Solomon Momy Levy

Today we want to say goodbye to a man who embodied what is best about Gibraltar.

A truly exemplary, sincere and inspirational character whose teachings and vigour lives on in the hearts of many.

Solomon Momy Levy thank you for all that you have done.

Our thoughts go to family and close ones.

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Tessa’s Art

The culture of Gibraltar demonstrates our unique identity and what makes our co-existence such an example to the world. So when we found out about a 39-year-old Gibraltarian called Tessa Neish who had left her job as a teacher to establish herself as a professional artist we jumped at the chance to connect with her.
Tessa is currently living in Bologna where she is promoting and exhibiting her watercolour portraits with an abstract twist. She will soon be showing off her work in Florence while the end of this month sees her getting an international audience for her work in Austria.
After Christian Hook took a one-year sabbatical and became an overnight sensation with his Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year award and recently sold out his entire London exhibition, it is clear that Gibraltar’s multicultural blend has far more to offer than even we could even dream of. Karl J Ullger’s paintings on metal were included in the Royal Academy exhibition so it is clear Gibraltar has much more to offer the world than it would first seem. Rather than write anymore, we have decided to leave you with Tessa’s pictures to let you know what we mean.

Boxing Day & origins

Today, many around the world will celebrate Boxing day. Boxing day is also known as St. Stephen’s day. A feast day which was celebrated early on in Christian history. It is the first and perhaps most popular day among the three consecutive martyr’s feasts known as the Companions of Christ, which came to be associated with the celebration of Christmas. The three feast days run from 26th – 28th December. The first being St. Stephen’s, then St. John, and finally the feast of the Holy Innocents.
The feast of St. Stephen has been celebrated on the 26th December since Fourth Century. It’s held in honour of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian Church (also known as the proto-martyr). St. Augustine of Hippo in his book City of God (Bk. 22, Ch. 8) makes reference to many shrines and churches bearing St. Stephen’s name, showing the great popularity of this particular saint.
The story of St. Stephen is explained in the New Testament book of Acts (Ch. 6-7), which gives details of his execution by stoning for his faith in Jesus Christ. Interestingly, his execution is depicted to be under the authority of a man named Saul (Acts 7:58), who would later after an appearance of the resurrected Christ along Damascus road convert to Christianity, becoming St. Paul who would go on to write the majority of the New Testament. Just before the moment of his death Stephen is depicted as having a vision of Christ and is said to have called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
The closeness to the Christmas celebration could potentially due to the parallel themes of Christ entering into this world to give his life for the sake of humanity and St. Stephen in receiving the blessing of Christ’s work on the Cross and in his Resurrection, giving up his life for the sake of Christ. Evidence of this thinking is provided in early sermons of this feast day, such as Fulgentius of Ruspe who said in a sermon, “Yesterday our King, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.”
The popularity of St. Stephen, other than being the first martyr, could be derived from the noble example of not compromising in the face of persecution from religious and political powers. The early church suffering sporadic persecutions from the Romans would have found strength and comfort in person of St. Stephen.
The name of this celebratory day, Boxing day is of more recent origins. The Oxford Dictionary puts the first use of the name Boxing Day as early as the 1830s. It’s derived from the Christmas-box given to servants and workmen by their employers, which would be filled with money or gifts in thanks for their hard work in the year.

Christmas; a reason for the season?

What is the reason for the season? Christmas is arguably the most popular festival of the Church’s calendar. One that has been popular even as a cultural festival. But where did all begin? The Christian churches on the 24th and 25th of December celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The story of Christ’s birth is depicted in the Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel (Ch. 1-2), but the understanding of what this event means is depicted throughout the New Testament.
The name Christmas literally means Christ-Mass or the Mass of Christ’s Day. The nativity story explains the events that occurred during the birth of Christ. Explaining that Christ was born in Bethlehem (the hometown of his legal father Joseph) to the Virgin Mary, not having a place to stay the family were taken into a manger and there Christ was born. Following this event, angels proclaimed his birth to shepherds and told the shepherds to come to visit the Christ child. Then came the Magi, after meeting with King Herod bringing gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. Christ is believed to be God Incarnate, the Saviour of humanity, Jesus meaning ‘God Saves’ and in the nativity story is given the name Emmanuel meaning ‘God with us’.
The celebration of this event began in the 4th Century when Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire. Prior to that the Church had a simple calendar, only celebrating the Lord’s day (every Sunday) and Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in Easter. Evidence of this dating is provided by the Philocalian calendar (or the Roman Chronograph) compiled in 354. Internal dating shows evidence of it being celebrated in 336 (There is however evidence of it being celebrated even earlier, but as an official celebration throughout all the churches, 336 seems to be more official). The earliest name of the festival was Natalis or Nativitas Domini (birth of the Lord). 25th December was the day it was celebrated by the Roman churches (the modern Armenian Church still celebrates Christmas on the 6th of January as did the Eastern Churches during this period), though theologians and historians believe Christ’s birth to actually have occurred around Spring time. This is based upon the Shepherds being out in the field during the time of Christ’s birth, which was typical during these months. Interestingly, around the 3rd Century, Clement of Alexandria suggests May 20th. There are two hypotheses for December 25th being chosen as the day to commemorate Christ’s birth, both have historical data to support them and are most likely both correct. The first reason is that the day was chosen as a response to the Pagan celebration of the unconquered sun god. The Church choosing this day to instead celebrate the Sun (play on the word Son) of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2) and the light of the world (John 8:12). The other hypothesis is due to the belief that in Christ living a perfect life he was conceived on the date of his death. In the year 200, Tertullian noted that Christ’s death was March 25th. Based on this 4th Century sources such as On Solstices and Equinoxes, by an anonymous Christian and Augustine of Hippo’s On the Trinity, both suggest that Christ’s birth was on December 25th exactly nine months after (the same reasoning was used in the Eastern Churches with January 6th being nine months after the April 6th, which they assumed was his date of death, recent historical investigations suggest April 3rd to be the day of his death).
Typical aspects for Christians in celebrating this day vary worldwide. But often Church services are held, a Christmas midnight Mass is usually held on the 24th December and services may be held the following day. Within the household, a nativity scene may be put together. The first nativity scene is credited to St. Francis of Assisi, who recreated the nativity scene with real animals and people. Other elements common to Christmas celebrations such as the Christmas tree, do not have any religions significance but rather show cultural elements typical of this time of year being used as decoration. Though sometimes these non-religious customs may be used as teaching devices for religious meanings, such as Hal Borland describes what an Evergreen tree may symbolise, “The green itself is the recurring symbol of enduring life.” Specific Christmas hymns are common in different Church traditions.
The celebration of Christmas is a celebration of the person of Jesus Christ, the celebration of God coming to save humanity, and the celebration of the persistent hope found in the Christ-child found in Bethlehem.

Interesting facts:

The actual year of Christ’s birth is contrary to popular belief is not 1 B.C.E/1 C.E. But rather is most likely between 7 B.C.E and 4 B.C.E. The historical data in learning about King Herod’s life (who plays a large part in the Nativity narrative, died in 4 B.C.E) and the political landscape of the time. The calendar divide between B.C.E and C.E. is intended to be based on Christ’s birth (B.C. – Before Christ/ A.D. (Anno Domini) – Year of the Lord). This dating goes back to a 6th Century Monk called Dionysius Exiguus.

Theres good reason to believe the manger was actually built around a specific cave (which was common around the time).Theologians Justin Martyr (165) and Origen (254) present the tradition believing Jesus was born in a specific cave that Christians could point to. This cave was converted by the Roman authorities into a pagan shrine intending to suppress the Christian memorial services that took place there.Though the word used by Matthew and Luke in depicting where Christ was born could suggest a number of different places (Bottom floor of a house where animals were kept, a place detached from the main living quarters etc.)

Matthew nor Luke present any historical account of an Ox or a Donkey. These were later added to the Nativity scene based on texts in the Hebrew Bible such as Isaiah 1:3 and Habakuk 3:2. These The two creatures would appear to refer to the two cherubs on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

The idea of 3 Wise men is solely based on the 3 gifts. It is possible that there were two or more wise men. The wise men (or Magi) are understood to be apart of the Persian Priestly Caste (and were not Jewish). In addition to the honour and status implied by the value of the gifts of the magi, scholars think that these three were chosen for their special spiritual symbolism about Jesus himself—gold representing his kingship, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming—an interpretation made popular in the well-known Christmas carol “We Three Kings.” Reference to Isaiah 60, also suggest Frankincense and Gold as gifts given to God. The prefiguration of Christ’s death is also expressed in the theology of the Early Church Fathers, the swaddling in cloth was seen as a foreshadowing of the burial cloth.

Johannes Kepler, a famous 17th German mathematician and astronomer (who partook in the Scientific revolution) proposed a way to date Christ’s birth using the concept of the star that the Magi followed. He calculated around 7-6 B.C.E. He suggested the bright light in the sky depicted as a star, was believed to be a conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. He experienced a similar scenario in 1604, with the further addition of a supernova. The astronomer Ferrari d’Occhieppo dismisses the idea of the supernova occurring in 7-6 B.C.E as it did for Keplar in 1604, but believed that with chronological precision in 1991 that he could note the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces around that time.

For Further Reading:

Pope Benedict XVI – Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives

Philip H. Pfatteicher. Journey into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year (2014)

Lee Strobel – The Case of Christmas

http://www.biblicalfoundations.org/when-was-jesus-born-a…/…/ (For another argument on the time of Christ’s birth. This link argues for late November 5 B.C.E due to the timing of Herod’s birth)

http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/…/how-december-25-becam…/

http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/…/why-did-the-magi-brin…/

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On this day in 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which outlined the freedoms that are the birthright of every human being: Freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of worship and freedom of expression.

In Gibraltar, we can be thankful that we can take these freedoms for granted but sadly this still isn’t the case for many around the world. This year has seen more refugees fleeing violence and persecution than any since the Second World War. It has seen extremists hijacking religion and betraying its message to incite fear and violence as others have exploited fear to persecute minorities. All the while, extreme poverty and oppression are still a reality for millions around the world.

But we shouldn’t lose hope. Thanks to the efforts of humanitarians around the globe, progress is being made. Poverty is falling every year and today more children than ever before can look forward to the freedom, education, healthcare and opportunities their parents had dreamed of.

But there’s still a long road ahead. So let’s take this day to be thankful for the rights our predecessors fought so hard for and recommit to making sure that the fundamental human rights of everyone are defended.

You can find out more about UN Human Rights Day and their commitments here
http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/

As well as read the Secretary General’s statement here
http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/sgmessage.shtml

The Immaculate Conception

Roman Catholics around the world yesterday (Dec. 8) celebrated the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Immaculate Conception celebrates the conception of Mary, in which, she was preserved from the physical and moral affects of original sin. This belief of Mary’s sinlessness can be found in popular Christian piety as far back as the 4th Century, but was certified as a doctrinal belief in 1854 by Pope Pius XI. This was explained in his Papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.

Debates about this doctrine have persisted from the Middle ages onwards. Within the great schools of the Roman Catholic Church, concern about this doctrine were based on the grounds that it suggested that Mary was an exception to the universal fall of humanity and thus had no need for the redemption found in Christ. This is a line of thought is shared in Protestant theology. Though in respect to this concern, the Roman Catholic Church states that Mary was redeemed by Christ’s work (in a similar way, that Christ’s redemptive work is applied to those who came and died before him). It also clarifies, that by saying that Mary was without Original sin is not to say that she did not sin. Outside of the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions disagree with this doctrine. Protestant concerns being mentioned already, the Eastern Orthodox Church agrees with the Catholic Church on the concept of Mary’s sinlessness but does disagree with how she was preserved from original sin. The main difference is due to the Eastern Orthodox’s conception of original sin more than their understanding of Mary.

Strong support for this doctrine prior to the Papal affirmation of it can be found in the works of Franciscan theologians during the fourteenth and fifteenth century. In 1858, there is mention, that during the apparitions of the Virgin to Bernadette Soubirous, the Virgin Mary proclaimed “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The Virgin appeared to Bernadette in Lourdes for the first time on February 11th 1858, telling her to return to where the apparition was first seen. It was during the sixteenth visit that Bernadette asked the women her name and she was told by the Virgin that she was the Immaculate Conception. Bernadette was first doubted, but upon causing a spring to produce clean water than healed over 69 cures (69 were confirmed). She was investigated by the Lourdes Medical Bureau and the Church, leading to a confirmation of these events.

Interesting facts:

The Immaculate Conception is the is the Patronal feast of the United States

Some confusion occurs on what the Immaculate Conception celebrates. Usually it is confused for the conception of Christ. The conception of Christ is celebrated by the Roman Catholic on March 25, The Feast of the Annunciation (9 months before Christmas). This is also one reason why we celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. It was believed that Christ’s conception and death coincided on the same day.

For further reading:

http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=147

Dictionary of Christian Theology

Hanukkah

Today is the 3rd out of eight days of the Jewish festival of Hannuka.

Hanukkah, also spelled Chanuka or חֲנֻכָּה in Hebrew also known as the Festival of Lights as well as the Feast of Dedication, is a Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Saleucid Empire.

Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.

The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a nine-branched candelabrum called a hanukiah which in fact consists of eight branches with an additional distinct branch. The extra light branch is called a shamash which means attendant in hebrew and is given a distinct location to the other branches of the candelabrum usually above or below the rest.

Traditionally some Hanukkah festivities include playing the Dreidel also called Sevivon which is a four-sided spinning top that children play with. Each side is imprinted with a Hebrew letter, as well as eating oil-based food such as doughnuts and Latkes the latter being a potato pancake.

The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees, which describe in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah. These books are not part of the Hebrew Bible which came from the Palestinian canon, however they were integrated later.

Multiple references to Hanukkah are also made in the Talmud as for example the miracle of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days.

The background of the story of Hanukkah which took place during the 2nd Century BCE relates to the eternal struggle for Jews to stay loyal to their ancestral belief in one God and to keep their traditions despite the pressure that other nations, in this case the Greek-Hellenist culture, imposed on them whether by force or by persuasion. Indeed a century earlier, Alexander the Great had brought all the way from Macedonia a new vision for civilisations to other nations, such as to the Egyptians, the Persians and as far as India based on the Hellenistic ideals of democracy, enlightenment or other features of the Greek culture . These ideals have change for ever the world and influenced most of civilisations to date.

Alexander the Great historically was known to have passed through Jerusalem and met with the High Priest of the Temple but did not impose the Greek Pantheum of gods and instead upheld the right for the Jews to remain faithful to their ancestral traditons.

However the kingdom of Judah became vassal first to the Hellenised Ptolemic Egypt and subsequently to the Syrian-Greek also known as the Seleucid empire whose King was Antiochus III who in 167 BCE looted the Second Temple of Jerusalem, outlawed Judaism and ordered an altar to Zeus to be erected in the Temple. He notably banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple.

Antiochus’ actions provoked a large-scale revolt led by Mattityahu a Jewish priest and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan and Judah. Mattityahu died by 166 BCE but his son Judah took his place as leader and by 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. According to the Talmud unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the high priest was needed to light the Menorah in the Temple which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the Menorah. An eight day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle still known today as Hanukkah.

We would like to wish the Jewish community of Gibraltar and around the world a Happy Hanukkah.

Santa Claus

Kriss Kringle, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, Père Noël, Noel Baba, Father Christmas, Pelznichol, Nicolò, Nick, Nicola di Bari, Nicolaus thaumatourgos, and the myroblyte. Here is just a few examples of the names for the famous yet mysterious St. Nicholas. Yesterday (December 6.) was the Saint’s feast day.

If you have ever doubted the existence of the elusive character that is Santa Claus (Santa [Ni]claus). There is some good news for you; firstly, you are not the only one (historians, mainly of the early 20th century doubted the saint’s historicity) and secondly, in the last century the case of his existence has grown largely in favour of his historicity. He is none other than, St. Nicholas of Myra (Myra being the place of his ministry). The reason for this confusion is largely due to the lack of writings by Nicholas himself and also some confusion with him and another Nicholas (St. Nicholas of Sion). This conflation of the two Nicholas’ occurs mainly due to the 10th century historian Symeon Metaphrastes. The two Nicholas’ were geographically close but Nicholas of Myra, lived two centuries earlier. (One main reason for the confusion by Symeon, is because Nicholas of Sion travelled to the church where Nicholas of Myra was buried, to be ordained by another bishop called Nicholas, both also have death dates around the same time of year Nicholas of Myra (Dec. 6) and Nicholas of Sion (Dec. 10)). The certainty of Nicholas of Myra’s historicity is largely due to his bones being found and examined in May 1953, by the University of Bari’s anatomy professor Luigi Martino. In terms of historical data the work of Father Gerardo Cioffari, who was able to locate and present evidence not only of Nicholas of Myra’s life but also his deeds, and has a built a case with a high degree of probability that Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea.

Born around 260 A.D., St. Nicholas (Nikòlaos – ‘victory of the people’) was born in Patara, in south west Turkey. During this time the name Nicholas was virtually unknown, but after the death of Nicholas of Myra the name became extremely popular (expanding from the region of his birth and ministry outwards). Nicholas was the only child of Christian parents.He was remembered as a devout believer even as a child. His childhood took place during a time of Roman persecution against the Christian Church (Christianity was considered illegal, until later on in his lifetime). Yet his parents were fortunate enough to be moderately wealthy and were able to afford Nicholas an education. He was known to be generous and virtuous early on in life. Roughly around the age of 18, Nicholas lost both his parents (though we are not told how they died, we do know there was a plague around this time, around where he lived).

It is with the death of his parents, that leads us to Nicholas’ most famous deed. Having received his inheritance, Nicholas was unsure on how to use it. An early biographer of Nicholas, Michael the Archimandrite tells us that Nicholas, being largely inspired by biblical passages such as Proverbs 11:17, Matt 25:34 and many others, sought to help those in need. We are told that Nicholas upon hearing about the plight of a local family, who’s father was planning to sell his three daughters into slavery (a desperate, but unfortunately common custom in Antiquity). Nicholas decided to use his inheritance not only to save the family from selling their daughters but to give enough so that each daughter could have a dowry for marriage. On three separate nights, Nicholas threw into the family’s window a bag of money for each daughter. On the third night, Nicholas was about to give the money for the third and youngest daughter, when the father caught him and thanked him. Nicholas begged the father not to mention who had helped his daughters until Nicholas’ life had ended. Later retellings of this story, added certain elements that you may recognise in your christmas traditions. For example, one later retelling mentions that Nicholas unable to find an entrance to leave the money, dropped the money down the house’s chimney and was caught in one of the daughter’s stockings.

Other elements of St. Nicholas’ life that have been transformed into the modern telling of Santa Claus, such as his association with children. Later legends based on St. Nicholas include one of St. Nicholas saving a young boy called Adeodatus after he was captured by the Babylonian king Marmorinus. Historically, his miraculous story of his ordination as a bishop at a young age (in contrast to other bishops) led him to be called the ‘boy bishop’ and for a brief time celebrations of his feast day included a young boy being ordained bishop for a short period of time (this was quickly scrapped!). Gift giving to children was also typical throughout history to celebrate his feast day.

But Nicholas was popular for reasons other than that famous story of the three daughters. He found purpose in spiritual labour and sought ‘the fruit of justice’. His biographer mentions “Justice and greater justice came from Nicholas”. He was also a defender of the Christian faith and became a “Confessor”. A ‘Confessor’ was a Christian who is tortured but does not give in to his persecutors demand. Writings of the Council of Nicaea mention that many of those who attended showed evidence of torture, but Nicholas was known for having some of the most severe. Damage found on his bones in 1953 also suggest possible injuries done to Nicholas (though other reasons could be given). He was also famously known for slapping the Bishop Arius during the Council of Nicaea, Arius’ was found to be teaching heresy during this Council (apparently for uttering blasphemy). Though, he was also known for his gentleness to those he opposed. Other sympathisers of Arius, Theognis, Bishop of Nicaea and Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia both received a string of letters gently engaging them on the question of orthodoxy and both ended up rejecting Arius teachings and endorsed the Council’s conclusion on the matter. (This episode sheds some doubt on the slapping of Arius, but the story is so famous it is actually painted on the ceiling in the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari).

Interesting facts:

Caroline Wilkinson, a facial anthropologist from Manchester University used Luigi Martino’s data from the 50’s and a generated a three-dimensional reconstruction of St. Nicholas’ face (posted below)

Most common present depictions of Santa Claus were actually produced by Coca-Cola in the 1930’s (hence his costume are the same colours as the Coca-Cola label). It was created by an artist called Haddon Sundblom

Santa Claus’ name derives from a large history of changes. Santa means Saint and Claus is a breakdown of Nicolaaus (which is Dutch for Nicholas)

For Further reading:

Check – Adam C. English’s The Saint Who would be Santa Claus

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/home/