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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was born in Fontaine-lès-Dijon parents to Lord of Fontaines, and Aleth of Montbard, who both belonged to the highest nobility of Burgundy. Bernard was the third of a family of seven children.

During his youth, Bernard did not escape trying temptations and he thought of retiring from the world and living a life of solitude and prayer. When at the age of 19, his mother died, Bernard sought admission into the Cistercian order. He withdrew from riches to live a life of poverty and a diet of cooked beech and herbs.

Three years later, Bernard was sent to found a new abbey at an isolated clearing in a glen known as the Val d'Absinthe, about 15 kilometers southeast of Bar-Sur-Aube. He founded the monastery on June 25, 1115, naming it Claire Vallée, which evolved into Clairvaux. Bernard was joined by 27 of his friends and relations including four of his brothers.

By the late 1120s, the monastery had become under Bernard of Clairvaux’s rule the most prominent of the Cistercian order. Bernard’s eloquent preaching and the miracles witnessed there attracted numerous pilgrims.

The original Clairvaux Abbey is now in ruins; the present structure dates from 1708. The grounds are now occupied and used by Clairvaux Prison, a high-security prison.

Clairvaux Abbey

It is said that Bernard was a saint of such purity that he made others feel their impurity and many of his monks were afraid even to come into his presence. It only required a few minutes in his company to learn how far they have fallen short.

Bernard of Clairvaux, true effigy by Georg Andreas Wasshuber (1650–1732)

By 1146 around 70 monasteries had been founded under the auspices of the one at Clairvaux and Bernard has established himself as one of the most influential men in Christendom. He was especially influential in advocating a more personal faith in which he taught that the Virgin Mary is the bridge between humanity and our savior Jesus Christ. Bernard s also gained a reputation for denouncing liberal monks who undermine the mysteries of God by trying to understand the Christian faith through philosophy and intellectual means.

On March 31, 1146 at the command of the pope, Bernard of Clairvaux preached a sermon at Vézelay, promoting a second Crusade that aroused enthusiasm throughout Western Europe. Louis VII, the King of France was persuaded to join the Crusade and recruits from northern France, Flanders and Germany were soon signing up.

Bernard of Clairvaux died at the age of sixty-three on August 20, 1153, after forty years spent in the cloister. He was buried at the Clairvaux Abbey, but after its dissolution in 1792 by the French revolutionary government, his remains were transferred to the Troyes Cathedral.

Saint Bernadette

Bernadeta Soubirous known to us as Saint Bernadette was born in Lourdes, France on January 7, 1844. Her parents were François Soubirous (1807–1871), a poor miller with no regular employment, and Louise (née Castérot) (1825–1866), a laundress. Bernadette was the eldest of five children who survived infancy.

All the family members sought what employment they could. Bernadette did farm work, notably sheep herding, for a family friend in nearby Bartres, and also waited tables in her Aunt Bernarde's tavern.

Bernadette Soubirous when a child.

She returned to Lourdes in January 1858 having just turned 14 to attend a free school run by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction so she could finish learning the Catechism in order to receive her first Holy Communion.

On  February 11, 1858 she had the first of several visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto. At the ninth visitation the Virgin Mary told Bernadette to drink from the spring that flowed under the rock. A crowd gathered and they witnessed Bernadette dig in the earth and drink from a muddy patch. In the next few days, a spring began to flow from the muddy patch first dug by Bernadette. An old stone mason with a blind eye bathed it in the spring's water and as others also followed her example it was soon reported to have healing properties. The grotto soon became a centre of pilgrimage. Many sick people who were dipped in the water of the spring were cured.

Bernadette followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine, but was not present for the consecration of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception there in 1876.

By the time Bernadette received her visions, her family's financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-room basement, in the old Lourdes prison. They had previously been evicted from two mills and were housed there for free by her mother's cousin, Andre Sajoux.
By 1860 her father was set up in a new mill by the local bishop.

In 1866, Bernadette joined the mother house at Nevers. She spent the rest of her brief life there, working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. She was kept as a novice for ten years by the ill-natured mother superior.

Bernadette Soubirous (in 1866)

As a nun at Nevers, Bernadette helped nurse wounded casualties of the Franco-Prussian war.

Bernadette was frail and asthmatic after a near-fatal attack of cholera in infancy and after joining the Sisters of Nevers she was often bedridden. She used snuff to help relieve the symptoms for which she was roundly criticised by another sister who told her St Vincent de Paul nearly wasn't canonised because of his snuff use. "Well" said Bernadette to her critic, "doesn't that mean that because you don't take snuff you will be canonised."

During a severe asthma attack, she asked for water from the Lourdes spring, and her symptoms subsided, never to return. However, Bernadette did not seek healing in this way when she later contracted tuberculous of the bone in the right knee.

Bernadette died at her convent of tuberculous. On April 16, 1879 the terminally ill Bernadette was heard to mumble “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, poor sinner, poor sinner.” A few seconds later she died.

Her body was buried and exhumed three separate times in the next 45 years in attempts to verify the incorruptibility of her corpse and therefore her sainthood.

Saint Bernadette's body is today remarkably intact and is on display at the chapel of the Convent of St Gildard at Nevers.

Saint Bernadette was canonized in 1933 by the Catholic Church and her feast day is celebrated on April 16th.

Bernadette's life was given a fictionalised treatment in Franz Werfel's 1942 novel, The Song of Bernadette. It was extremely popular, spending more than a year on the New York Times Best Seller list and 13 weeks in first place.

Werfel's novel was adapted into a 1943 film, also titled The Song of Bernadette. Jennifer Jones won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the French saint.

Lourdes is now a major center where Catholic pilgrims from around the globe reaffirm their beliefs. Close to 5 million pilgrims visit the town every year. Within France, only Paris has more hotels than Lourdes.


Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, consisting of an area of 21 sq miles.

A 16th century Spanish navigator, Juan de Bermudez, first discovered the islands in 1503 - but Spanish ships refused to dock there, believing it to be haunted by devils.

Bermuda is Britain's oldest colony. The islands were settled by English colonists in 1609 and officially taken by the crown in 1684.

The islands became a British colony following the 1707 unification of the parliaments of Scotland and England, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain.  It is now the oldest and most populous remaining British Overseas Territory.

As a British colony, Bermuda was home to a penal colony that housed 9,000 British and Irish prisoners in the mid-19th century.

Bermuda Day, a celebration of Bermuda's heritage held every year on May 24th. The first Bermuda Day was in 1979 and replaced Empire Day, which was also on May 24, celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday on that date.

Bermuda has the only national flag that displays a sinking ship. It represents the 1609 sinking of Sea Venture, which led to the British settlement there.

There are no rental cars in Bermuda.

Bermuda has more golf courses per person than any other country.

The capital and chief port is Hamilton, which has a population of 1,000.

The colony consists of 138 small islands, of which 20 are inhabited.

Source Daily Express

Hector Berlioz

Louis-Hector Berlioz was born in La Cote-St-Andre, in the French Alps, on December 11, 1803. His father, a prosperous physician with a love for music, invited many music masters to settle in the town so the boy would be exposed to a rich musical environment. He learned the basics of composition as well as to play the flute and guitar.

Sent to Paris in 1821 to study medicine, Berlioz spent his spare time studying music. He began to study composition with the composer Jean-Francois Le Sueur and he swapped disciplines mid-course and started his formal music studies at the Paris Conservatoire in 1826.

The young Berlioz

After attending a performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet on September 11, 1827, Berlioz fell in love with a pretty Irish actress, Harriet Smithson, who played Ophelia. At the time he was a little known composer but he pursued Harriet with numerous love letters, all of which went unanswered. When she left Paris they had still not met but despite this, Berlioz wrote his Symphonie fantastique in 1830 as a way to express his unrequited passion. In December 1832 he gave a concert of Symphonie fantastique to which he invited Harriet to attend, which she did and heard the work that she'd inspired for the first time. By now the actress' career was failing and she was in financial hardship; Harriet saw the besotted Hector as a way out of debt so on October 3, 1833, they were married.

First page of original Symphonie fantastique (1830) manuscript

Before their engagement, upon hearing that Smithson was seeing another man, Belioz concocted a ridiculously impractical and elaborate revenge plan. He disguised himself in drag (as a lady's maid), and travelled to Harriet's place of residence with two pistols and a vial of poison, planning to shoot Harriet and the other man, then poison himself. He abandoned this plan halfway through the journey and never carried out his revenge.

Portrait of Harriet Smithson (1800-1854) by Dubufe, Claude-Marie 

Berlioz and Smithson had one child together, Louis Berlioz, who was born on August 14, 1834. While the marriage was happy for several years, they separated nine years later.

In order to have a regular income, Berlioz became a journalist and developed into a major critic. In 1832 he began a 30-year spell as music critic for the Journal des débats and started writing for the Gazette musicale in 1834.

Berlioz's 1843 book on modern instrumentation and orchestration Treatise on Instrumentation became a standard reference work.

His other musical works include 'Harold in Italy' (1834), 'Requiem' (1837), 'Benvenuto Cellini' (1838), 'Romeo and Juliet' (1839), 'The Damnation of Faust' (1846) and 'The Childhood of Christ' (1854).

After 1840 Belioz  began to make concert tours outside France, conducting many of his works in Germany, Belgium, England, and Russia. His penchant for the monumental is illustrated by a Paris concert given under his direction in 1844, which amassed 1,022 performers, including 36 double basses for Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, 24 French horns for Weber's Der Freischütz overture, and 25 harps for Rossini's Prayer of Moses.

Berlioz in 1857

His mental and physical health declined rapidly in the late 1860s and Berlioz died a rather disconsolate figure on March 8, 1869.

Sources Songfacts,, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc

Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin was born in Belarus on May 11, 1888. His father was a Jewish cantor who moved his family to New York to escape religious persecution in 1893.

Berlin's big break came in 1906 when he was hired as a singing waiter at the Pelham Café in New York's Chinatown. It was here that he caught the eye of Harry Von Tilzer, who hired him to sing his songs at Tony Pastor's Music Hall, considered by many to be the birthplace of vaudeville. He had his first song published the following year.

Berlin at his first job with a music publisher, age 18

"Alexander's Ragtime Band" attracted more publicity than any other song of the 1910s, selling a million copies of the sheet music in the first year. Over half a million copies of the sheet music were reputed to have been sold in England in 1913.

Berlin bought his mother a house out of the royalties for "Alexander's Ragtime Band".

Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas" for the 1942 film Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby recorded it on May 29, 1942 and it became not only the crooner's signature song, but also the most performed and best-selling Christmas song in history. 
Berlin foresaw its success when he wrote it, telling his secretary, "I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!"

Wikipedia commons

Amongst the musicals he penned were Top Hat (1935), Annie Get Your Gun (1946), and Call Me Madam (1950).

Berlin was instrumental in the development of the popular song, taking it from jazz and ragtime to swing and romantic ballads.

He never learned to read music or to write it. Berlin hummed or sung his songs to a secretary, who took them down in musical notation.

Berlin only played on the set of black keys. He had a special piano built with pedals that could change the set from F sharp into other keys.

Taco's 1983 cover of "Puttin' On The Ritz" reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It made 95-year-old Irvin Berlin the oldest living songwriter ever with a single in the top 10.

He died in his sleep at his Manhattan home on September 22 1989 at the age of 101.

Here are some more details from Songfacts on songs written by Berlin.

Sources Artistfacts, Hutchinson Encylopedia © RM 2012. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.


Berlin was first mentioned in about 1230. The city grew out of two Wendish villages, Berlin and Kölln, which were chartered later in the 13th century and merged in 1307.

Following the construction of railway links and of a canal system that linked the city to the Oder, Elbe, and Rhine rivers and to the North Sea, the importance of Berlin as an industrial and commercial centre was greatly increased. It was made the capital of the German Empire in 1871.

Police in Berlin were the first to use water cannon on demonstrators in 1930 when they tried to stop a violent Nazi protest against the anti-war film All Quiet on The Western Front, which the Nazis felt was an insult to German soldiers.

During World War II, the very first bomb dropped on Berlin by the Allies killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo.

Adolf Hitler had planned to change the name of Berlin to Germania.

The only remaining town gate of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate was modeled after the propylaeum of the Athenian Acropolis.

The 1948 Berlin Blockade by the Soviet Union made overland travel between West Germany and West Berlin impossible.

US and British pilots begin dropping food and supplies by plane to Berlin on June 26, 1948 after the city was isolated in the Cold War. The Berlin Airlift, when the U.S. and Britain flew in two million tons of supplies to isolated West Berlin in 1948-9, lasted for 320 days.

Berliners watch a Douglas C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948

During the blockade of Berlin, U.S. pilots managed to rain down 23 tons of candy on the city's children to boost their morale.

US Air Force Pilot Gail Halvorsen dropped candy and chewing gum with hand made parachutes. The children would know it was Halvorsen, as when flying over Berlin, he would wiggle his wings side by side.

After the division of Germany in 1949, East Berlin became the capital of East Germany and Bonn was made the provisional capital of West Germany.

On August 13, 1961 the Soviet zone was sealed off by the Russians, and the Berlin Wall was built along the zonal boundary. The Berlin Wall divided the city until it was opened in November 1989.

The Berlin Wall was 96 miles long.

This image was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir at Bethaniendamm in Berlin-Kreuzberg.

Causes of deaths by people attempting illegal border crossings at the Berlin Wall included shooting, drowning, suffocation, suicide, and falling from a balloon.

The Berlin Wall was opened for the first time on December 20, 1963 so West Berliners could enjoy one-day Christmas visits to family in East Berlin. The arrangement lasted only four years.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin reopened after almost 30 years on December 22, 1989. Engineers had worked through the night to create two crossing points in the gate, on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall, after the wall fell.

Brandenburg gate in Berlin. By Pierre-Selim Huard - Wikipedia Commons

Following the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990, East and West Berlin were once more reunited and Berlin became once again the national capital.

Potsdamer Platz, which was the centre of the city in the 1920s and 1930s, came under commercial and residential renewal in the 1990s, when it became the largest construction site in Europe.

With 1,700 Berlin has more bridges than Venice and has over 180 kilometers of navigable waterways in the city.

The Currywurst Museum in Berlin is the world’s only museum dedicated to the German sausage seasoned with curry ketchup.

Source Hutchinson Encylopedia © RM 2012. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Bering Strait

The Bering Strait lies between Alaska and Siberia, linking the North Pacific and Arctic oceans.

It is named after Danish explorer Vitus Bering, who led several expeditions to determine whether the continents of Asia and America were joined. In 1741 he sailed from Ohkotsk towards the American continent, discovering Alaska. He died on Avatcha (now Bering Island) in the Bering Sea, which are also named after him.

Fossils and other remains suggest that the first Americans crossed the Bering Strait (which at the time was dry land) from Asia between 20000 and 40000 years ago.

Lying in the middle of the Bering Strait, Russia's Big Diomede Island and the U.S.'s Little Diomede Island are only two miles apart.

Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman was born on August 29, 1915 in Stockholm, to a Swedish father, Justus Bergman, and his German wife, Frieda (née Adler) Bergman. She was named after Princess Ingrid of Sweden.

When Ingrid was three years of age, her mother died. Her father, who was an artist and photographer, died when she was thirteen. After his death, she was then sent to live with an aunt, who died of heart complications only six months later.

Ingrid Bergman at 14

Bergman's first acting role in America came when Hollywood producer David O. Selznick brought her to America to star in Intermezzo: A Love Story, an English language remake of her 1936 Swedish film, Intermezzo. It was an enormous success and as a result Bergman became a star.

Bergman's nickname on set early in her career was ‘Betterlater’, owing to her saying after nearly every take: ‘I’ll be better later.’

According to one of her biographers, Charlotte Chandler (2007), Bergman had at first considered the Nazis only a "temporary aberration, 'too foolish to be taken seriously.” After Germany initiated World War II, Bergman "felt guilty because she had so misjudged the situation in Germany."

Bergman co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in the classic film Casablanca, which premiered in New York City on November 26, 1942 and remains her best-known role. She did not consider Casablanca to be one of her favorite performances. "I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart.”

Publicity photo for film Gaslight (1944)

She became a smoker after needing to smoke for her role in Arch of Triumph.

Having married dentist Petter Lindström in 1937, Bergman was forced to return to Europe twelve years later as a result of the scandalous publicity surrounding her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini during the filming of Stromboli. In the same month the film was released she gave birth to a boy, Robertino. A week after her son was born she divorced Dr. Lindstrom and married Rossellini in Mexico. She remained in Italy for the next seven years.

Ingrid Bergman's divorce from Dr. Lindstrom in 1950 to marry Roberto Rossellini was so scandalous a US Senator proposed a bill that would require films to be rated not just for on screen content, but the moral character of the actors involved as well.

Bergman could speak Swedish (her native language), German (her second language, learned from her German mother and in school), English (learned when brought over to the United States), Italian (learned while living in Italy) and French (her third language, learned in school). In addition, she acted in each of these languages at various times.

She won three Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, and the Tony Award for Best Actress.

Bergman died in 1982 on her 67th birthday in London, England, following an eight year battle with breast cancer. Her body was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery, London and her ashes taken to Sweden.

Source Wikipedia

Jeremy Bentham

English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham was born in Houndsditch, London on February 15, 1748 to a wealthy family that supported the Tory party.

Bentham showed a propensity for learning at an early age, starting to learn Latin at the age of three and attending Queen’s College Oxford when he was twelve.

Portrait of Jeremy Bentham by Thomas Fyre

Jeremy Bentham is best known as a proponent of utilitarianism in his pioneering works A Fragment on Government (1776) and Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), which argued that the proper objective of all conduct and legislation is "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."

Bentham developed a ‘felicific calculus,’ a quantitative comparison of pleasures and pains, to estimate the effects of different actions to help arrive at legislation that would achieve ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Although ridiculed for his imprecision, Bentham defended the ‘felicific calculus’ by stating that it was a working hypothesis, not a mechanical procedure.

The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by Bentham. The idea behind the design was to allow an observer to watch all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being observed. Bentham devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, but though the British government rejected his scheme at the time, it has since been seen as an important development. Social critics have subsequently used the principle behind Bentham's Panopticon project as a metaphor for the intrusion of modern societies and their pervasive inclination to observe and normalise. The increasing use of CCTV cameras in public spaces is cited as a current example of the deployment of panoptic structures.

Bentham called his a favourite walking stick ‘Dapple’.

Jeremy Bentham, by Henry William Pickersgill 

Jeremy Bentham owned a cat called Langbourne. Over time, Langbourne's name became The Reverend Sir John Langbourne, D.D. (Doctor of Divinity). He fed it on macaroni.

Bentham died on June 6, 1832 aged 84 at his residence in Queen Square Place in Westminster, London. He had continued to write up to a month before his death.

In his will, Bentham left instructions for his body to be dissected, then preserved at the University College London, where it remains

The skeleton of Jeremy Bentham is present at all important meetings of the University College of London.

Students from rival King’s College kidnapped Bentham's head in 1975, but returned it unharmed following the payment of a ransom of £10 to the homeless charity Shelter.

Sources Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2012. Helicon Publishing is division of RM, Songfacts

Bénédictine Liquor

Dom Bernardo Vincelli, a member of the Benedictine order during the 16th century was an enthusiastic botanist who collected the plants and herbs, which abundantly grew around his local area at Fécamp on the Normandy coast.  Some of the specimens he used for medications, which he prepared for the hospital attached to his monastery. One of these concoctions contained a mixture of various herbs, fruit peels, twenty-eight different aromatic plants, and a fine brandy. When Dom Bernardo first tasted it with his fellow brothers, he immediately remarked on its "refreshing and recuperative" qualities.  The exact formula however was highly classified. Closely guarded, its secret was confined to a maximum of three of his brethren.

Three hundred and fifty years later a French merchant, Alexandre Le Grand, discovered in some family archives Dom Bernardo Vincelli’s old secret recipe for a liqueur. He perfected the formula and began selling the liqueur, which he named Bénédictine as a homage. The bottles of his liqueur contain the inscription Deo, optimo, maximio (or DOM), which translated means “To God, most good, most great”.


The Benedictine Order was founded by St Benedict (480-543) at Mount Cassino in 529.

After founding the Benedictine order Benedict compiled a series of rules by which the Benedictine monks should live by. In his Rule he allocated each monk a pound of bread and two cooked dishes each day, though meat was forbidden.

Benedict wrote practically in his Rule "For the daily meal let there be two cooked dishes so that he who happens not to be able to eat of one may take his meal of the other. Avoid excess-above all things, that no monk shall be overtaken by indigestion."

In his Rule he allocated each monk a nemina (quarter of a litre) of wine each day. Benedict would have liked to prohibit wine but he realized it would be an overly controversial measure, so he restricted his demands to banning drunkenness.

The Rules of Benedict specified that monks should spend two hours a day reading holy books.

In 580 the Benedictine Mount Cassino monastery was sacked by the Lombards thus fulfilling a prophecy of Benedict. The monks took refuge in Rome and started to spread knowledge of Benedictine rule. The Benedictine movement within the next few centuries became a key source for the conversion of Germany and England to Roman Christianity.

The Benedictine order arrived in England in 597 when a monastery was built in Canterbury by the Benedictine prior St Augustine.  Other Benedictine missionaries completed the conversion of England to Roman Christianity. A century later the English Benedictines, Sts. Willibrord and Boniface successfully evangelized Germany and from there it spread northwards to Scandinavia and southwards to Spain.

In 816 the Benedictine monastic order was imposed on the Holy Roman Empire. By this time the Benedictine had become the only form of monastic life throughout the whole of Western Europe, excepting Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, where the Celtic form of Christianity remained prevalent.

A typical Benedictine day in England in the ninth century was : 12.00 Laud and Mass. Back to bed. 7.00 Service (prime) and mass. Breakfast. Discuss day’s business. 12.00 Work. 5.00 Vespers then relaxation. 6.30 Supper. 7.00 Compline then bed.

The Benedictines were also known as "Black Monks" because in Summer they wore black robes and sandals. In Winter they wore woollen underclothes and fur boots.

Because Benedict never mentioned underpants in his instructions, his followers were not allowed to wear them.

The Benedictine Abbey of Cluny in France was founded in 910 by the Abbot Berno as a reaction to the corruption and lack of zeal in the Benedictine Order. It became the headquarters of the Cluniac order, who were noted for their strict adherence to the rule of St Benedict. From here monastic reforms were spread and Cluny became the leader of western monasticism from the later 10th century.

The Benedictine order was to be the most important order in Europe for many centuries and produced 50 Popes and many cardinals and Archbishops. By the 11th century they existed in great numbers in every country of Western Europe except Ireland. By the reformation there were almost 300 Benedictine monasteries and nunneries in England.

During the Dark Ages copies of the masterpieces of Roman literature were preserved and recopied in the monasteries of the Benedictine monks.