, dictator, general. It is so easy to isolate them, and in the case of the pope, the curia, if they don´t agree, they will say yes, but it will not happen. It is sort like the expression in most languages "yes, but ..." then a lot of little objections, problems, etc. guarantee that the message will not get down to the action stage.
I am surprised he has gotten away with his points on gays, marriages after divorces, and women who have had abortions.
Here is a local example. In 1965, the ritual and function of baptism was radicly changed, a long with a lot of related rules. I have lived here 15 years, my first pastor had been in the job 30 years before he died. He was a country boy, but having lived under the dictatorship he kept a low profile when he broke the rules. He was replaced by a city boy, very Roman old school, was not native to the language (we don´t speak Spanish in this part of Spain - except to be polite to foreigners) He was from the Atlantic coast of Spain, we are in the Med, two different cultures. Very nice man, but led a miserable life because he isolated himself. New guy for just a year, former missionary, country boy from the next village, lots of local connectionss. He noticed that our parish still followed the pre 1965 rules regarding baptism, so he brought them up to date. He was misquoted in the press, the conservative heavies objected, the politicians criticized to seek popularity. Fortunately he is a strong man, his sermons have increased attendance, he has his morning coffee and paper read at a table on the avenue, gets on well with the non practicing, when there is work, rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty. But from my posician I can see the struggle between the two existing power groups, who have divided the village since the civil war. In 1238, to conquer the island, the king, Jaume I, sold the church to the kingdom of Valencia in exchange for military aid, as a result the first native bishop of the place was not until 1900, most of the others did not speak the language, our present bishop speaks the language but at least is not that foreign, as it is also his native language. When our recently ousted conservative president came into our annual pilgrimage service (next Sunday) he went down on his knee to kiss his ring. As a musician, I was about 2m away, and heard the bishop mutter, "stand up, you are emb arrasing me". The bishop has a huge palace, larger then the king´s. When he came he turned the bottom 3 floors into a museum, several wings into the archives, got rid of the throne (made the room into a receptian hall - no furniture, just side tables for refreshments. Sold the limo, drives a mini, and had a special staff made that came in two parts, so it would fit inside. Like the priests he wears regular clothes, does not have the morning paper delivered because he reads the free copy at the bar around the corner. BTW that "sale" in 1238 still is in effect, our region is the only one without an archbishop, so our three bishops are appointed from Spain. This may seem strange to you but the same happened in Scotland. You may have noticed that England has two archbishops, Canterbury and York. Canterbury´s province is south of the Humber, and York´s went all the way to the islands at the north of Scotland, it was only just before the reformation that St Andrews became the Archbishop of Scotland. The reason was political. France was the enemy of the Pope, so England as France´s enemy supported the Pope, and Scotland as England´s enemy supported France. So the pope kept England friendly by not giving Scotland its own archbishop. This is an ancient political theory, that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, as America has discovered the hard way in a parallel situation. The USSR was the enemy of Afghanistan, so we supported the Taliban and Alqueda in Afgnanistan. Iran was the enemy of the U.S. so we supported Saddam against Iran., etc. France was our friend, so we supported its empire in Viet Nam, which threw Ho Chi Minh into the hands of the Chinese. The Protestants in Ireland, celebrate the Battle of the Boyne which gave them control of northern Ireland, and not the Catholic Stuarts, but France was the enemy of the pope again so the pope paid for the Brotestant army of William of Orange because he was FRance´s enemy. America seems to forget that much of the weaponry killing our soldiers in the near East was made in America, our gift to OBL and the like for fighting communists.