Monday, May 26, 2008

Whose Blood is on the Altar in the Appearance of Wine

I’ve gotten a couple of questions about the inscription from St. Lawrence Outside the Walls. I’ll try to explain here what’s going on, and I’ll try to do that with my non-epigraphist friends in mind.

Let’s start with what I could actually see when I looked up at the slab. Here are a couple of snapshots I took while Professor Bianchi’s crew were setting up to take far better quality pictures. (For those keeping score at home, I’ll remind you that the date was Skylab Day, 11 July 2007.)

The slab of stone that has been set overhead has also been cut and inset with colored stone in a style and method known as Cosmatesque. There are several little floral decorations on this and the neighboring slabs, and this slab has also been inset with a large circle around an equilateral cross (like the cruciform halos seen in Christian art). The inset patterns have damaged an inscription. There are eight lines of Latin in the inscription, the last of which is partially covered by the horizontal bar of the cross. Whoever decorated the stone and set it in it’s current position (assuming that these actions were done at about the same time) apparently did not care about the earlier inscription.

In the inscription, the letters that I can actually read (in whole or in part) on the stone in our snapshots are these:







The square brackets that I’m using are a standard notation. They indicate that the text I’m giving you does not end naturally, that there are other letters in the original that I can’t physically see. In papyrology, the square brackets normally signal damage to the papyrus itself (e.g., a torn edge or a hole in the middle). Here, they indicate two things: the first, places where none of a letter can be seen at all because of the mosaic pattern inset into the slab; the second, the edges of the stone, where letters are hidden by the walls upon which our slab is now resting.

The right edge of the slab with our inscription is sitting right down on top of supporting stone, and nothing more could be read without damaging stonework. The left edge of the stone is also resting on supporting stonework except where the eight lines of text are; here, a relief has been cut out of the supporting stone, and had I a ladder, a flashlight, and a different angle, I might have been able to read more of the letters. I believe that this must be how the extra letters along the left edge have been read before.

Looking through the stuff Professor Bianchi sent me, I see that his is not the first publication of this inscription. It was originally published more than eighty years ago by a Jesuit scholar.

Original publication:
Felice Grossi-Gondi, “L’iscrizione eucaristica del secolo V nella basilica di S. Lorenzo al Verano,” Nuovo Bullettino di Archeologia Cristiana, 1921, pp. 106-11.

And since that was so long ago, you can now nab a copy of that publication (one page at a time) for free off the interwebs. The six jpegs will cost you about 2.5 Mb of disc space, and the article is in Italian, and if your Italian was any better than mine (which is functionally non-existent), you wouldn’t have complained to me, but here it is anyway:
Original publication.

By the way, while looking for this article, I found it referenced here:

Another publication (which I have not yet seen):
Antonio Ferrua, Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae, vol. VII, 1980, n. 18324, pp. 164-165.

Fr. Grossi-Gondi recognized that the six lines of Latin start with a standard sentiment for an ancient epitaph. On headstones one will often read things like, “You who pass by and read this, have a kind thought for the poor sod beneath this sod. What you are, I once was; what I am, you will be.” We have something similar here. He also recognized that the Latin is in meter, and not in the usual (for headstones) elegiac couplets, but in the grander epic meter, dactylic hexameter (the form used by Homer and Vergil). So it’s not just an inscription, but a poem, and a poem that evokes epic rather than little ditties.

On p. 106, the first page of his article, he supplements the text that he can actually read with letters that he thinks are likely to be the correct ones. He has the advantage of knowing that whatever he puts at the beginning and end of each line has to fit the poetry; that is, his supplements have to scan properly. Here’s his solution:



4 - percipias gra]T IAM QVIS QVIS HÆC SACRA PERH[aurias


6 - ver]VS IN ALTARI CRVOR EST VINV̅Q [videtur


8 - unde]POTENTER AQVAM tRIBVIS BAPTI[smate lotis

(For those who can scan Latin poetry, yes there are some minor irregularities. For instance, the second syllable of navis in line two has been lengthened.

If you go to the link for his article, you’ll see, too, that he’s managed to get the page typeset so that the letters on the page line up more or less the way they are on the stone. You’ll also see that his supplement at the beginning of line four sticks way out in front, that it starts farther to the left than his other lines do. This seems a bit unreasonable.

And it’s one of the places that Professor Bianchi has printed a different solution. (Since I haven’t seen Ferrua’s 1980 publication (no JSTOR access in my life right now), I don’t know how much of this is his work and how much Bianchi’s; I’ll refer to the later variants as Bianchi’s for the sake of simplicity, but in any sort of scholarly discussion, one would want to be more precise.) For line four Grossi-Gondi has:

Percipias gratiam quisquis haec sacra perhaurias.
May you obtain grace, whoever would drink down these sacred things.

For line four, Bianchi has:

Dicat iam quisquis haec sacra perhauriat ore
Whoever would drink down these sacred things, let him now say aloud,

To my mind, this makes a better transition between the first three lines, which are clearly addressed to the reader, and the fifth line, which names the One addressed in the subsequent lines, even if it makes the theology of the inscription less blatant.

Another change printed by Bianchi that improves the reading while muting the theology comes at the beginning of the sixth line. Grossi-Gondi has verus in altari cruor est / true blood is on the altar. Bianchi has cuius in altari cruor est / whose blood is on the altar. Either way, the line is still transubstantiationist. ___ blood is on the altar and seems to be wine.

Allowing that line six could go either way, Bianchi takes a couple of other minor improvements and prints his Latin text (with abbreviations expanded and spelling for the most part regularized)

4 - (Dica)T IAM QUISQUIS HAEC SACRA PERH(auriat ore)
6 - (Cui)US [o: (Ver)US] IN ALTARI CRUOR EST VINUMQUE (videtur)

I’m not sure about the beginning of the third line. Bianchi is accepting a misspelling for dirige, and has supplied an altered vowel to match the one on the stone. He could just as easily have printed (Dir)ege, and I wouldn’t be surprised if an even better solution comes along later. But taking it as Bianchi prints it, I will supply the following pony (a “pony” in this context is a translation meant to explain the literal meaning of a foreign text; it is not meant to be a beautiful exemplar of clear, lucid English, but is meant to convey the sense and the ambiguities of the original):

1. Consider, you who pass by. Accept how brief life is
2. and
3. direct
2. your ship’s journey toward the shore of Paradise
3. to the place where you might make the face of the Lord your harbor.
4. Whoever would drink down these sacred things, let him now say aloud,
5. “Highest Glory, Lord, Light, Wisdom, Virtue,
6. Whose blood is on the altar and appears as wine
7. and You Who,
8. omnipotent, grant to those washed with baptism the water
7. of your side through a work of extraordinary mercy.”

One odd thing about ll. 5-8 is that they are all, grammatically, a direct address. All they are doing is saying good things about the person to whom the words are directed. They are an adoration:

O, Great Glory! (a bit stronger than merely saying, “o, Glorious One.” He is not merely characterized by glory, He is glory).
O, Lord!
O, Light!
O, Wisdom!
O, Virtue!
O, One Whose blood is on the altar in the guise of wine!
and, O, Omnipotent One who (through an act of wondrous mercy) grants the water of Your side to those washed by baptism.

I hope this helps. Feel free to ask for more if you need it.

Feast of Corpus Christi, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008


I don't know why this tickles me, but it does. I haven’t had time to read my funnies, so I’m not sure what day this appeared. I found it in my inbox while using wifi before Mass in Floyd, VA. It was sent by my youngest brother.

who used to live a couple of blocks down the street from Dan Piraro in west Dallas

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Salmon with basil & mint

It’s almost time for our annual retreat to Rocky Knob, so SWMBO is at her annual conference at the beach and I’m cleaning out the fridge. We’ve had some basil on the verge of going off and I thought I’d combine it with a nice piece of salmon. Poking around to see what others have done with this pairing, I found a recipe (I forget where) for salmon with basil & mint. And we just so happen to have some mint left over from the juleps we had during the Preakness (go Big Brown!). Here's what I did.

No... better... Here’s what I'll do next time.
  • chiffonade about 1/6 c. basil leaves and 1/8 c. mint leaves for each salmon steak or fillet
  • wilt the herbs in a bit of olive oil over a medium heat & set aside
  • oil the baking pan & lay in the salmon
  • cover with wilted herbs
  • top with thin lemon slices
  • bake in convection toaster oven for 13 minutes at 350
Fast, easy, and surprisingly tasty. I also had some vegetables, but everyone knows how to...

Wait a tick.

Easy corn on the cob:
  • Shuck the corn & remove all the silk
  • wrap tightly in plastic wrap
  • roll into a tea towel
  • nuke on high for a scant 2 minutes
  • let sit for a few minutes (I put the fish in the oven, did the corn, and then unwrapped it right before the fish was ready).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Camembert & Caramelized Onion Quesadilla with Apple Chutney

The basic recipe is from the Food Network, with slight modifications for what we could get in town.

We had a tub of apple chutney, and I was wondering what to do with it all. So I did a web search for the phrase “with apple chutney,” and while most of the recipes called for pork of some sort (which SWMBO can not digest), there was one that looked pretty interesting.

Here’s what I used and how it came out:
  • 2 Tblsp olive oil
  • 4 Tblsp unsalted butter
  • 4 sweet onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 Tblsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tsp fresh thyme leaves, crushed in mortar & pestle
  • 9 (6-inch) low carb flour tortillas
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 4.5 oz. Camembert rounds, thinly sliced
  • apple chutney
Modifying the original recipe, I made twice the recipe of caramelized onions. Sliced ’em up, tossed ’em into a large pot with the EVOO & butter on medium heat, and settled in for almost an hour’s worth of stirring, cooking down, and talking to moms on Mothers’ Day. When they had cooked way down and were a nice light brown color, I cut off the heat and stirred in the thyme and the balsamic.

The local stores don’t really sell Camembert by the pound, so I ended up buying several rounds of Ile-de-France brand creamy Camembert at 4.5 oz per round. Each round made one double-decker quesadilla.

As the recipe asks, I laid out six flour tortillas. I split the onions into six little mounds and spread one mound on each of the tortillas. I cut up the Camembert and put half a round’s worth on each of the tortillas, then stacked them up in pairs and covered each pair with another tortilla. I then had three little ungrilled stacks that went (from the cutting board up) tortilla, onion, cheese, tortilla, onion, cheese, tortilla.

We grilled them on a panini press (locking the upper grill in place just touching the top tortilla so it wouldn’t squish all the cheese out). On our first attempt, I put too much chutney on top; I’ll use less tomorrow. But other than that, not bad at all. I’ll bet it would be even better with brie.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The True Blood is on the altar and appears as Wine

Last Skylab Day, SWMBO and I were treated to an impromptu tour of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls by Prof. Lorenzo Bianchi. We were there on pilgrimage; he, to photograph an inscription that may be the earliest known epigraphical evidence of the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Last Saturday, a package arrived in the mail from Italy. Prof. Bianchi had mailed me a couple of his books and a few articles, including an off-print of the preliminary article (March 2006) to the scholarly publication for which he and his crew were shooting pictures (forthcoming).

The earlier article (March 2006) is available online.

The slab in question is directly over these men’s heads as you head into the lower crypt:


One of our pictures of the thing (to give you an idea of position and scale) is here:


Prof. Bianchi’s text and Italian translation are here:

6. (Cui)US [o: (Ver)US] IN ALTARI CRUOR EST VINUMQUE (videtur)

1. Guarda, tu che passi, intendi quanto sia breve la vita,
2. e raddrizza il viaggio della tua nave all’approdo del Paradiso,
3. là dove il tuo porto sarà vedere il Signore.
4. Dica ormai chiunque beve queste specie consacrate:
5. “Tu sei la somma gloria, il Signore, il lume, la sapienza, la virtù,
6. il cui [o: vero] sangue è sull’altare e sembra vino;
7. tu, che nella tua onnipotenza concedi con un’opera di mirabile misericordia
8. l’acqua scaturita dal tuo fianco a coloro che sono stati purificati nel battesimo”.

I eagerly await the full publication.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

An obvious refinement

Two posts below I blathered on about LTLT and a caramelized white onion change in the onion confit (and, with the addition of raisins, a recipe heading out of the confit domain and into that of chutney). If LHLT is the method, what better tool than a crock pot? It seems obvious in retrospect, and so I had to try it.

This time, I made a full recipe -- 2 lbs. of onions to start with. We were out of chutney-esqe stuff for garnishing [1] and Vidalia onions (sweet yellow onions from a particular region of Georgia) are in season. And so I thought I’d try caramelizing the onions in the crock pot overnight. Slice & chop, into the pot, stir in some EVOO, cover, and turn on the pot. I let them go about ten hours on low. The limiting factor was that I had to leave for work the next morning, and so I went ahead and added the other ingredients before I left. Notes for future use:
  • next time, start this right when I get home from work so that they have about four more hours to caramelize;
  • use butter instead of EVOO; and
  • if the onions are just going to be used as caramelized onions per se, just do them in a large cast iron pot and keep stirring. (Music and a decent single malt will enhance the experience.)
Anyway, after about ten hours of cooking down, I added the tawny, white balsamic, honey, and raisins. I stirred it up, put the cover back on, and went to work. When I got home, I gave it a taste to see what I needed to add (nothing, this time), left the cover off, and turned the pot to high to start reducing the mixture. After 8 hours, it was almost thick enough. I think ten would have done the trick.

So the upshot is this: if I don't have the time to supervise, or if (like yesterday) there is a lot of other cooking that needs to happen and a chunk of the stove can’t be spared, the crock pot is a good solution. But it needs much more time than I originally thought. And the flavor of the caramelized onions is more intense if done more quickly over the stove.

BTW, the recipe cooked down to three pints (one quart jar, one pint jar). This would obviously be less if I let it reduce further.


[1] Or so I had thought. While I was simmering down the confit (or whatever it is), I asked SWMBO about a couple of plastic containers in the fridge. Turns out, one is an apple chutney. The other is also definitely in the chutney family, and much more sub-continent by the taste o it, but neither of us can remember what went into the making of it. So we're apparently set for chutneys at the moment, having a sweet apple chutney, and earthy onion confit, and some sort of curried chutney. Now we just have to cook things to put them on.