Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Birmingham Oratory Church, England

St. Philip Neri founded the Oratory in Rome during the 1550s. He gathered a small group who met informally to pray, discuss, and read spiritual works. Neri was able to blend religion and recreation. He also had a great sense of humor, which drew followers and admirers for centuries afterwards.

One such admirer was John Henry Newman, a leading figure of the Oxford Movement. The Oxford Movement was a revival of spiritual life in the Anglican Church. Newman's study of the Church Fathers made him conclude that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church of Jesus Christ. He struggled to convert, eventually going to Rome where he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1847. He discovered the Oratorians in Rome and decided to bring the Oratory to England. He founded the first English Oratorian church in Birmingham in 1848; a year later, he opened another in London.

The Oratory in Birmingham moved from location to location several times, settling on Hagley Road. The current church was built from 1903 to 1920, the year it was solemnly consecrated. The church is rather unassuming as seen from the street but is splendid inside.

View from the parking lot

The church's main entrance

The cloister by the main entrance

The nave is ornate with a great ceiling featuring various coats of arms.


Nave ceiling

The baptismal font dates from 1912 and has a marble base with a bronze canopy topped by a figure of John the Baptist.

Baptismal font

The Holy Souls altar commemorates those who died in World War I. The mosaic above depicts Our Lady of Sorrows at the moment of Christ's entombment.

Mosaic and cross of the Holy Souls Altar

Another side altar is dedicated to St. Athanasius, a favorite of Newman's. The coffin under the altar contains the body of St. Valentine, given to Newman by Pope Pius IX in 1847.

St. Athanasius Altar

Our Lady's altar has a fantastic statue of the Madonna and Child, copied from Notre Dame des Victories in Paris.

Our Lady's Altar

Our Lady's statue

The St. Anne's Altar depicts the presentation of Mary in the Temple as a child. The altarpiece shows Mary and her mother Anne and was painted by Benedictine nuns.

St. Anne's Altar

The sanctuary has a fantastic main altar. The tabernacle is designed in imitation of the one in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St. Peter's in Rome. The mosaic above the altar shows the Coronation of Our Lady. She is surrounded by Newman's patron saints, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.

Main altar

Closer view of the altar

Mosaic and baldacchino

The dome above the main altar is also impressive, showing the four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel).


Other interesting decoration include a nun over one of the exits and a ceramic panel outside depicting St. Philip Neri and the Seven Children (representing his love for education young people; he loved animals too, so they are represented on the sides and top).

Exit lintel

Close up of the nun

Philip Neri and the Seven Children

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: Zompoc Survivor: Exodus by Ben S. Reader

 Zompoc Survivor: Exodus by Ben S. Reader

This look at the zombie apocalypse starts with someone who's actually prepared for the stuff to hit the fan. Dave Stewart is an office worker who's written some novels in his spare time along with getting ready for an epic disaster. His girlfriend drops him off at the cubicle-farm office where he works. A local sheriff's assistant shows up and tries to herd everyone into the basement as the undead swarm the parking lots outside. Dave knows that listening to the officer is likely to end badly and starts his emergency bug-out plan. The cute girl in the cubicle across the way helps him escape the building and the parking lot (she has a car). His first plan is to find his girlfriend and to leave town with some supplies. He has a hideaway far away from densely populated areas. Only some thing don't go according to plan.

The most interesting parts of the story are the technical details of his escape plan and his knowledge of weapons, supplies, and vehicles. The descriptions are very convincing. It's like Tom Clancy wrote a zombie novel. The appendix has links to the various resources the main character uses as well as Dave's rules of survival (reminiscent of Zombieland's rules). The action scenes are also well written--both easy to follow and exciting to read (again like Clancy).

The story suffers a little bit from its large cast (Dave has a girlfriend who has an ex; he also has an ex who has her own boyfriend; there's a sprinkling of children) who aren't very individualized other than Dave. I struggled to remember who was related to whom and how. Also, the story ends abruptly without a proper conclusion, though the author is working on a sequel.

As a first part, the book is enjoyable. I'd read the sequel.

Friday, August 29, 2014

More Baby Pictures from the Hospital and from First Bath!

Baby N had a lot of visitors in the hospital, only some of them got photographed.

L and N

J and N

Granny and N

Grandpa and N

J, Granny and N

About a week later, he had his first bath (we had to wait until his umbilical cord dropped off). It went off well--he didn't fuss much at all.

Doesn't know what's coming

Doesn't care

What's that big blue thing?

Almost ready to go in

First dip, no crying!

Cleaning ears

Cleaning eyes

A sign of discontentment

Backwash, or  "what are you doing back there!?!"

Coming out, just in time

A warm and cozy towel, what everyone wants

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, England

Stoke-on-Trent is famous for its pottery, so it is only natural for the town to have a pottery museum. We visited in August of 2012 and had fun discovering the history of the local area.

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

Statue out front

On entering, we ran into an ancient warrior--one of the Saxons who filled the land before the Normans took over.

Saxon warrior

Shield detail

Helmet detail

The 2009 discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard resulted in a large display of local, Anglo-Saxon items dating back to the seventh century. The hoard included over five kilograms of gold craftworks, one and a half kilos of silver, and thousands of garnets. Almost all of the items are martial. Photography wasn't allowed for the hoard items, but some other things were.

Sample Anglo-Saxon man

Fierce J

Fierce Daddy

Side shot

The museum also has displays of more recent items of more interest to L.

Elaborate doll house

L dresses up with Aunt R

Fierce L

Pretty L

The museum also has a large, fine collection of pottery. I took pictures of their ancient Greek items (and some imitations).


Greek pot and a 1700s copy

Another fierce L

J rebuilds a temple

A more sombre moment

Some Greek mosaics and other works were also on display.

A Christian mosaic

Medusa mosaic

Modern Medusa Makeover

Europa and the Bull

The museum also has Reginald Mitchell's MK 16 Spitfire. Mitchell was a local who achieved fame through designing racing aircraft and the Spitfires used in World War II.