The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

deserted midnight

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A friend recently published an excellent book (Eat the City) and your humble narrator was invited to the reception party her publisher was sponsoring on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. On the way to the event, deep in Alphabet City, this church building at 345 East 4th street between Avenues B and C caught my eye.

Built in 1895 as a Russian church, it currently houses the congregation of “San Isidro y San Leandro of the Western Orthodox Catholic Church of the Hispanic Mozarabic Rite”.

from wikipedia

Western Rite Orthodoxy or Western Orthodoxy or Orthodox Western Rite are terms used to describe congregations and groups which are in communion with Eastern Orthodox Churches or Oriental Orthodox Churches using traditional Western liturgies rather than adopting Eastern liturgies such as the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. While there are some ancient examples of Western Rite churches in areas predominantly using the Byzantine Rite (the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Latins, often referred to as Amalfi, is a common example), the history of the movement is often considered to begin in the nineteenth century with the life and work of Julius Joseph Overbeck. Less commonly, Western Orthodoxy refers to the Western Church before the Great Schism.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The history of this structure is somewhat hazy, but it was purpose built as a church. Originally a catholic church serving the St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish, ownership was transferred to the “Russian-Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Holy Trinity” and then the “Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas”. I’ve been unable to tie down exactly when the current congregants took possession of the structure.

from wikipedia

The Mozarabic Rite is the second-best attested liturgy in the Latin Church in terms of preserved documentation. The Mozarabic Rite was considered authoritative for the clarification of a Sacramentary received by Charlemagne from Pope Adrian I (d. 795). The first is, of course, the Roman Rite, which, to encourage unity of faith and worship, generally replaced the Mozarabic in Iberia from about 1080.

In the year 870, Charles the Bald, wishing to see what the ancient Gallican Rite had been like, had priests sent from Spain to celebrate the Mozarabic Rite before him.

In the latter part of the eighth century, the Rite had fallen under some suspicion owing to quotations cited by Elipandus of Toledo in support of his Adoptianist theories, and the Council of Frankfurt 794 spoke somewhat disparagingly of possible Islamic influence on it. It was due to these suspicions that in 924, John X sent a Papal Legate named Zanello to investigate the Rite. Zanello spoke favourably of the Rite, and the Pope gave a new approbation to it, requiring only to change the words of consecration to that of the Roman one. Spanish clergy gradually started to use the Roman words of institution (though there is no evidence whether or not it was done consistently).

When King Alfonso VI of Castile conquered Toledo in 1085, it was being disputed as to which rite Iberian Christians should follow: the Roman rite or Mozarabic Rite. After other ordeals, it was submitted to the trial by fire: One book for each rite was thrown into a fire. The Toledan book was little damaged whilst the Roman one was consumed. Henry Jenner comments in the Catholic Encyclopedia: “No one who has seen a Mozarabic manuscript with its extraordinarily solid vellum, will adopt any hypothesis of Divine Interposition here.” The king allowed six parishes in the city to continue to use the Mozarabic rite.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Baroque, and literally gothic in its decoration and design elements, the church reminds one that the monolithic Roman Catholic Church of modernity was once rent asunder by schisms. The Church was once caught between two dying and one growing empires (Latin Rome, Greek Rome, and the Arab Rum) which caused isolated pockets of Christian adherents to stray from Vatican orthodoxy. Often, it was the endless sea of politics which created these schisms, but as often as not it was merely regional variation in belief.

from wikipedia

Saint Isidore of Seville (Spanish: San Isidro or San Isidoro de Sevilla, Latin: Isidorus Hispalensis) (c. 560 – 4 April 636) served as Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades and is considered, as the historian Montalembert put it in an oft-quoted phrase, “le dernier savant du monde ancien” (“the last scholar of the ancient world”). Indeed, all the later medieval history-writing of Hispania (modern Spain and Portugal) was based on his histories.

At a time of disintegration of classical culture, and aristocratic violence and illiteracy, he was involved in the conversion of the royal Visigothic Arians to Catholicism, both assisting his brother Leander of Seville, and continuing after his brother’s death. He was influential in the inner circle of Sisebut, Visigothic king of Hispania. Like Leander, he played a prominent role in the Councils of Toledo and Seville. The Visigothic legislation which resulted from these councils is regarded by modern historians as exercising an important influence on the beginnings of representative government.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The world of a thousand years ago, while bearing strange similarity to our own, saw one of the great wheels of history grinding to a halt. The process that began with Alexander the Great and continued through Rome’s unified empire, then the Western and Eastern Roman imperiums, and the fall of the West and subsequent reign of the barbarous men of the North- spawned several Catholic variants which few have ever heard of. The Copts, Mozarabs, and Syriacs come to mind, of course- as do the Arians, Monophysites, and Nestorians.

from wikipedia

Leander and Isidore and their siblings (all sainted) belonged to an elite family of Hispano-Roman stock of Carthago Nova. Their father Severianus is claimed to be according to their hagiographers a dux or governor of Cartagena, though this seems more of a fanciful interpretation since Isidore simply states that he was a citizen. The family moved to Seville around 554. The children’s subsequent public careers reflect their distinguished origin: Leander and Isidore both became bishops of Seville, and their sister Saint Florentina was an abbess who directed forty convents and one thousand nuns. Even the third brother, Fulgentius, appointed Bishop of Écija at the first triumph of Catholicism over Arianism, but of whom little is known, has been canonised as a saint. The family as a matter of course were staunch Catholics, as were the great majority of the Romanized population, from top to bottom; only the Visigothic nobles and the kings were Arians. It should be stated that there was less Visigothic persecution of Catholics than legend and hagiography have painted. From a modern standpoint, the dangers of Catholic Christianity were more political. The Catholic hierarchy were in collusion with the representatives of the Byzantine emperor, who had maintained a considerable territory in the far south of Hispania ever since his predecessor had been invited to the peninsula by the former Visigothic king several decades before. In the north, Liuvigild struggled to maintain his possessions on the far side of the Pyrenees, where his Merovingian cousins and in-laws cast envious eyes on them and had demonstrated that they would stop at nothing with the murder of Liuvigild’s sister.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting series of clips, detailing the choral aspects of the Mozarabic rite, can be accessed here. Always fascinated by the prismatic flavors of faith, your humble narrator is glad to have stumbled across this enigmatic little church. Should any congregants of the institution have anything to add or correct, please use the comments link to share your knowledge.

from wikipedia

The Mozarabs (Spanish: mozárabes [moˈθaɾaβes]; Portuguese: moçárabes [muˈsaɾɐβɨʃ]; Catalan: mossàrabs [muˈsaɾəps]; Arabic: مستعرب‎ trans. musta’rab, “Arabized”) were Iberian Christians who lived under Arab Islamic rule in Al-Andalus. Their descendants remained unconverted to Islam, but did however adopt elements of Arabic language and culture. They were mostly Roman Catholics of the Visigothic or Mozarabic Rite.
Most of the Mozarabs were descendants of Hispano–Gothic Christians and were primarily speakers of the Mozarabic language under Islamic rule. Many were also what the arabist Mikel de Epalza calls “Neo-Mozarabs”, that is Northern Europeans who had come to the Iberian Peninsula and picked up Arabic, thereby entering the Mozarabic community.

A few were Arab and Berber Christians coupled with Muslim converts to Christianity who, as Arabic speakers, naturally were at home among the original Mozarabs. A prominent example of Muslims who became Mozarabs by embracing Christianity is the Andalusian rebel and Anti-Umayyad military leader, Umar ibn Hafsun. The Mozarabs of Muslim origin were descendants of those Muslims who converted to Christianity, following the conquest of Toledo and perhaps also, following the expeditions of king Alfonso I of Aragon. These Mozarabs of Muslim origin, who converted en masse at the end of the 11th century, many of them Muladi (ethnic Iberians previously converted to Islam), are totally distinct from the Mudéjars and Moriscos who converted gradually to Christianity between the 12th and 17th centuries. Some Mozarabs were even Converso Sephardi Jews who likewise became part of the Mozarabic milieu.

Separate Mozarab enclaves were located in the large Muslim cities, especially Toledo, Córdoba, Zaragoza, and Seville.

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August 5th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley- This Sunday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman will be leading a walk through the industrial heartlands of New York City, exploring the insalubrious valley of the Newtown Creek.

The currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, and the place where the Industrial Revolution actually happened, provides a dramatic and picturesque setting for this exploration. We’ll be visiting two movable bridges, the still standing remains of an early 19th century highway, and a forgotten tributary of the larger waterway. As we walk along the Newtown Creek and explore the “wrong side of the tracks” – you’ll hear tales of the early chemical industry, “Dead Animal and Night Soil Wharfs”, colonial era heretics and witches and the coming of the railroad. The tour concludes at the famed Clinton Diner in Maspeth- where scenes from the Martin Scorcese movie “Goodfellas” were shot.

Lunch at Clinton Diner is included with the ticket.

Details/special instructions.

Meetup at the corner of Grand Street and Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn at 11 a.m. on August 5, 2012. The L train serves a station at Bushwick Avenue and Grand Street, and the Q54 and Q59 bus lines stop nearby as well. Check MTA.info as ongoing weekend construction often causes delays and interruptions. Drivers, it would be wise to leave your vehicle in the vicinity of the Clinton Diner in Maspeth, Queens or near the start of the walk at Grand St. and Morgan Avenue (you can pick up the bus to Brooklyn nearby the Clinton Diner).

Be prepared: We’ll be encountering broken pavement, sometimes heavy truck traffic as we move through a virtual urban desert. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking, closed-toe shoes are highly recommended.

Clinton Diner Menu:

  • Cheese burger deluxe
  • Grilled chicken over garden salad
  • Turkey BLT triple decker sandwich with fries
  • Spaghetti with tomato sauce or butter
  • Greek salad medium
  • Greek Salad wrap with French fries
  • Can of soda or 16oz bottle of Poland Spring

for August 5th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 1, 2012 at 12:15 am

2 Responses

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  1. Fascinating find, Mitch. And thanks for the religious history. I’m always amazed at what flights of fancy are engendered when one steps off the terra firm of Reason unto the ether of Faith.

    georgetheatheist

    August 1, 2012 at 11:05 am

  2. […] In lower Manhattan’s Alphabet City, there’s a church which celebrates the Hispanic Mozarabic Rite of the Western Orthodox Catholic tradition. No, really. I did a whole post on this church back in August of 2012. […]


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