Los Doce Apóstoles de Jesús: Su historia Olvidada

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Capítulo 1

El apóstol Pedro

 

“¿Pero qué hay de ti?” Preguntó. “¿Quién dices qué soy?” Simón Pedro respondió: “Tú eres el Mesías, el Hijo del dios viviente “. Jesús respondió: “Bienaventurado eres, Simón, hijo de Jonás, porque esto no te fue revelado por la carne y la sangre, sino por mi Padre en el cielo. Y te digo que tú eres Pedro, y sobre esta roca edificaré mi iglesia … Mateo 16: 15–18 NIV

 

            El evangelio de Juan nos dice que el apóstol Simón Pedro era el hijo de Jonás y el hermano del apóstol Andrés. En el momento en que recibieron su llamamiento para ser discípulos de Jesús, ambos hombres vivían en el pequeño pueblo pesquero galileo de Betsaida. Y es con ésta, la más inocente de las referencias en el Evangelio de San Juan, que comienza la confusión histórica con respecto a la vida de Pedro. Esto se debe a que los investigadores de hoy en día no se ponen de acuerdo sobre la ubicación exacta de la que Juan está hablando cuando dijo “Bethsaida”. Por lo tanto, hasta que los arqueólogos lo decidan de manera convincente, solo diré que Pedro nació en un pueblo de pescadores en la costa norte del Mar de Galilea, cerca de donde desemboca el río Jordán.

            Pedro aparece muchas veces en los cuatro Evangelios, principalmente como uno de los tres apóstoles que Jesús parecía formar parte de su círculo interno (los otros dos miembros del círculo interno son Santiago y Juan, los hijos de Zebedeo). Viajó prolongadamente con Jesús y los otros apóstoles a través de las regiones de Judea, Samaria y Galilea. El norte más lejano al que todos viajaron juntos, que se menciona en el Nuevo Testamento, es Caesarea-Philippi, ubicado en la base del Monte Herman. hoy Israel; en el sur, se aventuraron hasta el desierto de Judea, cerca de las costas norte y oeste del Mar Muerto.

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Después del Pentecostés, Pedro se hizo cargo de la iglesia cristiana antigua en Jerusalén, hasta el momento en que Santiago el justo se convirtió en su obispo. El libro de Hechos registra varios de los viajes misioneros locales que Pedro realizó a la región circundante. Uno de los primeros viajes mencionados es a Samaria (la ciudad de Samaria, no la región). Conocido hoy como el pueblo de Sebastia, fue ahí donde Pedro y Juan se encontraron y vencieron a Simón el Hechicero. A continuación, el libro de Hechos tiene Peter viajando a la ciudad de Lydda (la ciudad moderna de Lod), donde cura a un hombre paralítico llamado Eneas. Los Hechos 9: 36–41 hablan sobre sus viajes a la ciudad de Jope (Jaffa de hoy en día) para resucitar a la discípula Tabitha de entre los muertos. También en Jope, mientras él se alojaba en la casa de Simón el curtidor, Pedro tuvo su visión en la que una voz le decía: “No digas nada impuro que Dios haya limpiado”.

            Después, el apóstol fue convocado por el centurión Cornelio, quien tuvo un sueño al mismo tiempo que Pedro, en la casa del soldado, en la ciudad portuaria mediterránea de Cesárea. En este lugar el oficial romano fue bautizado por Pedro, y se convirtió en el primer gentil incontestado en convertirse a la nueva fe del cristianismo. Hechos 12:17 declaró que mientras estaban con los discípulos en la casa de María, la madre de Juan, Pedro les dijo a los oyentes ansiosos reunidos: “Cuéntale a Santiago y a los otros hermanos y hermanas sobre esto [su recién escapó de la prisión en Jerusalén], ”Y luego se fue a otro lugar.

            “Y luego se fue a otro lugar”. Con esta declaración simple y altamente ambigua, no se escribió otra palabra concluyente en el Nuevo Testamento, con respecto a los futuros viajes misioneros de Pedro.

            A pesar de que no se precisa con claridad en el libro de Hechos, se piensa (con la excepción de Santiago el Menor) que después del último Concilio Apostólico en Jerusalén en el 50 dC, los

Un punto para reflexionar

-la ciudad grecorromana de Cesárea de Filipo (hoy en día Banias) era el norte más lejano al que Jesús había visitado en compañía de los Doce Apóstoles. Fue en esa región del norte de Israel, a veinticinco millas al norte del mar de Galilea, que el Evangelio de Mateo dice que Jesús reveló que erigiría una Iglesia y que le daría primacía al apóstol Pedro. Se ha escrito mucho a través de los milenios, especulando por qué Jesús eligió este lugar para hacer este importante anuncio. Una opinión interesante que descubrí en mis investigaciones para este libro me pareció muy intrigante.

-En la antigüedad, Cesárea de Filipo era un centro de culto para la veneración de muchos de los dioses griegos y romanos. Incluso había un complejo de templos construidos en honor del dios griego Pan, en una gruta rocosa de la que emanaba la fuente del río Jordán. Es esta asociación con los amables paganos lo que quizás inspiró a Jesús a seleccionar este lugar para su pronunciamiento más importante. En su superficie, el significado de “y sobre esta roca edificaré mi Iglesia” es bastante claro. Estaba hablando directamente con el apóstol Simón Pedro (después conocido solo como Pedro). Pero para agregar un significado más trascendente e inclusivo a su declaración, imagine que al mismo tiempo que estaba hablando con Pedro, también se dirigió a los templos gentiles en los acantilados rocosos detrás de ellos para indicar simbólicamente su deseo de construir la Iglesia sobre estos no judíos también. O tomando la metáfora incluso un paso más profundo: que él también se señaló a sí mismo para recordarle a los apóstoles que no lo olvidaran.

 

Doce apóstoles todavía estaban vivos, y que no lo habían hecho. Sin embargo, dispersos de una vez por todas en sus diversos viajes evangelistas. Seguían el mandato de Jesús, de difundir el Evangelio al resto del mundo conocido. Lo que se sabe de los viajes de Pedro, su sufrimiento y el lugar de descanso final de sus restos terrenales (como será el caso de los otros once apóstoles) me basaré en:

  • Tradición local (un concepto que generalmente se ignora por los estudiosos)

  • Los escritos de los primeros Padres de la Iglesia.

  • Indicios de las epístolas de Pedro y el evangelio de Marcos

  • Las tradiciones fundadoras de muchos cristianos.

  • denominaciones

  • La falta de tradiciones en competencia (una idea igualmente rechazada por los estudiosos)

El Consejo Apostólico

El Concilio Apostólico (también conocido como el Concilio de Jerusalén) tuvo lugar alrededor del 50 d.C. en la ciudad de Jerusalén. Podemos estar seguros que asistieron Pablo, los apóstoles Pedro y Santiago el Menor, y posiblemente Juan. El objetivo de la reunión era acordar cuánto de la ley mosaica judía existente debían seguir aquellos gentiles que deseaban unirse al nuevo movimiento cristiano. El principal problema era decidir si los nuevos hombres no judíos que querían unirse, debían ser circuncidados primero. Se determinó que no lo hicieron.

Los viajes de Pedro

            Al norte de Jerusalén y ubicada en lo que hoy es el sur de Turquía, se encuentra la ciudad de Antakya. En los días de los Doce Apóstoles, la ciudad se conocía como Antioquía. En aquellos días, la ciudad era una de las más grandes del Imperio Romano. Fue en Antioquía donde, por primera vez, el término “cristiano”  se hizo de uso común.

            Los antiguos padres de la Iglesia dicen que fue en Antioquía donde el apóstol Pedro (junto con Pablo) fundó una Iglesia y que Pedro pasó siete años como su primer obispo. Hasta el día de hoy, los patriarcas de la Iglesia ortodoxa siríaca dibujan una línea ininterrumpida de autoridad apostólica todo de regreso a San Pedro. Y, muy famoso, la ciudad fue la ubicación del “Incidente en Antioquía”. Según la Epístola de San Pablo a los Gálatas (2:11), fue aquí donde Pablo reprendió a Pedro por tratar a los conversos gentiles como inferiores.

            El autor del libro del Nuevo Testamento, Pedro 1, se refiere a los “exiliados de la dispersión en Ponto, Galacia, Capadocia, Asia y Bitinia”. El padre de la Iglesia del siglo III, Hipólito de Roma, confirmó las visitas reales de Pedro a estos lugares. Si revisas un mapa de estas antiguas provincias romanas que hoy conforman la gran mayoría de la nación moderna de Turquía, parece lógico también. Geográficamente hablando, Pedro tuvo que haber pasado por estas regiones en su camino hacia la ciudad portuaria oriental de Éfeso. Le habría significado un descuido no haberse detenido al menos para visitar a su compañero apóstol, Juan, para saludar y pasar la noche.

            Fue desde Éfeso que probablemente partió para Corinto, una ciudad a 180 millas de distancia por mar, y que aún se puede visitar hoy en la Grecia moderna. Hechos 18: 1–17 dice que Pablo fundó la Iglesia en Corinto. Sin embargo, el obispo de Corinto, del siglo primero, también incluyó al apóstol Pedro como cofundador de la Iglesia: “Así, por semejante advertencia, habéis unido la plantación de Pedro y Pablo en Roma y Corinto. Porque ambos plantaron y nos enseñaron lo mismo en nuestro Corinto”.

            Después de una corta estancia en Corinto, el apóstol Pedro finalmente navegó a Roma y a su martirio. Aunque el asunto es ligeramente polémico, es muy probable que ya existiera una próspera Iglesia en la ciudad cuando Pedro llegó ahí, poco después del 62 d.C., y que esta Iglesia fue fundada originalmente por Pablo.  La mayoría de los investigadores sitúan el tiempo de su martirio con Pablo: haber estado bajo el reinado de Nerón durante todo el año 64 A.D. El Nuevo Testamento no habla sobre el hecho de que Pedro fue crucificado en Roma, pero la literatura apócrifa asociada con él, reafirma abrumadoramente la tradición, al igual que todos los padres de la Iglesia antigua.

            Por ejemplo, en los textos apócrifos de Pedro, el documento describe una batalla muy divertida de poderes mágicos entre Simón Mago y Pedro, que hace mención del Foro Romano. Además, Ignacio, el tercer obispo de Antioquía y un verdadero alumno del apóstol Juan, habló en una de sus cartas de Pedro  y Pablo, regañando a los cristianos romanos.  Otro padre originario de la Iglesia, Ireneo de Lyon, cuyo maestro, Policarpo, obispo de Esmirna (también discípulo del apóstol Juan), escribió que Pedro y Pablo habían sido los fundadores de la Iglesia en Roma. En resumen, el hecho de que el apóstol Pedro fue martirizado en Roma en algún momento alrededor del año 64 d.C. es algo con lo que casi todos los historiadores e investigadores religiosos están en completo acuerdo. Pero uno de los conceptos más significativos que están disponibles para las personas instruidas, pero uno a los que muy pocos investigadores académicos le dan mucho crédito, es el de la falta de otras tradiciones en competencia.

            Es decir, tenemos un hombre, un hombre muy importante, un hombre relativamente conocido que, por medio de su dedicación y sacrificio, fue esencial para ayudar a cambiar el rumbo de la historia. Si hubiera otro lugar que no fuera Roma, que piense o sienta que reclama el martirio y el lugar de enterramiento de Pedro, lo estarían reclamando desde la cima de la montaña. (Se puede ganar mucho dinero al ser un sitio de peregrinos, y el mundo seguramente lo habría escuchado). Sí, sé que ha habido algunos opositores a lo largo de los siglos cuya lógica extraña y argumentos egoístas están en la literatura. He revisado muchas de sus afirmaciones, pero en un análisis cercano y objetivo, la evidencia simplemente no está ahí.

Los escritos de los primeros Padres de la Iglesia.

Los Padres de la Iglesia antigua fueron teólogos e historiadores que, por medio de sus textos y ejemplos, nutrieron e influyeron en el desarrollo de la Iglesia cristiana antigua, después de la muerte de Jesús y los Doce Apóstoles. Al estudio de estos antiguos Padres de la Iglesia se le conoce como patrística. Los investigadores que estudian la patrística tradicionalmente terminan este período de la Iglesia primitiva en el 700 d.C. Para ser considerado como un Padre de la Iglesia se necesitan cuatro calificaciones: Antigüedad, santidad personal, creencia ortodoxa adecuada, y aprobación de la Iglesia.

•Hay muchas maneras en que los investigadores patrísticos han tratado de clasificar a los diversos grupos de Padres de la Iglesia y hay una gran superposición entre estas categorías.

•Los Padres apostólicos eran, en realidad, hombres que conocían personalmente a uno o más de los Doce Apóstoles, los Setenta Discípulos, o estaban muy influenciados por ellos. Como ejemplo están Clemente de Roma, Ignacio de Antioquía y Policarpo de Esmirna.

•Los padres de la iglesia griega fueron Ireneo de Lyon, Clemente y Origen de Alejandría, Juan Crisóstomo y Basilio el Grande.

•Los padres latinos fueron los primeros teólogos cristianos que escribieron en latín. Los ejemplos mencionan a Tertuliano, Ambrosio de Milán, Jerónimo de Stridonium y Agustín de Hipona.

•Padres sirios. Estos fueron los primeros teólogos cristianos que escribieron en siríaco, un idioma que se habla en Medio Oriente. Los ejemplos incluyen a Aphrahat de Mesopotamia e Isaac de Antioquía.

•Los padres del desierto eran monásticos egipcios cuyos textos eran pocos pero cuya influencia fue grande. Los ejemplos incluyen a Anthony, Pachomius de Tebas y Paul el ancorita.

•La tradición católica y ortodoxa oriental también reconoce a los Grandes Padres de la Iglesia. En el catolicismo, también se les conoce como los Doctores originales de la Iglesia. Estos son teólogos que tuvieron una gran influencia en la doctrina y el crecimiento de la Iglesia antigua. Los ejemplos incluyen Ambrosio, Jerónimo, Agustín, Gregorio el Grande, Basilio el Grande, Atanasio, Gregorio de Nazianzo y Juan Crisóstomo.

Visitar el sitio del martirio de San Pedro y su tumba

            De todos los Doce Apóstoles de Jesús, el lugar del martirio de Pedro y la ubicación de su tumba final, son los más fáciles de visitar. Lo único que se necesita es hacer un viaje a Roma, Italia, para el Vaticano y la Basílica de San Pedro. Si sus creencias religiosas están de acuerdo con la preeminencia del papa como obispo de Roma y el ininterrumpido, descendiente apostólico de San Pedro (como lo hacen los católicos romanos y orientales), o si está en desacuerdo (como lo hacen las iglesias ortodoxa y asiria y muchas otras iglesias protestantes y sectas), no importa pues todos son bienvenidos a visitar esta tumba indiscutible del “Pescador de hombres”.

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      Para visitar el lugar del sufrimiento de San Pedro, camine hasta el crucero sur de la basílica hasta el Altar de San José. En el lado izquierdo de la capilla se encuentra el Altar de la Crucifixión. Cuando se paras o se arrodilla frente a la reproducción en mosaico de la imagen de San Pedro crucificado boca abajo, está exactamente sobre el centro del antiguo circo romano Máximo donde murió el apóstol.

            Una de las características más distintivas de la Basílica de San Pedro, tanto por dentro como por fuera, es su grandiosa cúpula. Si encendiera un rayo láser directamente desde su punto medio, la luz pasaría justo por el centro del altar principal de la iglesia a la gruta de abajo. Ahí pasaría por los restos de la iglesia del siglo III construida por Constantino, y que él había construido exactamente sobre la tumba del apóstol Pedro. Cuando se encuentre en la cripta debajo del piso principal de la iglesia, fuera de un área amurallada bien marcada, estará en presencia del hombre que Jesús llamó Petros, la Roca: un simple pescador judío que caminó sobre la tierra con el Hijo de María, que partió el pan con él en la Última Cena, que lo amó, pero que también negó a su amado amigo tres veces, quien fue a testigo de la tumba vacía del Señor, y que en el último momento, se convirtió en la roca sobre la que Jesús dijo: “Edificaré mi Iglesia”.crucifixion-of-st-peter-1605a

La crucifixión de San Pedro por Guido Reni

            Estaba ahí, en la cripta, debajo de la Basílica de San Pedro, frente a los restos mortales del gran apóstol, coloqué la mano en la pared de cristal que nos separaba y se convirtió en “uno” con este gran hombre de Dios. Después de varios minutos de darle las gracias, seguí de pie en silencio. También fue en este momento cuando me pregunté por primera vez: “Rich, me pregunto dónde estarán el resto de estos hombres”.

 

Quo Vadis (¿A dónde vas?)

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Iglesia de Domine Quo Vadis, Roma, Italia

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            A dos millas al sureste del Vaticano, a través de la antigua Vía Romana de Appia, se encuentra la Iglesia de Santa María en Palmis, más conocida como la Iglesia de Domine Quo Vadis. La pequeña y antigua iglesia está construida sobre el lugar donde los hechos apócrifos de Pedro establecieron que el apóstol Pedro se encontró con el Cristo crucificado.

            Según la leyenda, Pedro había sido capturado y condenado a muerte por el emperador Nerón. Sus seguidores, ansiosos por verlo en vivo, lo sacaron de la cárcel donde estaba preso.  En un último acto de debilidad humana, el apóstol escapó de Roma y se dirigió hacia el sur por el antiguo camino romano. Cuando llegó al lugar donde ahora está la iglesia, vio a su viejo amigo y al Señor, dirigiéndose hacia la ciudad. Le preguntó a Jesús: “Domine, quo vadis?” ¿A dónde vas Señor? Jesús, tierno, pero cansado, y probablemente una vez más irritado por el lapso de la fe de su amigo, respondió: “Voy a Roma para ser crucificado una vez más”. Movido por la voluntad de su Señor, de sufrir una vez más, Pedro recobró su coraje y dijo: “Señor, volveré y te seguiré”. Después de eso Jesús desapareció, y Pedro regresó a Roma y a su martirio.

The Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Chapter One

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The Apostle Peter Holding the Keys to the Kingdom

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Chapter One

The Apostle Peter

“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church …” Matthew 16:15–18 NIV

 

The Gospel of John tells us that the apostle Simon Peter was the son of Jonah and the brother of the apostle Andrew. At the time they received their calling to be disciples of Jesus, both men were living in the small Galilean fishing village of Bethsaida. And it is with this most innocent of references in St. John’s Gospel that the historical confusion regarding the life of Peter begins. This is because modern-day researchers cannot even agree on the exact location of which John is speaking when he said “Bethsaida.” Therefore, until the archaeologists decide for sure, I’ll just say that Peter was born in a fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee near where the Jordan River flows into it.

Peter makes many appearances in the four Gospels, mostly as one of the three apostles that Jesus seemed to treat as his inner circle (the other two inner-circle members being James and John, the sons of Zebedee). He traveled extensively with Jesus and the other apostles throughout the regions of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. The farthest north they all traveled together that is mentioned in the New Testament is Caesarea-Philippi, located at the base of Mt. Herman in present-day Israel; in the south, they ventured as far as the Judea wilderness near the north and west shores of the Dead Sea.

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After Pentecost, Peter took charge of the early Christian Church in Jerusalem until the time James the Just became her bishop. The book of Acts records several of Peter’s local missionary journeys to the surrounding region. One of the first trips mentioned is to Samaria (the town of Samaria, not the region). Known today as the village of Sebastia, it was there that Peter and John encountered and defeated Simon the Sorcerer. Next, the book of Acts has Peter traveling to the town of Lydda (the modern-day city of Lod), where he cures a paralyzed man named Aeneas. Acts 9:36–41 tells of his travels to the town of Joppa (modern-day Jaffa) to raise the disciple Tabitha from the dead. It was in Joppa, as well, while he was staying at the home of Simon the tanner, that Peter had his vision in which a voice told him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

The apostle is then summoned by Cornelius the centurion—who, himself, had a dream at the same time as Peter did—to the soldier’s home in the Mediterranean port city of Caesarea. It was there that this Roman officer was baptized by Peter and became the first uncontested Gentile to convert to the new faith of Christianity. Acts 12:17 states that while with the disciples at the house of Mary, the mother of John, Peter told the assembled anxious listeners, “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this [his having just escaped from prison in Jerusalem],” and then he left for another place.

“And then he left for another place.” With that simple and highly imprecise statement, not another conclusive word is written in the New Testament regarding Peter’s future missionary travels.

A Point to Ponder! The Greco Roman city of Caesarea-Philippi (modern-day Banias) was the furthest north Jesus had traveled in the company of the Twelve Apostles. It was in that region of northern Israel twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee that Matthew’s Gospel says that Jesus revealed He would establish a Church and that He would give primacy over it to the apostle Peter. Much has been written over the millennia speculating as to why Jesus chose this place to make this important announcement. One interesting opinion I discovered in my researches for this book I found very intriguing.

-In ancient times, Caesarea-Philippi was a cultic center for the worship of many of the Greek and Roman gods. There was even a temple complex built in honor of the Greek god Pan in a rocky grotto from which flowed the source of the Jordon River. It is this association with the pagan Gentiles that perhaps inspired Jesus to select this spot for this most important of pronouncements. On its surface, the meaning of “and on this rock I will build my Church” is quite clear. He was talking directly to the apostle Simon Peter (afterward known only as Peter). But to add a deeper and more inclusive meaning to His statement, imagine that at the same time He was talking to Peter, He also turned toward the Gentile temples in the rocky cliffs behind them to indicate symbolically His wish to build the Church upon these non-Jews as well. Or taking the metaphor even one step deeper: He also pointed to Himself to remind the apostles not to forget about Him.

 

Although it is not precisely clear in the book of Acts, it is thought (with the exception of James the Less) that after the final Apostolic Council in Jerusalem in 50 AD that those of the Twelve Apostles who were still alive—and who had not done so yet—dispersed once and for all time upon their various evangelist journeys. They were following Jesus’s command to spread the Gospel to the rest of the known world. What is known of Peter’s travels, his martyrdom, and the final resting place of his earthly remains (as will be the case for all of the other eleven apostles) I will base on:

-Local tradition (a concept mostly ignored by scholars)
-The writings of the early Church Fathers
-Hints from Peter’s Epistles and the Gospel of Mark
-The founding traditions of various Christian denominations
-The lack of competing traditions (an idea equally dismissed by scholars)
The Apostolic CouncilThe Apostolic Council (also known as the Jerusalem Council) took place around 50 AD in the city of Jerusalem. Attendees that we can be sure of that were in attendance were Paul, the apostles Peter and James the Lesser, and possibly John. The meeting’s primary purpose was to determine just how much of existing Jewish Mosaic Law that those Gentiles who wished to join the new Christian movement would need to follow. The biggest issue was to decide whether or not new non-Jewish men who wanted to join would need to be circumcised first. It was determined that they did not.

Peter’s Travels

Due north of Jerusalem and located in what is today southern Turkey, is the city of Antakya. In the days of the Twelve Apostles, however, the city was called Antioch. At the time, the city was one of the largest in the Roman Empire. It was in Antioch that the term “Christian” first came into common use.

The ancient Church fathers say that it was in Antioch that the apostle Peter (along with Paul) founded a Church and that Peter spent seven years as her first bishop. To this very day, the patriarchs of the Syriac Orthodox Church trace an unbroken line of apostolic authority all the way back to St. Peter. And, quite famously, the city was the location of the “Incident at Antioch.” According to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (2:11) it was here that Paul rebuked Peter for treating Gentile converts as inferior to Jewish Christians.

The author of the New Testament book Peter 1 addresses the “exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” The third-century Church father, Hippolytus of Rome, confirms Peter’s actual visits to these places. If you look at a map of these former Roman provinces that today make up the vast majority of the modern nation of Turkey, it would seem logical as well. Geographically speaking, Peter would have had to pass through these regions on his way to the eastern seaport city of Ephesus. It would have been neglectful of him not to have at least stopped to visit his fellow apostle, John, to say hello and spend the night.

It was from Ephesus that he probably departed for Corinth, a city 180 miles away by the sea that still can be visited today in modern Greece. Acts 18:1–17 says that Paul founded the Church in Corinth. However, the first-century bishop of Corinth also included the apostle Peter as a cofounder of the Church: “You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth.”

After a short stay in Corinth, the apostle Peter ultimately sailed to Rome and to his martyrdom. Although the matter is slightly controversial, it is very likely that there was already a thriving Church in the city when Peter arrived there shortly after 62 AD, and that this Church was originally founded by Paul. Most scholars place the time of his martyrdom—along with Paul’s—to have been under the reign of Nero around the year 64 AD. The New Testament is silent on the matter of Peter being crucified in Rome, but the apocryphal literature associated with him overwhelmingly reaffirms the tradition, as do all of the early Church fathers.

For example, in the apocryphal Acts of Peter, the document describes a rather amusing battle of magic powers between Simon Magus and Peter that mentions the Roman Forum. Also, Ignatius, the third bishop of Antioch and an actual student of the apostle John, speaks in one of his letters of Peter and Paul admonishing the Roman Christians. Another early Church Father, Irenaeus of Lyons, whose teacher, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna (also a disciple of the apostle John), wrote that Peter and Paul had been the founders of the Church in Rome. In summary, the fact that the apostle Peter was martyred in Rome sometime around the year 64 AD is something that nearly all historians and religious scholars are in complete agreement with. But one of the most important concepts that is available to thinking people—but one that very few academic researchers give much credit to—is that of a lack of any other competing tradition(s).

That is, we have a man, a very important man, a relatively well-known man who, through his dedication and sacrifice, was instrumental in helping to change the course of history. If there was anyplace other than Rome that thinks or feels it has a claim to Peter’s martyrdom and burial site, they would be shouting it from the mountaintop. (There’s a lot of money to be made from being a pilgrim site, and the world would certainly have heard of it.) Yes, I know there have been a few naysayers out there over the centuries whose bizarre logic and self-serving arguments are in the literature. I have read many of their claims, but on close and objective analysis, the evidence just isn’t there.

The Early Church FathersThe Early Church Fathers were theologians and historians who, through their writings and examples, nurtured and influenced the development of the early Christian Church after the deaths of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. The study of these ancient Church Fathers is called patristics. Scholars who study patristics traditionally end this period of the early Church at 700 AD. To be considered a Father of the Church requires four qualifications: Antiquity, personal sanctity, proper orthodox belief, and approval of the Church.

— There are several ways patristic scholars have attempted to classify the various groups of Church Fathers and there is great overlap between these categories.

-The Apostolic Fathers were men who actually personally knew one or more of the Twelve Apostles, the Seventy Disciples, or were strongly influenced by them. Examples are Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna.

-The Greek Church Fathers were Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement and Origin of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, and Basil the Great.

-The Latin Fathers were early Christian theologians who wrote in Latin. Examples include Tertullian, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome of Stridonium, Augustine of Hippo.

-Syriac Fathers. These were early Christian theologians who wrote in Syriac, a language spoken throughout the Middle East. Examples include Aphrahat of Mesopotamia and Isaac of Antioch.

-The Desert Fathers were Egyptian monastics whose writings were few but whose influence was great. Examples include Anthony, Pachomius of Thebes and Paul the Anchorite.

— The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition also recognizes the Great Church Fathers. In Catholicism, they are also referred to as the original Doctors of the Church. These are theologians who had a huge influence on early Church doctrine and growth. Examples include Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Basil the Great, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom.

Visiting St. Peter’s Martyrdom Site and Grave

Of all of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, the site of Peter’s martyrdom and the location of his final tomb are the easiest to visit. The only effort involved is making a trip to Rome, Italy, to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. Whether your religious beliefs agree with the primacy of the pope as the Bishop of Rome and the unbroken, apostolic descendant of St. Peter (as do Roman and Eastern Catholics), or whether you disagree (as do the Orthodox and Assyrian Churches and many Protestant sects), everyone is welcome to visit this undisputed tomb of the “Fisher of Men.”

To visit the site of St. Peter’s martyrdom, you walk to the south transept of the basilica to the Altar of St. Joseph. On the left-hand side of the chapel is the Altar of the Crucifixion. When you stand or kneel in front of the mosaic reproduction of the picture of St. Peter being crucified upside down, you are standing exactly over the center of the ancient Roman Circus Maximus where the apostle died.

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One of the most distinctive features of St. Peter’s Basilica, both from the inside and outside, is its magnificent dome. If you were to shine a laser beam straight down from its midpoint, the light would pass directly through the center of the church’s main altar into the grotto below. There it would pass through the remains of the third-century church built by Constantine, which he had constructed directly over the grave of the apostle Peter. When you stand in the crypt below the main  floor of the church, outside of a well-marked walled-off area, you will be in the presence of the man that Jesus called Petros, the Rock: a simple Jewish fisherman who walked upon the earth with the Son of Mary, who broke bread with Him at the Last Supper, who loved Him but who also denied his beloved friend three times, who was to witness the Lord’s empty tomb, and who would ultimately become the rock upon which Jesus said, “I will build my Church.”

It was there in the crypt below St. Peter’s Basilica in front of the mortal remains of the great apostle that I stood, laid my hand on the glass wall that separated us, and became “one” with this great man of God. After several minutes of giving him thanks, I continued to just stand there for a couple of minutes in silent awe. It was also at this time that I first asked myself the question, “Rich, I wonder where the rest of these guys are?”

Quo Vadis

Two miles southeast of the Vatican along the old Roman Appian Way is the Church of St. Mary in Palmis, better known as the Church of Domine Quo Vadis. The small, ancient church is built over the spot where the apocryphal Acts of Peter state that the apostle Peter met the crucified Christ.

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According to the legend, Peter had been captured and sentenced to death by Emperor Nero. His followers, anxious to see him live, broke him out of prison. In one last act of human weakness, the apostle then fled Rome, heading south on the old Roman road. As he reached the spot where the church now stands, he saw his dear old friend and Lord walking toward the city. He asked Jesus, “Domine, quo vadis?” Where are you going Lord? Tenderly, but tired, and probably once again exasperated by His friend’s lapse of faith, Jesus answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified yet one more time.” Moved by his Lord’s willingness to suffer once more, Peter regained his courage and said, “Lord, I will return and will follow Thee.” Jesus then disappeared, and Peter went back to Rome and to his martyrdom.

THE TUNE THE OLD COW DIED ON: JUST WHEN I THOUGHT I’D HEARD IT ALL

There was an old man and he had an old cow,
But he had no fodder to give her,
So he took up his fiddle and played her the tune:
“Consider, good cow, consider,
This isn’t the time for the grass to grow,
Consider, good cow, consider.”

Several weeks ago, Theresa and I did something that we rarely ever do: we went to a
concert in Ithaca. It’s been about 20-plus years since we’ve done something like this. Yes, I know: In a community like Trumansburg, where nearly everyone is a musician, this may sound like blasphemy! But people who know me know that I’m not all that crazy about crowds and noise and the frequent dissonance associated with live music. But a dear friend/client was singing at the concert, and since I’ve always been a fan of her genre (Negro Spirituals)—and we were able to get out of the office at exactly at 4:00 on a Saturday—we went. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.

 

 

A few nights later during evening office hours, Ms. “E”, another dear neighbor/friend/client brought in her old cat for me to see, and—because I like to keep up on local gossip—I found out that her daughter was in the concert as well and that she, too, was
there. Ms. E then asked us what we thought of the show. I told he we loved it; all except one scene where this soprano? did a bit of an exaggerated solo that seemed a bit out of place for the type of soul-stirring, spiritual music that was being sung.

Ms. E told me that there were some people she spoke with who agreed with me. (I was told later that such an exaggerated performance by a soloist is not uncommon. These acts of virtuosity are called by people who know this stuff more than I do, coloratura.) To me it sounded like she dropped a hammer on her big toe. She ultimately received a healthy applause for her virtuosity, but I think the Federal government was glad there was a ceiling in the auditorium because her voice would have knocked communication satellites out of their orbit.

I can hear it out there now: Doc! “Quit you’re ramblin’ and tell us about the cow!” Ms. E,
sensing my negative opinion of the lead singer’s discordant singing said, “As my old
grandmother in Ireland would say: ‘It was the tune the old cow died on!’” Wow! Because I’m different in this way (some would say I’m a bit touched!) I was so fascinated by that profound statement that I instantly wrote it down. I researched the phrase on the internet the next morning and was amazed at the hundreds of pages of genuine scholarly interpretations there are in cyberspace of this simple phrase! Everything from Mrs. E’s grandmother, to Mark Twain, and to the New Testament’s Book of James!

After reading all of the many commentaries, I believe there are three main ways of
understanding the phrase. The first is a minor tradition among banjo players in our Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia that has the cow being so captivated by the singing, that she dances (some researchers say “singed”) herself to death.

 

A second explanation (and what was most likely Ms. E’s dear grandmother’s true intention), says that in Scotland and Northern Ireland, when any grotesque or melancholy tune is being played and/or sung insufferably bad, people say, “That is the tune the old cow died on.” James Joyce used the phase in this context in his novel
Ulysses in reference to two of his characters having to listen to an intolerable temperance song condemning the evils of alcohol. Mark Twain used the phrase in his story Life on the Mississippi with regards to deck-hands on a steamship singing out-of-tune, sailor ditties one right after another. The English poet, A. E. Housman, in his poem, A Shropshire Lad, takes this meaning of the phrase to a deeper level, as a warning to young adults that it will soon be their time to endure life’s repeated hardships and soul-sucking moments.

 

But there is a third, more profound and spiritual way to interpret Ms. E’s grandmother’s
saying that people who study this material say goes back to the 11th century. The lesson of the words is that it was not the tune that killed the old cow, but rather the lack of food! Rather than having the farmer self-righteously serenading the old cow with stories of grassy pastures, she needed instead, actual grass to eat. In other words (and I quote the article directly) she died from starvation coupled with an overdose of advice. This notion of the spiritual value of the saying takes its precedence from the New Testament Book of James: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:15-16. NIV.

And the whole thing goes further back to the Book of Genesis!!!, but I’m out of room

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From the Library of Congress: Music and Lyrics of:                       The Tune the Old Cow Died On

 

 

Our Thanksgiving Turkey: How A Bird Native to Central America Came to be Named After a Country Located in Western Asia

 

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The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth. By Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (Wikipedia)

 

A lot of people probably don’t know that the bird at the center of our traditional Thanksgiving feast originated in Central America and southern Mexico. The Aztecs called the bird huehxolotl (pronounced way-sho-lotl) and it was originally domesticated from a now extinct wild species native to that area of the world. * A thank-you to my friend Charlie Wolff, Inca and Aztec language scholar, for the pronunciation of this unusual word.

How this bird, that was native to Christopher Columbus’s New World, came to be named after an ancient Old World, eastern Mediterranean country (Turkey) is a matter of considerable controversy. Even the scientific name for our Thanksgiving bird –which usually can be depended upon to shed some light on a specie’s origin–is confusing!

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African Guinea fowl and the North American domestic turkey. (Wikpedia)

 

The official scientific name for the bird we in America call the “turkey” is Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo (from the Greek word Meleagrid, meaning Guinea fowl, and the Latin words gallo and pavo meaning chicken and peacock). This species should not be confused with their close cousins, Meleagris gallopaveo sylvestrus, who are the wild Turkeys we see in our local farmer’s fields.

 

One theory says that the original Spanish conquistadors who conquered and then decimated the native Aztecs thought that the bird looked a lot like the Guinea fowl–a then common domesticated European bird that was a bird native to Africa–whose nickname was the “Turkey bird.” And the reason the African Guinea fowl was called the Turkey bird was that in the early 1500s the bird was being traded and sold in southern Europe and the Middle East by the Ottoman Turks, who at the time, controlled the sea and overland trade routes to the continent of Africa. When the conquistadors brought their new Guinea fowl-looking bird back with them from Central American, the designation Turkey bird stuck.

Eventually this new Turkey bird spread all over Europe and Asia where it was successfully domesticated into the various different breeds that exist today. When the English settlers arrived in the 1600s in what is now our American northeast, they noticed a wild bird that looked a lot like the “Turkey bird” they had back on their farms in England. And even though the wild bird was no direct relation to the original Central American (maybe distant cousins) species, the name turkey again stuck.

A third possibility for the word turkey (and one that I kind of like) was from a December 13, 1992, New York Times article that claimed the New World fowl’s name was actually given to it by Christopher Columbus’s interpreter. The explorer’s interpreter, a Mr. Luis de Torres, was a Jewish convert to Catholicism. When he first saw the bird it reminded him of the peacock, a bird then common throughout Europe and Asia, but originally native to India! And the ancient Hebrew word for peacock at that time was tuki.

And so, what do the people of the country of Turkey call the bird that we in America at Thanksgiving call the turkey? Because the original birds that the Spanish brought back from the New World looked so much like peacocks, they refer to it as the “Hindi” which translates into the “Indian” bird. And what do the people of India call the bird? They refer to it as the “tarki.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

11th Pennsylvania Infantry, the Gettysburg Battlefield, and An Amazing Dog Named Sallie

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Doubleday Avenue: Looking northward on Oak Ridge.The 11th Pennsylvania Monument is in the very center of the photo.

 

Of the nearly 2,000 plaques, statues, and other memorials at the Gettysburg battleground, there are only two dogs portrayed. Of these two dogs, only one, Sallie, was actually at the battle. She can be found on the back side of the 11th Pennsylvania’s Monument on Oak Ridge.

Very few people know she’s there because even though the monument sits right next to the road, you have to get out of your car and walk around the statue of the soldier in order to see her. There you’ll see her restng, watching over the field of battle she had so long ago bravely defended.
Please note: All photos–except the one with her in it–were taken by Theresa Orzeck
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The 11th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment was formed during the first year of the Civil War in 1961 from residents of several Pennsylvania Counties. The unit would participate in nearly all of the big battles including Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and, of course, Gettysburg. 1,890 men served with the unit during the four years of the war; only 340 lived to be discharged at war’s end. During their first month of training, a lieutenant from the regiment was given a pug-nosed brindle Staffordshire  terrier puppy by some grateful townspeople.

 

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An 11th Pennsylvania soldier standing watch over the regiment’s field of battle

 

In short order, she became the unit’s mascot. They named her Sallie, after a local girl from the nearby town of West Chester. Sally drilled along with the soldiers, attended roll call, and during parade, would march with the regiment’s colors. Although she was described to be of even temperament, she was known to hate three things: Rebels, Democrats, and women.
Her first battle was at Cedar Creek in 1862 where she remained on the frontline helping to guard the regimental flags. When concerned caretakers tried to get her to remain safely in the rear of the fighting, she doggedly (sorry, I couldn’t help it) returned back to the front. She did likewise at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.
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West side of the 11th Pennsylvania monument

On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 11th Pennsylvania’s defensive position was overrun by the Confederates, and all who were able had to retreat to the relative safety of Cemetery Ridge. In the rout, Sallie was no where to be found. When the battle was over two days later, the survivors of the regiment found her back on Oak Ridge. Hungry and nearly dying of thirst, she had steadfastly refused to abandon her fallen comrades, protecting them on their field of glory from looters and scavengers.

 

In 1864, Sallie would be badly wounded in the neck at the Battle of Spotsylvania, but would survive. However, in 1865, just months before the end of the war, while accompanying her fellow warriors in the first wave of an attack on the Confederate’s position at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, she took a bullet to the head and died instantly. With great sadness in their hearts, and under unmerciful fire from the enemy, her compatriots buried her on the battlefield.
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Sally, faithfully forever on watch over her regiments field of glory

Because the writer of one of the articles that I used for researching this story did such a good job in his/her summation of the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment’s achievements and their monument at Gettysburg, I shamelessly paraphrase what they wrote in their report:

“At the base of the statue is a bronze likeness of a little dog. It is Sallie … keeping watch through all of eternity over the spirits of her boys, just as she did so many years ago during all of the battles they shared. A dog so loyal and full of love for her men that the regiment’s survivors insisted she be remembered on ‘their’ monument for all of time.”

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2015: Me and Sally

A Native American Hero: The Humble Muskrat

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The Humble Muskrat

 

“Where the great had failed, the small succeeded . . .  Muskrat teaches us about ethical conduct, the action necessary to ensure that Creation continues.  Muskrat informs us about our relationships with each other and with the natural world, including teachings about cooperation, respect, honour, humility, bravery, love and sacrifice.”–Professor Deborah McGregor. www.muskratmagazine.com/teachings-from-the-muskrat/

 

Recently, while on a six day road trip through Wisconsin and up around the north end of Lake Michigan, we spent a night at the Kewadin Hotel/Casino in St. Ignace. The casino, which turned out to be quite nice, is operated by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Our visit there was memorable for three things: a restaurant that served one of the worse New York trip steaks I’ve ever tried to eat, the casino that (for lack of a better expression) scalped me for a little over one hundred dollars at its crap table, and (as it pertains to this blog post) for a very moving, Ojibway creation story written upon one of the walls of the hotel’s lobby. It recounted the story of how the muskrat saved the world. But before I tell the story, here are a few tidbits of information regarding the creature.

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Kewadin Hotel/Casino, St. Ignace, Michigan

Most people today, I believe, don’t give the muskrat too much thought. Many farm boys–and even a few farm girls–back when I was a kid used to trap the critter every fall for a little extra spending money. And, every once in a while, I’ll see one hit in the road between the two ponds that lie on either side of the road just south of our village; but that’s about it. But from my researches that were inspired by the story on the casino wall, it turns out that the muskrat plays a very important part in Native American Creation stories.

As a matter of fact, the word muskrat probably derived from the Algonquin word muscascus. Its scientific name Ondatra zibethicus has quite an interesting story as well. The genus name Ondatra is fairly straightforward, deriving from the Huron word for animal. The species name zibethicus is from the Latin word that describes anything that smells musky, and in turn, is itself derived from the ancient Arabic word for the Asian mammal called the civet cat (sinnawr al-zabada.) For over a thousand years, the perfume industry has made use of a compound called civet musk, or civet oil. This musk is harvested by removing the oil from the secretory pouches of the Asian (and African) civet cat and sells for $200 a pound!

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As promised, here is the story from memory as it was written on the wall of the casino lobby–paraphrased and with some help from www.muskrat.com).
Long ago, the first peoples of the earth strayed from their harmonious ways and began to argue and fight with one another. Seeing that harmony and respect for all living things no longer prevailed on Earth, Kitchi-Manitou decided to purify it all. He did this with water, which came in the form of a great flood, destroying all people and most of the animals as well. Only Nanaboozhoo was able to survive, along with a few animals and birds who managed to swim and fly. Nanaboozhoo floated on a huge log searching for land, but none was to be found.
Finally, he spoke: “I am going to do something. I am going to swim to the bottom of this water and grab a handful of earth. With this small bit of Earth, I believe we can create a new land for us to live on.” So he dove into the water and was gone for a long time. Finally he surfaced, and short of breath told the animals that the water is too deep for him to swim to the bottom. Then a loon tried, then a mink, and then a turtle. None were successful. All failed, and it seemed as though there was no way to get the much needed Earth from the bottom.
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Creation of Turtle Island

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Painting by Carl Ray (1943 – 1979)

Then a soft muffled voice was heard. “I can do it!” At first no one could see who it was that spoke up. Then, the little muskrat stepped forward. “I’ll try,” he repeated. Some of the other, bigger, more powerful animals laughed at muskrat. But the muskrat was not to be denied and without further discussion, dove into the water.
He was gone much longer than any of the others who tried to reach the bottom, but just as his held breath was about to give out, the muskrat thrust his paw forward toward the earth. The brave little muskrat had given his all; an hour later he floated to the surface, dead. A song of mourning and praise was heard across the water as Muskrat’s spirit passed on to the spirit world.
But upon closer inspection, it was discovered that the tiny paw held a precious ball of earth. The animals all shouted with joy. Muskrat sacrificed his life so that life on Earth could begin anew.
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Don Ningewance

“Traditional Indian people, including the Ojibway, hold special reverence for the muskrat who sacrificed his life and made life possible for the Earth’s second people. To this day, the Muskrat has been given a good life. No matter that marshes have been drained and their homes destroyed in the name of progress, the Muskrat continues to survive and multiply. The Muskrats do their part today in remembering the great flood; they build their homes in the shape of the little ball of Earth and the island that was formed from it.” http://www.pipekeepers.org/uploads/3/1/3/0/31306445/the_creation_story.pdf

Additional Credits and Resources by the original authors: *Well worth the extra time to read!

untitled  http://muskratmagazine.com/teachings-from-the-muskrat/

nokomis_original_the_great_mother  http://www.native-art-in-canada.com/turtleisland.html

08f2bb961756022f346ff4a488266167 https://redkettle.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/don-ningewance-biography/

YET ANOTHER TALE OF HUMAN AVARICE: THE TRAGIC LIFE—AND DEATH—OF LONESOME GEORGE

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Embalmed and now on display at the Biological Field Station on Santa Cruz Island, Lonesome George will forever look out at us and to the multitudes of generations yet unborn with his innocent — but dead, dead, dead — dark eyes and ask that most damning and eternal of questions: “WHY!!! Why did you let this happen?”

Readers of this humble column know, that besides sharing the occasional tidbits of my veterinary knowledge with the world, I like to share as well tales of our world travels. Which is good for me, because after 20 years of kicking out these stories, both myself and my readers are getting a bit tired of my constantly pontificating on and on about rabies shots, constipation, heartworm prevention and flea/tick control. These things are important with regards to the health of our dogs and cats, but what I’m about to point out, I THINK, is infinitely more important in terms of our humanity.

Most of our travels involve destinations and goals that give us a deeper insight into the lives and events of the people and places that have shaped the world we live in today: the beaches of Normandy, the Great Wall of China, and the crumbled walls of Jericho. We’ve tested the limits of our meager physical endurance by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiking across the width of England, and trekking 16,000 feet into the Himalayas to the source of the Ganges River. And I cannot forget to include my most favorite of all of our trips: those of numerous Holy Pilgrimages to places like Fatima and Medugorie, the Shrines of Saints Francis, Faustina, and Theresa of Lisieux, as well as to God’s Holy Mountains: Sinai, Nebo, Ararat, and Calvary.

But our travels also have a darker side. I call it “The Death Watch.” Along with Theresa, one of my unspoken goals as a biologist (my Bachelor’s degree was in biology with a minor in chemistry), veterinarian, and citizen of our planet is to seek out and to document endangered species in the wild before they are gone forever. These journeys have taken us to both Antarctica (for the Wandering albatross) and to the Arctic (for the Beluga whales), to Swaziland and Indonesia (for the quickly disappearing Rhinos), to the central Pacific islands of Yap, Kiribati, and Tuvalu (for reef sharks), and to Uganda (for the mountain gorillas.) Sometimes, knowing that these guys will be gone—almost exclusively by the hand of man—is almost too hard to bare. One of our early trips in life was to the Galapagos Islands. The following is a short excerpt from my recently completed travel book.

Galapagos-Islands-Map

Sitting directly on the equator 450 miles west of the South American nation of Ecuador are the Galápagos Islands. This isolated, distant chain of volcanic islands—and the oceans surrounding them—are home to some of the most amazing (and strangest) animals I’ve ever seen: iguana lizards that swim, cormorants that don’t fly, penguins that don’t require any ice, a tool-using finch, and of course, the giant Galápagos tortoise. It was the biological uniqueness of these islands, along with their thirteen distinctly different species of finches (buntings, actually), that inspired a then very young naturalist named Charles Darwin to propose one of the profoundest and most controversial theories in the history of science: the theory of evolution.

At the Charles Darwin Research Center on the main island of Santa Cruz lives a Galápagos tortoise named Lonesome George. As we stood outside his pen in the equatorial sun watching the magnificent tortoise as he chomped away at a head of cabbage, Faustus, our tour boat’s naturalist, told us Lonesome George’s story. The haunting history of this poor creature turned out to be just another version of the same sad story that has darkened mankind’s legacy on this planet since we first picked up our first tool and smashed it over the head of another animal: that of wanton environmental destruction to satisfy our own—and mostly selfish—wants.

Charles Darwin noticed in his landmark study of Galápagos Island finches that each isolated island had its own separate and distinct species of this bird. And so it is with the Galápagos tortoise; each island has its own unique species. Lonesome George had the misfortune of being a native of the ecologically ravaged island of Pinta. For a hundred years, sailing ships would come ashore on the island and, by the thousands!!!, gather up as many of George’s brothers and sisters as their ship’s storage capacity would allow. The tortoises would languish alive in the ship’s holds for months and thereby provide a source of fresh meat for the sailors. When the tortoises’ number became too low to bother with, ship captains set loose goats on to the island to forage and multiply. It was these goats that ate all of the food the tortoises needed to eat.

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In 1971, a biologist discovered Lonesome George near death and brought him to the research center where he lives to this very day. He is the last of his kind on the face of the earth. For the last forty years, his caretakers at the institute have been trying to mate him with what they feel are closely related species, but all of the eggs he has fertilized have proven to be infertile. Barring a miracle of biological science, when Lonesome George dies, so will his species.

And that will be that.

And now, and for all of eternity, that is that!!!

“Lonesome George, spread your angel wings and fly

Go and meet your tortoise lady

On that island in the sky.”

 

 

Camino de Santiago and the Miracle of the Chickens

Sitting directly on the Camino de Santiago in the heart of Spain’s famous Rioja wine district, the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada was founded in the year 1090 by its namesake, St. Domingo de la Calzada. This former hermit turned engineer dedicated his life to the safety and welfare of the pilgrims of his day by building them roads and bridges and even a hospital. He also began work on a church that ultimately would become the beautiful Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

One of the first things I noticed as we walked into this church was the faint smell of chicken poop. A little bit surprised, I looked upward, and there, directly across from the Tomb of St. Domingo, in two separate cages, were a pair of white chickens. One was obviously a rooster; the other was a plump little hen. Our guide then told us the story of the Miracle of the Chickens.

In the middle of the fourteenth-century, a family of great virtue and piety stopped to rest for a couple of days at an inn located in the then small village of Santo Domingo. This family consisted of a father, mother and their,sixteen-year-old son. During their short stay, the innkeeper’s daughter fell passionately in love with the young son. In the words of a sixteenth century travel writer, Andrew Boorde, “. . . she was a wenche whych wolde haue had hym to medyll with her carnally.” In other words, she wanted him for a lover. The young man, however, declined outright—he was, after all, on holy pilgrimage.

The old saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” in this situation turned out to be somewhat of an understatement! This troubled young lady was livid! Enraged beyond words at the boy’s rejection of her offering to bed him, the innkeeper’s daughter plotted the ultimate revenge. During the night before the family was planning to depart, she hid a silver goblet in the boy’s knapsack. Then, in the morning, just after the family had resumed their pilgrimage to Santiago, she told her father of the “theft” of the innkeeper’s silver.

The local sheriff and his deputies then tracked the family down, and when they searched the hapless young man’s backpack, they did indeed find the silver goblet. As the falsely accused boy screamed and pleaded his innocence, he was mercilessly brought before the magistrate for the theft. The judge found him guilty of the crime and sentenced the boy to death by hanging. All the young man’s parents could do was stand by in abject horror as the wardens dragged their son to the gallows on outskirts of town, slip a noose over his neck, and then open the trapdoor beneath his feet. It was ordered that he be left dangling for a week as a stern reminder to all who passed of the penalty for being a thief.

That evening just after the sun had gone down, the distraught parents returned to the site of their son’s execution to mourn him one last time before setting out to fulfill their obligation to complete their pilgrimage. They could do nothing else; the magistrate had issued the edict that he remain where he was. As they tearfully approached what they thought was their dead son’s body, they were confronted by a great surprise. Their boy was still alive!

Still hanging from the gibbet by the rope around his neck, the boy, when he saw his tearful parents, calmly spoke to them. “Fear not, my dear father and mother,” he said. “Blessed St. Domingo holds me in his arms as I now speak. Run, run! with all your might and tell the honorable judge that I’m still alive. St. Domingo will perform a miracle!”

Without a second’s hesitation, the father and mother rushed back into Santo Domingo to the home of the magistrate. After frantically knocking on his door for over a minute, they were finally let in to the inner courtyard, only to be informed by the judge’s servant that the justice was eating his evening meal and absolutely did not want to be disturbed. The determined parents, however, would not be deterred. Barging into the home, they quickly found the dining room.

Prostrating themselves before the seated magistrate, they quickly told him of the miracle taking place involving their son. The judge, who was just about to begin cutting up the two roasted chickens he was about to eat as his dinner, rather than being annoyed—or even worse, downright pissed off—at this intrusion into his home, was moved by a sort of mocking compassion. Legend says that he looked the anxious parents directly in the eye and bluntly said to them as he pointed to his dinner plate, “My dear pilgrims, your boy can no more be alive than these chickens could get up right now and crow!”

The words had no sooner sprung forth from the magistrate’s lips than the Good St. Domingo performed his second miracle of the evening. Immediately, the two chickens, a rooster and a hen, came to life, squawking and scurrying across the table, and then running outside back to their barnyard roost. Upon witnessing this miracle, the judge fell to his knees in fearful penitence, and after begging the Lord for his forgiveness, he granted clemency to the parents’ beloved son.

Our guide continued, “And it is the direct descendants of those two birds that are in the glass cages that we see across from St. Domingo’s tomb. They are maintained by the Confraternity of Santo Domingo in a special place called a gallinero; they are never eaten. Finding one of their feathers lying about the cathedral guarantees a successful completion of your pilgrimage. Also it is said that if the rooster crows while a pilgrim is in the church, those people who hear it are considered to have special favor in the eyes of St. Domingo.”

“Maybe it’s just me,” he said jokingly before leaving us on our own to explore the beautiful cathedral, “but in the two years I’ve been guiding pilgrims, I’ve never heard the rooster crow even one time!”

And perhaps it was just me (and/or the group I was with), but as I explored the interior of that beautiful Gothic church, with its much-venerated and beloved saint, I managed to find not just one, but three white chicken feathers. I kept one and gave one to my wife. The third one, which I had intended to keep as a spare, I later gave away to one of the members of our group. But even more important than finding any of these feathers, I/we all must have truly found supreme favor in the eyes of good St. Domingo, because as we left the good saint’s holy sanctuary, the rooster not only crowed one time for our avian blessing, but FOUR times!

Saint Quitera, A Bridge In The Pyrenees Mountains, And Rabies

The Bridge of Rabies

***Ad infinitum: (From Wikipedia) a Latin phrase meaning “to infinity” “a never-ending, repeating process” “a set of commands to be repeated on and on forever.” For example, Doc Orzeck’s mercilessly interminable rants on and on and on about the life or death importance of getting their pets vaccinated against rabies.

***Ad nauseam: a Latin term used to describe something that has been continuing nonstop to the point of nausea. An example, once again, would be that loyal readers of this column have heard so much of Doc’s erudition (perpetual babbling) about rabies that it’s making them sick!

The two most important concepts to keep in mind about the disease rabies for you and your pets are: First, if you are exposed to the disease either through a bite wound or an intimate exposure to a rabid animal, and you do not seek immediate medical attention for yourself, there is nearly a 100% chance that if you catch the disease, you will die. Always remember, that with regards to bite wounds, your physician is your best friend. Secondly, rabies is nearly 100% preventable in your pet (as well as yourself) with proper vaccination. And always remember, that with regards to your pets health, his or her veterinarian is their best friend!

I can almost hear it out there as I write this humble article: “Wow, Doc, what a depressing topic this rabies stuff is!” And my first response would be: “Yup, it sure is!” But because I’m the sensitive, new-millennial, kind of guy that I am, I’m gonna give you most-treasured readers of this humble column a break. Instead of beating you over the head with more blah, blah, blah about the importance of vaccinating your pets against rabies, I’m gonna tell a travel story instead.

A couple of years back, my wife and I walked the Camino de Santiago (Walk of Saint James). From the land of the Basque people high in the Pyrenees Mountains, across the vineyards and wheat fields of Navarra, and ending in the Galician city of Santiago, the Camino is a thousand-year-old plus trail across northern Spain that has been used by Christian pilgrims to travel and gain Grace to the tomb of the Apostle James (the Greater). It’s an amazing experience full of good foods, delicious wines (not quite as good as my beloved Finger Lake’s wine region), history, legends, and miraculous events.

Part one: One of the more interesting legends on the Camino involves a rather plain and unimposing ancient Gothic stone bridge that we crossed over at the end of our second day of walking. As a veterinarian, I found this story especially interesting. The bridge, with its center pier and twin arches, crossed the Arga river into the little valley town of Zubiri. (Zubiri in the Basque language means “village of the bridge.”) What caught my attention the most about the bridge was its name: El Puente de la rabia, the “bridge of rabies.”

I know! I know! that I said I was going to skip the rabies stuff, but I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself! But as long as I have your attention, I might as well continue.

Part two: There is a much-venerated 5th Century Christian martyr in this border region between France and Spain (as well as Portugal) by the name of Saint Quiteria. Not too much is officially known about her except that she was the virgin daughter of a Galician prince, who was beheaded by her father because she refused to renounce her Christianity. Because it was said that she held at bay two mad rabid dogs with her saintly voice, Saint Quiteria’s intercession is prayed for to help in the prevention of rabies. The good saint is depicted in paintings and sculpture always leading a dog.

I can hear it out there now: “That’s interesting stuff, Doc. But what does a 5th virgin martyr and a simple stone bridge have to do with anything?” Ah, dear readers, this is where it gets interesting. It turns out that some—or maybe all—of Saint Quiteria’s relics are embedded in the central pier of the bridge of rabies. And, for over a thousand years—and still to this very day—local farmers believe that if they march their animals three times over the central pier, the beast will be immune from rabies. Also, they believe that if they walk a rabies infected animal three times around the central pier (the river in the summer is not all that deep) that it will be cured of the disease! I’m not too sure of the science of all this hard work, but it must be more exciting that just getting a shot at the vets!

Thanks again.

Doctor Oz

Alfalfa and the Turkish Van Cat

Last September, Theresa and I made an amazing trip to eastern Turkey where we went on an expedition to climb Mt. Ararat. In answer to the question we most receive when we tell others about our climb: Nope, we didn’t see any remnants of Noah’s Ark. My personal opinion—after having to endure three nights of freezing cold temperature and high winds on Ararat’s treeless, rocky slopes—is that the decedents of Noah chopped it up for firewood long, long ago.

In order to get to the base of Mt. Ararat, we needed to fly from Istanbul to a city in Eastern Turkey called Van. From there we had a three-hour-drive over the Anatolian Plateau to the city of Dogubeyazit, a dusty, somewhat ugly city of functional concrete high-rise apartments that serves as a provisioning point for Ararat climbs and (interestingly) is the last town you hit before the Iranian border.

As former dairy farmers, one of the things Theresa and I noticed on the long bus ride were the region’s lush fields of alfalfa. With the exception of a few irrigated fields of corn and melons, these patches of alfalfa hay were all that seemed to be growing in that harsh, stony, bone-dry, mountainous terrain. And not only was it growing, but it seemed to actually be thriving! I knew that the word alfalfa was Arabic/Persian in origin, but what I didn’t know was that this region of the world between Turkey and Iran that we rode across is where the plant was originally domesticated over 6000 years ago. The crop’s biggest importance to the ancient Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans was as a highly nutritious food stuff for their war horses. And in Arabic/Persian that’s what the word alfalfa means: Best horse fodder.

The city of Van may ring a few bells with cat lovers among us, for it is in this region of the world that the Turkish Van cat originated. As you drive into the city from her regional airport, there is a huge statue of the famous cat. (Van is also famous for her apples, which also had their origin in Western Turkey and Iran!) Although this statement is not without controversy, it is believed by most scientists that the cat is the worlds oldest breed. The local people of this region believe their Van cat descends directly from the original pair of cats on Noah’s Ark!

I don’t see a lot of Turkish Vans in my veterinary practice. My research say that the Turkish Van did not arrive in the United States until 1985. Until she passed a few years ago, the only time I ever saw purebred Turkish Vans was when this breeder brought her’s in to see me. They were big, beautiful cats with long narrow bodies, who seemed like they wanted to kill me whenever she brought them into my office. Also, I suspect that my clinic cat “Speedie” is a Turkish Van mutt.

Besides their distinctive orange and white color patterns (they can also have black patches), their long, luxuriously soft, angora-like hair, and their heterochromia iridis (different colored eyes), the Van cats are world famous for their love of water and swimming! Most also have a distinctive small, oblong, orange patch between their shoulder blades.

The local Kurdish people of the region call this unusual mark “God’s thumb print.” Their legend says that while floating around on the Great Deluge, Noah noticed that the rats he had brought along had multiplied to such a great extent that they started to chew away at the bottom of the Ark. Worried that they might eventually eat their way through and cause the vessel to sink, Noah went to one of the lions he had brought on board and somehow caused the great beast to sneeze. Then, from out of each nostril came a cat. These pair of cats, in turn, gobbled up the excess rats and very likely saved the Ark from sinking. The story goes that after coming to rest on the Mountain of Ararat, as they were disembarking the Ark, God gave the cats a special blessing for their hard work. Every place the Lord placed His hands on the cats—their heads, shoulders, and tails—turned flaming orange.

A Story of a Cat, A Rooster, and the San Damiano Cross

In the early years of thirteenth-century Italy, Francis Bernardone, then still a young penitent, was walking alone in the valley below his former hilltop home of Assisi when he happened upon the ruins of an old country church. As this future Saint Francis of Assisi stood in front of the collapsed building, an internal voice told him to go inside and pray. Obediently, he entered what was left of the building and cleared away enough rubble so he could approach the sanctuary’s ancient altar. Above this broken-down altar hung the intact crucifix that is now known and revered throughout all of Christendom as the San Damiano Cross.

As young Francis knelt down and began his prayers, he happened to gaze up upon the face of the Lord painted upon the cross, and as he did, he saw the suffering Jesus’s lips begin to move. The Lord then spoke the words that would guide the saint’s every ounce of being for the remainder of his earthly life: “Francis, go repair My House, which as you see is falling into ruin.” The obedient Saint Francis would, of course, not only go on to repair the actual physical building in which he had found himself but would also go on to institute an order of brothers and sisters, the Franciscans and the Poor Clares. A copy of the San Damiano Cross hangs above the altar in the present-day Church of Saint Damiano, the very same church that Francis and his early followers rebuilt stone by stone with their own hands. The original crucifix can be seen in the Church of Santa Chiarra (Saint Clare) just up the hill in the town of Assisi.

The San Damiano Cross is classified by scholars who study such things as an icon cross. By this they mean that the images and messages that the crucifix’s artist intended to convey to his viewers are illustrated on the flat surface of the cross as if it was a painter’s canvas. The San Damiano Cross has a little bit of everything with regards to its iconography. First, of course, it has the image of the crucified Christ, triumphant, his eyes open, and with no crown of thorns upon his head. Legend says that originally, Jesus’s eyes were closed, but upon hearing Saint Francis’s voice, he opened his eyes in order to behold this sweet and devoted man. The icon also has images of the five major witnesses to the crucifixion (Mary, mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene; Saint John, the apostle whom Jesus loved; Mary, mother of James; and the Roman centurion), several minor witnesses, a welcoming committee consisting of a chorus of heavenly angels, the six patron saints of Umbria, and at the very top, a representation of the right hand of God the Father. As well, the iconography of the cross contains two animal representations. Near Jesus’s left thigh, there is painted a small rooster; on the lower right side of the shaft there is a small and very difficult to see (at least for my eyes) cat.

In most world mythology the rooster always acts as a harbinger of danger, that is, he warns us that something dreadfully wrong is about to happen. This was probably the intention of the artist of the San Damiano Cross in placing the little bird on the crucifix right next to Jesus. Just like he did on that dark night in Jerusalem after the terrified Saint Peter denied the Lord three times, this rooster is placed there to remind us of our own potential weaknesses and to help keep us ever vigilant.

The cat’s presence on the crucifix baffles the scholars and most interpretations of the icon don’t even mention the critter. The best possible answer they can come up with is that the cat, just like the devil, is forever lurking in the background, always ready to pounce upon the unaware soul. With my apologies to these great men and women of letters, I think this is academic lunacy at its most slothful. My personal feeling is a little more realistic, and people who know and love cats will likely agree with me on my theory: I believe that just as the sweet breath of the cows in the stable in Bethlehem helped to warm the infant Jesus on that freezing cold Christmas evening of His birth, so did the rhythmic purring of this loving and faithful cat cuddled near His feet soothe and bring one final temporal comfort to our suffering Lord on the day of His Passion.

Roosters, And A “Supermoon” Story of a Different Kind

In honor of the “Super Moon” which has now come and gone, I thought I’d share a story/myth about different kind of “full moon” as well as an animal species that doesn’t get much attention these days: the humble rooster.

Sitting directly on the International Date Line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is the island nation of Tonga. Consisting of over 150 islands, Tonga today is the only surviving monarchy in the Pacific. She also has the proud distinction of being the only Pacific island nation to have never been colonized by a foreign power. Beside my being astonished at the gigantic physical size of the Tongan people (The late king of Tonga, His Majesty Tupou IV, once had the distinction of being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the heaviest monarch in the world), one of my most vivid memories of our visit to the main island of Tongatapu, was watching how, at low tide, the island’s pigs would venture hundreds of yards out onto the exposed coral reefs that ring the island to forage for seafood.

The northern-most islands of Tonga, the Vava’u group, consists of some forty mixed volcanic and limestone islands, only half of which are inhabited. My wife and I spent five days sailing around the island chain in a chartered sailboat, the M/S Melinda, that came provisioned with a captain and two native crew members.

Our days were spend sailing the pristine, sapphire blue waters around the outer islands, stopping wherever it pleased us to swim at a quiet, private, palm-tree-lined, white sandy beach or to snorkel over an unchartered reef exploding with every species of fish and coral imaginable. Several times as we cruised the straits between various islands, we’d be blessed by seeing humpback whales as they passed us by. At nights we’d feast on fresh fish caught that day on our trolling line, and on the tropical fruits and coconuts harvested by our boat’s crew. The whole experience, I believe, was as close to a tropical island escape fantasy as a person can get in this modern day. It was fabulous.

On our last day at sea, as we sailed up the Ava Pulepulekai channel to return to our anchorage, the first thing I couldn’t help but notice was what our captain told me was called Mt. Talau. The huge, almost un-naturally, flat-topped mountain dominated the harbor and its port city of Neiafu. What made the sight even stranger still, was that sitting several hundred yards from the base of the mountain was the tiny triangular-shaped island of Lotuma. From at sea, the pair of mountain peaks looked as if someone had actually sliced the top off Mt. Talau like it was a big birthday cake, and set its peak down in to the harbor beside it. Noting my interest, our captain told us the following amazing story.

According to Polynesian mythology, in the days before time, Samoan tevolo (devil spirits), envious of their southern island cousins’s great treasure, decided to steal Mt. Talau’s majestic mountain peak and carry it back with them to Samoa. Because these devil spirits turn into stone in the naked light of day, the tevolo snuck over to Tonga under the cover of night, and went immediately to work sawing off the top of the mountain. They wasted not a single second of time because they knew they must complete their dastardly task before the sun arose.

Awakened by the noise of their sinister deed, the Tongan goddess Tafakula realized what was going on and decided that she must do something to stop the theft or else these Samoan devil spirits would be emboldened by their success to then steal all of the other many majestic mountains of Tonga. Greatly outnumbered by the Samoan tevolo, and with many more hours to go before sunrise, Tafakula thought up an ingenious plan.

She called forth all of the roosters of the island and had them gather at the base of Mt. Talau and wait for her signal. Tafakula then went over to the nearby mountainous island of ‘Eua, located just east of Vava’u, and climbed to the top of the island’s highest peak. When she and her roosters were at last all in place, she sent them signal to begin. And it was none too soon!

Just as the mischievous devil spirits were beginning to lift the mountain peak from its base and were starting to haul it away to their island, the roosters—with all of their might—all began a nonstop chorus of crowing. As they did, goddess Tafakula turned away from Mt. Talau, raised her ta’ovala (the traditional woven mat garment worn by Tongan men and women), and aimed her huge naked buttocks towards the Samoan devils.

Upon hearing the roosters crowing, and then looking over and seeing the reflected moonlight shining off of Tafakula’s giant rear end, the tevelo were fooled into thinking that the sun was beginning to come up. Knowing that this would be sure death for them, they dropped the heavy mountain peak which they carried into the bay besides Mt. Talau, where it resides today as tiny Lotuma island. The Samoan devil spirits then quickly flew back to they native island. Days later, when they discovered that they had been tricked by mere roosters and a single Tongan goddess, they were so embarrassed that they never again tried to steal another mountain from their island cousins in Tonga.

And that’s how simple roosters managed to help save all of the beautiful mountain peaks of nation of Tonga.