Monday, February 27, 2012

Historical Religious Oddities and Adoration

The following brief narratives describe examples of unusual religious events, conjecture and reverence:

The Cadaver Synod: (also called the Cadaver Trial or, in Latin, the Synodus Horrenda) is the name commonly given to the posthumous ecclesiastical trial of Catholic Pope Formosus, held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome during January of 897.

The trial was conducted by Formosus's successor, Pope Stephen (VI) VII. The defendant Formosus, was an elderly pope who after a reign of five years had died April 4, 896 and been buried in St. Peter’s Basilica. Stephen accused Formosus of perjury and of having acceded to the papacy illegally.

The trial began when the disinterred corpse of Formosus was carried into the courtroom. On Stephen VII’s orders the putrescent corpse, which had been lying in its tomb for seven months, had been dressed in full pontifical vestments. The dead body was then propped up in a chair behind which stood a teenage deacon, quaking with fear, whose unenviable responsibility was to defend Formosus by speaking in his behalf.

At the end of the trial, Formosus was pronounced guilty and his papacy retroactively declared null. The Cadaver Synod is remembered as one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the medieval papacy.


The Nazi Christmas: Nazi ideologists claimed that the Christian elements of the holiday had been superimposed upon ancient Germanic traditions. They argued that Christmas Eve originally had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, but instead celebrated the winter solstice and the 'rebirth of the sun', that the swastika was an ancient symbol of the sun, and that Santa Claus was a Christian reinvention of the Germanic god Odin. Accordingly, holiday posters were made to depict Odin as the "Christmas or Solstice man", riding a white charger, sporting a thick grey beard and wearing a slouch hat, carrying a sack full of gifts. Other changes were made to the manger, which was replaced by a Christmas garden containing wooden toy deer and rabbits; Mary and Jesus were also depicted as a blonde mother and child.

The Christmas tree was also changed. The traditional names of the tree, Christbaum or Weihnachtsbaum, was renamed in the press as fir tree, light tree or Jul tree. The star on the top of the tree was sometimes replaced with a swastika, a Germanic "sun wheel" or a Sig rune. During the height of the movement, an attempt was made to remove the association of the coming of Jesus and replace it with the coming of Adolf Hitler, referred to as the "Savior Führer".

Christmas carols were also changed. The words to "Silent Night" were changed so it made no reference to God, Christ and religion. Words were also changed to the hymn "Unto Us a Time Has Come" so as to remove references to Jesus. The modified version of the hymn is still sung in modern-day Germany. Shop catalogs containing children's toys made available during the holiday season regularly featured toy tanks, fighter planes and machine guns. As a sign of appreciation, Heinrich Himmler frequently gave SS members a Julleuchter ("Yule lantern"), a kind of ornate Germanic candlestick, some of which were made at Dachau concentration camp. Housewives were prompted to bake biscuits in the shape of birds, wheels and swastikas for their children.

By 1944 the movement to remove Christian influences from Christmas lessened as the government concentrated more on the war effort.


The Prince Philip Movement: a religious sect followed by the Yaohnanen tribe on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu.

The Yaohnanen believe that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort to Queen Elizabeth II, is a divine being; the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit and brother of John Frum. According to ancient tales the son traveled over the seas to a distant land, married a powerful lady and would in time return. The villagers had observed the respect accorded to Queen Elizabeth II by colonial officials and came to the conclusion that her husband, Prince Philip, must be the son from their legends.

When the cult formed is unclear, but it is likely that it was sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. Their beliefs were strengthened by the royal couple's official visit to Vanuatu in 1974, when a few villagers had the opportunity to observe the Prince from afar. At the time the Prince was not aware of the cult, but the matter was eventually brought to his attention by John Champion, the British Resident Commissioner in Vanuatu between 1975 and 1978.

The Resident Commissioner suggested that the Prince send them a portrait of himself. A signed official photograph was duly dispatched. The villagers responded by sending a traditional nal-nal club. As requested the Prince in return sent them a photograph of himself posing with the weapon. Another photograph was sent in 2000. All three photographs were kept by Chief Jack Naiva. who died in 2009.


State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5: an order from the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the People's Republic of China's agency charged with keeping religion under state control. Order No. 5 states that a Reincarnation Application must be filed by all Buddhist temples in that country before they are allowed to recognize individuals as tulkus (reincarnated teachers).

Tibetan Buddhists believe lamas and other religious figures can consciously influence how they are reborn, and often are reborn many times so they can continue their religious pursuits. These tulkus are referred to in sources translated from Chinese as living Buddhas. In 2007, the Chinese government passed a decree, to take effect September 1, that each of these people who plan to be reborn must complete an application and submit it to several government agencies for approval.


Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera: (c. 22 BC – AD 40) was a Roman soldier whose tombstone was found in Bingerbrück, Germany in 1859.

Historically, the name Pantera is not an unusual name and had been in use among Roman soldiers in the second century.

A historical connection from this soldier to Jesus of Nazareth has been hypothesized by James Tabor, based on the claim of the ancient Roman philosopher Celsus that Jesus's real father was a Roman soldier named Panthera. Tiberius Pantera could have been serving in the region at the time of Jesus's conception. The hypothesis is considered extremely unlikely by mainstream scholars, given that there is no evidence to support it.

In the 2nd century, Celsus, a pagan anti-Christian Greek philosopher wrote that Jesus's father was a Roman soldier named Panthera. The views of Celsus drew responses from Origen who considered it a fabricated story. Raymond E. Brown states that the story of Panthera is a fanciful explanation of the birth of Jesus which includes very little historical evidence.

Celsus' wide ranging criticism of Christianity included the assertions that Christians had forsaken the laws of their fathers, that their minds had been held captive by Jesus and that the teachings of Jesus included nothing new and were simply a repetition of the sayings of the Greek philosophers. Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan state that given the antagonism of Celsus towards Christianity, his suggestion of the Roman parentage of Jesus might derive from the memory of Roman military operations suppressing a revolt at Sepphoris near Nazareth around the time of Jesus' birth. The "common legionary name" Panthera could have arisen from a satirical connection between "Panther" and the Greek word "Parthenos" meaning virgin.


Gang Bing: a Chinese general and eunuch who served under Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty.

General Gang Bing is most notable for his act of self-castration as a display of loyalty to his emperor. He served under Emperor Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty who ruled over China from 1402 to 1424. Historical accounts describe the brave and loyal General Gang Bing as Yongle’s favorite general. Because of this Yongle placed Gang Bing in charge of the palace in Beijing while he left for a hunting expedition.

At this point political intrigue within the walls of the Forbidden City forced Gang Bing to make a drastic choice. The Emperor possessed a large harem of concubines; sexual contact with a concubine by anyone other than the emperor was a severe offense. Fearing that rivals within the palace may accuse him of sexual improprieties with one of the seventy three imperial concubines, Gang Bing decided to execute a plan of terrible self-infliction the night before the emperor left for his trip: he severed his own penis and testicles with a knife. The general then placed his severed organs into a bag under the saddle of the emperor’s horse.

As predicted, when Yongle returned from his hunt one of the emperor’s ministers reported that Gang Bing had had inappropriate relations within the royal harem. When accused of misconduct Gang Bing instructed that the emperor's saddle be retrieved and requested that the emperor reach inside the bag under the saddle. Inside the emperor found Gang Bing’s shriveled, blackened genitalia. Deeply impressed, Yongle elevated Gang Bing to the rank of chief eunuch, a politically powerful position within the palace; gave him numerous gifts; and proclaimed him holy.

After Gang Bing’s death around 1410 Yongle had his general and chief eunuch deified as Patron Saint of Eunuchs. In addition, the emperor assigned a plot of land on the outskirts of Beijing as a cemetery for eunuchs and built an ancestral hall in Gang Bing’s honor. In 1530 the ancestral hall was expanded and renamed The Ancestral Hall of the Exalted Brave and Loyal (Huguo Baozhong Si), but the temple was popularly known as the "Eunuch’s Temple." In the early 20th century the hall was still in use by eunuchs and the temple grounds contained courts and halls. In 1950, after the Communist take over of China, the Eunuch's Temple was renamed Beijing Municipal Cemetery for Revolutionaries and in 1970 was again renamed Babaoshan National Cemetery for Revolutionaries, the name it bears today.