Flowers for the Vatican

Like every year, the flowers that will decorate St. Peter’s Square in Rome for Easter left the Netherlands. In the public flower garden Keukenhof Bishop Hans van den Hende sent them off with a blessing, saying:

“We pray and ask for blessing to thank God for creation, for growth and life, which we receive from God. And we ask God’s blessing for the journey, so that these flowers and plants, which have been the subject of so much work and expertise, may come to full bloom in St. Peter’s Square. At Easter we celebrate that Christ is risen. The colourful flowers, plants and trees emphasise that Easter is our most important feast, looking ahead to eternity with God.”


Last year, the flowers were subject of several attacks by seagulls. While Bishop van den Hende recalled that gulls and flowers are part of the same creation, and assumed they would be able to settle things together, the Holy See and the Dutch florists seem less sure of that. The flowers will be protected by kites looking like birds of prey and – only when there is no one in the square – lasers. This is similar to methods used at airports to keep landing strips clear of birds.

Meanwhile, on the other side of St. Peter’s, other Dutch flowers are blooming in the Vatican gardens. The tulip bulbs were a gift from King Willem Alexander during his state visit last June, and these have now produced white tulips, Dutch ambassador to the Holy See, Prince Jaime de Bourbon de Parme, reports:

Photo credit: [1] St. Willibrord parish, [2] Prince Jaime


Unexpected guests in Hildesheim’s cathedral

Workers at the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in the German Diocese of Hildesheim need to keep their eyes peeled for unique guests wandering the grounds of the church, which is undergoing restoration works. Now at an age that they are starting to want to use their wings, three young Eurasian eagle-owls have begun taking the 30 meter leap from their nest box, landing at the foot of the tower, where they wander about, wondering what to do next.

eagle-owl hildesheim

A worker found the above owlet on the ground today, a week after another had probably accidentally fallen out of the nest. While the first owlet got hurt in its fall, this second one is displaying natural behaviour, leaving the nest to stretch his or her wings and learn to hunt.

Hildesheim is on the western edge of the Eurasian eagle-owls natural range, which stretches east to Korea and south to Spain, Iran and southern China. In past years, the nest box in the cathedral was used by kestrels, which are far more common. The expectation was that, when it became clear that the box was in use again, that the kestrels had returned. A webcam, which had not been aimed at the nest because of restoration work, was switched on two weeks ago, when the real occupants were discovered: a pair of eagle-owls with three young.

Photo credit: bph

A little but loud singer

A European goldfinch has chosen the roof just above my window as one of the points from which to declare his amorous intentions towards lady goldfinches. The sparrow-sized bird is a cousin to the goldfinches that make regular appearances in Father Z’s Feeder Feed. It is also a skilled and loud singer.

There is a story about the European goldfinch that connects it to Christ’s passion. When Christ was crucified, the story goes, a goldfinch came and landed on His head. To ease the Lord’s suffering the little bird, accustomed as it was (and still is) to nest and forage among thistles and other thorny plants, started to pull out the thorns that the soldiers had crowned Christ with. That is why goldfinches still have red faces, stained with the Blood of Christ. So, in a sense, goldfinches are Eucharistic birds…

Of course, one bird’s efforts didn’t really help, but intentions matter. Goldfinches were considered symbols of endurance and persistence in medieval art. Paintings of the Blessed Virgin with the Christ Child often also featured a goldfinch, in part to indicate the salvation Christ would bring through His Blood.

I’ll consider the goldfinch singing outside my window as a reminder of that.

Stats for May 2010

Last month saw a bit of a drop in visitors, which I think is due to some days when I was unable to post much and the mere fact that there simply wasn’t as much news as in earlier months. The blog has a total of 3,437 visits, which brings the total since the start of the year to 18,807. It looks like we may break the 20,000 before the mid-point of the year.

The ten most popular posts were the following:

1: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution: 221
2: “Someone is more likely to get pregnant from kissing than a paedophile because of celibacy”: 87
3: Welcome news from the Vatican Information Service: 57
4: Introductie op de geest van de liturgie: 56
5: Cardinal Newman to be beatified by the pope, officially announced: 54
6: Muslim worship in a Catholic church: 49
7: Ascension Day: 46
8: Some facts about the Turin shroud: 43
9: “I did not want this disurbance” – Fr. Luc Buyens’ homily: 41
10: “Religious education should be about Jesus”: 39

The Msgr. Gänswein fan club was out in force. The interview with him and the profile I did were linked from one or two fora and fan sites dedicated to the pope’s personal assistant. In search terms we see that as well: No less than 178 searches on Msgr. Gänswein led people to this blog. Another oddly popular search term was ‘yellow warbler’, used 26 times. And then finally, the upcoming papal visit to the UK in September seems to gain momentum: Cardinal Newman, who will be beatified then, was searched for 33 times.

Lastly, I’m still quite pleased to see that the translation of Msgr. Marini’s address about the liturgy remains popular.

The treat of redstarts

Even in the city you can sometimes be surprised, if you have an eye for it, by birdlife. I was strolling through town the other day when a little black bird, about the size of a sparrow, perhaps a little bit bigger, flew ahead of me and quietly looked at me as if I had committed some grave crime. I’d probably chased it from a favourite spot or some tasty bugs or something. Seeing the little black bird and then it’s dark red tail actually stopped me in my tracks. My first black redstart, and in the middle of the city no less. Some rapid browsing taught me that black redstarts do like hanging out in urban areas and that they return from their wintering areas in mid-March, so it certainly wasn’t out of place. But seeing a bird, or any animal, that you’ve only known from books before is special. I truly consider it a treat. I always have..

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing
in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance
that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.
– Henry David Thoreau

Miracle birds

Via Father Z and Anecdotal Evidence: a piece of poetry, just to get the mind of less enjoyable things.

Bird Watching
by John Ciardi

“Every time we put crumbs out and sunflower
seeds something comes. Most often sparrows.
Frequently a jay. Now and then a junco or
a cardinal. And once – immediately and never
again, but as commonly as any miracle while
it is happening, and then instantly incredible for-
ever – the tiniest (was it?) yellow warbler
as nearly as I could thumb through the bird
book for it, or was it an escaped canary? Or
simply the one impossible bright bird that is
always there during a miracle, and then never?

“I, certainly, do not know all that comes to us
at times. A bird is a bird as long as it is
there. Then it is a miracle our crumbs and
sunflower seeds caught and let go. Is there
a book to look through for the identity
of a miracle? No bird that is there is
miracle enough. Every bird that has been is
entirely one. And if some miracles are rarer
than others, every incredible bird has crumbs
and seeds in common with every other. Let there
be bread and seeds in time: all else will follow.”

Seeking some warmth

While the snow is now rapidly melting, I notice that birds are still picking and choosing the warmest places to hang out. In the early morning, when it’s still quiet, blackbirds gather on the stretches of sidewalk without snow, and in the canals I’ve noticed groups of tufted ducks (above), who usually never venture into the city, at least not in large numbers. I’ve seen larger groups of cormorants as well, but not lately. I think it’s warm enough again for them to head out to the countryside and its ponds, lakes and canals.